Monday, June 21, 2010

Seven musical virtues

Not much gets done during a summer in Tucson. It's just too hot. Repeated days of triple digit temperatures encourage reflection rather than action. And last Sunday morning, I enjoyed simply sitting and listening to one of my guilty pleasures, Otto Klemperer's 1961 recording of Brahms' Requiem. So it's taking me more time perhaps than usual to work through music books. Besides the Parmegiani book that I've already mentioned, in between fluffier reading I straggle chapter by chapter through John Tilbury's truly massive biography, Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished. Tilbury's writing is complex, detailed, and thoughtful, but refreshingly absent is the convoluted style that I often find in academic publications.

Cardew played with the seminal inprovisation group AMM from 1966 until around 1971. Tilbury's chapter on this period describes the morality of AMM performances, a term I seldom encounter in a musical context with the more typical lofty ideal being spirituality. In connection with the type of improvisation practiced by AMM, Tilbury cites Cardew's seven virtues that a musician can develop: simplicity, integrity, selflessness, forbearance, preparedness, identification with nature, and acceptance of death. The first five make sense in the context of an improvisation group like AMM, where everyone contributes equally to an overall sound texture. But the last two? These look a lot more like prescriptions for living a certain kind of life rather than playing any kind of music, and their inclusion in the list casts the other elements in the same perspective. Yet identification with nature underlies much of the music I like, even if it's composed in the studio. Music based on field recordings, drone and otherwise, arguably comes from an identification with nature, but composed music seems fairly distant. And how should one interpret an acceptance of death as a musical virtue?

Meanwhile, over at Post Classic, Professor Gann has a couple of recent posts examining his career in retrospect, and finds that in his mid-50s, all of his publications and compositions have not brought him any closer to the kinds of leisure-time goals that are probably fairly normal: travel, free time, kicking back with a drink and a smoke on the back porch. Athough my own personal odyssey shares virtually nothing with Gann's and I admire Gann for having more success in music than I ever could, I recognize the same sense of struggle through my 30s and 40s trying to figure out where my life was heading. Here I am, the same age as Gann, assessing the unavoidable fact of puttering through blogging and slowly developing music, but reveling in the personal discoveries. It isn't going anywhere, which is okay. But sometimes when I play piano, or even work intently on a computer piece, thoughts of past and future dissipate into a fully lived present. Perhaps an acceptance of death is the simple recognition that the pleasure that I take from musical practice, from listening and writing, is sufficient unto itself.

The Cardew virtues are on page 312 of Tilbury's biography.

1 comment:

maready said...

Just thought I'd offer my two bits worth --- I don't see any reason to feel guilt about taking pleasure in the German Requiem (the Klemperer or any other version --- the Celibidache and Tennstedt ones that don't even fit on a single CD are my favorites) --- and reading Tilbury's Cardew book in triple-digit temperatures seems like the very definition of heavy lifting! (I actually look forward to reading it someday, although I can't afford the price right now.)