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Frederic Rzewski

Writings and Lectures on Improvisation, Composition, and Interpretation 1965–1994` (Edition Musiktexte, Köln 2007)








Preface by James Tenney

* Seeing Things in Unusual and New Ways by Dieter Schnebel
* Composing, Performing, Improvising by/von Gisela Gronemeyer and/und Reinhard Oehlschlägel

Music, What for?

* Nonsequiturs. A Lecture with Music
* On Ambivalence. The Effects of Music on Society
* Complexity. About Our Job as Artists
* The Song of the Sphinx. On Modernism

Improvisation and Composition

* Little Bangs. Towards a Nihilist Theory of Improvisation
* Inner Voices. In Search of a More Sponataneous Form of Writing
* The Mystery of Writing. The Zeitgeist Ensemble and the Solitary Composer
* Interpreting the Moment. On Improvisation and the Art of Forgetting
* “Write the Book.” For Heinz-Klaus Metzger
* A Fresh New Wind. Improvisation and Composition in 1988
* The Mechanics of a Love Relationship. Imitation Love
* Inspiring the Love of the Art. Teaching Composition Tomorrow
* Melody as Face. On the Interpretation of Perceived Phenomena
* Second Structure. For Petr Kotík and Other Friends
* Creating out of Nothing. Parma Manifesto

Oral History

* “I am in the habit of trying to relate my work to the world around me” Conversation with Vivian Perlis

Music and Politics

* Music and Political Ideals. Lecture at the University of Wisconsin
* The Composer and the Tradition of Art Music
* Today’s Art and Today’s Society. Lecture at Cleveland State University
* A Variety of Dialects. Some Political Currents in Modern Music
* “We are the pupils of the working class.” Hanns Eisler Today
* Some Recent Examples of Political Music in America
* Private or Collective? The Foundations of a Future World Revolutionary Music

Musica Elettronica Viva (MEV)

* Calculated Risk
* Collective Music
* MEV. Reflections on Its Tenth Anniversary
* A Short History of MEV
* The Secret of the Labyrinth. Pages and Fragments
* Work Songs
* Spacecraft
* Zuppa
* Addendum: A Recipe by Alvin Curran
* Sound Pool
* On the Road. Letters 1967–1968

Early Compositions

* Provisory Confession. Remarks on My Recent Music
* Zoologischer Garten
* A Photoresistor Mixer for Live Performance

Dictionary Articles

* Intellect and Intuition. Non-metrical Rhythm Since 1950
* Signals fom the Past and the Future. On Performance
* Experimental Forms of Musical Notation. Prose Music

About Others

* Cornelius Cardew
* Giacinto Scelsi
* Olivier Messiaen
* John Cage
* Henri Pousseur
* David Tudor
* Christian Wolff
* Steve Lac

Program Notes

* Speculum Dianae
* Les Moutons de Panurge
* Last Judgment
* Jefferson
* Falling Music
* Coming Together
* Attica
* Struggle
* The People United Will Never Be Defeated!
* Thirteen Instrumental Studies
* Four Pieces
* Song and Dance
* Squares
* Moonrise with Memories
* Three Pieces for Saxophone, Trombone, and Piano
* The Housewife’s Lament
* It Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad
* North American Ballads
* A Long Time Man
* The Price of Oil
* Le Silence des espaces infinis
* Aria
* Antigone-Legend
* Satyrica
* Una breve storia d’estate
* A Machine
* Mayakovsky
* Mary’s Dream
* Wails
* Lost and Found
* To the Earth
* Force
* Nostalgia
* Eggs
* Chains
* Imitation Love
* The Triumph of Death
* The Turtle and the Crane
* Mayn Yingele
* Fantasia
* Roses
* Aerial Tarts
* Whangdoodles
* Bumps
* Ludes
* Sonata
* Andante con moto
* De Profundis
* Knight
* A Life
* The Burghers of Rostock
* Holes
* Crusoe
* Whimswhams
* Snippets
* Night Crossing with Fisherman
* Fougues
* Scratch Symphony
* The Days Fly By
* Trio
* Main Drag
* Pocket Symphony
* Honk
* Stop the War!
* The Road
* The Babble
* Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier
* Cadenza
* Dust
* Bring Them Home!
* Spells
* Spoils
* Second Hand, or Finally Alone
* Fortune
* Snaps
* Nanosonatas

List of Works

Edition MusikTexte, Koln

First Edition with index
Köln 2007, English-German edition, 576 pages.

LM BK008
ISBN 3-9803151-X-X
€30.00 (from MusikTexte)



The music of Frederic Rzewski, and his performing it from time to time, have fascinated and delighted me for many years; a one-off individualist who is at home in conventionally notated scores, improvised and all types of experimental music and jazz, a polymath whose fresh and radical attitudes to the politics of musical dissemination have repeatedly encouraged thinking long after a concert.

We have reviewed his London appearances and CDs many times in Musical Pointers, most importantly the Trinity School of Music's Rzewski Festival in 2006 organised by Douglas Finch, Director of Piano; it is thought possible that no-one had ever put on so much of his music in a festival before.

The high point was an all-day world premiere performance of his c.8 hours long work for solo piano The Road. Divided into eight Parts and 64 "Miles", the composer took part, sharing the mammoth task with numerous members of staff and students, coached by Ian Pace. It is to be hoped that a good quality in-house recording of that historic event may become more widely available.

Born in 1938, he decided that 70 is an age to try to take stock, and he has now published NONSEQUITURS, a collection of his writings ranging from formal lectures to uncensored, unedited free associations in letters to friends and colleagues, which would have been tidied out of a more conventional set of memoirs.

Inevitably there is a lot of cross referencing and duplication of similar material about his preoccupations, but I found little skipping was required. Different readers will want to concentrate on different aspects of the topics covered, and this now can only be a brief welcome to an extraordinary book. Given the modest pricing of a well produced volume of 575 pages, the decision to go for inclusiveness instead of selectivity is well justified.

Reviews and comments from readers will be welcomed.

[PGW Editor]

Comments on The Road by Daryl Runswick, whose major review of Nonsequiturs is published separately in full at http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/articles/generaltopics/RzewskiRunswick.html

- - The Road   Your first reaction is, what rubbish – meandering, full of nonsequiturs, garrulous, formless although repetitious, at times bombastic, and not very contemporary-sounding either: the musical language is a sort of mixture of Schoenberg and Beethoven in an American accent. And mad. We don’t get the exhilarating stylistic volte-face effects of The People United, just on and on and on and. But as you leave it playing (and you’re very disposed to turn it off) it starts ts to insinuate. It becomes interesting. How does this happen? Something that’s boring starts, by its very insistence, to become interesting. ([Cannonball Adderley] ‘is an ancient mariner on fast alto’: Charles Edward Smith’s sleeve note to the Milestones LP.) There are forms in there, developments: but in a way they’re incidental – they’re not the point. The meandering, the nonsequitur-ing – these are actually the point. This is a musical portrait of a very long road – real? metaphorical? – done as accurately as possible and as though walking along it in real time. Rzewski writes (in the article ‘Inner Voices’ on p 76 of Nonsequiturs )

I choose patterns, ranging from totally predictable to apparently random sequences. The transitions may be logical or illogical. I let them happen as they happen… Instead of deducing the content rationally from the formal concept, I proceed inductively, allowing my thoughts to pour into the structure as into an empty container… I expand my unformed thoughts to large molecular units… In this way I hope to paint a truthful, if disorderly picture of what my mind actually perceives.

You hear this as the music unfolds. As the vocal interpolations become more important, a narrative superimposes itself on the music, and for a while the words dominate, as they must when words are present. Now the cotton mill, now A Life are echoed. Do the repetitions constitute thematic and harmonic developments, or are they just Rzewski’s ‘molecular units’ making everything sound familiar? Who cares. It’s repetitious, yes. And meandering. The long story the pianist recites about killing his wife (adapted from Tolstoy) passes – and its aftermath. We find our minds turning back to the pianism and it too is now telling an almost verbal story.

After an hour or two boredom begins to set in again. What does it all mean? All the repetitious, rhetorical nonsequiturs, the mumbling pianist, the tinkling, the knocking, the extended piano techniques, the groaning. Wouldn’t I rather be listening to Keith Tippett, who with his wife Julie Tippetts employs similar ingredients to enormous structural, emotional effect? – and that’s impro, which this is not (except for a few ‘cadenzas’). You accept this sort of extended semi-form if you know it’s improvised.

Well, in the end what it means is – simply what it is. No more, no less. It just is. If you can apply the word ‘just’ to 8 hours of all this. The Christina Rossetti setting, or parallel musing or whatever (‘Does the road wind uphill all the way?’ – the four quatrains are spaced out to last half an hour) reminds us that Rzewski has a complicated attitude to christianity – he mentions it an awful lot while talking more like an atheist, or at least the kind of agnostic who doesn’t care whether there’s a god or not (Nonsequiturs, ‘Little Bangs’, p 50).

Not far from the end of The Road (less than 30 minutes, I guess) we get (in words) what might be a statement of his current position on life:

Nowhere, that’s where I am. Why be anywhere? Here is where I am. In the middle of nowhere I sit and look around me. A grey mist and sometimes, a burst of sunshine. Even though: the toilet still leaks, my back hurts, my friends have died, I failed to make the revolution, et cetera, and still I’m not finished.

He certainly isn’t. I’m turning it off now. - -
[Daryl Runswick]

Some links to Rzewski in Musical Pointers:

1. Coming together at BMIC Cutting Edge and at Cafe Oto (2010)

2. Pocket Symphony/Les Moutons de Panurge (CDs)

3. RZEWSKI plays Rzewski [November 2003]

4. Rzewski Piano Trio (Lycidas Trio)

*Festival of New American Music, Sacramento February 2006

Reflections: - - while the notion of a monolithic avant-garde has dissipated, “There is still an expectation that people will hate new music.” (Festival co-directors Stephen Blumberg and Keith Bohm)

Frederic Rzewski's keynote address, entitled “Nonsequiturs”.

Since the late ’60s, new music slowly has divested itself of cliquish restrictions. Leading the way toward a more populist, though still innovative, new music were artists like Frederic Rzewski, this year’s FeNAM keynote composer. Rzewski, who is also a skilled pianist, has composed for a number of different media, though he may be best known as a pioneer in the field of electronic music. Rzewski, studying in Rome in 1966, was a founding member of the Musica Elettronica Viva ensemble, a group that revolutionized the use of synthesizers and contact microphones in live performance.

Beyond the field of electronic music, Rzewski is most famous for his Marxist views, which have infused his music with an overtly populist message, though he wholeheartedly rejects the “political composer” label. If pressed, he said he prefers “traditional musician” but he very clearly disdains genre categories.

In a recent interview with SN&R, Rzewski was asked to define new music. “There is no consensus,” he said. “Even if you and I agreed on one interpretation, it wouldn’t mean anything to the next person.”

“There is confusion on what music is in general,” he added. “People think that music is a plastic disc that you buy.” Rzewski prefers to counter this growing objectification of music with the intimacy of live performance--so much the better for audiences, regardless of their politics.

Rzewski will open this year’s festival with a keynote address, entitled “Nonsequiturs,” at noon on Thursday at the CSUS Music Recital Hall. He also will be the featured performer--along with pianist Eliane Lust, Melody of China and percussionist Michael Lipsey--in the Gala Performance at 8 p.m. that evening, which will be broadcast live on Capital Public Radio. The program includes Rzewski’s “Dust” and “Stop the War!,” both from 2003, and “Four Pieces” from 1977. Also on the bill is a Rzewski work for two pianos and two percussion players entitled “Bring Them Home.”

Keynote composer Frederic Rzewski.