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David Tudor

Let's say on the outside he wasn't full of what you call artifice. You could see everything on the surface. He wasn't capable of saying anything untrue. There are people who don't understand that, because they don't live like that. That of course puts him at a disadvantage when he's trying to obtain recognition and commissions for work. The musical politics of that time were particularly difficult. The thing that's most important to me, of course, is integrity. Compromise was a word that he just didn't work with. He didn't know what it meant. Other than that, what was very important to me was the dynamism that was so much a part of him. [...]

I wasn't serious about the compositional studies that I made with Stefan. I didn't find that my work was convincing. I think even more fruitful I found his classes in analysis. You see his teaching in composition always had an underlying basis of sort of Beethoven-like continuity, which he himself used, or didn't use, at will. I think it was an underlying method that he used with students to get them started. When I was doing it myself, I was not inspired. I suppose I don't belong to that stream in composition. And it was years after that I realized that I was doing work that I could call my own.

I think I learned the most about him when I was studying the Battle Piece. That's a piece you can't play without having his mind. That kind of challenge is, I think, most what I learned from. Something that was new to me, and something I couldn't do to begin with. I recall the first three parts of it were finished. I began working on it as he was composing the fourth part. I worked a little bit on it with Irma. But actually it's the kind of work you have to do by yourself anyway. She helped me as much as she could. I recall we worked on a very small piano in his studio on the fourth part of the piece. I can remember his talking about the compositional concepts. And then I remember enjoying his description of what was going to happen later on in the piece in his amazing joy in finding the last movement, because that piece evolved so very slowly, and he realized that something radical had to happen, and he found it in the last part of the piece. He never spoke of anything in terms which you could call literary, but I think he was greatly depressed by the war. That was quite evident in the way he talked with other people. I remember he felt it necessary to do something, to state the positive view of, not of physical life, because that never was the most important thing to him...uplifting one's spirits is not an adequate term. He definitely felt he had to state somehow the positive view. He did [bring politics into] his work. He had many friends who had gone through the same experiences. Like Friedrich Alexanian, I remember. It appeared to me that he was Stefan's best friend. I didn't know Alexanian very well, but they really understood one another completely. I believe he was a writer.

At that point those [analysis] classes were more like a confirmation of his method. The sessions were very intense. They weren't for me, I was not a member of the class, I simply went to observe. I recall that Irma went quite often too. So in that sense I can't say that they were an inspiration. However, the way in which he conducted those sessions was very moving to me. They were what you call nowadays, in depth. You could see his mind at work in doing it. You have to realize that he was a composer, and in these analysis sessions he was actually analyzing the work himself. It was as important to him as to the people who were observing it. In many ways he wouldn't have done it, or he would have done it differently for himself than he did it for the class. I always had the impression that in his early years it wasn't important for him to study other people's music that closely. I think it was probably through Irma that he began to see hidden things in the classics. He might have at one point gone as far as to analyze Schoenberg in the class, and perhaps early pieces of Webern, but other than that he didn't go into things which would have fired my imagination immediately. For instance, if he had analyzed Scriabin. He loved Scriabin. Even if he had analyzed Szymanowski, who he also loved, at least some of the works.

I was also playing other of his pieces, but [the Battle Piece] brought us together, because there are certain aspects of it that, I would say, are quite intellectual. The fourth movement of that work cannot be understood without understanding the concepts behind it. In order to perform it you have to invent ways of presenting it which you don't find in the other movements. You find it a little bit in the last movement also. It has to do with the way the continuity is composed. The fourth movement is really very abstract in that sense. It's a piece the length and intensity of which makes it very difficult for listeners. And I recall the first performance of that piece. The audience was divided between people who wanted to experience Stefan's music and people who couldn't wait for it to be over so that they could listen to Dane Rudhyar. [laughs] And of course, I understand both points of view.

From the very beginning of the piece there are two thematic elements, and then there's the third thematic element which appears in the second part. During the course of all those first six movements those elements are never integrated. They're developed and changed and all that, but they never reach a state of integration. In the last movement he continued with the techniques of the fourth movement with making constant interpolations into the linear continuity. This is very hard to recall exactly without having the score in front of me. He finally found that he could make the two by a process of integration of the original thematic material with its alterations brought about by interpolating other material into it. He found that there was a common element observable in the harmonic constellations. So that he put them both together and made scales. The scales are scales of harmonies. So that brought about the integration of the third element, which is an image from Mahler. I think it's from Das Lied von der Erde.

The Battle Piece is one example of a work which could stand some explanation. For instance, the relationships of the tempi in that piece are very critical. The very few times that I've heard other people attack the piece it can become quite incomprehensible if the tempi are not related. For me it deals with whether the material is in a stable condition or whether it's volatile. That has to be very apparent in that piece, because otherwise there's very little means of differentiating the developments.

The Battle Piece made him aware of new possibilities, for sure. For one thing it was important to him that he could not accept the twelve-tone scale. That was very important to him. I think the Battle Piece, struggling as it was with the linear concepts, there were two main things he discovered. One was the way he could derive a whole compositional structure from a harmonic row. That was very important to him. If one examines the notes, the incomplete and interesting sketches which appear on the manuscript of the Battle Piece, you'll see how that was already present in his mind. It's a concept, actually, which Scriabin used a lot but never developed. Stefan's use of it, of course, is much more elaborate, because the continuity of the composition is very different from what Scriabin had in mind. And the other thing was the possibility that had come about because of his working with interpolation within thematic units, of creating discontinuity. Those two things are very manifest in the studies. [...]

I think [Stefan] must have achieved it somehow by coming to terms with his body rhythms, because that was how he had to experience music. And I think he probably began to experience rhythmic continuity in a more complex way. Not just simply dealing with the motor sensations through the body, but dealing with the breath also. I can remember at times his singing [laughs] his compositions, or singing his sketches.

The Passacaglia is one of Stefan's (what you call it) great works. It's completely coherent. However, it is possible to experience it as though it was coming from the stream of Brahms. I don't think that's what people were looking for in Darmstadt [in 1956]. As much as they talked about links with the immediate musical past, I don't think they ever took it seriously. As much as Boulez talked about Debussy, nobody took that seriously. But what an important composer he [Debussy] was to many, many people, and even to Stefan. I have notes, compositional notes, which he wrote to himself, which I would like to see published. They deal a lot with Debussy's compositional technique. They're just notes, but they're vital to compositional procedure, they're definitely applicable to the Battle Piece. [...]

He didn't [listen to much jazz], but he had a lot of jazz people come to him. He appreciated any type of popular music. He always welcomed any opportunity to get into a field that could be called popular, like Lazy Andy Ant, for instance. I remember he was really pleased and excited. I think it's simply that he never thought of himself as a specialist the way composers nowadays are able to. He wanted to be able to do everything. He thought his music as capable of universal expression. Every kind of musical experience he wanted to be able to incorporate in his music, but it had to be his own. He studied so often. I recall his telling me how he had pored over every work which included musical quotations. That interested him a great deal. That's one of the reasons why he kept studying the works of Berg. It played such an important part, because that was very important to him. I don't think he thought Berg was successful in every case, but he was very interested in how it was done and why, how it affected the composer's thought, what were the consequences of having done that in the composition.

Stefan must have heard both [Boulez Second Sonata and the Sonatine]. I recall playing the Boulez at the Artist's Club on Eighth Street when he was there on an upright piano. The reaction of composers present without exception, except for Stefan, was that it was not possible to play that, after they had heard it. [laughs]

Of course, Stefan, like any composer, he heard things in his mind that he tried to put on paper, things like sonorities. You have to put your imagination to work to understand what's there. One thing that Stefan and I definitely have in common is an interest in his great friend Busoni. How transformed my own studies became when I started to work on Busoni! Those ideas are so important--notation is the work of the devil. Stefan never believed that, but he knew it. It was through Stefan's talking about [Busoni]. I recall at one point I felt an inadequacy in my handling of the piano, and I realized that I needed something that I had to find. So I began to study everything I could about Busoni, including all of the students who had ever written anything about him. It went so far as finally I stopped studying with Irma. Probably, by continuing meticulously with her methods I might have come on what I needed, but I also needed the background in it a great deal. I needed to understand what virtuosity was about. A lot of things happened because of that. I worked very intensely on lines that Busoni had put down in the writings.

Did Stefan talk about Satie? He loved it, he loved it, he loved it.

David Tudor (1926-1996) was born in Philadelphia, where he studied organ with William Hawkes, piano with Irma Wolpe Rademacher, and composition and analysis with Stefan Wolpe. In the 1950s he became the leading interpreter of avant-garde music for the piano with his performances of music by Boulez, Brown, Bussotti, Cage, Feldman, Stockhausen, Wolff, and Wolpe. From 1960 Tudor was active as a performer and composer of live electronic music for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Interview: AC, Stony Point, New York, 4 October 1982.


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