I am dining across the table from my mother at the Three Crowns Restaurant in Montclair, NJ, in 1966, on different sides of the cosmos. I have just led the NJ Youth Symphony through studies for Changings VI, a nine-minute orchestra piece that took me two years to write. We are frozen between behaviors, as if there were two of each of us, sitting there. Triumphal, ashamed, self-consciously pretentious, worried....
The ear hears everything one thing at a time. The flow of musical events is fragile and is sustained by a combination of strength and sensitivity. Musical discourse will admit all degrees of continuity and discontinuity. The listening ear is mercilessly alert to each. An unmistakable impression of either extreme alone is difficult to achieve. Even discontinuity requires careful management. Therefore, polyphony, rhythm, harmony, and instrumentation, are each and all subject to the more general Law of Music; Melody: (one thing at a time, or Serialism!): bearer of the idea, as Busoni said. The composition, with all its textural complexity, must be regarded as a single series of one-at-a-time (melody) events. Elliot Carter said the most important thing a composer has to learn is how to achieve a convincing continuity.
Themes: musical items having specific melodic, harmonic and rhythmic characteristics. They may define and establish a stable structure, or a continually unfolding, elaborating structure. Thematic-identity doesnt really come from the tone-world (pitches) but from the time-world (rhythm and duration). (Not a Thing but a Thing in Motion). A closer look at Rhythm reveals Gesture, Energy, and Motion as the parameters for musical designs we call themes. These themes seem to both create and simultaneously be situated in their own space. Tonality is not only harmonic. It is melodic too (Rudolph Reti). Often an interval-content-design seems to be a tonal center. Therefore, Key-Centers are a sub-set of the larger principle of Tonal Center.
Expanding on this further, themes are shapes made by melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic design. Such shapes may establish a stable structure which does not elaborate, or a continuous structure which does nothing but elaborate. 19th Century art and culture became rhapsodic, improvisational, and elaborative rather than structural.
The movement (elaborative) of imagery replaced the presentation (stable) of imagery. Later, Anton Webern joined Netherlands polyphonic techniques to classical Variation-form and Sonata-Allegro form. The result? A new time-scale for the passage of musical events.
...Realized more or less in that sphere where the last most refined threads of impressionism come to their end, where they only flutter in the air, in the atmospheric plane, in the whirlwind dance of sounding sundust. --Heinrich Kralik
This time-scale became the starting place for Stockhausen. Donald Tovey rightly detects early stages of this development in the work of Bruckner and Sibelius. Unfortunately, Tovey mistakenly does not notice Berlioz from whom, in my opinion, all these practices ultimately derive. By the time the European railroads were completed, Berlioz and Liszt had taken their discoveries throughout Europe and Russia by horse and carriage. Remember, it was Berlioz who pioneered the concept of free musical discourse and by staying close to the example of Beethoven he endowed music with new actions or as Miles Davis would later put it, better the forms of music.
My music does not emerge from silence. I am not a stylized vanguardist but I am an artist of my own time. This is why I spent years on Miles Davis as a special study, and on modern jazz keyboard. What is more distinctly characteristic of our time than the radical inimitability of Miles Davis, on the one hand, and the self-evident innovation of Jazz itself on the other? Becoming a complete Jazz musician was a serious part of my program. My music (whatever it was to eventually be) needed Jazz.
Jazz is a sub-category of Modern music just like Stravinsky is. Jazz knowledge is fundamental to a comprehensive and true understanding of music of our time. Thats why I went after it. As a practicing Jazz musician, in addition to the influence jazz has had on my overall outlook, I play to do honor to the art form of jazz, attempting to present the deepest possible expression of its myriad intrinsic properties.... How is Jazz unique? Its improvisation? Its Bluesy melodic figures? West African rhythms? European harmonies? No. Jazz is an innovation that belongs with the other innovations of so-called modern music. Miles Davis implies this in a 1969 statement, Dont use the word jazz with me, or with people I know. Maybe for that riverboat kind of thing jazz is a word, you know. But not for us who continue to try to better the forms of music. You know what I mean? For Miles, as for Berlioz, his musical intent was to expand music and its properties of expression.
Listen closely to Boulez Pli Selon Pli and Stockhausens Momente. Then seriously consider Miles Davis On the Corner (1972) and you may see, as obviously as I do, that Modern Jazz is surely a sub-category of 20th century classical music, not another category.
I hold a mirror up to music literature itself and I show it selectively through the sensibility and the working method of a thoroughly disciplined but free and fearless craft. I have Rauschenbergs curiosity. What is coming to life here? (I ask myself in my studio). I work from behind the mirror I raise to music ... selecting (I dont even know how) from the vast palette of my own listening experience ... multiplicity, variety, inclusiveness ... but it is not personal, I portray music not me ... a portrait set, as it were, as a picture sits in the frame of all the music which is left out. I am afraid of nothing ... not even the beautiful, as Rauschenberg has said. And so everything is, then, really possible....
For me, the disciplines of musical composition such as, melodic writing, knowledge of harmonic principles, form and continuity, etc. exist for the purpose of treating the musical experience as a dramatic medium. Dramatic in its theatrical and literary sense. The materials of sustained musical expression are controlled by a sense of the inner narrative associated with the sounds in my mind. However, be sure of this ... it is an intrinsic drama in the music itself not a semi-realistic added on or quasi-literary programmatic attachment.
A piece begins. A note is played on a certain instrument alone. It has a certain dynamic and vibrato in time. It is followed by another note a certain time later and a certain distance from it in pitch. It too has its own characteristic attack and dynamic, etc. (What Wolpe calls shape). It is related to its predecessor by its connection or its detachment, etc... Does this suggest an event a mood a character? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The point is: drama is there in the music itself and that this intrinsic dramatic element is in fact the controlling feature of the decision-making process.
Musical materials are defined by what they are first of all, notes, dynamics, instrumentation, and by how they behave. Where do they come from? Where do they lead? How fast? What instrument? Time, rhythm, continuity ... is there disruption, interruption, resolution, misdirection, resumption? Drama. You see? Thats how musical events get their living-characteristics.
What I call Drama in Music includes but is not limited by beauty in music ... it is a Music that creates dramatic impressions by its presentation of not only what it consists, but, even more, by how the what behaves in time....what do things become ... and how? ...and at what rate...? (If I have a method, this is it.)
What can I make my music do? Traveling from low to high registers ... Moving ambiguously between the foreground and background ... polyphony, melodies and accompaniments ... meter and non-meter ... FORMAL TEXTURAL TRANSFORMATIONS ... towards and away from tonal and non-tonal suggestion ... towards and away from pointillism and continuity ... A Focus-Wheel ... turn it ... a clear image appears ... turn again ... a new image comes into focus....
Things dont create themselves as Keats contends, it is still we, the artists, who do the creating. But there is a kind of code for each work, as if the individual work reveals a grammar which suggests to us as creators the works language and literature. I work to discover the code for each work as I invent, sketch, discard, speculate, create, and decide ... changing and altering accordingly until the Strictly-Individual-THATNESS of the piece comes to be. (See Duns Scotus and his literary disciple Gerard Manly Hopkins!)