16 January 2009

Listening to Night

My about-to-drift-off listening last night was Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps, a piece of which I am very fond, which I have long known and often studied, so I am at peace with the idea of drifting into sleep at some point in the Louange à l'Immortalité de Jésus. There are some ways in which the performance is a bit shy of ideal, but still worthy the listening.

Each successive movement is scored for a different combination (after the example of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire). Of the four instruments, it is the clarinet which Messiaen singles out for the sole movement for but one instrument; and it is the longest single movement. (It was this boldness which in part inspired, for instance, my own Studies in Impermanence.)

In the middle of what proved a very restful night, I lay briefly awake, and I started to think of a new unaccompanied clarinet piece. I 'heard' the first few phrases in real time, and then as I caught a mental breath, I thought — Karl, you have other things to write, and you don't need another unaccompanied clarinet piece; let use be found for the unaccompanied clarinet pieces you've already written, first.

So, on my mind's blackboard in the middle of the dark night, I took those two-three lines of clarinet music, and tentatively re-scored them for small cello ensemble.

Quite separately, at work I found a pad of note-paper, whose topmost sheet was nearly blank. All that was written was 3lbs stew, in tidy proximity to the upper edge.

And I thought: What a fine name for a band.

1 comment:

Cato said...

In Thomas Mann's curious novel Doctor Faustus the Devil hallucinated by the composer Leverkühn makes some comments about "inspiration" through Beethoven's notebooks. What is "inspiration" for Beethoven? Not something divinely sent apparently, and if it is, Ludwig hardly appreciates the divinely sent melodies: look at the way he struggles with this one inspiration, tearing it limb from limb in dissatisfaction and reforming everything again and again: pity Divine Inspiration!

And after Beethoven and the other greats, the Devil concludes, composing music has become extremely hard, "devilishly hard" in fact: you think a melody or motif is original, but then on second or third thought you decide it sounds too much like Rimsky-Korsakov, and you discard it in frustration.

The only solution, he says of course, is to accept the Devil's Help! Which comes in the form of something very parallel to Schoenberg's Composition with 12 Notes!

So the mind initially says: here is something for your clarinet. But you reject it, and another part of the mind says: No, much better for a choir of cellos!

Thomas Mann's Devil was wrong of course: the individual inspiration is not Divine. But the Gift of Inspiration very well may be from another, higher level of existence!

And so one may play with it as one pleases!