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One more composition from 1948 before we go on to 1949. That piece is by one of the composers played last week, Milton Babbitt. In fact by coincidence both Babbitt and Messio figure again on today's program, repeating from last week. There's not only some historical significance in this, but perhaps also a 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 twelve instruments also finished in 1948. This work goes even further than the composition for four instruments in totaling 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, that the ear and mine can scarcely keep up. In terms of these relationships, Babbitt's work leaves even Weber and far behind, and develops a multi-level continuity that Weber and probably never even dreamed of. In playing this composition for twelve 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 concept performance that is really quite good, far better than most of that Babbitt's 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 at its best gives a glimpse of the work's 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 Babbitt's music, must forget the externals of older music, even most of the music of our own century. Babbitt's music is 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. If in twenty or thirty 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 judgement on what you see. Obviously not. Babbitt's 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 thickening of the point-elistic
fragmented texture. In this same connection, there are only two places where all twelve 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 twelve instruments. One is about two-thirds of the way through, and the other is about two-thirds of the way through, and the other is about two-thirds of the way through, and the other is about two-thirds of the way through,
and the other is about two-thirds of the way through, and the other is about two-thirds of the way through, and the other is about 2-thirds of the way through, and the other is about two-thirds of the way through,
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. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . registers, even tamber, 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 twelfth-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 of what they're talking about. Twelfth-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 serializations are involved. Now, Mession, as I've said, influenced 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 Mession's ideas were not tied to twelfth-tone technique as such, although they were in some ways quite close to general twelfth-tone practices. And I've also said that Mession's 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 might technical again tonight, but I'm encouraged to do so by the many letters I get, not from composers and other professionals, but from lay listeners, requesting, 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 Mession evolved these particular rhythmic and durational theories. In reference to several earlier Mession 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 Mession had learned to admire in Indian music. It was not long before Mession achieved in terms of rhythm and meter what Schoenberg had done for pitch relationships and free tonality. And just as Schoenberg, first having free tonality, had to find a new organizing principle which would stem the trend towards a kind of harmonic anarchy, so Mession eventually felt the need to find new means of 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 twelfth ton technique was in the realm of melody and harmony. Now just how do these ideas of Mession's work? Well there are several fundamental principles involved, for it to be exact. I shall take them one by one. Type A is what Mession 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 16s notes, form a pattern of 1, 6 and 11, Mession would add 1, 16s to
each duration and come up with 2, 7 and 12. Having still another 16s later on, perhaps you get 3 and 8 and 13, and so on, adding as many units and doing so as often as the composer wishes. Mession did this in the aforementioned Nurm-Ritmik. I have isolated these phrases on tape for comparison, which you shall hear presently. The first phrase 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 gradually elongation of the phrase. Now, obviously, such a procedure takes no heed of the bar line or meter.
For if you have a phrase of 8, 16s to equal, let's say, a 2, 4 bar, and if you add 1, 16s, you have broken the bounds of that 2, 4 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 Mession 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. Okay, now Mession 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-retrogradable, it has to be based on uneven numbers, and of course uneven rhythms, like fives and sevens and elevens and thirteenths, did not appear in music with any regularity until the 20th century. In Mession's num rhythmic, he constructs several of these non-retrogradable patterns. Here is one, consisting of a duration of 41 fast 16th beats, almost as in an Indian tala. The first 21 beats are a certain composed pattern.
At the 21st beat, the pattern is reversed exactly. It's as if you walked from a point A to a point B, and then retraced your steps exactly back to the point A. The total pattern is then non-retrogradable. Since whether you started the beginning or the end, you'll 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 Mession's pattern, then the same 21 beats with the tape reversed. Now I'll put those two pieces together, the one forward, the other backwards, and compare
them to Mession's total 41 beat 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 a reverse tape of it. You will then see that both the forward and backward versions of the total pattern are rhythmically the same. The third principle which Mession couples with the two ideas already presented is the interchange ability of structures and phrases. Now this is an idea not original with Mession. For
this concept we are indebted to Stravinsky who stumbled upon it in the right of spring. The idea as then extended and expanded by Mession 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, 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, motific fragments of which the piece consists, this numeric meek of Mession, the fragments isolated and separated as if I were taking the parts of it.
Now these little fragments are the raw materials that Mession 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, Mession leaves it basically unaltered but varies and alters the order in which it unfolds. You remember the separated fragments, fragments that I just played. Here now how Mession combines them in a certain
sequence in the beginning of the piece. Now listen to a re-scramble sequence of the same phrases as it occurs towards the middle
of the piece. Note incidentally that one new phrase has been added arbitrarily. Now listen to a re-scramble sequence of the same phrases in the beginning of the piece. As in a kaleidoscope, the possibilities are quite inexhaustible.
That takes care of three of Mession's rhythmic concepts. I'm afraid this is a little rough going for some of you but bear with me. The fourth rhythmic principle that Mession 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 mod de Valère, a d'Antoncité which translated means simply scale or mod of durations and intensities, Mession 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 an 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, ten, eleven and twelve. Now applying, let's say, a thirty-second number to each unit. The total pattern sounds like this. That is, each note is longer by one unit than its predecessor. Now on top of this each rhythm is associated by Mession in 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 eNatural is associated with seven units. C sharp with eight. B flat for example with ten and so on. One pitch for each durational value. Every time the eNatural occurs it is always in that particular register and always seven 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 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 composer of sorts anyway. I don't think I need emphasize how this can lead to rank academicism of the most virulent sort and to absolute artistic sterility and it has in fact done so in many cases. I'm not now speaking of the Messian pieces but many compositions that were 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 reveal just how dangerous and naive this technique could be was the famous Structule of Boulez based on an amalgamation of Messians rhythmic serialization and Schoenberg's pitch serialization. I will discuss this piece in some detail when it comes up on this 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 Messian Boulez approach to serialization is that the serial procedures are imposed grafted onto the music. The numerical relationships stem from arithmetic or rather from arithmetic 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 Messian 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 Messian began to proudly call himself a rhythmatician. Here now are the two A-tudes, Nym-Ritmik and Maud de Valère et d'Antancité by Olivier Messian. They are played by the pianist Paul Jacobs.
Here are the two A-tudes, Nym-Ritmik and Maud de Valère et d'Antancité by
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Series
Contemporary Music in Evolution
Episode Number
20
Episode
1948
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip/500-j09w513v
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Description
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.
Topics
Music
Education
History
Recorded Music
Media type
Sound
Duration
01:05:52
Embed Code
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Credits
Host: Schuller, Gunther
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 64-36-20 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 01:04:48
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Citations
Chicago: “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, accessed June 23, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-j09w513v.
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. June 23, 2024. <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