Everybody thinks Tubby the Tuba; nobody ever thinks Ludwig the Tuba.

Wednesday 24 January 2007

In the bit of my Gubaidulina review where I ranted about how so many composers don’t know how to write music for certain instruments, so they just copy what some famous composer did before them (and so everything written for that instrument ends up sounding the same, and so everyone thinks that instrument always sounds the same…), I was referring to something Morton Feldman used to complain about. I forgot to mention it.
Kyle Gann has been discussing Feldman again on his blog, with two anecdotes I’d not heard before, regarding the need to be aware of how complicit you are in acceding to convention, be it social, historical, or personal. He doesn’t mention whether there is an intentional subtext about Jewish minds thinking alike.
Morton Feldman used to have a standard assignment that he gave his students: “Write a piece that goes against everything you believe.” He found that his students wrote their best pieces denying all their usual reflexes. (Sort of like the Seinfeld episode in which he decides, since everything he does turns out badly, that he’ll do the opposite of his reflex habits from now on – and it works.) Feldman also had a standing offer to buy dinner for the student who could come up with the worst orchestration – and no one ever won, because the more they worked to come up with bizarre instrument combinations, the more interesting the results.

  1. Aw crap, I didn't even know about the Niblock thing.

  2. I write very little for the orchestra, but have gotten quite a few compliments on the orchestrations I have done. My stock response is, "They sound good because I have no idea what I'm doing." It's true: I orchestrate with a Sam Adler book in my lap because I don't even have the ranges memorized.

  3. Tim – Sorry, I'd have mentioned it in a comment on yr blog but I found out too late. The exhibition (with recorded music) is still on for the next month or so.

    Hucbald – I'm sure I'd be selfconscious about doing something "wrong" in writing orchestration, but I've never been in a position to write for an orchestra so can happily leave my own approach as a moot point.

    At least you bother to check the instrument ranges, unlike some more famous composers throughout history.