Palacio de Quintanar, headquarters of Segovia's Professional Conservatoriy of Music between 1990 and 2002
Zaragoza's Professional Conservatory of Música
Algunas consideraciones técnicas y estéticas sobre mi música / Some technical
and aesthetic considerations about my music
(Lecture given at the Conservatory of Segovia on March 28, 1996,
and at the Conservatory of Zaragoza on December 1, 1998
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen:
First of all, I wish to express my gratitude to the Segovia/Zaragoza Conservatory of Music for having been kind enough to invite me to participate in these sessions dedicated to contemporary Spanish composers. In line with this, several ideas are crowding into my mind that, for mere cathartic hygiene, I think it is good to expose aloud, as an introduction to this talk.
In the first place, it is worth noting that living composers -that is to say, not yet dead, and therefore not valued- are asked to talk about our music. As for me, and except for, of course, purely technical talks, normally addressed to students of composition, I must admit that this is the first time that I have been given the opportunity to address a not. necessarily specialized audience to expose my ideas on musical creation, in relation to my own work.
Secondly, I am especially pleased that these sessions in general, and my intervention in particular, take place in a music education center. It is known to all that our conservatories have long maintained a chronic dispute with contemporary creation, from which, except for honorable exceptions, they feel especially disconnected, to which they only reluctantly open their doors in the curriculums, and to which they tend to relegate to that mixed bag of the so-called "complementary or extracurricular activities", in which everything that institutional laziness refuses to place in the right place usually has a place. Given that half of my professional life is dedicated to teaching in a center of these characteristics -I am a Harmony professor at one of the Professional Conservatories in Madrid- I know very well what I am talking about, and for this I feel especially comforted to be able to address all of you, even if it has to be in the context of a complementary activity of this center, to develop in an almost clandestine way what should be an obligatory part of the didactic programming of any Composition department.
And that declaration of principles made, I proceed to enter fully into the core of this lecture, which is none other than an approach to my own music, told by myself. Please excuse the self-centered pretensions that necessarily flow from this aim, and I guarantee you that I will do everything I can to prevent it from becoming a boring series of analytical data, as well as of irrelevant aspects that can only make sense to me. With an acuity as fine as cruel, Stravinsky said of Hindemith's music that it was "as dry and indigestible as cardboard, and just as little nourishing." I sincerely hope that your opinion of my speech will be very different. And for this to be so, I propose that we start the house with the foundations, and that before talking about my music, we listen to a fragment of it, which I will comment on later. It is the 2nd movement of my Trio for violin, cello and piano, performed by the Mompou Trio, at the request of whose members I wrote it in 1983:
LISTENING: 2nd movement of "Trío" (Recording: Trío Mompou)
Twentieth-century art is characterized, as is well known, by a generalized aesthetic dispersion, under which the most disparate attitudes have taken and continue taking place, embodied in artistic objects through techniques and procedures that are no less disparate. This constitutes an unprecedented fact in the History of Art, since until the end of the 19th century the most relevant characteristic was the generalized assumption of a single language, on which each author knew how to print his personal stamp. On the contrary, the 20th century saw the most rabidly radical avant-garde trends overlap with the most openly reactionary conservative attitudes in a very short time and at an increasingly rapid pace.
Personally, it has never ceased to surprise me -which has contributed to a generalized skepticism- that even the composers most clearly placed in the front line have been inflexible when it comes to defending that not only the aesthetic trend chosen by each of them was the undoubtedly correct one, generally despising the others, but rather, in a curious display of vanity, the fact of unconditional ascription to unique aesthetics and style was praised as the "no more" of artistic dignity, coining the most various concepts, among which those of "coherence" and "unity" stood out at a notable distance from the others for the sake of justifying such proceeding.
In my view, such an approach can only lead to a double monolithism: that of the author's general thought, on the one hand, and that of his work as a whole, a faithful reflection of the former, on the other. I hope I am not misunderstood: I am not implying that such an attitude is more reprehensible than others. On the contrary, it seems splendid to me when the results obtained justify it. Thanks to this type of mood, today we can enjoy the music of Bach or Mozart, to name just a couple of names that are not at all doubtful, in which we can barely distinguish a youth work from a mature work, so closed in on itself as are aesthetics and technique. But the fact that the work of these two titans is amazing is not an obstacle for others that obey absolutely disparate aesthetic approaches, based on what at first glance may seem a profound lack of rigor, but that in the background is a productive creative inquietude.
There is no shortage of big names that endorse this type of anti-monolithic thinking. The three famous Beethoven eras, and the four styles -for some scholars, five- that Stravinsky's musical production goes through are good proof that constructive self-criticism, when coupled with chronic dissatisfaction with what has been done, and faith in achieving what is desired through what is to be done, is a powerful search stimulus, better suited to charting new paths than the aforementioned monolithic thinking, based on introspection and complacency and, therefore, hardly apt to open doors to a later evolution.
Personally, I am more fond of the second attitude, both aesthetic and vital. I believe that the secret of its success is in its dosage, which, when it is just right, allows not to incur paralysis, avoiding falling into epilepsy, by using the simile with which Ortega defines the conservative and progressist attitudes, respectively. , in "The rebellion of the masses." This dosage does not consist of anything other than, once a new path with a favorable appearance has been found or envisioned, traversing it a stretch, without necessarily assuming that it is the best of the possible ones; experimenting with it and, if possible, extracting a substantial juice from it, but without insisting on squeezing it thoroughly. Since neither in life nor in art there are paths without crossroads, we will soon have to find another way, which we could only have reached by the road we were traveling on. The dilemma in these cases is purely binary: either continue where we came from, or subject the new route to the same process followed with the previous one.
There is no doubt that the path followed by Beethoven at the end of the 2nd Symphony could have given space for many more works of similar characteristics. Or that after Petruschka, The Rite of Spring or The Firebird Stravinsky might have bequeathed a few more similar masterpieces to posterity. But for some reason they decided to change tracks before exhausting all the possibilities offered by the previous one, exchanging security for risk, and, therefore, with disparate results: continuously superior, in Beethoven's case, and clearly unequal in Stravinsky's. , but in any case always dazzling and revealing of an unmatched inventiveness.
Between these two aesthetic attitudes, the monolithic and the antimonolithic, my personal sympathy towards the latter, derived from an intimate conviction of its goodness, has guided my musical production since my first works, and throughout this lecture I will try to expose a small sample of my music that is eloquent enough to attest to that.
Anticipating a certain distrust in my self-analytical capacity, I do not think I am wrong if I affirm that my musical thinking is solidly supported on a series of basic principles, which in turn are weakly based on the circumstances, always unpredictable, that surround and condition the development of each specific work. These basic principles are none other than expression and structure, mainly, together with the assumption of inherited tradition as both an aesthetic and constructive reference. With regard to the first two, expression and structure, I could say that my music is a continuous search (or, perhaps better, "persecution") of the balance between both parameters, understood as the fruit and result of the internal dialectical struggle between the tensions originated for both, given that in it the technical, objective connotations of structuralism and the psychological, subjective dimension, which derives from expressiveness, continually go hand in hand.
Along with this, tradition plays a very important role from very different points of reference, depending on whether its presence is explicit or implicit. In any case, the more or less present inherited tradition acts on all of us like a mother tongue, from which we can voluntarily flee, but which from its acquisition indelibly marks our conscience, forges our tastes, stimulates our feelings and, for all this, determines our subsequent artistic evolution, as it has done with that of our culture, forcing us from its own premises to judge the unknown, which, on the other hand, is often impossible and inevitably leads to errors of assessment.
Program of the cycle of lectures Thought and Feeling (Conservatory of Zaragoza, november-december 1998)
In my music, tradition is evident in many different ways. The fragment of my Trio for violin, cello and piano heard before was chosen because it seemed ideal as a presentation, given its accessibility in a first audition. This is only possible when the listener effortlessly recognizes a series of elements, as they are part of their cultural background or tradition. These elements do not have to be obvious, as in the case of that fragment: there are no clearly recognizable chords, no easy consonances, or melodic features that we could call basic. On the contrary, the language is fully atonal -or pantonal, if you will-: the chords are strongly dissonant, and there are hardly any linear aspects that we could define as "melodies", at least in a primary sense. But, as I said at the beginning, there is a treatment of the material put into play that the cultivated listener recognizes as something familiar. This requires a material of great simplicity, so that it is quickly reflected in the listener's memory, so that he can follow his various adventures throughout an elaboration that draws on its sources in a thematic development in which it would not be difficult to recognize the influence of Beethoven or Schumann.
Other times, tradition has an explicit presence, through the direct use of musical material from the repertoire. I have been a devoted cultivator of this procedure -that of the use of the quotation- since incipient works, because from very early on I have believed to see in music, as well as in any artistic manifestation, an immense expressive power in the confrontation of styles and still opposing aesthetics: the one based on the immediate association that the listener establishes between what he hears and what he recognizes as belonging to his cultural baggage, and the new language in which the presence of the quotation is immersed. In my view, this always raises a kind of dialectical struggle between both worlds, the old and the new, in such a way that the perception of one and the other, although always differentiated by virtue of the clarity of the limits of each one, is also mutually influenced and enriched.
The use of the quotation is not only not at all new, but it has been common practice throughout the ages (it is enough to recall the Renaissance "glosses" and "differences", the classical and romantic "variations", or the use of the melody of the Lutheran choir in both vocal and instrumental music of the Baroque to the present day, to name but a few very eloquent cases). In our days it must be understood as a reaction to previous radicalism, first, and then as a fruitful germ of the development of music that is much more unprejudiced and, without a doubt, less dehumanized, in the Ortega sense. On the other hand, it is possible to find a certain justification for the phenomenon of a very different nature: in the face of the return to a consonant world, the quotation of foreign material seems more progressive to the composer than the invention of his own material that, necessarily, will have to sound old and therefore stale. Demodé is preferred, as long as it is endorsed by a recognized firm, rather than risking embarrassing pastiche. For my part, I consider that, although the explicit and implicit presence of the previous cultured tradition abounds in my work, it is worth "paying homage" to it through the musical recreation itself. Let's go through some examples.
First of all, we will hear some excerpts from my Variations on two Scarlatti's themes, for a sextet consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and cello. It was composed in 1985, commissioned by the Spanish Music Week of the II Madrid Autumn Festival, dedicated to the memory of Domenico Scarlatti, in commemoration of the third centenary of his birth. For these Variations I used two themes by said composer, taken respectively from the Sonata in G major, cataloged by Kirpatrick with number 146, and from the famous Fugue del Gato (The Cat's Fugue) in G minor. The work is structured in the style of classical variations, exposing the theme and then six variations, each of which forms a separate piece of music, finished off by a final coda. The themes are presented in a juxtaposed way, alternating both trios with fragments from the Sonata in G major, by the woodwind trio, with the subject, the answer and again the subject of La Fuga del gato, by the string trio. Let's hear this first section, the exposition of the themes, of these Variations on two Scarlatti's themes, performed by Plural Ensemble conducted by Fabián Panisello:
LISTENING: Theme of the de las "Variations on two Scarlatti's themes"
(Recording: Plural Ensemble. Cond.: Fabián Panisello)
Next, we will hear variation number 2, in which the superposition of two different tempi is proposed: the one imposed by the subject of The Cat's Fugue, which runs through the variation in its entirety, each note being assigned to an always different instrument. from the previous one, and the one made up of a harmonic sequence that proceeds in a sort of stringendo to the exact center of the piece, to retrograde from that point to the end, with the consequent resulting grating. Let's hear this second variation:
LISTENING: 2nd variation of "Variations on two Scarlatti's themes"
(Recording: Plural Ensemble. Cond.: Fabián Panisello)
And finally, let's listen to variation number five. In it, both the melodic and formal aspects of the Sonata in G Major are recreated. This Sonata obeys the classic bipartite structure, with cadences respectively in the dominant and in the tonic. This harmonic-formal environment is recreated by means of a gradual transformation of the musical material, which, twice, goes from a free atonalism to two separate semi-formal and cadential harmonic processes, respectively. As for the melodic material, the element used is invariably located on the strings -we remember that, in the exposition of the themes, the fragments of this Sonata were exposed by the woodwind trio. All of this, in turn underlined by the constant pizzicati of the cello, gives this variation a humorous character, and it can be said that it acts as the scherzo of the work. Let's hear this fifth variation of Variations on two Scarlatti's themes:
LISTENING: 5th variation of "Variations on two Scarlatti's themes"
(Recording: Plural Ensemble. Cond.: Fabián Panisello)
The direct and explicit use of musical material from tradition has been greatly exploited in recent years, as I said before, by composers who are not suspected of being reactionaries, which has generated a confusion similar to the one that originated when the author of The Firebird and The Rite of Spring premiered the ballet Pulcinella, before which critics have chosen to show a certain and wise restraint. Among us, the case of Cristóbal Halffter is paradigmatic, who, based on the brilliant work, much deeper than that of a mere orchestration, which is his Tiento de primer tono y Batalla imperial, followed by other works in the same line, such as Soler's Fandango, for cello octet, and Prelude to Madrid '92, for choir and orchestra, has introduced an important trend in our country, among whose followers I count myself, based on the use of musical material from the traditional Spanish repertoire. But, unlike the direct quotation of popular material typical of the first nationalism of the second half of the nineteenth century, or the invention of new material in imitation of the popular, as did, already in our century, the second nationalist current, this third nationalism seeks its source of inspiration in the Spanish cultured tradition, especially in the Renaissance and Baroque repertoires, so rich in our country. Curiously, and following the example of Stravinsky's Pulcinella, this trend is led by the composers most clearly situated in the avant-garde line, very contrary to previous nationalisms, essentially very conservative. In Spain it was inaugurated by Falla, almost at the same time as Stravinsky, with the use of cultured tradition in the Concerto for harpsichord and five instruments and, above all, in Master Peter's Puppet Show, and although its peak occurred in the last decade, it is a procedure whose use has not been interrupted throughout the last 75 years.
In the shadow of the music of Cristóbal Halffter mentioned above, some symphonic pages arise in Spain that take our Renaissance music as a starting point: to name just a few, let us remember Abestiak (Canticles), by Carmelo Bernaola, about Juan de Antxieta; Music for an inauguration, by Agustín Bertomeu, about Pablo Bruna, or Fandango de Soler, by Claudio Prieto. My modest contribution to this recreation of the ancient Spanish world in a contemporary symphonic setting is the piece Fantasía sobre una Fantasía de Alonso Mudarra, composed in 1989 commissioned by the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, and on which I draw on an enigmatic page for vihuela by said composer: Fantasy X, entitled "that counterfaits the harp in the manner of Ludovico". Full of dissonances and false relationships, the piece had to sound extremely strange to the ears of its contemporaries, and for this reason it was enormously attractive to me for a recreation in which Mudarra's music was made even more poignant through its translation into the timbres of the modern orchestra, at the same time that my own music was softened by allowing itself to be impregnated with Renaissance modal and contrapuntal reminiscences. Let's hear the last minutes of this Fantasy about a Fantasy by Alonso Mudarra, performed by the National Youth Orchestra of Spain conducted by Cristóbal Soler:
LISTENING: Final of "Fantasy on a Fantasy by Alonso Mudarra"
(Recording: The National Youth Orchestra of Spain. Cond.: Cristóbal Soler)
I am aware that the terrain in which this work moves, as well as many others in my catalog that could accompany it in the same section, could lead us to speculation about the aesthetic validity of certain uses and procedures that would be far from the original purpose of this lecture. But I don't want to miss the opportunity to write down a few brief reflections on my attitude towards that particular, given its current status and the controversies it tends to raise. One of the most lucid minds of our century, that of John Cage -with whom I hasten to warn that I agree more in the general line of his thought, brilliantly embodied in his writings, than in his purely musical work- defined our time as that of "coexistence and accumulation". The postmodern and trans-avant-garde approaches of recent years have made this their touchstone, and the taste for a certain consequent neo-baroqueism, more conceptual than strictly stylistic, is one of the main characteristics of the art of our time. When asked by a journalist whether Cage would be willing to listen to Beethoven's nine symphonies in a single session, he replied that he would be happy to do so, provided that all nine symphonies were performed simultaneously. That, which at first glance may seem like a "boutade" of "enfant terrible", would only lead to its extreme consequences a kind of obsession that has accompanied the development of Western musical thought since its dawn: let's remember the motets with different superimposed texts, sung in different languages, the metric overlapping practices of the 14th century French "ars subtilior", the famous dance scene, with three superimposed orchestras, in Mozart's Don Giovanni, the multiple marches that intersect in some symphonic works by Charles Ives, polytonal and polymodal experiences, the overlapping of groups and orchestras, so dear to Stockhausen or Boulez ... It would seem that western music -that of the other cultures is not alien to these practices, especially as far as rhythmic and metric aspects are concerned- has never ceased throughout its history to defy the perceptual capacity of human being, challenging its power of understanding and providing constant stimuli for their development.
In any case, I do not find anything negative a priori in that in the course of the same work differentiated stylistic features are perceived, instead of all of it obeying a supposed internal "coherence" derived from the exclusive use of a "single" material, aforementioned radical criterion according to which the Variations op. 30, by Webern, based on a single series that, in turn, derives all of it from four unique notes -two semitones, separated by a minor third-, would necessarily be superior to Béla Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra, in which the characteristic speech of its author voluntarily gives way to Brahmsian sounds or echoes of popular music, to quote two works written at the edge of 1940. Quite the contrary, I find it enriching that different styles can be perceived in the same work, because this means introducing into the temporal physical discourse, typical of music, a certain conceptual diachrony, by means of which a work created in synchronic relation with a specific moment, allows the listener a temporal journey -the musical one- through cultural time by means of the presence of recognizable styles that take us back to times gone by. The greater or lesser skill and ability of the composer is decisive for the result to be closer to the masterpiece than to the pastiche, but, I repeat, it does not seem to me that a priori there is anything shameful in this approach. In other words, in terms of works of art not based on time and therefore strongly synchronous in themselves: is the purely gothic Cathedral of Burgos a better architectural monument, aesthetically speaking, than that of Santiago de Compostela, whose contemplation allows us in a few minutes a stylistic journey that ranges from Romanesque to Baroque?
* * *
I would like to enter now to highlight the presence of vocal music in my catalog. This presence is rather scarce, so if I pay attention to that subject it is not for quantitative reasons, but because it is a world that interests me greatly. An early vocal stage, mainly composed of songs for voice and piano (very closely linked to the first years of learning composition, in which an approach to the vocal world and the musical treatment of the text is required) and finished off with a chamber opera entitled Ligazón, based on the play of the same title belonging to the Retablo de la avaricia, la lujuria y la muerte, by Valle-Inclán, led me to the conviction that of all possible musical worlds, the one related to the voice is the one that poses the greatest difficulties, derived from the musical use of language. Considering, after the helpful experience of the premiere of Ligazón in Cuenca, in 1982, that the spoken language, the basis of language, has obvious musical connotations (in relation to all the parameters that are lost in the written language: intensity, accent, rhythm, intonation), and that these are most of the time in frank contradiction with those imposed by musical discourse, it seemed to me the wisest attitude not to use voices or texts in my music again, until I had the necessary knowledge of the way in which the different musical parameters of language intervene and are decisive when saying and, taking a step further, singing a text.
Based on this certainty, a large part of my activity for no less than six years was invested in a linguistic study as deep as possible, both with regard to the eminently vocal (phonetic) and other aspects that, although tangentially addressed, have decisively influenced my musical thinking. Special mention deserves the transformational generative grammar of Noam Chomsky, and the knowledge of Agustín García Calvo, in work, first, and in person, later, who in those same years was especially focused on his very interesting project, unfortunately frustrated, of founding in Madrid a School of Language Arts, in which disciplines such as linguistics, logic, mathematics and music were given appointment.
The many conclusions that I reached in that period of intense training crystallized in my first vocal work of that new era, entitled, almost symbolically, Musica ex lingua. Composed under commission of the Ministry for Education and Culture of the Community of Madrid, it is a cantata for choir and chamber orchestra, made up of seven numbers, from very different texts: from the "Alleluia" of the Latin liturgy to Agustín García Calvo, passing through Luis de Góngora, Lope de Vega, Francisco de Quevedo, Ramón del Valle-Inclán and José Bergamín. From this cantata we will hear one of the movements, based on a fragment of the Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea, by Luis de Góngora.
My purpose with this music is closer to a structuralist conception of polyphony, than to an approach to the text through a conventional harmonic-melodic treatment, without it being completely discarded, as we will now see. From the Fable of Polyphemus and Galatea I selected four real octaves, from which I go on to recite one of them, asking forgiveness in advance for my lack of rhapsodic capacity:
No a las palomas concedió Cupido
juntar de sus dos picos los rubíes,
cuando al clavel el joven atrevido
las dos hojas le chupa carmesíes.
Cuantas produce Pafo, engendra Gnido,
negras violas, blancos alhelíes,
llueven sobre el que amor quieren que sea
tálamo de Acis y de Galatea.
The characteristic continuous use of hyperbatos sometimes twists the syntactic order in such a way that a process of mental rearrangement of the words is almost necessary to find their proper meaning. This gave me the opportunity to try a conceptual game that I considered interesting both as an isolated idea, an end in itself, in which conceptual art often stops, and to compose a music that allowed itself to be impregnated with the idea itself until it was materialized through a vehicle other than the one used by Góngora.
Summarizing, this is, in a few words, the order of the process followed: 1st) I restructured Góngora's text, undoing the hyperbatos, and giving it the natural order of Spanish (thus, the first verses read before: "No to the doves Cupido granted / to join of their two peaks the rubies" adopt this other form in prose:" Cupid did not allow the pigeons to join the rubies of their two peaks"; 2nd) I assigned to each chorus string one of the four selected real octaves -from which it follows that the four stanzas are sung superimposed, which is in keeping with the own unintelligibility of the original text-; 3rd) I put the four superimposed texts into music, and then I deleted these, assigning the resulting pure music to the strings, becoming the instrumental sections that separate each intervention of the choir. Let's hear the first instrumental fragment:
LISTENING: 3rd movement (Aria I) of "Música ex lingua" (fragment)
(Recording: Madrid Community Choir and Chamber Orchestra. Cond.:Miguel Groba)
and 4th) and last step: finally, I reordered the resulting choral music, according to Góngora's original syntactic structuring. Let us now listen to the previous instrumental fragment, but this time sung by the choir and with all the hyperbatos in the precise place established by Góngora:
LISTENING: 3rd movement (Aria I) of "Música ex lingua" (fragment)
Finally, let's hear the entire movement. As I announced before, it is the third movement, entitled "Aria I" of the cantata Musica ex lingua, for choir and chamber orchestra, composed in 1989. The performers are the Madrid Community Choir and Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Miguel Groba:
LISTENING: 3rd movement (Aria I) of "Música ex lingua" (complete)
I would not like to close this chapter without making a reference to the interpenetration of procedures related to language in my music, but not in the vocal, but in the purely instrumental. The fragment of music that we will hear comes from my work Seis metaplasmos, for violin duo, based on what in somewhat less technical grammatical terms are called "figures of diction", which is the grammar's way of naming the phenomenon of language by which speakers add or delete syllables to words, without changing their meaning. Thus, the first type of metaplasm consists of three different figures: prosthesis, epenthesis and paragoges, depending on whether the added syllable is at the beginning, in the center or at the end of a word: (aqueste for éste, Ingalaterra for Inglaterra, and huéspede for huésped, for instance). The second type, based on the syllabic reduction, integrates as many figures: apheresis, syncopations and apocopes (norabuena por enhorabuena, navidad por natividad, y ningún por ninguno). In my work for two violins this is taken as a constructive pretext, presenting, as a recreation of the first three figures, a theme to which sounds are added at the beginning, in the center or at the end of each element, and, as a recreation of the last three, a series that loses sounds at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end, respectively. Let's hear the first half of this work, dedicated to metaplasms that add syllables (Prosthesis, Epenthesis and Paragoges). The mentioned theme is constituted by a succession of chords in double strings, which are interpreted alternately between both violins. The performers of these Six Metaplasms are Rebecca Hirsch and Jonathan Harvey:
LISTENING: Six metaplasm (fragment). (Recording: Rebecca Hirsch and Jonathan Harvey)
* * *
I conceive of art as a continuous challenge that the material used poses to the creator. Or, to put it in another way: the best or worst result of the work of art is closely related to the use that the artist has known how to make of the consequences generated by the material on which he works. The artist, in this sense, has much of the alchemist who tried to transmute metals into gold and silver, insofar as his objective is to transform a physical fact into a psychological fact. Translated into musical terms, we know that sound, initially, has a series of properties or qualities, reducible to absolute, purely physical terms (frequency, intensity, waveform ...), as well as that when said sound is put in relation with another or others, a series of consequences are generated resulting from the transformation of these absolute qualities into relative qualities: thus, frequency is transformed into height: intensity, into dynamics; the waveform, in timbre ... This relativization of the material is nothing more than the first step in the transformation of sound from a purely physical fact to a psychological fact. But, of course, it is only an indispensable initial step, which the music lover needs only unconsciously to allow him to enjoy what he hears, but which the composer must elaborate through both a greater development of the purely sensory hearing capacity, as well as intellectual and aesthetic reasoning and speculation.
The composers of each era, and those of ours, are not only alien to it, but have led it to unthinkable consequences for those of previous eras, have always understood their role in this game of transformation from the physical to the psychological. What happens is that this transformation can be carried out in very different ways, and that some will give better results than others. In the first step towards the transformation that we have begun, this relativization of the physical aspects adopts for the composer the aspect of tension, a word that I wish to use very closely linked to its etymological root tendere, and therefore related to tendency, as terms synonyms. The tension/trend, in turn, admits different degrees of treatment: if it increases, it breaks, like any material, when it passes a critical point; on the contrary, if it decreases, the resulting lassitude makes it lose its contours. Between both points there is a more or less extensive strip, which is what we can properly call tension. The work of the composer lies precisely in knowing how to move with ease within the limits of that critical strip or band of the tension supplied or generated by the material put into play, attentive at all times that the degree of tension is neither insufficient nor excessive, but always the just. Excessive complacency in the generating self-sufficiency of the material will invariably lead it to impose its own laws, the tendency of which is always directed towards the simplest and most basic; on the contrary, an excess of intellectual control can end up distorting the tendencies of the material in such a way that they completely lose their identity, with a result devoid of sense for perception, only intelligible by means of calculation. Nowhere as in artistic creation is it more true that from the ridiculous to the sublime there is nothing more than one step.
In this order of things, the work is, as a whole, the result of a compromise between the tendencies generated by the material put into play (its tensions), and the composer's ability to control and channel them in the desired direction. If we add to this, as José Antonio Marina very well points out in his Ethics for castaways, that life itself is not also but a compromise between the desires and limitations of each person, we come to the conclusion that art can well be understood as a vain attempt, on the part of the artist, to rebel against what his own existence imposes on him, seeking through the work a way of escape from fatalism. Useless task, on the other hand, since the work can never reach that state of grace to which the artist aspires, since, on the one hand, its own limitations before each work prevent it, and the overcoming through each work of the limitations with which it was attacked always place one point beyond the desired goal of perfection. Consequently, after each work there must come a new one that tries to go beyond where the previous one left off. That is why the artist creates throughout his life, in a permanent state of dissatisfaction, ideal, on the other hand, as a breeding ground for creativity.
I would not like to end this talk without letting you hear some fragments of what I consider to be my most important work -or, at least, the one that I feel most satisfied with-: it is my Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, composed in 1987 commissioned by Alicante International Contemporary Music Festival. It seems to me that it perfectly sums up my aesthetic approaches, of which I have made you participants, as well as it is a meeting point for a series of procedures that are especially dear to me. In my catalog, this Concerto is a kind of general balance, in which a series of concerns and obsessions mentioned in previous works come together, which are definitely exorcised in this one.
What, in general terms, I propose in this work is a rejection of monolithism through a journey through an aesthetic world deliberately lacking in "uniformity" -insofar as it is understood to be centered on a single style or language- but not for this reason in a coherence that is not given so much by the economy of the means used, as by the existence of elements of a timbral and harmonic character that contrast with each other to the same extent that they complement each other.
The Concerto consists of three clearly differentiated movements. The first one presents a game of timbral contrasts and oppositions between the violin and the orchestra. The latter only produces noises - understanding this term in the old fashioned way, as indeterminate or not previously determined sounds -through the use of knocks with the knuckles and drumming with the fingers on the top of the string instruments, together with the use by part of the percussion of untuned membrane instruments (the percussion part is so important in this work that it could well be called a Concerto for Violin, Percussion and Orchestra). The violin discourse unfolds on that atmosphere, generating a clear opposition between noise and music, this being conceived throughout this movement in a free atonal language, in which different thematic ideas are raised that will later reappear throughout the work, in a clear cyclical treatment of them. Let's hear a fragment of this first movement:
LISTENING: 1st movement of the "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra" (fragment)
(Recording: Víctor Martín (violin) and Tenerife Symphonic Orchestra. Cond.: Víctor Pablo Pérez)
The second movement, almost a classical rondo in terms of form, acts as the "scherzo" of the work. The main section is written within the strictest academic twelve-tone principles. As a refrain it appears twice, and in each one of them only 24 of the 48 twelve-tone series derived from a main series are used. Now, I allowed myself a playful variant that makes all the apparent seriousness of the method lose its rigor and crumble. In each intervention in the series, be it in its original, inverted, retrograde or inverted retrograde form, as well as in all its transpositions, I have deliberately omitted one note: the G. Due to this, no two series are the same, since they all differ at the point where the G leaves its gap, consequently modifying the whole of the series. As a scherzante detail, the G, highlighted by its absence throughout the entire refrain, closes both interventions of the same, being his presence this time emphasized by performing alone, and duplicated throughout the orchestra. Let's hear the first refrain of this rondo that constitutes the second movement of the Concerto:
LISTENING: 2nd movement of the "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra" (fragment)
This game of absence, first, and presence, later, of the G note, manages to emphasize said sound, taking it as the basis of the subsequent stylistic evolution of the Concerto. In the second movement there are two cadences of the violin, in which the language approaches from an atonality domesticated by serial treatment to a modalism that we soon identify as related to the Phrygian mode that has precisely the G note as its tonic (the choosing of this note is not free either: remember that it is the lowest note of the violin). This becomes especially evident throughout the second cadenza, the longest and the main one of the concert, which gives way to a transition section towards the third movement, in which for two minutes the orchestra and soloist display a single static sound, based on the C major chord. With this, a new transformation has taken place: the G, Phrygian tonic, has changed its function, as we would say in a harmony class, and has become dominant, producing a modulation to the key of C major. Let's hear a fragment from the end of the cadenza and the transition section:
LISTENING: Final of the cadenza and transition to the 3rd movement of the "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra" (fragment)
This entry into the new harmonic climate generated by the apparently static presence, but with a great inner dynamism, as has been appreciated, of the harmony of C major, does not take long to drift towards a wide fragment of music composed in a frankly tonal language, that goes through a series of sections centered respectively in the keys of C major, B minor, C# minor and again C major. Obviously, the two intermediate keys, B minor and C# minor, act as a neighbour tonalities of the main key of C major. At the end of the third movement, the music returns to the initial climate, recapitulating the timbral world of the opposition between noise and music, within the same free atonal treatment. In a final act of humility, the soloist leaves his bow and integrates, drumming and striking his instrument, into the orchestral group, which gradually disappears, leaving him alone in that -for him, new- sound environment. Let's hear the first minutes of this third movement of my Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, in the wonderful performance of Victor Martín with the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Víctor Pablo Pérez.
LISTENING: 3rd movement of the "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra" (fragment)
With this music this lecture ends. I hope that you have not entirely disliked its content, and that the poisoned quote from Stravinsky to which I referred at the beginning of the session is not entirely applicable in this case. I would be very happy if with my words I had achieved, if not your approval, at least your interest.
Thank you very much for your attention.