Monday, May 3, 2010

Authenticity II-Mondrian's Brush




Last week the iconic Polish composer Penderecki came to Yale and conducted an orchestra concert of his own works, both old and new."Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima for 52 Strings" held me spell bound; I was astonished at the originality of this 50 year old example of "Sonorism," a style that Penderecki literally invented. The other pieces were of more recent vintage and easily fell into the catch all category of Post Modernism. I suppose Threnody must be considered a perfect example of modernism; but wait! --there's more to it than that; its a genuinely heartfelt work of music emanating from within. It's authentic without question.
When you hear it, or just look at the score with all its graphic notation devices and strange symbols, you know its Penderecki. Sure, there have been scads of similar pieces using all those "extended" techniques pumped out by other composers anxious to hop on the bandwagon, but there is something about this piece--it has his touch, it has been painted with his brush.

Morton Feldman tells the story of Mondrian’s brush: Someone suggested to the Dutch artist that since his color fields were solid blocks of pure color, who not use spray paint to save time and energy? So Mondrian did, but the results were unsatisfactory; the paintings weren’t Mondrians. What was missing was the brush. Likewise, Feldman used a pencil for composition and never other means; his pencil is like Mondrian's brush.
Of course the analogue is that much of our digital technology mimics “hand” created scores, so in a way we are using spray paint!
Our anxiety is more abstract, less to do with the mechanics or craft, more to do with one’s identity. It’s so easy now to be an artist, a composer, but the paradox is that it’s actually harder.
We are still at the mercy of technology, but we suffer the illusion that everything is now possible-—we believe it but still we dream of that infinite realm of possibilities just waiting around the corner.
Feldman wrote: “One never has an identity, as an artist, but in a vague way remembers oneself in that role.”
So, one must be immersed in one’s own history to know one’s true identity—it can never be taken for granted. Maybe the word “authenticity” is the key to all this.
One ought to seek the “authentic” in one’s art and, in seeking it, remembers one’s identity.
That’s why Memory in art is so important-—the two are almost synonymous.

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