Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Titles

A phrase recently came across my monitor, meander scar, and I know in the instant that it had to be the title of a piece.  I've got dibs on it.

I like titles, sometimes like them better than the work to which they are attached (this is particularly true for blog entries; I've thought of having a month of only titles) but I can't take them all-too seriously because a great title is never going to save a lousy piece.  A title can be a form of added value, helping during composition by capturing a mood or an image or an idea, and it can similarly help a player or listener, but it can be ambiguous and misdirecting as well, particularly when taken too literally.  But then again, ambiguity and misdirection can often be VERY useful in a performing art. (See also legerdemain, applied musical.)

Titles that identify musical forms (Symphony, Sonata) would appear to be rather neutral in character but, in fact, they carry with them all of the baggage of tradition and the expectations that come out of tradition.   In the fifties and sixties, some members of the high avant-garde used titles borrowed from maths or science, often with an intention to indicate abstraction and modernity, and clearly make a break with traditional forms.  This is a practice with origins, probably, in the works of Varese, but the belated imitators rarely had the sense of romance that Varese brought to the works and listening to many of those works today rarely has the same charge of nostalgia for a lost modernity or vanished vision of the future.

Some composers get by on just numbering their works — Richard Ayres, for example, the most gifted composer of my generation — but, as someone who is never entirely certain about whether a work is done or when it is done and is often doubtful about works that are definitely dead done, I'm extremely hesitant to grant catalogue numbers that might later need to be taken back.   And, to be honest, pieces with which I've spent enough time acquire the characteristics of persons and their characters seem to demand names more personal than one or two or three, but not as personal as Bobby Watson or Isolde Spoon.  So, The Meander Scar it will be...  

   

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I recognize the Ionescu reference, but who is Isolde Spoon?

Paul H. Muller said...

I think using numbers in the title is the most practical. If you are rehearsing a lot of music with non-professionals its the certainly the clearest.

Seems a bit pretentious, however....

Anonymous said...

Meander scar made me think anagrams. For example:

carmen’s dare Ra scared men meaner cards
remand acres screen drama Screamer Dan
sander cream