AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick. The original productions of this piece, in fact, served as the genesis of the legendary pro-amateur Scratch Orchestra. All three are fascinating musical experiences. It is eerie and otherworldly but casts its own unique sense of serenity over the listener. The chorus is required to attempt to valiantly surmount the raging drums and to do so over a long period of time, an idea based on the Buddhist method of practicing chanting in front of a roaring waterfall; they will fail in making themselves clearly heard but something valuable may be learned in the process.
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Cornelius Cardew composed experimental works for each of the seven paragraphs of The Great Learning by Confucius translated into English by Ezra Pound. Each piece is for different instrumentation. In March of we presented Paragraph 2 , for drums and voice: groups were situated around our outdoor arcade, each group consisting of one drummer and a number of singers.
The drummers play through twenty-six rhythms, in any order each chooses, while the associated vocalists sing the text from Confucius on notes that evolve slowly, timing their entrance to the downbeat of their particular drummer.
Each group is autonomous, and each performance unique. At our performance the audience was free to move around the space, sampling individual groups or taking in the aggregate from a central position, and were encouraged to join in as singers. Paragraph 7 is less raucous than Paragraph 2 , being for singers only.
Each singer chooses a pitch to begin, and sings the first line "If"—see the score below softly eight times, each time for the length of a breath. Then she moves around the space, listening to other singers, until hearing a new pitch of her choice, at which time she sings the second line "the root", five times on that pitch.
Everyone progresses through the piece this way, as a cloud of pitches gradually coalesces into several clusters. The audience moves throughout the space, similarly to the singers, so the piece is a locomotive and auditory kaleidoscope. Click here to download a copy of the score that you can print. New Music New College focuses primarily on very recent music, yet we also perform relevant repertoire from the second half of the twentieth century—music by John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pauline Oliveros, Luciano Berio, among others.
To be sure, there was a time when Cardew was viewed as central to the new music scene. Also, he has not always received his due from critics. This is partly because Cardew altered his compositional methods radically over time, thus presenting a complex and even a contradictory profile as a composer.
However, this neglect could also be a backlash against his politics, a politics that early on fostered experimentation but later stifled it in the extreme. NMNC is offering Cardew now for three reasons.
Each domain must challenge the other. When the students and I undertook a workshop performance of The Great Learning, Paragraph 7 in , we did so out of historical interest. We soon discovered that The Great Learning, Paragraph 7 is great music, and have offered it again in and As a performer, writer, and organizer of concerts, Cardew actively promoted the music of these and other adventurous composers, including Pierre Boulez, Christian Wolff, and Terry Riley.
Cardew thus established his credentials as an experimental music professional during these years, yet that very professionalism eventually struck him as problematic: Cardew viewed contemporary music increasingly as the occupation of a highly trained elite, completely removed from the experience of the general public. Dissatisfied with this situation for both musical and political reasons Cardew had become active in leftist politics at this time , Cardew became interested in music that could bridge the gap between amateurs and professionals.
The performer is presented with page after page of complex combinations of circles, lines, squares, triangles, and their derivatives, yet no instrumentation is specified, nor is the relationship of the images to pitch or rhythm in any way explained.
The performers of Treatise must study the images and realize them through improvisation or in fully-notated compositions. He may be guided by many things—by the internal structure of the score itself, by his personal experience of music-making, by reference to the various traditions growing up around this or other indeterminate works, by the action of the other musicians working on the piece, and—failing these—by conversation with the composer during rehearsal.
Treatise Handbook , Edition Peters, , xii ]. Treatise is perhaps best regarded less as a composition than as a stimulus to composition. In its breadth, complexity, and rigor, Treatise was an enormous achievement, yet it did not lead to a subsequent series of graphic works. Instead, Cardew sought to create music that not only was accessible to amateurs, but that could be performed by large groups of people. Part of the solution, Cardew believed, was to establish a community of performers, a community that embraced individuals of varied talents and backgrounds who would approach music-making in a collective manner.
Since most of this music was improvised to some extent and was not recorded, it has faded from memory. One of the canonical books of Confucianism, The Great Learning consists of seven paragraphs, each devoted to the pursuit of moral authority. Affairs have their end and their beginning. To know what is first and what is last will lead near to what is taught in The Great Learning.
Cardew set all seven paragraphs of the text, though each is scored for different forces. For example, the score of Paragraph 1 calls for the use of whistles and drones, while Paragraph 2 is basically a competition between singers and drummers. Paragraph 7 is entirely vocal and can be performed by any number of singers. In our experience, the piece is most effective when it is performed by singers. First, the work achieves a Cagean balance of freedom and discipline: the performers choose which pitches to sing, but the choice of pitches is severely constrained.
Second, the relationship between the individual and the collective is mediated skillfully: performers contribute to a larger mass of sound, yet each performer articulates the text differently, breaths and enters at a different pace, and stands out from the crowd at those moments when the text must be sung in a loud voice.
Finally, the music demands that the performers remain aware of each other at all times. Anyone who has ever sung in a choir knows that listening is perhaps the most important part of the job. This would be a mistake.
The work offers many pleasures and discoveries for those listeners who are patient. Listening and watching a performance of The Great Learning, Paragraph 7 is a bit like watching the gulf from the shore.
Sitting still in one place for the duration of the performance is also an option, though it is perhaps the most demanding one: it might be a bit like watching a film of the gulf, shot with a single camera from a fixed location.
The Scratch Orchestra marked a utopian moment in the history of experimental music. It collapsed, not because it ceased to offer vibrant musical experiences, but because the principal members fell into ideological disputes. Determined to compose music that would be fully comprehensible to the British working class, Cardew began in to produce music that was staggeringly traditional.
During this same period, Cardew even composed Maoist folk songs on revolutionary themes. Politically, Cardew took what seemed to him a logical step; musically, his was one of the great about-faces in music history. What then is the last word on Cardew? His death by a hit-and-run motorist in has complicated that question. How might Cardew have developed had he lived another twenty years? Would he have continued to compose political music or would he have abandoned music altogether in favor of political organizing?
Might he have found a way to reconcile the diverse and conflicting practices of his compositional career? Though these questions will never be answered, Cardew most certainly occupies a permanent place in the history of late 20th-century music.
His compositions, however, needs to be experienced, not simply cited as historical footnotes. Cardew, Cornelius, ed. Scratch Music Cambridge, Mass. Cardew, Cornelius. Stockhausen Serves Imperialism! London: Latimer, Griffiths, Paul. Nyman, Michael. Potter, Keith. Mark Delaere Wilhelmshaven: Florian Noetzel, , Video of our performance of Paragraph 2 on March 4,
Cornelius Cardew composed experimental works for each of the seven paragraphs of The Great Learning by Confucius translated into English by Ezra Pound. Each piece is for different instrumentation. In March of we presented Paragraph 2 , for drums and voice: groups were situated around our outdoor arcade, each group consisting of one drummer and a number of singers. The drummers play through twenty-six rhythms, in any order each chooses, while the associated vocalists sing the text from Confucius on notes that evolve slowly, timing their entrance to the downbeat of their particular drummer. Each group is autonomous, and each performance unique. At our performance the audience was free to move around the space, sampling individual groups or taking in the aggregate from a central position, and were encouraged to join in as singers.
A guide to Cornelius Cardew's music
He later rejected experimental music, explaining why he had "discontinued composing in an avantgarde idiom" in his own programme notes to his Piano Album [ full citation needed ]. Cardew was born in Winchcombe , Gloucestershire. He was the second of three sons whose parents were both artists—his father was the potter Michael Cardew. The family moved to Wenford Bridge Pottery Cornwall a few years after his birth where he was first nurtured as a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, and later at The King's School, Canterbury  which had evacuated to the nearby Carlyon Bay Hotel  for the war. His musical career thus began as a chorister. From to , Cardew studied piano, cello, and composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Cornelius Cardew: The Great Learning