Saturday, October 18, 2014

One Tone at a Time

The trouble with learning about music is that it gets in the way of just listening, as if "just" listening was not enough.
Each of the composers on The Mixed Bag, my current series of in-house recitals, was a master of composing for just listening, unafraid of the power of a single tone to generate, not so much a structure, as an excited sense of potential. This is particularly the case in their compositions for the piano.

The remarkable complexity of tone on the piano makes of every seemingly single pitch a composite mix of overtones and approximations, an infinitely variable mix because of the compromised tuning of the pitches known as equal temperament.

Without getting too technical: the pure intervals of the overtone series do not provide a practical basis for tuning keyboard instruments unless there are something like 32 keys per octave instead of the 12 we commonly have. The pure intervals are compromised to form bearable approximations of true resonance. But strings resonate as nature intended them, with pure overtones, close enough to the compromised frequencies to cause the tuned strings to vibrate sympathetically with them. The result is a magnificent haze.

Many powerful piano works begin with a single exposed note. We are so used to a sing-along way of non-listening that we often miss that opening note, considering the piece to begin only with the statement of the opening theme. But that first sound is the opening theme generating everything that follows.

Sometimes the less we know the better we enjoy. That goes for myself as player as well as for you, the listener.  The Mixed Bag is an experiment in letting that happen.