Cube Calendar Articles from 1994
In January and February Lyric Opera of Chicago will present performances of Alban Berg's operatic masterpiece Wozzeck. To help our friends prepare for the performances -- which we are certain they will not want to miss -- we offer these pieces by Berg about his opera, borrowed shamelessly for use in the Calendar. The first essay responds to an article by Emil Petschnig in Die Musik (1924), too lengthy to reproduce here. It may be found, along with these essays, in the Cambridge Opera Handbooks series volume on Wozzeck, edited by Douglas Jarman.
The Musical Forms in my Opera Wozzeck
Far be it from me to oppose the musico-theoretical views of Herr Emil Petschnig -- every bar of my music does that better than words ever could -- but I would like to correct a few of the vast number of obvious untruths in his article "Creating atonal opera." It is not true that the second scene of the first act "corresponds to the main characteristic of a Rhapsody only in that its music is very formless." On the contrary, it is, since it is based on a succession of three chords upon the free variation of which is built the development of the entire scene, a completely closed form the clear shape of which was also made apparent by the fact that three verses and the refrain of a hunting song (written in a folk-like style, in accordance with the true characteristics of a rhapsody) are placed at carefully considered points of the structure. Similarly, the "Fantasia" of the second scene of Act II by no means "follows the atonalists' usual habit of messing around" but -- fulfilling the point of combining a "fantasy and fugue" -- prepares for the following triple fugue, in this case by, amongst other things, introducing and assimilating its themes in a planned way (on a more harmonic basis at first) and thus striving towards the pure contrapuntal form of the fugue which is its true objective. Herr Petshnig's further criticism, that he would "have thought that the motivic basis for the triple fugue would have been taken from the characteristics that have already been established for the three people involved in this scene" thus becomes redundant, especially so if I tell him that these three themes have, in fact, been taken from earlier scenes that established these characteristics. Similarly, his confession that he failed "to reconstruct the Sonata from its thematic infusoria" is by no means a proof that its form is not in accordance with that of a strict classical movement (with exposition, varied reprise, development and recapitulation with coda) of which the first subject, transition, second subject and closing sections are clearly recognizable as such and are, as far as their scope is concerned, no more "infused" than are those of many of Beethoven's sonatas. The further assertion that "the Scherzo (of Act II scene 4) consists of a Lndler and a Waltz" describes the form of the scene inadequately (because it has been misunderstood) and thereby denies its construction as a symphonic movement. The truth is that these two dances are only part of a symmetrically built movement following classical models, namely: Scherzo I, Trio I, Scherzo II -- Trio II -- Scherzo I, Trio I, Scherzo II. Once this correction is made all tendentious references to Hans Heiling, Rosenkavalier and Salome become completely uncalled for. I have, on the other hand, to agree with Herr Petschnig that it is "certainly a high-handed interpretation of the term" to call one section a Rondo, as he has done. It is in fact only the introduction to such. The "Rondo marziale" (Act II scene 5), which in terms of its form and character has been handled very strictly, really begins just at the point at which Herr Petschnig has stopped his analysis. A similar method of criticizing by distorting the truth proves equally worthwhile in his discussion of the adagio orchestral interlude in the last act (Act III scenes 4-5). Not recognizing that we are in this case quite clearly dealing with a three-part structure in D minor, he complains that "the tonality of this interlude is not up to much" and that the key signature "is completely cancelled (it apparently being unnecessary)." But what in fact happens is that the middle section (which Bussler calls the "modulating section") which follows this cancellation leads back to the main key, in which the piece now continues and in which the adagio finishes as clearly as it began; this is made clear by the reintroduction of key signatures, thus visibly refuting Herr Petschnig's claim that "the piece actually consists of two or even four (it's hard to say whether major or minor) keys. This is therefore a harmonic farce and much of what has gone before resembles a formal bluff." Thank God that it is only a resemblance! Which is to say that proof, even if successful in the case of the farce, cannot be so easily produced in the case of the bluff, despite the resemblance! Let us take the invention on a rhythm of the third scene of Act III as an example. If the formal principle behind it was merely that a certain rhythm was repeated "here and there" in it, then it really would not be entitled to being rated as a formal principle. In fact, however, the whole piece is built on this one rhythm which serves, at the same time, as its theme. Subjected to every conceivable combination, contrapuntal device (fugato, stretti) and variation (augmentation, diminution, displacement, etc.), this one rhythm permeates all the harmonic, thematic and vocal events in the scene. To recognize this -- and much else as well -- should not be difficult. Of course, one needs, besides good will, a certain degree of competence -- a competence that seems in this case to be lacking in musical and other areas. Büchner's work could not otherwise have been misunderstood to the extent that the comment that "what we are really dealing with here are quite simple people who naively abandon themselves to their sexual instincts" reveals. This makes all the more astonishing the accurate judgment that the treatment of the Sprechgesang in the tavern scene of Act II is a "completely unnatural method and borders on caricature." For that is precisely what it is: a completely drunk travelling apprentice delivering a sermon on fasting. It is caricature in the truest sense of the word, as is also revealed in its musical setting (something that, like much else, is not mentioned): a chorale melody on the bombardon against which the other instruments provide a counterpoint of tavern music in the form of a strict four-voiced chorale prelude.
One can believe me when I say that these and other musical forms are successful at the points at which they were intended to be; and also that I am capable of proving their correctness and legitimacy in a more thorough, and thus more conclusive, manner than has been possible here.
Anyone who wishes to be convinced of this should get in touch with me; I shall be happy to oblige.
Die Musik, 16 (1924), pp. 587-9
A word about "Wozzeck"
It is now ten years since I started to compose Wozzeck; already so much has been written about it that I can hardly say anything without plagiarizing my critics. I should like, however, to correct an error that arose in 1925 soon after it was produced and that has spread widely since.
I have never entertained the idea of reforming the structure of opera through Wozzeck. Neither when I started nor when I completed the work did I consider it a model for further efforts by any other composer. I never assumed or expected that Wozzeck should become the basis for a school.
I simply wanted to compose good music; to develop musically the contents of Georg Büchner's immortal drama; to translate his poetic language into music. Other than that, when I decided to write an opera, my only intention, as related to the technique of composition, was to give the theater what belongs to the theater. The music was to be so formed that at each moment it would fulfill its duty of serving the action. Even more, the music should be prepared to furnish whatever the action needed for transformation into reality on the stage. The function of a composer is to solve the problems of an ideal stage director. On the other hand, this objective should not prejudice the development of the music as an entity, absolute, and purely musical. No externals should interfere with its individual existence.
That I accomplished these purposes by a use of musical forms more or less ancient (considered by critics as one of the most important of my ostensible reforms of the opera) was a natural consequence of my method. It was first necessary to make a selection from Büchner's twenty-five loosely constructed, partly fragmentary scenes for the libretto. Repetitions not lending themselves to musical variation were avoided. Finally, the scenes were brought together, arranged, and grouped in acts. The problem therefore become more musical than literary, and had to be solved by the laws of musical structure rather than by the rules of dramaturgy.
It was impossible to shape the fifteen scenes I selected in different manners so that each would retain its musical coherence and individuality and at the same time follow the customary method of development appropriate to the literary content. No matter how rich structurally, no matter how aptly it might fit the dramatic events, after a number of scenes so composed the music would inevitably create monotony. The effect would become boring with a series of a dozen or more formally composed entr'actes which offered nothing but this type of illustrative music, and boredom, of course, is the last thing one should experience in the theater.
I obeyed the necessity of giving each scene and each accompanying piece of entr'acte music -- prelude, postlude, connecting link or interlude -- an unmistakable aspect, a rounded off and finished character. It was imperative to use everything essential for the creation of individualizing characteristics on the one hand, and coherence on the other. Hence the much discussed utilization of both old and new musical forms and their application in an absolute music.
The appearance of these forms in opera was to some degree unusual, even new. Nevertheless novelty, pathbreaking, was not my conscious intention. I must reject the claim of being a reformer of the opera through such innovations, although I do not wish to depreciate my work thereby, since others who do not know it so well can do that much better.
What I do consider my particular accomplishment is this. No one in the audience, no matter how aware he may be of the musical forms contained in the framework of the opera, of the precision and logic with which it has been worked out, no one, from the moment the curtain parts until it closes for the last time, pays any attention to the various fugues, inventions, suites, sonata movements, variations, and passacaglias about which so much has been written. No one gives heed to anything but the vast social implications of the work which by far transcend the personal destiny of Wozzeck. This, I believe, is my achievement.
Modern Music, (November-December 1927), pp. 22ff
Heterogeneous Schizothymia and the Current Musical Mélange:
The role of tradition in new music in contemporary society from a European-American composer's point of view.
by Sheldon Atovsky
(From Chinese Music, vol. 15, no. 4, December, 1992, pp. 69-76. Reprinted with permission of Dr. Sinyan Shen, editor.)
The musical culture of the United States is ever more chaotic, multi-faceted and diffuse. Music may be heard here in many styles. A few of these styles are Afro-pop, Ukrainian folk, Tex-Mex, Cambodian, European, Indian, Chinese and Balinese classical, and new age. Music may be heard here in various environments. These environments include live concerts in auditoriums, concert halls, churches, clubs and galleries and through recorded and broadcast media in cars, at home and in public sound systems found in supermarkets, elevators, movie theaters, sports bars and virtually anywhere via portable systems with speakers and/or headphones. Finally, music may be heard here at will, as functional support for intellectual, spiritual and physical stimulation of emotion and depression, as parts of the daily rituals of waking up, relaxing, going to sleep, prayer, entertainment, contemplation, meditation, work, protest and the expres-sion of the sentiments of love. This heterogeneous character is not unique to the United States but is extreme to the degree in which it is found.
"Multi-culti" and the "Sabotage" from Within
The continued inclusion of people from more different ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds into the citizenry and/or work force of the United States has changed the proportions in the population of one group to another giving more and at other times less power to people of various ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds. These changes in the make-up of the population, in the most fundamental sense, have transformed the proportion of European-Americans to Americans of other backgrounds from being the majority to becoming a diminishing plurality. The make-up of the population has been modified, also, to one where there is a majority of women and a minority of men and to one where there has been a marked increase in the proportion of the elderly and the young in comparison to the middle-aged. The accepted values, traditions and attitudes of the national persona are remolded to conform to new models partially as a consequence of these changes.
Such changes in the make-up of every facet of society include changes in the qualities of music, as well. As different groups of people become more well known their cultures influence the culture of the dominant group(s). Salsa, for example, is expectedly found on the menus of inexpensive ethnic restaurants, tacquerias, which feature authentic Mexican cuisine and which appeal more to Chicanos and other Hispanic-Americans, but it is also on the menus of expensive bistros, which feature some hybrid of nouvelle cuisine and which appeal mostly to wealthy European-Americans. Similarly we find the inclusion of claves, congas and timbales not only in the music of ethnic wedding bands of recent emigrÈs but in the most middle-of-the-road pop music, in rock and in jazz, all of which appeal to broad segments of society.
There are also changes in the values used to judge music. For example, experimental, improvised industrial music is one of several relatively recent styles of music to gain popularity although it bears little resemblance to music more closely associated with the powerful music industries of classical, pop, rock and jazz. It is fragmented, episodic, stream of consciousness and with neither clearly familiar logical goals nor paths yet it is the center of attention of some of today's most creative musicians of the generation now in their twenties to early thirties.
Industrial music is also pervasively neglected by scholars. The neglect is due to many reasons. The critical apparatus to approach this music is not well known and not well enough developed. There is a bias in the intellectual community toward this style of music and toward most other styles of music that are not embraced by the high music culture industry. Teachers and scholars of music most often do not keep up with changes in musical language which occur after they finish their studies and consequently do not critically listen to it. The critical apparatus is well known and well enough developed to more easily approach new music based on models more inclusive of motivic development, traditional coherence and/or teleological harmonic forms of European music of the Common Era.
Finally, paraphrasing the critic Robert Christgau in the Village Voice (1991): music criticism, which would be a useful tool to approach this music, is held in low regard by music scholars in favor of a more scientific/analytical approach and thus they do not know where to begin to find an approach to understanding this music.
Industrial music, which is also known as "noise", and other new styles of music are worthy of study in our schools and consideration by our scholars and intellectuals. This study may provide a way to bridge the generation gap between students and teachers, as well as the philosophical gap between intellectuals, such as musicologists and theorists, and the public-at-large. Also, it may provide a means of gaining insight into how the world has changed and some of the roles music plays in it. This bridging and understanding would help gain financial support from and foster intellectual curiosity in the society-at-large.
Info-, Data-, PR-, Techno-, Ram Cache-, Stats-, Flash-, Pop-
The ease of access for more and more people to a growing collection of data allows many of us virtually instant entrÈe to knowledge and information from the present and from the immediate and distant past. This relatively uncensored availability is through the resources of two networks of information pervasive in our society - public libraries and the general marketplace - and by means of more and more affordable, powerful and simple to use technologies. A few examples of these technologies are personal computers, modems, synthesizers, samplers, video and audio recordings, air transport systems, satellite transmissions, telephones, camcorders, faxes, et cetera.
The strong impact of such easy and quick access to so much information has led to changes of attitudes in segments of the population. Two of these changes are the increased questioning of the superiority of traditional points of view over those that are less traditional and the development of a more egalitarian respect for the wide spectrum of even contradictory ideas and opinions inherent to the abundant information and knowledge available. The latter is due especially to the present situation in which the amount of available information on virtually any subject is so overwhelming that one's regular life style does not allow for the time necessary to carefully evaluate all of it. Consequently the value of some category, A, of a particular subject when compared to the value of another category, B, of the same subject, may be of arbitrarily equal or even superior worth due more to the fact that A has been considered and that B has not.
There have developed, also, new attitudes about time and reality which effect our attitudes about music. These attitudes have developed because of the strong impact of extended exposure to electronic media. Derrick de Kerckhove, Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto (Musicworks 48, 1990), has essayed that the nature and the purpose of the television medium is . . . to process "reality" as if TV screens were collective and electronic extensions of our individual minds. . . . Our electronic technologies simulate our mental processes, but outside our bodies, making available to anybody what used to be a personal and private experience. . . chang[ing] and stretch[ing] our perception of ourselves and our perception of time and space. . . .
Ever since the invention of electric bulbs, we have thrown biological time out the window, and replaced it by technological time. . . .Radio and television are large-scale collective timing devices. . . .
While it is true that electric lighting has been extending daylight at both ends for over a century, continuous [24 hour news] programming may further displace daylight as the single most important referent for the structuring of our conscious time. Since it is now possible to cover and access simultaneously all time zones, it is also possible to start thinking in terms of global time. . . .
Continuous programming may go a long way in helping us to retrain our perception of ourselves. . . . Anybody . . . can claim to live in two simultaneous time zones at the same instant, the one where one's body is, the point of being, and the one where the television camera is, the point of view. . . . Since the Renaissance, our point-of-being and our point-of-view have always coincided. . . . Until the development of satellites, we had never been willing to recognize the radical separation of our point-of-view from our point-of-being. . . .
Because they are primarily editing devices, all media, in one way or another, affect our perceptual relationship to our environments. . . . Television edits its content to fit the medium. . . . TV edits our televised reality in quick segments, it also accustoms our minds to deal with instant surface perceptions of whole situations, and trains them to edit out continuity and depth perspective. . . . TV has many devices such as replay and split-screen or insertion techniques to emulate or substitute for our focussing [sic] and selecting abilities. . . . By substituting for your own point-of-view, television cameras make it irrelevant and replace the patient organization of your mind with a new grammar of juxtaposed segments of imagery.
Radio like television extends our minds and separates our points-of-being from our points-of-view. Live broadcasts of musical performances feel real and extend the borders of our own reality. Continuous exposure to music heard through broadcast and playback media changes our evaluation of music performed live in the same physical space as the listener.
Performance, broadcast and playback begin to be of equal worth. The performance of music is no longer an infrequent, formal and precious occasion, when performers and listeners are in the same space at the same time, but is now an experience that includes playback and/or broadcast of performances occurring in one space and time, the vibrations of which are transmitted or recorded and transmitted through various intervening media to another space and possibly another time, in which is found the listener. These latter experiences, though quite different in nature from the former, are as highly valued albeit in different ways.
Time has seemingly become more undifferentiated and continuous, like digital clocks with changing numbers. Time used to be more differentiated, like daily, monthly and yearly lunar and solar cycles with changes in light, temperature, humidity and flora. Time, since the Babylonians, used to be segmented, more like traditional clocks with partitioned faces.
Music has seemingly become more of an irregularly fragmented series of juxtapositions of traditionally unrelated events. Music used to be thought of as a progression of events following one another in a linear path of logic influenced by currents of eighteenth century thought. Music now may be thought of to include complex but intelligibly ordered series of events following one another in nonlinear and, on the face of it only, discontinuous schemes influenced more by current thought, i.e., fractal geometry and bifurcation.
In his book The Time of Music (1988), the composer and theorist Jonathan D. Kramer refers to "artificial continuities" available through tape splicing techniques, "spatialization" of time available through tape recording technology and the lack of "performance nuance" in "electronically generated rhythms." These phenomena affect the composer's aesthetic, the performer's model of technical perfection and the listener's attitude about how to listen to music. Kramer summarizes that technology is also providing instruments that . . . allow virtually anyone to compose, even those lacking the most basic traditional music training. Indeed, I and many others who teach electronic music composition continually find students who, with no prior musical training, produce extremely imaginative compositions. The new "composing" instruments are not so fundamentally different from the electronic instruments of listening. . . . Technology is removing the distinction between listener, performer, and composer. . . . If such a fundamental aspect of music . . . is being redefined by technology, it is hardly extreme for me to suggest that the nature of time, and hence of meaning, in music is also changing radically. Technology has become, and will no doubt remain, an integral part of music, musical time, and musical meaning.
All of these factors, the seemingly indigenous independent will, the changing demographics, the increasingly easy access to an enormous amount of information and the constant availability of technology contribute, also, to the recognition of the important role that subjectivity plays in our choice of methods used to determine the values that we establish as the governing canon of our society. The importance of the awareness of context and of our own prejudices are other factors influencing our understanding and accepting of different types of music. Inclusive of the values that guide our society are the considerations of what phenomena may be thought of as music, what may be thought of about the music, what music may be heard and/or what music we may be taught to want to hear.
"Whole lotta shakin' goin' on"
Changes in the musical life of the United States are of a varied nature. These changes are taking place in the areas of dissemination, style, performance and aesthetics. One of these changes, the dissemination of sound recordings, has grown in volume. Music is recorded and distributed by private individuals and by small, independent companies in rising numbers. A few examples of such companies are Shanachie, C.R.I. and ROIR, which are independent of the major corporations of the music industry. This growth may be further witnessed by the success of magazines such as Option and Sound Choice, which publish reviews of independently produced and published recordings, and by the increasing length of catalogs of small size recording labels such as New Albion, Alligator, Flying Fish, and mode.
Some other changes are the extent to which composers are performing as improvisers and historical Western art music styles are included in a broad ranged aesthetic of eclecticism which is inclusive also of noise, electronics and folk, popular and classical musics from around the world. These trends and changes represent the vitality of a lively culture and are significant in contrast to the stagnation occurring in the high culture music industry over approximately the past two centuries, first in Europe and then in the United States.
The establishment of the high culture music industry is based primarily on deification of the Great Composers and the Great Music of the Past. Its birth was partially the result of the series of social and political revolutions that began to upset the European status quo from the end of the eighteenth century. Slowly, a new, larger group of people emerged, who had enough money and time to spare for leisure activities. Previously most people had to use a majority of their resources just to stay alive. Part of the new leisure time was filled with the quest to gain knowledge of history, including music history. This interest in music history helped to change the character of musical life at the time. For example, it fostered both the Bach revival and a broader interest in historical musicology.
Before this time art music was a private concern of the most elite and privileged members of society; however, art music now became more of a public commodity. There was now a larger consuming audience with a broader spectrum of tastes. Previously when one referred to art music, one meant the newly composed music of the day; however, now composers of the past became idols and their music the burden of history, with which music by contemporary composers had to compete. Publishing houses now found a large market for the publication of old music, for which they had to pay neither rights nor fees, and gave less support for music that was newly composed for which they would have to pay.
Music conservatories spread through Europe and had a great wealth of relatively stable subject matter - composers and music of the past - in which to instruct their growing numbers of pupils. The gravity and importance of these subjects was seemingly irrefutable and was supported by the new industries. Also, composers found a new way to provide an income for themselves - teaching at these academies. This means of support was important for composers since they were receiving less attention from the publishers and concert producers and there were fewer members of the court and church who could afford to award them full employment. Finally, composers, who earlier were equally famous for their composing, acts done in private, and for their vocal and/or keyboard improvisations, acts done more in public, began to withdraw from the eye of public scrutiny.
This European trend, to deify both composers and music of the past, became a cultural phenomenon in the United States, as well, in the early twentieth century. An account of this development and its further excesses later in the century have been described in the New York Times by Joseph Horowitz, senior research fellow at the Institute for Studies in American Music at Brooklyn College (1991):
The radio, the automobile, the telephone penetrated small-town America after World War I, spread the nation's wealth, united its expectations. The five-day work week meant more leisure time: time for baseball and the movies - and also for museums and concerts. The same eager consumerism that stressed acquiring vacuum cleaners and refrigerators spurred cultural consumption - the acquisition of higher learning and knowledge of the arts.
In music the popularizing impulse translated into radio concerts, record sales and proliferating orchestras. . . . These orchestras, in turn, were eager to broaden their audiences - with lectures, pops concerts, children's concerts. The usual strategy was Music Appreciation - a distinctive popularizing movement cresting in the 1930's and 40's.
Before World War I, musical pedagogy at all levels had stressed the ability to read music, to play an instrument, to perceive musical forms. Music appreciation was something different, aimed at a broader, more passive audience. . . .The music appreciators . . . were themselves snobs. They turned up their noses at all but the certified masterpieces - invariably written by dead Europeans. They had no use for new music, or American music, or popular music.
Whatever the pedagogic deficiencies of music appreciation, it succeeded admirably as a marketing strategy. Rather than focusing on music per se, the music appreciation guides fixated on reputation and personality: the Great Composers, the Great Performers. The antipathy to modernism, to contemporary culture, produced a permanent catalogue of merchandise: familiar, easy-to-like masterworks, that could be endlessly recycled. The result was a vast and manipulable New Audience for concert music - provided it was old, famous and European. . . .
Horowitz advances these ideas by paraphrasing the American historian Lawrence W. Levine from his book Highbrow/Lowbrow (1988) :
After World War I, sacralization mushroomed into a "popular" movement. . . . The vast diversified New Audience (tutored, not so incidentally, to reject jazz and other lowbrow strains) sought a divine practitioner to symbolize Great Music. The Great Composers were sacred enough, but long dead. So the New Audience sacralized flesh-and-blood Great Performers, with the conductor Arturo Toscanini - hailed as a "prophet," "priest of enlightenment" and "vehicle of revelation" - as godhead.
The first conductor to become the world's most famous musician, Toscanini was more divorced from the music of his own time than any previous conductor of comparable stature. Aligned with the music appreciation movement, he propagated a New World of dead masters in which Great Performances eclipsed the creative act. Toscanini was eventually replaced by other culture-gods. But habits of complacent culture consumption were retained.
The vitality of unjaded 19th-century audiences [is] in contrast to today's more complacent arts patrons . . . . Demonstrative, diversified audiences were undermined after 1900 by elitist snobs, who recast Shakespeare and Verdi as difficult, unpopular "culture," distinct from popular entertainment. This process of "sacralization" separated the arts into sacred and mundane, highbrow and low. It enshrined symphonies by deified dead masters, to be revered by privileged yet passive initiates. Today's calcified concert rituals - the aloof artist, the deferent public - are one legacy of this development.
These trends became established to an extreme by the second and third quarters of the twentieth century. Only now are they being challenged by a large percentage of musicians, especially those who were raised in the United States and who are of the post-World War II generation and younger. We are now witnessing a rise in the number of musicians, in many styles, who create music both through composition and improvisation and who seek financial support through contact with the public as performers, lecturers and teachers outside of the conservatories and universities, as well as in. We also find musicians who freely turn to music of the immediate and distant past from Europe as a resource, without feeling the burden of history and the need to create new masterworks. They turn, as well, to music from anywhere and anytime as resources of equal importance. Musicians look to music from the past and from outside of their own tradition in order to find ideas about timbre, scales, tunings, pitch organization, rhythm, form, structure, style, music education and the relationship between music and the rest of life. Any approach is acceptable, is valid and is admired for its potential to inspire and create. These many styles are not considered in competition with one another but rather regarded for their own worth.
Finally, we find musicians for whom the consideration of high culture versus low is not the basis upon which they base their aesthetics; anything that they hear, they like and that they find useful, they take. These changes reflect the ways contemporary philosophers, scientists and mathematicians look at the world - change is expected in unpredictable ways. These changes expand the array of choices to include the old and the new, the familiar and the unknown; they allow each musician to do what is most honest and true - to find beauty wherever it is - without denying this same freedom to others.
"One slice of the pie"
Many composers and improvisers, today, approach their work with a new found autonomy and adventurousness that is revitalizing the musical world and crossing previously established musical barriers. Musicians of various backgrounds and styles are exploring the inclusion of traditional ideas taken from musical styles, cultures and periods other than their own. They are mixing them up in ways that reflect, perhaps, the freedom with which one may change stations on a radio or television and/or the speed and ease with which one may reprogram a multiple-disc CD player viz-a-viz a remote control. Cut-up, synthesis and transformation are the main techniques of organization in these eclectic styles. These techniques may be heard in domestic styles such as rap, downtown improv, classical, industrial and pop, as well as in foreign styles such as juju, soukous, Bahian jazz and Vietnamese, Indian and French pop. While this is not true for all musicians it is true to a possibly much greater degree than ever before.
There is a history to be traced of the development of this aesthetic both in the United States and beyond. Earlier composers and improvisers set up models which today's younger composers follow: Gottschalk, Ives, Cowell, Ruhdyar, McPhee, Partch, Harrison, Cage, Moran, Crumb, Nancarrow, Riley, Joplin, Ellington, Bernstein, Sun Ra, Glass, Gershwin, Copland, Schuller, Reich, Porter, Mingus and Blitzstein. Also there are Bartok, Debussy, Pierre Schaefer, Messiaen, Ligeti and Berio. One may observe the eclecticism in programming at classical, summer music festivals, at Chamber Music Chicago, at Bang on a Can, at the Los Angeles and New York international festivals of the arts and even, most recently, at Lincoln Center, where a new Jazz Division has been established. One must recall the work of the A.A.C.M. and its mission to perform and teach a creative tradition. Also, one must remember the impact of jazz when first heard in Europe and in Africa . Observe the cross influences of Europe, Africa and technology that blended together in the United States to create rock n' roll which then was transported back to Europe and Africa and which fostered the developments of other styles of music. Witness the recent endeavors of Paul Simon, David Byrne and Peter Gabriel, as well as Youssou N'dour, King Sunny AdÈ, Ruben Blades and Milton Nasciemento. Also, Michael Torke, Christian Marclay, Hamid Drake, Tod Machover, David Moss, the Hafler Trio (Andrew McKenzie), Elliott Sharp, Ikue Mori, Jin Hi Kim, John Oswald, Michael Zerang, Hank Shocklee, Foday Musa Suso, Einst¸rzende Neubauten, and Z'ev.
One final consideration is how these changes in our society should inspire us to consider changes in our means of education, in general, and in music, in particular. Are there critical reasons for music to be taught in our elementary, junior and high schools? Should music be kept as part of the general liberal education curriculum at the university? Should music schools change their focus of concentration? Should they change their methods of teaching? What should remain? Is there a critical apparatus and body of knowledge with which to approach a broader tradition of music? Can we create one? Do younger people perceive information differently than we do? Should we try to teach them how to concentrate on details as well as on the gestalt? Do the differences need to be demonstrated and explained? Many of these questions have begun to be answered by Edward T. Cone, Joseph Kerman, Pozzi Escot, Jonathan D. Kramer, RenÈ Boyer-White, John Blacking, Robert Cogan, Bennett Reimer and Bruno Nettl among others. We must listen to them and get to work.
The world is constantly changing and as a part of it we are too. It challenges us to accept it, to leave it alone and to figure it out. It is my hope that scholars will look at the issues raised here and will address them in their work. It is only through such investigation, research, inquiry and criticism that new approaches, appropriate to life as it is today, will be developed and implemented. It is only through such work that we will find a greater understanding of the broad range of musical activity alive today and whatever will occur in the future.
I would like to thank Dr. Shen Sin-yan and the Chinese Music Society of North America for the invitation and encouragement to write this paper. Also I am grateful for the advice of Deborah Campana and for the support of De Paul University and of the organizations and publications which graciously published an author's inquiry associated with the research for this paper: The College Music Society, Option, American Music Center, Minnesota Composers Forum, Society of Composers, Incorporated, New Music Chicago and EAR. Finally, I would like to thank the composers and improvisers who so generously gave of their time, energy, thoughts and music to discuss and demonstrate ideas associated with the issues presented above. It should be noted that these musicians, although quite different in compositional methods and aesthetics, represent in their work much of what has been noted above. I encourage you to seek them out, as well as to seek out their music: Peter Aglinskas, Mitchell Arnold, Robert Carl, Joseph Celli, Shawn Decker, Douglas Ewart, David Fanshawe, Frank Ferko, David Flippo, George Flynn, Jaroslaw Golembiowski, Vinny Golia, Ed Herrmann, Stuart Hinds, James Hobbs, Joseph Klein, Larry Kucharz, Robert Kyr, Don Malone, Loren Mazzacane, Janice Misurell-Mitchell, Jim O'Rourke, William Ortiz, John Pietro, Michael Schell, Dan Senn, Bright Sheng, Marilyn Shrude, Greg A Steinke, Paul Sturm, Joelle Wallach, Kurt Westerberg, Raymond Wilding-White, Gwynne R. Winsberg, and Jay Alan Yim.
1. Robert Carl, The Politics of Definition in New Music, College Music Symposium, 29, 101-114 (1989).
2. Edmund John Collins, Jazz Feedback to Africa, American Music, 5, 177-192 (Summer, 1987).
3. Robert Christgau, Theory of the Rhythmic Class, Village Voice, XXXVI, 66 (June 4, 1991).
4. Evelyn Davis Culbertson, Arthur Farwell's Early Efforts on Behalf of American Music, 1889-1921, American Music, 3, 156-175 (Summer, 1987).
5. Thomas DeLio, The Shape of Sound, Percussive Notes, 21, 15-22 (September, 1983).
6. Mark Dery, The Culture Jammers, Keyboard, 16, 57-70, (August, 1991).
7. Mark Dery, Now Turning the Tables . . . the D.J. as Star, New York Times, CXL, H 28 and 30 (April 14, 1991).
8. Mark Dery, The World Pulse, Keyboard, 16, 81-94 (October, 1990).
9. Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Doubleday, New York (1988).
10. James Gleick, Chaos, Penguin Books, New York (1987).
11. Gerald Gold, Good, Bad and Just So-So, New York Times, CXL, H 27 and 34 (March 31, 1991).
12. Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life, W.W. Norton and Company, New York (1988).
13. Helen Hall, Music that won't melt in your hands (Interview with Rhys Chatham), Musicworks, 48, 26 - 34 (Autumn, 1990).
14. Donal Henehan, Where Are the Recent Classics, New York Times, CXL, H 25, (April 14, 1991).
15. Joseph Horowitz, Immortal Masterpieces to Snooze By, New York Times, CXL, H 1 and 25 (June 9, 1991).
16. John Hudak, Sound mind and body (Interview with Takehisa Kosugi), EAR, 15, 20-27 (February, 1991).
17. Sharon Kanach, The Bow is Mightier than The Pen (Interview with JoÎlle LÈandre), EAR, 15, 32-38 (February, 1991).
18. Derrick de Kerckhove, Time, space and self on the 24-hour news channels, Musicworks, 48, 35-37 (Autumn, 1990).
19. Mark Kemp, Turntable Terrorist, Option, 38, 66-69 (May/June, 1991).
20. Jonathan D. Kramer, The Time of Music, Schirmer Books, New York (1988).
21. Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1988).
22. Tom Manoff, Do Electronics Have a Place In the Concert Hall? Maybe, New York Times, CXL, H 19 and 27 (March 31, 1991).
23. Jon Pareles, Lincoln Center Is Adding Jazz To Its Classical Music Repertory, New York Times, CXL, B 1 and 3 (January 10, 1991).
24. Dennis Polkow, Unlikely sponsors band together, Chicago Tribune, 145, section 5, 1-2 (January 17, 1991).
25. Howard Reich, Out of This World, Chicago Tribune, 145, section 13, 10-11 (February 24, 1991).
26. Ned Rorem, Speaking in Tongues, New York Times, CXL, H 4, (February 3, 1991).
27. K. Robert Schwarz, When Anything Goes Composers Go Every Which Way, New York Times, CXL, H 28 (June 9, 1991).
28. Jan Williams, Interview with Morton Feldman, Percussive Notes, 21, 4-14 (September, 1983).
CUBE Past (Recent) and Future (Near)
CUBE's 1993-4 concert year took its audiences on a world musical tour, presenting new music from other countries and showing its relation to the Chicago music scene.
In September the ensemble presented "Chicago Connections and Stefan Wolpe" to an enthusiastic audience of two hundred people as part of the Stefan WoIpe Festival sponsored by the Goethe Institute and Roosevelt University. "Norskube: Edvard Grieg and Contemporary Norwegian Composers," the second concert, was presented with the support of the Norwegian Embassy as part of a festival in Grieg's honor organized by the Chicago Chamber Music Consortium. The program, introduced by Consul General Per Ohrstrom, took place in October at Trinity Lutheran Church in Des Plaines, Illinois; it featured chamber music by Grieg and several American premieres of music by contemporary Norwegian composers. In the Spring CUBE presented music on the cutting edge in a concert entitled "Cantus Interruptus" at Curtiss Hall in Chicago and a concert called "North and South of the Border" which offered new music in a multicultural mode for sponsor Mostly Music at the Smart Museum at The University of Chicago.
CUBE's upcoming plans include "The World According to CUBE," airing October 9 on the Chicago Chamber Music Consortium radio series on WFMT; a concert on November 20 at CafÈ Voltaire in Chicago; a concert of premieres in February at the Arts Club Of Chicago; and two concerts for Mostly Music on March 19 and June 11: "Variations on America: Experimental Music from Charles Ives to the Present."
CUBE MEMBERS' RECENT ACTIVITIES
Janice Misurell-Mitchell -- Highlights of Janice Misurell-Mitchell's compositional year include a recording of Alone Together, for bass clarinet and double bass, which was issued in early fall on the compact disc Golden Petals. produced by Master Musicians Collective. The recording featured the work of Richard Nunemaker, bass clarinet, and Peter Herbert, double bass. In October, Janice premiered her performance piece, Scat/Rap Counterpoint with percussionist Damon Short in a concert at the Green Mill in Chicago. In March, Nunemaker and Herbert gave several performances of Alone Together at Weill Recital Hall in Carnegie Hall and in four Austrian cities: Bregenz, Dornbirn, Salzburg, Vienna. Janice's piece for solo flute, Uncommon Time, was performed in Merkin Hall, New York City, by the New York New Music Ensemble with Jayne Rosenfeld, flute, and at the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago by CUBE, in a new version for flute and percussion. with the composer on flute and Dane Richeson on frame drum, in a concert sponsored by Mostly Music. Janice and Dane also performed her theatre pieces, After the History and Scat/Rap Counterpoint on the "Women of the New Music" concert presented at the HotHouse in Chicago this spring. During spring quarter at DePaul University Janice taught a new course, Women and Music, for the School of Music and the Women's Studies program.
Jeffrey Kust -- Jeff K's 94/95 highlights "Chapter 13 Bound": September 10, 1994--guest hosting the Midnight Special on WFMT 9-12 pm. JK's performance of Easley Blackwood's "Suite for Guitar in 15 note equal tuning" has recently been released on Cedille records. The CD is titled "Microtonal." JK's recording of the "Catfish Row Suite" and "Rhapsody In Blue" with the CSO under James Levine was released last December on Deutsche Gramophone Records. Check out the banjo solo on "I Got Plenty of Nothin'," it's me! JK premiered Elizabeth Start's commissioned solo guitar work "Fedgestucke" last June at the Three Arts Club. (Thunderous applause and club dates followed along with the obligatory punch and cookies.) JK is currently preparing three world premieres: "Dark is the Night," by J.M.M. is a solo work for steel string guitar. "Mirrors, Stones and Cotton" by Charles Norman Mason (not to be confused with Charles Nelson Reilly) is for amplified classical guitar and audio tape. Chuck is head of the music dept. at Birmingham-Southern Univ. And a work for flute and guitar by John Downey which is currently under the working title of "Rough Road." JK is also preparing a guitar transcription of Mr. Downey's "Lydian Suite." This work will be upgraded from solo cello. JK has begun work on a CD to feature works composed for him. This will be done in conjunction with a supporting tour.
As for JK's group "Express": November 13, December 11, January 15 from 11amñ12.30 pm our second series of "Live from Studio One." Express is also performing a broadcast concert of Xmas music to be aired on WFMT Christmas week and sold for distribution throughout the US. And March 21 at De Paul, Express takes the stage for a really big shoo.
Caroline Pittman -- This season Caroline played the first Chicago performances of John Lennon's Echolalia for solo flute. She recorded the music for an interactive CD-ROM version of Prokofief's Peter and the Wolf, conducted by George Daugherty for Warner Bros., directed and animated by Chuck Jones, who was the creator of Bugs Bunny and Road Runner. Other activities included playing in a work by Bernard Rands at Orchestra Hall as part of a program of new music conducted by Cliff Colnot; recording Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel for Ballet Chicago; and performing Stray Birds by Ursula Mamlok in an American Women Composers concert at the Art Institute. In October she will be performing Patricia Morehead's The Edible Flute on WFMT.
Dane Richeson -- During the fall of 1993 Dane spent ten weeks in Ghana, studying drumming with Godwin Agbell of the Ewe people. The trip was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts International. After resuming his teaching duties as Associate Professor of Music and Director of Percussion Studies at Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin, Dane performed in Chicago on WMFT radio as part of the ensemble Express, as well as in performance pieces by Janice Misurell-Mitchell in a concert which was part of a series of Women in Jazz and New Music at the HotHouse. He also gave several guest performances throughout Wisconsin, both as marimba soloist and jazz performer. During the year Dane appeared in a joint concert with Louis Bellson, and also played in the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival with vocalist Jeannie Bryson, daughter of Dizzy Gillespie. In the summer he taught at a jazz camp and at the Artist Teachers Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. Dane has performed on two compact discs which have recently been released: Ken Schaphorst Ensemble, produced by Accurate Records, and the Whad'ya Know? Trio, featuring John Thulin, piano, produced by the University of Wisconsin System, Wisconsin Public Radio.
Patricia Morehead -- Pat produced several works this year. Her work A Chantar was premiered at MusicAlaskaWomen Festival by mezzo-soprano Patricia Chiti from Rome, Italy. In October the work will be presented on Italian TV performed by musicians from the Santa Cecilia Academy. Her cantata The Heavens Declare the Glory of God, based on a text by Madeleine L'Engle, was commissioned by and premiered during the International Festival of Sacred Music in Chicago and later performed at the Ravinia Festival's Musica Viva series by the Oriana Singers and The Chicago Ensemble. In May, Pat and husband Philip were joined by flutist Mary Stolper in a recital of new music in San Francisco at Old First Church, premiering a work by Jeffrey Miller. Her flute piece The Edible Flute, commissioned and premiered by Mary Stolper last year, was performed twice by flutist Shannon Murphy, who will play the work again this Fall. Shannon also performed her work Design Two for solo flute and bass flute at HotHouse in August. Pat has also completed an article on Stefan Wolpe which will be appearing in the Sonus Music Journal this Fall.
Philip Morehead -- In addition to his regular duties at Lyric Opera, Phil came out of the composer's closet with a set of three French songs written in his early 20s. They were performed twice by mezzo-soprano Constance Beavon, first at the Washington Library and later in a lecture/concert at the Art Institute in conjunction with the Odilon Redon exhibit. Phil performed as pianist on both programs. He also accompanied singers Pamela Menas and Dorothy Byrne entertaining the annual meeting of the board of Airbus Industrie in Washington, D.C. As part of the evening's entertainment Phil played over two hours of assorted piano music, just soft enough not to annoy anyone. The Spring was spent largely in aiding the birth of composer Bruce Saylor's opera Orpheus Descending, presented by Lyric Opera's Center for American Artists. On the side, he completed revising the New American Handy College Dictionary. Phil was also involved in a number of concerts with wife Patricia (see her paragraph).
Program Notes for CUBE Broadcast, October 9 on WFMT-FM (98.7)
Luis Anunciação, Capoiera, for flute, berimbau and guitar (1975)
The capoiera is a martial arts dance that resembles kickboxing and is principally danced by men. Slaves brought it to Brazil in the 1500's; in the 1950's it was banned by the Brazilian government. It is now allowed but as a ritualistic martial arts form. The berimbau is a percussion instrument of African origin which is used in Brazil in the capoiera and in the U.S. by Brazilian artists such as Aierto. The instrument is in the shape of a bow, with a wire attached to sticks it uses a gourd resonator. The wire is struck with a stick, and pitch can be altered by the pressing of a stone or metal washer against the string. Contemporary composers have explored other aspects of the instrument, such as harmonics available on the wire, and scraping the berimbau with a stick. In Anunciação's composition the three instruments introduce the capoiera rhythm and basic melodies; these are followed by improvised and written material.
Douglas Ewart, Red Hills (1979)
Written as a basis for improvisation, Red Hills may be performed by a variety of ensembles. The score specifies much of the ensemble material, including central rhythms and textures, and uses graphic notation for further indications. In this performance CUBE will be using amplified instruments and keyboard synthesizer.
Janice Misurell-Mitchell, Dark was the Night (world premiere)
Dark was the Night, for solo guitar, is based on the blues-influenced spiritual, Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground, recorded and possibly composed by Blind Willie Johnson, a gospel singer from Beaumont, Texas, who recorded extensively from 1927 to 1930. I first heard the tune in the version by Ry Cooder on the album Ry Cooder (1970), and later in the version by Blind Willie Johnson in recordings introduced to me by our friend Patrick Mullen, Professor of Folklore and English and Director of the Center for Folklore Studies at Ohio State University. The melody, played in slide guitar style, has haunted me for years--the vocal and instrumental "moans" make me think of an elegy.
In writing the piece I concentrated on particular qualities of the performances: the sound of the tune itself and the sound of the vibrato and noise of the slide on the guitar strings. The tune appears in fragments and in different keys throughout the piece; the vibrato and noise sounds are translated into abstract atonal fragments. There are times when the tune stands out against these sounds and times when it disappears, the other sounds forming a fantasy among themselves. By the end of the piece the guitar is gradually brought to open tuning and traditional slide guitar technique is used, with slight hints of atonality in the background. Dark was the Night was commissioned by Jeffrey Kust and is dedicated to the memory of two Chicago blues musicians who were friends and died within eleven months of each other in 1993: Valerie Wellington, a powerful and dynamic blues singer, and Lefty Dizz, singer, guitar player, and bluesman "par excellence".
Finn Mortensen, Five Studies for Flute Solo, movements I and IV (1957)
In Five Studies for Flute Solo, Mortensen presents short, concentrated movements which deal with their musical elements in a playful, whimsical manner. The piece is organized in the shape of an arch, with the first and last movements being nearly exact opposites of each other, i.e., the last movement is the first backward, and the second and fourth both contain motor rhythms; the third movement presents fragments of the other movements in a sparse, pared-down setting. The first movement has a rhapsodic melody which stretches out in large intervals, only to be countered by sinewy chromatic lines. The fourth movement introduces short melodic gestures opposed by repeated notes which become gradually faster and more fragmented.
Ken Schaphorst When the Moon Jumps
Originally written for ten-piece jazz ensemble and now arranged for CUBE, this composition is based on a traditional melody and incorporates West African drumming elements, using instruments from Ghana and Senegal.
Toru Takemitsu, Masque, pour deux flûtes (1959)
A masque was originally a form of dramatic entertainment in 16th and 17th century England; it initially contained no dialogue but featured instead lavish scenery, costumes, dancing and music. In the context of contemporary concert music the masque may be thought of as a dramatic piece reflecting internal dialogue, without programmatic reference.
Patricia Morehead, The Edible Flute, for flute and piano (1992)
The Edible Flute was inspired by Canadian author Margaret Atwood's novel The Edible Woman. Atwood deals with the issue of Woman as the nurturing sex and the inner demands that this makes on her. Eventually she is left with nothing for herself and has been consumed by those dependent on her. She becomes just an outer shell with no inner resources left for herself. The flute takes on the role of the Woman and the piano represents the world and dependents consuming the woman.
Benjamin Britten, Temporal Variations for oboe and piano
Britten's Temporal Variations were published posthumously and are a wonderful addition to the 20th-century oboe repertoire. They are a series of variations based on a set of rhythms rather than melodies. Very stark moods are contrasted with wildly virtuosic and dance-like sections.
Paul Ben-Haim, Songs without Words for oboe and piano
These works evoke the sounds of the Middle East, portraying the heat of the desert, an Israeli dance, and a beautiful, haunting sephardic melody.
John Corigliano, Two Irish Folksongs for voice and flute
Actually, Corigliano wrote three settings, of which we are performing two: The Foggy Dew and The Sally Gardens. The composer begins with the folk tune in the voice and adds a charming and virtuosic flute counterpoint.
Tragedia d'ascolto (the Tragedy of Listening)
an Opera by Luigi Nono
by Frank Abbinanti
We may easily consider Luigi Nono's Prometeo one of the most important works of this century. Our attention is drawn first purely to the work's large palette of technical and human/collaborative efforts. Nono solicited conductor Claudio Abbado (his life long friend), the computer/sound virtuoso Hans Peter Hailer, distinguished philosopher Massimo Cacciari, architect Renzo Piano (he did the Centre Pompidou in Paris) and the most gifted instrumental soloists in Europe--Ciro Scarponi (clarinets), Roberto Fabbriciani (flutes), Giancarlo Schiaffini (tuba) and Stefano Scodanibbio (contrabass).
Nono's musical language is indeed an enigma, especially the music of the last ten years of his life. Nono emerged with the post-war generation of composers-- Boulez, Stockhausen, Berio--but he distinguished himself by his intense interest in and commitment to history and leftist politics. His music fits neatly into creative periods: The early post-Webern period is marked by his affinity for the voice and his use of political texts. Usually no one text dominates a work, as seen in his first success, Il canto sospeso (1956, "Suspended Song"). Nono chose letters from concentration camp inmates and other detainees of Nazi-occupied Europe. The work begins simply with the recitation of a letter. Nono is saying that art must wait for what we must hear first from this victim of tyranny. Nono's early musical language employs continuum-bloc chordal manipulation. This is a development of serial music in which the 12 tones are "housed" in clusters, each pitch having many different timbres and functions. Many times these tones are powerfully stated, unrelenting in their passion and intensity, as we find in his first opera Intolleranza (1960/61).
The second creative period almost defines itself by the rebellions of the late 1960's and Nono's commitment along with many intellectuals in Italy including Pollini, Manzoni, Abbado, Pasolini and Berio. With politics changing in Europe Nono had given up the concert hall venue and found greener pastures in West and East Germany, which welcomed his interest in the political image. He worked at the Freiburg Institute and found the electronic medium a direct equivalent to the factual accuracy found in film and documentary work. This second period is marked by the large musical mural/opera Al gran sole carico d'amore (1972/1974) where now purely strident chordal sonorities were used as background sonic "screens" to accompany the inflammatory texts of Marx, Guevara, Lenin, and Louise Michel. Nono found profound collaboration with conductor Abbado and Yuri Ljubimov, who since emigrating has been a frequent director of opera here and in Europe.
Prometeo (1981/85) stands as a grand mural of Nono's late creativity, The music of this period has had quite an impact, as reflected in the amount of discussion, numbers of recordings and performances. Nono's about-face creative transformation puzzled some. The Nono I've been describing has been an intellectual, a political activist. His music incites extreme passion and anger, with voices delivering inflammatory, accusative texts. Now beginning with a piece he wrote for Pollini, "sofferte onde serene" (1976) or "serene waves endured," we have a hypnotic-sounding music with softly touched keys in the extreme register of the piano, almost bell-like in their purity and evocation. Then Nono completed a commission from the famous LaSalle Quartet (grandfathers of today's Arditti Quartet). That piece, entitled Fragmente-Stille An Diotema (1980), has an introspective intensity, understated feathery, delicate lines played breathlessly over the fingerboard and at the bridge.
It is easy to envision Prometeo as an endpoint of the aesthetic/conceptual features I've discussed. Nono maintains in Prometeo this passion and affinity for the experience of pure sound using microtonal pitches as the "unmined" sonic particles he builds into this work.
The continuum-bloc musical language is colored with intense attention to the possibilities of microtonal orchestral sonorities. This "coloring" occurs in moments barely audible (marked ppppp in the score). Usually the sonic canvas is microtonal sonorities in the extremely high register, string harmonics mixed with flutes, nothing in the center register, then bassoons and trombones again with all shades of "coloring" around an unfixed center. Tones are sharped and flatted, but over a long passage of time. From Webern, Nono learned very well the hidden intensity of well-thought-out silences. In Prometeo we always have this sense of "traveling" from the smallest particles (as if encountering sounds under a microscope) to the large "oceans" of microtonal orchestral sonorities.
The use of the strings is of special interest. Nono worked with contrabassist Stefano Scodanibbio at the Freiburg Institute, where they developed the bowing technique called "arco mobile." It's actually a very simple way of playing, but in the context of Prometeo it proved extremely useful. The bow while in motion horizontally left to right as is customary (while in motion) turned slightly upwards then downwards so there are minute changes of timbre. We hear this quite clearly because these moments are amplified.
The electronic/computer systems designed by Hans Peter Haller largely addressed the problems of the spatialization of these moments and their transformations. Electronic/computer technology changes so rapidly that his design of Harmonizers and the Vocoder (Voice Coding System) as well as filters for the voices are all outdated now. The Halophone is also used in Prometeo. It regulates the distribution of spatial sound. Renzo Piano designed a performance space, actually an elegant-looking platform made of wood with classical curves on the outer supports held together with huge black bolts like a sonic vessel. Haller's spatialization systems are arranged so that the moments in Prometeo can "travel" in straight lines, simply going across the performance space, but also in diagonals and intersections over and through the listeners. In Prometeo this spatialization is more "organic," emanating from specified sources, and has a narrative meaning in the way the text is structured. This is quite different from the spatializations we encounter in the works of Stockhausen, Xenakis or Cage, where the concept is more arbitrary, the "let's see what happens" approach.
You may recall that Prometheus stole "Fire" from the Gods. Gaston Bachelard in an essay on "Fire" identifies this as one the most important of the various mythic symbols we use in art and opera. Cacciari, who wrote/arranged the various texts, follows the Prometheus narrative identifying the mythic characters, but in a somewhat elliptical, non-narrative way. The overall text is extremely sparse again with silences that all contribute to a haunting, evocative affect. The fragmentary textual delivery from the voices is "accompanied" by richly diverse mixtures of small ensembles. The musicians perform from scaffolds to the right and the left of the audience, tracking entrances from the video screens in front of a band of players. Prometeo begins with a 20 minute "Prologue" for two sopranos, contralto, tenor solo, chorus, two speaking roles, viola, cello, contrabass and two instrumental soloists (bass flute and contrabass clarinet). The various movements are either entitled "Islands" (Isoli) or interludes, sometimes post interludes simply entitled "Three Voices A or B," again with interesting configurations of instruments, as soprano, contralto, bass clarinet, bass flute.
Nono was fortunate to have experienced this work before he died in May, 1990. Prometeo was premiered in Venice in 1984 in The Church of San Lorenzo, then revised as Prometeo 1985, which then was performed in Milan and at the Autumn Festival in Paris, in Sicily in 1992 and Amsterdam. There is also a "chamber version" that Claudio Abbado has prepared and performed with the Berlin Philharmonic in memoriam for Nono.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of Prometeo is its open conceptual framework. Nono had made smaller works which were sketches, which now are performed quite frequently in Europe. Some of the important pieces are Guai ai gelidi mostri (1983); A Pierre dell'azzurro silenzio; Inquietum (1985), dedicated to Pierre Boulez; and La lontananza nostalgica utopica-futura (1988), dedicated to Gidon Kramer. A powerful creative metaphor is Nono's image of music as a rebirth "Water" where it transforms itself, it can heal and destroy, it can reshape or remain static. And music can either work together and develop or remain static.
Verso Prometeo (Ricordi)
Luigi Nono, interviews, essays and analysis (Contrechamp/Paris)
Al gran sole carico d'amore program booklet
Prometeo, La Scala, Milan, program booklet
Interview with Stefano Scodanibbio, June 1991, & Frank Abbinanti
Interview with Claudio Abbado, October, 1993, & Frank Abbinanti