Antonio Vivaldi, a Venetian of prominent stature during his life and ours, rhapsodizes over a bird, a drunkard, the rain, dogs, and wind. How can we return the birds, dog, wind, drink, and rain to this music that is so familiar to us? How can we experience the wonderment of its first audience though we already know when rain, the drunk, dogs, a bird, and the wind will come?
Jean-Féry Rebel, a Parisian of the same time, extracts chaos out of a group more accustomed to beauty. How can it sound like chaos to us who have noise music and free jazz among us? What if we pursued the historical experience rather than the historical sound?
Extravagance highlights the energy, intricacy, and detail of baroque music and the thoroughly modern clarity, precision, and starkness of the early music movement. The modernity of historical reconstruction is separated from the past itself, and the two are displayed side by side.
These two videos are excerpted from a concert conceived and performed by Carlo Diaz and Stile Nu in 2018.
There is a manuscript at the University of California, Berkeley
attributed to Pietro Marchitelli, likely written in Naples around 1700. If it
wasn’t incomplete it would contain 12 sonatas for two violins and continuo, and
while it’s possible Marchitelli simply didn’t finish his work it seems more
likely the missing parts are mere casualties to time. Reuse Music is
built with, from, above, and alongside these ruins.
It can be said that a new composition is nothing more than a
refiguring of its composer’s influence. Strange as it may seem, a similar thing
can be said of the Early Music movement. Each is an expression of agency—value,
taste, and informed opinion—drawing from the same sources—musicians, notations,
and traditions past and present. Each is an act of simultaneous history and
What happens when Marchitelli’s manuscript is read verbatim, the
continuo unrealized and the melody unornamented? It becomes clear that its
structures also lie at the heart of late 20th-century minimalism.
What was happening at that same time in Early Music? That same minimalism,
reduction to a core, adulation of pure form—eliminate vibrato, play more
clearly, focus on the plain sound of the instrument—just from a different
direction, toward a different purpose, and by a different method.
This music, under the title Reuse Music, is part of an ongoing attempt to filter, augment, and distort anonymous and fragmentary notation of the long 18th century to render audible the natural intersection of Early Music and contemporary composition; to push forward the project of historical, poetic, inventive, and personal refiguring, expression of value, taste, and informed opinion about musicians, notations, and traditions other than myself that are nevertheless inseparable from myself.
Music for the Park is a tightly-woven collection of music inspired by public parks and recreational music. Though we tend to take them for granted now, public parks only became a concern of urban planners in the 19th century—when cities were becoming dirtier and more crowded and natural environments becoming less accessible to the majority of people. Parks were also a product of early socialist ideology, which understand that access for all to quiet, peaceful, natural landscapes would contribute to a more productive society because it would provide much-needed rejuvenation for the working class. Around the same time, recreational music-making—particularly involving the piano—was gaining popularity. Pianos were becoming less expensive and music fit for amateurs was more widely printed and much less expensive than it had been in previous eras. The attitude to music was much the same as that towards parks. Music was seen as an escape from the dirt and grime of daily life and as a way of refreshing oneself for the time ahead.
Music for the Park takes inspiration from both concepts—of public parks and recreational music—to create a piece that can be played by pianists of many different levels of ability. It is a piece that can be played slowly or quickly, virtuosically or simply, and still give pleasure to the listener and the performer (who may often be the same person). The piece is constructed from samples of music by myself and others that was all, in original form, intended to be played by beginning pianists and to be simple and enjoyable rather than complex and intellectual. The discrete excerpts are placed around each other as small patches of a quilt arranged at random. Listening to this piece may be similar the experience of sitting near a piano placed in a park, on which any manner of music will be played by every kind of pianist – the beginning of one piece, a short improvisation, a few stray notes by a beginner, and a set of flying runs by the occasional virtuoso who passes by and sits down for a minute, then another short improvisation, and few more notes from another beginner.
This piece was premiered at Make Music Chicago 2017 as a part of their program Pianos in the Parks, which placed seven pianos in seven parks across Chicago from June 21 to August 1. Several unique versions of the piece, which in themselves could be played in many different ways, were included with each piano for anyone to play. For more information on Make Music Chicago, please visit makemusicchicago.org/pianos-in-the-parks
Recorded in June 2017 by Kuang-Hao Huang at McKinley Park in Chicago, IL.
This piece draws on my relationship with pan-European and American brass band music at the turn of the 20th century—the short, fast, chipper marches of the era when industrialization was thrusting Western economies into dangerous territory and nationalism was pushing to levels that would culminate in the devastating World War era.
When I began to listen to this type of music it was merely an ironical and amusing interest. I was charmed by its indomitable optimism and general softness and by the irresistibly nostalgic picture it creates for the beginning of a promising new century. But after repeated listening I began to understand that the music is not innocent. I now understand this music to also be the propaganda of war mongers who caused irreparable damage to Western society in the first World War. I also began to realize that all this music—whether employed in the name of German, Austrian, English, American, or any other country’s pride—sounds the same.
Many of us, though not united by native culture, are united by our love of that culture and our fear of those who might change it, and we all protect those values with the same rhetoric. I know it’s possible to separate a love of home from an urge to protect it from change. This piece attempts to hear and love the joy of home in march music while also hearing and reprimanding its aggression and protectionism. Can we express love for our respective homes and cultures without assaulting the homes and cultures of others?
Each movement is based on an existing march or nationalistic song from the era between 1880 and 1920. The raw materials of the original marches are sometimes rearranged and tenderly spun around in a circle, sometimes stripped to the driest and most barren accompaniment, and sometimes folded up into the tiniest imaginable space. The aggression of march music—most prominent in its speed and loudness—is rendered impotent. The speed is increased to a point of impossibility and stupidity and the loudness is thwarted by heavy mutes and the unfortunate theft of drumsticks so that the percussion must be played with bare hands alone. The supple joy of march music—most prominent in rich and well-balanced harmony, indomitably tuneful melodies, the supersmooth tone of conical brass, and a crisp, clean rhythmic drive—is worshiped. The bowed strings play widely spaced harmonies, run their bows over the warm, earthy realms of string above the fingerboard, and gently tap wood and flesh against their open steel strings. Aggression is rendered impotent and then coerced into an unfamiliar new world of delicacy and gentility.
With this piece I want to make the statement that, though the artifacts of nationalism can be beautiful and tempting, they can also be incredibly dangerous if carried too far. We can and should indulge in them from time to time but we must always be wary—especially in the current political context.