Practitioner listening 2

Parallel session B5 (Chair: Ingrid Pearson)
25 Oct 2015
10:00 - 11:00
Parry Room 2

Practitioner listening 2

Listening to Steve Reich listening to Africa: Reich, Ligeti and the nature of pulse

Prof Robert Fraser, The Open University

In the summer of 1970, when I was lecturing in Ghana, I drove down the coast to Accra where, at the university in Legon, I entered the staff club one evening and found a young American in a baseball cap drinking by himself at the bar. We enjoyed a two-hour conversation about music and literature and, afterwards he stood up and said “I’ve got a lot from our chat, but you never told me your name.” “I enjoyed talking to you too,” I replied. “My name is Robert Fraser”. “Well,” he responded, “Mine is Steve Reich.”

At the time Reich was spending a five-week stint at the Institute of African Studies at the university studying drum music. Afterwards, he returned to New York where he wrote his piece “Drumming”, first performed in the summer of the following year. But the influence of Africa on his compositional technique goes back further still, to his exposure during the 1960’s to the work of the ethnomusicologist and missionary A.M. Jones whose book Studies in African Music of 1959, based on field work in Ghana, is a classic analysis of African polyphonic percussive technique . That field work can now be followed via his original sound recordings, kept in the British Library Sound Archive. The similarities and dissimilarities with rhythms later deployed by Reich are both extremely instructive. During a visit to London in 1971 – the year of the premiere of “Drumming” – Reich came to London, where he met Jones and showed him his own transcriptions (published that year in his essay “Gahu – A Dance of the Ewe tribe in Ghana”). The result was a meeting of minds.

This paper will look at the multivalent relationship between one very local musical tradition, a learned musicologist, and a then young American composer who was – and is – also a performer of his own work. The intention is to sketch out a cross-cultural matrix in which continents and cultures listen to one another, revealing and exploring in the process elements common to different traditions, and arguably basic to the very nature of music.

Composers’ listening experiences: A focus on Stravinsky and Shostakovich listening to their own works

Vera Fonte and Dr Tania Lisboa, Royal College of Music

The twentieth century witnessed an increasing separation of the figure ‘composer-performer’ and the individualization of these roles. This led some composers to try and develop higher control of their music, through the use of strict and very clear notation, which avoided any undesirable possibilities of a performer’s interpretation. The performers were no more expected to create their personal interpretation, but to reproduce the composer’s thoughts, by strictly playing what was written. The study of composers’ experiences whilst listening to performances of their own music can give us interesting insights about this intricate relationship between composer and performer.

In this paper we present two case studies of recognised twentieth century composers, Igor Stravinsky and Dmitri Shostakovich, focusing on their experiences as listeners of their own works by other performers. By using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) of selected listening experiences gathered from their autobiographies and correspondence, we explore aspects of the composers’ feelings, thoughts and expectations whilst listening to their works. The analysis so far revealed that, since these composers saw the performers as ‘executants’ of their music, they tended to value skills such as precision, discipline, seriousness, fidelity, honesty while for instance creativity and personality, were not totally desirable. Positive listening experiences were usually associated with the feeling that the composers’ intentions were fulfilled and the score respected, while negative ones were linked to the sensation that their musical ideas and projections were ‘falsified’ through personal interpretations by the performers.