I sought out Double Concerto (for piano, harpsichord and two small chamber orchestras) by Elliott Carter who died recently, aged 104. Why? Because Charles Rosen, who’s performed the piano bit a dozen times, says it is “Carter’s most brilliantly attractive and… most complex work”. For me, whatever Rosen says goes. Also not much was written for harpsichord in 1959.
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Monday, 26 November 2012
Too hard? So was LvB once
It’s playing now. Parts are quite noisy (“four percussionists, each with a formidable array of about dozen instruments”) and harpsichords have middle-class voices. Never mind.
Rosen says “the final section… contains the most complicated rhythmic passage I have ever been asked to play… the right hand plays seven even notes to each beat, the left hand plays three.” Pfooie. In the full score the ratio becomes 21 against 9 and (Rosen’s italics) the accents of all four lines in piano and harpsichord never coincide.
I’m not attending yet it hangs together. That’s good, separation can be a problem with modern stuff. Forget music for the moment, think of irregular sound sequences: distant F1 cars racing, a metal workshop, children in a playground. Are you engaged, held? So combine them.
But the concerto is planned. Explosions of funny struck noises, dramatic trumpet outbursts, the harpsichord a mouse within the piano. It lasts 22 minutes so play it again. A third time and you anticipate a passage here or there. And no, it isn’t random. It’s no longer “it” and “you”. Play it again looking out of the window in another room. Switch off, lean back, close your eyes. What can you hear? Nothing? OK, there are no penalties. Something? Perhaps you’ll play it tomorrow. Music cannot be explained.
Quotes from Rosen’s Critical Entertainments, Harvard UP $17.95 ( more in UK)