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De la copia al original, by Marina Hervás (January - 2019)


Once, Whitehead described Western philosophy as a series of footnotes to Plato. With this, he acknowledged that, in some way, all the questions that philosophy has dealt with were already raised by the Greek philosopher, so to do philosophy was to confront them. Maybe music is that too: a kind of constant dialogue called music, along with certain sound interactions; that is, a dialogue that has tried to unravel a world created by sounds, literally untranslatable to everyday language, which establishes its own relations with space and time.

So, “del original a la copia” –or “de la copia al original”– (from the original to the copy - or from the copy to the original) - may be a dialogue proposal. Not only with tradition - with other sound organizations - but also with the controversial definition of what music is. I will not solve this question here. Neither does Sinoidal Ensemble. The challenge, always, is to ask more and better questions. Tear the clothes, tear the floor, take nothing for granted.
There was a moment in the history of music in which selecting instruments for specific melodies was not the norm. It was enough as long as I could play it and merged with the rest. There was no established system of orchestras - it was necessary to adapt to the musicians that were on each occasion - and, above all, the composers did not have that many problems with their artistic egos, ones that would lead them to decide each music parameter. Gradually, certain sonorities were fixed with “extramusical” meanings. For example, the English horn was associated with orientalism, the French horn with epic moments and the flute with the inner, dream world. Also, composers discovered that timbre had an infinite wealth and, precisely, the interest of their works could focus on the exploration timbre changes. That is, in the history of music two seemingly contradictory moments come together: the supposed indifference of the color of the instruments and the endless potential to extract even the last consequences of timbre.

The complexity of musical interpretation also participates in this. What is the musical interpretation, but a kind of updating something that is stopped - as if that were possible in an art that has time as its problem? The score sets, once and for all, a sound organization proposal that tries to translate - always partially - the composer's inner world, its relationship with the culture and freedom of its sound fantasy. What that score contains can only be partially anticipated: the writing of the music assumes a pre-established defeat. The writing cannot force that everything can be said, that everything is, so to speak, susceptible to translation to the means provided in each case by writing. Therefore, the affront "De la copia al original" proposes is a game of displacing the sounds of the supposed original conception of the piece and making the piece rethink itself from there. That is to say, to provoke in it an estrangement of itself and, at the same time, to settle in the piece a question about what it is supposed to be, about the implicit requirement in the score, its limits and its transgressions.

We said that perhaps music is also a form of dialogue with the definition of music itself, what has outmaneuvered and questions that supposed victory.  In "De la copia al original", even the name itself puts this into play. With an almost experimental gesture, they try to play with saxophone, works that were originally intended for keyboards. The experiment is twofold: on the one hand, because they play music designed for the type of instrument that most significantly marked the musical life of the nineteenth century - and, therefore, our contemporary conception of classical music - with a fairly modern instrument - the saxophone- dating from 1840 - which has not yet wanted to be integrated into the orchestra in a stable way - only some pioneers, such as Bizet or Prokofiev, include it in their symphonic works - and is related to some genres and styles that do not quite get along with the "classical" repertoire, such as jazz or pop. It is a way of saying that no instrument owns its assets and that the limit is fragile; or that there is a way to write the history of a musical instrument (well, and of the history in general): reappropriating places from which it has been expelled.

On the other hand, by the name and scope of the proposal. At the core of the word "original" is the "origin", the "beginning", as if in the history of music, it was constructed approbatically in a linear fashion, as if only one moment came after the other. The "copy", meanwhile, refers to gathering wealth or strength (co + opis, hence the word "gathering"). In this way, the copy is not a kind of "original evil", as good Plato lamented, who believed that the copy would always be inaccurate and inessential, since he did not realize the "authenticity" of the original. The copy is to explore that wealth that must be combined in the original in each case. That is, finding what was not, what is discarded, what remains hidden. To create a new beginning. The copy is, in this sense, an original.


Bagatelles are usually defined - even in scholarly dictionaries! - as non-pretentious works, without a pre-established form, usually intended for keyboards. These bagatelles (six ... like those of Beethoven and Webern!) are a wind quintet version of a selection of twelve piano pieces entitled "Musica Ricercata", written between 1951 and 1953. In this piece, there are three elements that converge: on the one hand, the reference to "ricercare", a typical form of the 16th and 17th century that, like bagatelles, has no pre-established form (it is something like the grandmother of the fugue and toccatas). It is, therefore, a visit to the past. On the other hand, "ricercare" refers to the ‘search’, something that characterizes any artistic project in general and Ligeti in particular, who in those years did not feel comfortable within the dominant tendencies in composition of those days. And finally, and in musical terms, in these years Ligeti was working on the problem of how to build musically from the minimum material, something that had been key for other authors, predominantly Anton Webern. Musically, bagatelles are built from a very simple motive or theme, which Ligeti works with a certain obsessive and somewhat playful mood. The interest of the pieces is the tracking of colors - something that in the proposal at hand is key, because we will find a whole palette of the saxophone - and the radicality of the rhythmic proposal. The micrological exploration of color, as if we could penetrate a kaleidoscope, was something that deeply marked Ligeti's music, especially towards the 60s: it is something we can hear in Lontano or Atmosphères. The non-violent division of time was also something that worried him significantly in these years, as evidenced in Symphonic Poem for 100 metronomes or in Continuum. In short, the problem he faced - and this is the why of the "nonviolent" - is what kind of time organization fits into an art that has time as a structural component and how that organization calls into question the experience of time every day, the merely chronological. Therefore, in these years, Ligeti tried to think of textures, in musical construction as if it were a fabric. Time, in his work, is not merely linear (as if it were a horizontal line that always moves forward) but rather is vertical: in this way, spatial arrangement (timbre) and time (rhythm) are part of a layered construction, and not parameters that merely converge artificially. Although Ligeti was, during these years, trying to find his personal language and, therefore, to distance himself from two composers relevant to him, Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky, this didn't work out very well. Except for the first piece, which dialogues directly with the Russian composer, the great honoree of the work is Bartók (explicitly in the fifth bagatelle, perhaps the most intimate of the set), a composer who dared to question the construction of the canon by showing that the peripheral music beyond the major music centers (that is, Germany, France, Italy) also had a lot to say, beyond being more or less valued as a sort of object of exotic worship. Bartok takes rhythms and melodic turns typical of areas such as Hungary or Romania. Each bagatelle, as it does not have to meet any expectations, opens a new world, which begins and ends in itself. Walter Benjamin said that one had to learn to do philosophy from coffee grounds. That is, attending to the minimum, to the insignificant, to those forgotten places of everyday life: bagatelles. This work from the minimum, almost ornamental, is what Ligeti proposes. Maybe because that type of small is what holds what is fundamental. These pieces, by the way, could not be played in Budapest until 1956 because the Hungarian dictatorship - like most dictatorships - did not support contemporary creation. In fact, at the premiere concert, only five were played, since the sixth was still prohibited “due to the profusion of second minors [that brings it closer to jazz]; totalitarian systems don't like dissonances,” commented Ligeti.

Alex Ross says that "What must fall away is the notion of classical music as a reliable conduit for consoling beauty – a kind of spa treatment for tired souls. Such an attitude undercuts not only 20th-century composers but also the classics it purports to cherish. [...] Listeners who become accustomed to Berg and Ligeti will find new dimensions in Mozart and Beethoven". So, Bach is no longer the same after Ligeti. The Italian Concert dates from 1735 and has to do with Bach's attempt to imitate the "Italian taste" of composers such as Vivaldi, more melodic and fresh than the seriousness and constructive rationality characteristic of German music, tending to counterpoint (something of that Bach doesn't refrain from in this piece at all ...). Unlike other pieces of the time, here the instrument for which it was intended is explicit: "a harpsichord with two manuals." So, the transgression of interpreting this piece by saxophone quartet is twofold: on the one hand, because they propose a visit to the past after everything has changed, thanks to its underground dialogue with Ligeti. On the other, because they try to take that past to a place it never inhabited, which some have already suggested when performing this piano concert (like Glenn Gould). This shows how these pieces are the result of everything that settles on them, that there is no true core to unearth, but a collection of processes, encounters, disagreements and disobedience. The first movement begins majestically (A). A contrasting theme, closer to Bach's sound silversmith, is derived from it (B). A and B will appear again, but modified, until after a false coda (as it does not end) A returns. In the second movement, again, the obsessive character that characterized Ligeti's proposal appears. The low register keeps the tone dark while in the high one, with the solo role, hardly tries to turn that shadow into intimacy. Exactly the opposite characterizes the third movement, which is alive and vibrant. The contrast is fundamental in the Baroque: only then, in the opinion of the inhabitants of those times, the theatrical aspect in music was gained, which adopted different characters. It is not as artificial as it might seem: are we not, before and now, multiple, variants and harbor opposites? Salvatore Sciarrino does his thing with the Sonatas L. 222 L. 230 L. 238 L. 428 L. 439 L. 445 L. 448 for keyboard of Domenico Scarlatti, the Spanish adoption composer yet to be integrated into the Spanish musical story that wrote more than 500 sonatas! The ones that occupy us here are short pieces with friendly melodies, close to the Mozartian taste of showing apparent simplicity. Its transcript for saxophone quartet is integrated into a long trajectory work adaption by renowned composers in the canon, such as Bach or Gesualdo, collected in Pagine. Since 1995, when Sciarrino composed La bocca, i piedi e il suono, he began to give the saxophone quartet a privileged place. It is a formation still to be explored seriously, even for those composers who could not even imagine an instrument like the saxophone, as is the case of Scarlatti. So, it gives it, from the utmost rigor, a generous new sonority to his works, in case the composer of the eighteenth century had wanted to try other possibilities. Sciarrino's own work is marked by the question about the role of the past in the composition, something that is evidenced, for example, in his last opera, Ti vedo, ti sento, me perdo, set in 17th-century Rome. His proposal seems to be aimed at rewriting the history of music emphatically as the same history, which is inhabited without rigid categories and fully through the ear; the ear, that organ that connects us to the world from the womb, that never closes. Sciarrino wants to touch history: “not everyone enjoys intimate contact. We live in times of withdrawal, frigidity and lack of joie de vivre, so music can become embarrassing. You are ashamed because it touches you and being touched is something erotic.”


What touches us. Like coffee grounds, footnotes, which disrupt us forever. Perhaps it is from there that this complex game is articulated between copy and original, in which both are confused, like the echo with its origin.