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4 ’68 Radicals

from The LA Times

Four radical and radically original pieces of music that blew up the modernist status quo in 1968

By MARK SWED

On a cold Berkeley morning early in December 1968, I cut class and joined a queue on Telegraph Avenue, waiting for Discount Records to open. The line wasn’t as long as the one I’d joined for the Beatles’ White Album a week or two before, but it was sizable and included many of the same fans. This time our impatience was for the first recording of Terry Riley’s transformative “In C.”

“In C,” which had premiered in San Francisco four years earlier, would ultimately be credited with formulating the Minimalist movement in music that Steve Reich (who performed in the “In C” premiere), Philip Glass and later John Adams would further pioneer and eventually make mainstream. Minimalism would herald an unexpected inventive return to consonance, traditional harmony and pulse, all of which had little appeal to modern music, academic or avant-garde.

I later carried the LP, which came with the score of the piece (a first) into a class on fugue writing. I hadn’t known at the time that Riley had taken the same class with the same professor, composer William Denny, a dozen years earlier when he was a student at the University of California.

Denny was a refined and mild-mannered musical conservative who could bring himself to teach in the afternoon only after he had a few cocktails with lunch. He required us to write only in ink using fountain pens equipped with music nibs. We studied the same 19th-century French textbook that Debussy railed against at the turn of the 20th century.

Riley’s “In C” violated all that Denny held holy. It is simply a collection of 53 melodic motives, all in or around the key of C. Any instrument or vocalist — and any number of them — can play or sing. Each motive is repeated, over a pulse, as long as each performer wants before moving on.

When he saw my recording of “In C,” Denny became startlingly apoplectic. Riley, he said, had been a brilliant student, and now look what he had done! Centuries’ worth of contrapuntal development that led to Bach’s sublime fugues and Bartok’s wondrous string quartets was seemingly discarded by the stroke of a musical anarchist. I was told not only that I couldn’t bring that sacrilege into the classroom, but to get it out of the music building and that the only place for it on campus was the trash can.

That’s when I knew the revolution had begun.

[ click to  continue reading at LAT ]

Posted on April 21, 2018 by Editor

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