Sunday, July 06, 2014

Exercises and the Cadence

I've mentioned my fondness for Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style (1947), in which the same (pointless) story is told and retold in a large variety of writing styles, 99 to be precise — telegraphic, in Alexandrines, as reported speech, in metaphors etc. —, and the exciting thing, of course, is that it invites the reader to exercise her or himself stylistically, too. It strikes me that we musicians already had a variant on the idea in Alfredo Casella's The Evolution of Music Throughout the History of the Perfect Cadence (1924, but do see the posthumous edition, which updates the "evolution", even finding a perfect cadence in a Boulez score.) The variation here is that the same (pointless) story is the perfect cadence, but Casella did not compose his stylistic examples himself, instead finding them in historical musics, and by presenting them in historical order, he makes a narrative of the whole that Queneau's unorganized set of 99 does not.  John Cage was famously enthusiastic about the Casella volume (but do see the first edition, which does confirm with Cage's narrative of the exhaustion of the cadence.)

Casella the composer is a figure that we've had trouble with.  Although there are remarkable aspects of his work — a good portion of his music (mostly instrumental, and at its best often as exercises in historical, especially Baroque, styles) is quite wonderful, his own piano rolls and sound recordings present a very fine pianist, he was a leader in both promoting new and old music, for which he was perhaps the person most responsible for the revival of the works of Vivaldi... heck, he was even Arthur Fiedler's predecessor at the helm of the Boston Pops — he was also very much on the wrong side of world history, politically, and there are concrete aspects of his musical activity, for example founding the so-called "Corporation of the New Music" together with D'Annunzio and Malipiero, two very murky figures, that continue to be more than uncomfortable.

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