Flute, oboe, violin, viola, cello, EMAX II sampler
Commissioned by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for the 1991 Mozart Festival
Premiered by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for the 1991 Mozart Festival on April 10, 1991
Oxford University Press
Recently, I have become fascinated with patterns of influence in musical composition, especially in the arena of American music. Perhaps it is because I have been involved in numerous college and university residencies over the past five years that I have begun to wonder how and why we “teach composition” and why we separate formal compositional technique from popular technique in our conservatories. With the establishment of the public university system of graduate study in musical composition, the work of three theoreticians, Arnold Schoenberg, Heinrich Schenker, and Joseph Schillinger, has dominated the thinking of aspiring composers. Interestingly, both Schoenberg andSchillinger worked in the United States. Schoenberg's twelve-tone methodology inspired composers of abstract concert music while Schillinger's work in rhythm based musical theory was studied and adopted by George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and their contemporaries. Schenker’s work reduces all composition to basic chords and has significant resonances in the harmonization of ear y rock and roll.
In my recent works, including my Symphony No. 3: Lyric, my Quartet: Schoenberg, Schenker, Schillinger, and this essay, Schoenberg, Schenker and Schillinger, I’ve constructed gestures which suggest each theorist’s essence. My own personal belief is that the single most important change in perspective in music created throughout this century is the general shift from melody dominated texture to rhythmically definedtexture. This shift, which was heralded by Stravinsky in the Rite of Spring, effects every aspect of how we compose, practice, perform, listen to, write about, and perceive music. A thumbnail aural history of the phenomenon can be had by observing the change in “melody” the popular song from 1935 to the present, or, if you will, from the song Deep Purple to Pinball Wizard.
Significantly, the entire world of music has been available on recording in a parallel time frame. During the past three centuries, one or another school of isolated aesthetic thought dominated the thinking of all who were touched by it. Now, not only composers, but also performers and listeners can freely range among musics of many styles, appreciating and understanding them all. Performers today are often schooled in classical, jazz, and popular styles. So are audiences. This creates a situation in which all the interdependent citizens of music—composer, performer, audience—can bring their diverse knowledge to bear on a single performance. This is neither multicultural nor pluralistic nor eclectic—it is simply 2Oth century America.
Libby Larsen, 1991