Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Quote Of The Towards The End of January 2009

Looking away from the Place De La Bastille toward the river, courtesy of Google Maps here.

Fundamentally, Boulez's life was - and still is - solitary. His lived at the top of five flights of stairs, in two tiny, primitive mansard rooms on a street that lies between the Place de la Bastille and the river - a street that Baudelaire and Cezanne had once inhabited.
Here a devoted concierge attended to his needs. There was no running water in the garret (he had to use a bathroom on the floor below), and in winter his rooms were icy. But they were always immaculate.

Though the piano, an ancient upright, might be covered with books, the desk at which Boulez worked was invariably clear. Robert Craft, who visited him in this retreat in 1956, noted in his diary that the young composer's manuscripts were 'rolled like diplomas and piled on the floor like logs'.

Among the few pictures, a framed photograph of Kafka and reproduction of Klee's portrait of Stravinsky were prominent. There was a copy of Finnegans Wake in English. For a brief period, a sign warned visitors, 'Don't step on the turtle'.

Alas, its life was short, and Boulez has had no pets since.
From Chapter one ('The First Fifty Years') by Peter Heyworth in Pierre Boulez: A Symposium

Monday, 26 January 2009

Free Stuff ! : Webern's The Path To The New Music.

Webern's lectures, printed out and filed, thumbs up.

Yes that's right. A free copy of Webern's lectures via the Internet Archive, I found it on the Online Music Resources blog (thanks), although if you google 'The Path to the New Music' the internet archive link is in the first page of results, not exactly hard to find, but, erm, yeah, anyway...(I would probably have just looked for it on Amazon or Abe had I not randomly found it on a blog while looking for Cowell's book)

A timely find from my point of view as I have just finished reading some books on the great man - Webern 20th Century Composers, Webern and the Transformation of Nature, Anton Webern: An Introduction To His Works, Anton Webern: Letters to Hildegard Jone and Josef Humplik - and I was going to buy 'The Path To The New Music' but now I don't have to (I printed it out instead and put it in one of those natty binder folder things, I think the older one gets, the more one appreciates stationery).

Sunday, 25 January 2009

In Honour of George Perle

George Perle, via his site.

I spotted on Alex Ross's blog that George Perle has died (on Friday the 23rd of January), he was 93.

Ross's post includes a fine piece of Perle's you can stream. More available than his music (for some unknown reason) are his books, two I own and recommend are Twelve-Tone Tonality, and Serial Composition and Atonality.

Twelve-Tone Tonality is unique, at least from what I have read on the subject (harmony in general), it's worth looking at if you are interested in non-diatonic/tertiary harmony.

I intend to get his book 'The Listening Composer' soon also (might order it later actually, EDIT: done).

Recordings of his music seem less easy to obtain, I would like to hear his Wind Quintets performed by the Dorian Wind Quintet but the CD is nearly £20 so I think i'll pass for now.

If anyone has any CD recommendations at a 'nice' price please let me know.

Incidentally, Complement.Inversion.Etc favourite Paul Lanksy was one of Perle's students.

Also linked to on Ross's blog here is the New York Times obit.

Rest in peace Mr Perle.

EDIT: this news is also featured/discussed on Sequenza 21.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Quote (quote.....quote)......quote, etc

Pierre, in godfather mode.

Jed Distler: What about free improvisation?

Pierre Boulez: You can improvise with dissonant chords, or chords which are not related, or parallel chords. That's true. That can be a source of inspiration. Even Beethoven improvised, maybe to excite himself, but he wrote the piece. And that was more important. I don't think you can improvise his Op. 106 [the "Hammerklavier" Sonata]!


JD: How can one learn to compose in the computer age?

PB: First, I think you have to learn by yourself. You learn through analyzing scores. Not because you have read analyses written by other people. That can be an introduction, but in the end you have to learn how to analyze the scores yourself. You have to learn how to be confronted by the scores of other composers. Then you learn how to compose. But that's a very personal, individual task, and nobody can really teach you that.

Taken from this interview and this one at (another part in the same series is here).

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Quote of The Something or Other

The great theorist Allen Forte at Webern' s Grave (he is the gentleman on the right, click on the hyperlink to go to his site).
Dearest Hildergard (20.VII.1938)
Now listen to this: I am composing 'Kleiner Flugel Ahornsamen schwebst im winde....'. It is the key to a sizeable symphonic cycle for solo, chorus and orchestra, in which more of your texts are to appear. A sort of symphony with vocal sections.
My Symphony was broadcast from Birmingham. More encouraging news about the London 'Augenlicht' perf. (The performance was in the Queen's Hall, it holds about 5000 people!)
Anton Webern: Extract from a letter to Hildegard Jone taken from Anton Webern; Letters To Hildergard Jone and Josef Humplick.

Quote of Month/Day/Year Whatever Etc Again, Etc

'Complementary harmony is one the most important means of harmonic and melodic tension in romantic and especially highly chromatic music, it is an essential method for expressionism, and when logically used leads to total chromaticism. Adorno says that 'the law of the vertical dimension in twelve-note music should be called the law of complementary harmony.'
Walter Kolneder: Anton Webern; An Introduction To His Works.

My hastily prepared example of complementary harmony above is about as basic an example of 'logically chromaticism' as you can get I suppose, and obviously the 'set' and the 'complement' are interchangable, one is the complement of the other. EDIT: By the way, if you read the above quote and thought 'hey, I should buy that book from Amazon, looks great!', I just bought the cheapest English copy available as mine is a library loan and the book is way out print, so....(unless you are reading this ages after this post was made)


Saturday, 17 January 2009

Quote of The Month/Year/Day/Whatever

Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,
By vacancies joining them for a wheel's use;
The use of clay in molding pitchers
Comes from the hollow of its absence;
Doors, windows, in a house,
Are used for their emptiness;
Thus we are helped by what is not,
To use what is.

Laotzi: quoted in The Medium is the Massage by Mcluhan and Fiore.
Musically, emptiness could be horizontal space (silence) or vertical space (space in terms of register/frequency, and perhaps other things).

Friday, 9 January 2009

New Piece Under Construction: Names and Dates No1 (for Piano)

Check the player for a rough version of a new piece I am working on. It's based on a name of someone who was born recently, partly to commemorate the birth but also the first name and second names map onto two closely related Z sets interestingly (to me at least, very rare that someones name does this, not come across another one yet anyway).

Those sets are 6-Z10 and 6-Z11 (the more observant of you will note that 6-Z11 makes an apperance in Berio's 'Nones' discussed in a previous post). Also included is the complement of set 6-Z11 (that's the final figure, which is also heard earlier on).

I intend to explain this further and add more pieces to this series (might be all piano, or for various instruments, all of them based on someone's name, I call it harmonic gematria, patent pending).

It's performed by me on the rickety old upright piano at my Mom's house, so there is some traffic background noise and at one point a bristling sound of my beard/stubble brushing across the headphones which were around my neck (I think it's that, could also be a my fingers on the keys, the piece is quiet and so is the piano so I had to use a lot of gain).

It will do as rough draft for now, I still need to formalise the durations and work out the best way of writing it all down (will probably include fermatas at the end of each section so the player can use their own judgement in terms of when to continue).

The piece is 'atonal' I suppose but it features some literal repetition so it could be considered thematic to some extent (which compromises its atonal status in some respects, depends on your defintion of a 'tonic', i.e. strictly tonal in the cadential sense or tonal in the sense that there is a most 'important tone' or a hierarchy of pitches of some sort, this piece qualifies in the latter category but not the former)

Also, i'm currently formulating a long (ish) post on why brevity is the soul of post/non-tonal music (or something like that, basically why pieces like the one discussed here tend to be short unlike large scale tonal works like Mahler symphonies for instance, there are functional differences worth writing about, coming soon, bet you all can't wait).

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

A Portly Chord Courtesy of Berio


This chord appears at the end of Berio's 1954 piece 'Nones.'

It's quite heavy and caught my ear. Below I have included the relevant score fragment and a quickly thrown together graphic PC set analysis (it might look like I drew it in pencil crayon, but actually they are watercolour crayons I'll have you know and I would use them like that by brushing on some water if I had some thicker paper and/or more time/will power).

I am a long way from being any sort of analyst but one thing is clear from a cursory look at the thing, all pitches are present except for G (or 7 if you prefer).

B (11) is the most prevalent pitch appearing five times at the bottom end of the texture, in the contrabassoon, the tuba, the timpani, the cello and the double bass.

The woodwind PC set and the brass PC set look quite similar at first glance, I think they are transposed inversions of each other, give or take a pitch or two. The string pitches look like a subset of the same PC set (three of four pitches fit that scheme)

I'll have to look more closely at it and will probably edit this a bit later if i'm wrong about any of this (so no one will know unless you happen to check my blog in the meantime, in which case, don't tell anyone I wasn't absolutely certain from the off, I don't want to be blackballed at the Music Theory and Analysis Society of Balsall Heath, the dinner and dance evenings are just too good to miss plus there is bingo on a Sunday).

EDIT: Alright, I looked at it more closely, yes, the two sets used in the woodwind and the brass are the same set, 6-Z11 and the strings appear to contain a subset of the same. This helps provide some structure and sense to the dense chromatic harmony.

Of course much remains unanalysed, such as the precise registers (pitches not pitch classes) and the intervals used (in vertical order), but then as I said, I am not an analyst (so sue me, oh and I claim fair use of the tiny score and music fragments, please don't sue me about that)

The score fragment doesn't have the instruments or clefs listed (I should have photoshopped them in when I prepared the image, never mind) here they are...

Instruments as written in the score (top to bottom)


Fag. (bass clef)
C.Fag (bass clef)


Trbn (bass clef)
Trbn (bass clef)
Tuba (bass clef)


Timp (bass clef)
Arpa (two staves, treble and bass)


Vni A
Vni B
Vni C
Vle (alto/viola clef)
Vc (bass clef)
Cb. (bass clef)