Contemporary Music in Evolution; 19; 1948
Music composed or completed in 1948 on this program and as a sort of counterpart to last week's program which presented to conservative works we have this time three works which can be called radical in the real sense of the word of suggesting certain procedures which are quite new and yet no more than a thorough evaluation of a very old and fundamental musical phenomena. The composers in question are Olivier misyar Milton Babbitt and John Cage. In the summer of 1940 eight messy art was invited to teach composition and give a rhythmic analysis courses at Tanglewood. During this period he wrote a piece called contour your Julia that is spelled c a n t y o d j a y. And the piece is for piano. It is a work which in historical retrospect can be considered quite important to the entire development of so-called seriously organized music as
practiced in Europe and as suggested by Boulez and others. Messi owes it to you to do that of one thousand forty nine and fifty are considered the specific fountain head of this whole development but country is the immediate foreigner forerunner of these etudes and embodies in a less formalized and perhaps less consistent manner. The serial procedures of the rhythm etudes. What message did in this music was to conceive a technique whereby the duration of notes. Also there register all displacement and their dynamics could be controlled by the composer in a particular order or particular pattern peculiar to that piece. In other words these elements rhythm register and dynamic were subjected to logical allegedly intellectual procedures just as pitches had been ever since the codification of diatonic and modal scales and key centers.
To put it even more simply dynamics and rhythm which had previously accepting certain works by Schoenberg and they've been been arrived at on an arbitrary and purely intuitive expressive and even impressionistic basis. We're now conceived of on a more functionally organized partially pre-determined basis. MICIO called them modes or scales of dynamics chromatic scales of rhythm and so on. Modes are a series in other words which are to be applied in theory at least throughout the entire work and applied to all musical components. Now two things have to be pointed out immediately. One and that mess you on did not apply these principles in any way that was related to 12 tone technique that was left for a willingness to do misyar was not and never has been a 12 tone composer and he
arrived at his serial principles by an entirely different route. That being and this is my second point. Through his studies primarily of Hindu rhythm and of the so-called ISO rhythmic techniques of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance I still Rhythm is a musical principle by which a particular rhythmic pattern is applied to several or many different melodic patterns. Imagine for example applying the rhythm of the opening of The Rite of Spring to a totally different choice appears to a totally different melody. If you do that you have and I saw rhythmic procedure. Now since misyar had been working for some time with modes and since for some time he had used a single specific mode or sometimes two specific modes for a particular piece. And since he was now beginning to apply correlated modes of rhythm duration and dynamics and so on. We can see that
this whole concept is relatively close to Latter-Day 12 tone techniques as compared to the rest of so-called contemporary music. But as I said it was not specifically related to and born out of 12 tone methods of composing. There is one other point in some ways a minor point but in some circles regarded as a major point. And that is that message is thought to be by almost everybody. The first composer to employ these embryonic serial procedures as we shall see later in this program. This is not the case in terms of fact and has been simply. Brought forward as a kind of legend invented I am afraid for a not very elevated in fact rather propagandistic reasons. But more of that later at some other time. To get back to messy as condé you know Julia. The title of course is Indian or
Hindu and the piece is in fact based on certain rhythmic modes notated by the 13th century Hindu theoretician Deva. These rhythmic patterns as used by Amos you know are subjected to various permutations and alterations augmentation diminution retrograding the rhythm of patterns added time values. That is to say added rhythmic units which for example can turn a symmetrical pattern into an as symmetrical one and so on. As I've shown in earlier programs mess you know had already gone beyond Stravinsky's rejection of metrical symmetry going so far as to conceive something he called unmeasured meters and beats an equal duration within a meter. The latter idea of course is close to Hindu rhythmic concepts and it was therefore only logical that messy I would take the further steps that lead to this country.
His rhythm etudes and finally through Boulez so-called total serialization and such resultant excesses of this concept as the latter's famous story to you. For two pianos. I hope to go into more detail on these matters when introducing messing with an attitude. A few weeks hence. I shall therefore let these remarks and the piano piece candy or JR serve as a very general introduction to this musical philosophy and technique. In any case from this point on this program series shall be concerning itself with these matters in one way or another. For better or for worse with increasing frequency. Messy RS CANTOR You know Julia is played by his pupil and foremost interpreter Yvonne. Lauderdale. With. A
country by Olivier Messiaen on a work written in 1948 and played in this performance by Eve on the Hill in 1948 the American composer Milton Babbitt finished a number of works which had been germinating in his mind for some six or seven years. Among these his composition for four instruments which we shall hear presently. Milton Babbitt is a composer who is not yet known to any really sizeable music public who however as a lecturer and as a teacher at Princeton University has been exerting for some 10 years a tremendous influence on a large segment of the younger generation of composers. Babbitt probably does not enjoy being called a theoretician especially in view of the unfortunate and misleading connotations of that term as it is generally used. Nevertheless because of his remarkable intellectual capacities he has been
responsible for the most precise and penetrating analyses of the technical problems of contemporary music and has in turn suggested certain concepts or modes of procedure which are. And this is more important and bodied in his musical compositions and which together with his teaching have had a considerable influence on many of his colleagues and younger composers. Needless to say a large segment of the public composers and critics have totally rejected both his music and his theoretical writings. Babbitt's music is perhaps the most mis understood music presently being composed and even otherwise fairly enlightened musicians composers and critics find it impossible to cope with. And in the tried and true human pattern rejected in not too complimentary a manner his music to those who hear it once or twice I might say
and almost always totally inadequate performances is rejected as hyper intellectual cold or cerebral or the work of a mathematician rather than a composer. Now none of this is true although anyone not caring to probe deeper than the surface of this music is apt to think so. And certainly the relatively rare performances of his music generally fall so short of Babbitt's musical vision as to be often ludicrous and therefore no realistic evaluation of his music can be made on that basis. You might ask well why does he write such difficult music. Or if it is so difficult as to be unplayable by our best musicians today. Isn't there something wrong with it. Well the answer to that if you really stop to think about it is obvious. A man composes not what he thinks musicians can play but what he knows to be his ideal and most sincere contribution to music. And he cannot really concern himself with the
relative acceptance or non-acceptance accorded to this music. I must say speaking now as a performer that Babbitts music is for the most part playable exactly as he has conceived the performance problems are not inherently as prodigious as the particular musical standards operative today would indicate. The fact is that with very rare exceptions our performers even some of our best ones are hopelessly out of touch with the more recent compositional languages and the instrumental problems these create. I mean let's face it when the average even enlightened musician speaks about contemporary music he usually means Bartok Prokofiev earth or middle period Stravinsky. So that's one side of the coin. The other side is and this is my private opinion that I believe Milton Babbitt to be and I'm putting it mildly far ahead of his time. Now I don't
mean that as a kind of rhetorical gesture but rather as an indication of my believe that his music or at the very least the concepts by which this music operates is the most far reaching really radical music of our time. As such it of course embodies problems which the performer and I dare say even Babbitt himself has not yet solved and may not solve for some time. We shall have to wait and see what kind of a role the Babbitts work with the RCA electronic synthesizer will take in bridging this serious gap between composition and performance. I personally feel that it will take on a most important role if only as a supplementary means and as an instrument which can show us how some of the problems implied in Babbitt's musical concepts can be realized and tackled. But the piece in question now is not an electronic synthesizer piece. And we must deal with it on its instrumental terms. It is scored for flute
clarinet violin and cello. In speaking about this piece it is almost impossible to know where to start. It operates on such a multiplicity of levels and almost labyrinthian correlation of all of its aspects and musical components so as to almost stagger the average mind to go into this in minute detail is probably probably not possible on a radio broadcast. Or at least not in the time and with the means at my disposal. My regular listeners know by now that I'm not preoccupied with long detailed analyses of 12 tone procedures. I really believe in most cases these are of such irrelevance to the quality of the music. Very much the private affair of the composer in question that I cannot arouse in myself too much interest in them. But in Babbitt's case I believe that
the compositional procedures and their implied theoretical and technical concepts are of such far reaching consequence that I am greatly tempted to delineate them in detail in so far as I am capable of this. And it is only their considerable complexity which dissuade me from attempting this on the radio. To what I suspect is largely a lay audience. I shall therefore resign myself to a few general remarks at least for the moment. The composition for four instruments is a totally organized or predetermined work within the 12 tone technique. Here the work differs in other words drastically from the messy piece we heard earlier. When I say totally organized I mean that every note every dynamic every register will and instrument instrumental and durational choice is determined by the rigorous application of a system which in its specific details is peculiar to this piece.
All aspects of the piece are derived from the 12 tone roll or 12 tone set as Babbitt calls it. However unlike the music generally called totally organized the music associated with the avant garde centers of Europe that its music consciously attempts to establish internal compositional correlations between all the elements of the music in a way which makes most of the European music seem naive and simplistic. Whereas the so-called totally serialized music of many prominent European composers is nothing but an arbitrary imposition of rather simple numerical patterns on the notational components of music. That most music envisions a far more sophisticated correlation of musical elements. A state in which all aspects are organized and they do symbol not in a one to one unilateral relationship but each element is related to every other element on as many levels and in as many directions
as the human mind and ear can conceive. In other words he envisions a cosmos a cosmos analogous to that which science has discovered in its studies of the atom its composition heretofore could be likened to a situation in which an individual admits only two relationships let's say with his closest preceding and succeeding relatives Babbitt's music can be said to reflect the situation in which that individual would be aware of all the myriad complex of lesser and greater relationships which in fact surround him. Now this total vision of the music is certainly a vast concept that may or may not be realizable and it is possible that Babbitt himself may not yet have created the music that realizes the totality and purity of this vision. I rather think this is the case. On the other hand he has come far closer than anyone else to a realization of a totally organized music. In this sense
and I might add at this point that he did so as early as 1940 in a composition for eight instruments still and performed I believe. In other words almost a decade before such thoughts began to circulate in Europe. Now if I've led you to hope that you will now hear some fantastic all embracing cosmic music you will undoubtedly be let down. Whether this is due to the fact that the theoretical vision is not realized in this work or whether some other still unknown ingredient is missing. After all that possibility does exist or whether it is simply a matter of the inadequacies of performance I cannot say with certainty. Well I take that back as a as far as the latter possibility goes. I think I can say the performance on this record is such as would be adequate perhaps for a much less sophisticated and intellectually demanding music. However given the
demands of Babbitt's work the performance is quite impossible even on the purely mechanical instrumental level of playing dynamics rhythms and cetera accurately. It is obvious therefore that deeper problems and more subtle relationships and bodied in the work were not even touched upon. And of course if the work was composed with these in mind we cannot evaluated based on a performance which totally ignores these facets. By these facets I mean such still relatively conventional ideas as delineating as a three part koan counterpoint in one instrument as occurs for example in the opening clarinet passage. In other words this music no more than any other music can be played cannot be played simply by playing the notes and not understanding them. And I'm afraid that's what this performance offers. It is barely possible for example that the performers knew that the piece divides itself into 15 sections
presenting the 15 possible groupings of four instruments into solos duos trios and quartets. But I am sure they were not aware of how these 15 sections and their characteristics are related to the 12 tone set or two such elements as meter dynamics and so on. Thank you. I am simply saying that this music cannot be played properly without at least an awareness of these relationships as well as a great deal more instrumental control and virtuosity. All I've ever said about the performance problems and they have been on this series must be multiplied by many times. In the case of Babbitt but beyond that it is obvious that this music must be listened to in a new way. And unfortunately this listening must be informed by repeated hearings of relatively accurate performances.
A situation which so far does not obtain but here in any case is the composition for four instruments by Milton Babbitt. No. And.
The composition for four instruments by Milton Babbitt composed in one hundred forty eight.
With the performers John woman on flute. Stanley Drucker and clarinet both of the New York Philharmonic and Peter Marshall violin and Donald McCall cello The latter two of the Lennox quartet. In one thousand forty six to nine hundred forty eight John Cage began composing a body of works called so not as an end to ludes for prepared piano which occupies in retrospect a position in cages work similar to that of the Well-Tempered clavichord in box work. We shall hear four of the sonatas and one interlude. These works were written shortly after cage had become seriously interested and interested in and aware of Oriental philosophy. And in these works he attempted to express musical ideas not too different from those in messy. I can't tell you which idea although his specific Cage's specific techniques to attain these ends were of course quite different. Well the emphasis
with Miss Young was on the serial principles involved Cage's continuity was based on purely associative and quasi improves improvs the Tory methods. These means were used to express in his own words the permanent emotions of Indian tradition the heroic The Erotic the wondrous the mirthful sorrow fear and anger the odious and the overall tendency to tranquillity. This is a rather large order in one sense and on the other hand so all encompassing as to be considered the common property of all artistic and musical expression. In contrast to the vastness of the expressive girls at bank age his formal goal is a much slighter one the sonatas are as simple or even simpler formally than any early Mozart sonata. They are short 2 minute a B B forms with exact repetitions in other words.
Actually more like Scarlatti and Mozart come to think of it. What makes them different are two things One the fact that within these larger forms and these smaller larger forms there is no thematic or motivic repetition and variation no semantic development. That is Cage writes freely almost in an improv Zaatari manner within very. Concise and controlled forms. The second point has to do with the sonic aspects of the pieces. The piano is prepared by applying all manner of bolts not screws and dampers to the piano strings thereby altering their sound and Tambor and very often their pitch. The microtones you will hear for example are entirely a result of these mechanical manipulate manipulations. The resultant total sound is most novel and I must say most attractive. And the music sounds as if it incorporates all kinds of percussion sounds some similar
to Oriental music of course and yet all the time it is only one pianist playing. The variety of timbres does achieved is quite remarkable and is in a way a curious precursor of electronically achieved sounds. Let us now listen to the fifth sixth seventh and eighth sonatas followed by the second interlude by John Cage and played with a fine understanding of the composer's intentions by the pianist model I jam Ian. Oh.
The contemplate of sonorities of John Cage's sonatas and alludes played by the pianist not jamming on in a recorded concert performance in summarizing this program it is interesting to note the purely coincidental cross relationships between the three pieces played. There is the relationship of Indian sources and philosophy in the misyar and cage pieces and the related but dissimilar serial procedures in the mess you know and Babbitt works. While this may not prove anything about the specific relationships musically of these composers to each other it does suggest since all three works were written at the same time that the ideas embodied therein are not mere fortuitous happenstance as so many conservative musicians and composers would like to think but rather something that was definitely in the air at in those years. And as we now know it was here to stay. I'll be back next week with more music
from the late 40s. Thank you for listening.
- Episode Number
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Series Description
- Contemporary Music in Evolution is a radio program hosted by Gunther Schuller, which traces the evolution of Western classical music from 1899 to 1961. Each episode focuses on a specific year and chronicles some of the significant works, schools, and composers of the time. Schuller introduces several performance recordings in each episode, and gives commentary and analysis that also touch on previous episodes.
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Host: Schuller, Gunther
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 64-36-19 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- APA: Contemporary Music in Evolution; 19; 1948. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-599z434v