Contemporary Music in Evolution; 20; 1948
One more composition from 1948 before we go on two thousand nine hundred forty nine. That piece is by one of the composers played last week. Milton Babbitt In fact by coincidence both Babbitt and MSU no figure again on today's program repeating from last week. There's not only some historical significance in this but perhaps also certain justice for sooner or later the parallel achievements of these two men will have to be assessed and compared and perhaps I've made a first move in this direction in my small way with these two programs. Last week in speaking about Babbitt's composition for four instruments. I explained to a limited extent the basic difference between his concept of total organization and the one prevalent in Europe and in our own country as far as most serial technique composers go.
I cannot of course repeat all of that for the sake of the piece that we're going to hear tonight. The composition for 12 instruments also finished in one thousand forty eight. This work goes even further than the composition for four instruments in totalling up a fantastic complex of internal and external relationships between all aspects and phases of the work. It's really quite fantastic as one begins to probe into the piece for its short length. It is an incredibly concentrated work and so much is happening on so many levels at one time. Even when the music sounds superficially kind of sparse and that the ear and mind can cares scarcely keep up. In terms of these relationships Babbitts work leaves even of a brain far behind and develops a multi level continuity that Baban probably never even dreamed of. In playing this composition for 12 instruments I have two things in mind.
One is to show how this music can sound in a good performance. The performance fortunately is a concert performance that is really quite good far better than most of the Babbitts music usually receives. Even so it does fall short of that composed ideal which Babbitt has committed to music paper. But this performance at the least shows that decent performances are entirely possible and it's at its best gives a glimpse of the works conceptual purity and clarity. My second point is a in the form of a suggestion. That is that you for the moment as you listen to Babbitts music must forget the externals of older music. Even most of the music of our own century Ravitz music is after after the same thing I'm sure. But his means and methods are radically different. This music truly represents uncharted territory. One must
approach it with a sense of complete openness a sense of the new and hopefully with a sense of wonder. Even 20 or 30 years. Some of you make a trip to the moon for example and see those pockmarked craggy landscapes for the first time. I wonder whether you will be able to pass a quick intelligent judgment on what you see. Obviously not. Music is like that. I do know that if you can find the total absorption and musical concentration not necessarily intellectual concentration mind you musical concentration that this music requires you will have a rewarding experience. One other marginal note that may help you through this music. You might take notice of and find enjoyment in the way the piece divides into two big sections. The second of which is clearly delineated by a sudden sickening of the point to list the fragmented texture. In this same connection there are only two
places where all 12 instruments sound exactly together. One is about two thirds of the way through just a short chord sort of burst out. The other is the last chord where the whole piece sort of suddenly flows together into one final concentrated sound aggregate. Here is Milton Babbitt's composition for 12 instruments. Her.
That was the composition for 12 instruments by Milton Babbitt Incidentally a new recording of this work will come out in four or five weeks. I don't even know the name of the company but it will be out for those of you who are interested in his music. Last week I played and discussed a piano piece by Olivia miss you know called Kinder you are John. And I said that this was a forerunner by one year of some very important or at least influential piano pieces or pieces in which the rhythmic systematization touched upon in kind. Are pushed to a logical conclusion. I would like you now to hear these two pieces known under the generic title of etudes but also known by their more specific titles of Nim meek and mode the viler a downtown city. These works bring us to the year nine thousand forty nine. In the summer of that
year miss you know return to Tanglewood for his second year of teaching and coaching. And right after that he went to Darmstadt Germany where the yearly failure because in the summer courses were beginning to exert considerable influence in post-war Germany as a center for the discussion and presentation of both the music banned by the Hitler regime and the new experiments innovations that were spreading like wildfire through Europe and New Madrid to make was written in Tanglewood and mode the valet of a dentist the day was composed and down stat. These pieces have had as I said a tremendous influence on recent contemporary music and were in fact the open sesame so to speak to the whole concept of serialization in music. That is to say the notion that the various elements of music rhythm pitch dynamics registers even tambour and so on could all be serialized or
ordered in a particular numerical series chosen by the composer as part of the composing process. This might be the time to mention something I almost forgot to point out because it is such an obvious truism to us composers. But not necessarily clear to the layman. And that is the difference between 12 tone technique and serial technique. These words are bandied about a great deal these days but I find that not too many people are exactly sure what they're talking about. Twelve tone technique Schoenberg's principle implies that pitches shall be derived from a series. In other words shall be serialized in serial technique. All elements of music are serialized at the composer's discretion of course but the implication is that more than pitch serialization are involved. Now Miss You know as I said influence the course of recent music rather profoundly with his rhythmic
innovations. Which in turn were inspired by his discoveries of certain rhythmic procedures in Indian classical music. I have also stated that Miss You know his ideas were not tied to 12 tone technique as such although they were in some ways quite close to a general 12 tone practices. I have also said that missing serial principles compared to those of Milton Babbitt were based upon some rather simple and arbitrarily related numerical procedures. I'd like to show by means of some illustrating musical examples on tape. Just how simple and arbitrary they are. But before I can do this incidentally we're getting a mite technical again tonight. But I am encouraged to do so by the many letters I get. Not from km hosers and other professionals but from listeners requesting them believe it or not. A less general and a more specific and technical approach on my part. Before I offer these musical illustrations I must
backtrack for a minute to explain why Micio evolved these particular rhythmic and durational theories. In reference to several earlier Miss Young pieces I pointed out how over the years the rhythmic contours of his music gradually experienced a kind of loosening up and emancipation from meter and the bar line. His rhythms gradually took on a character of suspension and timelessness. That Mesereau had learned to admire in Indian music. It was not long before Micio achieved in terms of rhythm and meter. What Schoenberg had done for pitch relationships and Frito anality and just as Schoenberg first having freed tonality had to find a new organizing principle which would stem the trend towards a kind of harmonic anarchy. So Micio eventually felt the need to find new means a rhythmic and metric organization. In the wondrously complex
and yet simple time patterns of Indian Talas he found the basic answer and principles for his rhythmic reorganization. And I believe that this step or at least the need for some steps similar to this was as inevitable as the adoption of the 12 tone technique was in the realm of melody and harmony. Now just how do these ideas of messy all's work. Well there are several fundamental principles involved four to be exact. I shall take them one by one. Type A is what Miss Young calls additive rhythms or the application of added time values which should be self-explanatory. Here's how it works and sounds. You take a certain rhythmic pattern and add certain other time values to it. For example if you have a phrase in which the durations calculated at a
certain time unit let's say 16 notes form a pattern of 1 6 and 11. Messy home would add one sixteenth to each duration and come up with 2 7 and 12. Adding still another sixteenth later on perhaps you get 3 and 8 and 13 and so on and in as many units and doing so as often as the composer wishes. Misyar did this in the aforementioned noom little meek. I have isolated these phrases on tape for comparison which you'll hear presently. The first phrase is a is varied and altered by addition four times. Here's how the phrases compare to each other. You'll hear how they gradually become longer the differences are very slight. But if you listen carefully you'll hear the gradual elongating of the phrase.
You're. You're. You're. Now obviously such a procedure takes no heed of the byline or meter. For if you have a phrase of eight sixteenths to equal let's say a two for a bomb. And if you add one sixteenth you have broken the bounds of that two four bar and it no longer exists. From this you can see that the possibilities of additive or subtractive rhythms are rather manifold. The second idea. Type B. Let's call it is what Miss Young has called non retrograde rhythms. There are rhythmic patterns which when retrograded form new patterns. If I take the opening motif of the fifth Beethoven.
And reverse it I get. But there are other patterns which even when played in reverse always come out the same as for example this pattern. I'll prove it to you not by playing it backwards on the piano but simply by playing the tape backwards. OK now I became fascinated by these patterns which incidentally are not too common and certainly are almost unknown in anything before 20th century music. Mainly because for a pattern to be non retrograde it has to be based on an even uneven numbers. And of course even rhythms like fives and sevens in the elevons and 13th did not appear in music with any regularity until the 20th century. In Missy owns the name of it Meek he constructs several of these
non retrograde able patterns. Here is one consisting of a duration of forty one fast sixteenth beats almost as in an Indian tala the first 21 beats are a certain composed pattern at the twenty first beat the pattern is reversed exactly. It's as if you walked from point A to a point B and then retrace your steps exactly back to the point. The total pattern is then retrograde of will. Since whether you start at the beginning or the end you will always be starting at A and heading for B. The hard thing to grasp about this is perhaps that paradoxically non retrograde time patterns are non retrograde precisely because the second half of the pattern is always the reverse of the first half. It's an interesting phenomenon in this taped excerpt. First you'll hear the first 21 beats of Miss Young's pattern
then the same 21 beats with the tape reversed. Now I'll put those two pieces together. One forward the other backwards and compare them to the total pattern. You see how they are the same in essence. Now I'll replay the total pattern of 41 beats and follow it up with various tape of it. You will then see that both the forward and backward variations of the total pattern are rhythmically the same.
The third principle which messy on couples with the two ideas already presented is the interchange ability of structures and phrases. Now this is an idea not original with Missy for this concept we are indebted to Stravinsky who stumbled upon it in The Rite of Spring. The idea as then extended and expanded by Misuari is simply that phrase structures are independent self-sufficient compositional segments which the composer can juggle around in any order. This only works if they are really self-sufficient autonomous closed forms of course. He can juggle them around in any order and he can juxtapose them in any way that he sees fit relate them in as many ways as his ingenuity and the number of patterns permits. Let me show you how this works. First you will hear the tiny motivic fragments of which the piece consists of this new Millet make of misyar. The fragments
isolated and separated as if I were taking the parts of a watch apart. Now these little fragments are the raw materials that mess you all starts with the composed raw
materials and the rest of the piece is simply a manipulation and reshuffling of these short phrases into different sequences instead of varying and developing the material altering it itself. As Beethoven would have done for example Messi leaves it basically unaltered but it varies and alters the order in which it unfolds. You remember the separated fragments you fragments that I just played here now combines them in a certain sequence in the beginning of the piece.
Now listen to a recent grumbled sequence of the same phrases as it occurs towards the middle of the piece. Note incidentally that one new phrase has been added arbitrarily.
As in a kaleidoscope The possibilities are quite inexhaustible. That takes care of three of misyar as rhythmic concepts I'm afraid this is a little rough going for some of you but bear with me. The fourth rhythmic principle that misyar evolved is the one that has caught on most with younger composers. It is the full fledged numerical serialization of musical elements including of course rhythm or as some composers call them durations in a mode devalue Dunton Cty which translated means simply scale or mode of durations and intensities misyar works with three very simple rhythmic patterns which he calls chromatic durational scales. These are based on simply adding a chosen time value to each succeeding note in a phrase as in an arithmetic progression for example.
Thus through mere addition and am embryonic nucleus sort of accumulates its own rhythmic structure in numbers it comes out simply to a series of one two three four five six seven eight nine 10 11 and 12. Now applying let's say a 30 second note value to each number to each unit the total pattern sounds like this. That is each node is longer by one unit than its predecessor or one to one. 5 3 4 5 6 7 5 7 8 1 2 3 4 5 8 9 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 were right and 11
I think 7 8 9 10 11 12. Now on top of this Each rhythm is associated by messi on this piece with a certain pitch and this relationship is maintained throughout the entire composition. For example in one of the modes there are actually three on which the entire piece is based in one of the modes. E natural is associated with 7 units c sharp with 8 B flat for example with 10 and so on. One pitch for each durational value every time the E natural occurs it is always in that particular register and always 7 units in duration. Here is the mode showing the relationship between the actual pitch and the duration associated with that pitch.
It is as simple as if a painter decided to do an abstraction in which the color red would always be associated with a certain rectangular shape in a certain size. And every time red appeared it would assume that the same shape or conversely every time he wanted that shape he would use red. Now this is very elementary. In fact in some ways naive but it also has a superficial semblance of complexity. And this is undoubtedly why this technique has caught on so rapidly and pervasively. A person with the ability to count in simple arithmetic values can thus become a composer. Well a composer of sorts anyway. I don't think I need to emphasize how this can lead to rank academics ism of the most variable and sort and to absolute artistic sterility. And it has in fact done so in many cases. I'm not now speaking of the messy pieces but many compositions that want to follow it. By other composers. It is a
dangerous technique depending like any other technique on how it is used and how the composer controls it rather than the other way around. The first extensive musical example to really reveal just how dangerous and naive this technique could be. Was the famous slip to you. Of Boulez based on an amalgamation of misyar as a rhythmic serialization and Schoenberg's pitch serialization. I will discuss this piece in some detail when it comes up on the series. On the other hand works have been composed with this kind of technique which have proved to be strong and artistically valid. The danger in this specific mess you know as approach to serialization is that the serial procedures are imposed grafted onto the music. The numerical relationships stem from arithmetic rather from my retina take and numerology and do not necessarily relate to musical
phenomena. This is not a serialization as in the case of Babbitt which comes from within the musical elements themselves rather the musical elements are made the slaves of a dictatorially imposed outside force. This is of course still a relatively new problem in contemporary music and a hotly debated issue among composers. I am stating only my own opinions and beliefs and I am well aware of the fact that other composers and theoreticians might evaluate these ideas quite differently. Anyhow you can now see to what extent misyar became involved with innovations in the realm of rhythm especially and to what extent these ideas form the basis for a new revolution in music. Also why I began to proudly call himself a rhythm a Titian. Here now are the two etudes Nim agreed to make and mode
the valet I did downtown see day by Olivier Miss Young. They are played by the pianist Paul Jacobs.
You. You. You. I inadvertently gave the wrong order of the etudes. The MO divide there was played first and second was and then they'd make the two etudes of misyar. As played by Paul Jacobs a recording made about seven years ago. I might add Paul Jacobs plays these pieces much better now much more accurately. And the halting stammering patterns of the mode develop now etude for example and now much more convincing and much more sharply delineated. Incidentally I have gone to some lengths to describe and explain messy as methods of serial organization
because they are a clue to so much of the new music being composed today. For my final piece tonight we shall hear the violin sonata by Stefan Vava composed in one thousand forty nine. Stefan Volpe is a composer who has not yet been accorded the full recognition that he deserves. He was born in Berlin 60 years ago spent some time in Palestine in the 30s when he was unable to stay in his native Germany and he became the head of the composition apartment of the conservatory in Jerusalem. In one thousand forty thirty nine he came to America and has been active here as a teacher ever since and has a devoted small following. One of his finest compositional achievements is a sonata for Violin and Piano composed in 1949 written for the violinist Francis Magnus about whom unfortunately one doesn't hear very much anymore. It is a highly polyphonic intense work very typical of well as work
was perhaps a little too much. Quite sure in Berrigan an expression although not always 12 tone in the strict sense. There is an almost physical sculptural force involved his music and his writing is very much preoccupied or was at that time preoccupied with the shapes and contours of phrases which he likes to mold and then distort it through often harsh sudden impulse of juxtapositions. There are also many tender and lyrical moments especially in the slow movement. And then there are interesting only enough a good number of purely tonal fragments fleeting though they be which however are not used diatonically. There you sort of abstractly with no particular tonal connotation. Just as part of the overall interval relationships that govern the entire work. You know is the Sonata for violin by Stefan Volpe and with the violinist Francis Magnus
and the pianist David Tudor.
Oh. Thing. Really.
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- 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: 64-36-20 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- MLA: “Contemporary Music in Evolution; 20; 1948.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 6, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-j09w513v>.
- APA: Contemporary Music in Evolution; 20; 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-j09w513v