Mazurkas and the Grand Manner
April 10, 2013
This week, as I prepare to finalize my ideas for this monstrous (2.5 minute) piece, I decided to experiment with the A' Section by taking apart the rhythm in one of the most famous Chopin mazurkas: Op. 7 no. 1 in Bb Major (dun dun duuuuunn...). I've arranged my process in the form of a taste test, if you will. First, note the first phrase of the mazurka as Chopin wrote it and listen to Tszarumpka play it.
A competition between hands
Notice how he takes some liberties near those high points? Well, what would happen if, say, as his right hand enjoys the breeze on that Bb, his left decides we'd better get on with this or else we're looking at another twenty minutes of playing this thing for those tipsy folks stomping around? Below is what that might sound like, thanks to my good friend Mr. Midi. Dancers beware, as this is the next step in my process.
April 3, 2013
The A Section
A short post this week: My current challenges now stem from the vicious and mischievous "A Section" (dun dun duuuun...). While the B Section can be rhythmically fixed, the A Section must sound like an improvisation, as if someone called out for a mazurka to be played and you, one wallflower Frederic Chopin, must hoist yourself up by your coattails and perform a rousing triple meter dance on the spot. And since it has been a long night and you and your merry audience of dancers are quite smashed, this spinning melody must lurch and lurch but manage to keep itself upright -- such is the challenge of writing the A Section. More next week on how I will stretch and pull the rhythm in 21st century ways, but I will leave you with this tidbit (and the concept for the repetition of the A Section after the B Section, known as the A' Section [dun dun duuuuun....]):
What happens when your upper body moves faster than your lower body?
March 27, 2013
The B Section
Below you'll find the latest completed section of my mazurka composition -- don't sell it on the black market! (You won't get anything for it.) As fun as it is to compose a piece in this unique genre, I find myself returning to the question of "Is this thing danceable?" Perhaps the most talented dancers could fly to this tempo -- which clocks in at 144 beats per minute -- but I'm not sure if my extension of the folk tradition in this way is valid. Perhaps the A section will prove to follow the tradition more closely. Until next week, this has been All Things Undanceable with Chuck Z.
March 6, 2013
A new goal
I've now been tasked with composing a modern mazurka, so what should I be doing before I sit down at my trough and snort around for some ideas? Well, thanks for asking, because I've already begun!
With the help of English composer Thomas Adès I have three mazurkas written in 2010 that already experiment with the particular rhythmic idiosyncrasies that pianists like Horowitz and Rubinstein pioneered around the turn of the century. And look at that! It took almost a hundred years for a composer to realize what was going on in the grand manner playing technique and exploit it in some wacky-awesome rhythms. Where were you, Conlon Nancarrow? Or you, Milton Babbit?
My task is obvious, therefore; I must compose a mazurka. Thanks to Dr. Fan I have a venue and a purpose. The TSO Symphony Center will be my home in May (date TBD) and I will be presenting on the topic of composing a mazurka and what a composer must do before he/she sits down in his/her hobbit hole and sets quill to parchment.
February 27, 2013
After discussing the project more with Professor Fan today, a new venue has prodded my project to take a new course: instead of an ethnomusicological journey through dance, I will be presenting the composer's mind as he/she decides to write a mazurka.
But since shrinking down my ego in the dryer this afternoon, I've made a promise to myself and everyone involved in this that my artistic process will only take up 50% or less of the eventual product. But hey, if the public wants to attend a lecture benefiting the Tucson Symphony Orchestra's Young Composer Project (of which I am an alum) in a nice open space with a Steinway. Yeah, I'll talk about myself for an hour if it involves a Steinway...
February 20, 2013
Since the days of Bartók running around with a gramophone in the boondocks of Romania, we've known that the unadulterated peoples of Eastern Europe can compose some pretty awesome rhythms. Stravinsky led us onto this as well, using some 150 different folk melodies in Petrushka. But I never thought that I would be the first ever, in the history of homo sapiens, to discover a Polish melody in alternating time signatures. Well, I guess I should give the credit to Oskar Kolberg, who in the 19th Century compiled some 25,000 folk melodies as well as fables, poems, and aphorisms.
Me and Mr. Kolberg are still arguing over who made this astonishing discovery, and seeing as how he died in 1890 I think I have a pretty good shot of winning. Either way, what you see above might be the genesis of what we now know of as the "grand manner;" a history of performing mazurkas and polonaises with quite an un-danceable rhythm, but one that gives the pianist a reason to frolic all over his/her instrument doing whatever the heck he/she feels like doing at the moment.
I'm lookin' at you, Horowitz.