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Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers

Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers

Bálint András Varga
Volume: 85
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 354
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  • Book Info
    Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers
    Book Description:

    Do today's composers draw inspiration from life experiences or from, say, the natural world? What influences, past and present, have influenced recent composers? How essential is it for a composer to develop a personal style, and when does this degenerate into self-repetition? These are questions about which some of the most important composers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century often have quite strong feelings--but have seldom been asked. In this pathbreaking book, Bálint András Varga puts these three questions to such renowned composers as Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Alberto Ginastera, Sofia Gubaidulina, Hans Werner Henze, Helmut Lachenmann, György Ligeti, Witold Lutoslawski, Luigi Nono, Krzysztof Penderecki, Wolfgang Rihm, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Toru Takemitsu, and Iannis Xenakis. Varga's sensitive English renderings capture the subtleties of their sometimes confident, sometimes hesitant, answers. All statements from English-speaking composers - such as Milton Babbitt, John Cage, Elliott Carter, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Morton Feldman, Lukas Foss, Steve Reich, Gunther Schuller, and Sir Michael Tippett - consist of the composers' own carefully chosen words. ‘Three Questions for Sixty-Five Composers’ is vital reading for anybody interested in the current state of music and the arts. The Hungarian music publisher Bálint András Varga has spent nearly forty years working for and with composers. He has published several books, including extensive interviews with Lutoslawski, Berio, and Xenakis. His previous book for the University of Rochester Press is ‘György Kurtág: Three Interviews and Ligeti Homages’.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-736-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Bálint András Varga
  4. PREFACE TO THE HUNGARIAN EDITION (1986): The Three Questions
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Bálint András Varga
  5. One GILBERT AMY (1936)
    (pp. 1-3)

    I believe every composer shares the experience reported by Lutosławski at one point in his career. I am surprised how late in his life he encountered it.

    I was twenty years old when I first heard music by composers of the Second Viennese School; also some more recent pieces. The lessons I drew from them determined the way I wrote music. Later too, I heard works which may not have made me want to imitate them, but they encouraged me to take over some of their technical means. Such was Stockhausen’s Gruppen for three orchestras or some of Boulez’s compositions....

  6. Two MILTON BABBITT (1916)
    (pp. 4-6)

    Thank you very much for your flattering inquiry; I am honored to have been thought (if only afterthought) of in this regard, and to be included among such eminent thinkers about music.

    By international coincidence, I just heard Lutosławski repeat this story at dinner last night, and again—to a group of students—at the Juilliard School this afternoon.³

    I am probably as voraciously selfish in my mode of listening to music as any other composer. However unaware one may be at any given moment of that disposition, one is always listening to music for what it suggests, intimates, and...

  7. Three SÁNDOR BALASSA (1935)
    (pp. 7-11)

    At various times in my life, especially during the years of study, I was deeply impressed by composers of the past. Again and again I would heave a sigh: if only I could also write music like that!

    However, when I was composing, grappling with the material, the world would be shut out. Time and again, during a concert, I could not concentrate on what was being played because the sounding presence of my own music inside me isolated me from the acoustic environment.

    As far as contemporary music was concerned, Takemitsu’s orchestral piece Coral Island was a source of...

  8. Four LUCIANO BERIO (1925–2003)
    (pp. 12-15)

    To me it is a strange question because it ultimately implies that a musician can compose works as if they were objects. More or less beautiful or interesting, but objects that can influence, or can be suddenly influenced by other objects. I don’t believe that a musician can fall from his horse—like St. Paul on his way to Damascus—and come under the spell of a sudden revelation that changes his creative life completely. I believe that musical creativity is a complex and long-sustained process and that accomplished works are the signals of that process. Of course, the creative...

    (pp. 16-20)

    Do you mean after I considered I had a style? If I look back over the past, say, fifteen years, I detect no radical change of direction. My preoccupations seem to me to be the same as they always were—but influence is a funny thing. I think there are two kinds—one conscious and the other subconscious. The conscious influences are not concerned with a particular composer, but more often with points of detail, and not necessarily in first-rate pieces. If you were to ask a cross-section of established composers, obviously a lot of the same names will crop...

  10. Six PIERRE BOULEZ (1925)
    (pp. 21-25)

    Yes. You listen to some music and you immediately think of what you can extract from it for your own use. From that moment, you are no longer listening to that piece—you concentrate on the problem that has occurred to you.

    For instance?

    I was listening to a work by Morton Feldman. It does not matter which one. Of course, I was perfectly aware of the fact that I was listening to the event more than the music itself, but then, at that moment, the idea of Éclat came to my mind. Under the influence of Feldman’s piece I...

  11. Seven ATTILA BOZAY (1939–99)
    (pp. 26-32)

    I have not had an identical or even a similar experience.

    True, the masters of the Viennese School—Schoenberg, Berg, Webern— had a very strong influence. In 1957–58, at the Academy of Music, my colleagues and I listened with keen interest to the few worn LPs and tapes which we could organize for ourselves.

    We then proceeded to discuss what we had heard. Some liked the music, some did not, others expressed a liking for one piece or another. As far as I was concerned: an unknown world opened up for me, for the music had been more or...

  12. Eight EARLE BROWN (1926–2002)
    (pp. 33-37)

    I’m not sure if Lutosławski “learned his notation system” from me, as Feldman said, but it is very likely that he saw it and was influenced by it sometime between my development of it in 1952 and whenever it was that he first used “proportional notation” and/or my “open-form” scoring and conducting techniques. If you know my FOLIO (1952/53) (published by AMP Schirmer), you know that it contains what I believe to be the first use of proportional notation, open-form, graphic scores, what I called “time notation” (to differentiate it from metric notation), etc.

    David Tudor took FOLIO and other...

  13. Nine SYLVANO BUSSOTTI (1931)
    (pp. 38-39)

    I am going to try and reply briefly to the three questions.

    Three composers have influenced me—listening to their music as much as their personal acquaintance:

    Luigi Dallapiccola, when I was fourteen

    Pierre Boulez, when I was twenty-four

    John Cage, when I was twenty-six

    I attended the world premieres of some of their works—Il Prigioniero (Dallapiccola), Le marteau sans maître and Doubles (Boulez), and Variations (Cage). All my works composed at the time bear the imprint of those compositions.

    I do not exclude the outside world while composing. The so-called “sounds,” including “noises of everyday life” do not...

  14. Ten JOHN CAGE (1912–92)
    (pp. 40-41)

    The white paintings (not painted white, just unpainted canvasses) of Robert Rauschenberg gave me the courage to make 4'33", my silent piece, which I had thought of 4 years earlier but had not actually composed. Also the first graph sketches of Morton Feldman prompted me to develop compositional means involving chance operations (Music of Changes).

    The noises around me are 4'33". I try in my work not to interrupt that.

    I am not concerned with a personal style or “self-expression” (nor was Thoreau). I hope through my work to change myself (“self-alteration”), to open my mind to possibilities outside of...

  15. Eleven ELLIOTT CARTER (1908)
    (pp. 42-44)

    The hearing of Le Sacre du printemps, Ives’s Concord Sonata, Varèse’s Intégrales and Hyperprism, Berg’s Wozzeck, Schoenberg’s Pierrot and Glückliche Hand in the mid-twenties in New York interested me so much in music that I decided to become a composer. I had found that older music did not attract me during those years and it was only much later that I found it of any interest.

    Around 1949, I programmed the first performances of Ives’s Central Park in the Dark and The Unanswered Question at Columbia University. They had interested me at that time because of the concept of stratification...

  16. Twelve FRIEDRICH CERHA (1926)
    (pp. 45-48)

    There has been no comparable experience or event in my development as a composer. I can identify works—from Wagner’s Rienzi-Ouverture and Richard Strauss’ Salome that I heard at twelve and thirteen resp.—which made a tremendous impact. I can also name others which I enjoyed playing on the violin at the same age, or indeed later, I performed as a conductor with particular pleasure and frequency. There are compositions I love (such as Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale or the Serenade Op. 24 by Schoenberg) and there are pieces, like Boulez’s Marteau sans maître, which I admire. Nevertheless, I would...

  17. Thirteen GEORGE CRUMB (1929)
    (pp. 49-53)

    In my own case, I must say I have been very much influenced by turn of the century composers Claude Debussy and Gustav Mahler. I am quite sure my music sounds nothing like the music of either of those composers and yet I think the influence is something of the order you are suggesting in your question. There is certainly something evocative in the music of these composers and this has suggested obliquely a certain kind of music to me.

    In regard to the influence of Debussy and Mahler on my music, I could itemize the following special features:


  18. Fourteen SIR PETER MAXWELL DAVIES (1934)
    (pp. 54-58)

    I think that kind of experience came for me when I was quite young, when I heard for the first time Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. I must have been twelve at the time. I happened to be listening to the Third Programme of which I was an addict (it was the only source of sanity and sense in that working-class environment and the rather dreadful school environment).

    I remember turning on and landing in the middle of the concerto and realizing that an orchestra could be used in a way that could parallel certain thinking processes which I could not...

  19. Fifteen EDISON DENISOV (1929–96)
    (pp. 59-62)

    If in art one comes upon a phenomenon for the first time, one which may not be of any importance in itself but which does represent something new, it is bound to leave a trace, just as anything else that crops up in the course of one’s life. Artists respond to such a phenomenon in accordance with their personality—how exactly, is impossible to foretell.

    I prefer ideas that emerge imperceptibly, often as a result of long internal processes, to those borrowed from others. Borrowing is of course the easier way. Nowadays when composers are inundated with commissions with pressing...

  20. Sixteen HENRI DUTILLEUX (1916)
    (pp. 63-68)

    No, frankly, I do not think that my evolution would have ever been determined by the shock caused by listening to any particular composition. Of course, since reaching the age when I was able to write music, that is, since I was fifteen, there have been some works which have impressed me a great deal, but my style has developed gradually, without any reverses, I should think.

    I must say: on hearing Pierrot lunaire, I met with a world which struck me as wholly alien and new, unrelated to anything else. All in all, I think I must have felt...

  21. Seventeen PÉTER EÖTVÖS (1944)
    (pp. 69-75)

    The first major experiences that leave a lasting impression on one’s mind occur in childhood. I decided at the age of four to become a composer. Between the ages of six and fourteen, I came under the influence of Bartók more than anybody else; he served as the foundation, the point of reference for my thinking. The basic works included Mandarin, Bluebeard, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Night Music, and the Sonata for two pianos and percussion.

    From 1958, that is, when I was fourteen, I took a keen interest in electronic music: that is where I best found...

  22. Eighteen MORTON FELDMAN (1926–87)
    (pp. 76-89)

    When I first met John Cage and I came to his apartment to visit, he was analyzing Webern’s Opus 21.

    When was that?

    In late 1950. And I said: “What’re you doing?” And he said: “I’m analyzing, come, let’s do it together!” So we sat down and did it together. And one of the things that disturbed me about European or American mainstream music was the antecedent and consequent building blocks for the continuity of the music—you know, even in Webern, tra-ra, tra-ra—the symmetry. That’s what disturbs me in Boulez.

    I never knew Satie. John Cage and I...

  23. Nineteen LUKAS FOSS (1922–2009)
    (pp. 90-93)

    No—I have never had Lutosławski’s experience—or, to put it another way—that is the experience I have whenever I hear other music. If it is music I love, it gives me ideas: how to apply some of my own ideas to what I have just heard. It is like a love-relationship. You immerse yourself in a love and you find yourself.

    In my Baroque Variations—notably No. 2, the Scarlatti one (Nonesuch record)—I turn other music into dreams of mine.

    When I listen to music I do not care for (sometimes my colleagues’) I say to myself:...

  24. Twenty ALBERTO GINASTERA (1916–83)
    (pp. 94-95)

    An aspect of a work by another composer may set my fantasy in motion: I imagine the way I would approach it. This is of common occurrence among composers. I think this is one explanation for the presence of so many different styles in contemporary music, in contrast with the past.

    When I was young, Bartók and Berg influenced me in this way. What struck me about Bartók was the way he incorporated imaginary folk music in his Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta as well as in his string quartets. Something similar is present in my own string quartet...

  25. Twenty-One KAREL GOEYVAERTS (1923–93)
    (pp. 96-97)

    No similar experience has occurred to me. Since I was very young, I was interested in the music of living composers. I listened to very much new music and I am sure this has influenced my way of thinking, but there has never been an important turn on my way. If Webern’s music influenced me much since the late 1940s, this occurred gradually, when studying his music more and more. In 1950/51 I wrote the first totally serial work of music which certainly had to do with Webern, but was already a big step ahead.

    I think it is not...

  26. Twenty-Two SOFIA GUBAIDULINA (1931)
    (pp. 98-100)

    Your questions have induced me to ponder on these things which are actually self-evident. In reality, however, they turn out to be extraordinarily complex—especially the third question. But let us consider them one after the other.

    It has never happened in my life that the encounter with a work by another composer would have made me realize that I could compose basically in a different way. I have, however, often observed how a piece that was being played would be spun on in my head differently from the way it was actually being performed. This double hearing of music...

  27. Twenty-Three GEORG FRIEDRICH HAAS (1953)
    (pp. 101-106)

    I cannot recall a particular musical composition which would have brought about a fundamental change in my musical thinking. Rather than having a single encounter with a “key work,” I have had many such encounters.

    I grew up in a mountain village. However impressive the landscape may have been as it changed from season to season, life there in the 1950s and 1960s was largely cut off from cultural developments in the world outside. It was visited by skiers in winter and hikers in summer—that was about it. Thanks to my parents’ record collection I had access to music...

  28. Twenty-Four HANS WERNER HENZE (1926)
    (pp. 107-107)

    I have not had a similar experience but music by other composers does often influence mine: Machaut and Bach, Monteverdi and Verdi, C. M. von Weber and Alban Berg. This is a continuous dialogue conducted over centuries and that is also what nourishes my musical thinking, that is what my music is born from, and that is to which it owes its characteristic features.

    Birdsong, the variety of noises, the wind in nooks of houses and in the foliage of trees, vibrations of the human voice which can be magical but also unbearable, the sound of instruments—I need all...

  29. Twenty-Five KLAUS HUBER (1924)
    (pp. 108-114)

    I could not single out a composer whose concept would have evoked such a fundamental change in my thinking. I hope it is a permanent process. It is not a question of experiencing a big shock once in your life and from then on composing differently, thereby being spared of any further shocks.

    It was rather late in life that I became acquainted with avant-garde music in any depth. It was late for my age because Zurich, where I was studying, was rather provincial at that time. I was, you see, a school teacher until my twenty-second year. It was...

  30. Twenty-Six ZOLTÁN JENEY (1943)
    (pp. 115-120)

    I think Wittgenstein’s statement is true beyond his own book also on a more general level. For instance, it is valid for interpreting and understanding musical phenomena as well. To my mind, it provides the only way for us to understand Lutosławski’s case: his encounter with Cage’s piano concerto made him conscious of a change in a certain direction that was already taking place in his mind.

    My own inverse case also bears out Wittgenstein, perhaps even more unequivocally. In 1964, at the Warsaw Autumn Festival, I saw Merce Cunningham’s ballet to music by John Cage. The choreography appealed to...

  31. Twenty-Seven MAURICIO KAGEL (1931–2008)
    (pp. 121-125)

    Reading books on music has always been more of an immediate inspiration to compose than listening itself. I can still remember an episode that happened back in Argentina:

    I was probably around sixteen years old. The summer vacation was over and I resumed my attempts at composing. I had to realize, however, that the weeks spent in nature had not been conducive to an intellectual activity like composition. I could not concentrate; all I had in my head were crystal-clear images of high mountains and the dark blue water of a lake. If I closed my eyes, the Andes appeared...

  32. Twenty-Eight GEORG KATZER (1935)
    (pp. 126-130)

    I have not had a sound experience that would have led to a radical change in my musical thinking. On the other hand, it does happen quite often that in listening to music from the loudspeaker or in a concert hall I hear something entirely different from what is being played around me—either as a counterproposal or correction. The strongest ideas come to me not while listening to masterpieces: the reaction described above would be questionable or even impossible, because of the music’s power of conviction. My imagination takes off on its flight if there are promising ideas in...

  33. Twenty-Nine ERNST KRENEK (1900–1991)
    (pp. 131-132)

    As to [question] I, I remember only these few cases for consideration: in the second movement of my Piano Sonata, Op. 59 (1928), I tried to apply the same trick that Schubert used in the last movement of his B-Flat Major Trio by transforming the 2/4 of the main theme into the 3/2 of the second without changing the tempo of the quarternotes. I did the same thing by using the tempo of the quarternotes of the March (4/4) in the 3/2 section of the second idea. Incidentally, he did the same thing in one of the late Three Piano...

  34. Thirty LADISLAV KUPKOVIC (1936)
    (pp. 133-135)

    Whatever we may hear or experience, enriches us.

    We make use of numerous elements of historical experience directly, some indirectly and there are others which we merely arrange differently. We could hardly compose with the nothing we bring to the world at birth.

    It follows that experiences similar to Lutosławski’s with Cage occur in my life all the time. My style today would be unthinkable without hundreds of such impulses. An “alien” influence also helps me to avoid making mistakes: I can leave alone where others have failed.

    The process whereby I eventually broke with atonal music was enhanced by...

  35. Thirty-One GYÖRGY KURTÁG (1926)
    (pp. 136-145)

    I was eleven or twelve years old when the experience that turned me into a musician occurred. Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony was playing on the radio, and when my parents told me what it was we were listening to, I was amazed that adults could recognize classical music! Sometime after that, I was alone at home and again listening to music on the radio. I realized that they were playing the “Unfinished” Symphony. I asked for and was given the score, and I learned the two-hand arrangement of the piece. That is what decided that music would become highly important in...

  36. Thirty-Two HELMUT LACHENMANN (1935)
    (pp. 146-153)

    The leap that Lutosławski made had been prepared: Cage’s Piano Concerto only served as an “ignition” to embark on something that was in actual fact already given. Indeed, a pure, radical experience like the music of Cage is something special. If performed without any trimmings, it meant for me, too, a purifying experience. This is true also on a more general level: the encounter with music which is pure in spirit and material puts my senses on alert, I listen intensively and there arise new visions.

    I am endowed with a kind of creative mechanism which works all the time...

  37. Thirty-Three GYÖRGY LIGETI (1923–2006)
    (pp. 154-158)

    Yes, I am familiar with that kind of experience. Let me give you a few examples.

    I did not know the music of Charles Ives for many years because it was never played. The very first piece of his I encountered was the Symphony No. 4, on an LP conducted by Leopold Stokowski. I heard it in the early 60s and I remember it struck me as rather odd. The second movement, however, made a deep impression with its simultaneity of scraps of American marches, folksongs, and liturgical music in great abundance, each in a different meter. In a flash,...

  38. Thirty-Four WITOLD LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913–94)
    (pp. 159-166)

    It was in that year that I heard an excerpt from his Piano Concerto and those few minutes were to change my life decisively. It was a strange moment, but I can explain what happened.

    Composers often do not hear the music that is being played; it only serves as an impulse for something quite different—for the creation of music that only lives in their imagination. It is a sort of schizophrenia: we are listening to something and at the same time creating something else.

    That is how it happened with Cage’s Piano Concerto. While listening to it, I...

  39. Thirty-Five FRANÇOIS-BERNARD MÂCHE (1935)
    (pp. 167-169)

    I can report on two experiences which—while they did not have the dimension of Lutosławski’s—have left deep traces.

    One was my encounter with musique concrète in 1955. It was at that time that works by Pierre Henry were released on record. It was not any particular composition that interested me but the new sound world of concrete music.

    The other experience occurred by chance: I heard Xenakis’s Metastasis in a German radio broadcast. That will have been in 1957 or 1958. I was a young composer, still rather green, and while I could not yet offer an alternative...

  40. Thirty-Six MICHIO MAMIYA (1929)
    (pp. 170-171)

    When I was a student in the early 1950s, the music and thinking of Bartók exerted a strong influence. I was fascinated by his choruses rooted in Hungarian folk music, his piano sonata, his second sonata for violin and piano, his third and fourth string quartets as well as his study on Hungarian peasant songs. I understood that his music was nourished by folk traditions and that recognition induced me to turn toward Japanese folk traditions myself in order to find my own compositional idiom.

    This effort had the result that music gradually talked to me differently than before. I...

  41. Thirty-Seven GIACOMO MANZONI (1932)
    (pp. 172-173)

    I can only recall a few moments which could be likened to Lutosławski’s Cage experience. However, they have not been associated exclusively with contemporary music. They have been evoked by Perotinus, Wagner, and Berg as much as by Ives or Xenakis.

    Experiences like that cannot be confined to music alone. I for one have received stronger impulses from certain external and internal impulses of the environment. Most recently, for instance, it was the San Giovanni degli Eremiti church in Palermo which impressed me with its majestic and solemn nave: I could almost hear sounds streaming from the stones. My earliest experience...

  42. Thirty-Eight PAUL MÉFANO (1937)
    (pp. 174-176)

    I have also had crucial experiences of a relevant nature. The first one occurred at the Paris Conservatoire. One of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti was performed, led by a very inadequate conductor. I was not yet a musician at the time, but however poor the interpretation may have been, the music exerted an extraordinary influence. It moved me to tears and I decided to become a musician. I was sixteen and resolved to devote my time to musical studies after finishing secondary school two years later. My goal was to become a composer.

    The fact that I strongly responded to music...

  43. Thirty-Nine ANDRÁS MIHÁLY (1917–93)
    (pp. 177-181)

    I decided early on to become a composer. I studied composition and the cello simultaneously, so it was inevitable for my strongest impulses to come from traditional music.

    I could not tell under whose influence I eventually found access to the realm of twentieth-century music. I had played quartets by Schoenberg, Berg, and Milhaud before the war, but none had exerted a strong enough influence which would have helped me to decide the direction of my orientation. It was not until the early 1950s that I began to evolve a style for myself even though the times were anything but...

  44. Forty TRISTAN MURAIL (1947)
    (pp. 182-184)

    No doubt about it: during the course of his career, a composer’s thinking undergoes changes, but they rarely occur from one moment to another.

    I studied with Olivier Messiaen at the Conservatoire, together with Gérard Grisey, Didier Denis, and Michaël Lévinas. At that time, almost all my generation composed in a postserial style: the Reihe replaced the idiom of Gabriel Fauré. However, the institution itself did not change—it retained its conservative, academic spirit.

    I felt I had reached an impasse. I wanted to start from scratch, to begin with point zero. I longed for clear harmonic structures, a sound...

  45. Forty-One MARLOS NOBRE (1939)
    (pp. 185-187)

    I think I can perfectly understand the point made by Lutosławski, for I have had many similar experiences in listening to music by other composers. Normally, I have no problem concentrating on the works of my colleagues, I listen attentively and with interest. It does happen, however, that a particular musical idea (be it a rhythmic pattern or a special orchestral sonority) suddenly attracts my attention. Usually, it only occupies my mind for a very short time, perhaps just a few seconds and the rest of that particular composition may hold no more interest for me. It is like a...

  46. Forty-Two LUIGI NONO (1924–90)
    (pp. 188-190)

    When listening to the music of a contemporary composer, I try to understand the way he created it and the ideas he set out to realize in the piece. In new acoustic phenomena, I examine the new elements as if under a magnifying glass.

    Every composition is of course a manifestation of our time, it has a structure peculiar to its language and it has an ideal. It is important for me to become acquainted with everything that characterizes our age.

    The music of Josquin, or Giovanni Gabrieli, or Beethoven is, however, much more important. Not because having studied it...

  47. Forty-Three KRZYSZTOF PENDERECKI (1933)
    (pp. 191-195)

    My case was different.

    I started composing in 1959, a year after finishing my studies. I was brought up on the classics, with practically no idea of the Second Viennese School: we heard absolutely no music from the West until 1956. It was in that year that I first heard Sacre in a live performance. Bartók and Schoenberg came later.

    Do you mean that before 1956 Bartók was missing from concert programs altogether?

    His music was practically absent. For instance, none of his string quartets was played.

    I completed my studies in 1958. I was an aggressive young composer who...

  48. Forty-Four GOFFREDO PETRASSI (1904–2003)
    (pp. 196-199)

    I can tell you about two similar experiences. One was linked to Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. I was gripped by its novelty and felt close to it in a spiritual sense as well. It may not have led to a fundamental change—that has never been the case—but it has left a trace on my style. It helped me to take a step forward. Incidentally, that happened in 1933.

    The other experience occurred around 1957. It was a composition by Bruno Maderna that induced me, so to speak, to “change places.” I must add, however, that these changes cannot...

  49. Forty-Five EMIL PETROVICS (1930)
    (pp. 200-204)

    I have had no experience of a similar nature.

    Let us examine this question from a wider angle. You see, I did not decide to become a composer from one moment to the next: the decision was the outcome of a slow process. And, unlike most of my colleagues, I did not approach music through Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, or Tchaikovsky. My first musical experience which really shook me was Bartók’s Divertimento: I heard it on the radio when I was sixteen years old or so. It was followed by Bluebeard’s Castle and later by Psalmus Hungaricus. I discovered “music history”...

  50. Forty-Six HENRI POUSSEUR (1929–2009)
    (pp. 205-206)

    I have had no experience comparable to Lutosławski’s, but there is no doubt about it: the impressions we receive from music—particular compositions, musicians, or schools of thought—exert a continuing influence on the creative process and nurture it. We may receive such impressions while studying a score but it is live music that makes the strongest impact. It has happened to me as well that in listening to some compositions, including contemporary pieces, I concentrated on what they might contribute to my own work. It was not a question of a decision taken beforehand—it was the music that...

  51. Forty-Seven STEVE REICH (1936)
    (pp. 207-209)

    I have had no experience that is the same as Lutosławski’s, but I have had a number of experiences with music that may be somewhat similar.

    A. When I was fourteen years old, I heard a recording of Le Sacre du Printemps for the first time. I had never heard anything like it. (In fact, at that time I had not heard any Stravinsky, Bartók, Schoenberg, Berg, or Webern.) It made an enormous impression on me and I believe that the seeds of my desire to become a composer were planted at that moment.

    B. In the same year—when...

  52. Forty-Eight WOLFGANG RIHM (1952)
    (pp. 210-213)

    Listening to a work by another composer and all of a sudden sensing in it my own possibilities: it is an experience I know well. By and large, that is what happens each time I listen to music. It would be difficult to name a single composition which would have had a more powerful influence on me than any other. There was one, however, which gave me the very first impetus: Arcana (1925–27) by Edgard Varèse. I heard it around 1970 and almost shuddered with the recognition illuminating my goal in a flash: creating music out of a “big...

  53. Forty-Nine PETER RUZICKA (1948)
    (pp. 214-215)

    I have also had a similar spontaneous revelation. It happened in the autumn of 1971: in a late-night radio broadcast, I heard a new orchestral work by Helmut Lachenmann and it became clear to me straight away that it represented a new aesthetic ideal which would have a bearing on my work as well. That composition was Kontrakadenz, one of the major (and least-known) works of new music.

    In that piece, Lachenmann had rid himself of the paraphernalia and expressive residues of “tonal hearing” in the broadest sense of the word. Tonality here means the traditional aesthetic middle course, an...

  54. Fifty LÁSZLÓ SÁRY (1940)
    (pp. 216-218)

    I attended the Darmstadt Summer Courses in 1972 and heard a lecture there by the American composer Christian Wolff on the possibilities inherent in using chance operations. Some of his compositions were also performed (Burdocks, String Quartet,55 and Stones from Prose Collection). It all confirmed the realization (which had matured in me since the late 1960s) that there were other ways of compositional thinking and practice than our classical ways in Europe. I wrote Sounds for … at the time which focuses on the most extensive possible exploitation of the parameters of a sound. There was a close kinship between...

  55. Fifty-One PIERRE SCHAEFFER (1910–95)
    (pp. 219-222)

    In answer to your first question I can briefly say that for me, Bach has been the only composer of any interest, ever since I was twelve years old: it was at that age that I first came across his music. No one else exists for me. As for your second question: noise has been the subject of my research. I did not examine it as a musician; I attempted to find out what was noise all about, what was its interrelationship with music. On a more general level, the relationship between music and all other aural phenomena. And finally:...

  56. Fifty-Two DIETER SCHNEBEL (1930)
    (pp. 223-224)

    The encounter with Cage’s piano concerto around 1958 and acquaintance with his ideas led, in my case as well, to fundamental changes in my thinking. I owe similar impulses to Luigi Nono (Variazioni canoniche) and Stockhausen (Piano Pieces I–V). And, of course, to Webern, Varèse, and Ives.

    Sounds of the environment play a role in several of my compositions (Choralvorspiele I/II 1966/69, Hörfunk/Radiophonium I–V 1969/70). The same is true of nonmusical, “concrete” sounds, in works like Thanatos-Eros (1979/82) for orchestra and human voices or Jowaegerli (1982/83), Alemannian words and pictures after Johann Peter Hebel,57 for vocal and instrumental...

  57. Fifty-Three ALFRED SCHNITTKE (1934–98)
    (pp. 225-227)

    I cannot recall an extreme case which would have led to a sudden change in my musical thinking. I can, however, report on two contrasting experiences which surface in my work every now and again.

    One is the sudden emergence of something which comes as a complete surprise—it is just there. In other words, I write a composition which appears out of nowhere, free of any influence by music that came before. The piece that is going to be played tonight, the Symphony No. 4 (1984), belongs to this category. I cannot trace any outside influence in it, it...

  58. Fifty-Four GUNTHER SCHULLER (1925)
    (pp. 228-235)

    The major influences on my music came from Schoenberg and Stravinsky. My first encounter with the music of Schoenberg could perhaps be likened to Lutosławski’s Cage experience: it served as something of a watershed in my development.

    However, I am basically a self-taught composer. I learned about composition not from teachers, but from the music itself, i.e., from studying the scores and listening to music. I became an avid record collector (both jazz and classical) already in my young teens, and have always listened to a great variety of music. Also, I grew up in New York and there were...

  59. Fifty-Five JOHANNES MARIA STAUD (1974)
    (pp. 236-239)

    By far the most decisive, indeed the most radical experience in a composer’s life—at least in mine—is getting down to composing for the very first time. It is a mysterious moment: the play instinct, the pleasure over sounds, the keenness to imitate and the fascination with the unknown are suddenly short-circuited and evoke an irresistible urge to invent one’s own music instead of being content with the contemplation, performance, or adoration (like in a museum) of already existing masterpieces.

    Whatever may come afterward, such as the emancipation from musical idols, the unsettling encounter with great pieces in great...

  60. Fifty-Six KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN (1928–2007)
    (pp. 240-245)

    Something like that happened once in my life. In Darmstadt, in 1951, at the Summer Courses for New Music, a French music critic played a record of Messiaen’s Quatre études de rythme. One of the etudes is entitled Mode de valeurs et d’intensités. I asked him there and then to play the piece again and again and a whole new world opened up before me—an inner world—in listening to this “point music,” this “star music,” as I called it at the time. After the Darmstadt Summer Courses were over, I returned to Cologne and told a music critic...

  61. Fifty-Seven ANDRÁS SZŐLLŐSY (1921–2007)
    (pp. 246-250)

    I belong to the generation born early enough to be present at the world premieres of some of Bartók’s or Kodály’s works. Those premieres were among the most important musical experiences of my youth. The generations coming after us probably cannot even assess the effect those premieres exercised on us. I saw Bartók and Kodály as twin stars and therefore sought in their works what they had in common rather than what kept them apart. As a result, I did not reach below the surface. Instead of analyzing the inner structure of the musical material, I put the accent on...

  62. Fifty-Eight TŌRU TAKEMITSU (1930–96)
    (pp. 251-252)

    I am interested in all kinds of music: the widest range of folk music, jazz, or rock.

    I am an autodidact as a composer, I learned directly from Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Cage, Stockhausen, Schoenberg, Bartók, and many others. I absorbed all these influences in an open and sincere manner.

    Debussy exerted the strongest influence. Whenever I am about to write a new piece, I go back to him and study his scores carefully. Why? This would be difficult to explain. Perhaps it is a question of taste. Or perhaps because I am Japanese.

    Debussy’s colors awake my musical fantasy. I...

  63. Fifty-Nine DIMITRI TERZAKIS (1938)
    (pp. 253-255)

    I was born in a country where music is part of a different sphere of culture than in Western Europe. When I moved to Cologne in 1965, I came in touch with new tendencies and it became clear to me that my musical mother tongue differed from that of my colleagues. Their compositions helped me to distance myself from their idiom and find my own.

    Greek musical tradition is closely related to Oriental music and it has put its stamp on my thinking. I was gripped by the art of medieval Byzantine composers: Koukouzeles, Kladas, Glikis, and among eighteenth-century composers...

  64. Sixty SIR MICHAEL TIPPETT (1905–98)
    (pp. 256-258)

    In the sense which you describe what Lutosławski told you concerning a piece of John Cage, I had something almost exactly the same when I was listening to a concert of modern music of some kind at the Edinburgh Festival and my vague recollection, not absolutely accurate, is that I heard a piano sonata played by some pianist that was Boulez. I am not dead sure this is correct—it would be very difficult to find out exactly what it was—nevertheless, what happened was a sudden understanding of something of this kind of piece which was extremely static, seemed...

  65. Sixty-One LÁSZLÓ VIDOVSZKY (1944)
    (pp. 259-262)

    For me, an existing composition represents a possibility just as much as music that has yet to be written or pieces that will never be born. It is therefore natural for me to integrate any work which strikes me as genuine music in the music that lives in me. I cannot, however, undertake to explore and register these influences; they are at least as diverse as the works themselves.

    It may occur that a single turn of phrase heard at a concert calls for further development. It may also happen that I have an impulse to write existing compositions again,...

  66. Sixty-Two WLADIMIR VOGEL (1896–1984)
    (pp. 263-265)

    The first major experience of my youth was linked to Alexander Scriabin. Both his music and his personality made a deep impression. I attended his piano recitals in Moscow between 1912 and 1914 where he played some of his own compositions as well. I was also influenced by his ideas regarding the background to his works, especially those of his last sonatas and orchestral pieces, because I was close to the Russian Symbolists.

    Scriabin’s influence was felt also in my first years in Berlin. The pieces I composed then bear traces of his piano technique. Later, when I became acquainted...

  67. Sixty-Three GERHARD WIMBERGER (1923)
    (pp. 266-268)

    I belong to the ill-fated generation whose youth was overshadowed by Hitler’s Reich. My musical development was likewise determined by history. I remember, around 1940, my piano teacher locked the door of his studio and under promise of secrecy produced a score from his cupboard: it was a viola piece by Paul Hindemith who had been blacklisted by the Nazis. Another teacher told me of Stravinsky: it was as if he had evoked a mirage—distant and unattainable.

    After the war when traveling was free, I was not yet in a position to do so. That is why Ernst Krenek...

  68. Sixty-Four CHRISTIAN WOLFF (1934)
    (pp. 269-272)

    I’ve not had one, single converting experience like the one described by Lutosławski. A continuing series of meetings with other musics and musicians has affected me, directly and indirectly, so that I’ve wanted to respond or have felt more free to proceed to do what I did. Probably my own lack of formal and institutionalized training in music has left me open to a variety and a number of such meetings.

    The slow movement of Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, I think, first caused me to want to try to write music. I actually began trying to write after hearing the...

  69. Sixty-Five IANNIS XENAKIS (1922–2001)
    (pp. 273-282)

    Metastasis, that starting point of my life as a composer, was inspired not by music but rather by the impression gained during the Nazi occupation of Greece. The Germans tried to take Greek workers to the Third Reich—and we staged huge demonstrations against this and managed to prevent it. I listened to the sound of the masses marching toward the center of Athens, the shouting of slogans and then, when they came upon Nazi tanks, the intermittent shooting of the machine guns, the chaos. I shall never forget the transformation of the regular, rhythmic noise of a hundred thousand...

  70. ENCORE
    (pp. 283-324)

    The “encore” to the three questions—indeed, the fourth question—takes its origin in the random look I took, some time in 1995, at page 108 of the first volume of Igor Stravinsky’s conversations with Robert Craft.70 For some reason, I got the volume off my shelf one day and opened it where Craft poses the question “Would you ‘draw’ your recent music?” illustrating his point with graphic images of his own invention of Bach, Wagner, Webern, and others. Stravinsky responded by drawing a diagram with the comment “This is my music.” That exchange, those drawings gave me the idea...

  71. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
  72. INDEX
    (pp. 325-334)
  73. Back Matter
    (pp. 335-339)