I spent some of yesterday afternoon dipping into a couple of classics of the twentieth century, namely Stockhausen’s Gruppen and Messiaen’s Chronochromie. There are often some practical problems with doing this, for playing such material through the speakers can put other inhabitants of the house on edge (although they are always supportive, none of that “It’ll never take the place of music” thing), while listening to it through headphones (always my preferred way) brings its own problems in an age of seemingly constant deliveries.
Still, I managed to get through both pieces without too much interruption, was struck by how different their composers’ voices were (Messiaen the teacher, Stockhausen the pupil), and taken aback by the power of that massive chord that swings back and forth around the three (yes, three) orchestras of Gruppen. As it blasted through I took a look at the timer on the computer screen – yup, pretty much exactly two thirds of the way through the piece.
Some great structural work there by the boy Stockhausen, astonishingly still in his twenties when he wrote this classic of the last century. It also feels thrillingly, viscerally modern despite having been written nearly seventy years ago, when rock and pop had only just got to the stage of rocking around the clock.
Frankly, I do not listen to enough music of the last hundred years, certainly nowhere near enough for somebody who classes themself as a composer of the present, and I think that this, above all, is something that I want to remedy in this current lockdown and beyond. Getting up close and personal with a couple of new new (sic!) pieces each week seems to be an eminently sensible thing to be doing, and the present, with its acres of empty space, seems like a great time to be doing it.
Part of tackling a large project such as this is deciding where to start, and somebody like Stockhausen seems like an ideal point of departure, even if I am keen to flit from composer to composer rather than do a deep dive into the single writer. So here’s to scaring the horses and giving those gallant delivery drivers nightmares as they roll up to the house with the funny noises.