Monday, April 6, 2009

Packratterdom: David Tudor, Ives

UPDATE: The folks at the Getty Archive are wonderful, generous, cordial, and helpful! I'm awash in really pertinent research materials thanks to them that came through late last week.

Music historians lament the disposable nature of "print culture" (or rather, manuscript culture) that caused so many early music manuscripts to have their contents scraped off and reused, or to be used to line the horse stables or whatever. Indeed, I'm taking a music editing course now and we indulge in some healthy hypothetical exercises of stematic filiation--that is, trying to relate extant manuscripts to one another. My project, piano works by Albert Fine for the legendary Cage cohort, Darmstadt house pianist, and electronic musician David Tudor, are just direct transcriptions of a polished copy. (And, in the case of one of the works, just a facsimile with editorial comments, since Fine means for the spacing of the music on the page to have bearing on the rhythmic performance of the work.)

I've been getting to know Tudor--a gadfly and virtuoso who is just begging to be biographed--through Cage's reminiscences of him on the surprisingly entertaining Folkways release Indeterminacy, where Cage reads 90 one-minute stories to Tudor's accompianment--vaguely speaking. Tudor has archives at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which you can search here. Particularly interesting, there are Tudor's own scores as well as his realizations of aleatoric works. While I haven't seen these (but would like to), it's interesting to remember that he in a way was the musical midwife for many of these indeterminate works: it was Tudor, who was in many cases charged with setting a set of shapes by Cage or Feldman, for instance, to tones.

Interestingly enough, Tudors archives include these minor works by Fine that I'm editing (see Box 185, 1965):

Anyone in California want to help me out and visit the Getty archive?

Seriously, though--being a packrat is good if you're famous, but who saves papers? I mean, I do, but I don't expect to be famous, and I really should unload quite a bit, but eh.

I've been thinking on packratterdom quite a bit lately for several reasons. First of all, I stand to get a fat tax refund... but my room is in serious disrepair, and I need to clean it to make sure I have all my W2s and such. Second, I've been collecting more scraps of secondary material on Bill Russell, and now (for a very cheap price) have all three published books of his (er, one is about him).

Third, I've been doing a personal research project--not really research project, just an "education" project--in Ives. If I call myself an "Americanist" I really should know Ives backwards and forwards. I just finished Gayle Sherwood Magee's Charles Ives Reconsidered, a recent, graceful, trim narrative that nonetheless fits in a number of delightful digressions that seem digressive at the time but end up emerging as major themes. My favorite is her multi-page contextualization of neurasthenia, arguing that it was almost like an upper-middle class badge of honor and weaving it slyly through the rest of the text. I've also been reading Burkholder's useful collection Charles Ives and His World, and--though it's ostensibly "out of date"--I picked up Frank Rossiter's "Charles Ives and His America" for ten bucks at a used book store. It makes a good teammate to Magee's, since her footnotes tactfully and clearly address recent researches. I'd also be remiss to miss Burkholder's All Made of Tunes, but I've got a long reading life ahead of me, hopefully.

How does this connect to packratterdom? Well, Elliot Carter fired only the first shot in a controversial examination of Ives' dissonation of his works, later spelled out by Maynard Solomon in an epochal JAMS article. Since he didn't actively have an audience--and Magee successfully demonstrates that, Emily Dickonson comparisons aside, he never stopped lobbying for performances or readings of his works save for a handful of driftless bachelor years at the turn of the century--is it possible that Ives was writing, and revising, for posterity, that he imagined his works to be of considerable quality and interest to future listeners and scholars? The notes for his conceptual Universe Symphony seem to suggest that he meant his papers to be seen. Do composers leave a trail of breadcrumbs to an imagined past? Magee demonstrates that in the example Carter shares--of Ives' most enduring orchestral work, Three Places in New England (heard here in the controversial 1930 rescoring)--there are not significant changes in harmony or additions of dissonance; rather, Ives collected existing dissonances in a single piano part, adding a strident foreground level.

I don't mean to open up any cans of worms, just to raise some thoughts from my recent readings. One more question on being a packrat: we have so many fine letters from composers of the past. Do you think, someday, composers will endow their email password to an academic institution in a sort of escrow, or zip files full of finale macros?

A note on Ives recordings: some long-out-of-print recordings from Smithsonian Folkways are now available as Mp3 downloads! This is not new, I suppose, but I've really been enjoying a few. I picked up Paul Zukofsky's and Gil Kalish's reading of the first two violin sonatas for a bargain price on iTunes (not so rare, given the relative brevity of the works), and--having heard about a much-vaunted 1951 reading of the Ives second string quartet by the U of Illinois's Walden Quartet, I moved over to amazon Mp3 to save a couple of bucks. Another relative bargain on iTunes? The four Ives Symphonies and two orchestral sets for 11.98, even if they may not be the most top-shelf readings given your own tastes. Still, those three downloads have proven helpful when reading along with discussions of Ives, in addition to a more recent disc: Pierre-Laurent Aimard's shimmering reading of the Concord Sonata and songs with Susan Graham. It's a lengthy and substantial set. The highlight? The song Ann Street, if only to hear the Frenchman gregariously announce, "Broadway!" in his inimitable accent as per the score's instructions. At 79 minutes, you get a fine product indeed.

1 comment:

Jonathan E. said...

I've been meaning to visit the Getty again sometime soon, it's not far. What do you need? Looks like it requires "stack" level access priviledges.