Choice or chance. This is not the question. Not here. Some would have you believe otherwise. That whenever creative decisions are shared by the composer and the performer, chance is involved. “Aleatory” is the catchword. “Alea” meaning dice, and “aleatory” of or pertaining to games of chance. It came to signify (1) music where creative decisions are left to the performer’s discretion; and (2) music composed by chance operations and indeterminate of its performance. If we regard the former, and not only the latter, as chance music, then all traditionally composed music ought to be defined as chance music, and that by virtue of the unspecifiable elements left to the performer’s discretion. What, after all, are the specifiable quantities of a crescendo? Even timbre has to be prescribed in terms of highly generalized categories. How does one quantify a flute? The raising of such questions was bound to upset the traditional set of priorities assigned to the elements of music, and when elements of high priority too, pitch and duration, together with the structures they engender, were left to the performer’s discretion, nothing really changed: from the composer’s standpoint, music became no more and no less a conceptual art than it had always been, and as always subject to chance in matters of performance.
Electronic music excepted, of course, where conceptualization is no more a relevant (and helpless) end in itself, where all abstractions are concretized in sound by the composer; where nothing is left to chance even when chance methods are put to use; where nothing is left to the performer’s irreversible discretion even when a performer is employed with all of his (or her) discretions. In the end, all is choice – – the composer’s.
Session (1975) is a case in point. It is a work of total fixity. That it is not written for the piano, but for a specific pianist, explains only part of its essence. Regardless of whether or not it is practicable in “live” performance, not only no other pianist is permitted to play it, but Idil Biret too, for whom it is written (it would be more proper to say “from whom it is composed”), will not be required to play it again, in concert or for another recording, as she has performed her part under the direction of the composer for the sole purpose of a concretized composition heard on this disc. Hence its fixity. It cannot change from one performance to another. In concert performances, same as any other piece of true electronic music, a recording will be played (as it has been when Session was first heard publicly at the Electronic Music Festival of Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, January 1977, and later the same year in the Hay Day concert of Muaicians Action Collective, at the Kitchen, in New York).
The piece should communicate its message by its own unconcealed means, although there are a few things to be said about its subtler aspects. Mention could be made of the musical quotations: the one from Chopin’s “Revolutionary” Etude, for instance, and how it relates to what is said about past and present revolutions, or the Tristan quotations, one of which, when heard backwards, representing the reversal of values prompted by money; and the Internationale dramatically plotted as a determined statement of consciousness; and also that most of the music in the piano as well as the “accompaniment” parts consists of metamorphoses of these motivically employed quotations. The listener may perceive all these and more, or may not. If he does, so much the better. If he does not, then what the piece communicates musically (not necessarily to a musically probing audience) and verbally (but necessarily to an English speaking audience) ought to be sufficient to establish its point and purpose.
[Session is a composition of agitprop music for eletromagnetic tape featuring Idil Biret, painist, and the speaking voice of Arthur Levy (The Attorney), Steve Goldstein (The Accountant), John David Kalodner (The Publicist), Idil Biret (The Artist). Text by Ilhan Mimaroğlu partially based on paraphrased quotations from Karl Marx. Realized in the studios of Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, New York, N.Y.]
Cangianti (1939 – and the Italian word denotes the unsettled, iridescent character of the piece as well as its changing relations) is a conventionally structured (closed-form) composition where both the precisions imposed upon and the liberties given to the performer are of a traditional order. Yet, the experience acquired in the electronic music studio is manifested both by the precisions and the liberties. On the one hand, there is a discernment for controlled durations that measured tape-cutting provides, hence such rhythms consisting, for example, of eighth-note quintuplets with one eighth-note missing (simplistic traditionalists would call them irrational), and on the other rests of “approximately” so many seconds, or a blank space between two notated staves, demanding from the performer the kind of instinctive actions best cultivated in an electronic music studio.
Among the deterainants of Castiglioni’s creative profile, alongside the electronic experience, is the career of a concert pianist. Born in Milan (1932), he acquired very early in his development as a composer the new techniques which laid the foundation of a style definable as an expansion of post-serialism, one which is marked by a refinement and aural immediacy rarely encountered in the music of that era.
He composed several orchestral and vocal works which distinguished him, alongside Berio, Nono and the late Bruno Maderna, as an outstanding protagonist of the new Italian school.
The electronic experience also nurtured André Boucourechliev’s style. Renowned as a music critic and musicologist too (he is the author of two highly regarded books on Schwann), Boucourechliev, born in Sofia (in 1925) was trained in the conservatory of that city before completing his studies at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. He first gained and applied the electronic techniques at the Studio di Fonologia in Milan, and also composed in the studios of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales in Paris. His highly refined conception of sound displayed in his instrumental works is a manifestation of sensibilities developed in the electronic environment.
On the matter of choice and chance, Boucourechliev is unequivocal. Here is how he comments on Archipel IV (ca.1970): “Like all my works that bear this name, Archipel IV is a mobile work, changing from one interpretation to another. Its elements are placed on a large sheet of paper, all of which are offered to the free choice of the pianist who may vary to the infinite their succession and duration. But, aside from the order, the context, and the time of occurrence of these elements, their internal structure too is modified each time: pitches, rhythms, intensities, masses, densities are all variable and subject to certain rules and gestural limitations, and “operated” instantaneously by the performer. There is no question here of chance actions, the freedom given to the pianist is a freedom of choice, hence a responsibility. It is those lucid and instinctive choices that determine the trajectory of the work – a solitary navigation which, although unplotted, must at each instant be guided by the interpreter’s powers and must possess its own profound logic and unity in its diversity, imagination aad dreamlike quality.”
Brouwer’s Sonata “Pian e forte” (1970) is somewhat similar in its overall design, with the difference that a restricted itinerary is imposed upon the performer who has to start aad finish the performance with definite structural elements (which Brouwer calls “formants,” a term obviously borrowed from Stockhausen). On the score, the starting element is enclosed in a circle around which are rectangular areas where the other elements are placed. The ones closer to the circle are to be played first and interpolated with the one in the circle. One of the elements calls for improvisation, some of the others consist of graphic notation by virtue of which a good amount of improvisation is also required. One element is a quotation from Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata. Three of them are quotations from (1) a Scriabin sonata (Brouwer does not specify which, so we chose a fragment from the Tenth Sonata), (2) from Szymanowski, either from the opera King Roger or from one of the violin concerti (and we chose Roxane’s song from the opera); (3) Gabrieli’s Sonata Pian e forte. These three quotations are to be pre-recorded on tape and play end back during the pianist’s “live” performance; or the other elements can be put on tape and the quotations performed “live”; or the tape recorder can be dispensed with altogether and the pianist will play the quotations as interpolations. We opted for the first alternative. The order of the quotations on tape guides the form that the piece will take in each performance. Even if the sequence of the quotations is kept unchanged, an infinite number of versions is possible in performance. The results suggested to us (although we do not know whether this was the composer’s intention) the playing of two pianists at a certain proximity of each other, one unaware of and interfering with the other; or, in pictorial terms, a painting that serves as canvas for another, and we cultivated our recorded sound with such suggestions in mind.
Leo Brouwer was born in Havana in 1939 and trained primarily as a guitarist at the conservatory of that city. In the earlier stages of his formation he oriented himself to musical composition, pursued his studies at the Juilliard School in New York and developed into one of the most talented musical explorers of our day. At the time of this recording he was active as a central figure in Cuba’s revolutionary musical life, while keeping his international career active both as a guitarist and a composer.
© Notes by Ilhan Mimaroğlu
|The New Records September 1978||Los Angeles Times December 3, 1978, by John Henken|
|For much of the music on these discs I’ll let either the composers or the annotators speak for the music, since, for the most part, I found listening to these records a trying experience (except for the Nancarrow and the Shephard).Cangianti “is a conventionally structured (closed-form) composition where both the precisions imposed upon and the liberties given to the perfomer are of a traditional order….The Italian word denotes the unsettled, iridescent character of the piece as well as its changing relations.”Boucourechliev on his work:” Like all my works that bear this name, Archipel IV is a mobile work, changing form one interpretation to another. Its elements are placed on a large sheet of paper, all ow hich are offered to the free choice of the pianist who may vary to the infinite their succession and duration”.Brouwer’s work, we are told, “is somewhat similar in its overall design, with the difference that a restricted itinerary is imposed upon the performer who has to start an finish the performance with definite structural elements….On the score, the starting element is enclosed in a circle around whoch are rectangular areas where the other elements are placed. The ones closer to the circle are to be played first and interpolated with the one in the circle.”Idil Biret is sensational, and Finnadar’s processing is first rate.||“Session” (1975) by Ilhan Mimaroglu for piano, electronic tape and speaking voices is an intensely dramatic piece of agitprop music in the mode of Luigi Nono.Unlike Nono, Mimaroglu does not allow redundance and overkill to dilute the impact of his statement.Leo Brouwer”s Sonata “Pian e forte” (1970) uses musical quotations, including that from Gabrieli which gives the piece its title. In this performance the quotations are played on tape and ultimately drowned in al welter of clusters from the “live” pianist.In Andre Boucourechliev’s “Archipel IV” (ca. 1970), the entire piece is constructed by the performer from the composer’s elements, which themselves are open to modification.Niccolo Castiglioni’s impressionistic “Cangianti” (1959) showcases Biret’s skill at handling vertain facets of current piano idioms.|
Ilhan Mimaroğlu (* 1926)
Niccolo Castiglioni (* 1932)
Andre Boucourechliev (* 1925)
Leo Brouwer (* 1939)