[Smt-talk] "Modes of Imagining"

Stephen Soderberg hyperchord at me.com
Sun Jul 13 19:17:02 PDT 2014

On Jul 11, 2014, at 06:05 PM, Stephen Jablonsky <jablonsky at optimum.net> wrote:

There are very few original games; most are extensions or variations of previous games. The composer begins his composition by deciding which elements from previous games he will reuse and which he will invent. Composing begins with a multiplicity of decisions about what to use and what to discard. The biggest decision is whether to adhere to the aesthetic of his predecessors or contemporaries, choose a parallel path, or to take an entirely new road. We call that style. It may be original to some degree or other, or conformist. Those decisions are often influenced by the purpose of the piece and who is paying for it.
Stephen Jablonsky,
Your post reminded me of something I wrote as part of a tribute to Elliott Carter on his 100th birthday:
In "The Fearful Sphere of Pascal," Jorge Luis Borges wrote, "It may be that universal history is the history of the different intonations given a handful of metaphors."
How often do we set sail into uncharted seas, only to arrive at an island already inhabited. We fear that Borges was right -- invention is no more than composing glass-bead variations on a "handful" of eternal themes. There are new variations, but no new themes.
But Borges himself could not accept this fate. In his 1967 Norton Lectures at Harvard, he added, " ... it may also be given to us to invent metaphors that do not belong, or that do not yet belong, to accepted patterns." It may be that Borges had come to realize consciously (outside his art, if that is possible) that the twentieth century had possibly invented a new metaphor -- one that has become so ingrained in our present and future that we forget just how strange and difficult it must have seemed at first, just a short century ago.
In the twentieth century, time itself became the subject of a multitude of intonations working through a world of increasing complexity. Beginning with his Piano Sonata of 1946, Elliott Carter was possibly the first modern composer to explore the new meanings of time in musical space.
. . . .
Elliott Carter's final break with the popular conservative styles of the age came when, in 1950, he decided to move to a place in the lower Sonora Desert near Tucson, Arizona for nearly a year. As one of his students, David Schiff, wrote: "By going to the desert, Carter left his routine patterns of living in order to discover a new kind of time." Carter himself recalls:
I decided for once to write a work very interesting to myself, and so say to hell with the public and with the performers too. I wanted to write a work that carried out completely the various ideas I had at that time about the form of music, about texture and harmony -- about everything.

Steve Soderberg
Keswick, VA
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