When Is A Work Finished? By Paul Paccione Pre-concert lecture delivered at University of Illinois, July 19, 1997 In order to provide some context in which to hear my piece on tonight's program (Inflorescence, for clarinet and piano), I would like to talk a little about my work. In doing so I hope to be able to provide an understanding of my working methods, compositional and aesthetic concerns, influences and my own thoughts relating to the act of composing. One of my main compositional concerns has always been (and continues to be) the development of a distinctive and consistent personal style - one unified musical sensibility. This involves an awareness of my own responses to both the artwork of others and to my own work. It is my belief that music composition (or any act of creation) is a means of self-discovery. We see ourselves in our work and, in this sense, I view each of my compositions is a step towards the establishment of a personal musical aesthetic. The French poet Paul Valery writes in his Art of Poetry: A work is never necessarily finished, for he who has made it is never complete and the power and agility he has drawn from it centers on him just the power to improve it, and so on... He draws from it what is needed to efface and remake it.... The aim, then, is to create the kind of silence to which the beautiful responds." It is in this sense that we can view a body of creative work as bearing "traces" of "influence" with no clearly defined boundaries. What I value in Webern is the intrinsic nature of the equivalence (the equilibrium) of both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of his time canvas. I value Stravinsky's classicism - his consciousness of the past - as realized in the stylistic restraints he places on himself. I value his paradoxical belief that through control and order the artist finds his greatest freedom. I value Feldman's sensitivity to pitch (the purity of the sound), his mastery of orchestration (registration), the creation of one uninterrupted musical continuity, with each successive sound evoking sensations of the same order and of the same purity as the first sound. Each of these composers acting in accordance with the demands of his material and within the self-imposed restrictions chosen for each particular work is aware of all of the elements that they have rejected. For myself, composition involves the combination of musical materials through analysis, inspiration or chance - a subtle mixture of freedom and constraint. Technique is the means by which one realizes or shapes the musical material during the various stages of composition. The technique employed for a particular composition is not separate from the material but is an integral part of the material and vice versa.
My music is contemplative in nature. My pieces are meditative objects to focus the mind on. My compositional means is one of distillation and intensification. In my work, individual moments tend to become absorbed into the overall presence or aura of the music. Each individual composition bears a trace of what has preceded it and each individual composition holds itself open to works that will follow it. In this sense, there are no clearly defined boundaries between works but there exists between the works a system of intertextual relationships. To help illustrate what it is I have just said I would like to briefly discuss three of my compositions, wherein, each work is a reworking or recasting of the preceding work. The first work is Still Life (1983), for two flutes. An essay of the art critic Meyer Shapiro suggested the metaphor of the still life, where he expresses a special perspective. The still life comes to stand for a sober objectivity, and an artist who struggles to attain that posture after having had renounced a habitual impulsiveness or fantasy, can adopt the still life as a calming or redemptive modest task, a means of self-discipline and concentration... (Still life) can appeal to artists of different temperaments who are able through the painting of small objects to express without action or gesture the intimate and the personal... (Still life) engages the painter (and also the observer who surmounts the habit of casual perception) in a steady looking that discloses new and elusive aspects of the stable objects. My original intention for this work was to compose a solo flute piece. As the work evolved it became clear that the extended melodic line and the necessity for a seamless quality called for another flute, however, the result is one voice. As I considered precedents for this type of wind writing, I found a clear relationship with that of Debussy, as, for example, in the Afternoon of a Faun and Chansons de Bilitis. In Still Life, the two flutes do not imitate each other but combine to spin out the long line, doubling at either the unison or the octave. These points of "linking up," the slow introduction of new pitches, and the placement of pitches in the different registers all contribute to the expressive quality of the piece. The balance between the constant motion of the line and the overall slow harmonic motion is the essence of the work. The most striking element in my notation is perhaps the whiteness (silence) of the page itself. From a performance perspective the notation is almost transparent. It is the image of the page showing through the notation that gives the best sense of the sonic atmosphere. The next work I would like to play is ...like spring (1988) for prerecorded and overdubbed flutes and electronic tape recording.
The compositional impulse and source material for this work arose from the live concert recording of Still Life. The new piece is the result of various types of overlayings or overdubbings, sometimes at different speeds, of the original concert recording. In contrast to the more common method of deriving a work from individualized fragments (working for the inside/out), ...like spring is derived from the totality of another finished composition (working from the outside/in), as if one were looking at the original composition through a magnifying glass. What was attained through this process, for me, was a new sense of scale (similar to that of photographic enlargement). Since the wholeness and singleness of the structure of the composition - its 'image,' was already set, composing now consisted of the direct and spontaneous thickening and thinning of the overall texture, where layers of music act as veils that blend into each other, creating illusions of planes of sound advancing and receding to and from the music's surface. This work also began for me what is now a continuing involvement in different types of canonic procedures and it also initiated my continuing use of tape recorders as a integral part of my compositional process. In 1993 I was asked by Western's wind ensemble conductor to compose a piece for wind ensemble. At first I was a bit reluctant. I had tried once before, unsuccessfully, to compose a work for this combination of instruments and this work had evolved into Continuum, for two pianos. I began work on this new wind ensemble piece by transcribing ...like spring - with the idea of my eventually reorchestrating this work for wind ensemble. I quickly came to the realization that the music was too ephemeral and did not lend itself well to musical notation - if notated exactly it was too stiff and when given some notational leeway it was too loose. I began to depart from notating the tape piece and eventually moved off into a different direction - with a memory of the sonorous quality of the tape piece in the back of my mind. In the years between the composition of ...like spring and the wind ensemble piece, eventually titled Mirabilia, I became very involved in the musical setting of a number of Medieval texts. I was also in the planning stages of what was to be a musical setting of a Renaissance masque by the poet/composer Thomas Campion. The original conception of the dances and songs of the particular masque I was planning to set was intricately bound to Medieval and Renaissance philosophy's preoccupation with the socalled "music of the spheres." For instance, in the masque, the various dance steps were thought to reflect the motion of the planets. These ideas found there way into my wind ensemble piece. Here, now, is an example of how a future work, one that has not yet been written, can influence a present work (the work that precedes it).
With regard to Mirabilia: In the Middle Ages it was believed that each of the heavenly spheres produced its own single tone. Together all the spheres formed one celestial harmony that has been handed down to us as the music of the spheres. In the most common version of the myth, the rubbing together of the supposedly hard glassy spheres of the planets formed the so-called â€œmusic of the spheresâ€?. It was thought, that because it was constant, this droning deadened the ears and was therefore inaudible. However, the individual carried with it this music that was known in the sky. Often the marvelous was closely allied with the complex of ideas, images and metaphors (both visual and aural) associated with the mirror. Thus, Mirabilia was associated with the whole world of the imagination. The music of the spheres was thought to be mirrored in the music of the soul; thus, the connection of these images in my work. The work is built up from the overlaying of a number of different types of circle canons (by inversion, retrograde, augmentation) that overlap and turn in on each other. Webern's Symphony, Op. 21 (in its canonic technique) and Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments (in its orchestration) helped to serve as models for my composition. I'd like to close my discussion with a quote from the American painter Philip Guston: For me the most relevant question and perhaps the only one is, "When are you finished?" When do you stop? Or rather, why stop at all? But you have to rest somewhere.... There are places where you pause. Thus it might be argued that when a painting is "finished," it is a compromise. But the conditions under which the compromise is made are what matters. Decisions to settle anywhere are intolerable. But you begin to feel as you go on working that unless it proves its right to exist by being critical and self-judging, it has no reason to exist at all - or is not even possible. Inflorescence is one of many works I've written for the clarinet and for my wife the clarinetist Molly Paccione. In composing this work I specifically had her sound in mind. Inflorescence is the mode of development and arrangement of flowers on an axis - the budding and unfolding of blossoms. The composition, Inflorescence, is analogous to Mallarme's "flower which is absent from all bouquet's." It is the flower able to bloom only within the listener's consciousness beyond the hearing range of an ethereal presence.
By Paul Paccione Pre-concert lecture delivered at University of Illinois, July 19, 1997.