Alright, first blog post. Starting it out strong with one of the most difficult things I’ve had to put together. I have a few other things that I’ve worked on during my school time that I definitely want to post up here, this includes my presentation on the influence of jazz on Eurocentric music. I actually debated posting that first, but I technically don’t have a paper written for it, just a powerpoint presentation and a script. I’ll definitely put something on that together in the near future, even if it’s an informal piece. Anyways, on with this one.
The very last lecture/seminar class I took during my masters was with the amazing theorist Joseph Straus, this book is in a long list of many great writings of his. This was at The Graduate Center, Spring 2017 semester in a class called Music After 2000. Each week we explored a different living composer, almost exclusively music they composed after the year 2000. Some of the composers included Charles Wuorinen, Helmut Lachenmann, Brian Ferneyhough, Kaija Saariaho, and Tan Dun. For a final project, we were free to individually choose a composer active after 2000, could be from the syllabus or not, and we had to author a complete analysis of one of their pieces (which contrasted what we did on a weekly basis, analyzing small passages of various pieces). The difficulty of this class was due to how new all this music was, so we had little to no written material to work from, and in many cases, even no recordings (such as Wuorinen’s composition for solo piano Doubletake, where I ended up transcribing the piece into a midi file to get an idea of what it sounded like).
A few years ago after first listening to pianist Matt Mitchell, I naturally took the next step and started getting into new complexity music, a term I dislike and I know composers in the style do too. But the term new complexity was a path that got me from Ferneyhough to Chris Dench, Jason Eckardt, James Dillon, and most impacting for me, Michael Finnissy.
Finnissy was a refreshing discovery to me. What immediately caught my attention, especially as a jazz musician, were his Gershwin arrangements (Ian Pace’s rendition of Finnissy’s arrangement of Embraceable You has become my favorite version of that tune). I then got into his well known pieces, such as The History of Photography in Sound.
So naturally, when Prof. Straus gave us instructions on our final assignment, my mind immediately went to Finnissy’s second and third string quartets which are two of his greatest pieces composed after 2000. In searching for scores and any information I could find, I reached out to Finnissy via e-mail and he generously provided me not only with a score to each piece, but answered many of my questions and mailed me an incredible DVD put together by Amanda Bayley with all sorts of interviews, scores, and sketches for his second string quartet, which ended up being my choice for the project.
Anyways, if you ever heard me talking about this paper (which I wrote about a lot on social media), and you were interested in reading what was in the paper, you can read it by clicking the link below.
TLDR of my analysis: The piece uses a lot of material from Haydn’s “Lark” String Quartet (Op. 64 No. 5). In many cases, it is heavily concealed, but there are some cases where the pitch material is replicated almost identically. For this, I’ll point you to timestamps 11:34 in Finnissy’s piece, and 8:46 in Haydn’s. There are a few other points of references here other than Haydn. There is a bit of Pierre Boulez and Gloria Coates. Additionally, Finnissy also makes use of random number generators to create pitch material. It’s hard to summarize a 33-pager in a short paragraph, but this gives you an idea of what the analysis goes on about.
Once again, many thanks to Michael Finnissy for writing such incredible music and providing some very generous hints, to Prof. Straus for taking his time to read through my terrible drafts, and special shoutouts to David Austin and Joshua Burgess who helped me with my terrible writing skills on the paper.