Roland Peelman, one of my oldest friends, the mega-multi talented pianist, conductor, leader and currently artistic director of the Music Festival of Canberra (Austr) recently asked me to consider the possibility of composing yet another sonata for piano. Since Liang-yu Wang got me writing number 19, there’s no escaping the fact that, in order to keep a self-inflicted tradition intact :-), I silently vowed to compose a fourth book of six sonatas. Which means: yes, I’ll try to concoct a new sonata.
The overall theme of the Caberra 2017 Festival in which it might or might not be featured, is ‘revolution’. Living in a land which is famous for its infamous revolutionary birth (remember the false memes concerning ‘La muette de Portici’ by Auber: the crowds gathering outside the Opera de La Monnaie in 1830 which caused the cessation of the southern part of Now Lands, which is completely bullocks of course. The opera nor the poor deaf girl had nothing to do with it. Everything was already planned way ahead. But a country sung into being might have appealed to the imagination of quite a few liberal and nationalistic minded Romantics.) I’m not exactly turned on to the blood-smeared words ‘Amour sacré de la patrie. Aux armes!’ to say the least.
Nowadays we speak of many revolutions: the cognitive revolution which wiped out the Neanderthals. The agrarian revolution, which still manages to curb the freedom of the last free-roaming people on our planet… (For how long the Khoisan language(s) of the San people will continue to click in South Africa?).Then there’s the sexual revolution, the digital revolution, a real plethora of all kinds of revolutions, political, social, cultural, you-name-it-al). By accident I found a little book: Ultra-modernism in music; a treatise on the latter-day revolution in musical art by Duncan, Edmondstoune, 1866-1920. I’ve not yet read it, but the words ‘latter-day revolution’ triggered my curiosity. Maybe it’s the same old story about Antheil and friends in Paris… Still. Maybe worth a glance.
What could a composer tell about ‘revolution’?… Even Nono who lived to be a real revolutionary artist, what kind of changes did he really bring to the world? Revolutions in music are always by definition contextual. Rameau saying nay to the people imposing Lully’s dictums… is this a revolution? Not exactly, but the world would be a much poorer place without the extremely original overtures for the operas composed by the wayward Frenchman. Often we speak of the revolutionary stance of Beethoven (in Western music.) But the guy worked and worked and suffered, honing his craft to ultimately show us, residents of a deafening world, an entrance to a previously unforeseen and sublime sound world. Against which from day zero a new generation had to fight against, in order to be able to survive as an ‘original composer’ (I know, I might be exaggerating a bit :-). Though in many pages of Mozart I feel the same dare devilishness, we never speak of the revolutionary aspects of his music. Maybe he willy-nilly just managed to cover up a bit better his steps?
To end this blog, which might be the first of quite a lot I fear, let me state that the music of many composers can unleash personal revolutions, even creative life threatening changes in the career of composers. But I don’t believe in musical waves inundating in one go the musical landscape of its time… This cultural tsunamis only exist in the mind of musicologists and in their books written afterwards. The serialists didn’t abolish musical conservatism. In the beginning, their music was locked away in far away summer course locals, or in alternative venues not always very well suited to savor this new soundworld. I know about this first hand, because as young guys, Roland and I for example, quite often planted our feet on these kind of stages.
Composing is a slow business. In some way it’s the opposite of revolutionary actions as we envisage them. It took Darwin many many many years to write ‘The origin of species’. Yes, it revolutionized the way people started to think about time and ancestry. But there still are presidential candidates which don’t seem able to grasp the implications of this book. Composing is also about time and classical composing is sometimes considered a fossilized endeavor. But I still truly hope to find a way to forge a very minor small-scale revolution in my own creative output. It’s not the first thing i want to do in music. But I feel that honest art-making, embedded in the present, is never allowed to veer far away from revolutionary thoughts. And who knows, the result of this subjective inner revolution might maybe one day irrigate a infinitely small patch of parched Australian soil. If the composers over there left me some to water 🙂