Selbstlose Musik. Texte, Briefe, Gespräche

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Publication: Music Library Association. Notes
Author: Iddon, Martin
Date published: March 1, 2013

Selbstlose Musik. Texte, Briefe, Gespräche. By Karel Goeyvaerts. Edited by Mark Delaere. Cologne: Musik Texte, 2010. [560 p. ISBN 9783981331912. i30.] Music examples, illustrations, bibliography, index.

I hope it would not be too unfair to observe that the volumes hitherto published within the Edition MusikTexte series, of which the present volume now forms a part, are, without exception, wonderfully improbable. It is relatively difficult, at any rate, to see how, in an (increasingly) commercialized market for scholarly production, the English-speaking (and Englishwriting) scholarly world would have found place for a 500-plus-page bilingual edition of Alvin Lucier's writings, interviews, and text scores, nor an equally long volume devoted to Christian Wolff, nor two volumes stretching to almost a thousand pages, again in English and German, presenting what feels almost like every word Feldman must have uttered during three summers in Middelburg from 1985 to 1987. This is no criticism: to date each MusikTexte volume has been a pleasure to discover, not least because the figures featured seem too often to find themselves footnotes to histories of some presumed musical mainstream. The present volume is no exception.

Arguably, indeed, Karel Goeyvaerts is the archetypal musical footnote to history. The footnote in question here relates, of course, to his performance with Karlheinz Stockhausen of his Sonata for Two Pianos at the 1951 Darmstadt New Music Courses, a performance which leftTheodor W. Adorno-himself rather surprisingly pres - ent in the role of composition tutor- almost lost for words. When he did find words to discuss this, one of the first prototypes of multiple serialism, European style, they were far from complimentary. Yet it should be remembered that, when Adorno ultimately dubbed Stockhausen and Goeyvaerts "Adrian Leverkühn und sein Famulus," it was Goeyvaerts whom he saw as Faustus, with Stockhausen-who laudably endeavored to explain this alien music to the leading philosopher of the new music-relegated to the position of the great composer's exegete.

The volume's editor, Mark Delaere, has been thoroughly committed to Goeyvaerts over many years. Indeed, it is largely thanks to the 1994 issue of the Belgisch Tijdschriftvoor Muziekwetenschap, which he edited under the title "The Artistic Legacy of Karel Goeyvaerts," and the earlier work of Herman Sabbe on the early history of postwar European serialism, that Goeyvaerts has retained a status beyond anecdote value. Though Delaere evidently feels that both Goeyvaerts and his music deserve more (or different) attention, he confesses at the very beginning of his introduction that Goeyvaerts "owes his reputation to the fact that he was there at the birth of serial and electronic music at the beginning of the 1950s" (p. 8; translations throughout this review are mine). Indeed, Goeyvaerts was hardly a bystander, his Opus 2 für dreizehn Instrumente (1951) has a reasonable claim to be thought of as Europe's first piece of "true" multiple serialism; and his Compositie Nr 4 met dode Tonen (1953), had he been able to realize the score, would have been one of the earliest pieces of elektronische Musik and, as I note below, one of the first pieces of recognizable minimalism. Yet, Goeyvaerts's purpose was quite different from that of, say, Boulez or Stockhausen: the sorts of problems that caused Boulez (and hardly only Boulez) to decry number fetishism and "All-Objectivity" are precisely the sorts of issues that energized Goey - vaerts's approach. His interest was in a sort of transcendentalism, a perfection that could be expressed through numerical strategies and that led to an essentially static music. The "selfless music" of the volume's title is, really, a "self-less" music: in his correspondence with Stockhausen, Goeyvaerts discusses his aim to create music without the Ego's involvement. As Delaere describes it, this is "both a rejection and an amplification of the aesthetics of Romanticism: a rejection because the expressive desires of Romanticism and Expressionism are critiqued, and an amplification because at the time Goeyvaerts conceived of himself-like the Romantic composers-as a mouthpiece for a higher, divine order" (p. 12). In this sense, it was arguably Goeyvaerts who was really "guilty as charged" with the problems of serial music. Even though those "problems" were just what he found most fruitful, he found himself increasingly out of favor over the course of the 1950s, while his contemporaries found ways of reintegrating traditional modes of expression or of modifying systematic procedures such that they themselves became expressive. In 1958, Goeyvaerts abandoned the world of new music-though he continued to compose privately-to work as a translator for the Belgian airline Sabena; he would not return to public musical life until 1970, when he took up a role as music producer at the Ghent Institute for Psychoacoustics and Electronic Music of the Belgische Radio- en Televisieomroep (BRT) in Ghent, though he had been working on a more informal basis at the Antwerp Conservatory for a few years prior to this point.

The metaphysical foundations of Goeyvaerts's serial music are transformed in his later music, but certainly not excised. Although the pieces he composed while out of the world of new music are, comparatively speaking, conventional, the later works, such as the five Litanies he wrote between 1979 and 1982, exhibit the same sort of interest in metaphysical ideas that unfold through stasis, repetition, and numerical strategies. Here, the result is a sort of minimalism, but one that seems closer to an irreconcilable area between Feldman and Andriessen than anything else: evolutiverepetitive, rather than construction/ reduction, as Delaere formulates it (p. 11). As noted above, as early as 1953, Goeyvaert's electronic piece Com positie Nr 4 met dode Tonen is extremely close to minimalism of a wholly recognizable sort avant la lettre; at any rate, it would have been had Goeyvaerts been able to realize it in the studio at that time. For his part, Goeyvaerts was cautious about his music's being subsumed under the brackets of either minimalism or the so-called New Simplicity, which, as he notes, was not always as "new" or "simple" as the term might suggest (p. 249). These biographical and musical details are neatly outlined in Delaere's succinct introduction and the complete text of Goeyvaerts's Self-portrait, here provided in both Flemish and German; the text had previously been available only in Flemish, though an extract in English centered on the years between 1947 and 1955 was published in Delaere's Goeyvaerts-focused Belgisch Tijdschriftissue.

The remainder of the volume is devoted to Goeyvaerts's own writings, a selection from his correspondence (notably with Karl heinz Stockhausen, Henri Pousseur, Jean Barraqué, and Wolfgang Steinecke), interviews, and program notes. His writings bear the mark of his biography, hardly surprisingly: there are reasonably copious contributions from the 1950s and a cluster of texts from the early 1970s, when Goeyvaerts took up his position in Ghent; otherwise the contributions are relatively sparse. As Delaere notes, unlike Stock hausen or Boulez, Goeyvaerts had no real interest in constructing a technical or theoretical language to ground his compositional practice. Nevertheless, a fuller understanding of his ideas-some far distant, at first glance, from such technical descriptions-helps to illuminate the ways in which they were worked on and adapted in Stockhausen's conception of serial practice. Goeyvaerts also offers a valuable reminder that, at the point at which he had any involvement with Darmstadt (which is to say 1951 and 1952) most of the music being brought by young composers was in a style most deeply imprinted by Hindemith and, to a lesser extent, Bartók: composers like him and Stockhausen were very much the exception and, in any case, until his meeting with Goeyvaerts, one might even observe that Stockhausen was himself hardly uninfluenced by Bartók (p. 252).

Goeyvaerts's comments on composing after Webern seem, at first glance, to be stereotypically Darmstadtian: "[T]he composer becomes an artificer of tones. The tone that is used as the building block of a structure requires only those of its qualities that are accounted for structurally" (p. 138). Yet, Goeyvaerts's purpose-and what he believed the musical results would be-had little to do with any ideas of a tabula rasa. Indeed, however anyone else may have felt about Strauss at the time, Goeyvaerts for one was happy to confess a love for Rosenkavalier (p. 55). Far from an abandonment of the past or an opposition to it as such, Goeyvaerts's concerns seem more or less medieval, reflecting the relationships between truth, beauty, music, and proportion that one finds so strongly in Augustine, Boethius, or Bonaventure. It is little surprise, then, that Goeyvaerts directly made the analogy between parameters in a serial sense and color and talea; his short essay on just this subject here, "Music as Temporal Structure," is a particular highlight (pp. 158-63). Elsewhere, Goeyvaerts does suggest other, less obviously philosophical reasons for having written the rigidly ordered music he wrote; after the close of World War II, composers like him had known only chaos: "Truly we breathed chaos and knew nothing else" (p. 253). In general, however, it is wise to read Goeyvaerts's essayistic contributions in light of Delaere's warning of their inconsistency; if one looks for a coherent aesthetic or ideo - logical position, it will not be found here. By contrast, if one is happy to dip into a selection of brief, sometimes provocative, position papers on a wide selection of musical issues, from the possibilities of electronic music, via music education, to improvisation, then there is much to enjoy.

Doubtless the section of the volume that will arouse the most interest is the one devoted to Goeyvaerts's correspondence, in particular his letters to Stockhausen. It is a matter of great regret that Stockhausen's letters to Goeyvaerts do not appear here. Indeed, only in the case of the correspondence with Pousseur, is a reply to Goey - vaerts printed here (and just a single letter even in that case). The reasons are generally explicable: the letters that Barraqué sent to Goeyvaerts have not survived, while letters to Karel Druwé and Goeyvaerts's cousin, Mia Greeve, as well as those to the first director of the Darmstadt New Music Courses, Wolfgang Steinecke, are largely present to show the flavor of Darmstadt in 1951 and the Paris in which Goeyvaerts studied with Messiaen. In contrast, although Stockhausen's letters to Goeyvaerts are extant, the Stockhausen Verlag intends to publish its own edition of this correspondence. Nevertheless, around twenty of the letters to Goeyvaerts from Stockhausen's own pen have, in fact, already appeared, albeit in redacted form, in the Stockhausen Verlag's own cumbersomely, if accurately, titled volume Karl heinz Stockhausen bei den Internationalen Ferienkursen für Neue Musik in Darmstadt, 1951-1996: Dokumente und Briefe, edited by Imke Misch and Markus Bandur (Kürten: Stockhausen Verlag, 2001). Although the reasons why the Stockhausen correspondence does not appear here are understandable, it is something of a frustrating experience to have to move between these two volumes in order to make fuller sense of what Delaere has been able to print.

Elsewhere in the correspondence there is nevertheless much to enjoy. Naturally the content is variable, but at its richest, in a single letter to Barraqué (written from Darmstadt) on July 29, 1951, one encounters not only an original source for his relatively well-known judgment that the "Tanz um das goldene Kalb" is akin to "serial Verdi," but also Goeyvaerts's surprise that Schoenberg has somehow created something worse than A Survivor from Warsaw ("poor Schoenberg must have gone totally senile"). The same letter describes his first meeting with Luigi Nono ("one of the finest, nicest, and most cultured composers") and gives details of the excitement Stockhausen and Goeyvaerts shared about Messiaen's Mode de valeurs et d'intensités, explaining that they persuaded Antoine Goléa to let them hear the recording on an apparently daily basis during the courses. This one brief, dense letter seems to condense the most vital information about the 1951 Darmstadt experience into a single moment (pp. 282-85).

For all that the volume as a whole covers a broader temporal span than the 1950s, it is notable that the interviewers seem to share the same curiosity about that period that will, I suspect, drive readers of this volume. It is no surprise, for instance, that Goeyvaerts's two letters to Mia Greve printed here were both, like that of Barraqué mentioned above, written at Darmstadt in 1951 (pp. 294-97).

Unlike the correspondence, interviews carried out so long after the fact (the earliest is from 1980; the latest from 1991) are subject to "mythology creep." At one point, for example, Goeyvaerts implies that Cage (and David Tudor) heard the Darmstadt recording of his Sonata for Two Pianos shortly after he performed it with Stockhausen. It may well have been the case that Goeyvaerts was in Cologne at the same time as Cage and Tudor and introduced them to the piece, but that assuredly did not take place before 1954, as in fact Goeyvaerts's autobiographical statement earlier in the volume had already made clear (p. 85). Even allowing for such misremembering, though, the interviews are littered with fascinating observations and clarifications that might prove fruitful for researchers: despite the obvious importance of Messiaen's class in Paris for an ostensibly post-Webern generation, Goey - vaerts is insistent that not only was Messiaen's route to Mode de valeurs et d'intensités completely unrelated to Webern, but further that his own interest in Webern was one that developed wholly independently and, arguably, had to, because Webern was never a subject of discussion with Messiaen at all (pp. 443-45).

Despite the intriguing, provocative selection of texts gathered here, Delaere's work will probably still not save Goeyvaerts from his footnotable condition. The work, though, is lovingly and carefully done, and the disappointment that, for instance, Stockhausen's replies are not present is more than compensated by the richness of what is. If Goeyvaerts is to remain a footnote, Delaere can, I hope, be satisfied that he is now a wonderfully expansive, vivid, and detailed footnote, of just the type that academics, both by training and by inclination, are likely to love.

Author affiliation:


University of Leeds

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