Perspectives On Our Machine Age
Program notes for an old program performed in the 1988-1989 season
MACHINE AS PROCESS -- J.S. Bach, Prelude in C minor from
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
MACHINE AS LABOR -- Frederic Rzewski, Winnsboro cotton mill blues (1979) from
North American Ballads
MACHINE AS PLAYFUL -- Robert Schumann, Toccata, op. 7
MACHINE AS WAR -- Sergei Prokofiev, Sonata no. 7, op. 83
during intermission: MACHINE AS DESTINY -- W.A. Mozart, "Musikalisches Würfelspiel"
MACHINE AS CELESTIAL -- Olivier Messiaen -- L'échange (The exchange), no. 3 from
Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus
MACHINE AS LABOR -- Felix Mendelssohn, Spinning-Song, op. 67, no. 4
MACHINE AS PROCESS -- Dennis Báthory-Kitsz, Rough Edges (1987)
(encore was Leroy Anderson, "The Typewriter")
"Hence we must prepare for the imminent, inevitable identification of man with motor. We must admit that we look for the creation of a nonhuman type in whom moral suffering, goodness of heart, affection, and love, those sole corrosive poisons of inexhaustible vital energy, will be abolished."
-- Marinetti, 1911
Technology is one of the premier issues of our age. What exactly will be the role of machines in our society? And, as important, how are machines affecting the human soul?
Marinetti and his Futurists in Italy outlined their admiration of, and identification with the amorality of machines at this surprisingly early date of 1911. Although the Futurists were themselves short-lived, their ideas were picked up and made horrifyingly real in the Fascist movements only a few decades later.
His views are not easily dismissed, rooted as they are in centuries of history since the Scientific Revolution. Indeed, they enjoy unspoken approval today. I was interested in what composers had to say on the relationship between humanity and technology.
- In many ways this was the first example of what has now been dubbed "minimalist" music. The simplicity was present in previous centuries, of course, but not with the newfound, absolute, mechanical regularity of pulse.
- The composer reflects on the attempted mechanization of blacks through the institution of slavery. Part of the way the blacks fought dehumanization was through song. And so we have the blues, which emerges through the din of the machines and asserts itself.
- A youthful, fun piece with some foreshadowing of American ragtime although it was written in 1830.
- The middle of three sonatas that comprise the "War Trilogy," written in Russia in 1940, '42, and '44 respectively, in the midst of the Second World War. I find the second movement especially intriguing, with its nostalgia for peace interrupted by the reality of the war.
- "God makes himself a man to change us into gods," writes the composer. We grow mechanically but asymmetrically; God is small and does not move.
- Part of the composer's many "Songs Without Words."
- As the Bach opened the program with pulse music, we close with a new work in the same vein. The 12-beat patterns heard in this piece are indeed reminiscent of African music, and Kitsz takes these implications and brings them to the surface by introducing in the second section of this six-section work the African death-chant "Meyango," as heard by the composer on a Sweet Honey In The Rock album.
The chant, almost a complete 12-tone row in itself, is imaginatively combined with the six 12-tone rows previously established in the first section of the piece.
Throughout the work the pianist is called upon to play six-part writing in all the registers of the keyboard. Rough Edges, with its fast-moving textures, presents a steady stream of creative piano writing from beginning to end, and bears repeated listening.
Your thoughts on the above are most welcome. E-mail me your comments and I’ll post excerpts from the most interesting replies right here. Please include, if you are willing, your name, town, and country. (However, to safeguard your privacy, I will not post your e-mail address.)