Plectra and Percussion Dances
This work, written for dance, is in three sections: Castor and Pollux, Ring Around the Moon, Even Wild Horses. Performance time, with slight intermissions: about sixty minutes.
Castor and Pollux -- A Dance for the Twin Rhythms of Gemini Scored for Kithara II Low Bass Marimba Surrogate Kithara* Diamond Marimba Cloud-Chamber Bowls High Bass Marimba** Harmonic Canon II (right canon)
In their drama festivals the ancient Greeks, at one time at least, performed a raucous, farcical, and often obscene (by our standards) satyr play following a tragedy. After having spent many years thinking about Oedipus _ who was inevitably destined for greatness and then humiliation and exile, after writing the music for Oedipus, spending six months in rehearsals, and finally doing public performances and a recording, I saw with great clarity the need for some kind of release from this truly awful and awesome story of entrapment, from , literally, too much catharsis.
The story of Castor and Pollux, replete with good luck, seemed a perfect follow-up. It begins with one of the most delightful seductions in mythology, that of the beautiful Leda by Zeus in the form of a swan (frequently depicted in Greek art), and ends with the birth of twins, presumably hatched from eggs. And the good luck continues - the twins ascend to the heavens to become the auguries of favorable voyages by ancient mariners.
Here, the idea is concerned only with the processes of procreation. The twin eggs are treated separately, first Castor, then Pollux, but there is no pause in the music. Three pairs of instruments (in duets) and three pairs of dancers represent, in sequence, the Seduction, the Conception, the Incubation. Finally, all six instrumental parts and dancing movements are repeated simultaneously as a "Chorus of Delivery from the Egg."
Castor: 1. Kithara (and Surrogate Kithara) and Cloud-Chamber Bowls 2. Harmonic Canon and High Bass Marimba *The Kithara and Surrogate Kithara are considered as one instrument. Soon after writing the part for the Kithara, I realized that it was certainly possible for one person to perform it, but only with extreme difficulty, and in 1953 I built the Surrogate Kithara in order to lessen the strain. Thus, in effect, there are really only six instrumental parts. **In several works I have used two players standing on the long riser behind the Bass Marimba. Thus, two parts are written for the instrument, one of which is confined to lower tones, the other to higher tones. 3. Diamond Marimba and Low Bass marimba 4. All of the foregoing simultaneously (the Chorus of Delivery) Pollux: 5. Kithara (and Surrogate Kithara) and Low Bass Marimba 6. Harmonic Canon and Cloud-Chamber Bowls 7. Diamond Marimba and High Bass marimba 8. All of the foregoing simultaneously (the Chorus of Delivery)
The piece is dithyrambic in character. The quarternote has the same value throughout, and each process requires exactly 234 beats; there is rubato nowhere. The performance should take no more than fifteen minutes.
I felt that 468 beats without retard or acceleration was bearable only if sufficiently varied and interesting subsidiary rhythms and beats (it is in alternate measures of 4 and 5 beats and 3 and 4 beats) were present. In order to effect the kind of unity of the parts that I envisioned, it was necessary to repeat phrases frequently. Yet this helps in gaining familiarity with the themes, and on second hearing, with melodic and harmonic elaboration and contrapuntal accumulation (in the Choruses of Delivery), the juxtapositions cause each individual repetition to be heard under entirely different musical conditions. In a sense, the work is a series of calculated "coincidences," of musical "double exposure," of climaxes to series of "single exposures."
Ring Around the Moon - A Dance Fantasm for Here and Now Scored for: Baritone (speaking on tones) Cloud-Chamber Bowls Adapted Guitar I Pernambuco Block Adapted Guitar II (Spoils of War) Harmonic Canon II Diamond Marimba Chromelodeon I Bass marimba
I have called this a satire on singers and singing, on concerts and concert audiences, on music in forty-three tones to the octave, on grand flourishes that lead to nothing. I wrote it at Gualala, far up on the northern California coast, in 1949-1950, before the first and third sections of the work, and called it Sonata Dementia. The nonsense phrases by the singer-speaker --"Well, bless my soul!"; "Shake hands now boys, and at the sound of the bell come out fighting"; "Look out! He's got a gun!" -- all suggest the satire and the title.
Even Wild Horses -- Dance Music for an Absent Drama Scored for: Baritone Chromelodeon I Adapted Viola Diamond Marimba Adapted Guitar I Bass Marimba Kithara II Cloud-Chamber Bowls Harmonic Canon II Spoils of War (four bridge settings) Japanese Temple Bell
The concept entails three acts, each introduced by the same Cloud-Chamber Bowls passage, and eight scenes separated by a gong sound. Actually, there is almost no cessation of sound from beginning to end.
Act I Scene 1. A Decent and Honorable Mistake - Samba Scene 2. Rhythm of the Womb, Melody of the Grave - Heartbeat rhythm Scene 3. Happy Birthday to You! - Afro-Chinese Minuet
Act II Scene 1. "Ni cette bouche sur tes yeux" - Rumba Scene 2. "Faim, soif, cris, danse, danse! - Naniga Scene 3. "Patrie de l'ombre et des tourbillons"-Slow, Fast, Wild!
Act III Scene 1. "Neus 'je pas une fois une jeunesse aimable-Conga Scene 2. "Apprecions sans vertige l'etendue de mon innocence-Tahi- tian Dance
An individual's life begins as a "decent and honorable mistake: (perhaps); he goes through the double heartbeat of mother and enwombed child, he is born, he suffers, and long before his day is done, he begins to "contemplate undazed the endless reaches of his innocence: (Act III, Scene 2).
The source of the title of the first scene evades me- I read it somewhere in a preface. The titles of the scenes in Acts II and III, and also the text, are from Rimbaud's A Season in Hell.*** Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell, Louise Varese, trans. (New Directions, New York, 1945). The text is in French which I am inclined to regret, since I feel far more at home in setting English words; but at the time (1952), I had just been through the frustration of an agent denying me the use of a version of Oedipus and wanted no repetition of the experience.
In reading and rereading A Season in Hell, certain almost frenzied phrases jumped out of the book and hit me with tremendous force. The savage honesty, the primitive innocence, the acceptance of a naked humanness, the child, primordial man - values lost? Not wholly. (This succession of words perhaps suggests a motivation for a musical wedding of Rimbaud with an extension of Afro-Latin and other rhythms.)
Only two of the five sequences from A Season in Hell are sentence-by-sentence copies as Rimbaud wrote them. The others are structured from various sentences throughout the book in an association that seemed right for this musical idea. Perhaps the Rimbaud exegete cannot forgive me, but I daresay that Rimbaud the imaginative, the irreverent, would have.
My elaborations on the percussive patterns are mostly too complex for bearable verbalizations. It is enough to say that these are rhythms of here and now, and that they are not maintained throughout (the rumba excepted). The samba, the naniga, the conga, are metamorphosed, developed into something different from their starting moods. The Afro-Chinese minuet and the naniga in particular become different, and all become infused with an altered character as they move toward the childlike and explosive words of Rimbaud.
The three sections of the Plectra and Percussion Dances have no obvious integrating tie, although I feel that in the matter of inherent quality they belong together. They do not have the coherence, or the compelling dramatic direction, of U.S. Highball. Actually, in 1953, they were put together to constitute a new record, the first of the Gate 5 issues (see appendix V). The total time duration of the three sections is about sixty minutes, which, at that time, was too much, and Ring Around the Moon, already the shortest of the three, was badly excerpted to get the music on two sides of one record.