Thursday, May 26, 2005

20th Century Composers

All three of us in the Yeti Trio are fans of 20th Centry composers, like Penderecki, Webern, Berg, Lygeti, etc. As for myself, I discovered these works through two completely separate threads in my life and have just recently tied the two together. The piece that did it was Bartok's Music for String, Percussion and Celesta. I'll explain.

After I graduated high school and moved to Tallahasse to attend FSU, I started working for professor Donald F. Ungurait as a computer-tech guy for one of his grant-funded projects. The thing about Dr. Ungurait is that he was the driving force behind the establishment of FSU's film school. As a result, I had access to an enormous film library, and I watched just about all of it. Consequently, I became a huge fan of the works of Stanley Kubrik, especially 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining. I've since seen these movies so many times that I could give you a scene-by-scene analysis of the films from memory. One thing I began to notice upon repeated viewings of these films was that the music was so evocative and so moving, but also very non-tonal and non-traditional. There was a particual piece in The Shining that I found particularly compelling, but for years I was never able to find the name of the piece.

The other thread of my life which led to an appreciation of this music was through other musicians. Zappa cited Varese as one of his primary influences, for example. And it was Bruce Hampton who introduced me to Penderecki (or so I thought - I had not yet made the connection that I was alreay a Penderecki fan by virtue of the fact that his music appears in Kubrik films.)

So on one hand I was getting all the Stanley Kubrik I could find, and on the other hand, I was getting this CD and that upon recommendations from musicians I respected. Well, recently I pulled out a Bartok CD I'd had for ages (it's a long story involving the new customizable Google homepage and internet porn as to how I decided to listen to this CD now). Well, lo and behold, there it was - 2 minutes in to track 6 was the very piece of music from The Shining which I had adored for years but never knew from whence it came!

If you haven't heard the complete piece, I highly recommend it. The thing about studying atonal music is that it gives an improvistor an entirly new musical vocabulary from which to draw, especially if you enjoy playing "out". Once you've steeped yourself in diatonic theory for too long, making the choice to play "out" for a while usually results in playing "in" stuff, only a semi-tone or tri-tone off key. Its not until you done some study of atonal music that you can begin to think in different constructs in your improvisation, and Bartok is a great place to start.


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