Contemporary Music in Evolution
As indicated last week one of the works on this week's program will be Elliot Carter's Pulitzer Prize winning second string quartet one of the most distinguished American compositions of recent vintage and certainly one of Carter's two or three best works the quartet is based on an extension of various musical ideas and concepts that had been occupying Carter's attention for about a decade or so. Most prominently in the first string quartet and the orchestra variations for example the so-called metric modulations of the first quartet are still an integral part of the continuity of the second quartet although less obviously so in the later word the concept of metric modulation has become even more integrated into the writing. And what seemed at times in the first quartet to be to some extent an external notational super imposition on the music had become completely natural by the time Carter wrote the second quartet.
It is interesting to see in the development of Elliott Carter's music are certain influences and concepts have not only become a permanent aspect of his language but how they grow and expand and deepen from work to work. For instance the influence of Charles Ives. It makes itself felt in both of Carter's string quartets and in basically the same manner. Similarly the influence of the ASA NOVA of the 14th and 15th century with its astoundingly modern sounding polyphony. This influence can be heard in both quartets too and is if anything even more pronounced in the second quartet. Perhaps some of you do not know about the honest nova. Briefly it constitutes one of the most interesting periods of all music history. Coming at a time when music was moving from single or two voice lines into multi linear polyphony and when the language of music at least the language
of secular music was being enriched by the invention of most of our musical notational system something as common as a sign for a triplet for example did not exist at one time. As hard as it may be to be to believe that it had to be invented just like anything else and it was invented in the 14th century and so are many of the other signs we use today. And these signs and musical indications first found us in what subsequently became called Nova. Well these new notational devices naturally help to expand and broaden the musical language at a tremendous rate. Actually in retrospect much too hastily. But as a result within a few decades an extremely sophisticated and complex form of polyphony developed which sounds modern and complex even to our twentieth century ears. Some of the composers who were the leaders of the US know of a movement the new art in other
words were Philip DeVito we show you probably all have heard about the pedal Zio Gallio Tebow and many many others. I can't go into a full discussion of this 14th century music at this time. It's mustard as much as I'd love to but suffice it to say that this music even today looks and sounds very advanced and full is full of what we call today irrational rhythms. It's certainly full of symmetrical rhythms and the music is characterized by a total independence of the musical lines. All these modern characteristics curiously enough were modified and simplified in subsequent centuries. And it wasn't until the 20th century that such rhythmic complexity was redeveloped for partially entirely different reasons. But as a result very few people outside of a few composers and musicologist know about this
remarkable musical development in the 13th and 14th 15th century. Well Carter is one of the few composers who has been profoundly influenced by this early in musical development and has found a way of using it in his music in contemporary terms. Curiously the influence of. I was connect up right up at this point because I for entirely different reasons. I also was very deeply involved with irrational rhythms and the total independence of lines or the total independence of simultaneous musical ideas. Ives did not by the way know the music of the ASA Nova since musicologist were just beginning to unearth this music in Ives lifetime. Also I should add that when I speak about the music of Ives in this context I'm not speaking of the ides of the second and third symphonies which everybody knows but of works like these three places in New England. And the second string quartet and some of his
other lesser known and more radical compositions. Well these twin influences of I and Nova make themselves felt very much in the second quartet of Carter and in many ways without going into a lengthy discussion and all the subtle ramifications of these influences and how they used the most obvious manifestations of the ARS Nova for example are the total absence of harmony in the second quartet of Carters and the complete independence of the four instrumental parts of the string quartet. This concept was I would guess confirmed and corroborated for Carter as it were by certain Ives works especially the aforementioned second string quartet and in the Carter work we find the same use of super imposed poly rhythms and rhythmic polyphony. But there is an even closer resemblance between the two string quartets of Ives and Carter.
Those of you who heard my program on the child's Ives quartet. Oh about a year or more ago may recall that I spoke about Ives assigning certain roles to each of the four instruments and especially to the second violin whom I've even gave a name. Rolo and you may recall Rolo in the quartet was the arch conservative who doesn't like and can't play anything this side of C major and can handle only the squarest and simplest of rhythms. Well not only does Carter assign a role. Character to each of the four strings in his quartet but also guess who the second violin is predominantly featured in regular and square rhythms. Is this mere coincidence. I doubt it but this is not to impugn Carter's originality. These resemblances are superficial conceptual ones and the music kind of creates by these means is wholly his own and
quite original. Also where with the idea it was a partially program magic and humorous and satiric one Carter uses the idea in a purely musical abstract way. Nevertheless I can't help help feeling that the germ of this idea must have come from Ives or at least have been influenced in some way by Ives use of it. Here is how Carter expressed this idea in his own words. He says and I quote him. I regard my scores as scenarios. Auditory scenarios for performers to act out with their instruments dramatizing the players as individuals and as a as participants in the ensemble. To me the special teamwork of ensemble playing is very wonderful and moving and this feeling is always an important consideration in my chamber music. Does this Carter
goes on to describe the first of my line as quote fantastic ornate and mercurial cause called the second violin by contrast. As mentioned before is relegated to keeping a kind of regular pulse going throughout the anchorman so to speak. The viola is quote predominantly expressive and the cello is impetuous and closest in character to the first violin. Incidentally none of this is academically or literally maintained by Carter. That is throughout you know through the entire work but is used with freedom and flexibility and without rigidity. The instruments not only have these just mentioned characteristic traits but have certain into valid characteristics as well. For instance the first violin part consists predominantly of minor and major thirds. The viola mostly of diminished fifths or try tones the cello on the other hand specializes in
fourths and minus 6 pts and so on. And to delineate the personality traits of the four instruments further apart are fashioned a form specifically geared to this purpose. The main features of this form are for solo cadenza has one for each player which link the four movements of the work. The whole work is then bracketed by an introduction and the conclusion with you is basically the same material. Since the movements are played without interruption and since once again Carter is not obviously rigid about this formal scheme. Some of you will have difficulties following the quartets course here than is the basic outline. It may help a little bit to orient you now and again during the listening. First we have the introduction second. And I legged a fantastical mainly for the first violin the one that he calls ornate fantastic and
Mecurio. This is followed by a viola cadenza which leads directly into the second movement. But I still Scott Sandell hear the second violin almost belligerently belligerently maintains it's strict. Much like rhythms I can answer for cello follows and that leads to an S perceivable which is the third movement and the pre perceive all movement is naturally dominated by the viola. Then the first violin has its good ends or and this is followed by the fourth movement and that is followed in turn by the conclusion. So in fact you end up with nine sections of music all played without interruption in the fourth movement and I label the four instruments which had been kept musically apart Up until that time are allowed by the composer to come together in concert so to speak and at the climax of this movement they converge into one single thick cluster is a musical idea.
This is a marvelous moment in the work and is usually very clear and striking in live performances. And I'm sorry to report that in the recording made by the Juilliard Quartet the engineering is such as to even out all the dynamic levels of the work. What I mean is that this climax for example is the only consistently fortissimo passage of any length in the work. Previous to this moment loud notes occur but they are isolated and more in the nature of momentary interjections and much of the previous material before that climax is very soft and quiet. But in this recording the engineers brought up the level of all the earlier movements without correspondingly raising the last movement and its climax. That's in a way the whole point of the piece is lost or at least obscured. And in any case the dynamic continuity is seriously affected as a result you may have some trouble catching this
climax at least from merely the dynamic point of view but perhaps you'll be able to recognize it by the turbulence and frenzy of this climactic passage. Except for this engineering defect the performance is quite remarkable and I must say that the Julian's cover themselves with glory in this performance. The quartet. Needless to say is extremely difficult to play and they play with as much accuracy as one can possibly expect and the basic character delineation of the work is so perhaps not the ultimate ideal yet certainly very close. Needless to say it is also difficult music from the listener's point of view. Most listeners anyway or superficial or partial listening will not work in this piece but I trust that that comment is really not necessary anymore on this program since either those listeners who are still with me already know that contemporary music takes concentrated listening or else they've given up in disgust and have stopped listening.
Anyhow here now is Elliot Carter's second string quartet composed in one thousand fifty nine as played by the Juilliard Quartet.
Learning at. The end.
Plan. B. I know they are. Meeting you. Yes. And I.
Did. Get a letter.
They are. Playing. Leap.
And that was Elliot Carter's second string quartet as played by the Juilliard string quartet. Robert Mann and Isidore Cohen Milans rough ill hit your viola and classify them shallow as the other work on this program I'd like to play a work of my own. The seven studies on scenes of Paul clay. This is probably my most often played work undoubtedly because it is the most easy to listen to of my works and because of the extramusical association with paintings in this case six paintings and one ink drawing by the famous Swiss artist Paul clay. Since the piece is fairly accessible even on a first hearing especially in comparison to some of the advanced and complex music I've been playing on my series recently. The music itself will not require much elucidation or comment. I would like Harvard to say something about my intentions in this work as I think they can be
easily misunderstood. Most people will automatically associate this piece and its pictorial analogies with myths or ski's Pictures at an exhibition. This was not quite my intention. Or at least my approach to the work was not only based on a sort of tonal impressionism or tone painting. What I was primarily interested in doing was to relate my music structurally and formally to the structural and formal aspects of the clay paintings I chose. This seemed possible to me because Clay used musical formal principles and ideas in his art all his life. Clay in fact was planning to become a professional musician. And only at age 19 did he decide to devote himself to painting. But he continued to play chamber music most of his life and early in his career he already became very interested in transplanting certain musical ideas to the realm of pictorial art. The most common organizational procedures he borrowed
from music were such forms as the few the variational principle various rhythmic uses of color or of shapes and so on. It seemed reasonable to read translate into music than the these pictorial structural elements which originally had come from music. And this is what I attempted to do. Naturally varying the degree or character of this music to painting relationship in each of the seven studies. In some cases the analogies are more readily discernible than in others. And I should also add that just as Clay's paintings are not merely abstract not just abstract but also have a representation of content. Often a witty or satirical one so also I felt that my music must reflect that side of Clay's works as well. Therefore there is also a relationship to the ideational content or let us say the subject matter of each corresponding painting.
So much for the general approach I think I'll only add a sentence or two now prior to each of the seven movements without you seeing the paintings I cannot do very much more to elucidate the structural relationships especially except in one or two cases perhaps the first piece was inspired by Claes painting called out Al Kaline which is translated as antique harmonies and is one of Clay's variational studies consisting of variations on squares or blocks the shapes and colors vary and the color relationships give the whole abstraction a larger formal outline interpretable as a dynamic outline. So I too used block like structures and my music piled up on top of each other and varied in instrumental color and size and related to the dynamic outline of Clay's work. There are other more subtle relationships as well but this should suffice for the moment.
The second clay work is called abstract just had set abstract. Here the abstraction of the trio idea was done in terms of isolating a number of instrumental trios from the rest of the orchestra and using them at first in succession and then finally at the end simultaneously the abstract trio of.
The third piece is based on Clay's famous line of blood tie for the little blue devil. This I turned into a kind of jazz piece suggested to me by the angular geometric shapes of the picture and the various shades of blues employed here worried about the performance. Missa Dorati and the Minneapolis symphony are not jazz musicians. So do not look for authentic swinging jazz that is those of you who know what that is. On the other hand you may be surprised at how far a symphony orchestra can go in relating to jazz. Mainly through notation. Little Blue Devil. Will.
The fourth piece is based on Clay's even more famous twittering machine. This is a piece that really Twitters and I think an is a musical representation of a mechanical apparatus that sets into motion twittering mechanical birds. This time by means of the strictest serial organization of musical elements.
Why. Why. Why. The next two movements I have the village and an eerie moment in the village I used authentic North African scales and this being
obviously the only 9 and 12 tone section of the work and I worked on fingerings and means of controlling the micro tones of ironic music. Also there are various musics and different pieces and different instrumental groups going on simultaneously on the stage and back stage you'll notice particularly the slightly softer backstage flute. All of which is unfortunately less apparent on a modern aural recording than in the life of forms on even on the stereo recording. I am a village and then this is followed by an eerie moment a title which should be self-explanatory.
Us. Us. The bell. Lead.
The last piece is entitled passed around and subtitled rhythms by Clay himself and it is indeed a rhythmic study in shapes and colors and a variational piece as well. It is one of Clay's works that introduces the idea of time the temporal element into painting an extra dimension. Since the painting to be fully appreciated or even superficially understood must be sort of read like a page of printing and therefore its appreciation takes place in time. Like music the pastoral title also suggested to me a romantic pastoral mood with the traditional romantic instruments the horn and the clarinet predominating.
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Other 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.
- Media type
Host: Schuller, Gunther
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 64-36-21 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “Contemporary Music in Evolution,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 23, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-9882pj3f.
- MLA: “Contemporary Music in Evolution.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 23, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-9882pj3f>.
- APA: Contemporary Music in Evolution. 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-500-9882pj3f