Friday, October 19, 2007

Idiolect Composers

Here's a link, at Crooked Timber, to a BBC documentary about a large collection of German shellac recordings from the First World War of prisoners of war from Britain and Ireland, a time capsule of local English dialects.

I have a fascination with dialects, and especially in the borders between dialects and between dialects and idolects, the territory in which linguistic innovation has traditionally been most active. My fascination is an aesthetic one, with very little hard linguistics behind it, and it's attached to a notion, perhaps fanciful, about the relationship between the speech patterns and the music of individual composers. The extent to which a composer speaks -- and does so in a particular idiolect -- rather than sings through her or his music probably varies a great deal, but it's impossible for me to hear much Cage or Young or Oliveros or even Babbitt (maybe especially Babbitt), without thinking of their speaking voices. (Some works, for example those by Lucier and Ashley, are entirely explicit about this relationship). I've recently encountered some online recordings of Stravinsky rehearsing and of Schoenberg, which are also highly suggestive of an interplay between musical and linguistic idolects.


Herb Levy said...

Any thoughts on a potential relation between Morton Feldman's speaking voice and his music?

Daniel Wolf said...

Herb --

There could definitely be some connection between his lecturing style and his longer pieces, on one hand, and on his articulation, on the other.

One other speech-music conneciton isn Feldman is in the pieces in which the same material is played by different players by not coordinated in time, and by extension, the music in general in which there is little, loose, or no vertical coordination. This resembles nothing more than the simultaneous reading/singing of sacred texts in an Orthodox Schul. I don't think that Feldman was consciously imitating that (indeed, he would probably have hated the idea that he was doing anything of the sort) but that ensemble texture had to have had an impact on his aural imagination.