Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ravel on Inspiration vs. Work

Here is a can of worms I found while sorting through a massive stack of composition papers currently traveling in my backpack. Let's open it!
From a book called "A Ravel Reader" here is a letter he wrote to someone in response to their query about the nature of his musical inspiration.

"All that I am able to affirm is that in 1924, when I undertook the Sonata for violin and piano, which has just been completed, I had already determined its rather unusual form, the manner of writing for the instruments, and even the character of the themes for each of the three movements before "inspiration" had begun to prompt any one of these themes.
And I don't think I chose the easiest way."

In the footnotes to the quote, it adds "Ravel often quoted Baudelaire's aphorism: "Inspiration is decidedly the sister of daily work." In a rehearsal for the same Sonata, Ravel told the violinist, when asked about the role of inspiration in the work: "Inspiration - what do you mean? No - I don't see what you mean. The most difficult thing for a composer, you see, is choice - yes, choice."

So - is inspiration for musical works merely the by-product of hard work? Or are the composer's 'choices' the same thing as inspiration?

I often, if not every time, find myself with some form and layout of ideas, some 'character' of the piece determined even before I lay a single note to the page, or even have a single note in mind. It would seem that when composing this way a constant series of choices is made, with the aim of filling a particular mold of the composer's own design. At what point then is the composer inspired? I personally feel the most inspired at the start of the process, when making broad decisions about the work, and then once again when I have a draft of the piece written down, roughly corresponding to my initial conception, and I make more detailed choices that refine the work. It is often then that the I realize the true nature of the piece. Often I find the way things are working out at that point is beyond and better than my initial conception.

Is Ravel right? Is Wahlquist wrong? Is this too calculated a process for 'real' music to result? Can inspiration really be present when the composer doesn't even have any notes in mind?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Friend Dmitri

ON AUGUST 9TH, 1975, about 10 years before I was born, my friend Dmitri died, literally suffocated by lung cancer for which he had previously undergone treatment. A terrible and ironic way for him to go - imagine: a Soviet composer, suffocated!

Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was the poster-child of all Soviet composers. He completed his conservatory training in St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad with what would become his world-famous 1st symphony, written at age 19 in 1926, as the icy fingers of Soviet life were tightening their grip on all aspects of Russian culture. It isn't in the scope of this post to give his complete biography, the casual reader will find the Wiki article extremely interesting. Suffice it to say that he spent his entire life as a composer under the thumb of the Soviet regime. If you are looking for more information, Laurel Fay's Shostakovich: A Life is supposed to be the best current biography of the composer. Fascinating to me is that it is so hard to write an unbiased biography of this undisputed genius - there are at least two sides of the composer that the world has to come to terms with. For most of the period of Soviet tyranny, Shostakovich was often seen as a communist lackey. His name appeared on all sorts of weird Soviet articles and decrees, he could be seen at any number of official Soviet functions and offices. His 7th symphony, written about the siege of Leningrad, rallied audiences around the Allied (including Soviet) world and earned him a Time magazine cover.

It is tempting to brush off these pro-Soviet leanings (including a number of 'la-dee-da ra-ra motherland' trash compositions) as being the result of the persecution that the composer faced during the "cult of personality" which excused comrade Stalin and his cronies every indiscretion. Twice during Stalin's reign, Shostakovich was singled out for official persecution, during which times (periods starting in 1936 and 1948, respectively) hardly any of his works received public performance or official approval. However, the reality is, many of the composer's biggest compromises to the Soviet system (including officially joining the communist party) took place after Iosef Vissarionovich was long dead.

That said, there is another face of Shostakovich, one that has only really come to light since his death. In 1979 (5 years after he died) the controversial book Testimony appeared, purporting to be a confessional biography of the composer. While much of the actual content of that book has been seriously called into question, it has spawned a whole new era of Shostakovich research because it opens up the question: How did Shostakovich really feel about Stalin, the Soviet state, and composing under the scrutiny of Soviet handlers?

For years scholars have loved to dig into Shostakovich's works to find coded hate-mail to the Soviets, or to find meaning in the many strings of musical quotations and borrowings found in his music. Unfortunately, all they have to go on is A. the reports of family and friends (hardly an unbiased source) and B. the music itself.

I'm inclined to take another position altogether on Shostakovich's music. I come to this after having just read Wendy Lesser's excellent new book Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets. The book takes an autobiographical approach to understanding Shostakovich's music, not so much by way of interpreting the music, but by creating a context for the works. Using the latest research and interviews with those who knew Shostakovich, Lesser doesn't interpret the string quartets as nutty cryptograms waiting for us to solve their mysteries, but as pure pieces of music, full of musical expression even without understanding some sort of musical-code. The biographical details in the book serve mostly to give us an idea of the sort of things that would have been on the composer's mind as he wrote each quartet, and the results were extremely edifying. If you didn't know it already, you may have been surprised to learn above that Shostakovich wrote 15 string quartets. He also wrote 15 symphonies, and the two bodies of work have therefore been singled out as some of the composer's most important work. Maybe that is why he wrote 15 of each, more than most composers visit either genre. They have often been compared: The symphonies are the official Shostakovich and the quartets the private Shostakovich. The Symphonies are his messages to the world and the quartets his messages to his friends. The symphonies lie, the quartets tell the truth. The time period of the symphonies spans his entire creative life; he didn't start writing string quartets until after the first official attack of his music in 1936. Whatever the case, I think the real answer is much more complex, and when it comes down to the music itself, rather irrelevant.

My personal feelings for the music of Shostakovich come to me by way of two of my more direct musical ancestors, both Soviet composers who grew up under the shadow of Shostakovich: Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina. Reading about them I have gotten a feel for what Shostakovich meant to generations of Soviet composers. Whether they hated or loved him later on, you can hear his overwhelming influence in their early works. He was both a rallying standard and a hated compromiser. Having lived in St. Petersburg and its environs for two years, I came to realize what surprises many in the west: Shostakovich, and classical music in general, were more important and familiar to the average Soviet than Copland ever was to your average Joe American. Many in St. Petersburg still weep to hear his 7th Symphony.

To me, Shostakovich is sort of like my musical uncle who had a really, really crazy life. I relate to him as someone from St. Petersburg, as a composer trying (but not always succeeding) to live up to his musical ideals, and as a man for whom personal relationships became a primary source of musical inspiration (now, that isn't to say I plan on having three wives and numerous affairs!) Above I called him my friend; I really do feel an affinity for Shostakovich. I have a strong intimation that we in fact were friends, in another time and place before our lives started less than the relatively puny span of a century apart.

Not long after Shostakovich's music was officially banned from performance in 1948, (he was being too 'formalist' and bourgeois, whatever that means) there was a big music conference in America. How could the Soviet Union be represent by less than its best composer? Shostakovich called in sick. Soon after, he received a telephone call, "Please hold, Comrade Stalin is coming on the line." Stalin asked after his health and insisted that the best doctors see the composer, (his health plan had been downgraded along with the other persecutions) and asked if he would go to the USA for the 'Congress of Peace and Culture.' I love Shostakovich's response, both brave and political: "...Of course I will go, if it is really necessary, but I am in a fairly difficult position. Over there, almost all of my symphonies are played, whereas over here they are forbidden. How am I to behave in this situation?"

You can imagine the silence on the line before Stalin answered, "How do you mean forbidden? Forbidden by whom?" Who knows if he was really ignorant, or if he was playing a really sick game. Shostakovich told him it was the State Committee for Repertoire which had placed the restrictions, and Stalin assured him it was a mistake. Sure enough, the 'official' sanction lifted shortly afterwards, although in fact Shostakovich's music was not widely performed for several more years until the tyrant was dead. Shostakovich did go to the conference, and did toe the party line there (attacking in a speech the 'decadent' music of Stravinsky).

In any case, I feel like this recent read has filled out holes in my mental portrait of Shostakovich. A complex and contradictory portrait. Perhaps most intriguingly of all is the 'what-if:' what if Shostakovich had left the Soviet Union, and continued on composing without the oppression and opposition? Would he still be regarded as one of the greats of the 20th century, or would he be an obscure post-romantic composer swallowed in the shadow of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, two other immigrants to the States whose music pulled nearly all of Western music in its wake? In other words, was the Red Hell of Shostakovich's life the molding furnace that made him great?

As a young composer beginning my own compositional career nearly a century after Dmitri did, I ask myself: how can I, a composer with almost no constraints on what kind of music I can write, find a way to make my music matter as much to somebody as the music of Shostakovich did and does to countless millions around the world?  I understand that 'modern academic music' is probably necessarily doomed to relative obscurity, but this whole last year, as I've had it drilled into me at school that it doesn't matter if my music is 'popular' or not, I find myself wondering: why not? In 1941 the world rose up to embrace Shostakovich's 7th Symphony as the anthem against Fascism. I can't help but dream that music could reach out the same way today. Why shouldn't my music matter to people? Does it always have to be compromising my art to create something of  universal or at least wide appeal?
Add a lightning scar, (He once wrote a ballet called Bolt)
put him in front of an orchestra with a baton,
and he will face the dark forces that cannot be named
(lest the censors catch onto his subversive aims!)

Finally, I can't finish this post without putting in a plug for one of my favorite works of all time, Shostakovich's monumental set of 24 Preludes and Fugues. It is one of the few works for which I have a preferred recording: Vladimir Ashkenazy on piano. (Jazz pianist Kieth Jarrett has also recorded the set, which is interesting, but not my favorite) Each prelude is something wonderful, and each fugue a portal into the transcendent. While the set is inspired by and owes much to Bach's sets of preludes and fugues (The Well-Tempered Clavier), it is completely a product of the twentieth century. It is perhaps the most abstract and free music Dmitri every wrote. Listen to it some Sunday when you can just sit and focus. Is this the voice of compromise, pandering to the public or to the demands of Socialist Realism? Maybe you will hear what I hear, the beautiful songs of my friend Dmitri. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Spectacular Questionnaire Part I - The Early Years

Covering composers from the dawn of time to the end of the Romantic Era.

Favorite composer who has been dead for more than two centuries?
J.S. Bach, 1685-1750

I haven't been huge into my genealogy work, but I do know that I am at least musically descended from papa Bach. Such grace, such order, such depth of thought and expression! I should do a whole article on why Bach is to Moses what I wish I was to Joseph Smith. Just kidding. Sort of. If you haven't gotten into Bach fugues, you are missing out on music approaching the celestial. Bach ranks in my top all time favorite composers, the only one in this post who does.

Favorite composer who has been dead for less than two centuries, but more than one?
F. Chopin, 1810-1849

Chopin is like Mozart, except ditching the poodle skirt for an emo hoodie. Still all about melody, balance and perfection, but with actual musical substance. Check out Chopin's Nocturnes or the tragic Piano Sonata No. 2 for some of the century's most prophetic music.

Composer from the1800s whose music could be favorite if it could just be shortened by like two thirds or so?
J. Brahms, 1833-1897

Brahms could be one of my favorite composers of all time, if his music weren't so long-winded. Still, he is one of the composers that first got me to really love 'classical' music. I just rarely have the patience to listen to his music. The late piano music Op. 116-119 is a good place to start.

Composers from the 1800s who you always get mixed up but that's okay because you couldn't care less about their music?
R. Schumann, 1810-1856 & F. Schubert 1797-1828.

Both early romantic era composers.

Favorite nationalist/late romantic composer? (late 1880s to the early decades of the 1900s)

I can't pick just one, I have a soft spot for these guys. Not quite modern, but pushing beyond romantic.

A. Scriabin, 1872-1915 (Russian) 
A pianist-composer like Chopin, but forging a totally original path in works like Poem of Ecstasy and the last five piano sonatas. True, he thought he was going to cause the end of the world through an apocalyptic piece of music, but then, every artist has thoughts like that now and again, so let's not be too harsh, right?

Karol Szymanowski (Shee-maun-OFF-ski), 1882-1937 (Polish)
Exquisitely beautiful music. Think Chopin through the lens of Scriabin. I come back over and over to the paradox of the sensuous spirituality of his Stabat Mater, one of those pieces that had changed music for me.

J. Sibelius, 1865-1957 (Finnish)
You can't deny the influence of Sibelius in opening all our eyes to a more organic development in music, although his music remains firmly rooted in a late romantic language. I've recently come to like the sixth symphony. Latter-day Saints will know him for his hymn "Finlandia" to which we sing "Be Still My Soul."

B. Smetana, 1824-1884 (Czech)
Although he lived and died earlier than these other guys, just take one listen to his first string quartet, or to the exquisite Die Moldau. Incidentally, like Beethoven he also went deaf, but nearly overnight. The above mentioned string quartet captures the agony of this.

E. Grieg, 1843-1907 (Norwegian)
Listening to his lyric pieces for piano is like holding a handful of diamonds.

S. Rachmaninoff, 1873-1943 (Russian)
I'll admit that I've shed tears while listening to the second piano concerto. I thought of it nearly every time of the dozens of times I walked into the Palace Square of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

R. Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958 (English)
A lot to be admired in his music. I like the Sinfonia Antarctica. He lived well into the modern era but remained pretty firmly rooted in the late-romantic tradition. Latter-day Saints will know him as the source for the hymns "For All the Saints" and "If You Could Hie To Kolob" (obviously that one had different words!)

Least favorite era of music?
The Classical. (~1750-1830, or in other words, between the death of Bach and the death of Beethoven)

I see the classical era as a step backwards from what Bach had achieved, and when Beethoven again advanced the art, it was in another direction entirely, but still shackled for a century by the harmonies, forms and ideas of Mozart and Haydn. I guess that makes the Romantic Era, particularly in its earlier phases, my second least favorite era. In any case, why do classical radio stations insist on playing a ton of obscure and minor composers from these eras to the neglect of many MAJOR composers of the last century? On a side note, the CONCEPTS of the classical era's perfections of form and the romantic era's focus on individual expression are core principles of my compositional aesthetic. But too often their music just doesn't do it for me!

Composer that puts you to sleep every time, without fail?
W.A. Mozart., 1756-1791

He could be the punch line to several other similar questions I have in mind, but I don't want to hate on him too much. What can I say? He was the perfection of his era. But I just don't care to listen to his music. Also, his genius is sort of overrated, in my opinion. For one, it has been partly mythologized. And when you hold up the vast quantity of his music as argument for greatness, remember that he was dealing with set forms and set harmonic practices. Where most composers are concerned with pushing boundaries and changing music as we know it, he was busy noodling around with the same materials as Haydn. Okay, I'll stop, I said I wouldn't hate. Plus, that laugh! (wait...I'm confusing film fiction with firm fact here...)


Favorite composer who got a specially designed opera house just for his music?
R. Wagner, 1813-1883

I don't really care for his operas in and of themselves, but I love what he did in opening all our ears to new harmonic frontiers. Check out the orchestral overtures to Tristan and Isolde or Parsifal. Too bad he wasn't a symphonist...

The funny thing about music that is more than 300 years old?

At one point my dad thought that the only music I liked was over 300 years old. Ironically, I can hardly name a handful of composers or pieces from that era that I like at all. Overall, I don't mind this 'ancient' music. There is a charm and beauty to its overall clarity and simplicity of thought. Studying 16th century counterpoint last semester really just made me realize that these guys were concerned as anyone with pushing beyond what had come before. Parallel fifths = evil? Only because it was the distinct sound of what was then considered the passé music of previous generations. Much like classical/romantic era cadence formulas are taboo today.

Favorite reference to music in an ancient text?

From the dedication of Solomon's Temple: 2nd Chronicles 5:11-14 "And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place...Also the Levites which were the singers...being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets...It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God." Ah, the power of music! Also, the entire Revelation of St. John is full of lots of apocalyptic music. Right up my alley!

Favorite anecdote about a composer from the pre-modern era?

F. Mendelssohn's 'rediscovery' of Bach. For almost a century after his death, Bach was relatively unknown, only remembered as a legendary organist and as father of his composer sons (none of whom hold a candle to the old man). Then one day the composer Mendelssohn found a dusty manuscript of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. Once it was performed, it was as though the world suddenly realized what they had been missing, and Bach was ranked with Beethoven as one of the greatest composers ever. Are there other composers out there whose music could change the world? Maybe one of them is blogging right now?

So what about L. Beethoven?

See my previous post all about that dude.

Favorite composer from the pre-modern era whose name is a headache to transliterate?
P. Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893

There is a letter in Russian that makes the hard CH sound all by itself. Why we take three, I don't know. CH would work fine. Чайковский. Its even worse with Shostakovich. In Russian it looks like Шостакович. Notice that the SH is also one letter, as well as the CH. In English the word Church could be four letters! Please sign my petition to add these valuable letters to our language. I could do a whole post on the pathetic transliterations of Slavic composers' surnames. Rachmaninoff? Рахманинов! Notice that it ends in a V sound (the Cyrillic B, yes it is pronounced nearly like an F, but still..) Again, we take the CH sound to mean a hard H? What? It might better be: Rahkmaninov. Already, I'll stop. About Tchaikovsky? Once you get through the cheese of his era, he is another example of a Mozartesque composer that actually has some guts to his music. I have a particular soft spot for his piano concertos.

To be continued with composers from a more modern time, closer to my heart and aesthetic...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Fascinatin' Readin'

This last school year I didn't do much recreational reading - not that I don't love to! But to me reading a novel is like watching a 4-6 hour movie. I pause for dinner, but I've got to finish it in pretty much the same sitting. I don't know how many times I've started a book at bedtime and finished just before its time to get up. This last school year was no exception. When Qait finally convinced me to read the Hunger Games series right after Christmas, each book took me just a day to read. It was wise to chose not to read a lot of recreational stuff during the school year. Instead, I had loads of books and scores out from the library. I listened to dozens and dozens of pieces this school year with the score (The big discovery was Earle Brown, the big rediscovery was Messiaen). I would have a number of music-related books that, when I wanted to read, I would grab and pick up somewhere interesting, not feeling obligated to read the whole thing. (Highlights include Persichetti's fascinating harmony textbook, or Henry Cowell's still-interesting-eighty-years-later New Musical Resources)

My main go-to book this last semester was only tangentially related to music: Douglas Hofstadter's mind-bending Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. I'm now several hundred pages in, but I don't think I can tell you succinctly what the book is exactly about - it may be the 'biggest' book I've ever read, in terms of scope of ideas. I can say that I'm loving it and it makes me feel smarter to read it. I think that its about the nature and complexity of intelligence. On the way it's talked about everything from Bach's Musical Offering to Escher's paintings to Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. (I haven't gotten to the part that explains exactly what that is...) In between chapters are a series of humorous dialogues between characters known as the Tortoise and Achilles. Each dialogue illustrates some of the logical and paradoxical points that Hofstadter is making in the surrounding chapters. A lot of it has to do with mankind's ability to recognize fiction, or things that are unsaid in a given context. For example, we may be able to see the first few minutes of a movie, and nobody will have to tell us that its set in German-occupied France during World War II and that the main characters are a nurse and a peasant boy. We'll be able to infer all of that. Further more, we are also able to comprehend the sudden random time travel to the year 2099 without blowing a circuit. A computer might have a pretty difficult time telling you these things that are inferred, and would not be able to comprehend the fiction of the time travel. Like Escher's art, seeming impossibilities are reconciled by the fact that we are outside the world being portrayed. The impossible can exist as long as there is another sphere in which that impossibility is not impossible. (Two hands drawing each other? Not impossible because its contained in the world of a drawing.) Anyways, its a super geeky book and I've loved it. The dialogues are so hilarious that I shared them with Qait. "Unaccompanied Sonata for Achilles" "Crab Canon" "Ant Fugue" all taking names punning on Bach pieces. We even came up with an artsy/experimental composition where we put both our phones on speakerphone while on a call and right next to each other. It creates a number of interesting feedback loops that we played with while reading the dialogues. (She was the Tortoise, I was Achilles.) So although I can't really explain the book, it has made me feel really smart to read it. Maybe someday I'll do a performance art piece which involves the staging of The Dialogues of the Tortoise and Achilles.

Now that school's out for the summer, I've picked up a book that I've wanted to read all semester - Charles Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. I can't recommend this book highly enough to anyone who ever wanted a more satisfying answer than high school's two paragraph explanation about what was really going on in the Western Hemisphere before Columbus and company brought disease, death, plunder and Christianity to these "scattered barbarians." Notable eye-openers:
  • North and South America were actually quite highly populated (over 100 million, or more than the Europe of Columbus!) by a number of well organized and established peoples, notably the Inka (the 'true' spelling) which ruled the largest empire in the world in 1491. (Larger even than Ming Dynasty China)
  • The Mexica (the chief tribe of the Triple Alliance commonly known as Aztecs) were as deep into philosophy and art as the ancient Greek, a fact widely erased and obscured by their 'conversion' to Christianity.
  • The coast of New England was populated by hundreds of thousands, prior to the spread of diseases from Europe.
  • Corn is a mysterious miracle from Mesoamerica. The truth is that before the Spanish introduced it from the "New World," no one had ever seen corn. Maize is an amazing anomaly amongst all the crops of the whole world - nutritious, cost effective, and totally domesticated (it requires human supervision to cultivate it) Corn is now one of the world's most widely grown crops. Its introduction to Europe/Asia/Africa is part of the population boom post-Columbus. The shocker: corn was somehow (still unknown) artificially created by ancient Mesoamericans. No natural species of grain is anything like it - ancient genetic manipulation of species! In combination with a healthy diet of beans, meat, and fruit, most native Americans were healthier and taller than your average European of the day. (They also bathed more! (as in, ever!) T
  • The introduction of cotton into Europe revolutionized clothing because it was cheaper and more comfortable than wool or leathers.
  • European-introduced diseases killed unimaginably more people than previously supposed. Smallpox, bubonic plague and food-transmitted Hepatitis A hit the various populations of the Americas in waves like the wrath of God. Not only had the isolated immune systems of the natives never been exposed to these diseases, they were actually less capable genetically of fighting them off. (As in, almost all Native Americans come from the same genetic stock.) The last decades have seen most scholars significantly increase their estimates of how many people lived here before Columbus and how many died after. With death rates in communities as high as 95%, a tribe in Massachusetts went from 20,000 members to less than 1,000, giving the pilgrims not only the Indian's recently abandoned food supply but also their land. The Inka hadn't even seen Europeans yet, but smallpox reached them first. Killing the Emperor (totally throwing off his groove) it plunged the Inka into a massive civil war even as the population was decimated by the illness. The conquistador Pizarro landed just in time to benefit as the whole thing crumbled at the touch of his small force of less than two hundred men. Cortez found the same thing with the Aztec, whose empire seemed to turn to dust even as he attacked. The total population of North and South America went from as many as 112 million to less than 10 million. Another way of saying it: more people lived here than in Europe when Columbus came, and many areas that were explored and seemed to be 'untouched' had only been recently depopulated!
  • The rapid depopulation also had huge ecological implications: the vast swaths of the continent which had previously been cultivated turned into the wild woods the pioneers/pilgrims/colonists would later encounter, assuming it had been there all along. Bison/buffalo populations soared to millions, their human predators greatly reduced.
  • The Amazon rain-forest is somebody's garden gone wild. Far from being an untouched pristine wild-land, the Amazon had been the home to hundreds of thousands. It's just been hard to find remains because fertile paradise they cultivated has eaten up most artifacts. Remains of cultivated soil show that the natives had created uncounted thousands of acres of charcoal rich super soil. Scientists are currently trying to unlock its secret not only to save the Amazon's ecosystem, but also to improve soil poor places like Africa.
It seems like every paragraph I read my whole understanding about the Americas is expanded and changed. Did you know that around the time Sumer (Babylon) was creating the world's first 'civilization,' two independent civilizations were springing up in the Americas (the ancestors of the Inka and the ones we call "Olmec") Don't even get me started on how many things sound like Book of Mormon correlations. Not that anything is an exact match, but so many things just sound sooo similar, how could Joseph Smith have known that our understanding of ancient Americans would pan out anything like it is? He didn't. He just translated! It is totally possible that the Jaredites, Lamanites and Nephites all fit right into this whole picture right among some of these other historically proven cultures. Tales of people from the sea, whole cultures disappearing into the night, cataclysmic wars, gross idolatry, etc... And in spite of all these 'revelations' about the Americas, the main point that the book drives home to me is that we don't really know much at all about these peoples. A lost history of a significant part of the world!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

This Just In: Old Quotes, New Depth

Now that its summer, I've been taking the time to get organized. Part of that means sorting out years of papers that have been slowly accumulating. Today I threw away about half a ream of photocopied music that is A)Not legally mine and B)Irrelevant, since it was for classes or accompaniment work I did back at BYU-Idaho. I also found a great sheet of hand typed quotes from various composers and artists, dating from 2004 before my mission. Unfortunately, I don't have the sources of the quotes, which goes against my normal modus operandi when citing somebody. Also, I considered putting them up one by one and commenting on them, but this paper is deteriorating fast (ripped in half!) so here they are in all of their sourceless, one-after-the-other glory. I find it fascinating that while I understand the context and depth of these quotes better now in 2011, they still mean the same to me as they did that first heady year when I knew that I was going to become a composer.

"The current state of music presents a variety of solutions in search of a problem, the problem being to find somebody left to listen." - Ned Rorem

"I believe composers must forge forms out of the many influences that play upon them and never close their ears to any part of the world of sound." - Henry Cowell

"The language of the poet is our common language. Everybody understands or feels it...In the case of the musician, all he needs to do is refine his own language." - Silvestre Revueltus

"I would say that a composer writes music to express and communicate and put down in permanent form certain thoughts, emotions and states of being...The resultant work of art should speak to men and women of the artist's own time with a directness and immediacy of communicative power that no previous art expression can give." - Aaron Copland

"Whether one calls oneself conservative or revolutionary, whether one composes in a conventional or progressive manner, whether one tries to imitate old styles or is destined to express new ideas - whether one is a good composer or not - one must be convinced of the infallibility of one's own fantasy and one must believe in one's own imagination." - Arnold Schoenberg

"I know that so long as I can sum up my experience in words, I can certainly not create music about it. My need to express myself in music symphonically begins precisely where dark feelings hold sway, at the gate that leads into the "other world," the world in which things no longer are divided by time and space." - Gustav Mahler

"How can one express the indefinable sensations that one experiences while writing an instrumental composition that has no definite subject? It is a purely lyrical process. It is a musical confession of the soul, which unburdens itself through sounds just as a lyric poet expresses himself through poetry...As the poet Heine said, "Where words leave off, music begins." - Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

"Composing gives me great pleasure...there is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound." - Clara Schumann

"It is in music, perhaps, that the soul most nearly attains the great end for which, when inspired by the poetic sentiment, it struggles - the creation of supernal beauty." - Edgar Allen Poe
The 19 year old Michael Wahlquist would be pretty happy 
with how the 25 year old Michael Wahlquist is doing.