Friday, March 5, 2010

Gunther Schuller

On Wednesday evening, Gunther Schuller and the Borromeo String Quartet teamed up for a lecture/concert at the Harvard Musical Association. The quartet had played a piece by Schuller in December, and he suggested that he could come and explain it to us. The offer was accepted.

The proceedings began with the composer pointing out various instances of contrast and of near-repetition in the piece, with the help of the relevant parts of the score projected on a screen for the audience to follow as the quartet played the passages he had spoken about. He also pointed out a section where he had quoted Mozart and another where he had quoted Beethoven, both at the request of people involved with presenting the piece, and both somewhat disguised so the audience might not recognize it. He also demonstrated the 12-tone row he had used in this piece and many others.

After his illustrated lecture, the quartet played the piece straight through. It certainly sounded musical, rather than a jumble of unrelated sounds. Afterwards I said to Mr. Schuller that it was a very good evening, but it would not help with the works of Elliott Carter (in which I have not been able to detect anything musical except pitch — no rhythm, no harmony, no repetition or near-repetition or development of themes) and he said that if Carter came and gave a similar lecture I would understand that piece just as well.

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