Program Note-oriety.

I was always quite annoyed at the ever-growing climate of pseudo-informative pre-concert talks and program notes in concerts spouting history trivia and detailed music analysis under the pretext of making the music in question ‘more accessible.’ I believe all it really does is make those overzealous audience members develop a smug sense of superiority to their peers, rather than a greater appreciation, as a large amount of music – especially the standard classical repertoire being played in such concerts – is perfectly able to be listened to without knowing that ‘the second subject starts in the relative minor of the subdominant,’ or that the composer was quite depressed at the time of writing due to the death of the family axolotl.

With an aversion to this in mind I prepared the notes from my 2010 Master’s Piano Recital accordingly: Giving neither meaningful facts or explanations, but rather an aesthetical rant… Complete with Sudoku puzzles because at times concerts are just plain uninteresting – a sombre fact many classical musicians have yet to come to terms with.

An End More Like A Beginning

8pm, 17th November, 2010

About This Concert:

Rather than provide trivial nuggets of information, such as what each piece is about, what to expect, when it was composed (if applicable), what key changes occur throughout, and what quaint observances make the above pieces (arbitrarily chosen) fit together in a nice program, I thought it may be more insightful to instead write down a few thoughts which have come to mind during the conception and gradual realisation of this concert, in a similar fashion to Ives who, in his Essays Before A Sonata, rabbits on about his aesthetics at length and relatively neglects addressing the actual content of the Concord Sonata (which contains “Hawthorne” and “The Alcotts”). In doing so, it is pretentiously hoped this can leave the temporal and abstract aspects of the music to their own devices, unfettered by pre- conceived expectations and forcing an audience to enjoy it on its own terms. Also, program notes are distracting. Granted, in boring concerts they serve as a kind of welcome refuge, with audience members passing time by searching for sentences they haven’t yet read properly. Ergo (!) perhaps a successful concert is one where no-one ends up reading the program notes at all. I don’t even really know if it is compulsory to provide them. So with this in mind, you will probably not find anything too informative here.

Reflecting on the concert at hand, I guess that nothing in it could be termed entirely ‘serious’ music, maybe with the exception of “The Alcotts” which nevertheless contains elements of Ives’s cynical humour with the intentional inclusion of ‘wrong’ notes (“What’s all this?” asks Rollo… NB: ‘Rollo’ emerged as a popular children’s book character, a creation of author Jacob Abbott. He was used by Ives as a figurehead of musical complacency.) Everything else is more overtly suspect from a conservative point of view, whether because of a close affinity with non-classical music genres, an intrinsic absurdness, or being infused with a deliberate intention to taunt and frustrate examination processes.

Rollo, a good little boy with an inquiring nature “who cannot stand up and receive the full force of a dissonance like a man” - Cowell

The latter is represented most by the interludes: their purpose is to provide changeover music while the stage is being set for the different ensemble combinations, and so they take certain liberties not consistent with a piano recital. They make no effort to defend themselves from the inevitable accusation “this is not piano music.” Yet as Hawthorne scholar Brian Way would say, it hints ‘at the existence of a universe that is more incalculable, more anarchic than that contained in the architectonic simplifications of art … and they imply a notion of art in which the grotesque is quite as important as the sublime or the inspiring’ (1982). But mainly they are included here because of the stage changes required.

A piano recital is, by definition, generally fraught with monotony and at high risk of lacking colour, no matter how brilliant the playing. I believe it was Franz Liszt who first coined the term ‘recital,’ to describe the new-fandangled concerts emerging post-1830-ish, where instead of musical evenings featuring an array of instrumental and vocal stimuli, a single virtuoso soloist occupied the stage for the entire concert duration. For those of you attending expecting anything like such an event, I applaud your aesthetical courage, but rest assured it is not necessary here. This is not a recital, but a concert closer to the earlier type, making good use of variety and innovation. Featuring not a single soloist, but five musicians, playing music or something close to it, or not like it at all. And especially refusing to adhere exclusively to the concept of a solo piano recital. It was not intended to be entirely consisting of American and Australian repertoire, but it is nevertheless, which is more a reflection on the creative and humourful spirit of these musical environments. (Also, to clarify, “humourful” is possibly not a real word, but it seems more appropriate than humourous in this context, and “light- hearted” seems too trivial.)

In dealing with technical aspects of Ives’s music, one is constantly faced with his own aesthetic principle, outlined for instance in the Memos: “It’s better not to … play every thing and piece and measure the same every time” (1973). Additionally, for a piece like “Hawthorne,” typical negative pianistic remarks associated with normal classical performance may actually be perceived as compliments, much to my teacher’s chagrin. Conversely, comments such as clear, accurate and polished playing are in fact criticisms in this context.

The title “CREDO IN US” is deliberately ambiguous as to whether it is pronounced ‘us’ or ‘U.S.’ hence the capitalisation.

The title of this recital comes from a description by the wonderful Ives scholar Jan Swafford on the closing few notes of “Hawthorne”: ‘An end more like a beginning.’ Endings and beginnings therefore play an important role in this concert, as they do in most things…

In summary, I hope you enjoy whatever it is that transpires tonight!

See you in an hour.

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One thought on “Program Note-oriety.

  1. Pingback: Morris On! | Semantic Marmot

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