Monday, July 26, 2010

Timepiece: Influences

The most amazing thing to me about Jonathan West and the St. Clements Wind Ensemble deciding to perform Timepiece at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh next month is that it's happening at all. The next most amazing thing has been how on target Jonathan has been about what composers have influenced my writing. I'd never realized how much my music suggests the composers I like. 

The first indication Jonathan had me pegged was in an email he sent after SCWE had worked on Timepiece once or twice, and in talking about Kyle Gann's The Planets he wrote, "it also reminds me a bit of Milhaud's "The Creation of the World", which is for a similar (but slightly larger) ensemble. I think you would enjoy the Milhaud, we played it in Edinburgh a couple of years ago."

In previous emails to Jonathan about Timepiece I'd refrained from mentioning that it was Milhaud's wind quintet Le Cheminée du Roi René that had awakened me to the possibilities of that particular ensemble, as it seemed a bit presumptuous for a nobody to be talking about the influence of Milhaud. I discovered that work back in the 80's and it's one of the few classical recordings I've listened to over time. Its episodic, informal nature and the wonderful uses of the timbres of the five instruments, together and in various combinations, make for a very refreshing listen. 

Then in a subsequent email Jonathan said, "By the way, thinking about Timepiece and running through it in my head has turned up some connections and similarities that might interest you. The use of the irregular time signatures, and the way they give a lopsided rhythm to the piece reminds me rather of the Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm from Bartok's Mikrokosmos. Also there is a bit of an echo of Satie's Gymnopedies, especially in Timepiece 2 and to a lesser extent in Timepiece 1."

When I was in conservatory slogging my way through piano juries, little of the assigned music really appealed to me and I was always on the lookout for music I felt more of a connection with. While I didn't work on the Bulgarian Dances Jonathan mentioned, I did find and work a lot with Mikrokosmos, and consciously used it as a model in writing music for adult piano beginners five years before writing Timepiece. That it was still in my mind, albeit unconsciously, years later, was a revelation.

As for Erik Satie, he is certainly amongst my top favorite composers, and that Jonathan was reminded of him by my music is a high compliment indeed. When I lived In San Antonio in the 80's, which was back before Southern Music moved to its new location, they would let me wander the stacks. Some of my most exciting finds were pieces of Satie piano music that hadn't yet been recorded. Those pieces, along with some of the more well known ones have always been in the mix when I spend time playing keyboard. 

The takeaway on this how it illustrates the involvement of the unconscious in music and music making, and how once it's pointed out it seems obvious. What we are conscious of doing is not all that we are doing.

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