What modern composer creates impossible pieces for virtuoso players?`
February 16, 2015 10:50 PM   Subscribe

A few years ago I read an interview or article about a modern composer that creates pieces for virtuoso musicians. The idea is that his pieces are so difficult and impossible to play that musicians have to make decisions on the fly on what to omit while playing, which is the true purpose of his compositions. Hoping that someone can help me out with a name.
posted by gaelenh to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Could it have been about Tom Johnson's piece Failing: a very difficult piece for solo string bass?
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:05 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This could be multiple people. Brian Ferneyhough and Michael Finnissy come to mind, but you might in fact be thinking of Anthony Braxton, who very much writes pieces where it isn't physically possible to play all the notes; and deciding which ones to leave out is part of the improvisatory strategy.
posted by daisystomper at 11:13 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Brian Ferneyhough springs to mind, or another of the New Complexity/Darmstadt school?
posted by Coaticass at 11:42 PM on February 16, 2015

Xenakis's Evryali?
Numerous passages are impossible to play as written either because it is physically impossible to reach the notes, or, in one case (a C-sharp in the penultimate passage of arborescences), because the written note is not available on most pianos [...] Therefore, the performer has to create a reduction of the piece, omitting some notes, transposing others, etc., in order to make it playable. Citing these and other difficulties of Evryali, pianist-composer Marc Couroux compares the performer to the "warrior" from Carlos Castaneda's books: when confronted with the piece, one must remain "lucid" and choose "which aspects [of the piece] are essential and must be preserved", and which must be sacrificed.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:15 AM on February 17, 2015

Yeah, Xenakis does this in many pieces, it's the first name that came to mind (let's talk about the piece written at sixteenth = 40 for mostly wind instruments, mostly forte, mostly whole notes and longer...)
posted by range at 1:29 AM on February 17, 2015

Conlon Nancarrow?
posted by unknowncommand at 4:11 AM on February 17, 2015

It sounds like the above composers are better matches, but there's also Marc-André Hamelin's Circus Galop, which cannot be played by a single pair of human hands.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:39 AM on February 17, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, these are all great answers! Specifically I was looking for it as an improvisation technique. The name I was looking for was Anthony Braxton, but I'm going to look into all the other composers here too.
posted by gaelenh at 6:04 AM on February 17, 2015

Some of the player piano composers might count too. For some reason this piece of "Contrapuntal Garbage on the Nyancat theme" comes to mind. Marc André Hamelin is more the more serious instigator.
posted by rongorongo at 8:38 AM on February 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nyan vs Nyan and Circus Galop maximus may be interesting posts. Particularly the second post, which contains a link where the music is faked, because the piece is unplayable by humans.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:29 PM on February 17, 2015

Long time ago, I heard a talk by Samuel Barber about his Piano Concerto. He said he made the first movement very difficult so the solo ist, John Browning, wouldn't nag him for the second. Per Wikipedia, the third movement was impossible to play. Barber rewrote it after Horowitz added his opinion that it was impossible.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:10 PM on February 17, 2015

Not exactly related, but possibly something fun to check out if you're interested in this sort of thing: Mondo released a 7" single of the "The Unplayable Piece" from the film Grand Piano back in November. The film is about a pianist (Elijah Wood) who is tasked by a sniper with playing a notoriously "unplayable" piece perfectly or else he will be killed. The movie is really fun.
posted by rabbitroom at 2:16 PM on February 17, 2015

« Older Cambridge Brain Sciences percentile?   |   How can my fiancee translate her work in human... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.