My Attitude Problem. By David Rakowski

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1 My Attitude Prblem By David Rakwski In respnse t the Current Musiclgy slicitatin letter, I think I am suppsed t write abut hw I fill my pieces up with ntes. This is a hard task fr any cmpser wh desn't write pieces destined fr decnstructin in graduate seminars: while I can fairly easily list sme tendencies my pieces have, and much mre easily list the srts f things that ther cmpsers d that I dn't, I can't imagine hw interesting either wuld be t anyne. Plus, I believe that cmpsers tend t be their wn wrst advcatesseparating the cmpsitin f a piece frm its hearing is rather difficult fr us: when we tell yu abut trees, the listener hears frest, and vice versa. Nw that the disclaimer has been made, it's time t press n. Like mst cmpsers I knw, I write idisyncratically, changing my methds, kinds f pitch references, and verall view f frm frm piece t piece depending n the circumstances, ensemble, and materials. In general, I write cntextually and frm left t right; hw I decide n what t d at any given mment depends n gestalt, vice-leading, and (by definitin) cntext. The music tends t be either quite fast r rather slw, withut a lt f gradatins in between. I have learned a lt abut cmpsitinal craft and cntinuity frm listening t and studying the musics f Brahms, Berg, Bartk, and Martin, and I think the influences are easy t hear; there is als a strng presence f jazz harmny and funky, driving rhythms, accrding t sme peple wh knw what thse wrds mean. I cnsciusly fllw what I understand t be a tensin-and-release mdel, and strive fr clear phrases and frmal articulatins: things start simple, accumulate, get mre cmplicated, catch fire, and release tensin with a big gesture t begin anther structural sectin. Beynd that, it's anyne's guess what the heck I am ding. One thing I hardly ever d is cmpse frm the utside in r the inside ut frmulaically. There are rarely predetermined frmal schemes psing as vessels in wait fr the right materials t fulfill their needs; nr d I use fractal mdels in which everything in the small is reflected in the same way in larger frmal levels. I pretty much mve frm mment t mment, left t right, shaping the piece and keeping as much in memry as I can, s that in the small and large it makes sense and makes a gd stry, at least fr me. Rather than cntinuing t ramble n with vague and banal generalities, I'm ging t take an infrmal lk at a piece f mine and try t give a sense f hw and why I wrte it, and fllw hw my thinking abut the piece evlved as it tk shape. Current Musiclgy 67 & Clumbia University 305

2 306 CURRENT MUSICOLOGY I'll be writing abut a pian tri I wrte in entitled Attitude Prblem, which is published by C. F. Peters and recrded n CR!. Like mst f my ther pieces, it is atypical. The ddball title will be explained in the curse f the essay. The genesis f the piece was an frm pianist Lis Shapir in the summer f 1996 asking me t write a piece fr her newly recnstituted tri, the Triple Helix; the perfrmers are all virtusi in their wn right, and excellent chamber music perfrmers. In 1993 I had written a pian tri called Hyperblue fr the previus incarnatin f the tri, with a different vilinist; it was a very fast, virtusic piece full f killer unisn-writing that the grup played like a millin bucks. The perfrmers described the piece t me as dark, sinister, jazzy, and intense, and als fun t play. The Triple Helix had perfrmed it n its inaugural cncert in the spring f 1996, a few mnths befre Lis's , and it made a big splash. Fr the new tri, Lis made a few requests: she wanted sme mre "sinister,jazzy" music like in Hyperblue; and fr her wn part, she asked specifically fr tw things: she wanted t sck a lt f really lw ntes (she lved ding it in Hyperblue, s this was a request fr a reprise), and she wanted a "big, smshy, rmantic" sl. Rhnda Rider, the cellist, asked if I culd write smething very high fr her, in the next-t-tp ctave f the pian. With thse things in mind, I did what mst cmpsers d when they start a piece: I simply imprvised pian tri music in my head fr a while befre I started writing anything dwn. This imprvised music was cnstituted mstly f brief gestures, which were speculative thughts abut ways the instruments might pssibly wrk in cmbinatin. These imprvisatins had bth visual and snic cmpnents: I d tend t "see" musical gestures befre I write them dwn, and ften the act f writing them dwn invlves picking ut the ntes n the pian that mst faithfully represent the gestures. I think f musical gestures as having a physical quality, and that is prbably part f what it is I "see" when I imagine them. Als befre writing anything dwn I tried t imagine an verall shape fr the piece. Rather than thinking hard, I hardly thught, settling n yet anther three-mvement attacca structure: fast-slw-fast. I think I prefer writing attacca mvements because I'm simply nt gd at writing endings; with attacca structures I can end mvements as big upbeats t the next mvement, which is much easier. I als get fatigued as a listener by pieces-the chamber music f Dvrak being ne f the mre exasperating culprits-that keep ending. Fr the sake f practicality, I was shting fr a twelve- t fifteen-minute piece. I did want the piece at least t begin differently frm Hyperblue, fr cntrast in case the tw tris were ever perfrmed n the same cncert, r cnsecutively. Hyperblue has a light, jazzy pening cncentrated in the

3 DAVID RAKOWSKI 307 middle register, generally at a sft dynamic. S I pted fr a scwl-faced pening with heavy bwing, a wide registral span, smething self-cnsciusly n the ugly side-steretypical md music. Fr this musical impressin, I use pian ntes in extreme registers (including sme scked lw ntes, as Lis had requested) and I have the strings hacking away at duble stps that are interlcked registrally. Fr the sake f snrity, bwing, and fingering quickness, the strings' duble stps invlve bth pen and fingered strings. And because the music is suppsed t functin as an pening, I prbably wanted the gestures t feel shrt and fragmented (see fig. 1). Obviusly this scwl-faced passage cnsists f tw phraselets separated by silence; the first ne ends rhythmically weak, as if still inhaling; the mtin f the bass in the pian sunds t me like it is supprting a mtin t a half cadence. The secnd ends tranquilly, but kind f in the wrng way. Given the quick and fragmented nature f the gestures that have happened s far, it's a little ut f left field t end a phrase with this kind f repse. The aggressive and bnxius initiatin f the secnd phraselet by the pian is a private jke: Years earlier, when the previus tri rehearsed Hyperblue, Lis always used a gesture f that shape, rhythm, and register in rder t stp a run-thrugh t make cmments and ask questins. In this musical cntext, then, yu can imagine that the pianist may be cnfused abut the first ugly phraselet that just happened and tries t stp the rehearsal and talk abut it. In respnse, the strings cut their sawing gestures shrt as if t see what the pianist has t say. What the pianist "says" is the lng chrd that ends the secnd phraselet. I abslutely fell in lve with that chrd. It's gt a beautiful, rich, snrus quality, and, as I hadn't realized at the time, acustic reinfrcement f the bass-it's a C-majr triad with D and C# added. Nte t the dutiful, cnservative vice-leading appraching the chrd: the repeated C#s in the bass pinting dwn t the C, and the chrmatic line B-B leading up t it; and it is C's first appearance in this register; similarly, the tp tw ntes in the chrd are apprached by step in the strings. I prbably ratinalized the C in the bass with vice-leading, and the rest f the chrd as sme srt f prlngatin f what was in the strings. I did nt knw at this pint that the chrd was ging t be imprtant in the piece. I was thinking f this music in this passage as intrductry material, even thugh I wasn't sure just what it was that I was intrducing, and as s ften happens in intrductins, the harmnic mtin is glacially paced. Keeping the glacial harmnic pacing and the sense f intrductin, I repeated the same chunk-chrd gestures in the strings a few mre times, arund the same ntes, with similar gestures in the pian. Fr n ther reasn than that anything wrth ding nce is wrth ding twice, I ended

4 Figure 1 Vilin 'Cell Ansis J = V r--._""'-""" =f P (d).. pizz pizz > -====== pc ===sft '-" p-==:: sft arc _" ,, P-==::sft (,,)() 00 n c::: z..., s;:: c::: rjj >-< II t-< ","0 )1 sfz sfz p - (B'J (C (B') (B Used by Permissin f C. F. Peters Crpratin

5 DAVID RAKOWSKI 309 Figure 2 9 II U - /. P '---' ==- : ---,... p ===- 1\ ( tt.!ll; p pp ( :, l (C Used by Permissin f C. F. Peters Crpratin the secnd grup f phraselets with the same grgeus chrd as the first grup, this time phrased like a sigh (see fig. 2). This time, wing t the rhythm and the vice-leading, the grgeus chrd felt mre like it facilitated a cncluding cadence than a half cadence, s it felt like a real sectinal ending, pssibly an end t the intrductin. Well-trained, thughtful cmpser that I am, I knew the next thing I had t d was t break ut f this harmny, in rder t "begin" the piece prperly, and signal an end t the intrductin. But it didn't turn ut that way. Dutifully, I did add legat, lyrical lines t the bx f things that the strings knw hw t d; but I culdn't lse either the chunk-chrd gesture r that grgeus chrd, and twice again I fund myself ending chunks f music with the grgeus chrd-the secnd time articulated like a steretypical Stravinsky chrdal articulatin, tgether with a tritne substitutin stlen frm jazz (see fig. 3). By this pint in the piece, I was aware that I had clsed majr phrase grups twice-perhaps three times-with the same chrd, and nw I really needed t g smewhere else harmnically, because this was getting ridiculus. S I put the piece dwn fr a while t think abut it (and abut teaching first-year thery, replacing the garage dr, etc., etc.). During this time, I encuntered Rhnda, the cellist, at Brandeis, and she

6 310 CURRENT MUSICOLOGY Figure 3 26,., 0) : 71, /'d, pp I::-,i/. - '. "'; ----e. I. 11#' r II 0) ) : /" -... q<i === II I*-' <i J-I (c q.. Used by Permissin f C. F. Peters Crpratin asked hw the piece was ging. I tld her that I'd written a lt f ntes, but culdn't get the piece actually t g anywhere yet. She said, "It sunds like yur piece has an attitude prblem. In fact, I think that's what yu shuld call it." Nt ne t turn dwn a perfrmer's suggestin, I said I wuld, but didn't mean it. But after thinking abut it fr a while, I decided I culd use the title, because that way I culd have a srt f hk fr the piece-r at least an interesting way fr me t think abut what I had already, and where t g next. Cnsequently, I was able t think f this misbehaving passage nt as a bug, but as a feature. That's it-the first mvement's attitude prblem is harmny that mves very slwly, r nt at all, despite a lt f sturm and drangn the surface. This meant I culd, r even shuld, begin what I was nw very clearly thinking f as the main bdy f the mvement in exactly the wrng way: with the same chrd and anther sequence f frantic surface gestures (see fig. 4). Beginning the main part f the mvement with the same harmny and gestures as the intrductin prbably struck me as a little perverse. Perverse is gd, thugh, in mderatin, and is especially gd in this piece. Clearly, thugh, I eventually had t stp starting and stpping, especially since all f the gestures were turning ut t be shrt and f similar lengths. Eventually the music des becme mre cntinuus, but nly after Lis's prized scked lw ntes g away fr a while. In the next three

7 Figure 4 pizz. arc > if; mp-==== f p mp > ===f p > sft f " mf Used by Permissin f C. F. Peters Crpratin f p '-.V tj ;,>..., <: tl G? [FJ ::1 (.){)......

8 312 CURRENT MUSICOLOGY r s minutes f music, the grgeus chrd is nly heard incidentally a few times; the strings eventually start playing a cmpsite lyrical lng line, and the mvement cmes t a climax. I think the climax is strngly reminiscent f Bartk, if he had listened t t much Twer f Pwer in his yuth (see fig. 5). See the baritne sax in the scked lw ntes in the pian's left hand and the squealing trumpets in the vilin? By this pint, I imagined that the listener (and perfrmers) wuld be fatigued frm hearing s many ntes and s few different harmnies-i knw I was. Indeed, the lack f significant harmnic mvement made me think f the music as a little like a hamster n a hamster wheel, frever running but nt getting anywhere. S I ended the mvement with a return t the pening harmny and gestures, althugh quite a bit slwer, mimicking that fatigue; I think the Triple Helix understd the pint f this return because they perfrm this passage withut vibrat r inflectinthey really d sund tired. It made sense t begin the secnd mvement with a new chrd f a markedly different quality; if I calculated crrectly, the chrd wuld feel like a big exhalatin, a big relief, because we're finally in the sectin f ur prgram where harmny mves. As an verlap, thugh, I had Lis pick up the repeated E-F# figure in the vilin part and turn it int an accmpaniment figure t start her smshy, rmantic sl (see fig. 6). Obviusly the pian bass nte at the pening f the secnd mvement culd nt be C (as in the grgeus chrd), since that wuld tend t defeat the impressin that the harmny had finally mved. When I wrte the first bar f the secnd mvement, I hadn't thught yet what the "attitude prblem" f the secnd and third mvements might be. The simple metric mdulatin that I had used t get frm the first t the secnd mvement gave me the idea t have the three instruments prceed in different pulses, but t agree harmnically-the pulse disagreement is the attitude prblem. In perfrmance this tends t sund like extravagant rubat, which is fine with me. (An additinal idea was t have the pian accmpaniment be present fr the whle mvement, gradually slwing dwn frm eighth ntes t dtted halves and then speeding up.) Predictably, when the pian slws t its lngest pulse, the grgeus chrd is heard fr the nly time in the mvement. Rhnda gets her extremely high cell sl after the smshy pian sl, and the piece prceeds as yu wuld expect: the vilin enters, all three playa while, the vilin gets a sl, and the cell reenters. By then it was time fr a transitin t a fast mvement, and it ccurred t me that the way t d it was t have the lines agree in pulse again, and start ding things tgether. Yu can see where that happens in fig. 7; the pian desn't catch n fr anther tw bars.


10 314 CURRENT MUSICOLOGY! t!l, i D IIIIA, i jo.. ) ( tr--' -'.) 2\ \ ) 1i :j 011i ) ' j ;r.oi Ij ] ) ) ') TI1) <

11 DAVID RAKOWSKI 315 In this rugh-and-ready transitin, all the parts speed up t sixteenthnte triplets, and strings gradually slide back int the ntes and gestures that pened the piece, except that this time, because f the great speed, they sund frantic and mre desperate-as if struggling in quicksand. In ther wrds, the piece was back in harmnic stasis, sunding even mre desperate than befre, and gave me a new picture f the grgeus chrd in which the harmny was nw stuck: the grgeus chrd became a mysterius black hle, capturing the string players like flies nt flypaper, causing them t flap abut frantically. I was reminded f a running gag n an ld Bill Irwin special n public TV: when he gt clse t ne crner f the stage it wuld appear t be sucking him ffstage; when the string players get clse t the pening chrd, it appears t be sucking them in, requiring a heric gesture frm the pian fr them t be freed. I liked the idea f pianist as her. Plus, a heric gesture wuld necessarily be a dramatic ne, the upsht f which wuld be a signal f the beginning f anther mvement (see fig. 8). At this pint the simple tw-nte figure in the vilin, tgether with the clearing f the murky quicksand texture, shuld have the metaphrical feeling f pening a windw fr the first time in spring after it has been clsed fr the whle winter-in ther wrds, a feeling f clearing the air. In fact, at this pint I thught f the vilin as a character in an air freshener cmmercial, where ur blnde prtagnist sniffs the air in ecstasy, life is beautiful, and nbdy is ever ging t hurt us again. But as yu wuld expect, it sn turns ut t be a revel withut a clue... Which is a gd setup fr a scherz mvement. I lve writing scherzs fr several reasns. First, it's fun writing fast music, especially when there are s few cmpsers-especially cmpsers f similar utlk and training-wh seem able, r willing, t write truly whizbang-fast music. Secnd, perfrmers usually like t play fast music as lng as it's gratefully written fr the instruments and it makes them sund gd. Third, with stuff flying by s fast, it's fun and challenging t see what srt f rhythmic games I can get away with. By saying this music is scherz music, I'm nt saying anything abut its frm, just abut a state f mind. As scherz music, it might as well live up t its name-hence the ideas fr the "attitude prblem" f this mvement. I decided n tw attitude prblems happening simultaneusly: flwing ntes in a triple subdivisin cnflicting with and interrupted by articulated ntes in a duple subdivisin; and scrupulusly prepared climaxes that g unfulfilled. In fact, it is ften these duple interruptins that prevent the climaxes frm cming where they are suppsed t. The cell shrtly jins the vilin in the air-freshener cmmercial. Nw fr the sake f the scherz, I thught f the strings as being s ecstatic

12 316 CURRENT MUSICOLOGY c le "il tl llll..l l..l.l..l_

13 DAVID RAKOWSKI 317 Figure J> = J>. Attacca lll. mvt. " -----, lc. OJ :. )., Pc agitat, Vivacissim.. = c >.ff L E..ff ==r= =;= =;=.ff f p III E <", -r I<f. mf '.fr. Ilfts/aw/y * Used by Permissin f C. F. Peters Crpratin that they'd eventually lse cntrl and start tripping ver themselves, which leads t the first unfulfilled climax. The ecstatic gestures eventually calesce again int the grgeus chrd, and the strings get stuck, unable t mve, as befre. S the pian has t cme t the rescue with anther heric gesture (see fig. 9). The immediate respnse f the strings t the pian is straight ut f a cartn-the harmnic disagreement is suppsed t sund as if the strings have stars in their eyes frm being slapped s hard. But since the slapping desn't seem t take, the pian has t repeat the gesture, amplified this time with the "let's stp and talk abut this" gesture frm the very beginning fthe wrk (see fig. 10).

14 Figure 9 25 tj : " ) : "1:'.... _/ '---" " ":;t - n:;t, _-p--./ > > f - iiiiiiiioii Pc phi mss;\ = p - f'ii'.-;' 11;;--.. H. -= ===== y Used by Permissin f C. F. Peters Crpratin f sjft --= ::: 11 - (C) '-" :fr p stp nte near tuning peg an instant after playing it - >-' '"'" 00 n c::: Z >-3 s:: c::: [JJ n t'"

15 / I \ m ( \.. j'111 I-- II ( \ [l DAVID RAKOWSKI 319 I L,;,r p i'- r L I"' I-rmll. I"'llt ( r" I)... l ( u 0 \ (, IC C C 00 0) F;l

16 320 CURRENT MUSICOLOGY This is where the duple-vs.-triple subdivisin attitude prblem is first heard. The interruptins f the triplet stream by the duple ntes becme mre invasive and bnxius later in the piece. After a few mre exchanges between Lis and the strings, Lis is left by herself n the alternating E-F# accmpaniment figure, as she was at the pening f the secnd mvement. In fact, each re-beginning after this pint begins with alternating E-F# figures. Right after this, the grup seems finally t catch a grve, but it is frustrated by the intrusin f the duple figures, and the music winds dwn and starts again (see fig. 11). Several times after this, the same large-scale gesture is repeated: the pian is left by itself n an E-F# figure, the music builds, and is thwarted frm climaxing by varius interruptins. One f the interruptins is a private jke: While writing this mvement I met cmpser Darn Hagen fr the first time and was listening t his music. I very much liked the fake swing music at the beginning f his pera Vera f Las Vegas and I used the feel f that music as ne f the interruptive gestures in the next large segment (see fig. 12). The tw gestures in swing eighths that diminuend in the pian qute the feel f Darn's piece while using ntes frm anther piece f mine. There is anther much lnger passage, initiated again by E-F# figures, which manages t cntinue and build, this time seeming t ignre the myriad interferences f the duple idea. In rder t "reslve" the cnflict nce and fr all, a real climax finally happens, and it is heard entirely in duple time-after which the duple villain disappears (see fig. 13). Nte that Lis gets t sck her lw ntes here, and gesturally it's like Bartk hepped up n Twer f Pwer again. At this pint, with bth attitude prblems "slved," I figured it was time fr a cda in which anther ld prblem is dispensed with-that f the grgeus chrd. This cda begins as all the ther re-beginnings in this mvement d, with an E-F# figure, and this time explicitly attached t the grgeus chrd (see fig. 14). But this time the chrd feels defanged. There is n heric gesture extracting the strings frm the chrd-just business as usual. And the cda that fllws is s happy-g-lucky that it is as if nthing has happened. The strings glissand t harmnics, the pian keeps the sixteenth ntes active, and eventually the piece simply ends understatedly, n the grgeus chrd (see fig. 15). A high D frm the piece's pening (a little later in the piece than is shwn in fig. 1) "mves" t D in the vilin here at the same time that the bass mves lcally frm C# t C. That is there as a jke, as a red herring

17 Figure r "--../ mp f p r-2-. mp f p r2-, ,.-2-, r-2,2-, I.-2,,2-, c mp Used by Permissin f C. F Peters Crpratin p.-2-, t:i > <: ""' tl :>1 CJl C ():) Nl >-'

18 322 CURRENT MUSICOLOGY jf Z "'-. -" "'-. 1\.... ;. 1 \ l (... C- 0 I 11-> (, j (.J j )... <:. "-.t t.. <: "'-. )(,,.. ') Oi c (..

19 Figure 13 J= jl=j pc a pc dim. (f) pc a pc dim. (f) Used by Permissin f C. F. Peters Crpratin I:j a ::>1 :;;: '" (A Nl (A

20 ($I NI... Figure 14 -j=}- 150 Pi" Accel. r. Temp Prim}= f =====--P CJ c:: Z >-l s= c:: CJl n t'" C'l secc, leggier p p Used by Permissin f C. F. Peters Crpmntin


22 326 CURRENT MUSICOLOGY fr future therists wh may read smewhere that there is vice-leading in my music. I frankly dn't knw hw a listener wuld receive this piece, whether expsed t the lng narrative just presented, r inncent f it. I wuld hpe that the successins f frmal articulatins are clear, and that the gestalt f the music is smething like the gestalt I felt when writing it. And I wuld hpe that n repeated hearings, the functin-r at least the repetitin-f the "grgeus chrd" wuld becme clear. Beside all f that, I wuld presume any listener wuld bring experiences int a listening that I culd never dream f (and therefre write fr), might have sme interesting things t say (r cmplain abut), might find relatinships in it f which I was unaware, r might simply get up and start dancing (which I wuld like). But ne thing is clear-i am t clse t the piece t tell yu what it is. I can nly say with any accuracy what it is made f.