A couple years ago, Stanford hosted an evening with Leonard Cohen and Philip Glass. Over an hour of conversation (pdf transcript), AND they made the audience submit questions via notecards! A good bit from Glass:
Someone recently was showing me a book that this person was writing and she said, do you have any advice? I said, Yes, my advice is: Don’t stop working before the book is finished. And I quickly added: Because it’s in the last moments of the work that the quality appears. It doesn’t happen at the beginning; it happens at the end.
Igor Stravinsky (↑, one of my favorite composers) is probably best known for his collaboration with Serge Diaghilev on the The Rite of Spring ballet and its scandalous premiere. But a few years after that, with Diaghilev’s prodding, he brought out another ballet score with older, more conservative roots, Pulcinella.
What made Pulcinella different was that Stravinsky took most of the music from lesser-known classical-era composers like Pergolesi, Gallo, Monza, et al. “It was a backward glance, of course, but it was a look in the mirror, too.” Stravinsky took whole melodies and bass lines from the old stuff, and within that framework he rejiggered the harmonies, rhythms, and orchestration.
I began by composing on the Pergolesi manuscripts themselves, as though I were correcting an old work of my own. I knew that I could not produce a ‘forgery’ of Pergolesi because my motor habits are so different; at best, I could repeat him in my own accent.
The reception of the new work wasn’t all positive…
I was… attacked for being a pasticheur, chided for composing ‘simple’ music, blamed for deserting ‘modernism,’ accused of renouncing my ‘true Russian heritage.’ People who had never heard of, or cared about, the originals cried ‘sacrilege’: “The classics are ours. Leave the classics alone.”
… but he had his reasons…
To them all my answer was and is the same: You “respect,” but I love.
Philip Glass is coming to Atlanta, and giving a couple talks just a few miles down the road from me. Awesome.
“I have learned throughout my life as a composer chiefly through my mistakes and pursuits of false assumptions, not by my exposure to founts of wisdom and knowledge.” —Stravinsky
The Most Wanted Song and the Most Unwanted Song were written in response to survey results, just like the earlier creation of the world’s Most Wanted Paintings. The Most Unwanted Song features an operatic, rapping soprano and children singing a holiday polka:
The most unwanted music is over 25 minutes long, veers wildly between loud and quiet sections, between fast and slow tempos, and features timbres of extremely high and low pitch, with each dichotomy presented in abrupt transition. The most unwanted orchestra was determined to be large, and features the accordion and bagpipe (which tie at 13% as the most unwanted instrument), banjo, flute, tuba, harp, organ, synthesizer (the only instrument that appears in both the most wanted and most unwanted ensembles). An operatic soprano raps and sings atonal music, advertising jingles, political slogans, and “elevator” music, and a children’s choir sings jingles and holiday songs. The most unwanted subjects for lyrics are cowboys and holidays, and the most unwanted listening circumstances are involuntary exposure to commericals and elevator music. Therefore, it can be shown that if there is no covarianceÄîsomeone who dislikes bagpipes is as likely to hate elevator music as someone who despises the organ, for exampleÄîfewer than 200 individuals of the world’s total population would enjoy this piece.
John Mark Harris arranged a piece for piano by Iannis Xenakis to make it, y’know, playable by a human. You can see and hear the graph for Evryali.
The title refers to the “Medusa, with head of writing snakes”, as well as “the open sea”. Both allusions have clear meanings upon hearing the piece…
Evryali was composed without regard to the limitations of the human anatomy, as the branching often expands beyond the range of two human hands. In more than one instance, the branching has caused bushed to appear at the extreme right and left of the keyboard, yet there are also bushes in the center of the piano. The performer must obviously edit the score. The graph I made became a tool for determining what I would leave out…
The music that remains, after editing, is anatomically possible. Yet the performer is left with an undertaking that can not be thought of as reasonable. The relentless repetitive motions, wide leaps, and awkward streams of chords directly challenge the pianist’s need for fluid fingers and free arms. The pianist runs the risk of gazing into Medusa and freezing solid. Brute force and physical endurance are not enough to solve the difficulty. Only through the same imagination that one finds the music “possible” can one find the answer to its realization.
As one can never view Medusa directly, without cheating in the manner of Perseus, one can never hear the piece performed exactly as composed. The audience is not granted a true image of Evryali, but must, like Perseus, experience only a reflection of the monstrosity.
Further commentary from Marc Couroux:
Evryali is not virtuosic, nor is it anti-virtuosic. It is highly unlikely that this state could have come about as a result of the composer’s insufficient command of pianistic technique. The gauntlet is so clearly thrown down that the difficulties cannot be anything other than premeditated… The fact that one cannot physically realize the totality of Evryali makes it seem unnecessarily utopian. The task of any performer is to strive, regardless of difficulty, to achieve every detail and to project them into a broader context.
[via phil harnish]