Quotes from Grisey, Lutoslawski

I had meant to post about Grisey and Murail a month or so ago, but had gotten sidetracked and moved on to other musical interests. I thought I’d quote a couple passages from things I’ve read below.
I found this interview with Gerard Grisey a month or so ago and found alot in it, especially concerning the idea of extended time. This section came at an interesting time as I was busy contemplating the form in the first movement/section of the piece I’ve been working on and contemplating “what happens next”. I also enjoyed his thoughts on Feldman:

GG: Well, you know, I have very often been to juries for composition all around the world. When you look at the scores of young composers, very often you don’t have time to look at the scores completely. But the most important moment is the first change. The composer comes and establishes an idea that everybody understands. Everybody can have an idea. Everybody. The problem is to have a second one. This is a greater problem. And the major problem is to know where and when to bring in this second idea. And very often, you realize after a few pages that he is not a musician. He does the wrong thing. You have this feeling. And yet, you have composers as fascinating as Morton Feldman, for instance, who do the opposite. With Feldman, it’s absolutely extraordinary. It’s like anti-music in the sense that all expectation is constantly deluded. He puts down a pattern and you expect it’s going to go in that direction, and at that moment it doesn’t. Later, it changes at exactly the moment when you think, “That’s going to last.” He is constantly negating whatever you expect. For me, he is the true and the only Minimalist.

I just finished reading a book entitled “Lutoslawski”, edited by Ove Nordwall, which I had gotten from the San Francisco Public Library. It’s great as it came out in the middle of Lutoslawski’s career and covers a lot of ground in that very fruitful period. His thoughts on aleatoric counterpoint and it’s relationship to performers and how it allows a sense of naturalness and expressivity while still achieving a complex counterpoint effect really provoked a lot of thought as it was a very big issue to me (and still is!) in making music representative of what is intended: a problem I have long had with traditional notation and musical ideas existing in their own individual times.
In the the interview between Lutoslawski and Tadeusz Kaczynski on the Symphony No. 2, Lutoslawski ends with saying:

The point is that even if music can arouse in us associations with the rich world of human feelings, in different people these associations will be different. Hence a simple conclusion: it is unimportant whether the compoer writes his work under the influence of extra-musical impulses, whether it is related in his consciousness or subconsciousness to some cycle of events, or whether he himself plans to express something which could be said in words. All this belongs to the field of sources of musical inspiration, but for me it never becomes the ultimate goal. And that is why, just like so many other compoers, I could not answer enquiry about the concrete meaning of my music. Just as I could not say what is the meaning of Debussy’s preludes or Bach’s partitas. But isn’t it part of the great attraction of music that what is says cannot be expressed in any other way?


Meredith Monk: Impermanence

For a long time now I’ve been quite a fan of Meredith Monk‘s work. I had first come across it while in college, listening to many of her recordings and checking out scores from the library and the American Music Center (I was a student member at the time). I’m not even sure how I came across her work–perhaps through some books mentioning Minimalists?–but I do remember spending much time listening to her recordings (one of my favorites is a recording called Monk and the Abbess, a recording of pieces by both her and Hildegaard von Bingen). I was also found quite a lot in a book of interviews and essays on and by her (especially her Mission Statement), though it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to read them again; this book seems to be it, but I can’t remember if that is the one or not though I can’t seem to find any others).

While I’ve had quite a joy in listening to her music and engaging with her thoughts and works, I never really understood what it was really about her that really resonated with me. Feldman, Barber, Crumb, Lutoslawski… while I can’t quite articulate in words everything I feel about them, I to some degree feel that I understand what it is about their work that I am engaged with and what draws me back to them time and again.

Tonight, Lisa and I had a chance to attend a performance of Impermanance by Meredith Monk and her Ensemble at Yerba Buena, the first time either of us have had a chance to see her perform live. I was excited to finally be seeing her perform in person, though it was also somewhat of a shock to my system in many ways, as I had not really spent too much time with her music in a while, focusing very much on a different sound world in my own musical work, as well as having been quite busy at my day job the past couple weeks. But what an absolutely pleasant shock it was to be there and to see the performance unfold, just so beautifully done.

Tonight I saw many other composer’s work showing up in Meredith Monk’s work, as well as qualities very much her own. As is usual, musical time has been on my mind, and today I had just finished reading an article by Lutoslawski on the Symphony while riding the F-Line to work, discussing the qualities of limited aleatory in how performers are in their own times, and in being so are able to focus on their musical lines and be expressive in them. That struck me in a number of her pieces tonight, especially in the vocalists, whether it was prewritten out or not, it had that quality of naturalness and freedom to breathe.

Of Feldman, in one piece I heard qualities of his “Three Voices”, perhaps since there were three vocalists singing in mostly repeated measures of material. In another, at the end were a piano and vibraphone playing the same material though seemingly in their own free time, reminiscent of Feldman’s middle period of notation of notated pitches but free durations.

In he choreography I was reminded very much of a work by Merce Cunningham, especially the repeated gestures by performers, each in their own time. Also, the aspect of playfulness and seriousness and beauty in the gestures reminded me of a passage I had read in a book with interviews with some of Cunningham’s former dancers, and how one couldn’t understand how pretending to play jax was dance until Cunningham demonstrated and sure enough it was dance and it was beautiful.

Perhaps I see these things in Monk’s work because I am familiar with these things through these other artists; I do not know Monk’s history and the context of her and the times to know what is truly hers and what may be influences by others. But I think that these things are inconsequential and that she truly uses the many techniques that are available to her with the full intention and effectiveness as anyone else has ever done with the same techniques.

Lisa and I were talking at the break and we were noticing how wonderful the pace of the works were: slow and thoughtful. I think Lisa said it best in saying that the performances were both completely full with intention as well as attention. Another amazing aspect of her work was how no matter how difficult the gestures, there always seemed to be a real sense of control. I have seen other performers do similar types of work but were never nearly as relaxed, often taken up by the spirit of the moment and losing a sense of what was going on around them. Tonight however, the group seemed intimately aware of not only what they were doing but what everyone else was doing as well.

(This leads me to a bit of an aside: I found myself a bit annoyed by the gentlemen seated to the side of us. At times they giggled at the works, and the part that got me was at the break when in conversation they said that “they could do that!” and that they “had done things like that before!” with the sense of either “what’s so special with them?” or “we’re just as good.” It struck me how superficial those comments were, that they were looking at the surface and seeing techniques and not seeing the spirit which was underneath it all, and if that they really *could* do what the ensemble was doing that night, they wouldn’t be of the quality of character to make such statements as they did. Perhaps I’m wrong about these gentleman, but maybe not…)

In the end, the performance left us both very satisfied and grateful for having been able to attend. Thinking at the end, I think it’s not necessarily the technical capacity which really got me, but the strength of the performance, and that seems very much tied to the quality of character and spirit of Meredith Monk. Not having ever met her, she seemed on stage as a person who was tapped in to the spirit of her art work at all times, that she probably carries herself the same way when performing than when waking up and going about her day. That is what I think has been what I have been so attracted to in her work: the seriousness of her intention and the spirit and character of the person who is behind it all.

Life having been a bit hectic for me lately, it was an incredible gift to have been able to attend tonight’s performance and to see not only beautiful works performed wonderfully, but also to see someone who has such an artful spirit. At the same time, I felt a real sense of concern for her work as well, wondering if years from now other ensembles will pick up her works and be able to perform them wih the same qualities that she has done tonight. I do not know, and perhaps the title of her work, Impermanence, may very well apply to the gem which is the work of Meredith Monk. After tonight, I think she is a much more subtle and refined artist than many would first see, and I hope that in time that more and more people will become engaged with her work. For myself, I hope that I can take the lessons of her vision and character into my own life, and hope I can learn to be tapped in to that best of myself at all times as well.


I’ve started to go the San Francisco Public Library on a regular basis, enjoying very much their CD and DVD collection as well as their fantastic music resources (books, scores). I can’t say enough how great it is as a resource.

I’ve been studying counterpoint on the side for a half-year or so now, not too deeply as I’d like, but here and there as time permits. I had been using Counterpointer for exercises and focusing mostly on looking at 16th Century style, but at the library I picked up Ernst Krenek’s Tonal Counterpoint in the Style of the Eighteenth Century, listed as an “Outline”, which read much like a set of notes. I enjoyed this text immensely as it was in this brief format. A very quick read but very thought provoking for me as well.

For some time I had thought that 16th Century counterpoint was more interesting, but in reading the Krenek text, I found myself drawn to thinking about 18th Century counterpoint and on a larger level, the progression of form, the concerns of material usage within the context of transformations of itself and other material, and treatments of musical time. I’ve long desired to to write a longer text on musical time as it has been the first major concern of mine and continues to this day to be what I meditate most on when contemplating music…

Now thinking about Counterpoint and how it relates to ideas of glissandi, masses of sound, and non-synchronized musical ideas (i.e. in varying tempi layers) amongst other things. A lot of thoughts on these matters lately, I think I’ll have to spend some time whenever I am finished with this piece I have been working on to write down these thoughts. Even if they are only in framents in my head now, it’ll be useful to get them down and to take a step back to see it as a whole. But first things first, and back to working on music…


(Sidenote: I think I understand now what Feldman was talking about when he said he was a melodist…)