Madrid Professional Conservatory of Music Arturo Soria


El compositor ante la educación musical / The composer in the face of musical education

Master Lecture read on the occasion of the inauguration of the academic year 1997-1998, of the Madrid Professional Conservatory of Music Arturo Soria (November 19, 1997)


Director, Professors, dear friends,

First of all, I would like to thank the management team of our Professional Conservatory of Music for giving me the opportunity to address all of you, as part of the traditional act held to commemorate the feast of Santa Cecilia. For my intervention, I propose to replace the usually complex and sophisticated central theme of this type of lesson with another whose main characteristic is its simplicity, although not its elementary nature.
As you all know, music education in our country is currently in the midst of implementing a reform whose effectiveness will only be possible to assess based on the results obtained in the medium and long term. In any case, a reform of this scope has to transcend, from its first steps, the coldness of the Official State Gazette: the letter is useless, no matter how magnificently printed it may be, if at the end of the regulatory journey there is not a teacher in his classroom willing to infect his students with his enthusiasm, thus completing the cycle of the transmission of knowledge, of which what is written is only a part, and for which the different laws, decrees, orders and instructions should not be a corset, but, above all, a legal basis that supports, contributes and enables the best development of their teaching work.
But the reform cannot be carried out only with norms and attitudes, no matter how commendable both may be: it also needs a new methodology and appropriate pedagogical procedures, among which the need to generate a new didactic repertoire stands out due to its peremptory nature, which, on the one hand, supposes the necessary renewal of the pre-existing one, now outdated in many ways, and, on the other, adapts in the most efficient way possible to the needs arising from the new approaches.
These words are going to focus on something that is related to all of this, and with which I feel especially linked, because it fully affects the two fields -composition and teaching- in which I have been developing my professional activity for some years, and that lately is occupying, in an increasing way, a good part of my creative activity: pedagogical music, and in relation to it, the role of the composer in musical education, especially with regard to the teaching of the different instrumental specialties.
For this, it seems to me a good procedure that the different reflections on the matter that constitute the nucleus of this intervention do not follow one another in the form of a theoretical list, brainy and boring, but in their relationship with the role played by the composers of the 20th century in the face of the pedagogical music. I count for it, and I am pleased to highlight it, with the very special collaboration of two students from this center: Cristina Toledo and Alberto Velasco, students of 3rd and 1st grade, respectively, of the piano specialty, and whose interventions have been prepared by his teacher, Alberto Gómez. I would like to thank all of them for their valuable collaboration. And although the different musical examples that we will hear have the piano as their sole protagonist, I hasten to say that this is due to purely organizational issues, in form and not in substance, since the entire content of my words can be perfectly extrapolated to any other specialty.
All the music that I am going to mention, as well as that of the musical illustrations that we will listen to, has been composed with childhood and, in any case, the first years of adolescence as the ultimate goal, by composers who, in principle, did not they made of pedagogy their main professional objective, but rather, stimulated by reasons of a very diverse nature -not the least of which, as in my case, is the musical training of their own children-, they approached the world of children sporadically, in some cases, or continuously throughout its production, in others.
Despite the beautiful precedent of pedagogical works of such proven efficacy as the Anna Magdalena Album or the 17 Little Preludes by Juan Sebastián Bach, The Art of Playing the Harpsichord by Fran├žois Couperin or the Album for the Young of Robert Schumann, it would be said that the great romantic composers who dealt with the pedagogical repertoire only thought of the most advanced formative stage (the transcendent "virtuosity" to which the different collections of studies by Chopin or Liszt were directed, to cite just one example eloquent), and that this lack of great authors dedicated to the composition of music for the initial stages favored that this space was occupied by a very large number of works that, despite having been, more than a century later, the basis of the formation instruments of many of those present here, today we are surprised by an aridity that we have come to believe is inherent to the teaching of music, in a clear reversal of roles that has turned effects into cause.

For decades -and this was general to the different areas of education, both musical and general- child psychology was something apparently alien to pedagogy. The blood that allowed the entrance of the letter was nothing but a hyperbole to describe the insistent repetition that occupied most of the methodology in use. Current pedagogy supposes a radical 180┬║ turn with respect to the old didactic approaches: their obsession with adapting the child to the method has been replaced by the development of different methods whose flexibility allows them to be adapted to the personality of each child; memory, for its part, has ceased to be considered as a container to be filled, to be -as Plutarch wanted- a fire to be lit. In short, it is about knowing how to take advantage of the child's musical potential and creative capacities, as well as their intuitive knowledge of the subject, instead of presupposing that they are completely ignorant: if the teaching of music is approached maieutically, from the conviction that the child, when he starts it, already knows a lot about it -without knowing that he knows it: like the grammar of his own language-, it is more than reasonable to think that the chances of success will be much greater.
In the same way, the composer of pedagogical music must not forget that it is aimed at children, and that, for that reason, the coordinates by which it must be governed must take into account the degree of development of children's capacities in terms of maturity, abstraction and capacity for synthesis. And given that this does not prevent the child from having an artistic expression that is tailored to his or her needs, pedagogical music must move within the scope marked by said degree of development, without this implying detriment to its intrinsic quality: if it is to be effective, it must be a music that concentrates the difficulty in a specific aspect, freeing from it the others that may intervene in the composition, which must have already been overcome by the student. The relative simplicity of the instrumental technique will allow a full concentration on the phrasing, the articulations, the dynamics, the agogic..., aspects that are clearly neglected by the student when the technical difficulties overwhelm him. And as is logical, the difficulties from which the child is freed turn against the composer, for whom -accustomed to the greatest complexities- the composition of the simplest page is an inexhaustible source of problems, if the result is to have the same level of artistic quality -measured, of course, with its own standards- as any work destined for the concert. It is, in sum and nothing less, to dispossess the music of the fallen leaves that so often prevent us from seeing the forest of what is essential.
In this sense, the most outstanding figure of the first years of our century is that of Claude Debussy, who in 1909 composed the collection of pieces entitled Children's corner, the only work in his catalog that is appropriate to consider under the prism of these reflections. The six pieces that make up this suite do not pursue a didactic objective directly related to learning the piano; rather, Debussy sought to strengthen the reciprocal affective ties between him and her daughter, who was five years old at the time, composing music for her directly inspired by some toys he had presented her. The direct pedagogical objective, in this case, gives way to an indirect objective, no less pedagogical and no less important: that of establishing a strong bond of affectivity through the symbiotic relationship between music and games. With this, Debussy becomes a pioneer of a broad pedagogical current that, even today, continues to investigate in this line, as we will have occasion to verify later. In any case, Debussy knew very well that in order to bring music closer to the childish spirit, it is necessary to think about it with a child's mentality, and that it avoids complexities and unnecessary difficulties. For this reason, and although that was not its immediate objective, Children's corner suite is a common work in classrooms dedicated to teaching elementary and middle levels.
From Debussy's Children's corner, we will listen to the fifth piece, entitled "The little shepherd". With hardly any technical complexity, the student has to solve important problems that fundamentally affect formal logic, continually assailed by a changing agogic, derived of the frequent changes of tempo and character that follow one another, as well as concentrating his interpretative energies on a careful dosage of the dynamics, which oscillate between pianissimo and mezzoforte.

Twelve years later, in 1921, Igor Stravinsky composed the collection of pieces entitled The five fingers. The eight pieces that make it up do have a specific didactic intention in this case: they are conceived for a very basic level of learning, and for that reason there is in all of them a concern -which, naturally, is not noticed as such- to stay within of a very small scope for each hand, with the practical purpose of avoiding the need for the beginner to change the position of the hands on the keyboard. "At the beginning of each piece and each section, Stravinsky indicates which five (and, in some cases, four) notes will be used in the melody, thus anticipating on paper the serial technique that thirty years later he would begin to use, from his septet. However, more important than these technical details is the fact that the didactic nature of the pieces and their formal limitations do not prevent Stravinsky from achieving genuine artistic effects." (Roman Vlad: Stravinsky).
In the example of The five fingers that we will hear now, entitled "Andantino", we will be able to verify how the maximum economy of means to which the composer voluntarily submits is not at all incompatible with the maximum attractiveness, which is obtained through an absolute formal logic and a subtle melodic and harmonic treatment that provides an extraordinary charm to the composition. From a purely technical point of view, the approach could not be simpler: both hands are located, from the beginning to the end of this small piece, at a distance of one octave and in the area of one fifth, C-G, without that this position undergoes any modification throughout the composition.
The great contribution of our century to pedagogical music does not come, paradoxically, from the great European musical powers, such as Germany, France or Italy, nor from great experts -in principle- in musical pedagogy, although logically their protagonists ended up being such. On the contrary, its origin lies in a small country in Eastern Europe, Hungary, and in the concern of two composers who were essential for the later development of didactic music: Béla Bartók and Zoltan Kodaly. As can be seen, all without great fuss: neither the country was top-classs, nor the composers, no matter how great their talent, intended with their gaze towards teaching the composition of spectacular works due to their content and magnitude. It is precisely that humility, essential to all didactic activity, that inspires this intervention in its own way, which, as you will have been able to verify, has wanted to adopt a similar attitude from the beginning, both in its approach and in the selection of the accompanying musical illustrations.
The most eloquent demonstration of the attitude of these composers, and what can truly be considered revolutionary in the field of musical pedagogy, at least in relation to what was usual at the time, was turning the view of the cultured tradition towards the popular tradition, to which the historical and stylistic momento, which in Europe was characterized by the predominance of nationalist aesthetic tendencias, contributed greatly. This trend, characterized in each country by the use of elements from their own folklore in cultured compositions, forced that in those countries where ethnomusicology was not sufficiently developed and, therefore, there was not enough written documentation relative to the local popular tradition, some composers undertook their own field work as folklorists, in order to remedy this lack and be able to compile the material that they would later use in their works. Let us remember that Bartók and Kodaly worked in very close collaboration on this compilation of Hungarian and Romanian peasant songs starting in 1905 and for many years; the practical results of all this are evident in his works, and the theoretical conclusions were exposed by Bartók with transparent clarity in his "Writings on Popular Music".
What is particularly relevant here is not so much the consequences that both composers drew from their research on popular music and applied to their catalogue music, scenic, symphonic or chamber, but how they glimpsed the importance that such music could have in its pedagogical application, incorporated into children's musical learning. In Bartók's own words, "the natural order of things teaches us that praxis precedes theory". If, in this case, we understand by praxis the spontaneous use of folklore by the child, having formed part of his early years (lullaby, game songs, etc.), and its acquisition by means similar to the of the mother tongue, its fundamental knowledge guarantees that its subsequent use, within a harmonic and timbre context typical of the cultured aesthetics of the moment, through its incorporation into the different didactic procedures, will allow the child a rapid and joyful familiarization with contemporary creation through its connection with popular tradition. The balance of the human being, in all aspects of life, lies in living the present with one foot in the past and the other in the future. If the teaching of music stubbornly and obstinately insists on having both feet firmly anchored in the past, and not precisely in the most recent, it will be necessary to analyze in depth the reasons for such an unnatural and aberrant attitude, because only by knowing the causes the solution can be accosted. In this sense, the synthesis between tradition and modernity is perfect in the work of both authors, since their approach to traditional folklore is not archaeological, but fully contemporary, through the use of modal scales and rich and complex metrics. of Hungarian and Romanian songs and dances, to derive from all this new rhythmic, melodic and harmonic procedures.
While Kodaly focuses the pedagogical application of his research on popular music on the composition of choral works for children, Bartók, for his part, does so on various works for the elementary level of piano teaching, occupying in this a good part of his mature stage: thus, between 1908 and 1909 he wrote his first important pedagogical work: the collection of pieces entitled For children. It is about 85 short pieces for piano based on popular songs and dances, and of which Bartok would make a revision 35 years later, in 1945, which is what we know today as the definitive version. Later, and after the composition, in 1913, of a method for teaching the piano, Bartók approaches the composition of the six notebooks of that masterpiece in its genre that is Mikrokosmos, and on which he worked continuously no less than thirteen years, between 1926 and 1939. Like Debussy's Children's corner, mentioned above, Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos is directly addressed to his son Pedro, but this time with the immediate practical objective of teaching the basic piano technique, with the proposal that the one hundred and fifty-three pieces included in the six notebooks that make up the work replace the excessively narrow and arid traditional methods of learning with live music that, to a large extent, has its roots in popular tradition, thus facilitating a first and effective approach of the young student to contemporary music.
From the first of these collections, For children, we will listen to pieces number 1 and 5, entitled "Children playing" and "Game", respectively. Both titles are eloquent of what is intended: to go a step further in the relationship established by Debussy between music and play by inserting the latter into the former. We will find them again in the most contemporary examples, which will illustrate the end of this intervention. In the first of these pieces, very similar in simplicity to the Stravinsky example we have just heard, the child must focus all his attention on the different articulations; in the second, more complex, a greater contrast in the rhythmic treatment of the accompaniment is added to this, together with more pronounced changes in the dynamics and in the tempo, without the simplicity of the phrasing and of the formal logic being affected by it.

In any case, and although we must consider that the great contribution of Bartók and Kodaly to the history of music lies in their works for the concert and for the stage, their enthusiastic and innovative approach to pedagogical music served to open a new development horizon, whose limits are still far from being reached. The baton was collected and abundantly exploited by a series of Central European composers whose main contribution lies precisely in their pedagogical music, although the rest of their production is by no means negligible. The maximum representative is, without a doubt, the Bavarian Carl Orff, whose important music intended for the concert and the stage is inseparable from melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and formal procedures that, despite the spectacular nature with which they are treated, seem taken directly from the world of children, such is its deliberate simplicity, in which much of its appeal lies. This rudimentary, although aggressive, use of very elementary techniques contrasts sharply with the wealth of inventiveness with which he approached everything related to the new musical pedagogy: his famous "Schulwerk" ranges from its theoretical foundations to an abundant production of works aimed at young people. and, very especially, to the first years of childhood, going through the happy invention of an appropriate set of instruments. His ideas have been developed and spread universally thanks to the sensitivity of a musical center of the importance of the Mozarteum in Salzburg, which did not hesitate to create, in 1963, a section, known as the Orff Institute, dedicated exclusively to educational research and training of pedagogues from all over the world.
In my opinion, the greatest merit of the pedagogical current instituted by Orff and followed by his disciples and collaborators, including Hermann Regner, director of the Orff Institute from 1975 until his retirement just two years ago, lies in the generalization of something that the previously mentioned composers had only intuited, and of what has already been discussed before: the double use of pedagogical music, as a basis for learning a technique, on the one hand, and as an approach to an aesthetic, which, as it could not be less, is contemporary, of another. Therein lies the fundamental difference between current and nineteenth-century pedagogy, to which we remain so attached in many aspects, and for which this last objective was simply non-existent.
Next we will listen to two small pieces for piano that attend to two very different musical aspects. The first one was written by Carl Orff for his "Schulwerk" piano exercises. In it, an elementary harmonic base (only tonic and dominant) supports a melody whose frequent metric changes give it a graceful formal asymmetry of imprecise metric. The second, composed by Hermann Regner, is based almost entirely on a triple exposition of a twelve-tone series in its original form. The notes of the series, carefully organized, create a harmonic and melodic climate based on the intervals of sevenths, ninths and seconds, and in which the student himself must be in charge of giving a logical solution to the interpretation, since, except for the piano nuance and the moderate tempo, no indication of phrasing or articulation is proposed. This greatly stimulates the creativity of the child, who must take it upon himself to find the final shape of the piece, which is only possible through an intelligent interpretation, and not purely mechanical. This small miniature constitutes a splendid preparation to deal with other more complex works in the future that, such as the Six small pieces op. 19, by Schönberg, are based on similar procedures and sound climates.

Among the most recent approaches to pedagogical music, the collection of piano pieces eloquently titled Games, composed by György Kurtag, born in 1926 in Hungary, shines with its own light. It is, therefore, a direct heir to the tradition of Bartók and Kodaly, and in the four notebooks of these Games it is not difficult to trace a deep influence of Mikrokosmos, irrelevant, on the other hand, since the approach of the work as a whole, as well as its final solution, are profoundly original. In Kurtag's own words, these pieces were suggested by the use of the piano as a toy by children, who "experiment with it, caress it, attack it and run their fingers over the keyboard, piling on it seemingly unrelated sounds And if their musical instinct is thus awakened, they then consciously search for some of the sonorities found by chance, repeating them over and over again". The aspect of the score itself contributes to the game: the conventional notation of music is relegated, in most of the pieces, to the benefit of simple graphics whose purpose is to suggest to the child an approximation to the form, an "idea about what the temporary disposition of the pieces, even the freest ones". Kurtag, whose contribution to the world of contemporary music is indisputable, brings from it to Games a departure from the importance of note and rhythm -the only aspects that classical pedagogy seemed to attend to, as a result of the predominance of writing- towards that of color, character or shape, closer to child psychology, insofar as they contribute to the development of the child's creativity, by demanding an artistic interpretation of him that allows him to give shape to what is intuited. In addition, with this an identical leveling is achieved between all the parameters of musical discourse, which places the student in a perfect position to understand the apparently extravagant aesthetic proposals of contemporary musical creation. From Games by György Kurtag we will listen to a series of three waltzes, in which the character of the dance is more suggested than realized, and it must be the child himself who manages to externalize it in his interpretation. The first is entitled "Prelude and Waltz in C", which is taken to its ultimate consequences by using only that note in the piece -yes, ingeniously treated-; in the second, simply titled "Vals", the low and high notes are systematically linked by ascending and descending glissandi; the third and last is entitled "Vals. Homage to Shostakovich", and in it both hands proceed continuously in clusters of notes.
In our country, the world of musical pedagogy suffers from the same paradox that afflicts so many other aspects of our society: the growing interest in all issues related to it, and the increasing demand for specialized musical pedagogical training, Derived both from the demands of the new educational system and the spontaneous interest of the most recent generations, it is not currently accompanied by the majority attention of composers to generate a new repertoire that adapts to the new objectives. With a few exceptions, the Spanish composer is more concerned with continuing to increase the repertoire destined for the concert, so perhaps it will be necessary to wait for the arrival of new groups of composers, trained in a suitable environment, so that a new Spanish pedagogical music, similar to that produced in other countries, and capable of making its voice heard in the rest of the world.
On the other hand, the new implementation of musical education entails the presence of a series of ensemble practices (the collective instrument class, from the first year of the elementary grade, and Orchestra and Chamber Music, at an intermediate level long before the one assigned in the previous plans), for which, in these initial moments of implementation of the reform, mutual collaboration between teachers and composers would be especially appropriate, in order to promote and produce, respectively, a repertoire of works designed to suit each level, which allows filling the subject with quality content.

The best work that, in my opinion, could be carried out by the teachers of these practices would be to sensitize the composers in this sense, guiding them on the pedagogical objectives of the different sections, in order to generate a new repertoire, not only more adequate, but varied and, therefore, abundant, which allows the development of the indisputable formative aspects that the ensemble teachings have as a goal at this level of studies, at the same time putting students in contact with contemporary creation in general, and with the Spanish one in particular. As far as composers are concerned, I am sure that a good motivation, such as the proposal, would be more than enough to guarantee, in a very short time, an important production, quantitatively and qualitatively speaking, of pedagogical music.
In any case, the purpose of this intervention serves in equal parts to this act of Santa Cecilia of our Conservatory, and as an introductory session of a series of activities related to pedagogical music, aimed at promoting its diffusion among teachers and students, as well as its creation by our composers. For this reason, to conclude, and in order to dispel any possible criticism that the absence of examples of Spanish music throughout this act may have provoked, I hereby participate and invite all of you to the concert that will be held on April 20 in the auditorium of the Queen Sofía Museum, within the cycle "Concerts in the Museum" of the Center for the Diffusion of Contemporary Music, and in which the professors of this center, José Carlos Martín, Juan Enrique Sáinz and Alberto Gómez -particularly restless and interested in everything that concerns this type of music- will perform a program coordinated by myself and composed exclusively of contemporary Spanish pedagogical music, made up of a series of piano and chamber works that, although they have the classroom as the first immediate destination, can be perfectly presented in a concert, due to their purely musical interest.
Thank you very much.

Madrid, october-november 1997