© 2016 by Logan Strosahl

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Modern scores

August 21, 2016

We all know Morton Feldman was a great lecturer and musical thinker--if you don't, check out his various introductions and lectures such as the one in Toronto 1982, or Johannesburg 1983. I just spent an hour looking at scores by Grisey, Ferneyhough, Benjamin, Furrer, Haas, Crumb, Rihm, and Lachenmann--all great composers. Yet it was with the greatest difficulty that I managed to hear anything from looking at their scores; I mean, really, it is unintelligible to me. Listen, I can hear notes just fine in conjunction with one another, in my head, but the byzantine notational methods of of modern comp. make me laugh. Not in denigration of them, but because they are so far removed from anything I would ever write. And who am I compared to Gerard Grisey? Well, nobody. Nobody at all---Grisey is a true master. I have the profoundest respect for these modern masters. It’s worth recalling to mind, sometimes, that the music they write is predicated on the privilege of having a group of highly trained specialist performers who will tirelessly work to execute their vision, no matter how difficult. One may know how to compose and yet not enjoy this privilege. I don't think even great composers of the past such as Byrd or Mozart enjoyed this unequivocal privilege--it was like, alright guys, we've got one rehearsal, let's do this. This shit better be clear and easy. Because we've got 9 year olds singing it. Because we've got amateurs playing it. Performers would sometimes be like, "fuck this, this is too hard"--there's that aria in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie where that happened. There is beauty, I think, in simply written, clear music written with no special technique or esoteric notation. Did you know that Feldman's scores are actually quite simple to read? I sometimes feel that there is an unspoken assumption that modern composers have this incredibly complex, esoteric, minutely detailed notation in order for it to be "serious"; the vision must be microscopically specific for it to be valid. Well, sorry--we've got one two hour rehearsal to do this in. No school is paying me to compose, and the musicians I play with are as busy as they are talented. You'll forgive the quarter notes.

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