Sunday, June 24, 2012

In C


A music broke out
and walked in the swirling snow
with long steps.
Everything on the way towards the note C.
A trembling compass directed at C.
One hour higher than the torments.
It was easy!
Behind turned-up collars everyone was smiling.

—from Tomas Tranströmer’s C Major

A salutary thing it is, to throw out the rule book and start anew.  Terry Riley did it with the piece In C.  In going back to C, Terry Riley delivered classical music from the clutches of the unlistenable.  Had it not been for him, we might still be offered up, more often than not, music that isn't music, but math equations, unadorned.

Of In C, John Coolidge Adams wrote,
Terry’s In C may have been to contemporary music what Ginsberg’s Howl or Kerouac’s On the Road were to literature.  With its insistent, unyielding pulse on the high C of a piano and the sunny, upbeat fragments of melodies recirculating over and over in a loose polyphony, In C captured the congenial hippie spirit of the West Coast while at the same time proposing a new, slowly evolving approach to musical form.  It was also marvelously provocative, giving an R. Crumb middle finger to the crabbed, pedantic world of academic modernism.
It was easy!
Behind turned-up collars everyone was smiling.

Terry Riley, born today, June 24, 1935.

Listening List

In C, by Terry Riley (part 1, original recording); the conclusion can be found here.



China Gates, by John Coolidge Adams (written for pianist Sarah Cahill, then 17 years old), inspired by In C (music begins 20+ seconds in).



In C, In School:  In C, as played by Contemporaneous at Poughkeepsie Day School (montage).



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Credits:  Tomas Tranströmer’s C Major can be found here.  The quotation from John Coolidge Adams is from Hallelujah Junction:  Composing an American Life.  The image of the In C album cover is widely available.

10 comments:

Dixie said...

Hi Susan.
Terry Riley's "In C" evoked mixed feelings for me. At times the recirculating melodies hurt my ears. Then again the little surprises of background melodies playing against were fun and interesting. Still I don't this will be a favorite.

China Gate was very pretty and I was able to recognize the recirculating melody within it, denoting the passion of In C.

The In School video was really fun to watch. An interesting change up from Terry Riley's, but that may been because I was watching the children's expressions.

Scott said...

I like the Adams quote. Quite fitting with the R. Crumb middle finger. Kind of like art for art's sake. Appreciating a vision. Having the fortitude, almost a need, to go with it.

Friko said...

In 'C' sleigh bells? Christmas music? I don't think I could listen for long. The Adams piece is sweet and lyrical, again, not for long.

Transtroemer, yes, no problem there.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Susan .. there's so much interesting music being made at the moment - it's great you're letting us know about another piece ..

I love the poem and juxtaposition of the words ..

Cheers and happy Birthday to Terry Riley last weekend .. Hilary

wanderer said...

Chopsticks I thought as it started, and made it through the minute mark, then down to the Adams which was easier to savour. And I very much enjoyed the last day in Cardiff, as one traveller who constantly bites of more than one can chew, every chock-a-block moment and memory lane photo was wonderful. I must go.

Susan Scheid said...

May I write to all this time? I hope that is all right, for the comments seem to encourage that approach.

In my explorations of contemporary classical/new music over the last year or two—and this is a post of its own, which perhaps I will be able to manage at some point, but can’t right now—I was struck, particularly, but not solely, by the number of American composers who felt imprisoned by the classical music that held sway in the latter half of the 20th century, notably total serialism, chief proponents of which were Pierre Boulez (for a while) and Milton Babbitt (for a lifetime). For these composers, Terry Riley had an enormous amount to do with setting them free. If we believe, as I do, that, for classical music to be a living, creative force, it can’t rest solely on its past laurels, exceptional though they may be, but must usher forth new works that aren’t simply strange, but that capture our imaginations, provide transcendent meaning to us, then we have need to thank Terry Riley and others who blasted through those calcifying edifices of contemporary classical music (I think of John Cage, too, always of John Cage). It is not that we must love the piece written, though, as Dixie notes, it’s quite captivating when you see children so beautifully engaged in the participatory exercise that is In C at its very best, but we must understand what the piece signifies historically, what dams it broke open, what permission it granted for composers to break out of restricting conventions and “be themselves,” as John Metcalf and Qigang Chen and Olivier Messiaen would say. No, wanderer, not chopsticks, no, no, no. But starting anew, rethinking, beginning again, yes, yes, yes.

PS: And to Cathy Olliffe-Webster, I must write: this is probably the reason I don’t have so many followers, don’t ya think?

Chris McGovern said...

Of course, I think the reason that Terry Riley and a good deal of minimalist music goes over really well at places like the Winter Garden is because it's probably less piercing in that big atrium. ;)
I have to say that even though I get fidgety from the drony stuff of that period, I still have an appreciation for it. I know where it stands in history, and I have no doubt that at some point it's going to be the perfect thing to hear at the perfect time.
I was really fidgety when we listened to Alvin Lucier's piece live, but I was still patient for the sake of art.

George Wallace said...

I am a long time fancier of In C, to the extent of now owning at least seven different recordings -- more than that, depending on how you count the various remixed versions on the Grand Valley New Music Ensemble's double album. I have only witnessed it live once: last September, at the opening of the Carlsbad Music Festival, which I wrote about here. (Vicky Chow played "China Gates" that weekend, too, but I hadn't known of the direct, intentional connection of that piece to In C until you mentioned it in this post.)

I only recently discovered a version that you in particular might want to track down. Ars Nova Copenhagen, with whom you spent time in Wales, has recorded a version that, but for a small group of percussion maintaining "the pulse," is all vocal, under the direction of Paul Hillier. A performance you would enjoy, I think.

wanderer said...

My bad I think you say over there! The perils of rush and flippancy on the ethernet. Truth be told, I'm insanely busy, completely unable to give In C the time it (obviously) deserves, although if I have provoked discussion, which I still have to visit, then all is not lost, except some face.

Susan Scheid said...

Chris & George: Thank you both for weighing in--two different and interesting perspectives.

wanderer: NOT your bad, for look what you inspired! A lively discussion, and all to the good.

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