Before they canceled everything, I was playing rehearsals for a production of La Traviata. Maybe everyone knew this already, but basically Verdi is working as a songwriter here. Most of the arias have two verses, and it has become common practice to cut the second. Evidently in the original performance situations for these operas, the listening was informal. The audience might be walking around or talking or whatever, and might not start listening until the second verse, when a friend elbowed them to say hey, shut up, this is a good one. Today instead we have the assumption of rapt, continuous, focused listening, and the assumption of familiarity. A listener hearing La Traviata for the first time might benefit from hearing multiple verses of each tune, so they can start to learn the music. But we assume they’ve heard it before, and already know these songs.
An interesting comparison is the jazz-world practice of CD reissues including multiple takes, sequentially, of the same tune. While the direction is opposite—including more material rather than cutting it—the impulse is the same, presuming the listener to be a scholar of the music. Only an informed listener engaging in rapt, continuous, focused listening would be interested in two sequential versions of the same piece. As though we’re all listening to these albums so we can write a dissertation in our heads as they spin.
I had a friend who was playing a doctoral piano recital for a degree in contemporary performance. His committee would not let him program Morton Feldman’s music on the recital.
See, there was once this idea that some music is hard, and some music is easy. That some music is “simple,” which means it is less challenging to play that music well.
As though style and elegance could be easy, or simple.
I wrote a few posts before all this happened (if you didn't notice: pandemic, all concerts canceled, social distancing recommendations, etc.) that I'll continue to publish over the next week or so—if my tone seems in conflict with the moment, that's why. For the present, I'm going for runs and practicing, taking special solace in reading through Haydn's Piano Sonatas. This is music in which everything makes sense, for a moment in which little seems to.
When I read an artist biography I want some real information about how they made their living, and increasingly, when the topic is elided, I wonder why.
Reading back over my 2014 travelogue for NewMusicBox I am dismayed by the evident willingness to sell off my personal stories to the project of digital brandmaking. Today I am more protective of my experience. I was so driven—pathologically, I’d now say—to connect my biography to my artistic impulses. Today I find those metaphors facile and embarrassing. Let life be life and music be music. I’ll no longer give one away for free in vain hope that someone will buy the other.
• Gone Walkabout
• Music as Drama
• Crossroads II
• 10 Best of 2014
• January: Wyoming and the Open
• February: New Mexico and the Holes
• Coming Up
• Notes on The Accounts
• Crossroad Blues