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Composer's Notebook 1990

Toward a Musical Agenda for the Nineties

by Rhys Chatham


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   Comparing composer vs. composer is a questionable thing I think. Why? Whether they are from the same "Camp" or not. I don't get what this article is meant to demonstrate.

   Comparing Stockhausen to anyone on the basis of his very early piano pieces is like writing about the music of Mozart's first symphony and ignoring anything else he wrote ... or no it's probably like writing about Ravel's Bolero and saying "this is Ravel" in a strange way to be even more accurate. As a person intimately aquainted with a lot of Karlheinz's music I feel pretty confident saying the early piano pieces are not vintage Karlheinz. Klavierstück X (as performed by Frederic Rzweski on the old Wergo Schallplatte) is one of the greatest piano pieces of the century, though probably of all time, and certainly puts Pierre Boulez in the shade even at his brightest moments. (I'm a big fan of VIII as well. I think the famous IX is stupid and people play it cause it's damned easy to play and XI is sort of over played and not worth it ... nothing compared to the monumental number X) Sorry, Pierre! Boulez said himself that he stopped composing at one point basically because with his almost pseudoscientific mode of understanding artistic "worth", he felt his participation in "progress" was not as good as Stockhausen's and that therefore his work was superfluous or actually second rate. Then he started composing again when he said Karlheinz started "dressing up" his pieces in "flashy gowns".

   Right now Karlheinz is sort of off his rocker perhaps making remarks on his website about how any attempt to "fuse" musical styles from diparate parts of the planet is "obsolete" cause it's been "done" in Hymnen and Telemusik, which is rather funny because there is also Stockhausen ripping off Javanese/Balinese music wholesale in the '72 version of Momente's first huge introductory "moment", "Den Die Liebe ist Stärker als der Tod". Also Kh's attention to Gagaku is audible in Der Jahreslauf; to a lesser degree maybe Tibetan music is a big influence on the overall sound of the awe-inspiring TRANS for orchestra. As far as the listener is concerned it's great for an artist to rip off whatever he can bring off. Anyhow, to listen to either Stockhausen or Boulez on the state of music in general is to be listening to the ravings of a madman Boulez' Notes of an Apprenticeship look like they were written on a combination of rabies and steroids although Kh used to be quite a reasonable person and used to speak very sensibly about music, maintaining his own's supremacy without being so dismissive of other stuff. But he believes he's from another planet now so essentially he thinks like Alien now...

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