After all that highly Corporeal music, I feel an almost desperate yearning for the Abstract. Abstract as undiluted as I can get it. Which just goes to show, at least as far as I am concerned, I need to hear all types of music and get different types of satisfaction, of equal value to be sure, from them.
So I will close out the evening with Anton Webern’s “Symphony”, a work of fiendishly complicated structure and a 12-tone composition that avoids any recognisable tonality. There is no ‘easy’ melody. It’s a work that seems static, almost like a sculpture, even though the msic does flow. I sometimes, while listening, imagine I am walking around a beautifully and perfectly proportioned geometric object, looking at it from many different points of view. Plato’s ‘heaven’ perhaps. But on the other hand, I also find myself imagining a walk through the pristine clear air of an Alpine mountain valley, taking in the far from perfect yet equally beautiful world of Nature. So perhaps Webern’s “Symphony” is not as Abstract as I might think, if such a real world program can arise in my mind.
Ultimately, it’s clear, for me at least, that most music really cannot be split into the Abstract vs. Corporeal dichotomy as defined by Partch. As a concept, I am sure it helped Partch move towards his uniquely dramatic compositions – in instrumentation and tonality. It gave him the necessary theoretical grounding for his own work. Something many composers seem to need to be able to compose at all.
But perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all it that listening to this symphony, I hear something of the fuging tunes and Billings’ canon. I will examine that conundrum later.