Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ned Rorem on the mysteries of music — thinking about CONCORA's “Modern Masters”

On February 10, CONCORA, the all-professional choir in which I sing, will mark the 100th birth anniversary of English composer Benjamin Britten, and the 90th birthday of American composer Ned Rorem, with a concert of “Modern Masters.” Details about the concert, venue, etc., are at the end of this post.

Yesterday I posted an excerpt from a wonderful interview by Bruce Duffie with Ned Rorem, dating from 1986, which I came across while doing a bit of research for the program notes. In that interview Rorem shared some fascinating insights about music, society, and the art of composing.

You can read that excerpt, find more information about CONCORA’s concert, review the repertoire list, and read some of my program notes for the performance, here:
(At that page, scroll down to see the earlier posts.)

Here’s another interesting excerpt from that interview, in which Rorem shares some insight on how he hears, and responds to, certain harmonic constructions.


Ned Rorem: Music is still mysterious to me. I still don’t know what it means, and I still don’t know what in it can move me or anybody else to tears. Nobody knows — nobody — and I’m not a fool, and neither is Susan Langer, who spent her life writing on the philosophy of music. I do know, though, what in music will move me in a very cold, medicinal way. I can be extremely moved by a major seventh, or secondary seventh chords, and by sequences in Bach and in Ravel. I can be left utterly cold by dominant sevenths. Speaking in terms strictly of harmony, what moves me is the acrid sharpness of a minor second or a major seventh, or minor ninth that then resolves. The resolution to me is heartbreaking. I hear a lot of Bach, which has a great deal of that kind of resolution, exactly as I hear Ravel or Poulenc, which also has those chords, and yet Bach never knew who Poulenc and Ravel were. I hear the music very similarly. I’ve talked to [American pianist and harpsichordist] Rosalind Turek, for example, who plays more Bach keyboard music than anybody else, and she doesn’t know what I’m talking about because she doesn’t know the contemporary allusions that I’m making. I’ve talked to David Del Tredici about this because he used in one of his pieces the same Bach chorale that Alban Berg used in the violin concerto. Do you know that Chorale prelude? It’s called Est ist Genug, and it has a blue note it in it. I said, “David, I’ve always dug that blue note,” and he said, “That’s not a blue note. That’s a modulation. That’s not a lowered seventh, it’s a modulation into the subdominant.” So in the key of C, he was hearing the B flat as already being in F and therefore much more normally than I, who was hearing it as a blue note in C. But beyond that, just as I can’t know if your blue is my blue, I can’t know if my blue note is your dominant seventh.

Bruce Duffie: So you were lingering on what was there, and he was already into what the next chord was.

NR: Yeah, but what I say to Rosalind Turek, “Stop for a moment and just hold onto that chord,” I’ll hear it vertically and she’s hearing it horizontally.
From an interview of Ned Rorem with Bruce Duffie (1986?)

Rorem’s insights will make a difference in how I hear, sing, rehearse, and perform Rorem’s music. Rehearsals begin Friday for our February 10 concert. Come and hear for yourself.

CONCORA presents “Modern Masters”
Monday, February 11, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
South Church, 90 Main St., New Britain, 06051
General admission $25, students $10.
(860) 293-0567 www.concora.org

CONCORA - Connecticut Choral Artists

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