Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Endings & Beginnings, part II

I love the idea that the finish mimics the preparation, not just in ballet class but in music and life and the calendar year, but I admit that the end of a piece of Classical music is rarely a literal transcription of the beginning. Chords are revoiced or reorchestrated or placed in slightly different rhythmic configurations, yet tonic will be tonic, and as such, dutifully signifies (particularly to the casual listener) the end as beginning, the journey made complete. With more "modern" compositions, of course, the ear accepts that a piece might end somewhere far removed from where it began, nowhere near tonic (whether tonic is a pitch or a harmony or a rhythmic motive). Bartok walks the line, often leading the ear far afield but then returning, clearly and distinctly, to some evocation of where he began. He’s Classical that way. The Mikrokosmos, even with all their irregular phrase lengths, quirky dance rhythms and piquant harmonies, illustrate traditional compositional methods: formally, they cadence and conclude logically, almost always giving a nod to the opening measure. They are teaching pieces, of course, so the straightforwardness makes sense, but sometimes the endings do surprise, and what is "traditional" almost seems tongue-in-cheek.

I have long held the Mikrokosmos (especially vol. 5 & 6) in high regard, and I’m itching to perform some of these miniature piano exercises in a collaborative situation. They are witty and clever--mentally and technically. bartok begins In "Alternating Thirds," for example, the pianist must master the trick of playing the entire piece, a mouvement perpétuel consisting solely of thirds, with only the second and fourth fingers. No cheating! Once one surmounts that technical feat, the joyfully obsessive qualities of the music become apparent. As with Debussy’s Mouvement, the pianist should have a lot of fun playing this dervish of a piece. The end of "Alternating Thirds" is reminiscent of the Debussy, too: the final seven measures scale their way up three octaves, fading away to pianissimo and slowing down by virtue of the best written out* ritard ever. bartok ends Bartok, like Debussy, is not satisfied to fade away into the stratosphere and so punctuates the piece with that low E, a soft punch that clarifies the e phrygian tonality. (You weren’t fooled into thinking the little piece was in C, were you?) All of this--the final note, the two (four) digits hunting-and-pecking--makes me laugh.

"Alternating Thirds" is just one of the many Mikrokosmos that begs for choreography; the pieces are short, each one complete, yet they group together well, thus inviting an exchange of solo, small group or ensemble dancing. The dancers could have as much knowing fun as the pianist (live musical accompaniment--pick me pick me pick me) by mocking or poking fun at the "classical" way that each piece cadences. Just like in ballet class, definitive ending and beginning positions might mirror each other and punctuate the whole with playful irreverence. Some modern dancer is going to seize upon this idea and shake it all up--from ballet to folk to modern--and I can hardly wait. Wait--to begin? Or to end? Ah!

*A footnote for composers: some people can get away with poetic performance indications; others are better served by textbook techniques. I allow M. Satie to tell me to "continue without losing consciousness," or "slow down good-naturedly," but I prefer the rest of you to sort out your eighths and quarters, quarter note and half note triplets, more professionally, please.


Post a Comment

<< Home