In PIANO PIECES I-IV, composed in 1952/53, premièred at the 1954 Darmstadt Summer Courses by Marcelle Mercenier, and transformed by the audience into an unusually vociferous whistling-concert, one can already see a transition from ‘point’ structures (PIANO PIECE IV) to complex Gestalten1 of higher organisation (PIANO PIECE I): these mark the beginning of so-called “group-composition”. Furthermore, in these pieces the silences (pauses) are incorporated into the composition process in various ways.

Of the many approaches to this music, one might pay particular attention to how and when pauses are composed, how different in length and degree of silence one feels them to be, depending on whether loud or soft sounds, dense or transparent note groups are heard before and after the pauses. Because up to now the language of music has not taught us this: being silent at the right moment, experiencing just as much variety in the sudden or gradual initiation or disturbances or interruption of silence as one does in the sounds. Anyone who is aware of this, or has even an inkling of it, experiences the music more profoundly than he realises.

(Excerpt of an introduction to a broadcast of the work by North German Radio, 1957.)

PIANO PIECES V-X (1954 to 55)

The reason why, having worked exclusively at electronic music for a year and a half, I am now simultaneously working on piano music is that while engaged in the strictest structural composition I encountered significant musical phenomena which defy any kind of measurement. They are no less real, discoverable, conceivable or perceptible. I can expound these things more clearly - for the time being - by using instrument and interpreter than in electronic composition. I am concerned above all with putting across a new feeling for time in music, which the infinitely ‘irrational’ nuances, fluctuations and shiftings of a good interpreter sometimes bring us much closer to achieving than does the use of a ruler. Such statistical formal criteria will give us a completely new and hitherto unknown relationship to the problem of instruments and instrumental performance.

PIANO PIECES: Instrumental Music 1954/55

We shall no longer say: instrumental music or electronic music, but rather: instrumental music and electronic music. Each of these sound worlds has its own conditions, its own limits.

Musical ideas demand instruments on one occasion, generators on others - with varying consequences. Any attempt to overstep these limits leads to contradictions. The time has not yet come to speak of a possible synthesis. Too many problems in both spheres still await a clear solution. Only he who has experienced as necessary, and concretised, the essence of the electronic compositions realised up to now - and it is to these compositions alone that we can relate when we talk about ‘electronic music’ - can also clearly recognise from this position the necessary conditions for a new instrumental music. As for the synthesis of the two, it is more responsible to speak in terms of what can be achieved now and in the foreseeable future. Fantastic visions, without a clear view of today’s realities: these the musician should keep to himself. A person who has opened up the electronic sound world certainly does not lack imagination and combinatorial conceptions. The composer’s real ability hangs on his realisation of music; on the disciplining of his imagination, on the works he has made up to now, and the work he is making at present; but not on prognoses about possible music of the future.

The second group of PIANO PIECES has followed after exclusively electronic composition. Its goal is to bring unique, purely instrumental conditions to a maximum of efficiency in the serial structure. In this particular case the musical conception calls so exclusively for the piano that the ensuing realisation actually brings about a complete renewal of the instrument and of composition for the piano.

Instrumental music beside electronic music: this leads to a previously unsuspected function for the instrumentalist. His characteristic criteria for the realisation of sound become serial factors in composition. The scale of degrees of approximation, corresponding to the mensural determinacy of the notation, become formative qualities. The relativity of “precision” is guided by new methods of notation. Perceptual quantifications - as opposed to the mechanical quantifications of electronic composition - become serial components. Chance criteria, allied to the notated symbols (the choice of different symbols is based on the players psychic reactions) are guided, and achieve a structural significance in clarifying the musical context: indeterminacy factors as formative qualities!

For the player this simply means: match the notated symbols as precisely as possible to the corresponding ways of playing the instrument. The graded limits of the aleatoric fields1 are directly defined by the different kinds of notated symbols.

It is desirable that performing musicians, particularly those of our generation, should start to scrutinise their previous attitude to “interpretation”, and to come to terms with our music. With music which has been written for them, and in a particular way assigns to them the highest of task: the transformation of written notes into music. The time for prognoses about the decline of instrumentalists, pushed to the outer limits of our society by mechanical and electro-acoustical reproduction and production of music, is over. But it is more than shameful to listen to recitals by “great interpreters” of our age, the “greatest” of whom are also the most treacherous. That is why it is not difficult to wish for a new type of instrumentalist. What he will be like can readily be imagined from hearing and studying our music.

The composer of today and the instrumentalist of tomorrow are indissolubly linked together. It will not go on like this, that young pianists play (at best) Schönberg, Webern and Messiaen in obscure places; that only a few young instrumentalists join us, and acquire the necessary degree of technique, musical intelligence and sensitivity. Let us not criticise the audience, but rather our own lack of unity: composer and instrumentalist!

(Supplement to programme notes for the 1955 Darmstadt Summer Courses.)


PIANO PIECE XI - first performed in 2 versions by David Tudor in New York (1957) - carries the idea of the time-field into the overall form. Nineteen groups - each with a temporal direction, each one developed from a common germ cell - are combined into an overall form by the interpreter in a fashion which literally depends on the glance of an eye. The groups thereby exert an immediate influence on each other: each played group always chosen instantaneously, determines the temporal and spatial characteristics of the one which follows it; continuity first occurs at the moment of interpretation, and only then: the “music” has no existence (on paper) outside its realisation in terms of sound. This instrumental music is getting further and further away from repetitivity, from mechanisation, and thus also from reproduction (via loudspeakers etc.; at best one has “a version”, but not “the piece”), and increasingly it demands an interpreter who is close to sound and silence, who is open enough - unpredictable and co-creative - in giving a work form, like the pianist David Tudor.

PIANO PIECE XI: 19 different note-groups are irregularly distributed on a single sheet of paper (53 x 93 cm.). The following performance instructions are printed on the back of this sheet:

The performer looks at random at the sheet of music and begins with any group, the first that catches his eye; this he plays, choosing for himself tempo (small notes always excepted), dynamic level and type of attack. At the end of the first group he reads the tempo, dynamic and attack indications that follow, and looks at random to any other group, which he then plays in accordance with the 3 indications.

“Looking at random to any other group” implies that the performer will never link up expressly chosen groups or intentionally leave out others. Each group can be joined to any of the other 18; each can thus be played at any of the six tempi and dynamic levels, and with any of the six types of attack.

If a group ends with a fermata, the player waits the length of this fermata and only then reads the performing directions and chooses his next group, all of which produces a longer rest than after a group without a final fermata; if, on the other hand, a group ends with the word “binden” (join), the final note or chord is then held until the directions have been read and the next group chosen, after which the performer links up the foregoing and succeeding groups.

When a group is arrived at for the second time, directions in brackets become valid; these are mainly transpositions to the 1st or 2nd octave (8va ---), (2 okt. ---) up or down, varying according to the staff to which they apply; notes are also added or omitted.

When a group is arrived at for the third time, one possible realisation of the piece is completed. This being so, it may come about that certain groups are played once only or not at all.

This piano piece should if possible be performed twice or more in the course of a programme.

(Excerpt from a printed supplement for the 1957 Darmstadt Summer Courses.)

Translation: Richard Toop