Monday, August 31, 2015

Sorry for the Hiatus

I was very busy on the weekend working with musicians who are going to be recording two of my pieces. The one is my set of twelve songs which we are going to be going into the studio with at the end of September, beginning of October. The other is an expanded version of my piece "Chase" for violin and piano. We are trying to see if it is feasible to record it before my violinist leaves on Sept. 15.

It seems as if the job of purging scores of errors, correcting text underlay (in the case of the songs), and preparing parts with all the necessary tempo indications, cues and so on JUST NEVER ENDS! Beethoven made a similar comment once that the published versions of his string quartets are full of schools of little errors like schools of fish! One wonders how many of them are still there today. Last week I noticed that one measure in my published Four Pieces for violin and guitar that is all in harmonics, was missing the indication that the notes are all harmonics!

In the piece for violin and piano, I was disconcerted to discover that one, I thought, clever passage a piacere turned out to be a real problem when I extracted the violin part. You see, how it works is you compose in score, that is to say, all the parts aligned vertically so you can see the relationships. This is what composers have done since, oh, the 17th century. But the next step is to pull out the individual parts because it is simply too cumbersome to play from score. There is a page turn every few seconds! In the case of my piece for violin and piano, it is six pages in score, but just two and a half pages for the violin part separately. But passages like my a piacere (which means, "as you please", i.e. to play it rhythmically freely) become impossible because the players have to see what one another is doing as they are tossing a motif back and forth. So what I have to do is insert "cues", miniature versions of the piano part, into the violin part so she can see what is going on in the other part. The pianist plays from the score, so she doesn't have a problem. Luckily, my music software has a feature that enables you to do this pretty easily. But obviously it is the kind of thing you would have to handle completely differently in an orchestral context!

My main failing as a composer, I find, is to leave out some things in the notation because I am too quick to assume that the performers will know what to do even if I don't make it explicit. This probably comes from my long career as a performer where a frequent problem was "over-determined" scores where the composer insists on notating every detail to the point where virtually every note has a dynamic, articulation, expression and so on. You can barely see the forest for the trees! I put up a post about this here.

You can expect a lot more posts on Messiaen, in fact one on his compositional technique is in the works right now. So let's have a little Messiaen to end today. Here is a piece he wrote in 1937 for six Ondes Martenot, an early kind of electronic musical instrument invented in 1928 by Maurice Martenot. Messiaen also used it in his Turangalîla-Symphonie and other pieces:


Marc Puckett said...

Ha; I just read today someone who reported that, however Ondes Martenot may have once sounded to people, today they sound like nothing so much as cell phones ringing. Must think where I saw that. Clever but very little true-- what is the word for that? (Ah, the SF Chronicle reviewer, Joshua Kosman, of St Francois d'Assise at SF Opera in 2002: "History, sadly, has not been kind to these passages. In 1983 they must surely have sounded like birds, albeit high-tech ones; today they sound stubbornly and unmistakably like cell phones." JK has been at the Chronicle since 1988!)

Glad your performing/recording is going forward! I find the insights into the process quite interesting.

Rickard Dahl said...

Fete des belles eaux is very nice. I didn't know Messiaen composed a piece for only Ondes Martenots (to be honest I'm not familiar with most of Messiaen's works).

Bryan Townsend said...

These days a cellphone is an astonishingly compact, highly-capable, computer and the ringtone can be literally anything! Listening to the Ondes Martenot piece "Fête de belles eaux" what occurs to me is that it is really a sort of organ music, played on Ondes Martenot. What is remarkable about it is the date: 1937!

Back in 2014 I put up a post about Joshua Kosman's course on music criticism at the San Francisco Conservatory and was astonished to find a comment from him the next time I looked at the blog. He is a very nice fellow and a thoughtful critic, based on my contact with him.

Marc Puckett said...

"... (F)irst, the old mass media outlets like newspapers and magazines are getting rid of music critics as fast as they can..."-- which is amusing in context of JK's case, ha.

Marc Puckett said...

I'm not familiar enough with St Francois d'Assise to know which part Kosman was referring to with his 'cellphone' remark, and am not spending the 4+ hours to figure it out; not this week, anyway. My next listen isn't 'scheduled' until Christmastide.

"That Fischer-Dieskau rave you envision would take a lot of time and energy and attention to detail; you could write a takedown of poor Andrea Bocelli that was just as accurate, as well as being mean and funny and memorable, in a quarter of the time." I have to agree with this, I think (at least in my own case, mutatis mutandis, who used to blog a great deal more than I do now, specially about controversial subjects in the Catholic world, it is much easier to write about nonsense in a heavily ironic/sarcastic/critical mode than it is to point out that perhaps the nonsense is actually not entirely nonsense, from this or that particular perspective). On the other extreme, there are critics (the ones who write for the local papers, for example) who are almost reflexively so effusively laudatory that I am left wondering if we were at the same performance-- I suspect that actual musical training etc etc are absent in those cases although that can't be the explanation for all of it.

Just got tickets for Haydn's St Cecilia Mass (Hob. XXII/5), in late October. Have never heard this except on a CD recording.