Critical Perspectives on Michael Finnissy: Bright Futures, Dark Pasts 1138491977, 9781138491977

The composer and pianist Michael Finnissy (b. 1946) is an unmistakeable presence in the British and international new mu

418 95 8MB

English Pages 382 [403]

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Critical Perspectives on Michael Finnissy: Bright Futures, Dark Pasts
 1138491977, 9781138491977

Table of contents :
Half Title
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
List of figures
List of music examples
Notes on contributors
Section A: Finnissy’s aesthetics and styles
1: Michael Finnissy: modernism with an English accent
2: Post-experimental survivor: Finnissy the experimentalist
3: Negotiating borrowing, genre and mediation in the piano music of Finnissy: strategies and aesthetics
4: Ontological implications in the work of Finnissy
Section B: Finnissy’s identities
5: Marginality and Finnissian performance in the 1980s
6: ‘My “personal themes”?!’ Finnissy’s Seventeen Homosexual Poets and the material world
7: Finnissy’s voices
8: ‘Listening to the instrument(s)’: a performer’s response to Finnissy’s music for String Quartet and the Chi Mei Ricercari for cello and piano
Section C: Compositional considerations
9: Notational and non-notational paradigms in Finnissy’s music
10: Finnissy and pantonality: surface and inner necessity
11: The medium is now the material: The ‘folklore’ of Chris Newman and Michael Finnissy
12: Finnissy’s hand
Section D: Contexts and case studies
13: Questioning the foreign and familiar: interpreting Finnissy’s use of traditional and non-Western musical sources
14: Finnissy’s three-point plans: Political Agendas and musical enunciations
15: Finnissy’s alongside
16: From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter: Finnissy’s cinematic and televisual inspirations

Citation preview

Critical Perspectives on Michael Finnissy

The composer and pianist Michael Finnissy (b. 1946) is an unmistakeable presence in the British and international new music scene, both for his immeasurable generosity as prolific composer for many different types of musicians, major advocate for the works of others, and performer and conductor who has also been a driving force behind ensembles; he was also President of the International Society for Contemporary Music from 1990 to 1996. His vast and enormously varied output confounds those who seek easy categorisations: once associated strongly with the ‘new complexity’, Finnissy is equally known as a composer regularly engaged with many different folk musics, for working with amateur and community musicians, for a long-term engagement with sacred music, or as an advocate of Anglo-American ‘experimental’ music. Twenty years ago, a large-scale volume entitled Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy gave the first major overview of the output of any ‘complex’ composer. This new volume brings a greater plurality of perspectives and critical sensibility to bear upon an output which is almost twice as large as it was when the earlier book was published. A range of leading contributors – musicologists, composers, performers and others – each grapple with particular questions relating to Finnissy’s music, often in ways which raise questions relating more widely to new music, and provide theoretical foundations for further study both of Finnissy and other composers. Ian Pace (b. 1968) is internationally renowned as the leading pianistic interpreter of Finnissy’s work, as well as a major scholar who has written extensively on compositional, aesthetic and performative aspects of Finnissy’s music, including major sketch study. He gave a six-concert series of Finnissy’s complete piano music in 1996 for the composer’s fiftieth birthday, and followed this twenty years later with an eleven-concert series of the now vastly expanded output, including a complete performance of Finnissy’s epic five-and-a-half-hour cycle The History of Photography in Sound, which he premiered in London in 2001, recorded for Divine Art, and about which he published a monograph. More widely, he is well-known as a staunch advocate of new music who has given over 300 world premieres, played in

over 25 countries, and recorded over 30 CDs. He is also a musicologist, and is Senior Lecturer and Head of Performance at City, University of London, having previously worked at Southampton University and Dartington College of Arts. His PhD was on new music and its infrastructure in West Germany from the Weimar Republic to the early Allied Occupation. Other areas of expertise include nineteenth-century performance practice, contemporary performance and practice-as-research, critical musicology, avantgarde aesthetics, and music under fascism and communism. Nigel McBride (b. 1990) is a composer and researcher. He was educated at The Queen’s University, Belfast, and St Anne’s and Magdalen Colleges, Oxford. His research primarily focuses on philosophical approaches to compositional and musicological issues. While at Oxford, he taught composition and musicology extensively, as well as developed and convened the seminar series The Composers’ Forum at Magdalen College. As a composer, he has collaborated with many leading performers of new music, including Ian Pace, Christopher Redgate, Gleb Kanasevich, Jack Adler-Mckean, The Cavaleri String Quartet, Jonathan Powell, and others. His music has been performed in Germany, across the UK, the USA, and elsewhere.

Critical Perspectives on Michael Finnissy Bright Futures, Dark Pasts

Edited by Ian Pace and Nigel McBride


Routledge Taylor & Francis Group


First published 2019 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2019 selection and editorial matter, Ian Pace and Nigel McBride; individual chapters, the contributors The right of Ian Pace and Nigel McBride to be identified as the authors of the editorial material, and of the authors for their individual chapters, has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book ISBN: 978-1-138-49197-7 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-351-03154-7 (ebk) Typeset in Times New Roman by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Stockport, Cheshire


Acknowledgements List of figures List of music examples Notes on contributors Introduction

viii x xi xv 1



Finnissy’s aesthetics and styles 1 Michael Finnissy: modernism with an English accent

25 27


2 Post-experimental survivor: Finnissy the experimentalist



3 Negotiating borrowing, genre and mediation in the piano music of Finnissy: strategies and aesthetics



4 Ontological implications in the work of Finnissy




Finnissy’s identities 5 Marginality and Finnissian performance in the 1980s RODDY HAWKINS

127 129



6 ‘My “personal themes”?!’ Finnissy’s Seventeen Homosexual Poets and the material world



7 Finnissy’s voices



8 ‘Listening to the instrument(s)’: a performer’s response to Finnissy’s music for String Quartet and the Chi Mei Ricercari for cello and piano




Compositional considerations 9 Notational and non-notational paradigms in Finnissy’s music




10 Finnissy and pantonality: surface and inner necessity



11 The medium is now the material: The ‘folklore’ of Chris Newman and Michael Finnissy



12 Finnissy’s hand




Contexts and case studies


13 Questioning the foreign and familiar: interpreting Finnissy’s use of traditional and non-Western musical sources



14 Finnissy’s three-point plans: Political Agendas and musical enunciations



15 Finnissy’s alongside RICHARD BARRETT


Contents 16 From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter: Finnissy’s cinematic and televisual inspirations

vii 344




A special website has been created in conjunction with this book. This includes a comprehensive bibliography of writings on Finnissy, a discography, a worklist, the full programmes from Ian Pace’s 2016–17 series of Finnissy’s complete piano music, and an interview between Finnissy and James Weeks. The URL for this is


The process from initial conception of this book in 2016, through a more concrete form following the conference Bright Futures, Dark Pasts: Michael Finnissy at 70 in 2017, to the writing, editing and proofing of all the contents for publication in 2019, has been remarkably smooth, and for that there are various people who the editors wish to thank. First of all we wish to thank Annie Vaughan, Laura Sandford, Joanna Harden Heidi Bishop at Routledge for their thorough support and help at all stages of the project, and also Rob Wilkinson for his editing work. To the contributors themselves, we are grateful for their patient, thoughtful and constructive responses as we made sometimes quite exacting editorial requests, and also for the speed at which they were able to incorporate these. For the initial conference at City, University of London, we wish to thank the university and Department of Music, and then Head of Department Miguel Mera, for their support in making it possible and dealing with many practicalities. At the conference itself, we would like to thank Aaron Einbond, Lauren Redhead, Roddy Hawkins and Christopher Fox and Alexander Lingas for chairing sessions, Ben Smith, Christopher Redgate, Nancy Ruffer, Bernice Chitiul, Alexander Benham, the City University Experimental Ensemble and especially Michael Finnissy himself for performances. Finnissy’s catalogue is vast, and much of the work contained herein would not be possible without the amassing of a huge collection of scores on the parts of the editors, with the help above all of Finnissy himself, but also Dr Christoph Taggatz at Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin, George Jackson of Oxford University Press, Katie Wood at United Music Publishers, and Andrea Natale at Universal Edition. We would also like to thank all of these people for granting permission to use a considerable range of musical examples. To the reviewers of this volume, we express considerable thanks for extremely helpful and insightful comments which have helped enhance the quality of the volume. And both editors would like more than anyone else to thank their respective partners: Lindsay Edkins, unfailingly supportive towards all of the activities of Ian Pace. She is one of the few people to have listened to multiple complete live performances of The History of Photography in Sound, and



memorably asked Michael Finnissy if she could ‘have Ian back now’ following his 2016–17 concert series; and Jemma McBride, whose encouragement and steadfastness – not to mention her good humour – has greatly helped Nigel McBride in working on the present volume.

List of figures

1.1 2.1 2.2 3.1 3.2 14.1 16.1

Magic Square. Finnissy, text instructions from Transformations of the Vampire (1968–71). © Universal Edition 1979. Christian Wolff, ‘Stones’, from Prose Collection (1968–97). © Christian Wolff 1969. J. Peter Burkholder’s categories for Ives’s borrowing. Proposed categories for Finnissy’s borrowing. Finnissy, the three Political Agendas. Images from Stan Brakhage, Song 14 (1965).

29 44 44 67 68 318 354

List of musical examples


2.2 2.3 2.4 3.1

3.2 3.3 3.4

3.5 3.6 3.7



Finnissy, Beat Generation Ballads (2013), from ‘naked original skin beneath our dreams 80 robes of thought’. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2015. Finnissy, manuscript of instructions for Transformations of the Vampire (1968–71). © Universal Edition 1979. Finnissy, Piano Concerto No. 5 (1980), from piano part. © Michael Finnissy. Finnissy, from Make-Up (1964, rev. 1970). © Michael Finnissy. Finnissy, Kapitalistische Realisme, from The History of Photography in Sound, as analysed by Richard Beaudoin. © Oxford University Press 2004. Finnissy, from ‘Embraceable you’. © Oxford University Press 1990. Finnissy, from ‘Embraceable you’. © Oxford University Press 1990. (a) Rough transcription of section of Judy Garland performance of ‘But not for me’ in Girl Crazy (1943); (b) Finnissy, ‘They’re writing songs of love, but not for me.’ © Oxford University Press 1990. (a) Franz Liszt, La lugubre gondola No. 1; (b) Sergey Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2, last movement. Finnissy, ‘They’re writing songs of love, but not for me’. © Oxford University Press 1990. Finnissy, Septet with Chorus: ‘Verdi come il buon vegliardo…’, Ernani (Part 1), from Verdi Transcriptions, Book 1, No. 5. © United Music Publishers 1995. (a) Verdi, two passages from ‘O cieli azzuri…’, from Aida, Act 3; (b) Finnissy, Romanza: ‘O cieli azzuri…’, Aida (Act 3), from Verdi Transcriptions, Book 4, No. 3. © United Music Publishers 1995. (a) Finnissy’s transformations of Johann Strauss II, Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald; (b) Finnissy, ‘Geschichten

41 43 47 49

59 76 78

80 82 83




List of musical examples


4.1 4.2 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 8.1


8.3 8.4 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5


9.7 9.8


aus dem Wienerwald’, from Strauss-Walzer (1967, rev. 1989). © Oxford University Press 1991. (a) Aleksander Skryabin, Prelude in G# minor, op. 22, no. 1; (b) Finnissy, from SKRYABIN in itself (2007–8). © Tre Media Verlag 2008. Finnissy, Autumnall (1968–71), first three systems. © Oxford University Press 1991. Antonio Vivaldi, Recorder Concerto in C, RV 444. Finnissy, Tom Fool’s Wooing (1975–8, rev. c. 2015), opening. © Universal Edition 1979. Finnissy, Tom Fool’s Wooing, from first section. © Universal Edition 1979. From Finnissy, Gesualdo: Libro Sesto (2012–13), No. III. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016. From Finnissy, Gesualdo: Libro Sesto, No. II. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016. Finnissy, Chi Mei Ricercari (2013), i, bar 1. Penultimate version, private email to NH. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016. (a) Finnissy, Chi Mei Ricercari, i, bars 26–31 and 38–44. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016. (b) Finnissy, Chi Mei Ricercari, i, bars 38–44. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016. Finnissy, Sehnsucht (1997), bars 1–13. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016. Finnissy, Civilisation (2004, rev. 2012–13), vi, bars 1–22. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2014. A4 indication. Finnissy, opening of De toutes flours (1990). © Oxford University Press 1998. Finnissy, from Déjà fait (2006). © Michael Finnissy. Illustration of Finnissy’s example of notational distinctions in ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’. Finnissy, All the trees they are so high for solo violin (1977), a passage in the original form, then with octupled note values. © Michael Finnissy. Finnissy, opening of North American Spirituals (1997–8), from The History of Photography in Sound. © Oxford University Press 2004. Finnissy, from Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996). © Michael Finnissy. Finnissy, from Le réveil de l’intraitable realité (1999–2000), from The History of Photography in Sound. © Oxford University Press 2004. Finnissy, from Unsere Afrikareise (1998), from The History of Photography in Sound. © Oxford University Press 2004.


91 105 119 182 186 193 194


201 210 214 222 223 224 225


227 227

229 230

List of musical examples 9.10 9.11 9.12 9.13 9.14 9.15 9.16 10.1



10.4 10.5 10.6



11.3 11.4

11.5 11.6

Finnissy, from Unsere Afrikareise, with lines to indicate placing of attacks. © Oxford University Press 2004. Finnissy, from Casual Nudity (2000–1). © Michael Finnissy. Finnissy, opening of Cibavit eos (1990). © Oxford University Press 1998. Finnissy, graphic from Après-midi Dada (2006). © Michael Finnissy. Finnissy, graphic from Post-Christian Survival Kit (2003). © Oxford University Press. Finnissy, graphic from Babylon (1971). © Universal Edition 1979. Finnissy, diagram from Babylon (revised 2001 version). © Michael Finnissy. Howard Skempton, Even Tenor: (a) source chords; (b) pitch gamut; (c) pitch Mode; (d) first and last pitch groups. © Oxford University Press 1996. Finnissy, This Church, setting of four verses of George Herbert’s ‘Teach me, my God and King’. © Michael Finnissy. (a) Brahms, String Quartet in C minor, op. 51, no. 1, as cited in Arnold Schoenberg, ‘Brahms the Progressive’; (b) Finnissy, from Mit Arnold Schoenberg (2002). © Tre Media Verlag 2004. Finnissy, Unknown Ground (1989–90), Song I. © Oxford University Press 1991. Finnissy, Unknown Ground (1989–90), Song II. © Oxford University Press 1991. (a) Johannes Brahms, Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33, No. 30, ‘All mein Gedanken’; (b) Finnissy, Brahms-Lieder, No. 1. © Verlag Neue Musik 2015. Chris Newman, The Reason Why I am Unable to Live as a Composer in my Own Country is a Political One (1983–4), page 2, systems 5–6. © Chris Newman. Finnissy, excerpt from ‘Le demon d’analogie’ from The History of Photography in Sound (1995–2001), p. 6. © Oxford University Press 2004. Finnissy, Pimmel (1988–9), systems 7–8, p. 2. © Oxford University Press 1991. Chris Newman, The Reason Why I am Unable to Live as a Composer in my Own Country is a Political One (1983–4), page 1, systems 1–4. © Chris Newman. Chris Newman, Song to God (1994), page 1, systems 1–2. © Chris Newman. Finnissy, from Kapitalistisch Realisme, p. 207. © Oxford University Press 2004.

xiii 231 232 232 234 235 236 236



250 253 254



262 263

266 268 270


List of musical examples

11.7 11.8 11.9 11.10

12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 13.1 14.1


15.1 15.2 15.3 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4

Finnissy, from Unsere Afrikareise. © Oxford University Press 2004. Chris Newman, Song to God (1994), page 4, movement II, system 9. © Chris Newman. Chris Newman, Song to God (1994), page 5, movement III, system 3. © Chris Newman. Chris Newman, An Everything and Us (1990), MusikTexte, issue 38 (February 1991), pp. 13–22; systems 10–12, page 15. © Musiktexte 1991. Finnissy, Freightrain Bruise (1972, rev. 1980), opening. © Oxford University Press 1991. Finnissy, Reels (1980–1), No. 1. © United Music Publishers 1984. Finnissy, Autumnall (1968–71), last page. © Oxford University Press 1991. Finnissy, My love is like a red rose (1990). © Oxford University Press 1998. Finnissy, sketch material for Were we born yesterday? (2017). Finnissy, from Unsere Afrikareise (1998). © Oxford University Press 2004. Finnissy, opening of ‘You know what kind of sense Mrs Thatcher made’, from First Political Agenda (1999–2006). © Tre Media Verlag. Finnissy, opening of ‘My country has betrayed me’, from Third Political Agenda (2016). © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2018. Finnissy, alongside (1979), opening. © Universal Edition 1979. Finnissy, alongside, beginning of section 3. © Universal Edition 1979. Finnissy, alongside, episode from section 5. © Universal Edition 1979. Claude Debussy, Préludes, Book 2 (1911–13), no. 7, ‘… La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune’. Finnissy, from Snowdrift (1974). © Edition Modern 1975. Finnissy, from Song 1 (1966). © Michael Finnissy. Finnissy, from Song 9 (1968). © Michael Finnissy.

272 273 273

274 283 284 285 285 288 312


320 334 337 340 347 348 355 358

Notes on contributors

Dr Richard Barrett is internationally active as both a composer and an improvising performer, and has collaborated with many leading performers in both fields, while developing works and ideas which increasingly leave behind the distinctions between them. His long-term collaborations include the electronic duo FURT which he formed with Paul Obermayer in 1986 (and its more recent octet version fORCH), the ELISION contemporary music group, for which he has composed and performed since 1990, and regular appearances with the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble since 2003. Recent projects include CONSTRUCTION, a two-hour work for twenty-three performers and three-dimensional sound system, premiered by ELISION in 2011, and the hour-long life-form for cello and electronics, premiered by Arne Deforce in 2012. He studied composition principally with Peter Wiegold, was a professor of composition at Brunel University in London between 2006 and 2009, and has twice been a member of the staff of the Institute of Sonology, between 1996 and 2001 and again from 2009 to the present. Richard Barrett’s work as composer and performer is documented on over 25 CDs, including six discs devoted to his compositions and seven by FURT. Dr Maarten Beirens is a lecturer in musicology at the University of Amsterdam. He studied musicology at the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven), Belgium, where he also received his PhD with a thesis on European minimal music. He held a postdoctoral fellowship of the FWO Flanders at the KU Leuven, conducting research on the music of Steve Reich. His publications include articles and chapters on European minimalism, the music of Michael Finnissy, Karel Goeyvaerts, Louis Andriessen, Michael Nyman, Steve Reich, and analytical strategies for minimal music. Max Erwin is a musicologist and composer originally from Franklin, Tennessee. His research is primarily focused on the post-war European avant-garde, especially so-called ‘total serialism’. He has published articles in Tempo and Music & Literature among others, and his modern critical edition of Karel Goeyvaerts’ Diaphonie for large orchestra is forthcoming from


Notes on contributors

Donemus. His concert music has been performed in North America, Europe and Australasia. Max Erwin graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California on a Presidential scholarship in 2013. He is currently pursuing a PhD musicology at the University of Leeds under Martin Iddon funded by a Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship. Dr Roddy Hawkins is a musicologist and Lecturer in Music at the University of Manchester. Working primarily in contemporary music studies, his current research is focused around the production and consumption of avantgarde music in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s. With a focus on the emergence of the grouping and name New Complexity, his research explores material culture, creative labour, aesthetic discourse, performance practice and critical reception; central to this research is the contested, gendered and constructed nature of marginality as it relates to the categories of sound and listening. Currently working on three further articles on New Complexity (a reception study, an assessment of ensemble performance, and a study of notation and copyists), Hawkins is also a contributor to a forthcoming interdisciplinary book on aesthetics and complexity, as well as to a special issue of Senses and Society generated from the same project. Hawkins has also written on popular music, and a chapter on ‘driving anthems’ for the book Popular Music and Automobile Cultures is currently in press. Prof. Christopher Fox is a composer, teacher and writer on new music and since 2006 has been professor of music at Brunel University London. His work has been performed and broadcast worldwide and has featured in many of the leading new music festivals, from the Amsterdam PROMS to the BBC Promenade Concerts and from St Petersburg to Sidney. He has established particularly close relationships with a number of ensembles with whom he regularly works, including Apartment House, EXAUDI and The Clerks in the UK, the Ives Ensemble in the Netherlands, and KNM Berlin in Germany. Fox’s music is widely available on CD, with six portrait CDs on the Metier label, a portrait CD on the NMC label, and other recordings on Artifact, BVHaast, FMR, HatHut, Metier and NMC. Fox has been hailed by The Wire as ‘a tantalising figure in British Music’ and the Sunday Times has described his music as ‘impressive, thoughtful, entertaining and extremely varied’. His work regularly extends beyond the conventional boundaries of the concert hall and includes a number of extended ensemble works which defy categorisation. Prof. Neil Heyde is the cellist of the Kreutzer Quartet and Head of Postgraduate Programmes at Royal Academy of Music. His research focuses on the interfaces between performance, composition and analysis. As a soloist and chamber musician he has appeared throughout Europe, broadcasting

Notes on contributors


for the BBC, WDR, ORF, Radio France, Netherlands Radio and many other networks. New music is central to his work but he is also dedicated to performing and recording neglected areas of the repertoire. Important projects have been Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study II for solo cello and electronics (1973–6) and first recordings of the complete quartets of Michael Finnissy, Roberto Gerhard, David Matthews (ongoing) and Anton Reicha (ongoing). He has edited a series of critical editions for Faber Music. He has supervised numerous doctoral students to completion and currently has students working on Bartók, Piatti, Stokowski, and on developing innovative combinations of theatre and musical performance. Dr Nigel McBride is a composer and research. He was educated at The Queen’s University, Belfast, and St Anne’s and Magdalen Colleges, Oxford. His research primarily focuses on philosophical approaches to compositional and musicological issues. While at Oxford, he taught composition and musicology extensively, as well as developed and convened the seminar series The Composers’ Forum at Magdalen College. As a composer, he has collaborated with many leading performers of new music, including Ian Pace, Christopher Redgate, Gleb Kanasevich, Jack Adler-Mckean, The Cavaleri String Quartet, Jonathan Powell, and others. His music has been performed in Germany, across the UK, the USA, and elsewhere. Dr Ian Pace is a pianist of long-established reputation, specialising in the farthest reaches of musical modernism and transcendental virtuosity, as well as a writer and musicologist focusing on issues of performance, music and society and the avant-garde. He studied at Chetham’s School of Music, The Queen’s College, Oxford and, as a Fulbright Scholar, at the Juilliard School in New York. He is Head of Performance and Senior Lecturer in Music at City University, London, having previously held positions at the University of Southampton and Dartington College of Arts. He has co-edited and was a major contributor the volume Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy, which was published by Ashgate in 1998, and authored the monograph Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation, published by Divine Art in 2013. He has given world premieres of over 250 piano works, including works by Patrícia de Almeida, Julian Anderson, Richard Barrett, Konrad Boehmer, Luc Brewaeys, Aaron Cassidy, James Clarke, James Dillon, Pascal Dusapin, Richard Emsley, James Erber, Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Finnissy (whose complete piano works he performed in a landmark six-concert series in 1996, gave an eleven-concert series of his complete works in 2016–17, and also premiered in 2001, and later recorded, The History of Photography in Sound), Christopher Fox, Wieland Hoban, Volker Heyn, Evan Johnson, Maxim Kolomiiets, Nigel McBride, André Laporte, Hilda Paredes, Alwynne Pritchard, Horatiu Radulescu, Lauren Redhead, Frederic Rzewski, Thoma


Notes on contributors

Simaku, Howard Skempton, Gerhard Stäbler, Andrew Toovey, Serge Verstockt, Hermann Vogt, Alistair Zaldua and Walter Zimmermann. He has also published many articles in Music and Letters, Contemporary Music Review, TEMPO, The Musical Times, The Liszt Society Journal, International Piano, Musiktexte, Musik & Ästhetik, The Open Space Magazine, as well as contributing chapters to The Cambridge History of Musical Performance, edited by Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Collected Writings of the Orpheus Institute: Unfolding Time: Studies in Temporality in Twentieth-Century Music, edited by Darla Crispin (Leuven University Press, 2009), The Modernist Legacy, edited by Björn Heile (Ashgate, 2009), and Beckett’s Proust/Deleuze’s Proust, edited by Mary Bryden and Margaret Topping (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Dr Lauren Redhead is a composer of experimental music, a performer of music for organ and electronics, and musicologist who focuses on the aesthetics as socio-semiotics of music. Lauren’s music has been performed by international artists such as Ian Pace, the Nieuw Ensemble, Trio Atem, Philip Thomas, BL!NDMAN ensemble and rarescale, and she has received commissions from Yorkshire Forward, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Making Music and the PRSF for Music, Octopus Collective with the Arts Council of England and most recently from TRANSIT festival. Her opera, green angel, was premiered in January 2011 with the support of the Arts Council of England. Her work has been performed at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival,  Gaudeamus Muziekweek, the London Ear Festival, London Contemporary Music Festival, Firenze Suona Contemporanea, Composer’s Marathon V (Vienna), Full of Noises Festival, the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, and many locations throughout the UK and Europe. She is Senior Lecturer in Music at Goldsmiths College, University of London, having previously taught at Canterbury Christ Church University. Prof. Philip Thomas is Professor in Performance, having joined the University of Huddersfield in 2005. He specialises in performing and writing about new and experimental music, including both notated and improvised music. He places much emphasis on each concert being a unique event, designing imaginative programmes that provoke and suggest connections. He is particularly drawn to the experimental music of John Cage, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff, and composers who broadly work within a post-Cageian aesthetic. In recent years he has been particularly associated with the music of Christian Wolff, performing and recording the solo piano music, and co-editing a book about his music. He has commissioned new works from a number of British composers whose ideas, language and aesthetic have been informed in some ways by the aforementioned American composers, such as Stephen Chase, Laurence Crane, Richard Emsley, Michael

Notes on contributors


Finnissy, Christopher Fox, Bryn Harrison, John Lely, Tim Parkinson, Michael Parsons, James Saunders, Howard Skempton and Markus Trunk. Solo recordings include releases on ‘another timbre’, ‘HatHut’, ‘Huddersfield Contemporary Records’, ‘Bruce’s Fingers’, ‘Edition Wandelweiser’ and ‘sub rosa’, featuring music by Laurence Crane, Michael Finnissy, Christopher Fox, Jürg Frey, Richard Glover, Bryn Harrison, Tim Parkinson, Michael Pisaro, James Saunders and Christian Wolff. Dr James Weeks read Music at Cambridge before completing a PhD in Composition at Southampton University, studying with Michael Finnissy. His music has been commissioned and performed by many leading performers including London Sinfonietta, Apartment House, Quatuor Bozzini, Alison Balsom, EXAUDI, Morgan/Dullea, Wandelweiser, New London Chamber Choir, Uroboros Ensemble, Endymion, Anton Lukoszevieze and Christopher Redgate. He has been performed at UK and European festivals and venues including City of London, Spitalfields and Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festivals, Gaudeamus (Amsterdam), Quincena Musical (San Sebastian), de Bijloke (Ghent), Wandelweiser (Düsseldorf, Munich), Weimarer Frühjahrstage and Mafra (Portugal). His music is heard regularly on BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now, and in 2012 he signed to University of York Music Press. As a conductor, he is best known for his work with the contemporary specialists EXAUDI, the vocal ensemble he founded with the soprano Juliet Fraser in 2002. With them he maintains a busy international touring schedule, collaborating regularly with the world’s leading composers, new music soloists and ensembles, and has released six acclaimed CDs, of Finnissy, Fox, Lutyens and Skempton on Mode, NMC and Metier. Prof. Arnold Whittall is Emeritus Professor at King’s College London, and taught previously in Cambridge, Nottingham and Cardiff. He has also served as a visiting professor at Yale University, and lectured extensively in Europe and America. He was instrumental in expanding and promoting studies in music theory and analysis at King’s, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate topics concerning music since 1900. In 1982 he became the first Professor of Music Theory and Analysis at a British university, and collaborated with Jonathan Dunsby on Music Analysis in Theory and Practice (Faber Music, 1988). His list of publications began in the 1960s with two articles on Benjamin Britten, and his first book was a BBC Music Guide, Schoenberg Chamber Music, followed by Music since the First World War, a text that eventually transformed itself into Musical Composition in the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 1999). He has also written extensively on Wagner and other aspects of nineteenth-century music. In 2000–1 Arnold Whittall gave a special series of six London University lectures to mark the turn of the millennium which became Exploring Twentieth-Century Music: Tradition and Innovation (Cambridge University Press, 2003). He has recently written the


Notes on contributors

Introduction to Serialism (Cambridge, 2008), and The Wagner Style: Close Readings and Critical Perspectives (Plumbago Books, 2015). Prof. Gregory Woods is Emeritus Professor of Gay and Lesbian Studies at Nottingham Trent University. Since his earliest scholarly publication, a group edition of Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ for Cambridge University Press (1975), he has published many essays and reviews in Britain, Italy, Norway, Finland, Australia and the United States. As well as with literature, these have dealt with queer politics, film and cultural studies. His main academic book is the 240,000-word A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition, commissioned by Yale University Press and published by them in 1998. It was the first such history to be published. From 2004 to 2013, he chaired the Gender Studies expert panel on the European Science Foundation’s project to develop a European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH). He was a member of the peer review colleges of the European Science Foundation and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, assessing funding applications in gay and lesbian studies; and was a strategic reviewer for the latter, the AHRC. He has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and is a founding Fellow of the English Association.

Introduction Ian Pace and Nigel McBride

In March 1977, Oliver Knussen noted that ‘Michael Finnissy is a young composer – 30 last year – whose reputation has been steadily growing since his first professional performance more than a decade ago (Le dormeur du val (1963–8) at a Macnaghten concert in November 1965).1 He has been repeatedly performed at contemporary music festivals on the Continent where he has scored considerable success, but his work (despite an ‘underground’ reputation) remains virtually unplayed in his own country.’2 As of 2018, now an Emeritus Professor of Composition at Southampton University, Finnissy’s seventieth birthday has just been celebrated, featuring global performances of his works, a year-long, eleven-concert festival of his complete piano works performed by Ian Pace between Oxford, London, and other parts of the UK, a weekend celebration of his works at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and a significant two-day conference on Finnissy’s work at City, University of London, which was the impetus for the present volume. Furthermore, Finnissy’s oeuvre now stands at around 500 works (not including various discarded pieces, juvenilia, film and theatre scores), some relatively large sub-sections of which – such as aleatoric and indeterminate composition, sacred music, work for amateurs, or organ composition – might have seemed peripheral twenty, let alone forty years ago. In contrast with Knussen’s account of Finnissy as a thirty-year-old, Finnissy is now a globally significant composer within the New Music world, with over thirty CDs of his work, many international performances, and a wider influence through numerous students and students of students. Many works previously considered practically unplayable now have a whole series of international interpreters. Yet, a cursory search on RILM Abstracts of Music Literature for entries related to ‘Finnissy’ returns 82 hits. A comparable search for Finnissy’s contemporary ‘[Brian] Ferneyhough’ yields 307, and a search for ‘[Harrison] Birtwistle’ proffers 305. The contributions of Finnissy and Ferneyhough to international trends in New Music on a technical, aesthetic, performative, and musical level are monumental, but neither has quite achieved the more ‘mainstream’ status we can attribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle. Perhaps something of Knussen’s account of Finnissy holds true forty years later in terms of scholarly attention.



Despite the comparative lack of scholarship on Finnissy, much of it is of high academic value. The multifarious nature of Finnissy’s diverse and often extreme output has resulted in an equally diverse range of approaches to the study of his music. To date there have been two full volumes published on Finnissy’s work. The first was the influential Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy published in 1997, featuring an extensive and highly illuminating interview with Finnissy, and individual essays from Julian Anderson, Christopher Fox, Ian Pace and Roger Redgate.3 Sixteen years later, in conjunction with a CD release, Pace published his single-author monograph Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation, an extremely detailed exegesis of Finnissy’s five-and-a-half-hour magnum opus for piano (hereafter simply the History).4 Most early publications on Finnissy’s work were either informative if relatively general articles on his composition as a whole or descriptive pieces, sometimes extended reviews, on individual works.5 One major exception was a longer article on Finnissy’s piano music by Brian Ferneyhough, written in 1978 to accompany a projected Australian recording of English Country-Tunes (1977, rev. 1982–5), but not published until 1995.6 In what is still a remarkable piece of writing today, written at a time when Finnissy’s output for piano was a fraction of the size it is today, Ferneyhough gave an extremely detailed account of Finnissy’s gestural language, multi-dimensional relationships between his musical materials, and approach to rhythm and metre, focusing upon Song 9 (1968), all.fall.down (1977) and to a lesser extent English CountryTunes. Ferneyhough also provided some contextualisation for Finnissy’s work in the form of influential works and traditions, including Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata, Pierre Boulez’s Structures, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X, and the approach to transforming found musical materials seen in the work of Franco Donatoni, not to mention earlier precedents such as the piano music of Charles Valentin Alkan and Franz Liszt. Many of these themes were developed by later commentators and scholars. The first serious musicological attention given to Finnissy came in the form of Richard Toop’s influential 1988 article, ‘Four Facets of the “New Complexity”’.7 Toop sought points of unity and divergence between the four composers considered and their work – Richard Barrett, Chris Dench, James Dillon and Michael Finnissy. Toop himself acknowledged the potential short-livedness of the moniker, but the term ‘the New Complexity’ has survived well into the new century, not only to describe the composers Toop discussed, but also newer generations. While the description did succeed in capturing something of the character of the works it applied to, it was not without its drawbacks. Various composers were unhappy, not least Finnissy: MICHAEL FINNISSY: It horrifies me that people say the music is complex. It isn’t, except in a very superficial detailed kind of way. It’s complex if you accept that human beings are complex, and that all art is complex.



But to say that it’s complex with the implication that somehow it’s not ‘refined’, enough, or that somehow it should conform to the ideals of an 18th-century French garden – you know, geometric precision, economy of pitch-statement à la Webern: that’s completely ridiculous. Hardly any music is like that, and critics who think that contemporary music ought to be, have got their heads stuffed up their arses.8 Toop’s article also included the first sketch-based work on Finnissy’s music. On the basis of access to Finnissy’s sketches, he outlined his ways of transforming a small series of pitches derived from a Verdi melody to supply closepacked trichords which are then used to create a para-microtonal type of linear writing employed in the first of the Verdi Transcriptions (1972–2005). He also traced the dramatic structure of the String Trio (1986), its use of a vocabulary of rhythmic cells and their distribution, and the employment of a pitch sequence derived from Mahler’s Ninth Symphony as an underlying cantus firmus for the work as a whole. The early 1990s was a transitional period for Finnissy, as some of his previous admirers remained ambivalent about his turn towards sacred composition in such works as The Cambridge Codex (1991), Seven Sacred Motets (1991), Anima Christi (1991) and the Liturgy of Saint Paul (1991–5). Furthermore, his stage works Thérèse Raquin (1992–3, rev. 1997, 2006) and Shameful Vice (1994–5) received very mixed responses from critics. However, as 1996, the year of his fiftieth birthday, approached, several commentators used the occasion to form broader perspectives upon what was already a substantial output of over 200 works. In 1995, Richard Barrett identified many recurrent features and concerns: musical influences and parallels, in the forms of tribute pieces to various composers, settings of works of others (such as Machaut, Obrecht, Verdi and Gershwin), and then more complex machinations upon a range of found materials from art and folk musics; particular types of instrumentation, including works with indeterminate scorings; the employment of texts (in many languages) and theatrical traditions from the York Mystery Plays, through music-hall and Japanese ritual theatre, to experimental contemporary Polish work; the use of quasi-cinematic montage; and very individual approaches to musical notation.9 Of particular importance in this overview was Barrett’s acknowledgement of the changing role of musical allusion: One obvious development in Finnissy’s music between the early works and the Gershwin and Verdi pieces is a greatly increased confidence in allowing the inherited material to occupy more of the foreground.10 However, in a broad article like this, space did not permit a wider discussion of the musical, or other reasons for this shift. As in the History, and as addressed later in Max Erwin’s chapter on the Political Agendas (1989–2016) in the present volume, Finnissy utilises varying levels of salience in his quoted



material in order to project the opportunity for a more coherent commentary through the semantically rich materials he weaves together. In another article in the same volume as Barrett’s, theatre director Lynn Williams presented the first extended writing on Finnissy’s theatrical works.11 Focusing in some depth on the then relatively recent The Undivine Comedy (1985–9, rev. 2017), Williams elucidated the conflicts between the spiritual and earthly dimensions of the work, as well as drawing it into a comparison with Philip Glass’s Akhnaten and exploring Finnissy’s use of different forms of intervallic emphasis as a structural device. She went on to give a brief account of Finnissy’s little-known 1970s theatrical works such as Tsuru-Kame (1971–3), Circle, Chorus and Formal Act (1973), and Tom Fool’s Wooing (then 1975–8, subsequently revised 2015) and then the subsequent group of works Mr Punch (1976–9), Vaudeville (1983–7) and Soda Fountain (1983), including a significant amount of interview material with the composer. This article, combining both theatrical and musical perspectives, served to introduce a new range of readers to this important component of Finnissy’s output, and its engagement with ritualistic and archetypal approaches to the medium, in contrast to a predominantly realistic music-theatrical aesthetic which then and now continues to dominate in the UK. In a two-part article, Ian Pace presented a related if somewhat distinct overview, considering first Finnissy’s approach to register, harmonic fields, use of intervals, and structures derived from these; the employment of binary oppositions, influenced by the work of anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and others; a brief consideration of ideas from the cinema, and then from literature, theatre and the visual arts; the relationship between line and structure, instrumentation and indeterminacy; Finnissy’s relationship to earlier post-war European modernists, tribute pieces and the use of found source materials; transcription as a central concern; Finnissy’s once-contentious turn to sacred music in the early 1990s; his interest in folk musics, focusing on the series of works with Japanese, Javanese, Sardinian, Balkan, Central Asian, Australian and Native American allusions, the engagement with English traditions and evocations of an imaginary ‘England’, and the ‘metafolkloristic’ cycle Folklore (1993–4), which was then Finnissy’s most extended work for piano.12 In a briefer article, Jonathan Cross focused on then-recent work, such as the piano trio In Stiller Nacht (1990, rev. 1997) and its allusions to Brahms, Glad day (1994) for baroque-style orchestra, alluding to Henry Purcell but also a motet by the Scottish composer Robert Carver, a little on the Verdi Transcriptions and the simultaneous interplay between tonal and atonal music, and the allusions to African-American spirituals in Folklore.13 The publication of Uncommon Ground made available to readers much more comprehensive and detailed overviews of Finnissy’s output, much of it at the time forgotten and little-known except to a few aficionados. It also expanded considerably the range of published analytical and sketch-based study, especially that focused upon compositional process, though some of the contributions could be argued with hindsight to be a little hagiographic.



Pace’s sketch-based work on G.F.H. (1986) delineated the compositional processes used to construct the work, noting in particular the role of both quasi-serial operations combined with random-permutations applied to the original source material, taken from Handel, in order to generate new pitch and rhythmic content, and then further transform this in turn.14 Similarly, in his analysis of William Billings (1990–1), Pace identified a distinct approach towards the quoted material from Billings’ own hymn tunes, involving fragmentation and re-assemblage of the source material.15 Pace’s reading of Folklore, however, set out a methodology for close examination of Finnissy’s most complex transformations and also the types of intercuttings between contrasting materials which are used for dramatic effect.16 The folk materials used by Finnissy in the construction of Folklore were contrasted in their original (and unmodified) forms against the transformed counterparts from the score itself, while an exhaustive catalogue clarified the trails of reference such as form a type of hidden narrative (also encompassing the composer’s personal ‘folklore’, through allusions to musics important to him at an early age).17 Roger Redgate’s chapter on Finnissy’s chamber music focused upon the ways in which Finnissy articulates multi-dimensional temporal schemes, particularly in the works Afar (1966–7), as when upon a trancèd summer night (1966–8), and alongside (1979). Redgate discussed the various facets of Finnissy’s notation which contribute in undermining the sensation of regular metrical groupings, including the roles of barlines and differing lengths of simultaneous phrase structures.18 In his discussion of the orchestral music, Julian Anderson examined all of the orchestral works, especially their delineation of points, lines and chords (which had some roots in some of the broad parametric approaches of Boulez and others), as well as identifying particular scales and chordal structures employed by Finnissy.19 Furthermore, an analysis of the temporal structure of Sea and Sky (1979–80) revealed some proportions rooted in Fibonacci sequences.20 Pace considered briefly the use of quasi-cinematic devices (including cuts, dissolves and fades) in some of the early Songs (1966–78) and Snowdrift (1974) for piano, all of which are explored in more detail in the final chapter of this volume. Christopher Fox’s discussion of Finnissy’s vocal music began with the observation that ‘the great piano sets, for example, all in some way transform vocal music for Finnissy’s own digital “voice”, the keyboard’.21 Considering Maldon (1991), Fox noted that Finnissy is not generally concerned with “good” word-setting’, rather he treats the textual elements of songs as a pseudo-schemata of timbres, consonants and vowels.22 This creates a curious situation in which the idiom which for Finnissy could be the most direct, in terms of extra-musical narratives, actually becomes among the most abstract. Fox framed Finnissy’s approach to choosing and employing texts in terms of cinematic techniques, by which the text is considered in terms of ‘the “establishing” shot’, ‘“reaction” shots’, and ‘a montage of “cut-aways”’.23 Fox also provided detailed technical analysis of Finnissy’s



vocal writing, focusing particularly on the evolving lines and structural use of different vocal groupings in Finnissy’s vocal sextet Kelir (1981).24 Pace’s chapter on Finnissy’s theatrical works, picking up from and extending the treatment of the subject by Williams, featured sketch-based studies of The Undivine Comedy, Thérèse Raquin and Shameful Vice, as well as chronicling the exegeses of Finnissy’s earlier theatrical works. He began by situating Finnissy’s first acknowledged theatrical work Tsuru-Kame (1971–3) in the context of ritual theatre, in which the traditional dramatic scaffolding of dialogue and story-telling are supplanted in favour of ‘a focus on ritual and a communion with the elemental, pre-rational aspects of the mind’.25 TsuruKame is notable in the context of Finnissy’s wider output from the 1970s, as it introduced the gagaku-style counterpoint that would emerge in other non-Japanese inspired works such as alongside and Seven Sacred Motets.26 Pace also dwelt at some length here on the nature of Finnissy’s revisions of works such as The Undivine Comedy; following the first production, Finnissy modified the work to alleviate fears that the instrumental forces lacked character, and to ensure that the ensemble writing would support the dramatic narratives.27 There have been several interviews with Finnissy since the publication of Uncommon Ground, but the ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’ featured in that volume is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging, and has become something of an essential piece of reading for student composers interested in Finnissy’s work. It is this article that introduced a multi-faceted Finnissy to the reader, in which the binary oppositions and unlikely pairings that are so integral to the effect of much of his work are also reflected in his thinking about music and culture more generally: When I was a student I was made fun of by the other composers who were my contemporaries, because I liked Tchaikovsky and I was ready to defend composers like Tchaikovsky, Bellini and Verdi, who were – and probably still are – out of favour with the modernists. […] playing for ballet classes, I really enjoyed improvising in that style of music yet I also liked to go to concerts of Webern.28 Not only does the incidental account of Finnissy’s indifference to compositional orthodoxies and schools demonstrate the multifarious influences that are frequently referred to in his works, it also subtly introduces the tension present in Finnissy’s relation to the mainstream new music world. By identifying with the poet Arthur Rimbaud, Finnissy characterised himself as an ‘outsider’ in the New Music world, which forms a recurring trope that emerges not only in the kinds of narratives that surround Finnissy’s reception, but is also evidenced in the frequently unorthodox analytical approaches that are applied to the study of his work.29 Finnissy featured regularly in the first wave of writing on the ‘new complexity’. The origins of the term are a little ambiguous: Roddy Hawkins cites



a 1982 review by Keith Potter of an opera by Oliver Knussen;30 Richard Toop suggests around 1980 by the composer Nigel Osborne;31 Finnissy gives an earlier date of 1978 and attributes the term to the late critic and writer Harry Halbreich.32 Few of the composers routinely associated with the term have been fond of it, but it has persisted (and much promotional literature in particular has continued to evoke it).33 The first major article on musical ‘complexity’ was published by François Nicolas in 1987,34 but this did not mention the term ‘nouvelle complexité’ and considered no composers other than Ferneyhough. By contrast, in his influential article ‘Four Faces of the “New Complexity”’ from the following year,35 Richard Toop presented Finnissy, alongside Ferneyhough (who does not however feature in the article, as Toop had discussed his work amply elsewhere) as the elder figures in a ‘school’, with James Dillon, Chris Dench, and the younger Richard Barrett. For a while, the type of ‘school’ consolidated by Toop, around three younger British composers whose own work more obviously resembled that of Finnissy (and Xenakis) than Ferneyhough, was reflected in other publications on musical complexity.36 Composers clearly influenced by Ferneyhough, such as Klaus K. Hübler, Alessandro Melchiorre, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, James Erber or Roger Redgate, occupied a more marginal position in this body of literature, though a review of the Darmstadt courses of 1988 by Keith Potter suggests that a view was well developed by which, alongside Ferneyhough, ‘Barrett, Dench and Dillon (probably not Finnissy, though maybe some of the others [James Clarke, Richard Emsley, James Erber and Roger Redgate])’ were ‘the 1980s equivalents of the 1950s serialists in their quest for a synthesis of intellectual rigour and musical forms consistent with acoustic realities’ (editor’s emphasis).37 It is not surprising that by this stage, when Finnissy had recently completed the first book of Gershwin Arrangements (1975–1988) as well as works with titles such as Catchpenny Rhymes (1986), Red Earth (1988) or the Beuk o’Newcassel Sangs (1988), that his work would have been seen at an increasing distance from such a movement, issues considered in the chapter by Christopher Fox in Chapter 1 of this volume. An article by Mahnkopf in a 1990 mini-symposium in German initiated a shift towards a different focus upon a long historical tradition whose contemporary representatives were selected much more in terms of their relationship to Ferneyhough.38 A similar if less didactic attempt at outlining a complex ‘tradition’ came in a subsequent article by Ulrich Mosch,39 and many publications since the late 1990s, especially those by Mahnkopf, have continued in this vein.40 Toop, in a later article, appeared rather daunted by the debate that he had unleashed and, like Mahnkopf, Mosch and others, attempted to broaden the concept to encompass a long period of polyphonic music.41 A substantial monograph on ‘new complexity’ published in 2008 by the French writer Nicolas Darbon, the first of its type, was centred around Ferneyhough but still made plenty of space for Finnissy, though most of the relevant material was essentially a paraphrase of other existing scholarship.42



Then two years later, a doctoral dissertation by Roddy Hawkins, an intellectual and cultural history of the very concept of ‘complexity’ and thus associated with it, developed the ‘two complexities’ thesis, identifying two ‘spheres of influence’, one in Germany around Ferneyhough, the other in Britain around Finnissy, which served as a valuable synthesis of the divergent paths within writing on the subject.43 While this model works mostly well for the focus of this thesis (Britain from the 1970s until the late 1980s), its geographical reach needs to be broadened when considering later periods, as both Finnissy and Ferneyhough’s teaching and influence have spread wider, and some of their students have themselves had students and generated spheres of influence.44 Hawkins’ thesis focuses upon both performers (not least the ensembles Suoraan and Exposé) and ‘cultural intermediaries’ (such as Keith Potter, Richard Steinitz, Graham Hayter, Roger Wright, and also composer Christopher Fox) for their role in building and consolidating the reputations of various composers. He was also one of the first to cast a more critical eye over some aspects of the public construction of Finnissy as found in both journalistic and scholarly literature, especially themes of exile and marginality,45 which are developed further in his chapter in this volume. Hawkins looked in particular at the early reception of World (1968–74) and Pathways of Sun and Stars (1976), comparing this with that of then-contemporary works of Ferneyhough and elucidating early constructions of Finnissy as influenced by, but distinct from, the European modernist mainstream. Like other commentators (including Richard Barrett in this volume), he also considered the important role of Finnissy’s alongside for younger figures, and then the importance of Finnissy’s work as a pianist in ensembles Suoraan and Exposé, and his performances at the British Music Information Centre, upon which he expands further in this volume. Overall, Hawkins’ thesis serves as an invaluable resource in terms of reception and quasi-institutional history (in the sense of complex composers, and those around them, as an ‘institution’) though he does not deal with other aspects (compositional, performance-related, analytical, referential) of individual works of Finnissy or others. In 2003, Maarten Beirens produced an important article on Folklore,46 which is referenced extensively in Lauren Redhead’s contribution to this volume. Following Pace’s detailed account of the sources employed in the work and their transformation, Beirens focused more broadly upon the nature of the contrasts and drama embodied in the work, identifying ‘filtering’ as a crucial component of the piece. He went on to explore themes of marginalisation and the figure of the ‘outsider’ in a manner more reminiscent of Cross than in Hawkins’ later work, arriving at hermeneutical, quasiprogrammatic readings of parts of the work as a result which were distinct from those of Pace (for example, Beirens reads the use of Rumanian melodies in Folklore II in relation to the Ceaucescu regime, and dwells further on the function of folk music in regimes propounding a socialist realist aesthetic,



and how this related to the politics of Cornelius Cardew, whose music is also referenced in the cycle). Since the publication of Uncommon Ground, the most significant addition to Finnissy’s output has been his monumental The History of Photography in Sound (1995–2000) for solo piano, which weights-in at five-and-a-half hours and was premiered complete by Ian Pace in January 2001. Christopher Fox wrote an overview of the work and some of its conceptual and other concerns (not least relating to the writings of Roland Barthes) in an article published in 2002, following the second complete performance in Leuven, Belgium in October 2001. In particular, Fox raised the important questions of the discernibility of Finnissy’s musical ‘photographs’ and the meaning of composing in a para-semiotic fashion; he included some anecdotal evidence from playing sections of the cycle to students. Richard Beaudoin published an article five years later which examined in great detail the opening of the eighth chapter of the cycle, Kapitalistisch Realisme.47 Distancing himself from the source-based approaches of Pace and others, Beaudoin instead concentrated upon the immanent properties of the resulting work, claiming that ‘we are engaged by its handling of musical materials on its own terms’.48 Beaudoin took something of a hard-line formalist approach, working on the assumption ‘that both performer and listener are unaware of all original source material, or at least are unable to link the two in real time when encountering the History’, though immediately tempered this to a wish to ‘investigate the piece without overemphasizing the cultural importance of its source material’.49 He also argued rather sweepingly that ‘almost none of the quotations can be heard’.50 Fox’s article suggested on the contrary that even if the specific sources could not be identified by students, nonetheless they had a sense of some of the wider generic qualities, for example of hymn-like material. Beaudoin himself could not avoid mentioning Finnissy’s obvious Ivesian allusion to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the beginning of the work. Nonetheless, he attempted to downplay its significance, focusing instead on the precise details of the configuration, and then went on to explore some of the resulting tonal implications of Finnissy’s superimposed materials (working under the assumption – which may be contingent upon approaches to performance – that they will be heard by listeners as part of a unified whole). These issues and Beaudoin’s article are further addressed by Ian Pace in Chapter 3 of this volume. Beaudoin also included two reproductions of pages of sketches, which made visually manifest some of the detailed ‘edits’ employed by Finnissy during the compositional process. A later article by Beaudoin and Joseph Moore is much closer to the mainstream of Finnissy scholarship. This explored Finnissy’s Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sind (1992), based on a Bach chorale prelude, in the context of earlier transcriptions of Bach by Busoni, Ignaz Friedman, Webern and Stravinsky, and christened the process of rendering a musical source in a new musical ‘dialect’ as transdialection (though found that this term had a history of its own).51



In 2013, Pace published his own monograph on the work after some ten years’ gestation, which engaged with various concerns of Fox and Beaudoin and many others. Above all, this book combined a strong emphasis upon compositional process – in an attempt at demystification – based upon exclusive access to Finnissy’s complete collection of sketches; it stands as by far the most comprehensive sketch-study to date of any of Finnissy’s music.52 This was combined with a series of critical explorations of various hermeneutic themes and implications of the cycle, examining issues of post-colonial representation and appropriation in the context of the chapters North American Spirituals and Unsere Afrikareise, meanings of popular culture and its interactions with militarism in My parents’ generation thought War meant something, Beethoven as a symbol of the composer as entrepreneur in Kapitalistisch Realisme, issues of gay culture, consumerism, archaism and masculinity in Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets and Sizilianische Männerakte, and the dichotomy between expressionism and rationalism in Eadweard Muybridge – Edvard Munch. Pace provided exacting detail of the sources of practically every quoted material in the cycle and the nature of their transformations, and the highly complicated structural workings at both microscopic and macroscopic levels of the work, but also considered aspects of the wider harmonic working at medium-range levels, arriving at somewhat different conclusions to Beaudoin. The second chapter of the monograph, in particular, ‘Material as Archetype in The History of Photography in Sound’, set up a methodology for examining the cycle as a whole through assembling disparate materials into three ‘macro-categories’ of Chords, Gestures, and Lines (relating to Anderson’s earlier identifications), each of which are further divided into sub-categories.53 While this methodology was developed with the History in mind, it can facilitate the analysis of Finnissy’s works from across his output. The release of the CD and monograph of the History stimulated a free literary fantasia from Arnold Whittall, setting the work in a wider context of British music, including Vaughan Williams, Britten, Tippett and Peter Maxwell Davies, as well as that of Charles Ives in particular.54 Whittall concentrated especially upon Pace’s observation that the end of the History consisted of an affirmatory near-cadence into E-flat major which then dissolves, and also one of the key motives from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, reflecting Whittall’s much wider Wagnerian expertise. In an attempt to expand Pace’s range of reference, Whittall also related the History to the work of Berg, specifically the Violin Concerto and operas Wozzeck and Lulu, and even to some of Maxwell Davies’ Naxos Quartets. Performance of Finnissy’s music has received only a relatively small amount of sustained treatment. Amongst the most important contributions to this subject remains Philip Thomas’ 1999 PhD thesis, dealing with interpretation of a range of contemporary composers, but in which Finnissy was a regular presence. Thomas considered at some length the nature of Finnissy’s notation, the role of the bar line, beaming, dynamics, tempo, rhythm, grace notes figurations and their relation to time, Finnissy’s own performances and



recordings, the function of work titles and the relationship of the music to improvisation. The thesis is also valuable for the inclusion of original interview material with Finnissy himself and several other pianists relating to their experiences of performing Finnissy’s compositions.55 Pace wrote a section about Finnissy in a wider article on notation, time and performance of contemporary music, looking briefly at the Verdi Transcriptions and Gershwin Arrangements (revisited in Chapter 3 of this book),56 and also included a chapter on performance in his monograph on the History,57 though this was small in comparison to the attention given to the work’s composition and meanings. A series of articles authored or co-authored by Amanda Bayley relating to rehearsals and performances of the Second String Quartet (2006–7) made bold claims for a new methodology. In an article relating to a DVD released relatively soon afterwards (essentially a database of filmed or scanned materials), Bayley and Michael Clarke presented their approach, essentially independently of other Finnissy scholarship, through consideration of successive stages between composition, rehearsal, performance and reflection of the work, with some of these stages feeding back into the others.58 They drew upon a series of interviews, recordings of rehearsals, performances, questionnaires and discussion between composer and performers. This approach was said to examine ‘all aspects of creativity’ compared to ‘conventional text-based analysis’. A large part of the article was spent discussing and promoting the methodology and associated software, but some of the actual findings have been covered in more detail elsewhere. For example, Bayley and Clarke noted that the individual parts of the quartet are unsynchronized, with no score, but this is true of many other Finnissy works (see Philip Thomas’ extensive treatment of the subject in Chapter 2 of this book), and this compositional strategy has been discussed extensively in earlier literature. Furthermore, a large number of musicians have developed corresponding performance practices, but this was not considered by Bayley and Clarke. A simple block diagram was given of which players are active at various points during the piece, turning into diagrammatic form the type of information collected in early descriptive reviews. However, there was no consideration of the pitch or rhythmic content of the musical material, how the performers might respond to this, or how the work relates to pre-existing materials or styles (other than to mention that Finnissy referenced Haydn’s String Quartet op. 64 no. 5 in rehearsal). A further 2011 article by Bayley alone sought to locate this type of approach within the scholarly sub-discipline of ‘ethnomusicology at home’,59 but again spent a good deal of the article extolling the merits of the approach rather than proceeding to investigate in depth the music, rehearsal process, performance or reflection. The method did not involve an analytical approach to score or performance (going little beyond saying, for example, that the use of portamento and vibrato provides a more ‘romantic’ interpretation), but drew extensively upon rather incidental information picked up through filming, without engaging critically with pronouncements by



Finnissy or the quartet members. Nonetheless, this article did include some interesting figures on percentages of time spent on play, co-ordination, sound quality, and general conversation. Otherwise, much of its content would be unremarkable to those with even a small degree of familiarity with this music and its performance, while it is not clear how much of what is said would not be equally applicable to numerous other composers and performers, so the contribution specifically to understanding Finnissy may be slight. A further article published in French contained some valuable interview material from Finnissy and copies of some sketches,60 and used a few musical examples to demonstrate some basic textural similarities between Finnissy’s work and some of its sources. The nature of Finnissy’s transformations of source into final work was not however explored in the manner of the work of Toop, Pace, Beaudoin and others, nor the implications of this for performance. A more focused and practical approach towards performance scholarship was taken by Graziela Bortz in her 2003 doctoral thesis, ‘Rhythm in the music of Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Finnissy, and Arthur Kampela: a guide for performers’.61 Bortz proposed four strategies, with a chapter on each, for dealing with complex rhythms in the work of the three named composers: strategy 1: Least Common Denominator; strategy 2: Calculating changes of tempo by finding the new metronome marking of an entire ratio; strategy 3: Finding New Metronome Markings in Irrational Meters; and strategy 4: Calculating the metronome marking of the last sub-ratio in a nested rhythm. In the introduction Bortz stated that ‘Finnissy’s music does not present nested tuplets, he uses series of different consecutive ratios in independent lines, each line dividing the measure differently’.62 This is incorrect. The Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996), English Country-Tunes, the History, Yvaroperas 1 and 2 (1993–5), and other Finnissy works use this rhythmic construction. However, Bortz’s dissertation is the most extensive resource on preparing the sorts of rhythms one might find in Finnissy’s scores, focusing on two works, Banumbirr (1982–6), for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, and …above earth’s shadow (1985), for solo violin and ensemble. On the latter Bortz concluded from Finnissy’s performance indications that the vertical coordination of the two violin parts is to be approximate, and the flow of the music matters more.63 This can be understood in the context of Finnissy’s other works as a localised point of asynchronicity, rather than the aberration of strict rhythmic writing, which Bortz seems to suggest. Bortz also demonstrated how in her view, the ‘least common denominator’ approach can be applied to achieve rhythmic fluency, applied the various methods outlined to both the above-mentioned works, and then combined strategies one and two to apply to a section of Banumbirr (1982–6).64 Michael Hooper, like Bayley and Clarke, also looks at a collaborative process (though in a quite different fashion), in this case between Finnissy and oboist Christopher Redgate in the composition of Greatest hits of all time (2003).65 Hooper examined Finnissy’s treatment of the source material from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (which is employed simultaneously with other material



derived from Beethoven, Mahler and Korean court music), commenting that ‘it is as if compressing the Vivaldi into six bars has heightened each of its constituent elements’.66 The crux of Hooper’s discussion was the collaboration between Finnissy and Redgate, specifically focusing on Redgate’s search for a consistent means of producing the extended ranges requested by Finnissy. There are a number of other articles which warrant consideration here. Larry Goves’ article ‘Michael Finnissy and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Composer as Anthropologist’ applies Timothy Ingold’s metaphor of the ‘wayfarer’ to Finnissy’s output.67 In the article, Goves characterised Ingold’s methodology (which could be argued to be equally applicable to almost any composer) by outlining two distinct kinds of travel. One of these is ‘wayfaring’, which is a transformative approach to travel in which the wayfarer is movement, continually travelling, as where ‘transport’ is a goal-oriented mode of locomotion.68 Goves was correct to identify that Finnissy’s approach to quotations and allusions is transformative, though this has already been demonstrated through others’ detailed technical analyses. However, he did not go beyond an initial summary of how, say, Cibavit eos uses verbatim material from Mozart, and inserts ‘sections of new decorative linear writing’;69 this makes it harder to argue a convincing case for Finnissy as a wayfarer. Goves’ article is a useful account of Finnissy as an anthropologist, as opposed to an ethnographer, but then the question remains of what subject exactly is he an anthropologist? The wayfarer may transform that which he encounters, but it is not unreasonable to conceive of Finnissy transforming his own mythos, incorporating elements from his real surroundings, something which he alludes to in the preface to the History: ‘History’ in the title conveys ‘remembered or invented past and present’; or ‘a chronological continuum’; or ‘the appearance and stylistic attributes of previous and current eras’.70 Georgios Theocharous’s ‘Not Too Violent: The Fall Of Notation In Michael Finnissy’s Autumnall For Solo Piano’ was considerably more problematic, because of a cursory knowledge demonstrated of Finnissy’s work and its musical context.71 Starting from an antagonistic and rather caricatured view of so-called ‘Darmstadt composers’ and associated performers who had ‘to read the unreadable and render the unrenderable’, via a detour, a rather tortured discussion of the spelling of Autumnall (1968–71), Theocharous went on to discuss Finnissy’s use of measured and unmeasured rests in the piece. He accounted for the shift between both of these in terms of a technical deficiency in Finnissy’s writing, without allowing the possibility that distinct notational practices might also be performatively and hermeneutically distinct. This was followed by a ‘philosophical reading’ of the piece, though this did not engage with any wider philosophical background, such as that on metaphor theory. Nigel McBride develops this critique in his chapter on ontological implications in Finnissy in Chapter 4 of this volume.



The current volume expands considerably upon previous scholarship and seeks in particular to supplement fruitful areas of research which have previously been neglected or only treated in a cursory fashion: aesthetics and relationship to other aesthetic movements; critical engagements with borrowing and orientalism; Finnissy himself as performer and strategies for performing his music; compositional process and relationship to the compositions of others; notations; and the influence of film. Then there are a series of new studies on works or groups of work which have not previously received sustained scholarly attention. The contributors include musicologists (Whittall, Pace, Hawkins, Beirens, Erwin), performer-scholars (Pace, Thomas, Heyde, Weeks), composers (Fox, McBride, Redhead, Barrett) and a poet and scholar of literature and issues of sexuality (Woods). The first four contributors to this volume all deal with Finnissy’s relationship to different modern musical movements, aesthetics and styles. Christopher Fox focuses upon a series of Finnissy works from the 1970s and early 1980s, in particular Pathways of Sun and Stars and English CountryTunes, as well as later works such as Folklore and The History of Photography in Sound, and relates these to the work and aesthetics of then-contemporary movements in European modernism, especially the new generation of Gérard Grisey, Helmut Lachenmann and Salvatore Sciarrino. He concludes that narrow views of Finnissy as either ‘continental’ or ‘British’ are simplistic, and that his work needs to be viewed in terms of an interaction between these traditions. Philip Thomas looks westwards, in order to consider Finnissy’s relationship to a so-called ‘experimental’ tradition from Charles Ives through John Cage. He considers the relationship of some of Finnissy’s notational strategies, including unsynchronised parts and pure textual instructions, to the work of figures in this tradition, focusing especially upon ‘kit’ pieces such as Post-Christian Survival Kit (2003–5). But Thomas is one of several writers also to filter in Finnissy’s work as a pianist, and considers briefly the composer’s championing of the music of British ‘experimentalists’ such as Howard Skempton, John White, and Laurence Crane in terms of his own music. Much of Finnissy’s work draws upon a range of existing sources, which are invariably transformed in many ways, often quite radically. In Ian Pace’s first chapter, the most extended contribution to the volume, he develops models from the work of J. Peter Burkholder and others on musical borrowing, placing these in the context of a short history of scholarly work on the subject and the work of Gérard Genette on intertextuality, and considers the implications of the resulting models for performance. Furthermore, he considers at length the issue of musical genre and its refractions via Finnissy’s borrowing, in a dialectical relationship with the factor of compositional mediation between borrowed sources and the final work, not least to demonstrate again some of the possible implications for performance. Pace uses a series of examples from Finnissy’s works based on Gershwin, Verdi, Johann Strauss II and Skryabin, to demonstrate how different approaches to performance can be conceived in terms of differing degrees of emphasis of either genre or



mediation, as well as considering briefly how these relate to earlier genres of ‘transcription’ literature. In the first of two chapters, Nigel McBride also considers questions of performance, in relation to fundamental ontological questions appertaining to Finnissy’s work. Taking as a starting point the arguments presented in Theocharous’ article mentioned above, McBride notes the ontological assumptions in this essay, especially the application of a model of the ‘work’ as a type of Platonic ideal over and above particular realisations. He offers an alternative ontological model, drawing on the thought of Jerrold Levinson and Nelson Goodman, whereby Finnissy’s compositions can be fruitfully modelled as a ‘composite of performing-means and their notational realities’. The next four chapters consider multiple identities or personae associated with Finnissy. Roddy Hawkins considers Finnissy’s work as a pianist from when he began to give public concerts in 1977, and how his work in this respect, often playing at ‘fringe’ venues such as the British Music Information Centre in Central London, has informed wider discourses of marginality and ‘outsider’ status. Drawing upon a wide range of archival information, Hawkins surveys the important work Finnissy undertook with ensembles Suoraan, Exposé, and Ixion, and their role in developing the reputations of a range of other composers who have come to be categorised as ‘complex’. The poet and writer Gregory Woods, himself the first of Finnissy’s Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets, delves into the disparate range of poets celebrated by Finnissy in this work, considering their work and poetic tone, politics, relationship to popular culture, development of theories of sexuality, and self-positioning relative to homosexual and other subcultures. This is framed as part of Finnissy’s supposedly ‘personal themes’, alongside other works with explicit references to gay culture, or events involving gay men. Woods argues, however, that to view all such things simply as ‘personal’ reflects unequal sexual hierarchies, even since the end of decriminalisation. James Weeks considers the central role of the human voice and its relationship to line in Finnissy’s work, and goes on to consider two important works for multiple voices (all of which he has directed with the group EXAUDI): Tom Fool’s Wooing (1975–8, rev. 2016), and Gesualdo: Libro Setso (2012–13), and their specific qualities of ‘vocality’ and its relationship to the dramatic aspects of the pieces. Neil Heyde explores the identity of the performer of Finnissy’s compositions, via a detailed consideration of his own collaborations with the composer on a range of pieces for string quartet which he has performed and recorded as cellist of the Kreutzer Quartet, and also Chi Mei Ricercari (2013) for multiple cellos, and its relationship to specific instruments. As well as dwelling upon the function of Finnissy’s notation, like several other contributors to this volume, Heyde also focuses upon Finnissy’s gentle rejection of a ‘projected’ approach to certain strands of musical material in the work, but also the meaning of his quartet’s interactions with recorded bird song in the Third String Quartet (2007–9).



The third group of chapters deals more intensely with composition and the compositional process. Nigel McBride’s second chapter expands on an aspect of his first, in order to give a detailed account of Finnissy’s notational practice, an area often casually remarked upon, but never investigated in detail. He identifies a range of key tendencies across Finnissy’s output, focusing in particular on those types of notation which entail a high degree of indeterminacy of output, not least in some of the ‘kit’ works also discussed by Thomas. Arnold Whittall dwells upon Schoenberg’s favoured term ‘pantonality’ (as opposed to ‘atonality’) as a useful paradigm from which to survey Finnissy’s compositions. He considers how various tonal elements remain intact in several works of Finnissy, not least those which rework older tonal music, and compares this to the work of very different figures who Finnissy nonetheless greatly admires, Howard Skempton and Chris Newman. Lauren Redhead also considers the commonality between Finnissy and Newman, through both composers’ distinct but related strategies for employing borrowed material, and the political connotations of so doing. Redhead applies Newman’s subject-object distinction, alongside Nicholas Bourriaud’s concept of the exform. James Weeks considers quite simply Finnissy’s ‘hand’: the hand that writes, the hand that plays, as extension of the body in motion and by implication the relationship of some of Finnissy’s work to contemporary dance. Presenting Finnissy’s notation as ‘the hand moving across the page’, Weeks also examines the composer’s early training in draughtsmanship, and the relationship between writing and transcription. The last set of chapters is a diverse collection of contextual analysis and specific case studies of Finnissy’s work. Maarten Beirens situates Finnissy’s folk music-based works, in particular Folklore and Unsere Afrikareise, in the context of a wider tradition of compositional folklorism from the twentieth century, including the African influences upon Steve Reich and the work of György Ligeti. Beirens draws Finnissy’s work into the context of debates on ‘orientalism’, as theorised in particular by Edward Said. He reads these works relative to common critical themes relating to exoticism while noting the particularity of Finnissy’s approach. Max Erwin considers Finnissy’s three tripartite Political Agendas, which make reference both to specific political events and also (in the Second Political Agenda, much longer than the other two) to three composers: Satie, Schoenberg and Skryabin. Erwin considers points of contact between the three very different cycles, but also examines the precise concept of the ‘political’ in Finnissy’s music, relating this to other models from John Cage (especially in light of recent scholarship reconsidering the role of Cage’s sexuality) and Cornelius Cardew. Richard Barrett centres his essay on a pivotal work of Finnissy, the ensemble piece alongside, written in 1979 for the London Sinfonietta. Like Fox, Barrett considers in this context Finnissy’s relationship to the post-1945 European avant-garde (though also in this work to Japanese influences from gagaku music), but presents this work as the culmination of such a tendency,



after which Finnissy moved in different directions, away from this degree of abstraction and complexity. Present at the first performance, Barrett also explores this work as a catalyst for a range of younger composers, including James Dillon, Richard Emsley, Chris Dench, James Clarke and himself. In this way it stimulated a further range of composition drawing upon its achievements, at the very same time as Finnissy himself was turning towards a more eclectic music drawing upon found materials. In the final chapter, Ian Pace presents the most in-depth treatment to date of Finnissy’s relationship to film and moving images, considering the subject from multiple perspectives. He surveys models available within the uneven existing body of work on cinematic influences upon music, and also looks to ‘neo-formalist’ film theory for some concepts but also anti-methodological approaches and attitudes to analysis, which can be fruitful for music in general and Finnissy’s heterogeneous body of work in particular. He considers some of the most important film-makers from whom Finnissy drew ideas and inspiration, not least Stan Brakhage, Gregory Markopoulos, Jean-Luc Godard and Pier Paolo Pasolini, and details how in various works Finnissy employs different types of musical ‘montage’ akin to the categories delineated by Sergei Eisenstein. Then he considers the relationship of the work of radical television screenwriter Dennis Potter to Finnissy, especially in parts of the History, and also a little-remarked-upon central influence on this cycle, that of Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma. This volume does not pretend to be comprehensive, nor exhaustive, in terms of potential areas for investigation. For example, there is more to be written about Finnissy’s penchant for revising his works, often in a most extensive fashion (as for example with the stage works The Undivine Comedy or Therese Raquin (1992–3, rev. 1997, 2005)). Also, while various contributors to Uncommon Ground, and also Richard Barrett in his earlier overview, tended to conceptualise Finnissy’s output in terms of two fundamental ‘periods’, the first of which culminated in alongside, the huge growth in Finnissy’s output in the two decades since then, not to mention rediscoveries and revisions of earlier works, suggests a more complex picture, in which several strands of composition which had previously seemed exceptional and uncharacteristic now can be seen as the beginnings of more sustained tendencies. For example, Finnissy’s relatively intense period of sacred composition in the early 1990s (including The Cambridge Codex (1991), Seven Sacred Motets (1991), Anima Christi (1991), Two Motets (1991) and The Cry of the Prophet Zephaniah (1992)), which once seemed a short-lived change of aesthetic direction, could be related back to earlier works such as From the Revelations of St. John the Divine (1965–70) and the Mysteries (1972–9), but also forward to such works as This Church (2001), Post-Christian Survival Kit (2003–5), the first and second Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (2006–7) and various subsequent works, simply in terms of sacred themes, while the particular uses of modal material and elaborate counterpoint thereof in several of these works have clear parallels in many of Finnissy’s secular compositions. The



History might also be viewed as a turning point, even ushering in a ‘third period’, but various contributors here eschew such a monolithic view. Philip Thomas considers a long-term strand of indeterminacy over the breadth of Finnissy’s output, Max Erwin deals a little with the issue of different periods, and Richard Barrett returns to the role of alongside, but periodisation is not a central theme of the present volume (and would perhaps be best dealt with in a single-authored monograph). Nonetheless, this volume provides a series of rigorous, detailed and critical examinations of Finnissy’s music by a distinguished range of expert commentators who variously situate the music in wider musical, theoretical, political and other contexts, and also provide elucidation of processes at play in the music which lie beneath its obvious surface features. Furthermore, many of the approaches and findings have potential implications and applications not only to Finnissy’s music, but for wider scholarship on aesthetics, borrowing, historiography, notation and performance.

Notes 1 This took place on 19 November 1965 at the Arts Council, St James’ Square, featuring the Arrigia String Quartet, Josephine Nendick, mezzo, Suzanne Rozsa, violin, Neil Black, oboe, Susan Bradshaw, piano and celeste, Colin Tilney, piano and harpsichord, and Eric Allen, vibraphone. The rest of the concert featured works of Hans Werner Henze, David Barlow, Alfred Nieman, Karlheinz Stockhausen (his Refrain) and William Walton. See ‘London Diary for November’, The Musical Times, vol. 106, no. 1472 (October 1965), p. 821. 2 Oliver Knussen, ‘Finnissy’s Pathways of Sun & Stars’, Tempo, New Series, no. 120 (March 1977), pp. 48–50. 3 Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998). 4 Ian Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013), available for download at (accessed 5 April 2017). 5 For example Oliver Knussen, ‘Finnissy’s ‘Pathways of Sun & Stars’; Keith Potter, ‘Michael Finnissy’, Classical Music, 1 December 1979; Paul Driver, ‘Michael Finnissy’s ‘alongside’’, Tempo, New Series 132 (March 1980), pp. 42–5; and ‘Michael Finnissy’s ‘Sea and Sky’, Tempo, New Series, nos. 133/134 (September 1980), pp. 82–3. Andrew Clements, ‘Finnissy’s Undivine Comedy’, The Musical Times, vol. 129, no. 1745 (July 1988), pp. 330–2; John Warnaby, ‘Michael Finnissy’, Music and Musicians (February 1988). 6 Brian Ferneyhough, ‘Michael Finnissy: The Piano Music’ (1978), in Collected Writings, edited James Boros and Richard Toop (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers), pp. 183–96. 7 Richard Toop, ‘Four Facets of the “New Complexity”’, Contact 32 (Spring 1988), pp. 4–50. 8 Ibid. p. 5. 9 Richard Barrett, ‘Michael Finnissy – an overview’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 13, no. 1 (1995), pp. 23–43. 10 Ibid. pp. 26–7. 11 Lynn Williams, ‘Reinstating “The Spiritual Quest”’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 13, no. 1 (1995), pp. 45–63.



12 Ian Pace, ‘The Panorama of Michael Finnissy (I)’, Tempo, New Series 196 (April 1996), pp. 25–35; ‘The Panorama of Michael Finnissy (II)’, Tempo, New Series 201 (July 1997), pp. 7–16. 13 Jonathan Cross, ‘Vive la différence’, The Musical Times, vol. 137, no. 1837 (March 1996), pp. 7–13. 14 Ian Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, in Uncommon Ground, pp. 78–81. 15 Ibid. p. 84. 16 Ibid. pp. 113–14. 17 Ibid. pp. 120–2. 18 Roger Redgate, ‘The Chamber Music’, in Uncommon Ground, pp. 135–68. 19 Julian Anderson, ‘The Orchestral Music’, in Uncommon Ground, pp. 169–210. 20 Ibid. pp. 181–3. 21 Christopher Fox, ‘The Vocal Music’, in Uncommon Ground, p. 211. 22 Ibid. pp. 211–12. 23 Ibid. p. 216. 24 Ibid. pp. 236–7. 25 Ian Pace, ‘The Theatrical Works’, in Uncommon Ground, p. 260. 26 Ibid. p. 262. 27 Ibid. pp. 303–16. 28 ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, in Uncommon Ground, p. 4. 29 Ibid. 30 Specifically a preview by Potter of the London premiere of Oliver Knussen’s opera Where the Wild Things Are (1982), in which he says that in some respects ‘Knussen has things in common with a very different group of English composers, who represent what might crudely be called the New Complexity: Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Finnissy, James Dillon and Chris Dench’ (Keith Potter, ‘Wild Romantic Things’, Classical Music, 13 March 1982, p. 17, cited in Roderick Hawkins, ‘(Mis) understanding complexity from Transit to Toop: “New Complexity” in the British Context’, (PhD thesis: University of Leeds, 2010), pp. 8–9). 31 When introducing a concert of works of Dillon and Dench. See Richard Toop, ‘Against a Theory of Musical (New) Complexity’, in Max Paddison and Iréne Deliège, eds., Contemporary Music: Theoretical and Philosophical Perspective (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), p. 89. 32 Michael Finnissy and Marilyn Nonken, ‘Biting the Hand that Feeds You’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 21, no. 1 (2002), p. 75. 33 Roddy Hawkins presents a sophisticated argument by which various composers have tended to evoke the term but simultaneously disown it, thus foregrounding their membership of something bigger but also stressing their individuality at the same time (or, some might say, having their cake and eating it). See Hawkins, ‘(Mis)understanding Complexity’, pp. 89–133. 34 François Nicolas’s article ‘Éloge de la complexité’, Entretemps 3 (1987), pp. 55–68. 35 Richard Toop, ‘Four Facets of the “New Complexity”’, Contact 32 (1988), pp. 4–50. 36 See Jöel Bons (ed.), Complexity in Music? An Inquiry of its Nature, Motivation and Performability (Amsterdam: Job, 1990), based on the eponymous symposium; the two issues of Perspectives of New Music centering upon ‘complexity’, guest-edited by James Boros (vol. 31, no. 1 (1993) and vol. 32, no. 11 (1994)); and the issue of Contemporary Music Review edited by Tom Morgan, entitled Aspects of Complexity in Recent British Music (vol. 13, no. 1 (1995)). Erik Ulman, writing in the second Perspectives issue, listed Ferneyhough, Finnissy, Dench, and Barrett as representatives of the school (Ulman, ‘Some Thoughts on the New Complexity’, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 32, no. 1 (1994), pp. 202–6). 37 Keith Potter, ‘Darmstadt 1988’, Contact 34 (1990), p. 28. 38 Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, ‘Kundgabe. Komplexismus und der Paradigmenwechsel






43 44

45 46 47

Introduction in der Musik’, MusikTexte 35 (1990), pp. 20–32. For the wider symposium, see ibid., pp. 3–40. A good deal of this issue consisted of re-prints in German of material in the Bons volume; Mahnkopf’s own contribution was a significantly expanded version of his own ‘Complexism as a New Step in Musical Evolution’, in Bons, Complexity in Music?, pp. 28–9. Ulrich Mosch. ‘Musikalische Komplexität’, Darmstädter Beiträge zur Neuen Musik 20 (Mainz: Schott, 1994), pp. 120–9. As Mosch points out, the differing meanings of the terms ‘complex’ (complexe) and ‘complicated’ (compliqué) had already been explored in the 1950s by Boris de Schloezer and Marina Scriabine (in their book Problèmes de la musique moderne (Paris: Minuit, 1959)), but this should be considered a distinct if not unrelated debate to that around ‘new complexity.’ See in particular Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Kritik der neuen Musik. Entwurf einer Musik des 21. Jahrhunderts. Eine Streitschrift (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1998); ‘Adornos Kritik der Neuern Musik,’ in Richard Klein and Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf (eds.), Mit den Ohren denken. Adornos Philosophie der Musik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1998), pp. 251–80; ‘Neue Musik am Beginn der Zweiten Moderne’, Merkur 594/595 (1998), pp. 864–75; and ‘Complex Music: An Attempt at a Definition,’ trans. Frank Cox, in Mahnkopf, Frank Cox, and Wolfram Schurig (eds.), Polyphony & Complexity (Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 2002), pp. 54–64. In the latter, Mahnkopf lists the 1980s complex composers as Dench, Finnissy, Barrett, Redgate, Erber, Dillon, the earlier Ole Lützlow-Holm, René Wohlhauser, Hübler, Frank Cox, and Mahnkopf himself, followed in the 1990s by Wolfram Schurig, Brice Pauset, Aaron Cassidy, Wieland Hoban, Simieon Pironkoff, Claude Lenners, Franck Christoph Yeznikian, Ian Willcock, and Mark André, whilst identifying as engaged with similar issues the following composers: Steven Kazuo Takasugi, Chaya Czernowin, Amrio Garuti, Gerald Eckert, Liza Lim, Walter Feldmann, Klaus Ospald, James Clarke, and Erik Ulman. Lützlow-Holm and Dillon are seen as having distanced themselves from complexism, though oddly Finnissy is not mentioned in this context. Richard Toop, ‘“New Complexity” and After: a Personal Note’, in Mahnkopf et al, Polyphony and Complexity, pp. 133–5; also Toop, ‘Against a Theory of Musical (New) Complexity,’ pp. 89–97 (this article was originally published in French in 2001). Chris Dench takes a similar line in his essay ‘Complexity and Polyphony’, ibid., pp. 180–7. Nicolas Darbon, Brian Ferneyhough et la Nouvelle Complexité (Notre-Dame de Bliquetuit: Millenaire III Editions, 2008). Darbon’s book is one of two which he collectively entitles La capture des forces; the other being Wolfgang Rihm et la nouvelle simplicité (Notre-Dame de Bliquetuit: Millenaire III Editions, 2008). Hawkins, ‘(Mis)understanding complexity’, p. 2. From the late 1980s onwards there were new waves of Finnissy students, including Andrew Toovey, Morgan Hayes, Luke Stoneham, Alwynne Pritchard, Paul Steenhuisen, Thomas Désy, Matthew Shlomowitz, and later many others (particularly following Finnissy’s appointment as Chair of Composition at the University of Southampton in 1998) who started to gain some prominence. It should also be noted that none of the older figures – Dillon, Dench, Barrett, or James Clarke and Richard Emsley – had actually studied with Finnissy, though some of them had had an involvement with his playing and music, not least through the work of the ensembles Suoraan and Exposé. See Hawkins, ‘(Mis) understanding complexity’, pp. 116–23, 178–90, for more on this. Ibid. pp. 30–1. Maarten Beirens, ‘Archaeology of the Self: Michael Finnissy’s Folklore’, Tempo, vol. 57, no. 223 (January 2003), pp. 46–56. Richard Beaudoin, ‘Anonymous Sources: Finnissy Analysis and the Opening


48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58

59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71


of Chapter Eight of The History of Photography in Sound’, Perspectives of New Music vol. 45, no. 2 (Summer 2007), pp. 5–27. Ibid. p. 6. Ibid. Ibid. p. 24. Richard Beaudoin and Joseph Moore, ‘Conceiving Musical Transdialection’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 68, no. 2 (Spring 2010), pp. 105–17. Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound. Ibid. pp. 10–37. Arnold Whittall, ‘Michael Finnissy’s instrumental drama’, The Musical Times, vol. 155, no.1928 (Autumn 2014), pp. 71–91. J. Philip Thomas, ‘Interpretative Issues in Performing Contemporary Piano Music’ (PhD thesis: University of Sheffield, 1999), pp. 15–16, 21–4, 28, 31–2, 39–42, 46, 58–63, 70–5, 92, 97–8, 129, 145, 148–52, 160, 163–5. Ian Pace, ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’, in Darla Crispin (ed.), Unfolding Time (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), pp. 175–80. Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 280–2. Amanda Bayley and Michael Clarke, ‘Analytical Representations of Creative Processes in Michael Finnissy’s Second String Quartet’, Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies vol. 2, issues 1&2 (Spring/Fall 2009), pp. 139–57. The DVD is Evolution and Collaboration: the composition, rehearsal and performance of Finnissy’s Second String Quartet (PALATINE, 2011). Amanda Bayley, ‘Ethnographic Research into Contemporary String Quartet Rehearsal’, Ethnomusicology Forum, vol. 20, no. 3 (December 2011), pp. 385–411. Amanda Bayley, ‘Enquête sur la genèse de Deuxième quatuor à cordes de Michael Finnissy’, Genesis 31 (2010), pp. 37–54. Graziela Bortz, ‘Rhythm in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Finnissy, and Arthur Kampela: A Guide for Performers’ (PhD thesis: The City University of New York, 2003). Ibid. p. 4. Ibid. p. 17. Ibid. p. 52. Michael Hooper, ‘Reaching Higher: Finnissy’s “Greatest Hits of All Time” as the Impetus for Innovation’, The Musical Times, vol. 152, no. 1916 (Autumn 2011), pp. 43–57. Ibid. p. 47. Larry Goves, ‘Michael Finnissy and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Composer as Anthropologist’, Tempo, vol. 71, no. 280 (April 2017), pp. 47–55. Ibid. p. 52. Ibid. p. 49. Michael Finnissy, programme note for The History of Photography in Sound, published in Vol. 1 of the score (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. i. Georgios Theocharous, ‘Not Too Violent: The Fall of Notation in Michael Finnissy’s Autumnall for Solo Piano’, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 52, no. 1 (2014), pp. 4–27.

Bibliography Anderson, Julian. ‘The Orchestral Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 169–210.



Barrett, Richard. ‘Michael Finnissy – an overview’. Contemporary Music Review, vol. 13, no. 1 (1995), pp. 23–43. Bayley, Amanda. ‘Enquête sur la genèse de Deuxième quatuor à cordes de Michael Finnissy’. Genesis 31 (2010), pp. 37–54. Bayley, Amanda. ‘Ethnographic Research into Contemporary String Quartet Rehearsal’. Ethnomusicology Forum, vol. 20, no. 3 (December 2011), pp. 385–411. Bayley, Amanda; and Clarke, Michael. ‘Analytical Representations of Creative Processes in Michael Finnissy’s Second String Quartet’. Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies vol. 2, issues 1&2 (Spring/Fall 2009), pp. 139–57. Bayley, Amanda; and Clarke, Michael. Evolution and Collaboration: the composition, rehearsal and performance of Finnissy’s Second String Quartet. DVD: PALATINE, 2011. Beaudoin, Richard. ‘Anonymous Sources: Finnissy Analysis and the Opening of Chapter Eight of The History of Photography in Sound’. Perspectives of New Music 45/2 (Summer 2007), pp. 5–27. Beaudoin, Richard; and Moore, Joseph. ‘Conceiving Musical Transdialection’. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 68, no. 2 (Spring 2010), pp. 105–17. Beirens, Maarten. ‘Archaeology of the Self: Michael Finnissy’s “Folklore”’. Tempo, vol. 57, no. 223 (January 2003), pp. 46–56. Bons, Jöel, ed. Complexity in Music? An Inquiry of its Nature, Motivation and Performability. Amsterdam: Job, 1990. Bortz, Graziela. ‘Rhythm in the Music of Brian Ferneyhough, Michael Finnissy, and Arthur Kampela: A Guide for Performers’. PhD thesis: City University of New York, 2003. Brougham, Henrietta; Fox, Christopher; and Pace, Ian, eds. Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997. Clements, Andrew. ‘Finnissy’s Undivine Comedy’. The Musical Times, vol. 129, no. 1745 (July 1988), pp. 330–2. Cross, Jonathan. ‘Vive la différence’. The Musical Times, vol. 137, no. 1837 (March 1996), pp. 7–13. Darbon, Nicolas. Brian Ferneyhough et la Nouvelle Complexité. Notre-Dame de Bliquetuit: Millenaire III Editions, 2008. Darbon, Nicolas. Wolfgang Rihm et la nouvelle simplicité. Notre-Dame de Bliquetuit: Millenaire III Editions, 2008. Dench, Chris. ‘Complexity and Polyphony’. In Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Frank Cox, and Wolfram Schurig (eds.), Polyphony & Complexity (Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 2002), pp. 180–7. Driver, Paul. ‘Michael Finnissy’s ‘alongside”’. Tempo, New Series, no. 132 (March 1980), pp. 42–5. Driver, Paul. ‘Michael Finnissy’s ‘Sea and Sky’. Tempo, New Series, nos. 133/134 (September 1980). Ferneyhough, Brian. ‘Michael Finnissy: The Piano Music’ (1978). In Brian Ferneyhough, Collected Writings, edited James Boros and Richard Toop (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers), pp. 183–96. Finnissy, Michael. Programme note for The History of Photography in Sound, published in Vol. 1 of the score. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Finnissy, Michael; and Nonken, Marilyn. ‘Biting the Hand that Feeds You’. Contemporary Music Review vol. 21, no. 1 (2002), pp. 71–9.



Fox, Christopher. ‘The Vocal Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 211–57. Goves, Larry. ‘Michael Finnissy and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Composer as Anthropologist’. Tempo, vol. 71, no. 280 (April 2017), pp. 47–55. Hawkins, Roderick. ‘(Mis)understanding complexity from Transit to Toop: “New Complexity” in the British Context’. PhD thesis: University of Leeds, 2010. Hooper, Michael. ‘Reaching Higher: Finnissy’s “Greatest Hits of All Time” as the Impetus for Innovation’. The Musical Times, vol. 152, no. 1916 (Autumn 2011), pp. 43–57. Knussen, Oliver. ‘Finnissy’s ‘Pathways of Sun & Stars’. Tempo, New Series, no. 120, (March 1977), pp. 48–50. ‘London Diary for November’. The Musical Times, vol. 106, no. 1472 (October 1965), p. 821. Mahnkopf, Claus-Steffen. ‘Kundgabe. Komplexismus und der Paradigmenwechsel in der Musik’, MusikTexte 35 (1990), pp. 20–32. Mahnkopf, Claus-Steffen. Kritik der neuen Musik. Entwurf einer Musik des 21. Jahrhunderts. Eine Streitschrift. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1998. Mahnkopf, Claus-Steffen. ‘Adornos Kritik der Neuern Musik,’. In Richard Klein and Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, eds., Mit den Ohren denken. Adornos Philosophie der Musik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1998), pp. 251–80. Mahnkopf, Claus-Steffen. ‘Complex Music: An Attempt at a Definition,’ trans. Frank Cox. In Mahnkopf, Frank Cox, and Wolfram Schurig (eds.), Polyphony & Complexity (Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 2002), pp. 54–64. Morgan, Tom, ed. Aspects of Complexity in Recent British Music. Contemporary Music Review, vol. 13, no. 1 (1995). Mosch, Ulrich. ‘Musikalische Komplexität’. Darmstädter Beiträge zur Neuen Musik 20 (Mainz: Schott, 1994), pp. 120–9. Nicolas, François. ‘Éloge de la complexité’. Entretemps 3 (1987), pp. 55–68. Pace, Ian. ‘The Panorama of Michael Finnissy (I)’. Tempo, New Series 196 (April 1996), pp. 25–35. Pace, Ian. ‘The Panorama of Michael Finnissy (II)’. Tempo, New Series 201 (July 1997), pp. 7–16. Pace, Ian. ‘The Piano Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 43–133. Pace, Ian. ‘The Theatrical Works’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 259–346. Pace, Ian. ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’. In Darla Crispin (ed.), Unfolding Time (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), pp. 151–92. Pace, Ian. Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of  Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013), available for download at (accessed 17 July 2018). Potter, Keith. ‘Michael Finnissy’. Classical Music, 1 December 1979. Potter, Keith. ‘Wild Romantic Things’. Classical Music, 13 March 1982, p. 17. Potter, Keith. ‘Darmstadt 1988’. Contact 34 (1990), pp. 26–32.



Redgate, Roger. ‘The Chamber Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 135–68. Schloezer, Boris de; and Scriabine, Marina. Problèmes de la musique moderne. Paris: Minuit, 1959. Theocharous, Georgios. ‘Not Too Violent: The Fall of Notation in Michael Finnissy’s Autumnall for Solo Piano’. Perspectives of New Music, vol. 52, no. 1 (2014), pp. 4–27. Thomas, J. Philip. ‘Interpretative Issues in Performing Contemporary Piano Music’. PhD thesis: University of Sheffield, 1999. Toop, Richard. ‘Four Facets of the “New Complexity”’. Contact 32 (Spring 1988), pp. 4–50. Toop, Richard. ‘“New Complexity” and After: a Personal Note’. In Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Frank Cox, and Wolfram Schurig (eds.), Polyphony & Complexity (Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 2002), pp. 54–64, pp. 133–5. Toop, Richard. ‘Against a Theory of Musical (New) Complexity’. In Max Paddison and Iréne Deliège, eds., Contemporary Music: Theoretical and Philosophical Perspective (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), pp. 89–98. Ulman, Erik. ‘Some Thoughts on the New Complexity’. Perspectives of New Music, vol. 32, no. 1 (1994), pp. 202–6. Warnaby, John. ‘Michael Finnissy’. Music and Musicians (February 1988). Whittall, Arnold. ‘Michael Finnissy’s instrumental drama’. The Musical Times, vol. 155, no.1928 (Autumn 2014), pp. 71–91. Williams, Lynn. ‘Reinstating “The Spiritual Quest”’. Contemporary Music Review, vol. 13, no. 1 (1995), pp. 45–63.

Section A

Finnissy’s aesthetics and styles

Taylor & Francis Taylor & Francis Group


Michael Finnissy Modernism with an English accent Christopher Fox

I first became aware of Finnissy’s music in 1975, not through a performance or recording but through an extract from the score of his piano piece Snowdrift (1972) that was being used to advertise the work of the London-based music printing company, Photographic Reproductions. The extract had presumably been chosen because it looked extraordinary – a filigree of grace notes, leger lines, stems, beams and brackets – and, in particular, extraordinarily modern. The marketing implication was that a company capable of printing this type of score would be able to print anything. A little over a year later I heard the premiere of Pathways of Sun and Stars (1976), conducted by Pierre Boulez at the Round House in London. Again the impression was of modernity: in part because of the context – Boulez didn’t conduct oldfashioned music – but also because the music sounded like the modern music I knew, and more like the modern music of continental European composers than their British counterparts. Gradually, as I got to hear more Finnissy works, I came to realise that Finnissy’s version of modernism was perhaps less easily categorised, although there was no shortage of critics and promoters keen to make such a categorisation. This chapter is not, however, an attempt at a reception history of Finnissy’s music; for that I would recommend Roddy Hawkins’s 2010 PhD thesis (Mis)understanding complexity from Transit to Toop: ‘New Complexity’ in the British Context.1 Instead I wish to consider a number of different elements within Finnissy’s work and compare them with the same elements in the work of a range of other composers, focusing especially on subject matter, form and musical materials.

Subject matter The profuse invention that is so characteristic of all Finnissy’s work can sometimes suggest that the principal subject of his music is music itself. But music is always about other things too, implicit in the work and often specifically announced by the composer through the work-titles. In Finnissy’s output works with generic titles such as sonata, song, trio, quartet were few and far between until the last decade (except for the series of piano concertos written


Christopher Fox

between 1975 and 1981). Indeed, one might even argue that the appearance of one of these titles would be a guarantee that the work in question will set itself against the conventional ideas of that genre2 – and much more often Finnissy chooses titles that locate works in the domain of places, or people, or other artworks, sometimes music, but often poetry. Using these titles as a starting point, followed by a closer interrogation of the works to which they are attached, one can then compare Finnissy’s subject matter with that of his contemporaries. As I suggested earlier, musical modernism underwent a series of crises during the 1970s. To a certain extent these related to questions of style and technique: for example, the serialist innovations begun in the 1950s had run their course and the main composers involved in those innovations were seeking new directions for their music. There were political pressures too: the growth of a radical left, inspired in part by the liberation struggles in Africa, Indo-China and Latin America, in part by Maoist propaganda, had led to a growing tendency amongst western European and North American artists and intellectuals to imagine that through consciousness-raising work they might help trigger popular revolution. At a more mundane level there were also institutional crises: for example, the shift from annual to biennial Darmstädter Ferienkurse was a necessary response to a reduction in state funding for new music in West Germany.3 Clearly these different socio-political tensions were not directly consequential on one another, but they did produce a more general forcefield whose effects can be traced in the music created during this period. In the subsequent sections on form and musical materials I will consider how ideas about musical narrative and rhetoric, about sound resources and how to organise them, also reveal the influence of this forcefield. For now, however, I wish to consider the most obvious evidence, the names of things and the extent to which those names are helpful. Take, for example, the first Finnissy work that I encountered in concert, Pathways of Sun and Stars. Pierre Boulez conducted the first performance in the Round House, a former railway engine shed in Chalk Farm, north London, that had been converted into an arts centre and had become a home for rock music, jazz, avant-garde theatre, and dance. The premiere of Pathways was part of a new music series promoted by BBC Radio 3 that also included works by Varèse and Boulez himself, and the commission and performance can be seen as validation of Finnissy’s modernist status. Pathways was an ambitious work, playing continuously for 20 minutes, and made considerable demands on the resources of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, whose players formed the ensemble. It is not a symphonic work, however: there are single strings, three horns and two trombones, six woodwind players (including oboe d’amore, Eᅈ clarinet and basset horn, and contrabassoon), two harps, and five percussionists. This is a typically modernist inversion of the classical musical ensemble, something I will discuss later, with the extravagant use of percussion and more unusual members of the reed families being typical of a tendency in

Modernism with an English accent


continental European modernism to regard the specification of an ensemble as part of the compositional process. This is logical enough; if timbral composition is part of a composer’s work then innovative work may well require new timbres. This was the argument that led to the creation of electronic music studios, to developments in computer music, and in instrumental music to a host of ‘new’ techniques and unfamiliar combinations of instruments. In instrumental music an unusual ensemble also implies a disjunction with classical music history, so that the grouping of instruments on stage becomes part of the subject matter of the music. So far so continental. The rogue element is that title. It is not ‘pathways to or from sun and stars’ which might imply either the space travel of Stockhausen’s Sirius (1977) or the constellation music of Xenakis Pléïades (1978). Instead these are the pathways of sun and stars, the pathways that these celestial objects trace across a landscape and, specifically, the English landscape, pathways that are tracked by ley lines and given numerical significance in magic squares. These supposedly ancient concepts had had a recent revival in English musical culture, a fuller account of which is given in Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music.4 Young’s book is primarily about folk-rock but he describes how interest in ley lines had been rekindled in the 1970s by the republication of Alfred Watkins’s 1925 book, The Old Straight Track, in which Watkins had ‘claimed to have discovered a complex system of ‘leys’ criss-crossing the English landscape, aligned through […] prehistoric mounds and long barrows’.5 A key advocate of Watkins’s work was John Michell whose 1969 book The View over Atlantis had combined ‘archaeology, mathematics, Holy Grail legend and New Age cosmology to propose a system of energies embossed on the English landscape, intersecting at key spiritual sites […] such as Avebury, Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor’.6 Michell’s book became something of a hippy bestseller and, crucially, included a number of magic squares, number grids associated with the sun and planets in pagan belief systems. For example, the magic square of the sun (given below in the version printed in Michell’s book) is a 6x6 square, that of the moon 9x9, and Venus 4x4 (see Fig. 1.1). Whether Finnissy made use of these numbers in some way in composing Pathways of Sun and Stars I do not know, nor is their use any more


35 34






28 27 11


24 23 15 16 14 19 13 17 21 22 20 18 12 26


10 29 25






Fig. 1.1 Magic Square.



Christopher Fox

discernible in this music than Peter Maxwell Davies’s use of magic squares in his compositions from the 1970s onwards. But Finnissy’s title situates his work within an English folk tradition whose antique quasi-science, founded on superstition and coincidence, is at odds with the music’s modernist veneer. A similar and more explicit disparity is to be found in Birtwistle’s operas Punch and Judy (1967) and Down by the Greenwood Side (1969) in which modernist music is used to retell old English folk dramas. Englishness is more explicit in a number of other works from the 1970s, especially the eight-part series entitled Mysteries (1972–9), setting texts from the English mystery play cycles and Mr Punch (1976–7, rev. 1979), but is most explicitly confronted in English Country-Tunes (1977–82, rev. 1982). The first edition of the score declares that this 50-minute work in eight movements was ‘written in celebration of the Silver Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’,7 but it offers a celebration closer to the dystopia of Derek Jarman’s Jubilee8 or the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’9 – ‘she’ll make you a moron, a potential H-bomb’ – than to a cheery street party or a commemorative mug. Englishness is evoked through the movement titles, from ‘Green meadows’ to ‘Come beat the drums and sound the fifes’, and through the modal melodic passages that open the second movement, ‘Midsummer morn’ and run throughout the seventh, ‘My bonny boy’, as well as appearing elsewhere in the work. But these signifiers of Englishness, rooted in the early twentiethcentury folk-inflected music of Percy Grainger and Vaughan Williams, are always under threat, the melody of ‘Midsummer morn’ from other sorts of piano texture, that in ‘My bonny boy’ from a process of modulation which progressively unsettles its initial modal stasis. It is interesting to compare English Country-Tunes with other near-contemporary new music reflections on nationality, such as John Cage’s Apartment House 1776 (1976), Helmut Lachenmann’s Tanzsuite mit Deutschlandslied (1980) and Walter Zimmermann’s Lokale Musik (1977–81). Cage’s work, written to mark the USA’s bicentennial, is a vision of the melting-pot multicultural society that liberal Americans like to imagine they might have achieved. Lachenmann and Zimmermann’s works, in their different ways, reflect on the difficulties associated with any sort of assertion of German national identity. What distinguishes Finnissy’s work is that it is a much more individual amalgamation of ideas, combining musical reflections upon English social history with others embodying an intensely private and immediate personal history. For Finnissy ‘England’ is a version of Arcadia, but it is also centuries of militarism and the contemporary threat to gay men presented by queer-bashing skinheads; it is the bucolic nationalism of the folk-song movement and the racist nationalism of the far right, flourishing in the late 1970s under the banner of the National Front. Pathways of Sun and Stars and English Country-Tunes are unmistakeably modernist works but where Pathways had concealed its Englishness in the arcana of magic square operations, English Country-Tunes makes Englishness its very audible focus. Since English Country-Tunes Finnissy has repeatedly

Modernism with an English accent


found ways to merge the syntactical fragmentation and disjuncture so characteristic of modernism’s musical lingua franca with much more local concerns, whether they be eastern European melodies in Câtana (1984), or the south-east Asian vocalisations of Kelir (1981). But his most powerful works are perhaps those, like Maldon (1990) or My parents’ generation thought War meant something, the fourth chapter from The History of Photography in Sound (1995–2001), that follow the example of English Country-Tunes, making modernist utterances with an English accent.

Form Why did Pathways of Sun and Stars strike me as a modernist work when I first heard it in the context of Varèse and the second book of Boulez’s Structures? In part this was an impression created by the types of musical material being deployed, but the musical forms within which these materials were deployed were equally important, and in this context I intend to extend the conventional notion of musical form to include not just an overview of the succession of musical events within a work but the wider cultural forms within which that work is situated. These larger forms include the spaces within music is made, even the idea of ‘music’ itself, and part of the modernist project in the twentieth- and twentyfirst centuries has been to question at least some of the assumptions about these spaces. For Finnissy, however, most of these forms remain unchallenged: he is a composer who writes scores that are performed by musicians in concert halls to be listened to by audiences. Nevertheless he does offer a critique of received ideas about musical form in two domains: instrumentation and duration. A glance through Finnissy’s catalogue of works soon reveals instrumental combinations that depart from the conventional groupings of classical music, either in the invention of new ensembles – a personal favourite is the plucking trio of mandolin, guitar and harp for Obrecht Motetten II (1989) – or the (often inconvenient) extension of existing ensembles (the addition of two didjeridu players into the orchestra of Red Earth (1987–8) may well have deterred some promoters from programming the work). Such modifications have been typical of new music production for many years, but by the beginning of the 1980s it had become a feature of the modern music concert, so that after each piece there would be a lengthy delay while the stage was reconfigured to accommodate the instrumentation of the next work. Similarly, one might argue that Finnissy’s frequent exploration of extended work-lengths is typically modernist. Just as the familiar groupings of classical musical ensembles were being questioned, so too were the groupings of works within the familiar two-part classical concert. As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s composers increasingly produced works that could not easily be programmed within a mixed programme of works by other composers, either because their technical demands were at odds with most other works or because they were too long to be accommodated within the normal concert


Christopher Fox

structure. The series of extended works that Morton Feldman produced from 1979 until the end of his life in 1987 established a new possibility for composers, that of creating works whose duration meant that rather than being part of a programme they became its sole subject. More widespread was the practice of conceiving individual works as part of a larger cycle. This had the pragmatic advantage of allowing promoters to present one or more parts of a cycle within a conventional mixed programme, a less risky strategy for both composer and promoter than Feldman’s all-ornothing approach. From the mid-1970s this cyclical tendency spread across every musical genre, from Philip Glass’s Music in Twelve Parts (1971–4), to Gerard Grisey’s Les espaces acoustiques (1975–84), to Brian Ferneyhough’s Carceri d’invenzione (1981–6) and, most spectacular of all, Stockhausen’s LICHT (1977–2003), a seven-day opera that was nevertheless made out of a set of individual modules. One might even argue that the fashion for double and triple concept albums in the pop music of the period, such as Yes’s 1973 triple album, Yessongs, and Stevie Wonder’s 1976 double album and EP, Songs in the Key of Life, share and to some extent anticipate the grandiose ambition of these cyclic works. Finnissy also adopted this way of thinking about compositional projects as an extended group of works based within a single conceptual framework. The Mysteries (1972–9) are a set of eight works for voices and instruments on Biblical subjects, but they are based on much older cycles, the Mystery plays of medieval England; Finnissy’s first autonomous cycle is English Country-Tunes, initially composed in 1977 and then revised between 1982 and 1985. The eight component parts of English Country-Tunes play for between four and eight minutes – perfect recital material – and the whole cycle for 43 minutes – half of a conventional concert. More ambitious in scale are the Verdi Transcriptions, first planned in 1972 and gradually expanded until in 2005 they reached their final form, thirty-six pieces grouped into four books, around two-and-threequarter hours of music. They are, however, like the Mysteries, based on an existing cycle, the works of Verdi, with one piece for each opera or version of an opera, as well as pieces relating to the String Quartet and Requiem, all assembled in the chronological order of their sources. Folklore (1993–5), again for solo piano, matches the modernist cycle template more straightforwardly. Its four parts vary in length from about 12 minutes to nearly half an hour and together play for about 70 minutes, so that the individual components can be played in mixed programmes while the complete work might make up an entire concert. The History of Photography in Sound, on the other hand, blows the template apart. Although some of the eleven pieces – perhaps North American Spirituals, Alkan-Paganini, Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets and Etched bright with sunlight – have a formal arc and a duration suitable for conventional recitals, many of the others have complex, fragmentary forms that only truly make sense in a performance of the complete cycle. Yet such a performance is, because of the overall length of the cycle, necessarily several performances, possibly over more than one

Modernism with an English accent


day; a work consisting of five-and-a-half hours of solo piano music will, regardless of the nature of the music, make serious demands on both pianist and audience. Written in an era when an extended timescale has often been used to create performances that are described as ‘durational’ or ‘immersive’, The History of Photography in Sound might appear, on the clock at least, to be part of this tendency. The reality is rather different. In a typically Finnissian paradox the experience of listening to the complete History is not one in which, through immersion in the artist’s chosen material one loses track of duration: rather, the diversity of the material deployed both across the cycle as a whole and within individual pieces, and the constantly changing ways in which this material occupies time, makes the passing of time a central subject of the work. On the two occasions when I have heard complete performances of The History of Photography in Sound I have found that the ways in which the work’s musical materials articulate its form are so various that one’s attentiveness is continually challenged. It’s a profoundly uneasy, although (another paradox) ultimately very satisfactory, experience. Histories of European modernist music usually trace a movement from a predominantly formalist approach to composition in the 1950s, exemplified by titles like Structures, to a more referential approach in the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps most strikingly represented by the works of B.A. Zimmermann and Mauricio Kagel. In retrospect this desire to situate new works within a referential frame defined by existing music and musical practices can be seen to be the dominant tendency in new music from the mid-1960s until well into the 1980s, stretching across continents, genres and stylistic allegiances. Notable examples include John Cage’s Cheap Imitation (1969) and all the subsequent pieces he made out of other composers’ work, Kagel’s Variationen ohne Fuge (1961–2, rev.1971–2), Helmut Lachenmann’s Accanto (1975–6), Ligeti’s Horn Trio (1982), Christian Wolff’s many works made out of political songs, as well as the more straightforwardly conservative reversion to older formal models in Peter Maxwell Davies’s symphonies. A glance across Finnissy’s catalogue of works will soon suggest that referentiality is an important part of his approach to musical forming too: English Country-Tunes, Reels (1980–1), Verdi Transcriptions, Doves Figary (1976–7, rev.1981) illustrate the range, from the general to the very specific. What distinguishes Finnissy’s practice from his contemporaries, however, is the density of reference and the extent to which he transforms his source material. Only occasionally, as in some of the Gershwin Arrangements (1975–88), where the original tunes are well known and where the music that Finnissy spins around them is principally focused on that tune, is the relationship between the musical objet trouvé and its new context straightforwardly dialectical. More usually, Finnissy fragments, transforms, juxtaposes elements of a large number of different pieces of music to construct a rich motivic stew within which each component is significant not so much for what it represents in itself but rather more for what it represents as part of this new form.10


Christopher Fox

Thus, in the spaces they occupy – physical, instrumental, temporal – and in the ways that they articulate those spaces, Finnissy’s works are consistent with some of the most striking developments in modernist musical forming of the last fifty years. Yet, just as with its subject matter, there is much more about the form of this music that is entirely particular to his compositional personality.

Musical materials The modernist crises of the mid-1970s were most clearly audible through their impact on the sorts of material composers chose to deploy in their music. If the European modernism practised by the emerging composers of the 1950s had initially focused on a radical disposition of familiar instrumental sounds – the old notes but in new configurations – this quickly shifted to an emphasis on new sounds, whether generated electronically or through different ways of making instrumental sounds. The compositional path that took Stockhausen from Klavierstück I (1952) to Klavierstück X (1961) and beyond is one that passed through the electronic music studio – only through that experience could he have discovered the new sonic constellations of his later work. In the 1950s Boulez had drawn a sharp distinction between electronic music and instrumental music,11 privileging the latter, but by the 1970s even he, through the IRCAM project, was seeking new sonic resources in an attempt to extend his compositional palette. In Europe IRCAM reified an approach to compositional practice that combined electronic and instrumental sounds, developed digital technologies for sound processing in both concert and studio settings, and used computer sound analysis as a tool to aid the creation of new sounds. Its success (and its considerable funding) has made it an attractive focus for generations of composers, both as a place to work and as a career validation. Finnissy’s career, however, lacks any such validation and his huge output is without any works for electronic media other than the most rudimentary.12 This absence is, of course, not unusual: there have been many composers since 1950 who have stayed away from the electronic music studio, particularly those whose careers have been spent largely outside of institutions. In the UK, studio facilities tended to be concentrated in universities (such as those in York, Birmingham, Edinburgh or City, University of London) and colleges, where they were primarily available to those who taught or studied there, and there has often been a very distinct aesthetic separation between the composers who worked in these studios and those who, like Finnissy, wrote music for instrumental performers. Studio work was also usually slow, particularly in institutions where a number of composers were competing for a limited amount of studio time, and even the quickest of glances through Finnissy’s catalogue will confirm that he is not a composer who works slowly.

Modernism with an English accent


Whatever the reason, the absence of this studio sensibility is very evident in Finnissy’s work. Paradoxically it is the centrality in Finnissy’s music of two of the principal compositional methods of electronic music, collage and transformation, that makes this absence particularly striking. If one compares Georg Katzer’s Aide memoire (1983) with English Country-Tunes it is clear that, although both composers are confronting aspects of their national heritage by appropriating, filtering and juxtaposing bits of historically significant source material, Katzer is working directly on his material – mostly fragments of Nazi broadcasts – whereas Finnissy must, necessarily, use notation as a medium through which his material is transcribed before the processes of transformation and collage can begin. In 1952 Boulez deemed ‘useless’ any composer who had not experienced the ‘necessity of the dodecaphonic language’,13 and in the 1960s the same might have been said of any composer who had not felt the necessity of electronic music. During the 1970s, in the wake of works such as Helmut Lachenmann’s Pression (1969) and his subsequent proposal in 1972 of a musique concrète instrumentale14 a similar orthodoxy began to grow up around the forensic study of the acoustic potential of classical concert instruments. Modern music gained an additional set of signifiers, requiring woodwind players, for example, to control not only the fundamental tones of their instruments but also the overtone structures of each of those tones, string players to bow longitudinally as well as laterally and with a far greater variety of different pressures. As with electronic sound and sound-processing, Finnissy, however, has shown remarkably little interest in this newly revealed instrumental sound world, in spite of working closely with many of its leading practitioners. His String Quartet (1984), for example, was written for the Arditti Quartet but eschews the post-expressionist vocabulary of tremulous sul ponticello flutterings in which so much of that ensemble’s repertoire was couched; perhaps this explains why the Ardittis gave so few performances of this exceptional work. Instead, Finnissy’s writing for winds and brass is usually centred on a succession of pitches, conventionally notated, with almost no recourse to the prescriptive (rather than descriptive) notations used by Lachenmann and his followers. Virtuosity is required to deal with the speed at which events occur rather than with rapid changes between different types of events and tone production. One of the few exceptions is Lost Lands (1977), which has an extended coda almost entirely in the form of extended techniques, but this was an unusual piece written for the Österreichische Ensemble, familiar with similar music from composers such as Hans-Joachim Hespos. Finnissy has also shown little interest in alternatives to equal temperament, another set of new musical resources that emerged out of the crisis in musical modernism of the mid-1970s. Whether in the works of the French composers associated with Ensemble L’Itinéraire, such as Grisey, Tristan Murail and Hugues Dufourt, or in the work of composers such as Ben Johnston, James Tenney, Ligeti or Salvatore Sciarrino, all affected by what Bob Gilmore has called ‘the climate since Harry Partch’,15 these new tonalities have radically


Christopher Fox

extended the expressive possibilities within modern music. In Finnissy’s music, on the other hand, equal temperament reigns supreme, although in his vocal, wind and string writing the twelve semitones of the octave are often given quarter-tone inflections. Given the centrality of the piano in Finnissy’s practice both as composer and performer this is hardly surprising, and one could argue that his approach to pitch organisation is essentially pragmatic. Concert promoters rarely respond well to requests that their piano be retuned and, even if they did, a retuned piano is an instrument that is probably only going to be suitable for the piece that requires that alternative tuning. As mentioned earlier, Finnissy’s music is also densely referential and, since many of these references are to source material from the body of equally tempered works, it is sensible to preserve their tuning system. So Finnissy’s piano remains in equal temperament, the rest of his instrumental writing follows suit, and even when Finnissy’s source materials come from musical traditions using other tuning systems, he is content to transcribe these through the medium of equal temperament, a practice whose ancestry lies in the folk-song transcriptions of Bartók and Grainger. Like his predecessors, Finnissy has an extraordinary gift for imagining piano sonorities that defy easy aural analysis and, like Bartók especially, he will often deploy dissonance as a means of reproducing tunings that lie outside the twelve-tone chromatic spectrum. More importantly, the fundamentals of Finnissy’s musical language are at odds with much of the post-1970s thinking about tuning and temperament. In Finnissy’s music the primary axis is almost always linear: sometimes, as in the ensemble music of the mid- to late 1980s, orientated around a sustained tone; more usually in a state of continuous harmonic flux. In the music of Grisey or Tenney, on the other hand, whole domains of a piece will occupy a particular tonal territory. As with other areas of non-compliance in Finnissy’s relationship to developments within musical modernism, one has the sense that his motivation is not so much reactionary – a conservative refusal to engage with new ideas – as individualistic; aware that these resources exist he nevertheless does not need them to fulfil his expressive purpose. It may seem perverse to write at such length about things that a composer has not done, particularly when there is so much that the composer in question has done, but if we are to get a sense of Finnissy as a modernist it is surely important to compare his compositional practice with that of other modernists  in the same era. Emphasising the negative spaces in Finnissy’s music – what it is not, as much as what it is – makes it easier, for this writer at least, to assess how and why it is so extraordinary. What becomes clear is that, although Finnissy’s music first started to attract attention in continental Europe before it became well known in Britain, this does not mean that his music was like continental modernist music of the period. In retrospect it seems more likely that promoters, musicians and critics in France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands found Finnissy’s music interesting because it did not sound like other British music, rather than because it sounded ‘continental’.

Modernism with an English accent


In 1976 few people can have had a more comprehensive view of contemporary musical developments than Boulez, who by then was not only a composer and conductor but also in the midst of creating IRCAM, and as he prepared the Round House premiere of Pathways of Sun and Stars he too must have been struck by the individuality of Finnissy’s music. Pathways is a work that needs to be heard again – it is hard to believe that music that made such an impact on me has lain unperformed for over forty years – and when it is revived perhaps it will confirm at least some of the ideas I have proposed here. In particular, I suspect that it will demonstrate just how unusual Finnissy’s musical thought has always been. Or perhaps it’s not so unusual. The greatest composers of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England ignored so many of the new possibilities being developed in France and Italy and, although the social circumstances of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century Europe are very different, Finnissy’s work does share some of this peculiarly English attitude to innovation. Insularity may be a cultural condition as well as a geographic reality. At its heart, Finnissy’s music is essentially modernist in its interrogation of subject matter, form and materials, but the conclusions reached are radically different from those to be found in much of the music of his contemporaries. Finnissy’s compositional choices are intensely personal, determined by his own ways of making and hearing music, and are therefore, because of his personality, also often intensely political. As a result his music – by turns beguiling, explosive, awkward – has a presence in the world quite unlike other modern music.

Notes 1 Roderick Hawkins, (Mis)understanding complexity from Transit to Toop: ‘New Complexity’ in the British Context (PhD thesis: University of Leeds, 2010). 2 But see Ian Pace’s essay in Chapter 3 of this book for a range of different models for genre. 3 See, for example, Antonio Trudu, La “Scuola” Darmstadt (Milan: Unicopli/ Ricordi, 1992), pp. 217–8. 4 Rob Young, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 2010). 5 Alfred Watkins, The Old Straight Track: Its Mounds, Beacons, Moats, Sites and Mark Stones (London: Methuen & Co., 1925), quoted in Young, Electric Eden, p. 22. 6 Ibid., p. 492. 7 This inscription was included in the first edition of the score, published  by Universal Edition in 1978, but not in the later, revised version published by United Music Publishers in 1986. 8 Derek Jarman, Jubilee (1978). 9 The Sex Pistols, ‘God Save the Queen’, EMI and Virgin Records, 1976. 10 See, for example, Ian Pace’s analysis of Folklore in ‘The Piano Music’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 111–33. 11 See, for example, Boulez’s contribution to the symposium on ‘The Compositional Possibilities of electronic Music’ at the 1956 Darmstädter Ferienkurse; a


12 13 14 15

Christopher Fox tape recording of the symposium is held in the archive of the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt. The most notable example is probably the extended use of recordings of birdsong in the Second String Quartet. Pierre Boulez, ‘Possibly…’ (Eventuellement) (1952), in Stocktakings from an Apprenticeship, collected and edited Paule Thévenin, translated Stephen Walsh (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), p. 113. Helmut Lachenmann, ‘Pression für einen Cellisten (1969/70)’ (1972), in Musik als existentielle Erfahrung: Schriften 1966–1995, edited and with a foreword by Josef Häusler (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1996), p. 381. Bob Gilmore, ‘The Climate since Harry Partch’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 22, nos.1 and 2 (2003), pp. 15–33.

Bibliography Boulez, Pierre. ‘Possibly…’ (Eventuellement) (1952). In Pierre Boulez, Stocktakings from an Apprenticeship, collected and edited Paule Thévenin, translated Stephen Walsh (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), pp. 111–40. Gilmore, Bob. ‘The Climate since Harry Partch’. Contemporary Music Review, vol. 22, nos.1 and 2, (2003), pp. 15–33. Hawkins, Roderick. (Mis)understanding complexity from Transit to Toop: ‘New Complexity’ in the British Context. PhD thesis: University of Leeds, 2010. Lachenmann, Helmut. ‘Pression für einen Cellisten (1969/70)’ (1972). In Musik als existentielle Erfahrung: Schriften 1966–1995, edited and with a foreword by Josef Häusler (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1996), p. 381. Pace, Ian. ‘The Piano Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 43–133. Trudu, Antonio. La “Scuola” Darmstadt. Milan: Unicopli/Ricordi, 1992. Watkins, Alfred. The Old Straight Track: Its Mounds, Beacons, Moats, Sites and Mark Stones. London: Methuen & Co., 1925. Young, Rob. Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music. London: Faber and Faber, 2010.


Post-experimental survivor Finnissy the experimentalist Philip Thomas

It is well known that the range of sources, references, allusions in and influences upon Finnissy’s music are drawn from a wide range of periods, traditions, genres and cultures. To label Finnissy as a composer within a particular mode or tradition would be foolhardy and would serve only to diminish the breadth of his compositional activity – Finnissy is undoubtedly a pluralistic composer par excellence. That said, narratives might be usefully construed and isolated as means to understand and give prominence to one or more aspects of his work. Just as multiple sources collide and rub against each other in contrapuntal relationships with startling juxtapositions within his compositions, so the compositional techniques and forms employed by Finnissy are multiple and various, and interact with one another (albeit sometimes disruptively). This chapter isolates some of the features of Finnissy’s compositions and musical activity which reflect his relationship to a conventionally conceived experimental tradition. The narrative proposed here departs only to a small degree from the historically configured – and undoubtedly restrictive, partial and problematic – understanding of twentieth-century experimental music, broadly conceived by Michael Nyman in his 1974 book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond.1 Whilst this is clearly a skewed, Anglocentric narrative, it is one that reflects some of the self-acknowledged influences upon Finnissy’s compositional aesthetic and technique from the 1960s onwards, in fact pre-dating Nyman’s book and a number of the seminal works by those composers mentioned. That Finnissy was composing from an early age, and discovering a wide range of new and radical scores even before his teenage years, is well documented – however it can be easily forgotten that his own music anticipates and is contemporary with some of the most radical scores by composers a generation older than him. As I will demonstrate here, there are examples of Finnissy’s music from the 1960s which would not be out of place in Nyman’s book. Finnissy’s eclecticism as a composer and performer mark him as a far more radical and inclusive artist than can be contained within the historically narrow traditions conceived by Nyman and others. Recent re-evaluations of experimentalism – which, as well as critiquing the key figures of the


Philip Thomas

experimental music canon, include discussions of music that point toward a greater diversity with respect to gender and sexuality, ethnicity and culture – are far more representative of a Finnissy view of music.2 Demonstrative of Finnissy’s interests are his programming choices as a pianist: a selection of recital programmes from the British Music Information Centre,3 dating mostly from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s, reveal that as well as his own music, Finnissy performed music by Chris Dench, James Dillon, Brian Ferneyhough, Jennifer Fowler, Percy Grainger, Elizabeth Lutyens, Chris Newman, Howard Skempton, Judith Weir, and John White – a quite extraordinary mélange of musical styles, aesthetics, and notations. And whilst the pianist-composers he references as having historically informed his piano writing and style include Chopin, Leopold Godowsky and Ferruccio Busoni, Finnissy’s piano style has also been likened to the American experimentalist Cecil Taylor.4 On disc, however, Finnissy’s choice of repertoire includes the music of Laurence Crane, Newman, Skempton and Weir, some of which is considered ‘experimental’, as well as his own.5 And with Ixion and Ensemble Exposé, as pianist and conductor, as well as performing a wide range of British music (also adding to the names above those of Geoff Hannan, Bryn Harrison, Luke Stoneham and Andrew Toovey), Finnissy has performed substantial works by Cage (the Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1957–8))6 and Feldman (including Crippled Symmetry (1983), the focus of some discussion later in this chapter). It is not only that Finnissy’s activities reflect and contribute to the English experimental tradition – the relationship is reciprocated. Keith Potter, in a review of a Finnissy-focused event at the Union Chapel on 1 July 1988, noted that ‘“English experimentalists” were, in fact, more in evidence during the Finnissy events than those one associates with the “Ferneyhough school” of which he has in the past often been considered a member’.7 Whilst there are doubtless a number of experimental music diehards for whom a Finnissy concert would be anathema to their upholding of the tradition, there is notable interest in the music from composers such as Michael Parsons and Skempton, while the renowned pianist and biographer of Cornelius Cardew, John Tilbury, has performed Finnissy’s music on a number of occasions.8 Andrew Clements, in a 1988 article, alluded to the association of Finnissy with Skempton, Newman and White, who he suggests are typically ‘English’ and outsiders, eccentrics,9 and this is a view reinforced by Finnissy in interviews, although the terms of reference are wider: in a 2002 article, in interview with pianist Marilyn Nonken, Finnissy talks of ‘being in the desert’ – ‘Most of the composers I play, or love listening to, have been in the desert for a good while. Percy Grainger, Chris Newman, Cage, Feldman, Xenakis. Figures, to some extent, “marginal” to an Establishment central ground. I feel bolstered up by the mavericks. I’ve learnt from them. Of course, you can see their traces in what I write.’10 This isolationist rhetoric is familiar to the literature relating to the, primarily American, experimental tradition  but Finnissy’s support of and friendships with a wide range

Post-experimental survivor


of his peers and younger composers (including one-time students) suggest an intentional positioning of himself within a culture.11 Still, the fearsome independence, determination, eclecticism and demonstrably idiosyncratic qualities of these composers – just as in the experimental filmmakers Stan Brakhage, Jack Smith and Andy Warhol – are ones which are surely deeply attractive to Finnissy. References to the experimentalists within Finnissy’s music are less common than might be suggested by the emphasis he places upon them in conversation. Short pieces are named after Ives and Cage (as well as Nancarrow), and another work, There never were such hard times before (1991) was written for the tenth anniversary of Cardew’s death. The music of Wolff (specifically his 1979 work for solo piano Hay Una Mujer Desaparecida, a set of variations upon the song of the same name by Holly Near about the disappeared women and children of Chile under Pinochet) and Cardew (his arrangements of Chinese revolutionary songs from 1973) feature as sources for the second of the four sections of Folklore.12 These references are neither direct quotations – instead Finnissy alludes to the musical features of their writing, such as the tremolandi in Wolff and the accompaniment style in Cardew – nor are they references to original music by either composer. The significance is perhaps more to the ways in which direct political content is foregrounded in an ‘experimental music’ context, though the musical content and form in both pieces is amongst their composers’ least experimental. More broadly the ways in which the music is constructed and formed demonstrate the degrees to which it is informed by the music of the experimentalists. The ways in which Finnissy works with time, or around time – employing grace notes, other unmeasured (indeterminate) noteheads, space-time notation (see Ex. 2.1 for these latter two), and often prolonged silences – is deeply rooted in the music of Ives, Cage and Feldman, as he poignantly articulated it in 2006, with reference to Satie as well as Ives – ‘the  removal of the bar line, harnessing simultaneities from the street and fresh air’.13

Ex. 2.1 Finnissy, Beat Generation Ballads (2013), from ‘naked original skin beneath our dreams 80 robes of thought’. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2015.


Philip Thomas

Extended melodic sequences – gently unravelling over long sections – and  complex combinations of metrically differentiated material can also serve to heighten a prolongation of non-metric time. At the microlevel, techniques used to adapt, transpose, remove, and otherwise reconfigure found material are particularly reminiscent of those used by Cage in Cheap Imitation (version for solo piano, 1969),14 Song Books (1970), Hymns and Variations (1979) and those used in other Finnissy works that make use of pre-existing material, including a number derived from dodecaphonic and serial techniques.15 And Cage’s use of found material through collage in early works for tape, through to the circus pieces (in particular HPSCHD and the Europeras) is one of the many examples of work paralleled in the multiple, often simultaneous, uses of material drawn from different sources, even within a solo work, in Finnissy’s music.16 These are methods by which Finnissy, referencing Cage, writes ‘in order to hear’.17 In a 1999 article Finnissy writes of the creative process of notation itself: ‘I write so that I can listen; I don’t try and hear in my head first (there’s so much junk in there). The writing is the electric contact, the Promethean fire, the uncoverer and discoverer of sounds.’18 Cage’s oft-quoted statements such as ‘My favourite music is the music I haven’t yet heard. I don’t hear the music I write. I write in order to hear the music I haven’t yet heard’,19 and others to more or less the same effect, can undermine the extent to which he was fully aware of the macro-compositional levels of his music. The very considered level of overall design facilitated the complex chance methods employed to generate or transform content in ways that were predictable at the macro-level but unpredictable in the detail, in the same way that Finnissy’s processes lead to varying degrees of unpredictability in the collisions and continuities of material. The indeterminacy of hearing is demonstrated in those pieces – stretching across his entire output –for open instrumentation. There are few composers, other than Anthony Braxton, Christian Wolff and certain composers of the Wandelweiser collective, who more consistently and varyingly facilitate a wide range of performance possibilities through the use of open instrumentation within otherwise more or less conventionally notated scores than Finnissy. This is in no small part due to his concern to write inclusively, to accommodate a greater range of possibilities, and, in many cases, to be more adaptable for amateur players.20 Perhaps most of all it is this undercurrent of experimentation, of discovery, that most links Finnissy with an experimental aesthetic, and the associated ‘substantial risk’ that accompanies the act of composition and its performance.21 The remainder of this chapter focuses upon two aspects of Finnissy’s work which typify his particular brand of experimentalism and indeterminacy:  independence of parts and what have been termed the ‘kit’ pieces.22 Finnissy’s musical language and experimental aesthetic was being forged at an early age, demonstrated by a work composed between 1968–71, when the composer was in his early twenties. Transformations of the

Post-experimental survivor


Vampire  – scored  for clarinet, violin, viola and three percussionists, playing drums, vibraphone, glockenspiel and celeste – is in six movements (to be played continuously) traversing a variety of notational styles. After a first movement for solo clarinet (the only movement which may be played alone), characterised by the irregular rhythmic notation for which Finnissy is most known, and a similarly notated second movement for strings and percussion (necessitating cues to demarcate the ensemble movement), a third movement marks a quite radical departure, at least in terms of process: each of the four instruments (clarinet, vibraphone, violin and viola) have a page each (four systems) of material which they are to work through independently, stopping at cues given by a conductor according to timings set out in the score, and picking up exactly where they left off at the  next cue, playing through to the end of their material after the last pause (Ex. 2.2).

Ex. 2.2 Finnissy, manuscript of instructions for Transformations of the Vampire (1968–71). © Universal Edition 1979.

The score allows for flexibility in the detail and the alignments between instruments, but is written in such a way that the combination of freedoms of duration are counteracted by a specificity in continuity and types of material (such as durational ranges for some notes). The fourth movement is noise-based, requiring the string players to tap on their instruments ‘varying the pitch freely’, alongside the drums, according to a strictly rhythmicised notation. It is the fifth and sixth movements, however, which are so startling  and radical – these are text scores, composed not long after Stockhausen’s Aus Den Sieben Tagen (1968) and exactly contemporaneous with the bulk of Wolff’s Prose Collection (1968–97) pieces and Burdocks (1970–1) (which similarly features a range of notational types, including text scores) and also Cornelius Cardew’s The Great Learning (1968–70), paragraphs 6 and 7 of which are text-based scores. Finnissy’s texts read as follows:


Philip Thomas

Movement 5: Intermittent sounds of breathing, scraping, buzzing, rattling, tapping, etc. accentuated beyond normal volume level, but, in general, NOT over-loud. Do not contrive a formal layout of the material (no climaxes – unfocused). Duration: not more than 3’00”. Movement 6: Very quiet and continuous non-referential sounds or single pitches in the middle and high registers. Mixed timbres Do not contrive a formal layout of the material (no climaxes – unfocused). Duration: not more than 4’30”. Fig. 2.1 Finnissy, text instructions from Transformations of the Vampire (1968–71). © Universal Edition 1979.

Compare these with this text by Wolff, from 1969: Stones: Make sounds with stones, draw sounds out of stones, using a number of sizes and kinds (and colors); for the most part discretely; sometimes in rapid sequences. For the most part striking stones with stones, but also stones on other surfaces (inside the open head of a drum, for instance) or other than struck (bowed, for instance, or amplified). Do not break anything. Fig. 2.2 Christian Wolff, ‘Stones’, from Prose Collection (1968–97)23. © Christian Wolff 1969.

Both scores emphasise the un-musical and the understated, a focus upon the act of making sounds rather than dramatic or formal qualities, allowing individual choice and creativity but also expressing a general concern for the ‘unfocused’ and ‘discrete’. In Transformations of the Vampire, it is as if the young Finnissy is trying out different means of making sounds, or how ensembles work together, how they breathe. There are parallels with the notational explorations of Morton Feldman during the 1960s, in works such as Piano Piece 1964, Two Pieces for Three Pianos (1966), False Relationships and the Extended Ending (1968) and Between Categories (1969). In these pieces Feldman juxtaposes and superimposes different notations, ranging from those in exact rhythmic detail, cue-based notations between members of the ensemble (or part of the ensemble) and different types of noteheads (free durations), some within grids, others entirely open. The resulting types of music might be relatively similar but the different notations suggest distinct modes of articulation and movement. Though he has not returned to the method of text scores, from the late 1960s through to the current day, Finnissy has experimented with

Post-experimental survivor


different notations, both specific and more open, pertaining to how performers move through and across time. Between the ranges of highly specific and coordinated rhythmic notations, to the cue-based notations of afar (1966–7) and Horrorzone (1968–71), to the independent parts of the third movement of Transformations, scores include instructions suggesting different modes of ensemble interaction: Sir Tristran  (1978), for example, includes the instruction ‘Although often extremely detailed, the rhythm is intended to sound flexible and free of any regular or discernible pulse. The coordination of parts is ‘loose’ rather than ‘strict’, and whenever the voice is present always follows the voice.’24 Whilst the notation is distinct, the effect is not dissimilar to the roughly coordinated ensemble pieces by Christian Wolff (such as the Exercises 1–13 (1973–4) or the more improvisatory possibilities of Anthony Braxton’s scores. But it is those pieces without score featuring only independent parts that most clearly relate to the experimentalism of Cage, Feldman, and Wolff. Probably the closest model is the series of chamber works by Feldman beginning with Piece for 4 Pianos (1957) and continuing with the Durations series in the early 1960s. In these pieces all players have (paradoxically) the same complete score to read but the written alignments within the score are not to be observed – instead, each player plays from their part individually, deciding the duration of each sound in the performance. The scores thus present themselves as an illusion – the visual appearance is not actually what occurs in performance, though the fact that alignments are made arguably suggests a compositional coherence that might be adhered to in performance by no one player drifting significantly apart from another. Finnissy avoids this problematic notation by simply presenting performers with their own part, while retaining the progressive compositional coherence of Feldman’s music by permitting indeterminacy in the moment-by-moment alignments, but controlling the macro-level continuity. Early works in which these techniques are explored include, as well as the third movement of Transformations…, a work composed during the same years for between 1–4 players with the title n (1969–72) and Forest (1974) for saxophone, violin, guitar, vibraphone and piano.25 These works also play with indeterminacies of duration, including open note-heads, space-time notations, and pauses, but the control over texture and material in relation to continuity is clearly conceived. After the 1960s Feldman mostly returned to conventional notational practices, albeit now characterised by a rhythmic complexity not present in earlier works. However, two later pieces revive the practice of independent parts: Why Patterns? (1978) for flute (doubling alto and bass flutes), piano and glockenspiel, and Crippled Symmetry for almost the same combination of flute/bass flute, piano/celeste, and glockenspiel/vibraphone. As with the Durations series, players are given only the score which, in the case of Crippled Symmetry, is aligned to look as if all players are in synchrony, but in fact the bars – though equal in terms of their graphic space – are of widely disparate time lengths (such that, for example, the opening bar has


Philip Thomas

5 in the vibraphone, and 43 different time signatures of 48 in the flute part, 16 in the piano part). Crippled Symmetry is unstable in its relationships from the very beginning: each instrument plays with distinct material, involving disparate  time signatures, independent sets of repetitions, and disturbed senses of pulse (such as shifts between 4:3 crotchets, four dotted crotchets in the space of five crotchets, four normal dotted crotchets and  four double  dotted crotchets), all within a tempo which is unstable from the outset (ᅄ = 63–6). The reality in practice will be that each instrument is more or less at the positions indicated in the score but there may be a greater discrepancy of ensemble. The consequence of these independent metric relationships is that variously one instrument might be ahead of another by up to two or more pages of score, the precise coinciding of material different with each performance. However, the uniformity of pitch relationships for much of the piece, across the parts, establishes a point of reference from which instruments may deviate, but acting as a pedal, underpins the coherence of the relationships. Whilst it is almost impossible for the performers to know where exactly in the score the other players are, and despite the often irregular sense of pulse, the music requires a close listening and attentive placing of sounds in relation to the other players, even if momentary alignments are indeterminate. The second half of the piece, whilst still maintaining independent and distinct parts, is far more regular in its sense of pulse – at around this time all players merge to find a common pulse, which is then retained until the end of the piece, causing the relationship between players to become established and fixed, albeit differently from one performance to the next. Feldman’s return to independently functioning parts is in some ways mirrored by a similar shift in Finnissy’s music at the same time. During the years 1980–1, Finnissy composed three substantial works, each utilising independent parts without score – the fifth and seventh piano concertos (1980, 1981) and Nobody’s Jig (1980–1) for string quartet. These major works (the fifth concerto and Nobody’s Jig both last 20 minutes) are complex and virtuosic pieces. However, in contrast to many of the earlier pieces mentioned above (but in common with parts of n), the notation of each individual part is fully determined and rhythmically detailed, but the rhythmic relationships between instruments are inherently indeterminate and to a degree unpredictable. The Piano Concerto No. 5 – which bears some comparison to the Feldman pieces, not least because it augments the instrumentation by adding oboe (doubling oboe d’amore) and mezzo soprano (and removing the glockenspiel and celeste), is unusually marked ‘Soft throughout, but with “nuances” at the performer’s discretion’,26 and is no less through-composed – is made up of mostly sustained, lyrical lines, combined to mark out a highly esoteric and sensuous texture. The instruments follow a broadly similar structure: a prolonged first section consisting of a high sustained melody, interspersed with rests, fluctuating tempo (with ᅅ = 60 as the slower tempo common to all instruments, fluctuating between very slightly different faster tempi in

Post-experimental survivor


each instrument), gradually getting faster and lower; a more rhythmic second section, with generally fixed tempi, and rhythmic lines, variously legato and staccato, and more volatile intervallic movement; and a third section which is more erratic, faster and punctuated. The piano, by way of contrast, begins with more active material, at first in two-part counterpoint, leading to faster groups of notes, separated by long pauses, before a substantial section of sustained two-part melody, mirroring the first sections of the instrumental parts, also progressively nudging faster in tempo though without the fluctuating movement of the other parts (Ex. 2.3).

Ex. 2.3 Finnissy, Piano Concerto No. 5 (1980), from piano part. © Michael Finnissy.

A no less substantial section of single-line melody follows, faster than the previous section but still relatively slow, now mirroring the second part of the instrumental parts with large intervallic leaps (though remaining in the upper half of the keyboard) before a brief return of the opening texture to end.  All parts are independent, starting exactly together, but ending differently: the mezzo-soprano has the shortest part and is likely to finish some time before the piano’s end, followed by percussion, flute, oboe, and ending with piano. There are no exact points of synchrony whatsoever, but the various pauses and changes in texture act as both demarcations of sections and material as well as useful indicators to the instrumentalists of the ensemble’s progress through the piece. Through rehearsal, players can readily discover these relationships and judge how to pace the pauses between sections whilst


Philip Thomas

still allowing for flexibility and surprise in the exact coordination between parts. The pianist, however, once the main section of melodic material has begun, has little room for manoeuvre thereafter and must judge in rehearsal how long the pauses in the opening section need to be to ensure that the piano ends solo, though the amount of material to play almost guarantees this. Overall, the processes in the fifth piano concerto have greater flexibility and freedoms accorded the players than in Crippled Symmetry, mostly through the inclusion of pauses, and whilst the momentary decisions in both pieces afford nuance and sensitivity to the playing of the other members, the largerscale structural decisions in Finnissy’s music are entrusted to the performers’ sense of drama, timing and play. After what appears to be another break following the seventh piano concerto,27 other than in successive versions of the piano trio Independence Quadrilles (1983, rev. 1986,1988, 1995) more works without score but with independent parts appear from the late 1980s, including the first version of Nowhere else to go (1989, rev. 2003), WAM for piano, one treble and one bass instrument (1990–1), Quelle for four saxophones (1994), the revised version of In Stiller Nacht for violin cello and piano (1990, rev. 1997), Recent Britain for some combination of clarinet, bassoon, piano, cello and conductor, with pre-recorded sound (1997–8), Not Afraid for baritone and speaking pianist (1998), False notions of progress for three instruments (1998), Casual Nudity for bass flute, guitar, double bass, piano, percussion (2000–1), Kritik der Urteilskraft for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano (2001), Ettelijke bange eenden for open instrumentation (2001), Springtime for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano (2003) and the second string quartet (2006–7). Some of these (Casual Nudity and Ettelijke bange eenden in particular) return to the more experimental notations and instrumentation of Transformations… whilst others continue the practice of the fifth concerto and Nobody’s Jig. There is also a section in Plain Harmony (1993), written for Contemporary Music for Amateurs (COMA), with six independent parts, while another work, Multiple Forms of Constraint for violin and string trio (1997) contains three fully-scored and synchronised parts for string trio, but a violin part which is independent of these, the first of several later works with different elements of synchronisation and de-synchronisation amongst sub-groups of musicians. In addition to those pieces which involve independent parts, there are a number of other works for which no score is necessary, or indeed possible. These are what can be termed ‘kit’ pieces and indeed one of the pieces in question uses the term in its title – Post-Christian Survival Kit (2003–5). Kit pieces generally require performers to assemble, to some degree, a version ready for any given performance from the materials provided. The tradition is rooted in Cage (most obviously Concert for Piano and Orchestra, Song Books, Apartment House 1776 (1976), Europeras (1987–91), and a number of the so-called ‘circus’ pieces28), Wolff (Burdocks, especially, and some of the late Exercises (1980–)), and Cardew (Schooltime Compositions (1967)). The materials provided may simply be pages of music which may be ordered in

Post-experimental survivor


different ways and combinations – examples include Notre Dame Polyphony (2001–2), Déjà fait (2006), Yso (2007) – whilst others may include theatrical elements, recorded and noise elements, and graphic notations. Almost always there are instructions which provide parameters within which the piece may be constructed, though these vary from being quite specific to more ambiguous and open-ended. The kit pieces date mostly since the millennium, however the first of them dates, astonishingly, from 1964 (with a revision in 1970): Make-Up is for four instruments, unspecified – two treble, one bass, and one keyboard instrument.29 Each instrument plays three pages of music, in any order, consisting of six lines per pages, each of which may be played in any order (though no more than once each). The music on these pages includes 1. conventionally notated lines (relatively tonal with key signatures and rhythmically mostly straightforward); 2. atonal, irregular lines, emphasising variety of register and duration and including microtones; 3. note-heads of different sizes spaced irregularly across a line; and 4. single open note-heads with pauses (see Ex. 2.4).

Ex. 2.4 Finnissy, from Make-Up (1964, rev. 1970). © Michael Finnissy.

Additionally, inserts are indicated in the treble and bass parts which may be drawn from a selection of conventional notations on one page (different for each player) or another page ‘consisting of harmonics, unpitched or pitched breath sounds, multiphonics and untampered pitches in the instruments’ highest register’, as well as notated rests, which may be repeated. Effectively each line is a module, which is reconfigured in its changing relationships with those it follows and precedes, and those with which it is combined in performance with the other players. In its structure it is perhaps most like Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra (more so given the possibilities for


Philip Thomas

transpositions, added pauses and omissions) but in spirit it is very different and requires a very active engagement with how the music is formed in the performance. Finnissy adds further specificity which illustrates both a clear sense of compositional control over the work and an understanding of what may be useful to performers: as well as suggesting that the performance, if using all the material with four players, ‘will last just over four minutes’ (which suggests an average duration of 14 seconds per line), he writes ‘The performance as a whole should emphasise diversity, irregularity, incompatibility, opposition, even eccentricity of texture and ensemble, in preference to conformity and even-ness.’30 A performance might, then, be improvised, in that players might select lines to play in response to what others are playing to emphasise these characteristics. Alternatively a sequence might be planned in advance, or worked through in rehearsal, that ensures these qualities are optimised in performance. Composed nearly forty years later, Notre-Dame Polyphony works in a similar manner but is considerably more open, the only instructions being that the fourteen pages (six single-line pages and eight keyboard pages) be ‘played, with no duplications, in any order and combination. Also inserting gaps (rests) ‘at suitable moments’ (at bar lines, or as extensions of existing rests). Dynamic level constant overall: ( ).’ The dynamic indication is almost the exact opposite of the performance directions given in Make-Up and no duration is suggested.31 Again the material varies from tonal and stable rhythmic material to more intricately detailed material, and stemless noteheads, clearly identifiable as mensural notational types (rather than a typically experimental indeterminate notation). Here, however, the consistency of dynamics and types of material make this more akin to the ultimately more rounded surfaces of Cage’s circus pieces, such as HPSCHD (1967–9). Very different in both sounding content and notational form are those kit pieces written between 2003–6, including Post-Christian Survival Kit, Molly House (2004), Vigany’s Cabinet (2004–5) and APRÈS-MIDI DADA (2006). In these Finnissy combines notations of varying kinds, and uses open (albeit sometimes within prescribed limits) instrumentation with instructions for actions, non-musical sounds and noises (including a coffee-grinder in APRÈS-MIDI DADA), suggestions for movements and ways of playing. Post-Christian Survival Kit (dedicated to the musicologist Nicholas Cook, Finnissy’s colleague at the University of Southampton at the time of its composition, where the first performance took place given by a student ensemble) is an assemblage (which might also serve as a useful alternative term to describe the kit pieces) of historical materials relating to Christianity, ‘re-locating them in an abstracted and alienated context, even perhaps questioning “secular” appropriation (or secularisation) of them’.32 It is for any instrumentation though a number of the pages are specifically keyboard notations. Eleven pages feature two or three lines of un-metred chorale-like semibreves and minims, essentially tonal or modal two-part harmonies; of these, seven include one or more lines with text drawn from hymns such

Post-experimental survivor


as ‘Nearer my God, to thee’. Nine pages feature between one and five lines of essentially melodic material, with or without key signatures, notated in complex and irregular rhythmic detail, with grace notes, sometimes broken up with numbers of bars rest, and including two-part writing at times. A further three pages feature more simple two-part writing, but still rhythmicised and with time signatures. Eight pages present between two and four lines of melodic material, modal and rhythmicised, also including frequent and sometimes prolonged rests, with accompanying texts drawn from the same sources as those mentioned above. These are mostly fairly simple in character but some contain melismatic features suitable only for more advanced singers or players. Ten pages of keyboard music vary in length, register, character and difficulty, from low four-part writing to melismatic and lively rhythmic lines. The musically notated elements of the piece are completed by two pages (one of them quite short) of single-line bass writing; these are restricted to a pitch area no more than a fourth, feature microtones and have the effect of unstable drones. All musical content has the appearance of fragments, extracted from sources, with little regard for beginning and end features. The remaining pages of the kit are graphic in character. Sixteen pages feature four freelydrawn nested squares across which are scattered two types of markings: what look like little musical accents, in any rotation, which collectively give the impression of bird claw prints left in the snow, and small four-sided, inked-in blocks (see Chapter 9, Ex. 9.4). Both types depict distinct journeys across the page, and in relation to the nested squares, such that a pathway or a number of pathways might be determined. These may be interpreted as ‘type or character of sound, its duration or to its physical location’, and are read as non-musical sounds, noises or extended techniques made on instruments or in any other way, including ‘non-musical objects in the place of performance or the performer’s own body’.33 A further ten pages depict what Finnissy describes as ‘antique illustrations’, extracts from woodcut depictions such as ‘Christus’ by the Lutheran Lucas Cranach the Elder. These might ‘be realized as “ways of playing the other material”, as “supplementary gestures” – physical actions which deliberately or inadvertently produce a sound, or as “tableaux vivants” in which sounds might be audible’. Unlike the musical notated pages, those pages with graphics may be repeated ‘any number of times’.34 Whilst one could imagine an interpretative approach which attempts to reflect the contours of the drawings through sound, much like the parts of Cage’s Score (40 Drawings by Thoreau) and 23 Parts, it is more likely that these graphics are suggestions for action or to inform the sounding music. In a performance I directed at the 2016 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, lasting ten minutes, pages of music were selected by and assigned to different instrumental groups, including two recorders, a viol consort, violin, double bass, acoustic guitar, three trombones, tuba, clarinet, flute, two saxophones, two pianos, a harpsichord, a toy piano, all of which were spread around and at different levels within the performing space. A number of these musicians were also assigned a page of illustration with the


Philip Thomas

suggestion that the image might inform how they chose to perform the music on their pages in some way. Other members of the ensemble selected pages of maps, or illustrations, or both. Those who interpreted the maps aligned them to the performing area, including the space outside of the performing area such that entrances and exits were made, which also made use of two floors above the ground floor of the Creative Arts Building atrium at the University of Huddersfield (the different levels suggested by the nested squares). As the performers walked steadily, marking out their paths, sounds were made at points reflecting the positions of the markings on the maps. These included electric guitar attacks, percussive sounds of various kinds, clarinet multiphonics and squeaks, jumping, and shouts, wails and murmurings. Additionally some performers combined map directions with the illustrations, most memorably one performer who, dressed in a hooded cloak, shuffled through the performing space on their knees, another who occasionally beat in most dramatic fashion a large box, informed by one of the images depicting flagellation, and another who played short bursts of a tape collage made from troubadour and trobairitz songs through a boombox-cassette player, a choice informed by the image of a man with outstretched hands.35 Members of the audience moved around the sonic mélange and it was not always clear as to whether someone was performing one of the maps or merely wandering around as a listener. As this description suggests, the result was somewhat chaotic, with moments of poignant transparency, peculiar ritual, and joy as when extraordinary collisions occurred. Finnissy specifically instructs that ‘No overall structure should be negotiated or contrived’ and thus as ‘director’ my main role was to gather players, and make suggestions when asked to.36 Having suggested a ten-minute total duration, I intentionally left individuals and groups free to decide when to play, how to play, and how to interpret the maps and images, whilst ensuring ideas were shared during pre-performance gatherings such that fresh ideas might be accrued in response to others. The power and energy of the music is in no small part due to the combination of individual choices – which themselves were often unusual and other than the kinds of sounds and actions these players might normally choose. They responded imaginatively and with considerable risk to the notations/graphics – with unpredictable and uncoordinated collisions of sounds resulting from many players making choices as to time and manner of playing, widely spaced apart. The kit pieces are perhaps the most obviously experimental of Finnissy’s output; the chance outcomes and indeterminacies of performance, despite the parameters and controls set out by the notations and instructions, necessarily afford multiple possibilities of texture, content, continuity, and character in performance. However, the tensions outlined above in relation to the kit pieces between a kind of intuitive, imaginative and individualised – ultimately expressive – performance approach, and one which is distanced, objectified, and curious, point to a mode of performance which I find at work in all of Finnissy’s music to varying degrees, whether fully notated and loaded

Post-experimental survivor


with detail or reductive and open in the notational signification. Chance and other techniques to transform, distort or reconfigure source material in the compositional processes suggest – at least to my mind and in my response as a performer – a similarly distorted approach to performance, one that recognises the expressive potential of the material whilst at the same time requires a close attention to the work of the notation, the detail. It is a delicate balance, one that is particularly unique to Finnissy’s music, unsurprisingly perhaps – the wide range of interests and musics that underpin Finnissy’s aesthetic can only result in an equally pluralistic situation in performance.37 But the music as a whole invites a performance response which is curious, inherently experimental – rather than necessitating an interpretation which, for example, shapes each line or section in such a way that it is fixed or communicative, the ways in which the music questions material, its continuity and combinations, suggests a performance approach which is also questioning, open-ended, and uncertain, placing the performer in the heart of the experiment.

Notes 1 Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, second edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Nyman’s definitions draw from Cage’s polemics, essentially those collected in Silence (London: Calder and Boyars, 1968), and his subjects are Cage and his immediate circle and their English counterparts. 2 See George E. Lewis, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Benjamin Piekut (ed.), Tomorrow Is The Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2014). 3 Archived at the British Music Collection, at uk/ (accessed 24 June 2018). See Roddy Hawkins’ contribution in Chapter 5 of this volume for more on Finnissy’s early work as a performer. 4 See for example Finnissy’s own programme note to the Piano Concerto No.3: ‘The writing is…intended to sound completely spontaneous (reminiscent of Cecil Taylor’s playing, or Thelonious Monk) and physically ‘exciting’ – hot rather than cool; in conversation with the author (5 October 1995, British Music Information Centre, 10 Stratford Place, London) Finnissy referred to Taylor when discussing issues of accuracy in performance: ‘someone like Cecil Taylor will be doing remarkable things at the keyboard and because it produces such an extraordinary effect musically I want it! But you can’t trap it in the same way because jazz is part of a whole other world philosophy so one has to find the fissures in the philosophy which you’ve inherited and which you’re building on.’ And Philip Clark, in a review of Ian Pace’s recording of the Verdi Transcriptions and Piano Concertos, wrote ‘Imagine your favourite Cecil Taylor solo transcribed and then repeated with the conviction and heat of the source performance.’ (The Wire, March 2002, p. 55). 5 Michael Finnissy plays Weir, Finnissy, Newman and Skempton (NMC D002, 1992); Laurence Crane: 20th Century Music – Solo Piano Pieces 1985–1999 (Metier MSV28506, 2008) 6 Ensemble Exposé, Donmar Warehouse, 11 December 1988. 7 Keith Potter, ‘Music in London’, The Musical Times, vol. 129 no. 1747 (September 1988), p. 473.


Philip Thomas

8 Finnissy composed a Samuel Beckett-inspired solo piano piece for Tilbury, Enough, in 2001. 9 Andrew Clements, ‘Finnissy’s Undivine Comedy’, The Musical Times, vol. 129 no. 1745 (July 1988), p. 332. 10 Michael Finnissy, Marilyn Nonken, ‘Biting the Hand that Feeds You’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 21, no. 1 (2002), p. 73. 11 See, for example, Walter Zimmermann, Desert Plants: Conversations with 23 American Musicians (Vancouver: Zimmermann, 1976), currently available as pdf at, and the American Public Media resource ‘American Mavericks’, at http://musicmavericks.publicradio. org/ (accessed 17 July 2018). 12 See Ian Pace ‘The Piano Music’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox & Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997), pp. 117–20. Pace also notes that the grace notes which overlay the rhythmic notations are derived from Cardew’s A Book of Study for Two Pianists. 13 Michael Finnissy, interview with John Habron, new notes (May 2006). 14 See Ian Pace, ‘The Panorama of Michael Finnissy (I)’, Tempo, New Series, no. 196 (April 1996), pp. 32–3; and Ian Pace ‘The Piano Music’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox & Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997), pp. 78–85. 15 See Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, pp. 78–83 for an example of how Finnissy does this in his piano piece G.F.H. (1985). See also Chapter 10 of the present volume for Arnold Whittall’s consideration of Chris Newman’s description of Finnissy’s work as ‘atonal tonal music’. 16 See Ian Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013), pp. 8–43 for a sustained consideration of broader macro-categories for Finnissy’s sources, and also Chapter 3 of this volume. 17 In conversation with the author, 5 October 1995 (British Music Information Centre, 10 Stratford Place, London) in which Finnissy directly refers to Cage’s statement. He also discussed his strategy of writing away from the keyboard as relevant to this discussion: ‘Sometimes I think one has to learn that one’s ears are not the only judge; one has to sometimes write in order to hear.’ 18 Michael Finnissy, ‘Writing for the Gruppo Ferruccio’, Current Musicology 67/68 (Fall 1999), p. 106. 19 John Cage, ‘An Autobiographical Statement’, in Richard Kostelanetz (ed.), John Cage: Writer (New York: First Cooper Square Press, 2000), pp. 237–48. 20 Plain Harmony (1993), in its free instrumentation score, is the first of Finnissy’s pieces to be composed for both amateur players and non-specific instrumentation. 21 Richard Toop, ‘Four Facets of the “New Complexity”’, Contact 32 (Spring 1988), p. 49. 22 Jonathan Cross and Ian Pace, ‘Finnissy, Michael (Peter)’, Grove Music Online (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). 23 Frog Peak Music, at pdf?lbisphpreq=1 (accessed 13 June 2018). 24 Michael Finnissy, preface to score, Sir Tristran (London and Vienna: Universal Edition, 1978). 25 This is the first piece in which Finnissy composed independent parts throughout. 26 Paradoxically, Crippled Symmetry is unusual in having no dynamic marking (Feldman’s standard is , or words to the effect of ‘as soft as possible’ or ‘very soft’), and so theoretically could be played loudly.

Post-experimental survivor


27 A short piece, Independence Quadrilles, for violin, cello and piano, followed in 1982, with revisions in 1988 and 1995. 28 Though Finnissy’s kit pieces operate differently from those pieces by Cage from the late 1950s and early 1960s identified by James Pritchett as ‘tools’, namely Cartridge Music, Fontana Mix, and the first few of the Variations series. These take the form of mobile scores, making use of transparencies, by which means a secondary score or plan may be made and are generally indeterminate with regard to sounding content. Finnissy’s kit pieces are more specific in their notational content, but also may include indeterminate elements, but essentially constitute a collection of material to be used. Thus Cage’s music from the 1970s onwards, such as those identified here, are a far better match to Finnissy’s methods. 29 Though Finnissy also writes that versions for fewer or more instruments may be made. 30 Michael Finnissy, preface to score, Make-up (unpublished, 1964, rev. 1970). 31 However, on the composer’s website the duration is stated 8 minutes, and the number of players specified is 6 or 9. Quite how this relates to the 14 pages of material is not clear. 32 Michael Finnissy, preface to score, Post-Christian Survival Kit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003–5). 33 Ibid. 34 APRÈS-MIDI DADA likewise features twelve graphical pages, mainly what appears to be ink splatterings, or blotter remains, to be interpreted by percussion and/or noises, and four pages of illustrations, fragments of photos depicting a nude descending a staircase, ‘which may be perceived as a visual analogue for the musical composition, and which may be interpreted – live or on film – by either clothed or unclothed silent actors.’ Other Duchamp references within the piece include pages of notations, titled ‘Erratum’ in space time, for plucked strings and/or sustaining keyboards, an homage to Duchamp’s own musical experiments. See also Chapter 9 for further discussion on these notations. 35 Jorge Boehringer, the performer, recalled, ‘He looked like he had been carrying something that had been erased from the picture, like a television he had just looted from somewhere. The boombox-cassette player seemed a more positive solution, and one that produced sound. I also thought it was a nice tip of the hat to Finnissy’s special approach to something like “sampling” in his work.’ 36 Some other kit pieces have more structural indications. 37 Comparing existing recordings of piano music, for example, by different pianists, including the composer himself, readily demonstrates the multiple interpretative possibilities and attitudes toward performing Finnissy’s music.

Bibliography ‘American Mavericks’. At (accessed 17 July 2018). Clements, Andrew ‘Finnissy’s Undivine Comedy’. The Musical Times, vol. 129 no.1745 (July 1988), pp. 330–2. Cross, Jonathan; and Pace, Ian. ‘Finnissy, Michael (Peter)’. Grove Music Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Finnissy, Michael. Preface to score, Make-up. Unpublished, 1964, rev. 1970. Finnissy, Michael. Preface to score, Sir Tristran. London and Vienna: Universal Edition, 1978. Finnissy, Michael. ‘Writing for the Gruppo Ferruccio’.Current Musicology 67/68 (Fall 1999), pp. 99–108.


Philip Thomas

Finnissy, Michael; and Nonken, Marilyn. ‘Biting the Hand that Feeds You’. Contemporary Music Review, vol. 21, no. 1 (2002), pp. 71–9. Finnissy, Michael. Preface to score, Post-Christian Survival Kit. Oxford University Press, 2003–5. Finnissy, Michael. Interview with John Habron. new notes (May 2006). Frog Peak Music. At pdf?lbisphpreq=1 (accessed 13 June 2018). Lewis, George E. A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2009. Nyman, Michael. Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pace, Ian. ‘The Panorama of Michael Finnissy (I)’. Tempo, New Series, no. 196 (April 1996), pp. 25–35. Pace, Ian. ‘The Piano Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 43–133. Pace, Ian. Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation. Swarland: Divine Art, 2013. Piekut, Benjamin, ed. Tomorrow Is The Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2014. Potter, Keith. ‘Music in London’. The Musical Times, vol. 129 no. 1747 (September 1988), pp. 471–4. Toop, Richard. ‘Four Facets of the “New Complexity”’. Contact 32 (Spring 1988), pp. 4–50. Zimmermann, Walter. Desert Plants: Conversations with 23 American Musicians. Vancouver: Zimmermann, 1976; currently available as pdf at walterz/bibliographie.html (accessed 17 July 2018). Laurence Crane. 20th Century Music – Solo Piano Pieces 1985–1999. Michael Finnissy, piano. Metier MSV 28506, 2008. Michael Finnissy plays Weir, Finnissy, Newman and Skempton. NMC D002 (1992).


Negotiating borrowing, genre and mediation in the piano music of Finnissy Strategies and aesthetics Ian Pace

To John Fallas Those familiar with Michael Finnissy’s music will know that he draws extensively upon a range of pre-existing musical sources, whether from the Western art music tradition, early twentieth-century popular song, music hall, or many folk and vernacular musics from different parts of the world. In this chapter, I will consider the implications of such conscious borrowing and its specific manifestations for performance, and in particular how performers might respond to both the generic aspects of both the original sources and also their mediated forms in Finnissy’s works. This focus on conscious borrowings does not necessarily reflect a poietic bias, though in my earlier work on Finnissy’s use of found materials I have often sought to illuminate more information about compositional technique, believing this to be valuable for other composers.1 However, an investigation of a work’s sources, and the ways in which these are mediated through the composer in order to produce the final work, can also demystify what might otherwise be quite forbidding works. This can, in my view, be as valuable for the performer as for the developed listener, not in order to discern some supposed ‘truth’ in the work, but to gain a more acute awareness of its components, which can stimulate informed decisions relating to interpretive possibilities. A focus on borrowing in Finnissy’s music has not gone unchallenged, and my own work and that of others in this respect has been critiqued by Richard Beaudoin,2 coming from what I would characterise as a ‘high formalist’ position, somewhat akin to that of the American New Critics of literature.3 In his article on the opening of the eighth chapter, Kapitalistisch Realisme (met Sizilianische Männerakte en Bachsche Nachdichtungen) of The History of Photography in Sound, Beaudoin, using the loaded phrase ‘the music itself’, focuses almost exclusively on the immanent properties of the work, and writes that ‘we are engaged by its handling of musical materials on its own terms’.4 Furthermore, he writes that ‘both performer and listener are unaware of all original source material, or at least are unable to link the two in real time when encountering the History’, but then moderates the sentiment


Ian Pace

behind that statement, declaring a wish to ‘investigate the piece without overemphasizing the cultural importance of its source material’.5 That said, Beaudoin still feels bound to mention Finnissy’s obvious Ivesian allusion to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the beginning of the work,6 and at the end of the article he does look at the transformation of motives from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung on the basis of the sketches, as well as the relationship of Finnissy’s composition to other Beethoven works.7 He also earlier compares some of Finnissy’s processes to those of Debussy in ‘En sourdine’, from Series I of Fêtes galantes,8 which may not be a reference or species of borrowing, but certainly suggests an importance he attaches to the work’s relationship to other pieces of music. I would dispute whether a work’s ‘own terms’ can be identified so clearly;9 in some ways Beaudoin’s analysis, valuable though it is, reflects its author’s own external priorities just as much as many other writings. Beyond some straightforward listings of tempo markings, and registering of discontinuities, Beaudoin takes a ‘vertical’ approach to the music, identifying what he believes to be near-tonal harmonic progressions in this section of the work. Much of this is insightful, but it does omit a vital element – the performer. In fact, performance and its effects upon perception do not feature at all in Beaudoin’s article, with the music conceived essentially as a platonic ideal.10 He neglects to consider how approaches to voicing, phrase-shaping, rhythmic emphasis and counter-emphasis, or even tempo flexibility, might inform the sounding result, and thus how these might affect the ways harmonies and tonality might be perceived by a listener. In a section which Beaudoin analyses, Finnissy extracts a line from Beethoven’s String Quartet op. 18 no. 5 for the bass, while the treble is a series of modified fragments drawn randomly from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (see Ex. 3.1). But those borrowings are not Beaudoin’s concern. From the Distantly reflecting marking, Beaudoin asserts that ‘the opening of the passage sounds both stable and open’, due to the use of a G Aeolian mode (with an added Eᅉ) and that ‘the stability of the first chord of the section, whose outer voice G octaves are novel in the piece thus far’. Then he stresses the implied E major (with Aᅈ4 serving enharmonically as G#4), together with a 9th, then flattened. He claims that the G4/Eᅈ4 dyad on the second system darkens the colour when ‘We are still hearing the E major chord’, which is reaffirmed by the B4-E5 fourth immediately afterwards. Then the following passage, according to Beaudoin, forms a V7 cadence on to D, at the beginning of the next system, with various added notes.11 I do not necessarily disagree with at least some aspects of this reading. In particular, considering the music in a somewhat more horizontal manner, I would note how the low C#2 at the beginning of the last left-hand bar of the second system, reinforced by the C#3s an octave above which precede and succeed it, which can be heard as a leading note, reinforce Beaudoin’s claim for a cadential progression into the key of D. On the other hand, his claim for a long V7 pedal harmony is weak, as the seventh is only heard once briefly,

Strategies and aesthetics


Ex. 3.1 Finnissy, Kapitalistische Realisme, from The History of Photography in Sound, as analysed by Richard Beaudoin. © Oxford University Press 2004.

approached strangely via the supertonic of V, the A major chord is in a 6-3 position after the release of the pedal on the lower A, and there is no major third of D, at least until after the Maëstoso onto which that dominant note can resolve. To perform the passage in question in a manner I believe to be commensurate with Beaudoin’s analysis, I would play the LH E4 after Distantly reflecting very quietly, but then the subsequent LH E3 and E4 more prominently, as well as the RH Aᅈ4. I would pause very slightly on the G4/Eᅈ4 dyad, and stress the various As, C#s and Es on the second system, and emphasise in particular the G4 near the end in the RH, all to heighten a sense of a V7 pedal point, while playing those notes which provide the strongest chromatic clashes, such as the F#4, D#5, A#4, F#5 and G#4 within the RH 6:5 tuplet, more softly. However, I could equally stress (relative to the quiet dynamic) the initial LH E4, together with the G3 and G5 which sound simultaneously, and then the RH C4, to suggest a type of resolution onto C major, which then shifts onto a IV6 chord in 6-3 position. I could minutely emphasise pitches so as to make the RH Bᅈ4 appear to lead to the Aᅈ4 in the lower part of the 7:6 tuplet grouping, then treat the F#5 (enharmonically Gᅈ5) on the next system as if


Ian Pace

were the seventh degree of A-flat. The second RH Eᅈ4 on the second system can be made enharmonically to appear together with the F#4/D#5 dyad and the following A#4 to spell out an E-flat/D# minor triad, while just before the Maëstoso the voicing could imply a resolution into C major (through the E4/ C5 dyad, with the D5 serving as an appoggiatura for the tonic pitch, and the B4 as a leading note). One might fairly assume an equilibrato approach to the two hands/parts, but the realisation of this in practice can take various different forms. Simply playing every note equally, and at a ‘flat’ dynamic without nuances, will result in the stronger notes of the bass becoming prominent, while in places with strong consonant harmonies, a literally equal dynamic can in other ways communicate an unequal result, because of the degrees of emphasis provided by supporting harmonics.12 So one must be creative and aurally engaged to produce a sense of equality between the parts. Yet the fragmentary nature of the left hand, exacerbated by the pedalling, offers opportunities to play the music in such a way (through voicing and some tempo flexibility, not to mention particular stresses on the beginnings of slurred groups to displace a sense of a regular meter), that the listener can ‘phase in’ and ‘phase out’ between the parts in each hand, rather than always hearing one as an extension of the other, or even as a melody and accompaniment (though the nature of the writing, and the emphasis on line in the right hand, chords in the left, certainly suggests this).13 If the right hand is played at literally the same dynamic as the left, then the latter will always come to the foreground when sounding, creating an effect not unlike that notated explicitly in the second of Finnissy’s Yvaroperas (1993–5).14 Conversely, if the right hand is continuously played at a louder dynamic, to counterbalance the natural weight of the left, this can also steer the harmonic gravity away from that in Beaudoin’s analysis. Analysis can be said not only to explain existing aural perceptions of a work, but also facilitate and stimulate new approaches to listening. I would maintain that elucidation of sources and ‘hidden narratives’ can be part of this process. But analysis which is oblivious to the role of performance, and which ignores the creative and mediatory role of the performer(s) between the score (even when very detailed) and the listeners, has significant limitations. Recently, Nicholas Cook and Daniel Leech-Wilkinson have written quite dismissively of the idea that scholarship, and for Cook especially analysis (using disparagingly the term ‘Analytically-Informed Performance’ or AIP), might be of value for performers.15 I have expressed elsewhere the view that, on the contrary, I believe that some type of analysis is at play whenever a performer renders a work of music.16 It need not matter how formalised or systematic – or even conscious – such an analysis is. Performers make decisions all of the time; the moment these relate to perceptions coming out of the scores they play (or from wider knowledge of outputs, composers, styles, genres, aesthetics and so on) they are engaging in a type of analysis. There is no reason why some of the fruits of sophisticated analyses could never be of

Strategies and aesthetics


value to performers, unless one, like Leech-Wilkinson in particular, takes at face value a good deal of mystical, irrationalist rhetoric about instinctive and intuitive performance amongst historical figures, and views this as the ideal model. So, performers can learn from analysts, and analysts can learn from performers and performances – and some undertake both activities to varying extents. Both groups of people can also garner valuable information from considering musical provenance and the compositional process – two categories from which I will isolate sub-categories of genre and mediation presently. To return briefly to Beaudoin: his analyses isolate the musical result – or rather, his interpretation of this – from the means by which it was obtained, and as such from the sources, not least because he believes the latter are inaudible. There is value in this approach as a corrective to those which isolate compositional process (poiesis), ideas, conceptions, and aesthetics from their sonic manifestations. Nonetheless, I believe three points should be made in response to Beaudoin’s arguments: (1) many of the sources – though not all – are indeed unrecognisable in their mediated forms, and some are extremely obscure, but I believe most of them do inform the sounding result, injecting stylistic attributes, idioms, formal processes or indeed generic features into this, and for this reason alone I believe them worthy of study;17 (2) when some of these sources and their relationship to the final work are made explicit for listeners – to whatever level of detail – this approach can enable new approaches to listening, as mentioned before; and (3) in his article on the History, Christopher Fox related a test with some of his students, playing them some of the work. While they did not recognise the specific sources, nonetheless they sensed some of the wider generic qualities, for example with hymn-like material.18 Regarding The History of Photography in Sound, about which I have previously employed much ink, its allusion to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, one of the most iconic pieces of Western art music, makes most explicit the link with Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata. The music connects with that of Ives on many other levels, and for that reason models of Ives’ borrowings should be considered alongside other theoretical work in this domain, in order not only to develop a model for Finnissy, but also to open up new possibilities relevant for the study of other composers whose work employs found materials.

Borrowing and intertextuality Whilst scholars have identified and examined musical borrowings throughout the history of musicology, with important early contributions on the work of Bartók and Stravinsky, amongst twentieth-century composers,19 the publication of important articles by Günther von Noé and Zofia Lissa in the mid1960s initiated a stronger theoretical foundation for musical borrowing in the work of modern composers.20 Noé placed a citation (Zitat) as a particular case


Ian Pace

of borrowing (Entlehnung), distinguishing it from plagiarism (Plagiat), as well as unconscious allusion to a motive, conscious stylistic influence, and thematic processing. He also considered in some more detail how a citation might be identified as such, and the functions it can play, using examples including Berg’s allusion to Zemlinsky in the Lyrische Suite.21 Lissa went considerably further and established thirteen defining criteria for a citation,22 which she combined with a requirement that it must be heard as such by a listener (so that a fragment of a source can signify to them the whole, pars pro toto, though the recognition can take various forms beyond simple apperception), and then considered the various aesthetic functions such a citation can serve. These include a particular established aesthetic function, as for example with citations of the ‘Tristan chord’, or of Bach’s chorale ‘Es ist genug’ in the Finale of Berg’s Violin Concerto; a programmatic function, as with the Dies irae as cited by Berlioz, Liszt, Rachmaninoff and others, or Shostakovich’s citation of revolutionary songs in his Symphony No. 12; a more subtle allusion which may or may not be recognised by the listener, such as Bartók’s use of the German folk song ‘Der Esel ist ein dummer Tier’ in his Violin Concerto No. 1, or Schumann’s citation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte in the first movement of his Fantasy in C, op. 17; or for parodistic or ironic effect, as found in Offenbach, Richard Strauss, or Manuel de Falla’s citation of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in El sombrero de tres picos.23 She went on further to consider the aesthetic function of citation in various genres: instrumental music, vocal music, opera and ballet, in the first of these considering B.A. Zimmermann’s Monologe (1964) (a re-working of the earlier Dialoge (1960, rev. 1965)), with its interplay between different historical/stylistic layers, comparing it to the work of James Joyce, Ezra Pound and the Surrealists (all associated with the concept of a collage), noting that this type of citation does not serve a merely decorative function, but appeals to a sense of continuity across history, and forms of ‘community’ between different participants in centuries-long musical cultures.24 All of these factors and uses of quotation are relevant for Finnissy, but the requirement of a quotation being able to be heard as such is too great a restriction for a nuanced model for this music. Six years later, Elmar Budde drew upon Lissa’s model, and also delineated three categories: citation, collage and montage,25 though his definitions were quite loose. If a citation amounted to some ‘foreign’ element within the context it was placed, then the collage principle, which he linked to the visual art of Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Ernst and others, occurs when heterogenous phenomena are combined to create a new phenomenon. Montage was a technique used in the creation of collages, but was difficult to differentiate from collage.26 Budde investigated a range of examples, from musique concrete to a plethora of collage techniques in works of Zimmermann, Mauricio Kagel, György Ligeti, Peter Schat, Henri Pousseur, Hans Otte, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Lukas Foss, thus creating a lineage of works, many of them unfamiliar to later Anglophone commentators who drew upon a more restricted repertoire.27

Strategies and aesthetics


A combination of Budde and Lissa’s models informed a 1972 monograph by Clemens Kühn, in which he limited himself to the simple dichotomy of citation and collage.28 Kühn explored more extensively parallels with art and literature, linking the compositions of Zimmermann, Berio, and Kagel with the poetry of Helmut Heißenbüttel, Michel Butor, and Ror Wolf, and the art work of Kurt Schwitters, all of which problematised the simple idea of citation, necessitating the use of collage.29 This differed from the use of citation in works of Berg, Hindemith, Britten, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Stockhausen in Adieu (1967) and others, which he compared to the quotations in Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (though which also uses collage techniques, as Kühn observes, as do works of James Joyce, Gerhard Rühm or William Burroughs).30 The former model is considerably more common in Finnissy’s output than the latter. Amongst post-1945 composers, Kühn expanded Budde’s canon to incorporate works of Hans Werner Henze, a wider range of Stockhausen from Gesang der Jünglinge (1956), and Dieter Schnebel’s book of ‘Music to Read’, MO-NO (1969) (though oddly not the obvious earlier example of his Glossolalie ’61).31 In another article, Budde examined in more detail the third movement of Berio’s Sinfonia, essentially in terms of the fundamental threads provided by the Scherzo from Mahler’s Second Symphony and Beckett’s The Unnamable, surrounded by a wide range of other musical and textual citations.32 Subsequent writers on this movement, including Peter Altmann, Michael Hicks, and David Osmond-Smith,33 were less concerned to develop a theoretical model (though Altmann made passing allusion to the citation/ collage dichotomy), preferring to concentrate on identifying the many quotations and analysing structural, aesthetic, and expressive aspects of the work. Later commentators such as Robert Fink presented the work as ‘without temporal perspective’, and ‘a random, deliberately unrepresentative sampling of the musical past’,34 a bizarre conclusion in light of previous scholarship. But this was a characteristic strategy of Anglophone writers identifying with postmodernism, including Susan McClary and Jane Piper Clendinning: to appropriate musical borrowing as a polemical weapon against alleged modernist purity and structured composition, lauding a supposed new contemporary wasteland in opposition to an imagined past.35 Some other writers on late twentieth-century music have erroneously evoked musical borrowing in order to draw a clear line between periods in modern music, in this case before and after 1968, ignoring the earlier lineage of borrowing examined by Budde, Kühn, and others.36 Glenn Watkins, on the other hand, in his extended study of musical collage (in the broadest sense of the term, to encompass assemblages of musical materials, texts, aesthetic principles, ideologies, and more),37 framed contemporary so-called postmodernist music in a context going back to the beginning of the twentieth century and beyond.38 However, Watkins’ treatment of specific musical quotation and its different modes is not extensive nor particularly detailed in compositional or other specifically musical terms.


Ian Pace

The most relevant sections of this to the issues I am considering here are a chapter examining a range of Stravinsky’s citations in The Rake’s Progress and combination of heterogenous elements in Agon, and another looking at different approaches and attitudes to collage, which does provide some very loose categories. These include relocation of music so as to change meaning, as in late Shostakovich or Christoph Rouse, ‘sophisticated treatment of the banal’, ‘positioning of sublime materials in hackneyed contexts’ in Kagel, completions of older musics, or attempts at presenting universalist connections between disparate materials.39 Some other writers have considered phenomenological and ethical aspects of musical borrowing. Jeanette Bicknell considered briefly the extent to which a listener might perceive something as a quotation, which can be highly dependent upon their cultural knowledge, and how this might affect perception, especially in terms of fragmentation of the listening experience.40 David Metzer, in a study explicitly limited to mere ‘quotation’ (like Lissa, Budde and Kühn’s ‘citation’),41 asked what constitutes a quotation (in particular, how long should/can it be?),42 and considered different forms of mediation, listing ‘Fragmentation, expansion, rhythmic skewing, stylistic metamorphosis’ as just some of these.43 Like Bicknell, Metzer also considered questions of cultural literacy, drawing parallels with the potential ‘elitism’ of some of the quotations in Eliot’s The Waste Land.44 Some of the most comprehensive and detailed studies of musical borrowing, various of which parallel, extend or modify these other approaches, have come from scholars of the music of Charles Ives, and these are most relevant for study of Finnissy. Amongst the most important is a 1969 doctoral dissertation by Clayton Henderson, which led to a 1974 article and 1982 book. Henderson delineated broad categories for either limited or numerous citations within a single movement (which can loosely be mapped onto Budde and Kühn’s citation and collage respectively), also differentiating by type – according to textual or programmatic implications, thematic or structural importance, theme and variations, and so on. He also isolated Ives’s techniques for using quotations in terms of strategies for melody (complete melodies, minor changes, or modification of fragments), rhythm (shifting of pulse or accents and other transformations), harmony (polytonal employment, removal of chords from functional harmonic combinations, etc.), and for horizontal, vertical or ‘fusion’-like combinations of multiple sources.45 Christopher Ballantine followed with a more theoretical consideration of the function of quotation in generating musical meaning (using the term semantic connotations), using ideas from Jungian psychoanalysis on dreams, but did not ultimately investigate the specific types of quotations beyond questions of texted/untexted sources, and more general comments on fantasy-like or programmatic interpretations of works which use them.46 But it was a 1985 article by J. Peter Burkholder,47 drawing upon part of his doctoral dissertation from two years previously,48 which took scholarship on Ives’s borrowing to a new level. Rejecting the use of a single umbrella

Strategies and aesthetics


category (‘quotation’, always placed in scare quotes), Burkholder insisted on the fundamental plurality of Ives’s techniques, which should be examined separately. Here he isolated settings of existing tunes, with new accompaniments or as variations, then five other principal techniques: (1) modelling a work on an existing one; (2) paraphrasing one melody to form another; (3) cumulative setting, development of motives as a prequel to the statement of a theme in full; (4) quoting as a type of ‘oratorical gesture’; and (5) quodlibet, combining two or more tunes vertically or horizontally.49 Even more fundamentally, he stressed the historical provenance of these techniques in the work of composers from Biber through Bach to Sousa, not in order to posit necessary influence, but simply to emphasise that such borrowing has been a central aspect of musical practice over a long period in European history,50 going further in this respect than Budde, Kühn, and Watkins. Then, in his seminal book All Made of Tunes: Charles Ives and the Uses of Musical Borrowing,51 drawing upon the work of other scholars of borrowing before him (and not just those writing on Ives), Burkholder developed a sophisticated taxonomy of types of borrowing, not unlike that of Lissa but expanded with more detail, to which I will return in the next section. Finnissy’s use of borrowing, like that of Ives, should not be seen as an indicator of musical de-subjectivisation or renunciation of individual creative will, as celebrated by thinkers like Fink, McClary, and Clendinning, though it can be viewed as an extension of various of the tendencies explored by Watkins. The subjective aspect is manifested through the high degree of mediation undertaken on Finnissy’s part between the sources and the finished score. However, I would not mean to imply by this that, for example, Berio’s Folk Songs, the third movement of the Sinfonia, or even Rendering, derived from a fragmentary Schubert score, are by contrast types of music with a significantly diluted subjective presence. In the work of Berio, or Zimmermann, John Zorn or others who use more ‘intact’ borrowings, the subjectivity is manifested through different compositional elements, such as the choices of modes of fragmentation, juxtaposition, superimposition, and so on. It is simply more obvious in Finnissy or Ives, in the context of a musical culture accustomed to a high degree of individuation of musical material. Finnissy’s work can also evoke questions of cultural literacy as explored by Metzer, and touched upon by Beaudoin, a subject to which I will return briefly later in this chapter. Both of these writers, like Lissa, are however not really prepared to consider the potentials of subcutaneous borrowing. But a further concept is also valuable for consideration of Finnissy’s music: that of intertextuality, in the formulation provided by Gérard Genette in his 1982 Palimpsestes (which is more restrictive than that from Julie Kristeva),52 rather than the vague and manneristic fashion which has become common elsewhere. Genette uses this term to reference quotation, plagiarism and allusion, all categories of borrowing,53 and sets out wider categories of paratextuality (the relationship between a text and its title, subtitle, illustrations, or other accessory material), metatextuality (the relationship between a text and


Ian Pace

another which entails a commentary without being explicit about this), architextularity (the generic category of a text) and hypertextuality (the relationship between a text B, the hypertext and an earlier text A, the hypotext, which is one of transformation but not commentary – so that both Virgil’s Aeneid or Joyce’s Ulysses are hypertexts of the hypotext, Homer’s The Odyssey),54 are all also useful categories for Finnissy, which I will incorporate presently. All of these fall within the broad category of transtextuality. But more detail is needed, and this is where Burkholder’s categories are most useful.

Models of Borrowing from Burkholder on Ives Despite emphasising the commonality of Ives’s techniques with those of many earlier European composers, Burkholder nonetheless argues that Ives’s use of musical borrowing is of a different nature to most others before him, maintaining that in this music listeners familiar with European art music may experience ‘a kind of aesthetic dissonance, violating the expectation that compositions should be original, self-contained, and based on newly invented ideas’.55 Yet I am less convinced by this assertion about expectations. Rather, the most obvious ‘aesthetic dissonances’ are achieved through the relationship of tonal materials to Ives’s frequently atonal contexts (for example the sudden insertion of hushed hymn tunes or robust marches within the sprawling dominant writing in ‘Hawthorne’, from the Concord Sonata), configurations (as with the superimposition of tonally disjunct materials in ‘Putnam’s Camp’ in Three Places in New England), or through fragmentation, repetition, or pitch/rhythmic modification so as to create a distorting effect. All of these techniques are equally commonplace across Finnissy’s output for piano. As such, Burkholder’s categories for types of borrowing in Ives (see Fig. 3.1)56 can be adapted meaningfully for Finnissy. For Finnissy’s musical borrowings, I propose the modified taxonomy in Fig. 3.2, in which are included selections of the pieces to which the categories are applicable. I omit Burkholder’s category of ‘programmatic quotation’, as this rarely takes such a simple form in Finnissy’s output. In general, the categories are approximate, and some works can be considered to belong to more than one, but they encompass the range of Finnissy’s piano music at the time of writing. Most of them correspond to Genette’s intertextuality, but 14 is a type of paratextuality, while metatextuality can enter into various categories where the sources are relatively hidden and others embodying a critical take on the source. Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 9 in particular can often be considered as manifestations of hypertextuality.

Genre Almost all of these categories, including some cases of no. 8 (stylistic allusion) could be viewed as relating to the appropriation of aspects of specific borrowed works. However, it is also important that some incorporate the

Strategies and aesthetics


1. Modelling a work or section on an existing piece, assuming its structure, incorporating part of its melodic material, imitating its form or procedures, or using it as a model in some other way. 2. Variations on a given tune. 3. Paraphrasing an existing tune to form a new melody, theme, or motive. 4. Setting an existing tune with a new accompaniment. 5. Cantus firmus, presenting a given tune in long notes against a more quickly moving texture. 6. Medley, stating two or more existing tunes, relatively complete, one after another in a single movement. 7. Quodlibet, combining two or more existing tunes or fragments in counterpoint or in quick succession, most often as a joke or technical tour de force. 8. Stylistic allusion, alluding not to a specific work but to a general style of type of music. 9. Transcribing a work for a new medium. 10. Programmatic quotation, fulfilling an extramusical program or illustrating part of a text. 11. Cumulative setting, a complex form in which the theme, either a borrowed tune or a melody paraphrased from one or more existing tunes, is presented complete only near the end of a movement, preceded by development of motives from the theme, fragmentary or altered presentation of the theme, and exposition of important countermelodies. 12. Collage, in which a swirl of quoted and paraphrased tunes is added to a musical structure based on modelling, paraphrase, cumulative setting, or a narrative program. 13. Patchwork, in which fragments of two or more tunes are stitched together, sometimes elided through paraphrase and sometimes linked by Ives’s interpolations. 14. Extended paraphrase, in which the melody for an entire work or section is paraphrased from an existing tune. Fig. 3.1 J. Peter Burkholder’s categories for Ives’s borrowing.

use of musical features which are common across a body of works, so for this reason I also want to focus more closely on genre, or – to use Genette’s categories – the architextual qualities of a work.57 Literary genre theory can be traced back as least as far as Aristotle,58 though musical theories of genre have only become prominent in recent decades, involving a multiplicity of views in particular on genre in modernist music. For Jim Samson, a genre is ‘A class, type or category, sanctioned by convention’, which is linked to Max Weber’s concept of the ‘ideal type’.59 For Samson and others, such classes are often defined in large measure socially, in terms of the nature of some music’s production and reception, as something determined by people other than the music’s creators.60 This is not however the conception of genre I am using here (in part because of the weakness of the idea of a ‘generic contract’ for modern music, as discussed below). I use the term instead as a means of categorising


Ian Pace


Modelling. Modelling a work or section on an existing piece, assuming its structure, incorporating part of its melodic material, imitating its form or procedures, or using it as a model in some other way Jazz (1976); Fast Dances, Slow Dances (1978–79) (both of these take their structure from the range of tempos in two different sets of Beethoven Bagatelles); Sizilianische Männerakte (1999). 2. Variations. Here Finnissy’s approach is closer to ‘Veränderungen’ (‘alterations’) than conventional ‘Variationen’ (‘variations’), as in Bach’s Aria mit verschiedenen Veraenderungen, his title for the Goldberg-Variationen, and also for the Einige canonische Veränderungen über das Weynacht-Lied, Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her for organ Bachsche Nachdichtungen (2000); ’Veränderungen’, from Beat Generation Ballads (2014); Beethoven’s Robin Adair (2015). 3. Paraphrase/Fantasia. This concept is more extravagant for Finnissy than for Ives and should be expanded to include a freer work in which the source (or at least some part of it) appears in some more-or-less palpable form at some point, in the context of various rhapsodic writing with a loose (i.e. not obviously audible) relationship to the source. Many of the Verdi Transcriptions (1972–2005); Several Gershwin Arrangements (1975–88); Kemp’s Morris (1978); Taja (1986); Lylyly li (1988–89); More Gershwin (1989–90, rev. 1996–98); Two of Us (1990); De toutes flours (1990); Sometimes I… (1990, rev. 1997); Deux Airs de Geneviève de Brabant (Erik Satie) (2001); Edward (2002); Joh. Seb. Bach (2003); Preambule zu “Carnaval”, gefolgt von der Ersten und zweiten symphonischen Etüde nach Schumann (2009–10); Zwei Deutsche mit Coda (2006); One Minute W… (2006) (Chopin Minute Waltz); Choralvorspiele (Koralforspill) (2011–12); Brahms-Lieder (2015); Kleine Fjeldmelodien (2016). 4. Setting with New Accompaniment. Several Gershwin Arrangements; Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (1990); Rossini (1991); Yvaroperas 2, 4 (1993–95); Sinner don’t let this Harvest pass (2014–16). 5. Cantus firmus. Various Verdi Transcriptions; G.F.H. (1985); Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sind (1992); Tell-Dirais (1996). 6. Medley. Romeo and Juliet are Drowning (1967); New Perspectives on Old Complexity (1990, rev. 1992); Various sections of Folklore (1993–94); Various sections of The History of Photography in Sound (1995–2000), in particular Le démon de l’analogie and Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets; Please pay some attention to me (1998). 7. Quodlibet. Australian Sea Shanties Set 2 (1983); Much of Folklore I-IV (1993–94); Large quantities of The History of Photography in Sound (1995–2000), including North American Spirituals, and Unsere Afrikareise; Erscheinen ist der herrliche Tag (2003); Z/K (2012); Third Political Agenda (2016). 8. Stylistic Allusion. Polskie Tance Op. 32 (1955–62); Four Mazurkas Op. 142 (1957); Two Pasodobles (1959); Romance (with Intermezzo) (1960); Freightrain Bruise (1972, rev. 1980); Many of 23 Tangos (1962–99); Svatovac (1973–74); We’ll get there someday (1978); Boogie Woogie (1980–81, rev. 1985, 1996); Terekkeme (1981, rev. 1990); Hikkai (1982–83); My love is like a red red rose (1990); Honky Blues (1996). 9. Transcribing a work for a new medium.1 Vieux Noël Op. 59 No. 2 (1958); How dear to me (1991). 9.5 Extended transcription (including free elaboration upon existing material). Cibavit eos (1991–92).

Fig. 3.2 Proposed categories for Finnissy’s borrowing.

Strategies and aesthetics


10. Collage. This uses a multiplicity of materials, generally presented in short fragments, with an external structuring principle. Tracey and Snowy in Köln (1990–91); Yvaroperas 1, 3, 5 (1993–95); Folklore IV (1993–94); Various parts of The History of Photography in Sound, including not least Le réveil de l’intraitable realité, and Wachtend op de volgende uitsbarting van repressie en censuur. 11. Patchwork. For Finnissy this can include a collage based entirely upon a single work, but through short fragments presented in a wholly new order and configuration. Strauss-Walzer (1967, rev. 1989); Reels (1980–81); William Billings (1990–91); Cozy Fanny’s Tootsies (1992); What the meadow-flowers tell me (1993) (Mahler 3). 12. Material/Configuration Multi-Borrowing. Where two or more different sources are used, one for direct material, the other (which may be a genre, a composer’s ‘style’, or a specific work) to provide the type of configuration for the transcription. All are generally heavily mediated. Jazz (1976); Fast Dances, Slow Dances (1978–79); Some of the Gershwin Arrangements and More Gershwin; The eighth pieces of each book of the Verdi Transcriptions, each modelled on a work of Ferruccio Busoni; There never was such hard times before (1991) – English folk tune set in the style of Cornelius Cardew; Cozy Fanny’s Tootsies (1992); Much of The History of Photography in Sound (1995–2000) e.g. African-American spirituals configured in the manner of William Billings hymns. 13. Cumulative Setting. In which various free developments of material precede its appearance in a more recognizable form or simply when a recognizable melody or fragment is made to seem as if it grows out of the preceding passages. Alkan-Paganini (1997); Eadweard Muybridge – Edvard Munch (1997); My Parents’ Generation thought War meant something (1999) (for the appearance of the two ‘popular songs’); Etched Bright with Sunlight (1999–2000) (for the quote from Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette). 14. Portraiture. A general portrait of a composer based upon a plethora of their music, style, or other factors associated with them or their character. Ives – Grainger – Nancarrow (1974, 1979, 1979–80); Liz (1980–81); B.S. – G.F.H. (1985–86); John Cage (1992); Ethel Smyth (1995); Alkan-Paganini (1997); ERIK SATIE like anyone else (2000–1); Mit Arnold Schoenberg (2002); SKRYABIN like anyone else (2007–8). Also portraits of other types of artists e.g. Vanèn, Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets or Eadweard Muybridge – Edvard Munch. 15. Completion or re-orchestration. A completion of an unfinished piece, which employs existing material with only minor modifications, or a re-setting of another piece. There are almost no piano pieces which fit this category, but it does encompass other of Finnissy’s works such as Grieg Quintettsatz (2007) and Mozart Requiem Completion (2013).2 However, this is worth noting here in case any future piano works fall into this category.

Fig. 3.2 (continued) 1

Finnissy’s arrangement for 11 instruments of the last number from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, I’m on my Way (1998), would also fit this category. 2 Though not the Piano Quartet in G minor, 1861 or Piano Quartet in A major, 1862–2 (both 2009), which are extremely free compositions despite the Brahmsian allusions in the title, so belong in category 3.


Ian Pace

types of stylistic attributes and/or structural processes observable across a range of work, based upon discernible work-immanent features rather than very loose external classifications. Some associate Finnissy’s music with extreme modernism, others view it as a throwback to nineteenth-century styles by others; these are the concerns of a study of the music’s reception (though I will return briefly to them when considering generic contracts), but not of its genre here. Such work-immanent qualities can include paratextual information such as a title (Finnissy once denied that his Snowdrift was a ‘snowscape’, but added ‘what else are you going to hear with THAT title?’),61 a programme note, or other information supplied to illuminate some of the borrowings,62 and can respond to externally-inherited expectations, but I do not wish here to define genre independently of the agency of the musicians and other creators involved (so not including, say, those involved in marketing or otherwise ‘selling’ the work).63 As such, my definition is distinct from a musical equivalent of the common conception of film genre as ‘defined by the film industry and recognized by the mass audience’, as critiqued by Rick Altman,64 because marketing genres, and some of those used by critics, can be crude, and are a poor substitute from engagement with the details of music. It is for this reason I would resist labelling Finnissy’s work ‘new complexity’. The role of genre in modernist music has been the subject of vexed debate, which is worth examining briefly in order to arrive at a model to use for Finnissy. Carl Dahlhaus presented a historical narrative of a declining importance for genre through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as a result of the growth of the work-concept and the importance of individuation and a declining status for ‘functional music’ which grew further away from art. Liturgical music became an archaising craft, while Gebrauchsmusik was a relatively short-lived phenomenon. The growth of historicism and a canonical repertory in the nineteenth century shifted the emphasis away from genre towards single works. However, according to Dahlhaus: ‘The older manner of hearing [very much focused around text] vanished without the new one having become sufficiently well established.’65 For Dahlhaus, Schoenberg used traditional genre names in order to express an inner affinity with the past, while Webern did the same but more profoundly ‘dissolved the genredetermining connections between formal models, movement structure and types of scoring’.66 This model has been sharply criticised, not least by Jeffrey Kallberg, who argued that Dahlhaus paid insufficient attention to cultivation of individual ‘genius’ right back in the Renaissance, with an associated license to break rules.67 Eric Drott, who has written extensively on French musique spectrale, also questioned Dahlhaus’s view that genre had declined in modernist music,68 drawing heavily on Jason Toynbee on genre’s ‘inevitability’.69 Drott’s arguments rely in part on the idea that a work which managed to stand outside of known genre categories ‘would immediately define some new category, one delineated on the basis of its refusal of other categories’.70 Whilst Drott is right to note that older genres have continued to be employed by modern composers

Strategies and aesthetics


(including Finnissy),71 or that works set in opposition to older genres create new ones of their own, his definition makes a category into a genre, without requiring that the former can be observed over a significant body of work. As such, it is so broad as to be practically meaningless (Theodor Adorno’s observation that ‘The work that does not subsume itself to any style must have its own style, or as Berg said, its own “tone”’72 is more modest and meaningful). This model leaves no place in particular for new musical experiments which are not pursued further over any period of time either by their originators or others, though may nonetheless produce striking results. If Toynbee and Drott’s models are over-grandiose and lack nuance, there is plenty of scope for the latter in the late writing on genre by Adorno, in the context of the dialectic of Universal and Particular. Presenting an alternative to the view by the anti-genre aesthetic theorist, Benedetto Croce (which saw genre as an imposition, and claimed that artists never really obeyed the laws),73 Adorno argued that ‘Probably no important artwork ever corresponded completely to its genre’, but recognised in dialectical fashion how central a role was required for genre in order for such non-conformity to be meaningful. Adorno maintained that universal or normative concepts of genre were always mediated by the particular, that both musical genres and forms are rooted in the historical needs of their material, and that genres ‘must be attacked in order to maintain their substantial element’, so that the individual work legitimates, engenders and also cancels genres. He also noted the instability of style under capitalism, a consideration absent from the work of most commentators.74 Jim Samson draws upon some of Adorno’s formulations in maintaining the permeability of genre, as a generalised category which can exist in a dialectic with other individuated aspects of style and form, and goes on to explore Chopin’s Impromptus in these terms.75 These models will inform most strongly how I consider genre in Finnissy. Of great importance for Finnissy are the communicative and persuasive properties of genre, about which Kallberg also criticised Dahlhaus for not considering them in depth.76 For Finnissy, this consideration effected a shift away from his earlier more overtly ‘abstract’ compositions, which culminated in alongside (1979).77 Even this piece was relatively exceptional, as many of his other early pieces include texts or explicit poetic or other inspirations (for example Le dormeur du val (1963–8), Romeo and Juliet are drowning (1967–73), Folk Song Set (1969–76) or Tsuru-Kame (1971–3)). Finnissy has said that his regular use of musical borrowing, encountered in almost all of his works from the beginning of the 1980s onwards, was motivated by an attempt to increase the communicative potential of his works by situating them within existing and recognisable traditions and genres, so that such works could be heard relative to the conventions therein.78 Their particularities may then be more immediate for the reasons given by Adorno. This conception also relates to Kallberg’s argument that in order to define a genre, one much consider not simply shared characteristics, but also the community which employs the term. He evokes Hans Robert Jauss’ conception


Ian Pace

of a ‘generic contract’ between composer and listener, by which the composer agrees to employ some conventions, patterns or gestures associated with a genre, and the listener agrees to interpret the piece relative to these.79 In a literary context, just as a musical one, this contract can be implied simply by the establishment of conventions at the outset of a work.80 The application of this concept to Finnissy is a little problematic, because his community of listeners is not known to be large, compared to that of wider listeners to Western art music, and is also somewhat heterogeneous. There could be said to be a ‘modernist’ community who listen to his work – many of them often drawn to his earlier and more obviously ‘abstract’ compositions – who continue to situate at least that subsection of his work to which they are favourable within the category – perhaps genre – of ‘new complexity’, even if not explicitly employing that term.81 Then there is also what I might call a ‘romantic pianism’ community, naturally drawn to the piano works, but especially to those works and aspects therein which can be linked to the music of Charles Valentin Alkan, Busoni, Leopold Godowsky, Percy Grainger, Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji, and others.82 Both of these communities (which do have some common members!) have their own generic contracts, which are quite distinct, and Finnissy’s work can be said to fulfil both contracts in part, but never wholly fulfil either. But this is itself a common phenomenon: Kallberg points out how departures from generic norms and expectations have played a major role in the communicative process, and genres have rarely been fixed and static entities.83 The difference between genre and style is conceptualised quite differently by a range of writers, as traced by Allan Moore.84 The different conceptions relate to disciplinary biases: Moore observes that popular music study has privileged the concept of genre, while musicology has focused more on style. Theorists of subculture also focus on style, but like popular music scholars tend to focus upon dress codes, text, social setting and other extra-musical factors. Some do not consider the two concepts as distinct, whilst others concentrate on one and ignore the other. In the absence of a consensus, I wish to preserve the distinction and use the terms in the following narrow sense: style is a set of characteristic music-immanent attributes, which can be exclusive to a single work or section of a work, or performance, generally observed at a localised level, as distinct to structural aspects of composition and performance. Genre refers to a set of stylistic and/or structural features or conventions85 which can be observed over a large body of works or performances (possibly from a single composer/performer), though these can become gradually modified or developed over a period of time. The works from which a composer like Finnissy borrows are frequently themselves situated within one or more genres. I am interested in how aspects of such genres feed into his compositions and are mediated by Finnissy, and what might be the implications for performance. Genres which inform Finnissy’s piano music include those from various folk musics, with their own melodic, ornamental, and other conventions. But it is rare for Finnissy

Strategies and aesthetics


simply to pastiche these genres, preferring to employ some of their stylistic attributes in other contexts. Examples include the use of pìobaireachd in De toutes flours (1990) (where it is combined with material from Guillaume de Machaut), Folklore (1993–4) (where fragments derived from a bagpipe tutor are developed, subject to ‘cut-up’ procedures, and then used to form extended monophonic passages),86 and some other works. Finnissy has also made use of hymns, most obviously in William Billings (1990–1) (itself a generalised allusion, in Borrowing Category 8 to the ‘Harmonies’ from John Cage’s Apartment House 1776 (1976)),87 and explores generic overlap between these and military songs in various parts of The History of Photography in Sound (1995–2000), especially My Parents’ Generation thought War meant something.88 Other obvious examples of generic allusions include those to operatic arias, duos, ensembles, choruses and scenas (thus a range of genres identified by structural as well as stylistic features), throughout the Verdi Transcriptions (1972–2005) and some other works including Rossini (1991) and the Yvaroperas (1993–5), popular song genres in the Gershwin Arrangements (1975–88), More Gershwin (1989–90, rev. 2016) and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (1991), dance forms in the Polskie Tance op. 32 (1955–62), Four Mazurkas op. 142 (1957), Two Pasodobles (1959), and 23 Tangos (1962–99), or the African-American spiritual in Sometimes I… . (1990, rev. 1997), Folklore (1993–4) and North American Spirituals, from the History. On the other hand, in Cozy Fanny’s Tootsies (1992), Finnissy borrows from a source (Mozart’s Cosi fan tutti) which itself employs various generic conventions, but re-composes the borrowed material in a florid, ostentatious, and quite un-Mozartian pianistic configuration, so that the work should not really be viewed as generically related to its source. Works such as Jazz (1976) or Fast Dances, Slow Dances (1978–9) interact only very obliquely with genre; it is possible to relate some of the ‘stomp’ writing in the low registers of the former piece to the ‘stomps’ of Jelly Roll Morton, an explicitly acknowledged source, but this is far from obvious without having been informed of the allusion. However, stylistic commonalities can be observed between Cozy Fanny’s Tootsies and other highly ornate writing in the music of Sylvano Bussotti, Salvatore Sciarrino, and others loosely associated with a ‘camp’ aesthetic, or indeed with numerous other works of Finnissy himself. Jazz and Fast Dances, Slow Dances can also be linked in numerous respects to others of Finnissy’s piano works (such as We’ll Get There Someday (1978) or some parts of English Country-Tunes (1977, rev. 1982–5)), and to some earlier music of Conlon Nancarrow, Stockhausen, Bussotti or some types of free improvisation, as well as drawing their structures from Beethoven’s sets of Bagatelles, op. 126 and 119 respectively.89 Thus in this sense the works relate to alternative genres, just not those associated with the primary source. As such, they belong in Borrowing Category no. 12 (Material/Configuration Multi-Borrowing). Another new music genre is the work for medium-sized ensemble, between around 8’ and 20’ long, using a standard line-up of single wind, brass and strings, with piano and a few percussion, sometimes also voice, characterised


Ian Pace

by a generous quantity of varied and distinctive timbres and an approach to material whereby nothing is developed for more than a few minutes at a time before switching to something different. Finnissy’s relative indifference  to instrumental timbre in particular sets him apart from this and some other currents in new music. Nonetheless, in earlier works such as Le dormeur or Horrorzone (1965, rev. 1987) he did employ some aspects of this genre, traces of which remain in a few later works such as Kritik das Urteilskraft (2001) or Onbevooroordeeld Leven (2000–2). Many of Finnissy’s works can be said to employ hybrid genres, which are themselves nothing new, as Kallberg points out – titles such as Beethoven’s Sonata quasi una fantasia or Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy indicate this.90 Others relate to specific generic histories. Alkan’s Concerto for Solo Piano can be viewed as a particular stage in the evolution of the concerto genre (employing the generic conventions of the solo concerto with orchestra, but mimicking them on a single instrument), to which Finnissy alludes in his Piano Concertos Nos. 4 (1978, rev. 1996) and 6 (1980–1), made explicit through the use of ‘Solo’ and ‘Tutti’ indications, as in the Alkan, whilst the Piano Concertos No. 5 (1980) for solo piano, mezzo-soprano and three instruments, or 7 (1981) for solo piano and wind quintet relate to later developments of the concerto genre, as in several twentieth-century works of Janáček, Stravinsky, and others.91 There have also been many counter-genres, works which frustrate most generic expectations, of which John Cage’s 4’33” is an obvious extreme example (and which would themselves define genres if one accepts the formulations of Toynbee and Drott). If rarely as extreme as this, other of Finnissy’s works contain elements which push them close to this category, as for example with the violent interruptions of tonal or part-tonal material with extended passages of wrenched pointillistic writing in various parts of the History.92 But just as important is Finnissy’s role as mediator between the generic aspects of his sources and the final work, so that either the genre appears only in a partial or fragmentary form, or other aspects of the work create dialectical tension with the generic expectations. Laurence Dreyfus and others have observed the extent to which Bach frequently composed ‘against genre’,93 so that his own individuations superseded many generic expectations. Similar arguments were made by Adorno in his famed essay ‘Bach gegen seine Liebhaber verteidigt’/‘Bach Defended Against his Devotees’.94 To Adorno, performers at the time of writing (1950) of Bach’s music treated it as they would that of a minor Baroque composer, and responded as interpreters purely to the generic aspects of his work, not those which distinguished it from that of more average musicians. Whilst Adorno betrays here some of his nineteenth-century aesthetic inclinations, nonetheless I believe both his and Dreyfus’s account of Bach is essentially accurate, and this model is also applicable to Finnissy. Furthermore, it could be used by a future scholar to explore Finnissy’s own use of Bachian models in large scale works, from Bachsche Nachdichtungen (2000) through to the Koralforspill (Choralvorspiele) (2012) and Beat Generation Ballads (2013).

Strategies and aesthetics


Compositional mediation of sources, genres or other influences, as a form of individuation, can easily become a fetish in its own right, and it would be simplistic to use this undoubtedly pronounced aspect of Finnissy’s work to portray it as a model of modernity in stark contrast with a supposedly dead ‘tradition’, conceived as a lifeless museum or conservative canon. Many of the traditions and sources upon which he draws both were and are radical, in some ways exhibiting such a quality more meaningfully than through the various forms of shock tactics encountered in some later music. Gershwin’s songs can be interpreted as glamorous tokens of some Golden Age, but can equally be read as embodying covert or less covert messages about emotional pain, isolation, conditions of great poverty in the 1920s and 1930s, and even arguably to some extent racism – and this can be argued to be a product of the relationship of George Gershwin’s settings of the texts, not just Ira’s original texts themselves. It is not difficult to locate near-hysterical soprano arias, banal, almost militaristic drama, and sentimental nationalistic choruses in Verdi’s operas, but one can equally find subtlety of musical characterisation of both heroes and villains, moments of startling harmonic ambiguity, inventive orchestral textures (especially in the later works), or highly intricate and original interactions between characters in ensemble pieces, not to mention gradual but palpable extension and defamiliarisation (but not abandonment) of Rossinian operatic conventions, especially from Rigoletto onwards. These latter factors, reconfigured in contemporary post-tonal contexts, inform Finnissy’s works as much as do nostalgic considerations. However, while a significant number of the genres and sources upon which Finnissy draws might have been familiar to one of his own generation going through a thorough musical education, such familiarity may be less likely in a more atomised musical world, with less of a ‘common culture’ or shared repertoire, even for those with a musical education. In many ways Finnissy writes for other cultivated musicians, though his music – not least that designed for amateur musicians – can still be approached on simpler or at least more easily accessible levels too. Nonetheless, in opposition to a ‘dumbed-down’ approach to music in general, I hope in the following to play a small part in rendering some of the more intricate aspects of the music more approachable. Finnissy’s Gershwin Arrangements, like his Verdi Transcriptions, throw into question Adorno’s claim that ‘Phases of forgetting and, complementarily, those of the re-emergence of what has long been taboo […] usually involve genres rather than individual works’,95 as each entails a quite unique response to the individual song. Nonetheless, Finnissy employs generic as well as work-specific features: most of the pieces feature a modified version of the verse-refrain structure, though sometimes with blurring of sectional boundaries or, as in ‘Embraceable you’, the inclusion of a free fantasia at the outset, or with a monophonic prefix and suffix, as in ‘Boy wanted’. Gershwin’s melodies generally remain intact and recognisable, albeit with some small deviations of pitch, and sometimes more significant ones for rhythm. Some of the pieces are hypertextual, others metatextual, and inhabit a position


Ian Pace

between Borrowing Categories 3 and 4 (Paraphrase/Fantasia and Setting with New Accompaniment) outlined above (some individual pieces belong more obviously to one or the other category). In Finnissy’s own view (after the event) of what he was doing: I [also] wanted to see if I could ‘transform’ the material without falsifying it (without taking it too far beyond its original technical-assumptions and devices). ‘Arrangement’ means working afresh with (found and un-original) material, so most of the emphasis is on transforming – aka endless variation as recommended by Schoenberg, building on Lisztian metamorphosis, Beethoven and (less obviously here) Brahms. On the whole what is ‘arranged’ or re-arranged are the harmonies and rhythms, rather than the structure (which mostly retains GG’s verse/ chorus shaping, sometimes with extra intro and/or coda). The textures (inner voices) are elaborated.96 Finnissy has also argued that ‘The “Gershwin” of my title is George, not to be confused with Ira’ and ‘The tunes interest me, the words don’t’,97 another manifestation of Dahlhaus’s concept of ‘indifference to the text’. However, there are a few moments where the response to the text is obvious (and thus an example of paratextuality), as in ‘Embraceable you’, where after the passage which relates to the line ‘You and you alone bring out the gypsy in me’ in the Gershwin sheet music, Finnissy launches into an explosively and wrenched dissonant rendition of the chorus, with chords close to tone clusters (Ex. 3.2). According to Finnissy himself, all but two of the Gershwin Arrangements (and all but two of the successor volume, More Gershwin) were based upon

Ex. 3.2 Finnissy, from ‘Embraceable you’. © Oxford University Press 1990.

Strategies and aesthetics


Gershwin’s published ‘song-sheets’, which Finnissy collected when working as a bar pianist early on in his career, and around which he would improvise or ‘doodle’.98 Earlier versions involved a lesser degree of free setting,99 while the final ones sometimes also drew upon other sources (such as music of Liszt and Rachmaninoff in ‘They’re writing songs of love, but not for me’, as described below, or Busoni’s Toccata for ‘I’d rather Charleston’),100 and thus contain metatextual elements. However, in a 2015 interview, Finnissy implied that various cover versions might be a deeper influence (and so the metatextuality might run deeper): I was interested in the niche-position of Gershwin’s music (between lightweight Tin-Pan-Alley and something more élite, ambitious and aspiring), a tension between High Art and Commercial Trade that still informs some contemporary musical cultures; and the story that Gershwin wanted to study with Berg, or Ravel, or Glazounov. [… .] My pieces mostly keep to the shapes of the original songs, but not necessarily the tempo or atmosphere – in this respect they are more like the versions recorded by Judy Garland or Ella Fitzgerald, which are a lot slower and more dramatic than those recorded by Fred and Adèle Astaire, Ginger Rogers or Gertrude Lawrence. So they are part of a ‘tradition’, including that of jazzing the classics. Gershwin’s melodic contour is also kept pretty much intact, but the harmonies fantasise about how Gershwin might have arranged them himself, had he studied with the composer of Wozzeck and Lulu. 101 The published versions by Gershwin nonetheless provide the most important point of comparison, in order to understand how Finnissy’s mediations produce the final score. Ex. 3.3 shows this for the verse of ‘Embraceable you’. The published Gershwin version features common generic features of this style – a simple bass line alternating between the root and the fifth of the harmony, with a smattering of chromatic acciacciaturas, and melody harmonised in parallel 6-3 triads. I will refer here to bar numbers counting from the beginning of the Finnissy musical example (not the whole piece). At the outset, Finnissy flattens the middle note of the first and fifth of the 6-3 triads in the right hand, then in bar 3 compresses Gershwin’s two lower parts into static major-second dyads, constructed from what would be the second pitch in the middle part with the first in the lower one. Back in bar 2, the middle part of the right hand is more obviously chromatic, but the C#4 is simply a chromatic neighbour note to the preceding Cᅉ4, followed by a chromatic descent which culminates on the D4 at the beginning of bar 3. The middle part from the end of bar 3 through bar 4 similarly consists of chromatic embellishments using neighbour notes. The left hand, which Finnissy turns into a more soloistic pizzicato bass line, is also more harmonically complicated. The first four notes – A3-Bᅈ3-E3-D3 – almost establish the F-major tonality (omitting an implied C3 to follow – creating


Ian Pace

an implied C7 harmony), albeit including the angular interval of a tritone. However, the key is already made clear in the right hand by the end of bar 1, so the missing C3 is unnecessary in this respect. But from the second beat of bar 2, the left hand outlines an Eᅈ7 harmony (with a chromatic neighbour note of C3), thus a seventh chord on the flattened leading note of the ‘home key’ of F. The left hand alone is simply redirected in bars 3-4, returning to the chromatic walking bass, involving a chain of descending fifths which imply (but do not state) a progression towards a C-G bass, the dominant of F. However, returning to bar 2, the left hand and right hand combined enharmonically create an Eᅈ9 harmony from the second quaver beat, and the other pitches can be viewed as chromatic neighbours, except for the remote final Bᅉ3 in the right hand. This does not necessarily create a discontinuity, as the following C4 in the lower part of the right hand then serves as a resolution. Similar processes are developed further, with increasing complexity, in subsequent bars.

Ex. 3.3 Finnissy, from ‘Embraceable you’. © Oxford University Press 1990.

One approach to performing this passage, which I myself have employed, would be to employ various means in order to give the impression of contrapuntal equality between voices. But there are other approaches which reflect different musical perspectives. These include playing the right hand at a palpably higher dynamic than the left, creating a clear sense of ‘melody and accompaniment’, with either the Bᅈ3 or the E3 played softer to mute the tritone leap, and a small diminuendo on the ascending arpeggio from the Eᅈ2. Furthermore, the top part of the right hand could be emphasised throughout (for a ‘solo vocal’ effect) and the right-hand E4, D#4 and B3 in bar 2 played quieter than preceding notes in those parts. These approaches would imply

Strategies and aesthetics


the passage to be an elaboration of an F-Eᅈ9 progression. If even the low Eᅈ2 in bar 2 were played more softly, it might be heard as a minor aberration implying a resolution to F2 before the succeeding C3. But a quite different result would be conveyed by the following approach, aspects of which I have employed in some performances: a clear stress on the first left-hand A3-Bᅈ3 (no quieter than the right hand) to foreground the dissonance with the Bᅈ4-A4 progression in the right hand, then a slight accent on the E3 to ensure a diminished seventh harmony is made clear, as well as the tritone leap. Then the Eᅈ2-C3-Dᅈ3-Bᅈ3 progression in the second bar could be played with a slight crescendo, but not in such a way as appears to ‘resolve’ with the C4 at the beginning of bar 3 (whose dynamic would be within a different ‘region’), to minimise the continuity. This has the effect of defamiliarising the relationship between melody and accompaniment, as if the left hand were momentarily inverting the hierarchy, literally rising up as if to dominate, but then cut short abruptly. Similar emphases could highlight the false relation between the right hand Aᅈ3 and left hand Aᅉ2 across bars 3-4. In bar 5 the most dissonant harmony (the whole tone F#3-G#3-D4-E4) could be played most prominently, as the peak of that phrase, and then the dissonant chord emphasised at the beginning of bar 7 (Bᅈmin7 combined with the remote F3-C4, or possibly heard as a revoicing of Bᅈmin9), as well as that at the beginning of bar 8 (enharmonically Dᅈ7 combined with G4-C5, though the wider tessitura, and the fact that the most dissonant notes are all in the highest range, is something of a relief compared to the more close-packed chord in the previous bar). Then the beginning of bar 9 will sound like a relative consonance, erasing the intensity of the previous bars. These latter two approaches, which I deliberately present in a hyperbolic form, should highlight the distinction between two fundamentally different types of approach. The first serves to foreground the generic qualities of the source (as manifested in the sheet music of the Gershwin song), and render Finnissy’s mediations as primarily decorative, while the second emphasises the tension between the more obvious traces of the genre and their more heavily mediated forms (such as the chromatic pizzicato bass line, which itself draws upon another generic convention from later jazz), leading to a music of instability, dissonance, melodic angularity and harmonic discontinuity. One articulates the work’s supposed proximity to the Gershwin original, the other its distance. There is a further category of approach, in line with the perspective of Beaudoin (in some ways a ‘post-Schenkerian’ interpretation), which fundamentally views the melody and accompaniment as on equal terms, as with the very first approach I suggested, but also structures the phrasing, dynamics and voicing according to the interpolated long-range resulting harmonic structure resulting from a fundamentally vertical approach. But what happens when other mediating musical determinants are involved? In Finnissy’s setting of ‘They’re writing songs of love, but not for me’, he has spoken about the inspiration of a rendition of the song by Judy Garland.102 The piece can thus definitely be considered metatextual. Ex. 3.4


Ian Pace

shows my transcription of a short section from the version sung by Garland in the film Girl Crazy (1943), and then Finnissy’s setting.103 Gershwin’s notated regular crotchets at the opening were surely never imagined to be sung in such a rigid form. The rhythm of the opening of Garland’s version is a free parlando around the text, with a slight but clear increase in the pulse around the words ‘try it’, expressing determination and defiance. Finnissy’s version at this point is more austere and distant, merely elongating slightly the first of each group of four notes (a further sign of his lack of interest in the text).104 He does signify determination through the accented Eᅈs in bars 10 and 12, though this relates to Gershwin’s walking accompaniment at this place, in sharp contrast to the chromatic descent in thirds for the first two lines. His elaboration in bar 13 incorporates Gershwin’s accompaniment into the melodic line, with a slight nod in the direction of the orchestral rendition of this in the film. Judy Garland’s ghost is conveyed more through the intensely melancholy and desolate nature of the first page of Finnissy’s score. However, from bar 25, Finnissy imitates the rhythmic impetuousness of Garland’s singing, as he does in the setting of the final stanza. Having performed this piece many times, I have found a knowledge of Garland’s performance has helped to make sense of some of the rhythmic disjunctions in Finnissy’s arrangements. Such knowledge provides such disjunctions with an expressive context, though Finnissy’s rhythms certainly do not slavishly imitate those of Garland. Various other generic aspects found in the original sheet music are generally mediated through other sources, creating a metatextual commentary. These are, specifically, Liszt’s La lugubre gondola No. 1,105 and a generalised type of piano writing frequently employed by Rachmaninoff (see Ex. 3.5).106 Therefore the piece belongs to Borrowing

Ex. 3.4 (a) Rough transcription of section of Judy Garland performance of ‘But not for me’ in Girl Crazy (1943).

Strategies and aesthetics

Ex. 3.4 (b) Finnissy, ‘They’re writing songs of love, but not for me.’ © Oxford University Press 1990.



Ian Pace

Category 12 (Material/Configuration multi-borrowing) above. From Liszt he takes a three-note descending figure, with a semitone between the second and third notes, and a larger interval between the first and second, though where Liszt’s larger interval is always a perfect fifth, Finnissy varies it (and sometimes inverts the direction of the figure), in the manner of the generic chromatic descending accompaniment provided by Gershwin. The Rachmaninoff allusion (which surrounds the section of the melody corresponding to Ira’s ‘With love to lead the way/I’ve found more clouds of grey/Than any Russian play’, which surely would have evoked, to Finnissy, Liszt’s Nuages gris and some Russian music) consists of a relatively extravagant accompaniment in arpeggios and some motion in a narrower tessitura under a melody presented in full chords surrounded by octaves.

Ex. 3.5 (a) Franz Liszt, La lugubre gondola No. 1.

Ex. 3.5 (b) Sergey Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2, last movement.

In the Rachmaninoff, and similar examples such as the Prelude in D, op. 23 no. 4, the accompanying line mostly adds decoration around the vertical

Strategies and aesthetics


harmonies supplied by the right hand, or sometimes modifies them (e.g. the Eᅈ4, as a resolution of the F4, and contraction of the preceding G4-Eᅈ4, in the third bar of Ex. 3.5 (b), which turns a D minor harmony into F13). But in Finnissy’s piece (in which the harmonies at the beginning of each two-bar group are a modified rendition of Gershwin’s quite stock progression), some of the neighbour notes create pronounced dissonances with the melody, as for example with the Fᅈ2 in the left hand at the beginning of the fourth bar of this example. In other circumstances, this could be accounted for in terms of a simple dissonant neighbour note, but here it has a different function, by which the opening Lisztian figure, with a reduced opening interval, is inserted into this line so as to add a dark hue to the general sonority (Ex. 3.6). A topic theorist might say that this element signifies death.

Ex. 3.6 Finnissy, ‘They’re writing songs of love, but not for me’. © Oxford University Press 1990.

The Liszt source is too specific to one piece (albeit also imitated in the second La lugubre gondola) to be considered generic, but this is not true of the Rachmaninoff allusion, as this refers to a technique employed across a range of his, and others’, piano music. For this reason, as the music morphs into that generic configuration – a very striking transformation of texture within the piece as a whole – the tainting aspect of the continuing Liszt allusion is all the more striking. One approach is to play the accompaniment softer at first, with a small crescendo to peak at the Aᅈ4-Fᅈ4-Eᅈ4-Cᅈ4-Aᅈ3-G3 sequence, then diminuendo again, and similarly in the following two bars, or conversely to diminuendo towards this section to create a form of ‘negative accent’, or subtlest of tints, depending on degree. Taste and other preferences will naturally be the major determinants here, but at issue is whether the performer employs an approach which strives to make apparent both


Ian Pace

the generic aspects (and how one might approach that generic configuration if playing Rachmaninoff, which can itself take many forms) and Finnissy’s mediation thereof. The expanded four-book set of Finnissy’s Verdi Transcriptions (1972–2005) creates its own mini-generic (and so architextual) elements across the four books, with a similar structure for each book, though of increasing length. The sources become progressively clearer in each book, so there is a trajectory from metatextuality in the first to hypertextuality in the fourth, though with exceptions to the general direction within each book. The architextual attributes of the pieces do not necessarily correspond to generic unities of the sources. The four pieces which begin each book, all of which employ close-packed chromatic trichords, correspond to an Aria, Duet, Canzone, and Chorus respectively. The first and third present the melody in a recognisable form, which suggests that they belong in Borrowing Category 12 (if one considers the para-microtonal use of such trichords as an oblique ‘borrowing’ from composers such as Alois Hába or Giacinto Scelsi), whereas the second and fourth, in which the melody is unrecognisable during these sections, belong to Category 3.107 The fourth piece of each book (or third in Book 2) features staccato writing, originally derived from the staccato chorus in I Lombardi, though set in a polyrhythmic, quasi-pointillistic fashion reminiscent of the music of Conlon Nancarrow, alternating with quite different material: the original melody with an imitative canonical part in the left hand in Book 1; abstract material in the low treble register with just passing melodic allusions in Book 2; a highly ornate setting of the melody somewhat in the manner of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji in Book 3; and two types of material in Book 4 – a sustained line surrounded by staccato ‘punctuation’ (very much in the manner of much of Elliott Carter’s late piano writing) and a distorted, chromaticised, but recognisable transcription of 3/8 passages in the Scherzo of Verdi’s String Quartet, the source for the piece. Thus the four pieces correspond to Borrowing Categories 4, 3, 12 and both 3 and 1, respectively. The pieces correspond to a Chorus, Duet, Boléro and the String Quartet in Verdi’s original. The sixth piece of each book is a free fantasia (Category 3), while the eighth takes a work of Busoni as its basic template (Category 12). The fifth piece of each book (and the fourth in Book 2) sets a chromatically elaborated rendition of Verdi’s material, with melody, harmony and rhythm generally intact and clearly recognisable, the arrangement influenced by the one-handed transcriptions of Leopold Godowsky of Chopin, Johann Strauss II and others. This is in the left hand in Books 1 and 3, the right hand in Books 2 and 4, and is combined in a free atonal and a-periodic two-part quasi-canon in the other hand. As in the second and fourth of Finnissy’s Yvaroperas, the relationship between the two hands is fundamentally affected by whether the harmonised melody appears in the bass or treble. Because of the more powerful sonorities of the bass register of the modern piano, the tonality will be more prominent when the material appears there, and the pieces can easily sound like a generic Verdian/Godowskian transcription

Strategies and aesthetics


(Category 12) surrounded by an assortment of almost random chromatic pitches. This approach has its merits, but in order to increase the dialectical tension between the two hands, I choose to accentuate those which have the more dissonant relationship with the bass, or where a sense of line can be made most palpable. I have indicated some of these for the first two lines in Ex. 3.7, the fifth piece from the first book, derived from the Septet with Chorus ‘Vedi come il buon vegliardo’ from Ernani, Part 1. A further strategy to heighten the profile of the right hand is to clarify (through dynamic differentiation, and phrasing of different elements), which pitches belong to the upper part, which to the lower, and generally play them in the manner of lines, rather than atomised single notes.

Ex. 3.7 Finnissy, Septet with Chorus: ‘Verdi come il buon vegliardo…’, Ernani (Part 1), from Verdi Transcriptions, Book 1, No. 5. © United Music Publishers 1995.

In Finnissy’s setting of the Romance from Act 3 of Aida, ‘O cieli azzuri…’, the third piece of Book 4, he extends the instrumental line which appears towards the end of the aria so as to accompany throughout, weaving itself in a snake-like manner around the melody in polyrhythmic relationships (Ex. 3.8). This can be voiced in very different ways: if there is a clear dynamic distinction between melody and accompaniment, the latter creates subtle ‘interference patterns’, both harmonically and rhythmically, without wholly


Ian Pace

engulfing the former, but this can indeed occur if both parts are played at a similar dynamic. Again, taste is the ultimate judge; the former approach might seem both more subtle and more powerful to some, whilst the latter would highlight the extent of Finnissy’s mediation and accentuate the regular 7:6 relationship between the two lines as more of a polyrhythm than an expression of rhythmic freedom. Finnissy’s other major set of transcriptions for piano from a single composer is the Strauss-Walzer (1967, rev. 1989). The third of these, after Johann Strauss II’s ‘Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald’, makes the source most immediate at the beginning, yet also deviates the furthest from the basic

Ex. 3.8 (a) Verdi, two passages from ‘O cieli azzuri…’, from Aida, Act 3.

Strategies and aesthetics


Ex. 3.8 (b) Finnissy, Romanza: ‘O cieli azzuri…’, Aida (Act 3), from Verdi Transcriptions, Book 4, No. 3. © United Music Publishers 1995.

pattern. Finnissy also presents derived fragments in non-linear fashion, thus situating the piece in Category 11 (Patchwork), and rendering it metatextual (possible also paratextual, if one is to interpret the title as a reference to illicit sexual activity in the Vienna Woods). Ex. 3.9 shows some of the fundamental transformations of the material. Finnissy’s addition of a chromatic fifth degree of the scale in the opening bar, a very characteristic extravagance, as found in the Strauss transcriptions of Moriz Rosenthal, Adolf Schulz-Evler, and especially Godowsky of what were originally quite harmonically bland passages, could suggest a rallentando at the end of the first bar, in order to delay further the resolution, which would have been quite meaningless in the original. The increasingly adventurous harmonic embellishments in the following bars (and differing metric elements) invite similar types of responses. The rhythm, and specifically the use of generic non-metrical ‘waltz rhythms’ in the following material, presents more difficult questions. Finnissy’s arrangement is 69 bars long. 45 of these are in 3/4, with extended passages of this type in bars 9–14, 16–18, 20–25, 27–29, 36–43 and 46–54. The bars which ‘interrupt’ these can be a type of rhythmic expansion, with the second and third beats turned into dotted crotchets in bar 15, or a short three-semiquaver ‘tail’ in bar 19 to the material in bar 18, linking it to the wide spread chords in bar 20. The ostentation of the writing necessitates, for purely practical reasons, a significantly slower tempo than is common for Strauss’ original, yet it is important to maintain a sense of when the music is ‘in 3’ (either through metrical regularity, or flexibility of pulse executed in stages, to avoid discontinuity) so that the other bars are heard relative to this. One stylistic convention for playing waltzes has a low first beat of a 3/4 bar released for the second beat, which is itself played slightly early for a crisp effect, However, in almost all the places where Finnissy obliquely alludes to the ‘oom-pah-pah’ bass, he indicates that the first chord is to be sustained. If playing the crotchet beats unevenly, it would make most sense to


Ian Pace

Ex. 3.9 (a) Finnissy’s transformations of Johann Strauss II, Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald.

elongate the first for this reason. The exception is in bars 36–42, which feature a thinner type of writing which could be used as a reason to push the tempo forward momentarily, and a different rhythmic distribution. All three pieces in Finnissy’s Second Political Agenda (2000–10) (also discussed by both Arnold Whittall and Max Erwin in their contributions to this volume) belong to Category 14 (Portraiture), though sections of these also belong to Categories 11 and 12. In the third and last piece of

Strategies and aesthetics


Ex. 3.9 (a) (continued)

the set, SKRYABIN in itself (2007–8), I wish to focus on one passage, near the outset, which can be viewed as a hypertextual ‘double application’ of Category 12. Finnissy draws upon Skryabin’s Prelude in G# minor, op. 22, no. 1, freely modifying both melody and accompaniment, dislocating the metrical placement of the melody and sometimes reducing it to just a few sustained pitches, whilst the accompaniment becomes more than just a means of filling out the harmony through arpeggios, but is given stronger harmonic implications of its own, though it tends to supplement rather


Ian Pace

Ex. 3.9 (b) Finnissy, ‘Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald’, from Strauss-Walzer (1967, rev. 1989). © Oxford University Press 1991.

than undermine the melody (Ex. 3.10). But this type of elaboration itself has a pre-history, through the transcriptions of Liszt, Carl Tausig, Busoni, Godowsky, Grainger, and others, and so one could even speak of a (shifting) ‘genre of transformation’ (or, more obviously ‘genre of transcription’, but that term would already imply simply that a work is in some sense a

Strategies and aesthetics


‘transcription’, rather than the more specific meaning I have in mind). An obvious example would be Liszt’s piano transcription of Chopin’s song Moja pieszczotka/Mes joies. Liszt does not generally modify or enrich the harmony, but transforms the accompaniment of Chopin’s simple waltz-like

Ex. 3.10 (a) Aleksander Skryabin, Prelude in G# minor, op. 22, no. 1.

Ex. 3.10 (b) Finnissy, from SKRYABIN in itself (2007–8). © Tre Media Verlag 2008.


Ian Pace

chordal setting into flowing arpeggiated figures, as well as inserting some small melodic embellishments, all techniques of transformation which Finnissy also employs and supplements. More generally, SKRYABIN in itself weaves in and out of passages of high chromaticism/pan-tonality, including three indicated free Canons, before drastically fragmenting around half-way through, leaving just isolated detritus from the earlier material, and later pointillistic assemblages, recalling similar moments in both Wachtend op de volgende uitbarsting van repressie en censuur and Unsere Afrikareise from the History and other non-solo pieces such as Kritik das Urteilskraft, so that this technique, used as a structural device, was starting to become generic within Finnissy’s output. Finnissy’s further use of regular montage between disparate musical materials, with differing degrees of proximity to their sources and/or genres, is also a feature of much of Folklore, the History and both SKRYABIN and the second piece of the Second Political Agenda, Mit Arnold Schoenberg (2002), in the first section of which Finnissy includes recognisable and essentially tonal fragments from Brahms’s String Quartet in C minor, op. 51, no. 1, as cited in Schoenberg’s essay ‘Brahms the Progressive’.108 In any of these pieces the performer faces choices of continuity and discontinuity, specifically whether to emphasise the stylistic and generic disjunction between successive fragments, through pedalling, voicing, phrasing, etc., or whether to use these types of parameters to create a sense of integration and general continuity, whereby the diverse fragments create localised variety without disrupting a wider sense of line. Such questions (which I believe need to be asked anew for each piece or section of a piece) entail both questions of source-derived style and genre, but also wider issues of performance genre such as profoundly affect perceptions of Finnissy’s works: amongst the options are different places on a spectrum from what can crudely be termed a ‘late romantic’ performance genre (which incorporates some performance traditions which have been applied to Schoenberg’s music) which emphasises continuity and totality, or a ‘modernist’ genre (especially associated with Stravinsky and post-Stravinskian music) which emphasises angularity, discontinuity, fragmentation and alienation.

Conclusion Finnissy’s piano works employing borrowing, which constitute the majority  of his output, almost always exhibit a high degree of compositional mediation between the sources and their associated genres on one hand, and the finished piece on the other. The forms this can take include works in which a source associated with one genre is transformed using another set of generic conventions, or through a hybrid range of genres presented either simultaneously or in succession. A taxonomy of categories of borrowing is possible for the oeuvre as a whole, which can themselves be viewed as ‘genres of transformation’ when encountered in a number of works.

Strategies and aesthetics


However, the degree and nature of Finnissy’s compositional mediation can vary very considerably, and it is far from unknown for a work to consist of varying degrees of mediation and thus proximity to the source or genre (another example of this would be Alkan-Paganini (1997)).109 It is rare that no attribute of either of these can be perceived, but when both are unrecognisable  – as in the free ‘fantasias’ in each of the four books of the Verdi Transcriptions – then Finnissy usually draws upon another genre (and the fantasia itself is of course a genre). But some pieces’ relationship to supposedly normative characteristics can itself strengthen their generic membership, in the manner outlined by Adorno and Samson, especially when they take up and extend/expand previous types of transformation, as most obviously in the earlier transcription literature. What is at stake here is how the performer chooses to foreground the more generic or individuated aspects of the works. In some cases this may be a false dichotomy, because the latter only make sense in terms of the former, though many different possibilities remain available for performance. Furthermore, many works also raise questions of which of multiple possible performance genres one might associate with the source, as for example with the various works of Bach, which have been played in starkly differing ways at different times during the twentieth century. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to any of these questions; instead they supply immense potential for creative input on the part of the performer, in ways which relate to much larger questions of history and modernity.

Notes 1 See Ian Pace, ‘The Piano Music’ and ‘The Theatrical Works’ in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 43–134, 259–346; and Ian Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013). 2 See Richard Beaudoin, ‘Anonymous Sources: Finnissy Analysis and the Opening of Chapter Eight of The History of Photography in Sound’, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 45, no. 2 (Summer 2007), pp. 5–27. 3 I refer here to figures such as John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, W.K. Wimsatt, Monroe Beardsley and Cleanth Brooks, active in American literary criticism in the mid-twentieth century, in whose work there was a strong emphasis upon the immanent properties of literary texts, without recourse to authorial intention or biography, or reception. For one brief survey, see Leroy Searle, ‘New Criticism’, in Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth and Imre Szeman, The John Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory, second edition (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), pp. 528–34. 4 Beaudoin, ‘Anonymous Sources’, p. 6. Italics are Beaudoin’s. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid. p. 10. Beaudoin at no point in this article however actually mentions Ives, in whose Concord Sonata this motive plays a prominent role. 7 Ibid. pp. 22–3. 8 Ibid. pp. 13–14.


Ian Pace

9 The very idea of being bound to a piece of music or a musical style’s ‘own terms’ has been criticised in particular by some ethnomusicologists, as for example in John Blacking, How Musical is Man? (Seattle, WA and London: University of Washington Press, 1973), p. 25; and Henry Kingsbury, Music, Talent, & Performance: A Conservatory Cultural System (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1988), p. 16. For my response to this, in light of the ironic situation of once having been told by another academic that the only valid attitude towards ethnomusicological and other writings was to take them ‘on their own terms’, see Ian Pace, ‘My contribution to the debate “Are we all ethnomusicologists now?”’ (9 June 2016), at 09/my-contribution-to-the-debate-are-we-all-ethnomusicologists-now/ (accessed 10 June 2018). 10 See the discussion of this model of music by Nigel McBride in Chapter 4. 11 Beaudoin, ‘Anonymous Source’, pp. 14–15. For my own reading of the harmonic processes in a passage just after this, which also incorporates thoughts on performance, see Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 204–5. 12 For an example of a strategy for navigating this situation in the fifth of Finnissy’s Verdi Transcriptions, see Ian Pace, ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’, in Darla Crispin (ed.), Unfolding Time: Studies in Temporality in Twentieth-Century Music (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), pp. 178–80. 13 On the wider use of lines, chords and gestures in the History, and their relative predominance in different sections, see Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 9–31. 14 See Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, pp. 105–8. 15 Nicholas Cook, Beyond the Score: Music as Performance (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 97; Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, ‘Classical music as enforced Utopia’, Arts & Humanities in Higher Education, vol. 15, nos. 3–4 (2016), pp. 325–36. One must presume that they exempt their own work from this diagnosis. 16 See Ian Pace, ‘The New State of Play in Performance Studies’, Music & Letters, vol. 98, no. 2 (2017), p. 289. 17 See for example the hugely modified combination of a Homer Denny rag and a transcription of a Metis song in North American Spirituals, barely recognisable but still retaining some essential properties, discussed in Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 34–8. 18 Christopher Fox, ‘Michael Finnissy’s History of Photography in Sound: Under the Lens’, The Musical Times, vol. 143, no. 1879 (Summer 2002), pp. 31–2. 19 Frederick W. Sternfeld, ‘Some Russian Folk Songs in Stravinsky’s Petrouchka’, Music Library Association vol. 2, no. 2 (March 1945), pp. 95–107; F. Bónis, ‘Quotations in Bartók’s Music: A Contribution to Bartók’s Psychology of Composition’, Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 5/1–4 (1963), pp. 355–82. 20 Günter von Noé, ‘Das musikalische Zitat’, Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, vol. 124, no. 4 (1963), pp. 134–7; Zofia Lissa, ‘Ästhetische Funktionen des musikalischen Zitats’, Die Musikforschung 19/4 (October–December 1966), pp. 364–78. 21 Noé, ‘Das musikalische Zitat’. Noé also examined the concept and moral implications of musical plagiarism in more detail in a further article published later that year, ‘Das Musikalische Plagiat’, Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, vol. 124, no. 9 (1963), pp. 330–4. 22 Lissa, ‘Ästhetische Funktionen’, pp. 365–7. 23 Ibid. pp. 367–73.

Strategies and aesthetics


24 Ibid. pp. 373–4. 25 Elmar Budde, ‘Zitat, Collage, Montage’, in Rudolf Stephan (ed.), Die Musik der sechziger Jahre (Mainz: Schott, 1972), pp. 26–38. 26 Ibid. pp. 26–7. 27 Ibid. pp 28–35. Specifically, Budde’s lineage contains Kagel’s Sur Scène (1962), Ligeti’s Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures (1962–5), Pousseur and Michael Butor’s Votre Faust (1969), Hans Otte’s Passages (1965), Stockhausen’s Hymnen (1966–7), Pousseur’s Couleurs Croisées (1967), Lukas Foss’s Baroque Variations (1967), Berio’s Sinfonia (1968–9), Kagel’s Ludwig van (1970) and a few other works. 28 Clemens Kühn, Das Zitat in der Musik der Gegenwart, mit Ausblicken auf bildende Kunst und Literatur (Hamburg: Verlag der Musikalienhandlung Karl Dieter Wagner, 1972). 29 Ibid. pp. 8–9. 30 Ibid. pp. 24–37. 31 Ibid. pp. 38–84. 32 Elmar Budde, ‘Zum dritten Satz der Sinfonia von Luciano Berio’, in Die Musik der sechziger Jahre, pp. 128–44. 33 Peter Altmann, Sinfonia von Luciano Berio. Eine analytische Studie (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1977); Michael Hicks, ‘Text, Music, and Meaning in the Third Movement of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia’, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 20, nos. 1/2 (Autumn 1981 – Summer 1982), pp. 199–224; David Osmond-Smith, Playing on Words: A Guide to Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (London: Royal Musical Association, 1985), pp. 39–71. 34 Robert Fink, ‘Going Flat: Post-Hierarchical Music Theory and the Musical Surface’, in Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist (eds.), Rethinking Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 129. 35 See the chapter ‘Revelling in the Rubble: The Postmodern Condition’, in Susan McClary, Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 139–69, in which the album Spillane by John Zorn is lionised for little more than its stylistic pluralism, and Jane Piper Clendinning, ‘Postmodern Architecture/Postmodern Music’, in Judy Lochhead and Joseph Auner (eds.), Postmodern Music/Postmodern Thought (New York and London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 119–40. 36 See for example Alistair Williams, Music in Germany since 1968 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), especially pp. 4–24; for more on this, see my review of this book in Tempo, vol. 68, no. 268 (April 2014), pp. 116–21. Similar problems (with a similar obsession with 1968) beset the writings by Kenneth Gloag on related subjects, in particular in his Postmodernism in Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 53–7. Gloag mentions Zimmermann together with Berio, but his picture is limited by lack of wider engagement with various aspects of continental modernism, or with any literature not in English. 37 Glenn Watkins, Pyramids at the Louvre: Music, Culture, and Collage from Stravinsky to the Postmodernists (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1994). 38 See ibid. pp. 1–8 in particular, including Watkins’ sceptical view of those who locate this exclusively in the late twentieth century. 39 Ibid. pp. 342–74, 398–418. 40 Jeanette Bicknell, ‘The Problem of Reference in Musical Quotation: A Phenomenological Approach’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 59, no. 2 (Spring 2001), pp. 185–91. 41 David Metzer, Quotation and Cultural Meaning in Twentieth-Century Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

96 42 43 44 45

46 47 48 49 50

51 52

53 54 55 56 57



Ian Pace Ibid. p. 4. Ibid. pp. 4–6. Ibid. pp. 7–8. Clayton Henderson, ‘Quotation as a Style Element in the Music of Charles Ives’ (PhD dissertation: Washington University, 1969), reprinted as Quotation as a Style Element in the Music of Charles Ives (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Press, 1982); ‘Ives’s Use of Quotation’, Music Educators Journal, vol. 61, no. 2 (October 1974), pp. 22–8. Later on, Henderson published The Charles Ives Tunebook (Warren, MI: Harmonie Park Press, 1990; second edition Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008), the most comprehensive reference book on Ives’s borrowings. Christopher Ballantine, ‘Charles Ives and the Meaning of Quotation in Music’, The Musical Quarterly, vol. 65, no. 2 (April 1979), pp. 167–84. J. Peter Burkholder, ‘“Quotation” and Emulation; Charles Ives’s Uses of His Models’, The Musical Quarterly, vol. 71, no. 1 (1985), pp. 1–26. J. Peter Burkholder, ‘The Evolution of Charles Ives’s Music: Aesthetics, Quotation, Technique’ (PhD dissertation: University of Chicago, 1983). Burkholder, ‘“Quotation” and Emulation’, pp. 2–3. Ibid. pp. 3–5. Burkholder goes on in the article to detail the manifestation of these various types of borrowings in a range of Ives’s works, and then in a more concentrated fashion in his ‘“Quotation” and Paraphrase in Ives’s Second Symphony’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 11, no. 1 (Summer 1987), pp. 3–25. J. Peter Burkholder, All Made of Tunes: Charles Ives and the Uses of Musical Borrowing (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1995). Julie Kristeva, Desire as Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, edited Leon S. Roudiez, translated Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980) (French original published 1969), pp. 36–8, 67–72. Space does not allow here for a wider consideration of the history of the concept at the hands of Mikhail Bahktin, Kristeva, Roland Barthes, Gérard Genette, Michael Riffaterre and others, amply explored in Graham Allen, Intertextuality (London and New York: Routledge, 2000). The most detailed study of the subject in a Western art music context, Michael L. Klein’s Intertextuality in Western Art Music (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2005), is an important study of musical meaning drawing upon topic theory, but it is beyond the scope of this article to engage with it in detail, and like other such works neglects the mediating role of the performer between score and listener in terms of generation of meaning. Gérard Genette, Palimpsests, translated Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky, with foreword by Gerald Prince (Lincoln, NE and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1997) (French original 1982), pp. 1–2. Ibid. pp. 3–7. Burkholder, All Made of Tunes, p. 2. Taken from ibid. pp. 3–4 My profound thanks to John Fallas for various fascinating discussions and pointers to literature which have informed this section. Fallas’ own ongoing work on genre in new music, including the work of Finnissy, promises to be a major contribution to knowledge on this subject. A solid summary of different perspectives upon, attitudes towards and theories of genre over literary history remains Heather Dubrow, Genre (London and New York: Methuen, 1982), pp. 45–104. A more critical account, also drawing upon literary genre history, can be found in Rick Altman, Film/Genre (London: British Film Institute, 1999), pp. 1–12. Jim Samson, ‘Genre’, at Grove Online.

Strategies and aesthetics


60 This is a common belief of recent genre theorists, as for example in John Frow, Genre (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 12–17, in a way it was not just a few decades earlier. Frow argues for one near-definition of genre as ‘a relationship between textual structures and the situations that occasion them’ (p. 13) and later as ‘neither a property of (and located “in”) texts, nor a projection of (and located “in”) readers; it exists as a part of the relationship between texts and readers, and it has a systemic existence. It is a shared convention with a social force’ (p. 102). 61 Finnissy, letter to the author, January 1996. 62 See Frow, Genre, pp. 104–9 for how the paratext forms a ‘frame’ in television, theatre and literature, arguments equally applicable to music. See also Nigel McBride in chapter 9 on ‘composite N inscriptions’ for an alternative theoretical model. 63 Nor necessarily create genres based upon the social function for Finnissy’s works, for example setting apart those written for amateurs in a genre of their own, when the music some of these might correspond just as strongly with some of Finnissy’s works for professionals. 64 See Altman, Film/Genre, pp. 15–16. 65 Carl Dahlhaus, ‘New Music and the problem of musical genre’ (1968), in Dahlhaus, Schoenberg and the New Music: Essays, translated Derrick Puffett, edited Alfred Clayton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 32–44, quote p. 39. 66 Ibid. p. 33. 67 Jeffrey Kallberg, ‘The Rhetoric of Genre: Chopin’s Nocturne in G Minor’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 11, no. 3 (Spring 1988), pp. 239–42. 68 Eric Drott, ‘The End(s) of Genre’, Journal of Music Theory, vol. 57, no. 1 (Spring 2013), pp. 1–45. This somewhat problematic piece, which draws upon the work of Bruno Latour, tends to sideline compositional agency. Drott’s conception of genre is heavily sociological, defined in terms of multiple ‘“art world” participants’ (after the work of Howard Becker), and as such requires very little in terms of specifically musical attributes. This enables him to take a rather uncritical view of very hazy journalistic groupings (experimental/avant-garde, modern/avant-garde, uptown/downtown/modern) from the writings of Michael Nyman, Gianmario Borio, Georgina Born, Kyle Gann, David Metzer and others. Drott’s argument that genre is as much of a factor in modernist music as ever, made with reference in particular to Gérard Grisey’s Les espaces acoustiques, relies too heavily on normative views of large bodies of music, and highly selective and essentially descriptive musical examination (albeit in convoluted language), in order to bend the works around the theory, rather than vice versa. This limits, for example, possible explorations of generic relationships between some works which have traditionally been categorised as musique spectrale and others commonly thought to belong to other categories, which may be stronger than the commonalities between different works for which the musique spectrale labelling is empirically observable. Ultimately, Drott only succeeds in arguing that few works are entirely independent of all previous styles or conventions, nor are they heard in isolation, but I doubt many have ever thought otherwise. For wider critiques of Drott’s work on musique spectrale, drawing attention to limited historical research and contextualisation for some of his models, see Liam Cagney, ‘Synthesis and Deviation: New Perspectives on the Emergence of the French courant spectral, 1969–74’ (PhD thesis: City, University of London, 2015), pp. 57, 123–4, 331 n. 689, 373. 69 See Jason Toynbee’s chapter on ‘Genre-cultures’, in Toynbee, Making Popular Music: Musicians, Creativity and Institutions (New York and London:


70 71




75 76 77 78

79 80 81 82 83 84 85

Ian Pace Arnold, 2000), pp. 102–29. Toynbee is particularly concerned to question claims made about ‘free’ improvisation, though he founds his criticism entirely upon writings about the work rather than any information available through listening. Drott, ‘The End(s) of Genre’, p. 7. Though Drott’s examples – Roger Sessions, Alfred Schnittke, David Diamond, Poul Ruders, William Schuman, Krzystof Penderecki and Gian Francesco Malipiero, who wrote symphonies, concerts, sonatas and string quartets in 1968, the same year as Dahlhaus’s essay was published (ibid. p. 5 n. 6) – are not generally figures associated with ‘high modernism’ (except possibly Penderecki). Finnissy’s late Sonatas for Toy Piano (2006–7), Clarinet (2007), Violin (2007) and Bassoon (2007), the Four Organ Symphonies (2002–8), Three String Quartets (1984, 2006–7, 2007–9), Horn Trio (2013), and other works can be viewed in a similar category. Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, edited Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, translated, edited and with an introduction by Robert Hullot-Kentor (London and New York: Continuum, 2002), p. 207; Theodor Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 7: Ästhetische Theorie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2003), pp. 307–8. Croce argued against all aesthetics which demanded conformity to generic laws, in poetry and painting, but maintained that artists had never really done this, even when they needed to pretend to. See Benedetto Croce, The Aesthetic as the Science of Expression and of the Linguistic in General, translated Colin Lyas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 41–2. Hans-Robert Jauss maintained that the type of absolutism which Croce desired could only be achieved at the expense of comprehensibility. See Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, translated Timothy Bahti, with introduction by Paul de Man (Minneapolis, IN: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), p. 79. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory. pp. 199–225, quotes pp. 199, 201. However, Adorno’s claim that ‘any abrupt change of social structure, such as occurred with the emergence of a bourgeois public, brings about an equally abrupt change in genres and stylistic types’ (ibid. p. 209) is too simplistic and speculative, a rare excursion on Adorno’s part into ‘vulgar Marxism’. Jim Samson, ‘Chopin and Genre’, Music Analysis, vol. 8, no. 3 (October 1989), pp. 214, 221–3. Kallberg, ‘The Rhetoric of Genre’, p. 242. See also Richard Barrett’s discussion on this work in Chapter 15. This has been communicated to me in countless conversations with Finnissy. Finnissy has said that alongside represented ‘an extreme point along a line of development which he was not prepared to take further’; see Richard Barrett, ‘Michael Finnissy: An Overview’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 13, part 1 (1995), p. 32. Kallberg, ‘The Rhetoric of Genre’, p. 243. This concept is also evoked in Samson, ‘Chopin and Genre’, p. 213. See Dubrow, Genre, pp. 31–7. See Christopher Fox’s contribution in Chapter 1 of this volume, and also the comments in ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, pp. 33–5. See my own thoughts on the relationship of Finnissy’s work to this tradition in Ian Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, p. 43. Kallberg, ‘The Rhetoric of Genre’, p. 243. Allan F. Moore, ‘Categorical Conventions in Music Discourse: Style and Genre’, Music & Letters, vol. 82, no. 3 (August 2001), pp. 432–42. These correspond to the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ form as defining aspects of literature as theorised in René Wellek and Austin Warren, Theory of Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co: 1949), p. 241.

Strategies and aesthetics


86 See Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, pp. 100, 116–17, and ‘Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (4)’ (July 2016), at (accessed 24 June 2018). 87 See Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, pp. 84–5. 88 See Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 11–12, 14–15, 104–6, 108–11, 114–5 for an exploration of this. 89 See Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, pp. 59–65 on this and other aspects of this work, and ibid. pp. 44–57, for an early attempt to trace the early development of Finnissy’s pianistic idiom. 90 Kallberg, ‘The Rhetoric of Genre’, p. 245. In literary history, the major debates before Croce were between traditional and hybrid genres. See Altman, Film/ Genre, p. 7. Altman also traces in detail how various archetypal film genres came about as a result of considerable cyclical development of earlier ones (ibid. pp. 30–68) a process which can also regularly be observed in musical history. 91 See Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, pp. 71–4 on these works. 92 See Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 264–5 on how this works in Unsere Afrikareise. 93 See Laurence Dreyfus, Bach and the Patterns of Invention (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 33–58. Dreyfus specifically uses the concept of composing ‘against the grain’ here. 94 Theodor Adorno, ‘Bach Defended Against his Devotees’, in Prisms, translated Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981), pp. 133–46. 95 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 210. 96 Michael Finnissy, e-mail to the author, 24 September 2016. 97 Ibid. Finnissy did in this e-mail however acknowledge the textual response I detail above in ‘Embraceable you’, which I had asked him about in my e-mail of 23 September 2016 to which this was a reply. 98 Ibid; and e-mail from Michael Finnissy to the author, 12 September 2016. The two Gershwin Arrangements based upon recordings were ‘Things are looking up’, based on a recording by Fred Astaire, and ‘They’re writing songs of love, but not for me’, based on a recording by Judy Garland (see below). From More Gershwin, ‘I’d rather Charleston’ was part-based upon a recording by Fred and Adèle Astaire. 99 In particular, I know of three versions of ‘Love is here to stay’, one from 1975 which mostly resembles the later published version, without the verse, another (recorded on my Metier CD MSV 92030) also from 1975, but revised in 1988 which is more angular and fragmentary, and the final published version. 100 Michael Finnissy, e-mail to the author, 24 September 2016. 101 Michael Finnissy, interview with Jack Sheen (2017), at Interview-with-Michael-Finnissy (accessed 18 June 2018). As often with Finnissy, this view may have developed some time after the composition of the works. 102 Michael Finnissy, e-mail to author, 24 September 2016. 103 Garland also broadcast this song in May 1943 and recorded it separately on 2 November for Decca (23309). These versions differ only very slightly, through a few rhythmic nuances, from the recording for Girl Crazy. 104 For a detailed consideration of the execution of these rhythms, see Pace, ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’, pp. 175–7. 105 This Liszt work is also referenced in My Parents’ Generation thought War meant Something. See Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, p. 114. 106 I recall Finnissy specifically relating this passage to Rachmaninoff when I played the piece to him in the 1990s. This kind of figuration is however prevalent among


Ian Pace

Russian pianist-composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and can be found throughout Skryabin’s early output (most clearly in op. 3, 4 and 11) and in other composers from Mily Balakirev to Nikolay Medtner, to name just two. 107 In the case of the piece from Book 4, derived from the witches chorus, ‘S’allontanarono! N’accozzeremo’ from Act 1 of Verdi’s Macbeth, Verdi’s material is only very obliquely observable on the last page, the remainder of the piece having been extracted from an earlier withdrawn piece for piano and ensemble, Long Distance. This stretches the concept of paraphrase/fantasia to the extreme, and is a high-point of metatextuality in Finnissy’s work. 108 Arnold Schoenberg, ‘Brahms the Progressive’ (1947), translated Leo Black, in Schoenberg, Style and Idea, edited Leonard Stein (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), pp. 398–441, especially pp. 402–4. See also Arnold Whittall’s consideration of this Finnissy work in chapter 10 of the present volume. 109 See Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 126–39 for details of this.

Bibliography Adorno, Theodor. Aesthetic Theory, edited Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, translated, edited and with an introduction by Robert Hullot-Kentor. London and New York: Continuum, 2002. Adorno, Theodor. Gesammelte Schriften, Band 7: Ästhetische Theorie. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2003. Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. Altman, Rick. Film/Genre. London: British Film Institute, 1999. Altmann, Peter. Sinfonia von Luciano Berio. Eine analytische Studie. Vienna: Universal Edition, 1977. Ballantine, Christopher. ‘Charles Ives and the Meaning of Quotation in Music’. The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 65, No. 2 (April 1979), pp. 167–84. Beaudoin, Richard. ‘Anonymous Sources: Finnissy Analysis and the Opening of Chapter Eight of The History of Photography in Sound’. Perspectives of New Music, vol. 45, no. 2 (Summer 2007), pp. 5–27. Bicknell, Jeanette. ‘The Problem of Reference in Musical Quotation: A Phenomenological Approach’. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 59, no. 2 (Spring 2001), pp. 185–91. Blacking, John. How Musical is Man? Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1973. Bónis, F. ‘Quotations in Bartók’s Music: A Contribution to Bartók’s Psychology of Composition’. Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 5/1–4 (1963), pp. 355–82. Budde, Elmar. ‘Zitat, Collage, Montage’. In Rudolf Stephan (ed.), Die Musik der sechziger Jahre (Mainz: Schott, 1972), pp. 26–38. Budde, Elmar. ‘Zum dritten Satz der Sinfonia von Luciano Berio’, In Rudolf Stephan (ed.), Die Musik der sechziger Jahre (Mainz: Schott, 1972), pp. 128–44. Burkholder, J. Peter. ‘The Evolution of Charles Ives’s Music: Aesthetics, Quotation, Technique’. PhD thesis: University of Chicago, 1983. Burkholder, J. Peter. ‘“Quotation” and Emulation; Charles Ives’s Uses of His Models’. The Musical Quarterly, vol. 71, no. 1 (1985), pp. 1–26

Strategies and aesthetics


Burkholder, J. Peter. ‘“Quotation” and Paraphrase in Ives’s Second Symphony’. 19th-Century Music, vol. 11, no. 1 (Summer 1987), pp. 3–25. Burkholder, J. Peter. All Made of Tunes: Charles Ives and the Uses of Musical Borrowing. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1995. Cagney, Liam. ‘Synthesis and Deviation: New Perspectives on the Emergence of the French courant spectral, 1969–74’. PhD thesis: City, University of London, 2015. Clendinning, Jane Piper. ‘Postmodern Architecture/Postmodern Music’. In Judy Lochhead and Joseph Auner (eds.), Postmodern Music/Postmodern Thought (New York and London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 119–40. Cook, Nicholas. Beyond the Score: Music as Performance. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Croce, Benedetto. The Aesthetic as the Science of Expression and of the Linguistic in General, translated Colin Lyas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Dahlhaus, Carl. ‘New Music and the problem of musical genre’ (1968). In Carl Dahlhaus, Schoenberg and the New Music: Essays, translated Derrick Puffett, edited Alfred Clayton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 32–44. Dreyfus, Laurence. Bach and the Patterns of Invention. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1996. Drott, Eric. ‘The End(s) of Genre’, Journal of Music Theory, vol. 57, no. 1 (Spring 2013), pp. 1–45. Dubrow, Heather. Genre. London and New York: Methuen, 1982. Fink, Robert. ‘Going Flat: Post-Hierarchical Music Theory and the Musical Surface’. In Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist (eds.), Rethinking Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 102–37. Finnissy, Michael. Interview with Jack Sheen (2017). At Interview-with-Michael-Finnissy (accessed 18 June 2018). Fox, Christopher. ‘Michael Finnissy’s History of Photography in Sound: Under the Lens’. The Musical Times, vol. 143, no. 1879 (Summer 2002), pp. 26–35. Frow, John. Genre. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2006. Genette, Gérard. Palimpsests, translated Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky, with foreword by Gerald Prince. Lincoln, NE and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1997. Gloag, Kenneth. Postmodernism in Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Henderson, Clayton. ‘Quotation as a Style Element in the Music of Charles Ives’ (PhD dissertation: Washington University, 1969. Reprinted as Quotation as a Style Element in the Music of Charles Ives. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Press, 1982. Henderson, Clayton. ‘Ives’s Use of Quotation’. Music Educators Journal, vol. 61, no. 2 (October 1974), pp. 22–8. Henderson, Clayton. The Charles Ives Tunebook. Warren, MI: Harmonie Park Press, 1990; second edition Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2008. Hicks, Michael. ‘Text, Music, and Meaning in the Third Movement of Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia’. Perspectives of New Music, vol. 20, nos. 1/2 (Autumn 1981 – Summer 1982), pp. 199–224. Jauss, Hans-Robert. Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, translated Timothy Bahti, with introduction by Paul de Man. Minneapolis, IN: University of Minnesota Press, 1982. Kallberg, Jeffrey. ‘The Rhetoric of Genre: Chopin’s Nocturne in G Minor’. 19thCentury Music, vol. 11, no. 3 (Spring 1988), pp. 239–42.


Ian Pace

Kingsbury, Henry. Music, Talent, & Performance: A Conservatory Cultural System. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988. Klein, Michael L. Intertextuality in Western Art Music. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2005. Kristeva, Julie. Desire as Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, edited Leon S. Roudiez, translated Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980. Kühn, Clemens. Das Zitat in der Musik der Gegenwart, mit Ausblicken auf bildende Kunst und Literatur. Hamburg: Verlag der Musikalienhandlung Karl Dieter Wagner, 1972. Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel. ‘Classical music as enforced Utopia’. Arts & Humanities in Higher Education, vol. 15, nos. 3–4 (2016), pp. 325–36. Lissa, Zofia. ‘Ästhetische Funktionen des musikalischen Zitats’. Die Musikforschung 19/4 (October–December 1966), pp. 364–78. McClary, Susan. Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2000. Metzer, David. Quotation and Cultural Meaning in Twentieth-Century Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Noé, Günter von. ‘Das musikalische Zitat’. Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, vol. 124, no. 4 (1963), pp. 134–7. Noé, Günter von. ‘Das Musikalische Plagiat’. Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, vol. 124, no. 9 (1963), pp. 330–4. Osmond-Smith, David. Playing on Words: A Guide to Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia. London: Royal Musical Association, 1985. Pace, Ian. ‘The Piano Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 43–133. Pace, Ian. ‘The Theatrical Works’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 259–346. Pace, Ian. ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’. In Darla Crispin (ed.), Unfolding Time (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), pp. 151–92. Pace, Ian. Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation. Swarland: Divine Art, 2013. Pace, Ian. Review of Alistair Williams, Music in Germany since 1968. Tempo, vol. 68, no. 268 (April 2014), pp. 116–21. Pace, Ian. ‘My contribution to the debate “Are we all ethnomusicologists now?”’ (9 June 2016), at (accessed 10 June 2018). Pace, Ian. ‘Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (4)’ (July 2016), at http://openaccess. (accessed 24 June 2018). Pace, Ian. ‘The New State of Play in Performance Studies’. Music & Letters, vol. 98, no. 2 (2017), pp. 281–92. Samson, Jim. ‘Chopin and Genre’. Music Analysis, vol. 8, no. 3 (October 1989), pp. 213–31. Schoenberg, Arnold. ‘Brahms the Progressive’ (1947), translated Leo Black. In Arnold Schoenberg, Style and Idea, edited Leonard Stein (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), pp. 398–441.

Strategies and aesthetics


Searle, Leroy. ‘New Criticism’. In Michael Groden, Martin Kreiswirth and Imre Szeman, The John Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory, second edition (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), pp. 528–34. Sternfeld, Frederick W. ‘Some Russian Folk Songs in Stravinsky’s Petrouchka’. Music Library Association vol. 2, no. 2 (March 1945), pp. 95–107. Toynbee, Jason. Making Popular Music: Musicians, Creativity and Institutions. New York and London: Arnold, 2000. Watkins, Glenn. Pyramids at the Louvre: Music, Culture, and Collage from Stravinsky to the Postmodernists. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1994. Wellek, René; and Warren, Austin. Theory of Literature. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co: 1949. Williams, Alistair. Music in Germany since 1968. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.


Ontological implications in the work of Finnissy Nigel McBride

Georgios Theocharous, in his 2014 article ‘Not Too Violent: The Fall of Notation in Michael Finnissy’s Autumnall for Solo Piano’, writes about the notation of Finnissy’s Autumnall (1968–71) from the perspective of a performer.1 From the outset, Theocharous writes of his frustrations with Finnissy’s notation, ranging from issues with the use of tempi markings, tuplets, and the notation of rests, all of which culminates with the statement: we have lost all hope for any possibly accurate rendition.2 In so writing, Theocharous reveals a specific approach to both his performing ideology, and his fundamental conception of the ontological relationship between the musical score and resultant performances. Of central importance to Theocharous is realising the musical work accurately, but in doing so several assumptions are being made about the nature of musical works, and their notations.3 In this chapter I will explore the ontological implications for Finnissy’s music through the ways in which it is framed in Theocharous’s article, illustrating the ways in which inappropriate ontological frameworks can hamper the performance, comprehension, and study of Finnissy’s music. The du jour ontological framework implicit in the writings of Theocharous, and other authors explored later, on the relationship between musical works and their performances will be analysed in terms of their ontological suitability, and I will suggest an alternative ontology which synthesises the most salient aspects of influential ontologies from Jerrold Levinson and Nelson Goodman. To be able to make a determination that a performance is accurate, or inaccurate, depends on the ontological status of the work being performed or realised. Arthur Danto argues in his 1974 article, ‘The Transfiguration of the Commonplace’, that artworks and non-artworks are two distinct classes of things, and as such, different predicates and qualities apply to each: [I]t is possible that a painting be exhibited which is merely a square of primed canvas […] Such works may be scored as largely empty […] Yet

Ontological implications


the painting is not empty in the way in which a square of primed canvas, indiscernible from our work, may be […] For “empty” as applied to our works is an aesthetic and critical judgment, presupposing that its subjects are artworks already, however inscrutable may be the differences between them and objects which, since not artworks, reject such predicates as a class.4 Similarly to Danto’s argument that mere objects reject certain predicates as a class,5 certain musical ontologies reject ‘accuracy’ as a class.6 In applying accuracy as a criterion applicable to a realisation of Finnissy’s notation, Theocharous is making an ontological claim about Finnissy’s work, and the relation it holds to performance. Accuracy implies that a correlation between the notation and the resulting performance is possible. The desire for performative accuracy (that is, to play the materials of the piece as the notation, with all of its idiosyncrasies and quirks, indicates) is not a controversial motivation, but in the context of performance it becomes more difficult to determine whether or not this is viable. Musical scores comprising notation do not themselves sound, despite often being referred to as if they did, so the process of performance and evaluation necessarily requires an attempt to correlate two distinct domains – musical sound, which is experienced linearly in time, and musical notation.7

Ex. 4.1 Finnissy, Autumnall (1968–71), first three systems. © Oxford University Press 1991.


Nigel McBride

Theocharous, in writing about the notation of Autumnall, discusses the musical material as if it exists independently from its corresponding notations. Discussing Finnissy’s use of tuplets, as seen in Ex. 4.1, he says: We notice that the piece opens with nineteen quarter-note rests. We begin to think that if a ratio tuplet is another way of expressing a new tempo, then the rests could be nothing more than part of the conundrum that the composer has set up for us to establish the opening tempo.8 There is a clear ontological problem in this statement. It is quite clear that a tuplet is not another way of expressing a new tempo. While the perceived outcome of a tuplet can be interpreted as a momentary change in tempo, tuplets serve to adjust the fractional relationship between individual rhythmic values and their relation to the primary metric pulse. They do not adjust the pulse itself, even when they encapsulate an entire bar, and they can be overlaid and nested within one another. There are several compositional devices that can be used to adjust the perceived speed of musical material, such as rhythmic augmentation and diminution, which both adjust the speed at which the material passes, without modifying the primary pulse. In the case of the example that Theocharous mentions, where no tempo indication is provided by Finnissy, it is up to the performer to establish their own pulse, based on the sounding materials and its possibilities. A similar observation occurs shortly after Theocharous’s first, where he claims of the third system of the first page of Autumnall: [Finnissy] could have notated seventeen quarter-notes instead of a fermata of ten seconds.9 While Theocharous is quite right in that these two notations will allow for roughly the same amount of time to pass, the way in which time is passed is of a different nature. Crotchets are not an absolute measure of time, and in fact they have no temporal value unless they are in a metered context; they typically have a relational value to other music-durational values, but until they are described in relation to a tempo, they have no temporal meaning. Or, put simply, if Finnissy had written seventeen crotchets instead of a fermata of ten seconds, he would have composed a rhythm instead of indicated a duration. So then, what is clear from this extract is that Finnissy requires the performer to establish a tempo, even if it is internal, before engaging with the measured material that follows it. If the silence had been defined as a 10” pause, then the performer would have to adopt a tempo when the measured material commences. There are places within Finnissy’s output where this is swapped. One example is Enough for solo piano (2001), in which full-bar rests with a fermata periodically alternate with measured silences (‘SILENCE: 7 seconds’). The distinction between the two strategies Finnissy presents results in a performative difference.

Ontological implications


Platonism and musical works An ontology which maintains a causal distinction between the musical work and the musical score is platonism. Lydia Goehr succinctly defines a platonic ontology of musical works as follows: musical works are argued, contrary to common sense, to be universals— perhaps even natural kinds—constituted by structures of sounds. They lack spatio-temporal properties and exist everlastingly. They exist long before any compositional activity has taken place and long after they perhaps have been forgotten. They exist even if no performances or score-copies are ever produced. To compose a work is less to create a kind, than it is to discover one.10 A platonic understanding of musical works states that they exist as abstract sound structures – non-spatiotemporal, and acausal – they exist outside of experiential time and location, and exist regardless of anything causing them to exist.11 It is thought that when a composer indicates a sound structure (literally the constituent components of a musical work that they have written down in some musical notation), they have discovered a sound structure that already exists, hence the distinction between a musical work and score. A performance is then an instantiation of an abstract structure, experienced in a particular time and place. There are many indications that the platonic ontology is how musical works are generally thought of in contemporary practice, primarily as Werktreue, a term which originated in a musical context through discussions of the performance practices of Clara Schumann, Joseph Joachim, and, to some, Hans von Bülow in the nineteenth century.12 Musicologist and performer John Butt offers a detailed discussion of Werktreue, ‘truth to the work’, mostly in its relation to authentic performance practices: Werktreue in historical performance finds its most fully developed theoretical home in one of the most traditional formulations of the musical work, Platonism. Platonism has long been a feature of music theory, particularly when theory has veered towards the abstract, mathematical and formal, or even towards the unheard and ideal. In many ways ‘pure’ Platonism would seem to privilege musical works in the abstract over their realisation in sound.13 Butt continues discussing many of the implications of platonism for a historically-informed practice, culminating with ‘the unattainable ideal in music is analogous to a belief in divine aesthetic and moral order’.14 If Finnissy’s works were to be viewed as platonic objects, as a collection of abstract sound structures that he discovered and indicated when writing his works, then Theocharous’ arguments that Finnissy’s notation fails at conveying these structures is viable, as the complexity of the notation would


Nigel McBride

result in a performance that always falls short of a perfect realisation.15 There are however good reasons to be sceptical of applying the Werktreue and platonic ontologies to musical works. From the perspective of Werktreue and platonism, musical works constitute a single fixed sounding structure, and performers must play the notation in order to invoke the specific fixed sound that the composer has indicated, eliminating any creative action on the part of the performer. Even if Werktreue were further removed from the desire to achieve the demands of the composer, and instead seek to reveal the ‘essence’ of the work, the ‘essence’ is an abstract ideal that is located some distance from actually engaging with the notation in the terms that it is defined. Formally, some practical ramifications of this model are as follows: (1) All musical performances instantiate an abstract sound structure; (2) musical scores are not capable of conveying all aspects of the abstract sound structure, precisely because it is abstract; (3) all deviations from the musical score result in a failure to instantiate the desired abstract structure, and result in the instantiation of some other similar abstract structure; (4) abstract sound structures are non-spatiotemporal and acausal, and it is unclear how we can have knowledge of abstract objects other than a priori – which is not without its own controversy. Due to point (2), it is not possible to know what musical work is instantiated where and when, only that one has been instantiated. Let us call these four consequences platonic notionality. Therefore, while under a platonic ontology, Theocharous is right in saying the following, which applies not only to Autumnall and Finnissy’s music, but all notated works: we conclude with an impossibility, one that sums up the entire piece […] We are promised a sort of “structure” to decode, one that would make the performance a simple recreation of the composer’s intentions. Instead, our efforts lead to what is at best numerology.16 In light of platonic notionality points (2) and (3), any hope of musical accuracy is forgone before any performance happens, because the nature of abstract objects is by definition abstract, which is also not specific to the sound structures indicated by Finnissy, but to all indicated sound structures. While there can appear to be a theoretical discontinuity between the ontological understanding of musical works and the practices involved with their performance, Butt’s following observation is relevant: Not only does theoretical abstraction have little point if it is entirely divorced from musical practice, or if it is not clear as to what aspect of

Ontological implications


musical practice it refers, but the musical practice itself cannot be understood without an awareness of the complexities of history.17 Pianist and scholar Ian Pace has related the ‘theoretical abstraction’ of Werktreue and its ontological relation to practice in his 2009 article ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’ and a 2014 paper expanding upon some of the issues. Both this chapter and the companion to it (Chapter 9) begin an attempt to fill the scholarly gap identified by Butt. While Butt discusses Werktreue primarily in the context of historical revivals, Pace examines its relevance to performers of new music, as well as those of earlier repertoires. Several archetypal interpretive attitudes identified elsewhere by Pace describe differing hermeneutic relations to musical scores, each of which display varying degrees of ontological self-consciousness – that is, conceptions of musical works and how they relate to musical texts that are primarily critical, and not assumed. The most self-conscious of these attitudes is the ‘analytic/aesthetic’; the one closest to aligning with a platonic ontology being the Texttreue approach; and the most general, and the least ontologically referential, being ‘mainstream’.18 The ‘literalist’ view posits that the role of the performer is to realise as exactly as possible the musical notations associated with the piece, without the need to contextually query those notations beyond the level of mechanical reproduction, a view that Pace states is ‘the furthest extension of Stravinsky’s ideal of the performer as executor rather than interpreter, an attitude that is widely adhered to by performers of contemporary music’.19 Pace discusses what he terms the positivist view of notation, in which the score tells the performer in essence what to do, around which [the performer] can elaborate (through use of varying micro-dynamics, rubato, tempo modifications, etc.) depending upon the degree of notational exactitude.20 For Pace, ‘positivist’, ‘literalist’, and where applicable, ‘Texttreue’, are generally synonymous, and constitute what could be called a naive performance practice: naive in its attempts to deny the score its dignity in having an  epistemological identity, and thus an epistemological engagement; naive in its attempts to deny the interpreters interpretation. If one were to approach many of Finnissy’s most notationally extreme works through the ideology  of Werktreue, then one issue in particular immediately becomes clear. In the places where Finnissy’s notations call for hyper-virtuosic technique, such as in Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets (1997), many of the Songs (in particular Song 9 (1968) for piano), English Country-Tunes (1977, rev. 1982–5), and Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996), there is  limited scope to realise these pieces in the manner of such a positivist/literalist model, and the desire for ‘truth to the work’ becomes undermined by its own materials.


Nigel McBride

Sound structure and performing-means While platonism entails a discontinuity between sound structures indicated in musical notation and the works they comprise, Jerrold Levinson’s seminal article published in 1980, ‘What a Musical Work Is’, binds an object’s ontological identity to specific material states, which refute the notion that a musical work is an abstract sound structure alone. Differing from the kind of platonism as articulated by Goehr, Levinson claims that a musical work is, in fact, quite a specific collection of material (pitches, instruments, rhythms) and non-material (historical, and cultural) things: (1) If musical works were just sound structures, then, if two distinct composers determine the same sound structure they necessarily compose the same musical work. (2) But distinct composers determining the same sound structure in fact inevitably produce different musical works. Therefore, musical works cannot be sound structures simpliciter.21 Levinson goes on to include as a constituent component in his ontology, which is absent from ‘classical platonism’, that a work’s ‘musico-cultural context’ is an integral component, and perhaps even the integral component, for constituting a musical work, as without a musico-cultural context a work cannot have been composed (for there is no composer without one),22 and without a composer a work could not have been created. Creation is an important facet for musical works of the type being discussed – musical works by Finnissy, music that broadly sits within or alongside the same traditions as Finnissy. If works were indeed discovered sound abstracta simpliciter, rather than created musical works, then it can be assumed that point (4) of platonic notionality applies, and we can have no knowledge of them.23 Levinson disbands the notion of pure abstract sound structures in his ontology, replacing them in his ontology as a synthetic part of any work’s identity, saying: I propose that a musical work be taken to involve not only a pure sound  structure, but also a structure of performing means [S/PM]. If the  sound structure of a piece is basically a sequence of sounds qualitatively defined, then the performing-means structure is a parallel sequence of performing means specified for realizing the sounds at each point. Thus a musical work consists of at least two structures. It is a compound or conjunction of a sound structure and a performing-means structure.24 While Levinson holds to a platonistic ontology for sound structures, he does not apply a platonic model to musical works as a whole. For him, it is

Ontological implications


sufficient that sound structures exist as non-spatiotemporals that are causally inert, but these sound structures are themselves not musical works. His ontology does not depend on the abstract qualities of platonistic forms to be coherent. The more pressing issue for Levinson is how these sound structures are determined. He says: Composers do not describe pure sound patterns in qualitative terms, leaving their means of production undiscussed. Rather, what they directly specify are means of production, through which a pure sound pattern is indirectly indicated. 25 The way in which these performing-means are expressed is through musical scores. A composer indicates in their score a certain pitch to be produced in a certain way,26 and any deviation from that is a failure to instantiate that work. Because musical works are more than just abstract sound structures, because they also comprise a performing-means, then platonic notionality does not apply, and musical works are both spatiotemporal, and causal. Musico-cultural context is also ontologically significant in Finnissy’s work. Taking as an example his Third Political Agenda, both the title of the set, and of the three pieces contained in it (1. Corruption, Deceit, Ignorance, Intolerance; 2. Hier kommt ‘U K Ichbezogen Populismus’; 3. My country has betrayed me) refer explicitly to Finnissy’s cultural context. Even on a musical level, Finnissy quotes and alludes to other works which have related to the United Kingdom, which he then sets against the funeral march from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony; the criticism implied by such a quodlibet cannot be accounted for unless a concession is made that the work is a product of the composer’s cultural context, and indeed, any other justification or reasoning for those quotations and allusions would read as hollow.27 There are many advantages to considering Finnissy’s work in the framework of Levinson’s ontology: it coherently accounts for works relating to their historical and compositional contexts, while also negating issues around instantiating abstract entities. In the paradigmatic pieces that Levinson is interested in, he states that the composer ‘typically indicates (fixes, determines, selects) [a sound structure and performance means] by creating a score’, giving it primacy within his ontological framework.28 The centrality of the composer and the score in defining a musical work erected by Levinson is not a universally observed principle. Stanley Boorman holds a different view: Obviously a text, as notated, is not actually the musical work: music exists  as sound; it fills time rather than space; and it is normally perceived as sound-in-time (whether from an external source or within  our own heads) […] the text carries no more than the minimal necessary information for a new performance. It is not the composition itself.29


Nigel McBride

In contrast to Levinson, Boorman does not see the musical text as integral to a work’s identity. In fact, he goes as far as making the following point: there is also no direct correlation between the full text itself (as the composer conceived of it, and with all permissible freedoms) and the notated source (as the composer wrote it) even though the only evidence for the text is usually that source.30 Boorman’s take on the purpose and function of the musical text is quite contrary to the views put forward by Levinson, Nelson Goodman, and others, and seems to indicate a view of notation that is quite unlike any actually experienced in practice. It can be inferred from Boorman’s distinction between the ‘the full text itself (as the composer conceived of it, and with all permissible freedoms) and the notated source (as the composer wrote it)’ that the real musical work resides singly in the imagination of the composer discovering a sound structure, and exists as a compromised reflection of that ideal. In fact, Boorman states that musical notation is traditionally viewed as functioning in one of two ways, as either ‘prescriptive’, in which the text prescribes musical actions for the performer, or ‘descriptive’, in which the notation serves to describe the sound structure of a musical work.31 For Boorman, the issue is that musical notation is insufficient to be considered a central part of a musical work because it lacks the capacity to ‘include every aspect of a performance’,32 deducing that the necessary information for realising notation was implicit in itself during earlier periods.33 Boorman’s argument hinges on the fact that notation has never been used to instantiate a specific sound structure, and that notation is instead ‘an allusive guide, offering the performer hints alongside the instructions, and therefore depending on the musician’s ability to understand these hints and allusions’.34 In this regard, his argument is more or less compatible with that of Levinson; the implicit information held in notation that is integral to Boorman’s conception of a score is equivalent with the musicohistorical context and performing-means synthesis proposed by Levinson. It is not until Boorman begins discussing the functions of the musical text more specifically that some issues begin to become more prominent, and its applicability to Finnissy’s works becomes less possible. From the question ‘why write down a musical composition?’, Boorman claims that historically notation came after the fact of composition,35 and that works would have been learned by ear, or alternatively, from the composer – although neither approach would necessarily ensure a realisation any closer to the composer’s intent than through notation.36 Curiously, Boorman comments that such a position, which he generally advocated in his chapter as being a means by which to get closer to the composer’s intentions, is not possible in the context of contemporary scores, which while being certainly true, reads as quite outside the remit of any traditional understanding of ‘contemporary music’.37

Ontological implications


Inscription/notation and compliance/non-compliance Boorman’s question, ‘why write down music?’ has been answered previously to his discussion. Goodman addresses this question in his 1968 book Languages of Art, stating: A score, whether or not ever used as a guide for a performance, has as a primary function the authoritative identification of a work from performance to performance. Often scores and notations – and pseudo-scores and pseudo-notations – have such other more exciting functions as facilitating transposition, comprehension, or even composition; but every score, as a score, has the logically prior office of identifying a work.38 Boorman himself does not adequately answer his own question. Rather, he transforms the question from ‘why write down music?’, to ‘[i]f the musical text is to be used in this manner to re-create the piece, why is notation such an imprecise medium?’,39 which contradicts the specific issue that Theocharous had with Finnissy in which ‘the performer is given not too little but far too much information’.40 The answer that Boorman proposes is that notation is necessarily imprecise, because of the way in which scores are read and music performed, with such imprecision providing a means for performers to exert their own individual musical tastes and abilities.41 He further argues that earlier notations leave greater room for invention and for performers to display their prowess. Little of this could be read with any particular objection in a historical context – the relationship between scores and practical musicmaking up until around the nineteenth century comfortably reflects the situation Boorman describes. However, Boorman applies the same claim to more recent scores, reflecting his own ideological position on compositional trends: the score could, at one end of the spectrum, be treated as a guide to an exact re-creation of a work, based on a precise reading of the notation. This possibility represents a rigid view of the function of musical notation and of the document, and is historically a rare one, though currently conventional.42 The caricature that Boorman presents of rigid views on musical notation is attributed in part to ‘the development of composers’ concern for detail in their notation’,43 one which is echoed by Theocharous on Autumnall, and exemplified in Boorman’s description of technical facets in works by Webern, Boulez, and Stockhausen.44 The particular details that Boorman mentions – Webern’s momentary tempo changes, Boulez’s multiple fermata durations, and perhaps most perplexingly ‘Stockhausen’s indications of the precise place on a drumhead or gong at which to strike’ – fail to account for the musical necessity these notations indicate, or the necessity it might hold for the performers to treat these notated actions as musical material and not merely


Nigel McBride

decoratively. It is not clear at all that ‘these are signs that composers recognize the loose connection between notation and sound, and have been trying to tighten it’, as Boorman claims.45 The argument that Boorman appears to present is that the situation in the past – whereby performers could implicitly understand how to interpret a score, which itself was only in the barest sense indicative of the musical work – should also be the case today,46 for the good of the music, and the satisfaction of the performers. In the case of Finnissy, even if his complex rhythmic notation was a result of simply transcribing his own imagined rubato, then the situation proposed by Boorman, by which the necessary information for realising notation was implicit in a simpler rhythmic notation, would still not hold true. There are many levels and understandings of rubato, and the specific rubato envisioned by the composer, implied by any material or context, is not necessarily identifiable, and certainly could also be viewed as either integral to the composer’s wishes, or integral to the work itself.47 Boorman’s attempt to explicate contemporary notational conventions contra to historical ones results in a reading by which composers are now interested in transforming the score from a text that is to be interpreted, into one that is to be executed.48 In doing so, he overlooks the fact that in the musical history he is discussing, compositional trends have expanded the repertoire of performing techniques that are integral to musical works, and as such they must be presented as constituent, notated elements. In the context of Levinson’s Sound/Performing-Means (S/PM), Boorman’s claims about contemporary music suggest that the score is a performing-means divorced from its musico-cultural context due to notation becoming more explicit, supplanting what Boorman views as its generally indicative rather than prescriptive role. This specific aspect of Boorman’s thinking paradoxically correlates and contradicts aspects of Finnissy’s works. At once, Finnissy’s often sparse indication of certain musical markings, namely dynamics and timbral transformations, align with Boorman’s general attitude that notation is nothing more than a guide, while also undermining the deeply indicatory nature of Finnissy’s notations (see Chapter 9 for more on this). While Levinson’s ontology is valuable insofar as it begins to ground Finnissy’s works in concretely relatable terms (that is, we can knowingly encounter specific musical works through experience), its performing-means aspect requires examination. To this end, Goodman’s formidable nominalist ontology of musical works can serve an elucidatory function. Goodman’s work on notational systems is expansive, and a detailed discussion of it is beyond the bounds of the present discussion. However, some specific concepts must be identified. As indicated earlier, scores have the primary function of authoritatively indicating specific musical works. In order for this to be achieved, those works must be able to be retrieved from a score, and for this to be possible a separate list of criteria must also be satisfiable. A system of symbols, such as musical notation, according to Goodman, can have the property of being either ‘notational’ or ‘non-notational’.49 Notational systems are ones in which there is character-indifference, where

Ontological implications


all examples of the same character, be it a musical symbol or a letter from an alphabet, relate the same meaning, and there is finite differentiation, where any characters can be differentiated from each other, and thus relate specific and different meaning. A practical example of character-indifference would be all unadulterated minims having the same rhythmic meaning within the notational system, and finite differentiation would be the ability to discern the difference between a quaver and a semi-quaver by the number of flags or beams it bears.50 It is the burden of a notational system to have both characterindifference and finite differentiation, for otherwise ‘recovery of score from performance will not be even theoretically possible, identity of work from performance to performance will not be ensured, and the primary purpose of a notational system will not be served’.51 Goodman labels the performances of notations as either ‘compliant’ or ‘non-compliant’ to the notation specified, with the notation and its compliant performances  amounting to the musical work: ‘In music, the work is the class of performances compliant with a character.’52 There are, however, constituent elements in commonly-used musical notation that sit outside of standard finite differentiation. One such example discussed by Goodman is with figured-bass: [t]wo score-inscriptions, one in figured-bass and the other in specific notation, even though they have some common compliant performance, will not thereby be semantically equivalent; and two performances complying with the former may severally comply with two specific scores that have no compliant in common.53 His conclusion as to what this means for musical works is that: The comprehensive language of musical scores, insofar as it offers free choice between figured-bass and specific notation, is thus not truly notational. Rather, it comprises two notational subsystems; and the one in use must be designated and adhered to if identification of work from performance to performance is to be ensured.54 In the context of this quotation, Goodman is specifically addressing a ‘system that permits alternative use of figured-bass and specific notation’.55 In the case of some other notational systems, there could be many more than two subsystems. There is one specific and major aspect of score-compliance that has yet to be broached. For both Goodman and Levinson, any deviation from the performing-means results in non-compliance with the score – whether intentional or not.56 As such, a single incorrect note in a performance of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto fails to be a performance of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto.57 Such a statement rightfully causes musicians to bristle, but as will be demonstrated shortly, full compliance with musical scores is at present only


Nigel McBride

a theoretical possibility that depends on the acuity of the compliance tester. Since Goodman classes tempo indications (though not metronome markings) as non-notational, they cannot be compliant in performance, so it is in theory ontologically possible to successfully recover a work at speeds entirely divorced from the composer’s intentions.58 As such, a performance of a work which perceivably deviates from any indicated metronome marking also fails to actually be a recovery of that work. Goodman states that: So long as the differentiation between characters is finite, no matter how minute, the determination of membership of mark in character will depend upon the acuteness of our perceptions and the sensitivity of the instruments we can devise.59 It is this statement that is among the most troubling in Goodman’s system – while also undeniable in its truth-content. Any difference in perception between a performance of a notation by a fallible entity, and the notation itself, which according to Goodman should be translatable into a single unvarying sound-structure, will fall into non-compliance, depending on the sensitivity of the listener or apparatus evaluating the performance. The practical consequence of this is that while a score may have a compliant notational system, any subsequent performances will always be non-compliant, as Goodman’s system deals with the absolute ideals presented by musical notations, and there is always variance introduced in any translation from ideal into reality. One listener might perceive no metric distinction between evenly performed crotchets at a particular tempo, in a particular time signature, while another listener may perceive in the same performance a slight anticipation or delay of the principal beats, and thus the performance will be non-compliant. From one performance object, there can be varying judgements to its score-compliance value. Goodman’s argument here, by his own admission, is one that sits outside ordinary language, and is concerned with ontological correctness, rather than any particular implementation in practice.60 As it is seen though, full compliance is not possible, it may be more valuable to frame performances as varying in their compliance with the notation of the work.61 It is not the aim of this discussion to define what a musical work is, rather, the desire is to highlight apparatuses that can be applied in dealing with paradigmatic works, a class that comprises a great many of Finnissy’s works. Musical platonism is a self-defeating exercise; there is no metric by which any ‘true work’, or ideal, or Form, can be measured or encountered. It renders musical scores as incidental to the sound structures they are meant to relate to. Levinson’s S/PM model entails a much more nuanced position, that situates musical works in grounded and encounterable terms. The S/PM model, in combination with Goodman’s articulation of compliance and notational schemes, actually provides a system that can be used to deal with musical scores and how performances can relate to them. This is the model

Ontological implications


which I will use for encountering a Finnissy score in Chapter 9: as a musical score (a ‘performing-means’) which when played results in a causally-related sound-structure that can be considered in terms of its identity through some of the tools presented by Goodman. I have no strong position on whether or not sound structures do indeed exist as platonic objects; my intuition is that they do not, but regardless of whether they do exist or not, there would be no mechanism by which this could be confirmed or denied, and therefore this is of no consequence to me. What does matter, fundamentally, is that the musical score has the primary function of identifying and regulating the works they pertain to. Whether or not the true content of the work is performed – or even if it is possible to perform – is a moot question. Rather, performances of works will vary in their compliance, to both lesser and greater degrees. It is up to the performer how they might choose to deal with this.

Ontological implications in practice With the ontological issues of Theocharous’s performative ideology more fully critiqued, a re-examination of his objections to Finnissy’s notation is more possible. From the quotation that this chapter opened with – ‘By now we have lost all hope for any possibly accurate rendition’ – and if the notion of accuracy is dismantled, a set of assumptions can be determined.62 If platonist musical works are assumed, then the performance of any specific musical work is unobtainable – all that can ever be performed is something akin to the desired musical work. If a pure Levinsonian S/PM model of a musical work is assumed, then any deviation from the performing-means results in a failure to instantiate its musical work. If a nominal reading of the work through the method proposed by Goodman is taken, then any deviation from the notation (the performance fails to comply with the instruction set of the notation) similarly fails to be a performance of the musical work. The consequence is certainly a bleak one for the performance of musical works. However, Goodman’s nominal method can be expanded to address the issue of compliance. Returning to Pace, we can find, as mentioned previously, a demonstration of the musical possibilities and solutions that arise from a non-platonistic reading of musical texts. Using the opening four bars of Chopin’s Impromptu in G-flat, op. 51, he offers a performance strategy that is based not on what the performing-means states to enact, but states not to enact. For example: A score indicates a group of three quavers played as a triplet. From a positivistic point of view, this would imply three notes each played for a duration of exactly one-third of a crotchet beat (that is literally what the score tells the player to do). Any deviation from this would represent some form of rubato. Now, in light of the fact that I believe that a metrically regular approach to triplets may be the exception rather than the rule in terms of historical (and even to some extent contemporary)


Nigel McBride practices, I find this sort of definition inadequate. Instead, this triplet should be viewed as being defined by what it excludes. […] whilst in a sense it may be difficult to establish with any degree of certitude what a triplet is, we may be able [to] identify what it is not.63

Pace describes this as a ‘structuralist’ approach towards notation, which is entirely compatible with the performing-means/musico-cultural hybrid proposed by Levinson, and with Goodman’s compliance model. Goodman was able to account for other notational aspects of paradigmatic Western Music, such as free cadenzas, and figured-bass, by conceiving of them as notationalsubsystems, and as such notational compliance is feasible. While contextually reassigning certain notational elements, such as more extreme rhythmic formulations, as a distinct notational sub-system may appear as intellectual gerrymandering, it is still consistent with Goodman’s nominal model, and satisfies the ontological issues posited by a desire for accuracy in extreme conditions. Speaking of an example that is significantly more rhythmically complex than those provided by Theocharous, Pace states of the first bar of Ferneyhough’s Opus Contra Naturam: An obvious immediate question is ‘can these rhythms possibly be played accurately?’ I believe this is the wrong question; rather we should ask ‘why has Ferneyhough notated them in this manner?’64 Pace details his process for dealing with the notational complexities of the example, and after discussing the practical process of learning such a fragment, he says: Whether I would play this rhythm ‘accurately’ is perhaps not the point; I may not know if it is exactly ‘right’ in the sense of how a computer would play it, but I can detect certain results that are definitely wrong. It would be wrong if I played the group entirely evenly, if the second to sixth notes existed in a 2:1 metrical ratio to the first, or if the group took so long that the rest was imperceptible.65 Pace has reconfigured Ferneyhough’s notation from one that is strictly notational, and thus subject to issues of compliance, to one in which the rhythmic notation serves to indicate degrees of evenness and unevenness. The same process can apply to the figure in question from Finnissy’s score that provoked Theocharous’s claim as to whether or not the rhythmic figure is ‘possible’ or not. Of course, at this stage in Autumnall it is a moot point. No metronomic tempo indication has been issued, so no accurate performance is possible anyway. The contextual information needed to translate from notation to performance is absent – and as such, non-compliance is not in effect. However, in examples such as Piano Concerto No. 4, which features material that is both notational and truly pushes the bounds of physical possibility,

Ontological implications


other solutions must be sought. One of those is to use Pace’s method, in which the notation is interrogated in terms of what it is forbidding (‘[i]t would be wrong if I played the group entirely evenly, if the second to sixth notes existed in a 2:1 metrical ratio to the first’), and then what is permissible. Another possible solution to this problem is offered in Chapter 9. On a related topic, Theocharous asks a valuable question regarding how Finnissy’s work is meant to be interpreted, asking: We look at the second system in the hope for a hint as to how we are supposed to read this piece, but here the paradox is even more explicit. Not only is the next group of mensural notes in sixty-fourth- and hundredand-twenty-eighth-notes, but these values are also to be rendered in the time of a thirty-second-note that also includes three acciaccaturas.66 The paradox is in the seemingly impossible demand of executing hemidemisemiquavers and semihemidemisemiquavers in the time of a demisemiquaver which also includes three acciaccaturas. This kind of rhythmic figure, although radically different in nature, is akin to Vivaldi’s usage in his recorder concerto in C major, RV 444 (Ex. 4.2)

Ex. 4.2 Antonio Vivaldi, Recorder Concerto in C, RV 444.

According to Goodman, this figure could be played at any speed without causing compliance issues with the notation; it features no metronome markings  – for the reason that this work long predates the metronome – which means that is has no notational-compliant potential in regard to tempo. Vivaldi’s tempo marking of Largo, of course, indicates a vague tempo – that the movement is to be ‘slow’, but the lack of a fixed point of reference means the very precise meaning of this indication can only be conjecture, but the other notational parameters in Vivaldi’s score include time signature , and other rhythmic units, including crotchets, semiquavers, and demisemiquavers. This brief flourish is extreme in its technical and musical demands when read in contrast to the rest of the work, and similarly, in the specific example Theocharous indicates from Autumnall, we have a similar context. At this point, Finnissy has not indicated a metronome marking, or even a general tempo indication. This specific problem is by no means exclusive to Autumnall, and can be found throughout Finnissy’s output (particularly in the works from the mid-1970s through to the end of the 1980s).67 Theocharous’s observations culminate with the statement that in Autumnall, ‘The mensural notation is only a pretense, a metaphor that if


Nigel McBride

taken too literally could cause violence to polysemy.’68 Although it is not possible to agree with Theocharous’s conclusion, he has intuited that Finnissy’s notation falls in places outside of the realms of standard notation, and as such, should not be treated as if it were standard. However, by labelling the mensural notation a metaphor denies the compositional integrity of the work, and Finnissy’s larger compositional project. Finnissy acknowledges the fundamental distinction between a sonic structure and a performingmeans, and alludes to Goodman’s notation issues in an interview with Ian Pace, Christopher Fox, and Henrietta Brougham: Exploring the psychology of notation is more revealing – how you precipitate certain kinds of response by either writing half-notes or sixty-fourth notes. How much detail? How clearly can you hear or envisage a sound? Notation is about choice and degrees of exactitude, reality-unreality. […] The notation of music is like that if you start from the premise of sound – when you impose the conventions of music on it, you’re imposing a filter, which we do all the time.69 This should not be read that Finnissy’s notation is metaphorical, rather that he is consciously setting his notational strategies against the notion of musical sound structures – the sound of the piece, and the music itself, is a consequence of Finnissy’s performing-means.

Notes 1 Georgios Theocharous, ‘Not Too Violent: The Fall of Notation in Michael Finnissy’s Autumnall for Solo Piano’, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 52, no. 1 (2014), pp. 4–27. 2 Ibid. p. 10. In fact, this very issue is addressed by Ian Pace, using a considerably more extreme example, as discussed elsewhere in this chapter. 3 What is meant specifically by my usage of ‘musical works’ will be clarified later in this chapter, but a general ‘pragmatic constraint’ as advocated by David Davis in the introduction to Art as Performance (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), which he states on page 18 suffices for a general discussion of works: Artworks must be entities that can bear the sorts of properties rightly ascribed to what are termed “works” in our reflective critical and appreciative practice; that are individuated in the way such “works” are or would be individuated, and that have the modal properties that are reasonably ascribed to “works,” in that practice. 4 Arthur C. Danto, ‘The Transfiguration of the Commonplace,’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 33, no. 2 (1974), p. 139. 5 Danto invests much energy in justifying mere objects as a class of thing in his article; a thorough discussion of how mere objects are ontologically distinct from artworks exists beyond the scope of this discussion. However, from ‘The Transfiguration of the Commonplace’, Danto offers: ‘It is after all possible for two things to resemble one another with radically different meanings: a quotation is about an utterance, not about what the utterance is about: and the echo of an

Ontological implications


utterance is not about anything at all. So one sort of condition for something to be in candidacy for an interpretation, title, and structure will be certain assumptions with regard to its causes. And causes are not the sorts of things we can read off the surfaces of alleged effects, all the more so since indiscernible objects, as we just have seen, may have radically divergent causal histories.’ Ibid., p. 140. 6 An example of this might be with some particular radical forms of free improvisation, in which the musical material being searched for is not predetermined before improvisation, and as such without a set reference structure, cannot logically be considered as accurate or inaccurate. 7 Andrew Kania notes one such problem in his definition of what music more generally actually is: When we aim at defining “music,” what kinds of things do we want our definition to capture? Unsurprisingly, the concept of sound is central to most definitions of “music.” But you might point to a musical score and say “That’s a great piece of music.” Scores make no sounds, however. Does that mean they are not really music?

8 9 10


12 13 14 15

Andrew Kania, ‘Definition’, in Theodore Gracyk and Andrew Kania (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music (London and New York: Routledge, 2014), p. 5. Definitional projects such as Kania’s are a mainstay in the study of musical ontology, although the ramifications they might have on the more applied understanding of music is limited. However, Kania does illuminate a significant aspect of discussing music and identifiers-demonstratives in pointing to a musical score, and identifying it as the work – ‘that’s a great piece of music’. Ibid. p. 6. Ibid. p. 8. Lydia Goehr, The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 14. Goehr is otherwise critiqued for situating her model of the work-concept in the 1800s, see Reinhard Strohm, ‘Looking Back at Ourselves: The Problem with the Musical WorkConcept’ in The Musical Work: Reality or Invention?, edited Michael Talbot (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000), pp. 128–52. He summarises his argument into a ‘single thesis’, the first point of which is the most crucial: ‘The historical narratives that diagnose a major watershed or categorial breakthrough in the development of the work-concept and related phenomena around 1800 evade the burden of proof that ought to be placed on them: to show that previous phenomena were essentially – philosophically – different’, pp. 151–2. Peter Kivy was one of the primary advocates of a ‘classical’ musical platonism, that closely adhered to the standards encapsulated by Goehr. See Peter Kivy, ‘Platonism in Music: A Kind of Defense,’ Grazer Philosophische Studien, vol. 19, no.1 (1983), pp. 109–29; and ‘Platonism in Music: Another Kind of Defense’, American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 3 (1983), pp. 245–52. Levinson has been considered to present a modified platonist view (see Goehr, The Imaginary Museum, p. 44), but the fact that Levinson holds the creation of a musical work to be central in his ontology is a strong transgression of basic musical platonism. Ian Pace, ‘The New State of Play in Performance Studies’, Music & Letters, vol. 98, no. 2 (2017), p. 289. John Butt, Playing with History: The Historical Approach to Musical Performance. Musical Performance and Reception (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 56. Ibid. Theocharous, p. 21.


Nigel McBride

16 Ibid. 17 Ibid. p. 62. Butt is here referring explicitly to the way in which Goehr treats music  before 1800, saying ‘[s]he tends to homogenise the considerable history of western music up to the end of the eighteenth century and give short shrift to earlier swings towards and away from a work concept’ (Butt, Playing with History, p. 63). 18 Ian Pace, ‘Beyond Werktreue: Ideologies of New Music Performance and Performers’, paper given on 14 January 2014, Royal College of Music, and 3 November 2014, Magdalen College, Oxford. Available online at http:// (accessed 17 July 2018). 19 Ian Pace, ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’, in Darla Crispin (ed.), Unfolding Time (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), p. 152. 20 Ibid. p. 154. 21 Jerrold Levinson. ‘What a Musical Work Is’, The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 77, no. 1 (1980), p. 10. Levinson later formalises his ontology as: ș t1, where is a ‘S/PM’ structure, șis the composer that sets , and t1 is the compositional act at a certain point in time. Traditional platonic ontologies would assert that musical works exist purely as abstract sound-structures – in effect the ‘S’ from the ‘S/PM’ structure. S/PM structures will be addressed in more detail shortly. See Levinson, ‘What a Musical Work Is’, pp. 19–20. 22 This is actually one of the more radical parts of Levinson’s ontology. As Goehr pointed out, in platonism, composers don’t compose a work, they discover one, so Levinson uses the fact that a work has been composed to solve the problem of multiple composers creating the same piece. It’s a hypothetical scenario, but it eliminates the possibility of Schoenberg and Toenburg both having created ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ in 1912. The fact that they were created means they have the attribute of ‘having been created by’, and as such Leibniz’s Identity of Indiscernibles Principle (™F(Fx C Fy) A x = y) is not violated. See Levinson, ‘What a Musical Work Is’, p. 13. 23 This can be further explained by looking at a musical work (Į) which is defined as being simply an abstract sound structure: (1) Į is simply an abstract sound-structure, which according to platonism exists ‘long before any compositional activity has taken place and long after they perhaps have been forgotten. They exist even if no performances or score-copies are ever produced’; (2) Į is discovered through an inscription onto a musical score by a composer. Musical scores are not capable of conveying all aspects of Į, precisely because Į is abstract; (3) all deviations (mistakes, or inaccuracies caused for any reason, missing pages, or poor copying) from the musical score result in a failure to instantiate Į, and result in instantiating some other similar abstract structure; (4) Į is non-spatiotemporal and acausal due to point (1), and it is unclear how we can have knowledge of abstract objects other than a priori; there is no mechanism by which they can be measured or quantified. 24 Ibid. p. 19. Emphasis is mine. 25 Ibid. p. 14. 26 In Levinson’s ontology, the performing-means is absolutely fixed, and to deviate from it is to fail to produce the musical work. If we take the performing-means to be indicated by the musical score, then this necessarily includes instrumentation. So therefore, a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Valse Sentimentale on ther-

Ontological implications

27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37



emin rather than piano is not a performance of the work of Tchaikovsky. It is a performance of a different work which has similarities (pitch, rhythm, structure, and so on) in common with Tchaikovsky’s work. Ian Pace. ‘Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (4).’ City Research Online. Available online at (Accessed 24 September 2018.) Levinson, ‘What a Musical Work Is’, p. 20. Stanley Boorman, ‘The Musical Text’, in Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist (eds.), Rethinking Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 403–23. Ibid. p. 408. These terms were first developed by folklorist Charles Seeger, in his essay ‘Prescriptive and Descriptive Music-Writing’, The Musical Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 2 (April 1958), pp. 184–95. This aligns with (2) of platonic notionality. Boorman, ‘The Musical Text’, p. 408. Ibid. p. 411. Boorman doesn’t explicitly state at which point in history this was; on the same page he refers to Bach, Liszt, and earlier liturgical chant. Ibid. p. 412. In the case of the more recent composers he references in his discussion, Cage, Boulez, and Stockhausen, there is little precedent or reason to even suggest that their works would, could, or should be learnt by ear. In fact, there are few composers for whom the score and its notation is so central to their compositions than the three composers he mentions. Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (Indianapolis, IN, New York and Kansas City, KA: The Bobs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1968), p. 128. Goodman’s ontology is not without its criticisms. Butt comments on a hypothetical situation which Goodman himself concedes is an absurd but valid performance in his ontology, with Butt writing: Although this leads to certain absurdities, such as that a performance lasting ten years can count as an instance of the work, while a performance with a single wrong note does not, it does have a certain use as a regulative concept for the performer (i.e. the performer usually intends to get all the notes right). (Butt, Playing with History, p. 58)

39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

David Davies similarly addresses this specific issue within Goodman’s ontology, stating: ‘a work whose performances normally last in the region of 30 minutes will have legitimate performances that last 12 hours and legitimate performances that last 12 minutes, as long as there are performances of those durations that satisfy all of the notationally represented constraints in the score’. Davies, pp. 211–12. While these problematic aspects of Goodman’s ontology are present in its authentic and unmodified form, they are no more ontologically problematic than other musical ontologies. Boorman, ‘The Musical Text’, p. 413. Theocharous, ‘Not too Violent’, p. 21. Boorman, ‘The Musical Text’, p. 413. Ibid. Incidentally, his last observation, that this way of reading scores is currently conventional, is highly relevant to the aims of the present chapter. Ibid. Ibid. p. 407. Ibid. Ibid. p. 408. Richard Hudson discusses some music of considerable rhythmic complexity


48 49 50 51 52 53

54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69

Nigel McBride – and simplicity – in his Stolen Time: the History of Tempo Rubato (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004). In particular, his discussions of rubato in the music of Carter, Stockhausen, and Boulez illustrates the great varieties of rubato that can be applied to rhythmically intricate music, see pp. 410–35. This resembles the view set out in Stravinsky’s Poetics of Music: In the Form of Six Lessons, translated Arthur Kondel and Ingolf Dahl (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947), pp. 121–35. Goodman, Languages of Art, p. 131. Goodman’s criteria for a notational system go beyond the two points mentioned here, but these are the most relevant to our discussion, and the crux upon which his entire system rests. Ibid. p. 182. Ibid. p. 210. Ibid. pp. 183–4. Historically, it would have been expected that performers would embellish and elaborate on given notations. Under Goodman’s system, these embellishments would result in a performance that was non-compliant, because the primary function of the score – to fix the work’s identity – is violated by the introduction of elements that are a part of the work’s identity, but not notational. I think it is likely that the general performance practices that included elaborations could be considered a notational-subsystem, much like in the example of a figured-bass, or a free cadenza, but this precise problem is beyond the scope of the present discussion. Ibid. p. 184. Ibid. p. 183. Which in Levinson’s case encompasses the intended instrumentation as indicated in the score. Ibid. p. 186. For example, a ‘fast’ tempo marking may be ignored and the notation performed at any tempo whatsoever, as ‘fast’ has no meaning in Goodman’s notational system. Ibid. p. 135. Ibid. pp. 186–7. This is a mechanism that will be further explored in Chapter 9. Theocharous, ‘Not Too Violent’, p. 10. In fact, this very issue is addressed by Pace, using a considerably more extreme example. Pace, ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score’, pp. 155–6. Ibid. p. 190. Ibid. p. 191. Theocharous, ‘Not Too Violent’, p. 6. See First sign a sharp white moon, as if the cause of snow (solo violin, 1968–75), Offshore (orchestra, 1979), and Ohi! Ohi! Ohi! (solo voice, 1978) for more examples. Theocharous, ‘Not Too Violent’, p. 25. ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox, and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 32–3.

Bibliography Boorman, Stanley. ‘The Musical Text’. In Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist (eds.), Rethinking Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 403–23. Butt, John. Playing with History: The Historical Approach to Musical Performance. Musical Performance and Reception. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Ontological implications


Danto, Arthur C. ‘The Transfiguration of the Commonplace’. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 33, no. 2 (1974), pp. 139–48. Davis, David. Art as Performance. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. Finnissy, Michael, Fox, Christopher, Pace, Ian, and Brougham, Henrietta. ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox, and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 1–42. Goehr, Lydia. The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992. Goodman, Nelson. Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols. Indianapolis, IN, New York and Kansas City, KA: The Bobs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1968. Gracyk, Theodore; and Kania, Andrew, eds. The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music. London and New York: Routledge, 2014. Hudson, Richard. Stolen Time: The History of Tempo Rubato. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004. Kivy, Peter. ‘Platonism in Music: A Kind of Defense’, Grazer Philosophische Studien, vol. 19, no. 1 (1983), pp. 109–29. Kivy, Peter. ‘Platonism in Music: Another Kind of Defense’. American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 3 (1983), pp. 245–52. Levinson, Jerrold. ‘What a Musical Work Is’. The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 77, no. 1 (1980), pp. 215–63. Pace, Ian. ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’. In Darla Crispin (ed.), Unfolding Time (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), pp. 151–92. Pace, Ian. ‘Beyond Werktreue: Ideologies of New Music Performance and Performers’. Paper given on 14 January 2014, Royal College of Music, and 3 November 2014, Magdalen College, Oxford. Available online at (accessed 17 July 2018). Pace, Ian. ‘The New State of Play in Performance Studies’. Music & Letters, vol. 98, no. 2 (2017), pp. 281–92. Seeger, Charles. ‘Prescriptive and Descriptive Music-Writing’. The Musical Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 2 (April 1958), pp. 184–95. Stravinsky, Igor. Poetics of Music: In the Form of Six Lessons, translated Arthur Kondel and Ingolf Dahl. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947. Strohm, Reinhard. ‘Looking Back at Ourselves: The Problem with the Musical Work-Concept’. In The Musical Work: Reality or Invention?, edited Michael Talbot (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000), pp. 128–52. Theocharous, Georgios. ‘Not Too Violent: The Fall of Notation in Michael Finnissy’s Autumnall for Solo Piano’. Perspectives of New Music, vol. 52, no. 1 (2014), pp. 4–27.

Taylor & Francis Taylor & Francis Group

Section B

Finnissy’s identities

Taylor & Francis Taylor & Francis Group


Marginality and Finnissian performance in the 1980s Roddy Hawkins

Introduction1 On 10 October 1977 Michael Finnissy gave a piano recital in Freiburg consisting mainly of new work by young British composers. Simply entitled Moderne Englische Klaviermusik, the concert was promoted by the Institute für Neue Musik at Freiburg’s conservatoire and took place in the gallery space of the old Black Monastry (Schwarzes Kloster) then run by the city’s vanguard Art Association (Kunstverein). On more than one occasion Finnissy has recounted how the Freiburg programme was sparked by his friend, pianist Ronald Lumsden who, along with the Society for the Promotion of New Music (SPNM), was puzzled by a dearth of new pieces composed for the instrument: I said to them: ‘this is just ridiculous! The way you get composers to write for pianos is, you ring them up and you ask them to write pieces for you!’ But that was either too ‘complicated’ for the SPNM or Ron didn’t like the idea very much. But, anyway, I’d decided that that was what I was going to do. So I rang up all the composers I was currently friendly with, which included Ollie Knussen at the time and Robert Saxton and Jenny Fowler and Howard Skempton and various other people. My debut concert had the usual number of—about six or seven—world premières on it and that was the kind of programme I did. I used to get composers to write. […] So for several years that’s what I did.2 Though his commissioning and promotion of new work may have tailed off after the 1980s, Finnissy’s activity as a performer, and more broadly as an advocate, certainly extended beyond a period of ‘several years’. In 1997, for example, following his six-year tenure as President of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM, 1990–6), and his participation in the then recently founded Contemporary Music for Amateurs (COMA, 1993 to the present day), Finnissy gave a recital for the Union of Composers in Moscow which included 19 works by 19 different British composers (see List of Performances). Though none of these was a first performance and


Roddy Hawkins

not all owed their existence to Finnissy’s patronage or encouragement, the selection offered a fair reflection of Finnissy’s (by then) longstanding advocacy of and personal connections to a stylistically diverse range of composers that complicate what it means to say ‘British music’, especially to a foreign audience. It is symbolically revealing that Finnissy’s advocacy and performance started in Freiburg and was forged during the 1980s – in parallel with his own growing reputation as a composer – in the context of two interrelated factors: first, a deeply conflicted relationship with ‘British music’, by turns nurturing and hostile; and second, the emergence of the label ‘new complexity’, which in the British context owes as much to Finnissy as it does to any other figure, and one with which he is notoriously uncomfortable. In short, to trace Finnissy’s performances during the period 1977–86, as I do here, is to grapple with his relationship to discourses and practices of virtuosity, complexity and Britishness, and the histories and groupings which they imply.

Context: a reluctant pianist? Finnissy consistently refers to the Freiburg recital not only as the beginning of his activity as a concert pianist but as an accidental one, too.3 In a related manner, Finnissy has framed his commitment to contemporary music as one pursued in an ‘amateur’ spirit in the context of a career where income has been earned via work as a répétiteur, performer and academic. Claiming to have ‘utterly failed’ as a professional composer, he has said that ‘composing is, for me, an obsessive hobby, and I’m effectively an amateur’.4 In a variation on the same theme Finnissy admits that: ‘I am proud to consider myself an “amateur” of music. But the amateur has to be of a professional standard to pass the screening processes attendant on broadcasting.’5 This is a claim which deserves substantive attention in its own right, not least because the history of amateur participation in the arts and the meaning of the term is anything but singular, especially in the context of the British class system and the arts; I raise it here, though, in order to emphasise the way in which Finnissy and others have framed what amounts to a significant, acknowledged but as yet undocumented, contribution to the performance and advocacy of new music in Britain. For example, in 1987, having remarked to Richard Toop that the Freiburg performance had taken place ‘by accident’, Finnissy expressed frustration about his virtuoso reputation and its attendant implications upon the production of his compositional work: ‘I curse the fact that I ever played the piano every time I practise for a concert, because it takes so much time. I fundamentally think of myself as a composer; I get up in the morning and I think of music paper, not the piano keyboard.’ 6 Toop earlier acknowledged that ‘Finnissy dislikes being thought of as a professional virtuoso pianist. Fine: in that case, one can say without fear of contradiction that he is one

Marginality and Finnissian performance


of the world’s most sensationally gifted amateurs.’7 In 2002 Finnissy echoed these sentiments in conversation with the pianist Marilyn Nonken, stating that although ‘[c]omposing and performing are inseparable […] I have always thought of myself primarily as a composer’.8 According to Ian Pace, it is a view of artistic labour that Finnissy shares with Liszt, Busoni, Rachmaninoff, Godowsky, Grainger and Sorabji: ‘they would have liked to concentrate their energies on composing […]. Several of these figures admitted to performing primarily by virtue of necessity, in a desire to enable both their own work and that of others they admired to be more frequently heard and understood.’9 The crux of the matter concerns the desire to be taken seriously, avoiding a situation whereby ‘mere virtuosity’ is privileged over formal and material considerations.10 Furthermore, when placed into a context in which virtuosity was often synonymous with the discourse of complexity which developed through the 1980s, it can, I would suggest, be taken as one of ‘the more polite words people will choose to basically say you don’t belong’ as described by Finnissy in Uncommon Ground.11 More recently, and of particular interest in what follows, Finnissy told Jack Sheen that: ‘I’m not a ‘pianist’! I’m a composer who sometimes plays the piano, to make myself useful. I don’t play ‘piano repertoire’. I have simply given the first performance of more than 300 pieces because I liked, or loved, them and wanted them to be performed.’12 Certainly from the point of view of music historiography and the sociology of music there is nothing simple about it. Not only has a focus on his compositional work meant that there has as yet been no attempt to document this activity: much of it (especially the solo recitals) took place beyond the purview of contemporaneous critics, upon whose reporting so much subsequent concert history is based. In another way, Finnissy’s performances resonated throughout, and thus contributed towards, a period in British musical, political and social history whose various states of flux and factionalism are only just beginning to be viewed with the kind of distance that three decades can provide. And the waters are muddied further if one adopts a critical stance towards the discursive resonances of Finnissy’s reluctance to identify as a ‘pianist’ when read against claims to the status of amateur and outsider.13 Indeed, this performance history belies a complex picture of recognition and patronage in which the initial necessity of self-promotion – and an explicit self-positioning as a composer at the margins of British musical life – operated in no small part through performance. At any rate it is tempting to suggest that Finnissy’s reluctance – his insistence that he be understood as a composer first and foremost – may also be responsible for the lack of attention paid to these performances, even amongst those dedicated to the study of his music. This is not to say, though, that Finnissy-as-performer is invisible in early journalistic reception. As his reputation started to grow around 1980, one commentator, in a rare review of a London concert that combined English Country-Tunes (1977) and the first performance of the hyper-virtuosic Piano


Roddy Hawkins

Concerto No. 4 (1978–80), noted that: ‘Finnissy is a gifted pianist, combining virtuosity with refinement of tone, and the arcane player-composer tradition of Liszt, Alkan and Busoni lies behind much of this music, with its open play between gestural simplicity and convoluted working.’14 Indeed, the reception of Finnissy’s own music has long been shaped by the biographical function of the virtuoso composer-pianist, where, crucially, a focus on the lineage of that tradition begets a position uneasily reconciled with canon. At a surface level, this manifests itself in frequent portrayals of (and by) Finnissy as a ‘maverick’ or ‘outsider’. One particularly rich example can be found at the end of the 1980s, the point at which Finnissy had secured his reputation within the British classical music scene.15 The sympathetic critic John Warnaby identified Finnissy’s advocacy and versatility as a performer as the key to understanding both the poetics of his music and, in his view, a lack of recognition within Britain: For the past twenty [sic] years, Michael Finnissy has worked tirelessly on behalf of contemporary music, both as composer and interpreter. In the latter capacity, he has been an enthusiastic champion of the work of younger composers and by stimulating the formation of a number of new music groups, has provided outlets for many instrumentalists interested in performing contemporary music. […] Finnissy is the most obvious omission from Paul Griffiths’ otherwise excellent [1985] collection of interviews with contemporary British composers. This may well seriously undermine the book’s relevance for students primarily concerned with the music of our time, and the only plausible explanation appears to be that his work defies easy categorization. Other composers prompted fewer aesthetic or technical questions.16 To the extent, then, that reluctance, virtuosity and canonicity combine in subtle, powerful ways it is typically performance, rather than the performances themselves, that has been dominant in shaping the reception discourse surrounding Finnissy, and especially his reputation as a composer who, in his own words, ‘doesn’t “fit in”’.17 A cursory examination of Finnissy’s programming reveals the extent to which the maverick lineage was explicitly evoked and cultivated in his recitals, as he has feely noted in an interview with Marilyn Nonken, where the performativity of composer discourse is on full display: Both Elisabeth Lutyens and Michael Tippett eventually told me I’d have to get used to “being in the desert”, as presumably they had. Most of the composers I play, or love listening to, have been in the desert for a good while. Percy Grainger, Chris Newman, Cage, Feldman, Xenakis. Figures, to some extent, “marginal” to an Establishment centre ground. I feel bolstered up by the mavericks. I’ve learnt from them. Of course you can see their traces in what I write.18

Marginality and Finnissian performance


Whether or not such claims to the margins were as appropriate at the turn of the millennium as they were in the late 1970s and 1980s requires more extensive research: certainly the words ‘to some extent’ do a lot of the heavy lifting here. In any case the early performances of the ensembles Suoraan (1979–84) and, from 1987, Ixion (which took its name from a Feldman piece) support a commitment to such work, while the distance between the date of this interview and the 1980s explored here suggests how formative those performances have been in Finnissy’s continued claims to marginality. Situated in this context, then, the list of performances selected here provides a preliminary sketch for understanding Finnissy’s performance activities both with and beyond the reception that frames them. His activities are extensive and broad enough to warrant book-length study in their own right, and the materials presented here offer but a small segment (perhaps only 30%) of the total number, some of which may not be documented. In the sketch that follows, I only consider the first of the possible periods, focusing on the different ways in which Finnissy’s programming and collaborations (rather than the works themselves) formed and inform the model of him as a composer who defies categorisation. Through a series of snapshots based around specific performances, I focus in particular on the programming of his piano recitals (including the dance collaborations), his relationship with the British Music Information Centre, and his activities with the ensemble Suoraan.19

1977–1986: the Finnissy Piano Recital, Ensemble Suoraan, and the limits of complexity The Freiburg concert in 1977 was not strictly speaking Finnissy’s first public performance as a pianist. In the previous year, 1976, he was engaged to perform the extant piano music of Brian Ferneyhough at the Mois Britannique, a major festival hosted by the local government in Toulouse with the support of the British Council; the next month he also performed as soloist in the first version of Piano Concerto No. 1 at the Royan Festival.20 (Earlier still, there is a programme in Finnissy’s personal collection dated 30 November 1971 where he performed music of the turn of the twentieth century, featuring (in this order) Satie, Schoenberg, Skryabin, Ives, Bartok, Janáček, Busoni, Szymanowski and Godowsky.)21 Nevertheless, it is easy to see why Finnissy recognises it as such: in what I am here calling the Finnissy Piano Recital, the Freiburg programme contains the seeds of his programming, patronage and performance, captured by four overlapping, interconnected features: one, the advocacy of new or recently composed works by other British composers; two, elements both of transcendental difficulty and its apparent opposite; three, the inclusion of older companion pieces; and four, the performance of his own music. In Freiburg Finnissy performed Brian Ferneyhough’s six short Epigrams (1966), alongside recent works by Jennifer Fowler and Robert Saxton. He


Roddy Hawkins

also gave the first performance of new works by Oliver Knussen, Howard Skempton, and his own work all.fall.down (1977), one of the more virtuosic piano pieces in his extensive catalogue. In addition to companion pieces by Beethoven, Bach-Busoni, Liszt and Skryabin (chosen by each of his composer-colleagues), Finnissy presented his own companion piece with ‘Love is here to stay’,22 the first performance of any of the ‘songs’ that in later versions would become the complete Gershwin Arrangements (1975–88) a decade later. Though some of Finnissy’s contemporaries have since become established figures in British music (the Australian-born Fowler having settled in Britain), at the time most had barely received any sustained public recognition, an important insight into Finnissy’s subsequent advocacy of lesser-known composers and one possible reason for the decreasing prominence in his programmes of figures such as Ferneyhough, Knussen and Saxton in the early 1980s. The pairing of new works with older ones was abandoned when Finnissy presented a similar promotion of new British music twice in Holland in January 1979, this time including new works from Judith Weir and Edward Shipley; however, this is not to say that a typical Finnissy piano recital contained only new or recent works by British composers. Rather, the Dutch context points forwards to the ways in which programmes exclusively of works by younger or emerging British composers tended to be reserved for international performances, special occasion concerts, broadcasts or recordings, whether as soloist or as an ensemble participant. In Britain, and especially at the British Music Information Centre (BMIC), the question of what constituted British music was more fluid and keenly felt, which is to say that the music which Finnissy performed there had a more explicit relationship with questions of margins and establishment. On 8 December 1980 Finnissy presented the core of these early recitals to a London audience in the first of two consecutive evenings at the BMIC. With a new work by Fowler, alongside the Ferneyhough and Skempton pieces heard together in Freiburg, the first programme concluded with Pas Seul by Chris Dench. Dench has remarked that in this period: ‘If I couldn’t play a work of mine, it went unheard. One of the brighter moments […] was when I first met Michael Finnissy, one of the single most fearsomely creative individuals I have ever encountered. He brought several of my piano works to life, and enabled me, for the first time, to hear my more experimentally-intended music. Like so many composers of my generation, my debt to him is incalculable.’23 The following evening the programme contained music by Grainger and Nancarrow, alongside Finnissy’s own portraits or tributes, something of a staple feature in the years to follow, with works written as tributes to Ives, Gershwin, Elizabeth Lutyens, Bernard Stevens, John Cage, and, in a more covert way (since there is no single or explicit tribute), Xenakis. Ending with a

Marginality and Finnissian performance


rare performance of Finnissy’s piano Songs 5–9 (1966–9, Song 6 later revised 1996) from the 1960s, the second recital included for the first time music by James Dillon, and in particular the first performance of Spleen (1980), an important event in building Dillon’s early recognition in London. The concerts in December ended an important year for Finnissy at the BMIC, one that began in December 1979 with the first performance of English CountryTunes (1977, rev. 1982–5) and included the first performance of Topologies (1979, rev. 1980) by Chris Dench. Since Dench, along with James Clarke and Richard Emsley, had, by the end of 1980, been tentatively identified by Keith Potter as part of an emerging tendency within British music,24 these particular concerts deserve a prominent place in the historiography of new complexity, and not only because of their early status in the process of that term’s emergence: they are important as a piece of concert history precisely because of the programmes devised by Finnissy – no Stockhausen, Cage, Carter or Boulez, for example – and the institutional space occupied by the BMIC itself. Similarly, a much wider view of the BMIC recitals than is possible here would reveal the importance of the Finnissy Piano Recital throughout the first half of the 1980s, during which time Finnissy championed Dillon, Dench and Barrett as well as Skempton, Weir and Newman. Furthermore, the BMIC concerts include not only solo recitals but duets with, amongst others, Robert Schuck (clarinet), Alan Brett (cello), Austin Allen (baritone) and Josephine Nendick (mezzo soprano). No recordings exists of Finnissy’s earliest recitals in the current British Music Collection, but Finnissy’s performances in those early BMIC years are remembered by its then young, ambitious director, Roger Wright, as ‘seminal moments’ during an interview from 2007: I do think that Michael, because of that dual-role [as composer-performer] was so, so important. I think some of the composers around at that time – and Michael himself – would admit that at some times there were elements of generalisation about his performances but they were never without authority, passion, commitment, on his day the most blinding virtuosity too, just extraordinary and some really seminal moments for me. I suspect also for bits of music history of that time, the premiere of English Country-Tunes on this baby grand piano which we almost needed to hose down at the end of it. Not a good instrument at all but you really felt as though you were privileged to be in, in very much a salon environment actually and moving certain agendas on. When he played Spleen or Dench’s Topologies or some very experimental stuff, there was a sense in which he was both leading and nurturing – and actually I think providing a context in which that music was both acceptable and welcomed – and that was part of what we tried to do at BMIC.25 With the support of Wright, Finnissy made a significant contribution to the emergence of ‘new complexity’, to the development of British music and,


Roddy Hawkins

moreover, to the development of the BMIC itself beyond a ‘salon environment’. Already in 1979 Keith Potter, who through his editorship of the journal Contact reported regularly on a range of contemporary music events, was one of the first to acknowledge the BMIC’s reinvention – notably as a ‘regular if clandestine concert venue’;26 by the end of the decade, its premises at 10 Stratford Place in London’s West End (near Bond Street station), was jokingly referred to by Wright and Finnissy as ‘London’s Other No. 10’ and less jokingly as ‘the new new music house’.27 Indeed, in a 1984 article Wright is cited claiming that visitors to the BMIC alone had increased from 500 per year in 1977 to 4000 in 1984 after the Centre put on evening concerts in order to increase visitor numbers to its collection of scores and recordings.28 According to Wright, Finnissy’s evening performances in the Centre’s small reading room proved a significant element in that growth and in the development of what Wright remembers as a space that was ‘if not experimental, at least slightly off-centre’.29 On 17 December 1985 Finnissy was named President of the British Music Information Centre at a concert where Wright, noting the turnaround since Potter’s characterisation, remarked that ‘No one person has actually achieved that enhancement of [activity at BMIC] any more than Michael has.’30 Reflecting on the changes, Finnissy replied that: ‘In my mind […] British music can probably be divided in recent years into pre-BMIC and postBMIC’.31 Finnissy’s programme that evening included new work by Chris Newman and Judith Weir (in the latter’s Michael’s Strathspey, dedicated to ‘President Finnissy’) and took place at the end of a year that had included a summer Open Day at 10 Stratford Place. This would provide the stimulus for Finnissy and Wright to collaborate on the first of three annual reviews of new music in Britain published with Oxford University Press, entitled New Music 87, 88, and 89, in which the two editors noted ‘a compositional vitality which is the envy of many countries’.32 The concert was followed in February 1986 by the first performance of the revised English Country-Tunes, a performance which Finnissy recorded the same year for BBC radio.33 By this stage, then, Finnissy’s reputation as a composer-performer was secure not only within the BMIC but increasingly within the musical establishment itself.34 And while the BMIC deserves special attention for these reasons, there is a danger that an over-emphasis on activities and the many ‘firsts’ that took place there obscures aspects of this Finnissian performance history that do not fall within the model of the Finnissy Piano Recital. Quite apart from its importance as a composition, the early performance history of English Country-Tunes certainly opens up other, equally important elements of what, historically speaking, it means to (re)hear Finnissy’s music at the margins of concert life. As with the recital model discussed above, the fact of Finnissy’s collaboration with the choreographer and dancer Kris Donovan is documented, but mainly as a biographical rather than historical event.35 The collaboration between Donovan and Finnissy lies at the heart of the early performances not only of English Country-Tunes but also the

Marginality and Finnissian performance


almost impossible Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996) as well as some of the works inspired by English folk music composed at the turn of the 1980s such as Reels (1980–1). Sensitivity to this performance setting invites (at least for this non-pianist) less of a focus on the notorious but surface-level difficulty and demands of these works and more upon the visceral qualities of the movement and energy of Finnissy’s pianism, and the interaction between music (as sound and score) and the bodies of both performers, as revealed in the rare footage of English Country-Tunes in 1984 at Brighton Polytechnic.36 Something of this interaction is captured in the poster-photography that survive in Finnissy’s personal collection and in the following note for a concert of ‘Piano – Dance Duets’, from 1982. There, the collaboration is presented as one in which the piano is both object and subject: ‘together [Donovan and Finnissy] have been evolving a new kind of performance in which dancer, pianist and piano all play an equal part, not only musically, but visually as well’.37 Such insights suggests ways in which solo piano works which, ‘on paper’, fall into the lineage of the virtuoso composer-pianist, might instead be fruitfully approached through a detailed consideration of the art-forms with and in which they were a component part.38 Elsewhere, the tension between complexity, virtuosity and ‘British music’ can be felt in a more explicit, conventional way through the performance and reception of the ensemble concerts in which Finnissy participated, where groupings and factions were more readily read into one another. For example, when Suoraan started in 1979 under the direction of composers James Clarke and Richard Emsley, they provided a biography of the group which is instructive for how younger composers viewed Finnissy and the space later designated as new complexity: Although dedicated to the promotion of recent music, the group limits its programmes within this sphere to determinately notated pieces exploiting the sounds of ‘live’ performers, at the same time emphasising music which is new not merely in terms of sheer novelty, but in its development of techniques capable of carrying a continuously evolving heritage ‘straight ahead’ – suoraan – into the future.39 But, as with the footage of Finnissy’s’ dance duets, beneath the rhetoric here too one can find insights into what belies the label complexity. In 1979 Finnissy became the pianist for Suoraan following a concert in which he deputised for the group’s usual pianist, Clare van Kampen. The impact both of Finnissy’s playing and the other player deputising that day – Christopher Redgate – was such that, according to Richard Emsley, he and Clarke asked both players to join permanently: RE: So suddenly for the fifth concert we got a different oboist and a different pianist, and from the first bar the sound was transformed. It was like “‘Wow!’ This is a definite sound we’ve got here.”


Roddy Hawkins RH: Can you remember what it was about the transformation? RE: Energy. Punch. It was an aggressive sort of sound, quite in-yourface rather than ‘music college’, so to say. […] And given that we were interested in Xenakis and Finnissy, we must have had a taste for that sort of thing anyway. So we were just delighted when it just happened to link to that sound.40

These remarks are salutary ones for a concert history focused primarily on programmes, evoking musical qualities that speak to the ambitions of young composers to stand out in an increasingly crowded new music scene. In this context the Suoraan concert that stands out in the initial period is the one in which Finnissy and Xenakis were featured together in 1981. Finnissy’s contribution to the ensemble became more important after Emsley and Clarke left in 1982, whereupon he became artistic director. Finnissy’s early support for Richard Barrett manifested itself in the ensemble’s first performance of  Barrett’s Coïgitum (1983), the ending of which Finnissy had to transcribe in order to render it possible.41 In contrast to the Suoraan programmes under the directorship of James Clarke and Richard Emsley, the ‘Coïgitum concert’ had a closer resemblance to the Finnissy Piano Recital: it included the commission and first performance of Skempton’s The Gipsy Wife’s Song as well as a number of Finnissy’s favoured ‘transatlantic connections’ – Ives and Nancarrow – on which basis the concert was funded. Coïgitum was evidently challenging enough to require Roger Redgate’s participation as conductor for the first time, and thus to sow the seeds for what in the following year would become Ensemble Exposé, the ensemble with whom Finnissy performed at Darmstadt in 1986 before joining Ixion in 1987.42 But a different ensemble with whom Finnissy was not personally associated but nevertheless performed, sheds another light on the development in London of a pool of performers interested in and committed to ‘that sound’. In a concert titled ‘New Images of Sound: New Complexities’, Richard Bernas directed Music Projects/London, founded in 1978, in a performance of Xenakis, Finnissy, and Carter that featured Finnissy as the soloist in his own, often raucous Third Piano Concerto. The programme note remarked that: The music featured in this programme is distinguished by a number of shared characteristics: the textures are elaborately worked and notated with great precision; the instrumental parts are demanding; the pieces do  not make easy listening, but demand the active participation of the auditor. (Incidentally all three were composed between 1976–1978). But the dissimilarities are even greater, and it is the purpose of this concert to demonstrate the varieties of experience that can be communicated, with extreme directness, by three composers of “complex” music.43

Marginality and Finnissian performance


And in the following year, 1985, Exposé gave their debut concert at the Purcell Room, before touring to Paris with a programme of new work, all performed for the first time in France, a programme which again bore the fingerprints of Finnissy’s approach in Freiburg. The above sketch, then, suggests a period in which both Finnissy’s reputation and the name and discourse of new complexity emerged in response to, and as a product of, a new generation of ensemble performers, composers and critics with Finnissy as a visible and influential advocate: in the words of Wright ‘it was Michael Finnissy that was driving most of that’.44 Indeed, from ‘the outside looking in’ ‘new complexity’ was a specifically British-based grouping of composers and performers, one that ‘sprung up around Michael Finnissy’ – at least according to the influential musicologist Richard Toop, reporting from Darmstadt in 1986 and writing, it must be acknowledged, in the annual review which Finnissy himself co-edited with Wright.45 And to the extent that Toop was concerned to locate ‘new complexity’ around the influence of Xenakis and the advocacy of Finnissy, the music and musicianship performed by Finnissy, by Suoraan, then Exposé and in another way by Ixion, is doubly important: it helps to understand both Toop’s influence in legitimising the term – his focus upon what Chris Dench has called a ‘punk’ quality46 – and, moreover, the nuanced picture of performance in Britain that he polemically ignored. As it relates to Finnissy, then, the development of complexity is best viewed not, or not only, in terms of composition but primarily through performances – the very ones which so obviously complicate attempts to apply or reject the term simplistically. There is much work to be done in order to develop a broader account of this history, including the investigation of Finnissy’s performances in Darmstadt in the period 1986–1990, the Brighton Festival concerts with Ixion in the period 1987–1991, and a complete run of activity at the BMIC since the late 1970s, much of which is currently missing. Such information would, for one thing, help to further explore the extent to which the emergence of discourses of complexity had an impact upon Finnissy’s programming decisions in the 1980s. In this respect it is, I think, telling that during his first participation at Darmstadt in 1986 Finnissy performed English Country-Tunes in addition to a concert with Exposé, but two years later, after Richard Toop’s interventions, he waited until 3am to get started on his duo recital with Chris Newman.47 Similarly, in 1988 it was James Clapperton, not Finnissy, who performed in Exposé’s Finnissy-esque concert of new work by British composers,48 just as it was Clapperton who performed Finnissy’s Third Piano Concerto in 1990, on that occasion with Ixion and Finnissy conducting.49 In other respects, and in less notorious spaces, the late 1980s was nevertheless a productive period for the Finnissy Piano Recital, as can be seen in performances of the completed Gershwin Arrangements, the Verdi Transcriptions and the recitals presented as part of Ixion’s many residencies at the Brighton Festival (see List of Performances). Furthermore, a fuller account of Finnissy’s performances after the late 1980s could investigate


Roddy Hawkins

how, having secured his reputation as a composer within British music and internationally, Finnissy became an increasingly outspoken opponent of the politics of the New Right, especially following the introduction in Britain of Section 28 (Clause 28) of the Local Government Act in 1988.50 Indeed, as this last element relates to the main theme underpinning the sketch here – the ‘off-centre’ space of the early 1980s BMIC – through the 1990s marginality becomes increasingly politically and socially explicit in Finnissy’s advocacy as a performer and composer, as demonstrated in the first, ‘clandestine’ performance of Uncommon Ground (1989–90) in a benefit concert for the Association to Fight Aids in Moscow.51

Conclusion: beyond margins As the snapshots above demonstrate, the period to 1986 was one in which Finnissy’s activities as a performer were significant, first, to the support and advocacy of ‘off-centre’ British composers; second, to the presentation of his own piano music; and third, to the development and support of the British Music Information Centre as an institution of growing significance. Perhaps the expression ‘slightly off-centre’ seems at first glance like an appropriately English articulation of what it might mean to understand the location of Finnissy’s performance and compositional career at the turn of the 1980s, bound up as it was with a national music information centre where a mixture of radical, experimental and conservative positions jostled for attention in a strange alliance both outside and inside the ‘British musical establishment’, a phenomenon as slippery and mythical as the outside which constitutes it. As Stefan Collini remarks in his history of twentieth-century intellectuals in England, and the privileges of the outsider, ‘we are all inside some circles and outside others’.52 In this respect Finnissy’s work with Wright at the BMIC may help to begin a process of thinking through, and gaining critical distance from, the rhetoric of marginality which so dominates his often caustic verbal pronouncements on new complexity, British music, and English contemporary culture – views which have not dimmed with the passing of time nor ceased to inform his compositional work.53 But however appropriate Collini’s ‘glamour of dissent’ critique may be to the BMIC, the notion of ‘off-centre’ (and complexity) rings politically hollow when placed in the later context of a period during which gay politics were increasingly woven into Finnissy’s performance activity and advocacy. To put it another way, euphemistic expressions such as ‘slightly off-centre’ are useful to the extent that they trigger new possibilities historiographically. Certainly this includes an empirical awareness of what music was played, by whom and where: but when untethered from a discursive focus on style and refocused instead around (both private and public) spaces of performance, the question of precisely how Finnissy’s music and marginality develop through the 1980s and beyond opens in new directions. That is to say that while the position of the BMIC in the early 1980s invites a critique that marks

Marginality and Finnissian performance


the historical limits of complexity or British music or experimentalism without erasing or reinforcing them, it is possible to go further by conceiving the politics of marginality on a different if related plane. Indeed, the very notion of a limit or ‘cutting edge’ presupposes a fixed understanding of the relationships between centre and periphery which Finnissy’s approach seeks to confound.54 Shifting emphasis, then, from discursive to social space, what is at stake in a critique of Finnissy’s marginality is neatly captured in the programme booklet produced for the concert and symposium ‘Music Breaks Free: Issues of Gender and Sexuality’, produced at the University of Sussex in 1994, where Finnissy then taught composition. In an introductory essay – which deserves reproduction in its own right – Finnissy chastises those who take the salon as a ‘feminine’ or ‘effeminate’ space: ‘I am doubtless supposed to be upset by Maxwell-Davies’ remark (and now you can quote it!) that my music is like way-out Chaminade’.55 While the British music which characterised the Finnissy Piano Recital in the early BMIC concerts was by this time less prominent in his own performances, the ‘salon environment’ in which it was developed has clearly left an indelible mark not only on those composers who directly benefitted from his patronage, but also on subsequent generations of pianists who have continued to perform much of the Finnissy Piano Recital since the turn of the 1990s. Whether it is the old BMIC reading room, a pub theatre or a university arts centre, we might follow Jake Johnson here, who in an article on twentieth-century ‘salon culture’, writes that: ‘The space may change, but the ordained purpose of the salon continues its ancient conversation of ideas and their exchange, of identity and its sustaining, of assembly and mingled voices.’56 That is to say that, as a marker of alternative politics and dialogue, the salon ideal is appropriated by Finnissy to stimulate and communicate his own sense of place in a country which has formed a consistent point of tension throughout his work as composer, performer and advocate: in a 2008 interview he remarked that ‘I can’t see [England] artistically anyway, as anything except a monstrous kind of [Gerald] Scarfe caricature rolling around in its own excrement’.57 In fact, Luke Stoneham’s remarks in the same 1994 Sussex programme provide a crucial, final indication of how margins and marginality differ in this broader history, and thus how we might approach Emsley’s account of ‘that sound’ and develop a fuller account of Finnissy, complexity, British culture, the salon and marginality: Being gay is a big benefit. You spend your childhood wondering what the hell is going on, then you have to think hard about your sexuality, so it’s inevitable that it rubs off onto everything else, that big urge to pull things apart, see how they work, to question—in ways that I’m sure no straight person ever can … by being gay you’re in the unique position of being able to stand beyond the margins of the society you’re born into; you’re both alien and native simultaneously. It gives you the clearest


Roddy Hawkins picture available to anybody of what a bum-hole of a place this is we’re expected to live in.58

List of selected performances Notes: 1. The list contains a few examples beyond the BMIC performance of English Country-Tunes in 1986 in order to amplify and support observations made in the text. The list does not provide details of performances of Finnissy’s music where he was not involved as a performer. 2. A full account of all recitals at the BMIC between September 1985 and July 1988 can be found in the listings published in New Music 87, New Music 88 and New Music 89. 3. As far as possible, where dates of composition listed in programmes and posters differ from those documented in other sources, such as Uncommon Ground, I have provided the latter in square brackets. 4. Unless otherwise stated, works were written (or arranged) for solo piano. 5. Complete programmes are taken from posters and programme booklets held by Michael Finnissy and, in the case of Suoraan’s first 18 concerts, in records maintained and provided to me by Richard Emsley, one of the ensemble’s founding directors. 6. I use the phrase ‘Complete programme not known’ because the inclusion of such fragments helps to give a better overall picture of performance frequency. It should be noted that: a. this information is drawn primarily from the list of works in Uncommon Ground, where first performances are listed by work and version/revision. Not only does this over-emphasise the performance of Finnissy works which listed there; the performers involved in these concerts are only known by the requirements of a given Finnissy work – other performers may have been involved; no reviews or other sources have yet been found to fill in programme details. b. where a poster or listing exists rather than a programme booklet, this is clearly no guarantee that all the works advertised were in fact performed; furthermore, some posters do not list works. 7. I have marked first performances only, rather than British or London first performances. 8. The list does not contain comprehensive coverage of Finnissy’s public performances with dancers and choreographers, including the London School of Contemporary Dance [often known as London Contemporary Dance Company and London Contemporary Dance Theatre], Junction Dance Company or Second Stride. Nevertheless, I do include examples where they exist in Finnissy’s personal collection. 9. The list does not contain details of Finnissy’s performances in Australia in 1982–4, though his trips there probably account for some of the larger gaps in the list during 1982 and 1983 in particular.

Marginality and Finnissian performance


30 November 1971 [no other details] ‘Piano Recital by Michael Finnissy’ Erik Satie Arnold Schoenberg Aleksandr Skryabin Charles Ives Bela Bartok Leos Janáček Ferruccio Busoni Karol Szymanovski Leopold Godowsky

Sarabande No. 1 (1987) Piano Piece Op. 11, No. 1 (1908) 2 Pieces Op. 57 (1908) Emerson (1st movement of the Concord Sonata) (1904–10) Bagatelles Nos. 11–12, from 14 Bagatelles Op. 6 (1908) ‘They Chattered Like Swallows’ from On an Overgrown Path (1902–8) ‘All’ Italia’, from Elegies (1901–8) Study Op. 4, No. 3 (1906) Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes from Johann Strauss’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ (1908)

10 October 1977, Schwarzes Kloster, Freiburg Michael Finnissy (piano) Robert Saxton Bach-Busoni

Two Pieces for Piano (1976) Choralvorspiel: Durch Adam’s Fall ist ganz verderbt (first version) Jennifer Fowler Piece for an Opera House (1973) Franz Liszt Die Trauer-Gondel I Nigel Osborne New Piece (1977) [Figure/Ground ] [First Performance] Brian Ferneyhough Epigrams (1965–6) [1966] Ludwig van Beethoven Bagatelle in C Dur Oliver Knussen New Piece (1977) [Sonya’s Lullaby] [First Performance] Aleksandr Skryabin Feuillet d’Album Op. 58 Howard Skempton Eirenicon I (1973) Eirenicon II (1977) [First Performance] Michael Finnissy all.fall.down. (1977) [First Performance] Gershwin (arr. Finnissy) Love is Here to Stay (probably a 1975 version) 23 January 1978, Harrogate Theatre, Harrogate Elain Barry (soprano) Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

Mine Eye Awake (1977)


Roddy Hawkins

17 February 1978, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Hilversum Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

To and Fro (1978, first version)

6 January 1979, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. [Programme repeated 7 January 1979, Cultureel Centrum “‘t Hoogt”, Utrecht.] Michael Finnissy (piano) Jennifer Fowler Edward Shipley Judith Weir Nigel Osborne Oliver Knussen Robert Saxton Michael Finnissy

Piece for an Opera House (1973) La Luna (1979) [First Performance] An mein Klavier (1979) [First Performance] Figure/Ground (1977) Sonya’s Lullaby (1977) Two Pieces (1976) all.fall.down. (1977)

Uncommon Ground also lists: Michael Finnissy

We’ll Get There Someday (1978) [First Performance]

23 April 1979, North London Polytechnic Junction Dance Company59 Programme contained four dances, the fourth of which was titled Fast Dances, Slow Dances, with ‘music by Michael Finnissy’. Those involved in this performance were: Kris Donovan (choreographer) Michael Finnissy (piano) Christopher Bannerman, Lilian Bruinsma, Avi Magidov, Pernille Charrington, Anne Went, Philip Taylor (dancers) In Uncommon Ground, first performances of Finnissy works are listed as follows: Michael Finnissy

Fast Dancers, Slow Dances (1978–9) [First Performance] Short but … (1979) [First Performance]

14 July 1979, St Bartholomew’s Festival of Twentieth-Century Music, London Suoraan Nancy Ruffer (flutes) Christopher Redgate (oboes)

Marginality and Finnissian performance


Josephine Nendick (mezzo soprano) Michael Finnissy (piano) John Harrod (percussion) James Clarke (conductor) Richard Emsley

Luciano Berio Brian Ferneyhough Vinko Globokar Nigel Osborne

At Once (1979) for flute (dbl. alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore, cor anglais), vibraphone and piano [First Performance] Sequenza I (1958) for solo flute Epigrams (1965–6) [1966] for solo piano Atemstudie (1971) for solo oboe Under the Eyes (1979) for voice, flute (dbl. alto flute), oboe (dbl. cor anglais), piano and percussion [First Performance]

22 July 1979, South Hill Park, Bracknell Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

Grainger (1979) [First Performance]

18 November 1979, Bürgerhaus, Troisdorf Junction Dance Company Kris Donovan (choreographer, dancer) Michael Finnissy (piano) Ellen Cairns (costume) June Baptiste, Maxine Braham, Lilian Bruimsna (dancers) Isadora, comprising music by Bach-Busoni Szenen von damel, comprising ‘songs’ from Charles Ives Jazz, comprising Jazz by Michael Finnissy Duo Recital, comprising ‘music by Michael Finnissy’ 18 December 1979, British Music Information Centre (BMIC), London Michael Finnissy (piano) Michael Finnissy

English Country-Tunes (1977) [First Performance]

17 January 1980, St John’s Smith Square, London Suoraan: ‘programme featuring Xenakis and Finnissy’ Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod Richard Emsley

Snatches (1979) for flute (dbl. alto flute), oboe (dbl. cor anglais), vibraphone and piano [First Performance]


Roddy Hawkins

Iannis Xenakis James Clarke Iannis Xenakis Michael Finnissy

Evryali (1973) for solo piano Ääneen/Out Loud (1979) for flute, oboe, piano and percussion Psappha (1975) for solo percussion Sikangnuqa (1979) for solo flute Tálawva (1979) for mezzo soprano, flute (piccolo), oboe (oboe d’amore) percussion and piano [First Performance]

20 April 1980, Purcell Room, London Suoraan: ‘programme featuring Ferneyhough and Cage’ Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod Brian Ferneyhough

James Clarke

John Cage

Richard Emsley

Invention (1965) for solo piano [First Performance] Coloratura (1966) for solo oboe Cassandra’s Dream Song (1970) for solo flute Laulu Laululta (1980) for mezzo soprano, flute, oboe, piano and percussion [First Performance] Composition for 3 voices (1934) for three instruments Dream (1948) for solo piano The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942) for voice and closed piano Solo for Voice 1 (1958) for solo voice (with Solos from Piano Concert [Concert for Piano and Orchestra]) Skhistos (1980) for flute, oboe, vibraphone and piano [First Performance]

30 April 1980, Logan Hall, University of London ‘In Concerto and English Country-Tunes’ Michael Finnissy (piano) Kris Donovan (choreographer, dancer) Michael Finnissy

Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978–80, first version) [First Performance] English Country-Tunes (1977)

20 June 1980, BMIC, London Michael Finnissy (piano) Peter Edwards (piano) Richard Stockall (clarinet)

Marginality and Finnissian performance


Poster only. Advertises piano work by Chris Dench, James Erber, Michael Finnissy and Christopher Gordon and clarinet works by Chris Dench and Christopher Gordon. Chris Dench Michael Finnissy

Topologies (1979, rev. 1980) [First Performance] Nancarrow (1980) [1979–80] [First Performance]

19 August 1980, Dartington Summer School of Music, Devon Suoraan: ‘programme featuring the two leaders of the composition course’ Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod Brian Ferneyhough Brian Ferneyhough Michael Finnissy Brian Ferneyhough Michael Finnissy

Coloratura (1966) for solo oboe Cassandra’s Dream Song (1971) [1970] for solo flute Mountainfall (1978) for solo mezzo-soprano Four miniatures (1965) for flute and piano Piano Concerto No.5 (1980) for solo piano, mezzo soprano, flute (dbl. alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore), and vibraphone [First Performance]

28 November 1980, October Gallery, London Suoraan Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod, with John Whitting (electronics) Richard Emsley

Yuji Takahashi Luigi Nono Yuji Takahashi Tōru Takemitsu James Clarke

At Once (1979) for flute (dbl. alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore, cor anglais), vibraphone and piano Chromamorphe II (1965) for solo piano La fabbrica illuminata (1964) for soprano and tape Operation Euler (1967) for 2 or 3 oboes [arrangement or version not known] Voice (1971) for solo flute Trilogy (1979–80) for mezzo soprano, flute (dbl. piccolo, alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore, cor anglais), piano and percussion (combination of Ääneen/Out Loud, Laulu Lauluta and On Fire) [First Performance]

8 December 1980, BMIC, London Michael Finnissy (piano) Brian Ferneyhough Judith Weir

Epigrams (1965–6) An mein Klavier (1980)


Roddy Hawkins

Nigel Osborne Jennifer Fowler Howard Skempton Edward Shipley Chris Dench

Figure / Ground (1977–9) Music for piano, ascending and descending (1980) [First Performance] Eirenicon 1 (1973), Eirenicom 2 (1977) La Luna (1977) Pas Seul (1978)

9 December 1980, BMIC, London Michael Finnissy (piano) Percy Grainger

Conlon Nancarrow Michael Finnissy James Dillon Michael Finnissy

Sentimentals No. 1 – Colonial Song British Folk-Music Settings No. 2, The Sussex Mummers’ Christmas Carol; No. 10, Died for Love [Possible First Performance]; No. 18, Knight and Shepherd’s Daughter; No. 40, Dublin Bay. [Possible First Performance]. Prelude and Blues (1935) Grainger (1979) and Nancarrow (1980) [1979–80] Dillug-Kefitsah (1976–78) Spleen (1980) [First Performance] Songs 5, 7, 8 and 9 (1963–68) [First Performance of Song 8]

2 February 1981, BMIC, London Michael Finnissy (piano) Robert Schuck (bass clarinet) Ferruccio Busoni Michael Finnissy Chris Dench James Dillon Chris Dench Chris Dench Ferruccio Busoni

Concertino op. 48 (1918) for clarinet and piano Boogie-Woogie (1981) for solo piano [First Performance] Lonely (1979) for solo clarinet Spleen (1980) for solo piano Time (1979) for solo bass or basset clarinet [First Performance] Topologies (1979/80) for solo piano Elegie (1920) for clarinet and piano

4 March 1981, Glasgow University Suoraan Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod [Programme repeated at Edinburgh University, 5 March 1980]

Marginality and Finnissian performance Brian Ferneyhough Brian Ferneyhough Brian Ferneyhough Richard Emsley John Cage

James Clarke


Four Miniatures (1965) for flute and piano Cassandra’s Dream Song (1970) for solo flute Coloratura (1966) for solo oboe Skhistos (1980) for flute, oboe, vibraphone and piano Composition for 3 voices (1934) for three instruments The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942) for voice and closed piano Dream (1948) for solo piano Solo for voice 1 (1958) for solo voice (with solos from ‘Concert’ [for Piano and Orchestra]) Trilogy (1979–1980) for mezzo soprano, flute (dbl. piccolo, alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore, cor anglais), piano and percussion

6 March 1981, BMIC, London Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

Liz (1980–1) [First Performance]

3 May 1981, Purcell Room, London Suoraan: ‘programme featuring Xenakis and Finnissy’ Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod, with Roger Garland (violin) Iannis Xenakis Michael Finnissy

Iannis Xenakis Iannis Xenakis Salvatore Sciarrino Michael Finnissy

Dmaathen (1976) for oboe and percussion Piano Concerto No.5 (1980) for solo piano, flute (dbl. alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore), mezzo soprano and vibraphone Dikhthas (1979) for violin and piano Evryali (1973) for solo piano All’aure in una lontananza (1977) for solo flute Mr Punch (1976–7) for voice, flute, oboe, violin, percussion and piano

4 April 1981, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London Kris Donovan (choreographer, dancer) Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

Reels (1980–1, first version)


Roddy Hawkins

20 June 1981, Greenwich Festival, London Michael Finnissy (piano) Members of the Heath Orchestra Wind Ensemble Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

Piano Concerto No. 7 (1981), for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon [First Performance]

30 July 1981, Dartington Summer School of Music, Devon Suoraan Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod Michael Finnissy James Dillon Richard Emsley

Iannis Xenakis Salvador Sciarrino James Clarke

Folk-Song Set (1969–76) [version c] for mezzo soprano, flute, oboe, percussion and piano Evening Rain (1981) for solo voice At Once (1979) for flute (dbl. alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore, cor anglais), vibraphone and piano Dikhthas (1979) for violin and piano All’aure in una lontananza (1977) for solo flute On fire (1980) for mezzo soprano, flute, oboe, piano and percussion

6 August 1981, Dartington Summer School of Music, Devon Suoraan Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod Music theatre performance with Barry Smith’s Theatre of Puppets Richard Emsley

Martin Davies Philip Grange

The Juniper Tree (1981) for mezzo soprano, flute (dbl. piccolo, alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore, cor anglais), percussion and piano [First Performance] Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea [Date not known] [First Performance] Childe Rowland [Date not known] [First Performance]

4 October 1981, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London Suoraan (SPNM event Alive & Composing) Nendick, Ruffer, Finnissy and Harrod Michaël Levinas James Clarke

Arsis et Thesis (1971) for bass flute Red Skies (1981) for solo piano [First Performance]

Marginality and Finnissian performance Michael Finnissy Richard Emsley


Mountainfall (1978) for mezzo soprano Helter-Skelter (1981) for flute, vibraphone and piano [First Performance]

19 November 1981, Oxford University Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

Kemp’s Morris (1978) [First (recital) Performance]

29 November 1981, Purcell Room, London Suoraan Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod with Roger Garland (violin) Chris Dench John Cage

James Clarke Iannis Xenakis Chris Dench

Compulsion (1978) for violin and piano Experiences No.2 (1948) for solo voice Two Pieces for Piano (1946) for solo piano Solo for Voice 1 with flute part from Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958) On fire (1980) for mezzo soprano, flute, oboe, piano and percussion Herma (1961) for solo piano Fin’Amor (1981) [Work not listed: Suoraan commission suggests full ensemble] [First Performance]

17 December 1981, BMIC, London Josephine Nendick (mezzo soprano) Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

Green Bushes (1980), for contralto and piano [First Performance]

21 January 1982, Purcell Room, London Suoraan Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod Michael Finnissy

John Cage

Duru-Duru (1981), for mezzo-soprano, flute, percussion and piano [First Performance] Atlas Eclipticalis (1961–2) for flute, oboe and percussion


Roddy Hawkins

Richard Emsley Michael Finnissy James Clarke Richard Emsley

The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs (1942) for voice and closed piano A Flower (1950) for voice and closed piano Helter-Skelter (1981) for flute, vibraphone and piano Ohi! Ohi! Ohi! (1978) for voice [First Performance] Red Skies (1981) for solo piano The Juniper Tree (1981) for mezzo soprano, flute (dbl. piccolo, alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore, cor anglais), piano and percussion [First Performance]

11 February 1982, The Place, London ‘Piano – Dance Duets’ Kris Donovan (choreographer, dancer) Michael Finnissy (piano) [other performers not known] ‘Morris’, comprising Kemp’s Morris (1978), All the trees they are so high (1977), and Reels (1980–1) ‘To and Fro’, comprising To and Fro (1978, first version) ‘Spirituals’, comprising Piano Concerto No. 6 (1980–1), Stomp (1981), Snowdrift (1972) 21 February 1982, Purcell Room, London Suoraan Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod, with Keir Rowe (clarinet) James Clarke Richard Emsley Iannis Xenakis Michael Finnissy James Clarke James Dillon

Evolve (1982) for oboe, piano and percussion [First Performance] Hologenesis (1978) for solo clarinet Mists (1961) for solo piano Pavasiya (1981) for oboe and oboe d’amore [First Performance] In another room (1980) for mezzo soprano, clarinet (dbl. bass clarinet) and piano Come live with me (1981) for mezzo soprano, flute (dbl. piccolo, alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore, cor anglais), piano and percussion

Marginality and Finnissian performance


7 May 1982, Oxford Playhouse Second Stride Siobhan (Sue) Davies (choreographer) Michael Finnissy (piano) Paul Clayden, Siobhan Davies, Ann Dickie, Juliet Fisher, Philippe Giraudeau, Jeremy Nelson (dancers) Programme included: ‘Rushes’, comprising Michael Finnissy, Rushes (1981) 8 November 1982, Danish Radio [Danmarks Radio], Copenhagen Michael Finnissy (piano) Den danske Blæserkvintet (wind quintet) James Dillon Howard Skempton Chris Dench Harrison Birtwistle Michael Finnissy Brian Ferneyhough Michael Finnissy

Spleen (1980) Eirenicon I (1973) Eirenicon II (1977) Topologies (1979/80) Refrains and Choruses (1957) for wind quintet Reels (1980–1) Epigrams (1966) Piano Concerto No. 7 (1981) for solo piano and wind quintet

[All First Danish performances] 27 January 1983, BMIC, London Roger Garland (violin) Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

Mississippi Hornpipes (1982, first version) [First Performance]

29 October 1983, Purcell Room, London Suoraan Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate (with Finnissy as Artist Director) Harrison Birtwistle Judith Weir Michael Finnissy Betsy Jolas Guillaume de Machaut

Pulse Sampler (1981) for oboe and percussion King Harald’s Saga (1979) for solo soprano Dilok (1982) for oboe and percussion Fusain (1971) for bass flute and piccolo Le Lay de la fonteinne (arr. Finnissy) (1983, first version) for soprano, flute (dbl. piccolo), oboe, vibraphone and piano


Roddy Hawkins

8 December 1983, BBC, London Suoraan Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Harrod, with Roger Garland (violin) Michael Finnissy

Mr. Punch (1976–8, rev. 1979) for voice, flute, oboe, percussion, piano, violin (and cello) Whitman (1980–3) [unclear which version was performed]

27 February 1984, Wigmore Hall, London Suoraan: ‘Transatlantic Connections 4’ Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, and Finnissy with Martin Allen (percussion) and Roger Redgate (conductor*) John Cage

Charles Ives Michael Finnissy Howard Skempton

Cornelius Cardew

Conlon Nancarrow Michael Finnissy Richard Barrett

The Wonderful World of Eighteen Springs (1942) for voice and closed piano A Flower (1950) for voice and closed piano Five Take-Offs (1906–7) for piano and ensemble Ives (1974) for piano The Gipsy Wife’s Song (1983) for mezzo soprano, flute, oboe, vibraphone and piano [First Performance] Voices from Thel’s Grave (1957) for high voice and piano Our Joy (1973) [assume voice and piano] Soon (1971) version for solo voice and piano Player Piano Studies [arrangement not known] Nancarrow (1980) [1979–80] for solo piano Coïgitum (1983)* for mezzo soprano, alto flute, oboe d’amore, piano and percussion [First Performance]

4 March 1984, Riverside Studios, London Music Projects/London Richard Bernas (conductor) Michael Finnissy (piano) Iannis Xenakis Michael Finnissy

Epei (1976) for oboe (dbl. cor anglais), clarinet, trumpet, 2 trombones and double bass Piano Concerto No. 3 (1978), for solo piano and oboe (dbl. cor anglais), clarinet (dbl. bass clarinet), 2 trombones, cello and double bass

Marginality and Finnissian performance Elliott Carter

Syringa (1978), for solo mezzo soprano, bass voice and guitar, with flute, cor anglais, bass clarinet, trombone, percussion, piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass

14 March 1984, Purcell Room, London Suoraan Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy and Simon Limbrick (percussion) Luciano Berio Giacinto Scelsi Morton Feldman George Gershwin

Roger Redgate Michael Finnissy

4 Canzoni popolari (1946–7) Hyxos (1955) for alto flute and percussion Only (1947) for voice 4 Songs: ‘I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise’ (1922) ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ (1926) ‘The Man I Love’ (1924) ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ (1924) Ausgangspunkte (1982) for solo oboe Hikkai (1982–3) for solo piano Ulpirra (1982–3) for solo bass flute Aijal (1982) for flute, oboe and percussion

12 March 1985, BMIC, London Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Richard Barrett

Invention 6 (1982) for solo piano

10 April 1985, BMIC, London Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy


Boogie-Woogie (1980, rev. 1981, 1985, 1996, third version) [First Performance of third version]

26 April 1985, Purcell Room, London Ensemble Exposé Christopher Redgate (oboe) Roger Redgate (violin) Simon Fryer (cello) Michael Finnissy (piano)


Roddy Hawkins

Complete programme not confirmed. Included: Richard Barrett

Michael Finnissy

Roger Redgate Giacinto Scelsi

Anatomy (1985–6) for cor anglais, violin, cello and piano (withdrawn version) [First Performance] Invention 6 (1982) for solo piano Independence Quadrilles (1982, rev. 1983, 1986, 1988, 1995) for piano, violin and cello [First Performance] Ausgangspunkte (1981–2) for solo oboe Hispania (1939) for solo piano

11 May 1985, Studio 104 Radio France, Paris French publicity lists Suoraan. Richard Barrett work list gives Exposé. Nendick, Ruffer, C. Redgate, Finnissy, Harrod and R. Redgate (conductor) James Dillon

Chris Dench Howard Skempton

Judith Weir Michael Finnissy l

Roger Redgate Richard Barrett

Come live with me (1981) for mezzo soprano, flute (dbl. piccolo, alto flute), oboe (dbl. oboe d’amore, cor anglais), piano and percussion Topologies (1979/80) The Gipsy Wife’s Song (1983) for mezzo soprano, flute, oboe, vibraphone and piano King Harald’s Saga (1979) for solo soprano Dilok (1982) for oboe and percussion Cabaret Vert, for mezzo soprano, flue, cor anglais and percussion (1985) [First Performance] Ausgangspunkte (1982) for solo oboe Coïgitum (1983) for mezzo soprano, alto flute, oboe d’amore, piano and percussion

[All first French performances] 6 June 1985, BMIC, London Sue Anderson (mezzo soprano) Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

Lyrics and Limericks (1982–4) for voice and piano [First Performance]

Marginality and Finnissian performance


17 December 1985, BMIC, London Michael Finnissy (piano) Lord Berners Peter Warlock Percy Grainger Bernard Stevens Michael Finnissy Howard Skempton Chris Newman Richard Barrett Judith Weir Alan Bush

Dispute entre le papillon et le crapaud (c. 1915) Folk Song Preludes Nos. 2 and 3 (1918) One more day, my John (1915) Fuga alla sarabanda (1980) [First Performance] GFH (1985) [First Performance] Eirenicon 4 (1985) [First Performance] Nice Nights / Nette Nächte / Les Nuits gentille (1985) [First Performance] Heard (1985) [First Performance] Michael’s Strathspey (1985) [First Performance] Mister Playford’s Tunes (1958)

13 February 1986, BMIC, London Michael Finnissy (piano) English Country-Tunes (1977, revised 1982–5) [First Performance of revised version] 17 February 1986, The Place, London Austin Allen (baritone) Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Richard Barrett

Principia (1982–4) for baritone and piano

3 March 1986, BMIC, London Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

B.S. [Bernard Stevens] (1985–6) for solo piano

18 July 1986, Darmstadt60 Exposé Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

Duru-duru (1981) for mezzo soprano, flute, percussion and piano Contretänze (1985/86) flute, oboe, clarinet, percussion, violin and cello


Roddy Hawkins

July/August 1986 [Date not known], Darmstadt Michael Finnissy (piano) Complete programme not known. Included: Michael Finnissy

English Country-Tunes (1977, revised 1982–5) (revised version)

24 May 1988, Brighton Festival Ixion series: ‘Marathon Concert’ Michael Finnissy (piano) Cornelius Cardew Morton Feldman

Chris Newman Howard Skempton INTERVAL Michael Finnissy INTERVAL Jelly Roll Morton Percy Grainger

Gershwin/Grainger Michael Finnissy

‘The Cropper Boy’ and ‘Father Murphy’ from Piano Album (1973) Piano Piece (1952) Piano Piece (1964) Intermission 5 (1952) Piano Piece (to Philip Guston) (1963) Piano Sonata No. 1 (1982) Toccata (in memory of Morton Feldman) (1987) [First Performance] Piano Concerto No. 6 (1980–1) Original Jelly Roll Blues (1905) Colonial Song (1913–14) Peace and Saxon Twiplay (1898) [First British Performance] Love Walked In (1943) The Man I Love (1944) Gershwin Arrangements (1987–8) [First Performance as Complete Set]

30 June 1988, Union Chapel, London Part of the Almeida Festival, ‘New Music in Britain: A Very Broad View’ Michael Finnissy and James Clapperton (pianos) Michael Finnissy

Verdi Transcriptions (1972–2005) Clapperton performed 1-9, Finnissy performed 10–15. 11–15 were being performed here for the first time.

25 August 1988, Dartington Summer School, Ixion series Michael Finnissy (piano) Michael Finnissy Chris Newman

Gershwin Arrangements (1987–8), ‘songs’ 8–13 Piano Sonata No. 1 (1982)

Marginality and Finnissian performance Jelly Roll Morton Percy Grainger Chris Newman Michael Finnissy


Original Jelly Roll Blues (1905) Colonial Song (1911–14) Piano Sonata No. 2 (1983) Gershwin Arrangements (1987–8), ‘songs’ 1–7

21 July 1990, Georg-Büchner Schule, Darmstadt Ixion James Clapperton (piano) Andrew Cruickshank (double bass) Andrew Digby (trombone) Jason Glover (trombone) Kenneth Osborne (cello) Andrew Smith (clarinet) David Wilson (oboe) Michael Finnissy (conductor) Michael Finnissy Chris Newman Andrew Toovey James Clapperton Michael Finnissy

Kulamen Dilan (1990) for soprano saxophone and percussion [First Performance] Big Alsace (1987–90) for oboe, clarinet, 2 trombones, cello, double bass and piano Adam (1989–90) for oboe, clarinet, 2 trombones, cello and double bass The Parliament of Four Futtit Beasts (1990) for oboe, cello and piano Piano Concerto No. 3 (1978) for solo piano and oboe (dbl. cor anglais), clarinet (dbl. bass clarinet), 2 trombones, cello and double bass

Steve Cottrell (soprano saxophone) and Steven Schick (percussion) are listed as performers in this performance of Kulamen Dilan on Finnissy’s official worklist.61 28 November 1997, Small Hall of the Union of Composers, Moscow Michael Finnissy (piano) Elisabeth Lutyens Bernard Stevens Cornelius Cardew Howard Skempton John White Peter Maxwell Davies Brian Ferneyhough Richard Rodney Bennett Laurence Crane

Bagatelle Op. 49, No. 2 (1962) Fuga alla Sarabanda (1980) Father Murphy (1973) afterimage 4 (1997) Piano Sonata No. 65 (1973) Ut Re Mi (1971) Invention (1965) Seven Swans a Swimming (1991) Gorm Busk (1991)


Roddy Hawkins

Mark Taylor Christopher Fox Chris Newman Judith Weir Richard Barrett James Clapperton Alwynne Pritchard Luke Stoneham Morgan Hayes Andrew Toovey

From Victorian Values (1986) Worthless Leather (1992) untitled combine (1996) Michael’s Strathspey (1985) Heard (1985) St. Patrick’s Day (1994) Mesarch (1996) More Carmen (1992) Flaking Yellow Stucco (1996) to Sappho (1993)

Notes 1 I wish to acknowledge the support and encouragement of Ian Pace and Nigel McBride, and to thank Michael Finnissy for providing me with access, in December 2017, to files containing his personal collection of programmes, posters and concert ephemera. Additionally, in 2008–10 Richard Barrett and Richard Emsley both provided me with details of performances that were otherwise unavailable. 2 Roddy Hawkins and Michael Finnissy, Unpublished interview. Steyning, West Sussex, July 2008. The same story is relayed in ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 12–13. 3 Explicitly in the case of his interview with Richard Toop in ‘Four Facets of “The New Complexity”’, Contact, 32 (1988), p. 9. See also ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, pp. 10–15; Michael Finnissy, in conversation with Marilyn Nonken, ‘Biting the Hand that Feeds You’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 21, no. 1 (2005), pp. 71–9; Jack Sheen, ‘Interview with Michael Finnissy – ddmmyy’, at (accessed 26 June 2018). 4 Andrew Palmer, ‘Michael Finnissy’, Encounters with British Composers (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2015), p. 175. 5 John Palmer, Conversations (Kindle Book: Vision, 2015), loc. 1945. 6 Toop, ‘Four Facets of “The New Complexity”’, p. 9. 7 Ibid. 8 Finnissy, ‘Biting the Hand’, p. 79. 9 Ian Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, in Uncommon Ground, p. 43. 10 The term ‘mere virtuosity’ is from Pace, ibid. As regards ‘seriously’, Pace notes that ‘Ives, Grainger and Nancarrow were each ‘dismissed as eccentric (as has Finnissy himself), because each pursued a direction tangential to the hegemony of the primarily Austro-German canonical tradition’ (p. 76). Interestingly, in a 1984 programme note, Finnissy wrote similarly of Gershwin that although he ‘strove hard for recognition as a “serious” composer, and won acclaim and admiration of such eminent (if more esoteric) contemporaries as Schoenberg and Grainger, it is still rare to find his songs included in serious concerts’ (Programme booklet, Suoraan, Purcell Room, London, 14 March 1984). 11 ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, in Uncommon Ground, p. 18. 12 Sheen, ‘Interview with Michael Finnissy’. 13 By aligning performance and marginality in this way I don’t wish to reduce one to the other: just as one could investigate marginality from points of view that don’t take performance and advocacy as their examples, so too one could investigate performance and advocacy much more fully by looking beyond marginality.

Marginality and Finnissian performance

14 15 16


18 19

20 21 22 23 24

25 26

27 28


Neither, for reasons of space, do I propose to develop a theoretical model of marginality as it relates to Finnissy’s music and reception more broadly, though one is certainly needed. Stephen Reeve, ‘Of Finnissy and Ferneyhough’, Classical Music, 7 June 1980, p. 25. In terms of press coverage, two particularly important events are the 1987 Almeida Festival commission and feature of his first opera, The Undivine Comedy, and the 1988 BBC Proms commission and performance of Red Earth (1988). John Warnaby, ‘Michael Finnissy’, Music and Musicians, February 1988, p. 42. For a predictably stinging critique of Griffiths’ book, see Harry Halbreich, ‘New Sounds, New Personalities: British Composers of the 1980s in Conversations with Paul Griffiths, by Paul Griffiths [Review]’, Tempo, no. 158 (1986), pp. 57–8. A similar perspective was articulated a decade later by Richard Barrett. See Richard Barrett, ‘Avant-Garde and Ideology in the United Kingdom since Cardew’, in Mark Delaere (ed.), New Music, Aesthetics and Ideology (Wilhelmshaven: Verlag der Heinrichshofen-Bücher, 1995), pp. 170–81. ‘My biography? Doesn’t “fit in”. From the wrong side of the tracks all the way. Virtual failure in commercial terms, but who the hell cares either way?’ (Michael Finnissy, ‘Biography’, (accessed 27 June 2018)). Finnissy, ‘Biting the Hand’, p. 73. This is not even a full account of the performances documented within Finnissy’s private collection of programmes and concert ephemera, itself a partial (though fascinating) insight into the full extent of the activities which he undertook in this  period. The details are drawn from information provided by Richard Emsley (for Suoraan up until February 1982, on the first performance of his own compositions), Richard Barrett (on the performance of his own compositions), and the lists of BMIC performances in the three annual reviews of New Music published. 16 February 1976, Conservatoire, Toulouse. ‘Concert de musique contemporaine avec l’itinéraire, Michael Finnissy et Brian Ferneyhough’. See list of performances. This would probably have been one of the two arrangements Finnissy made in 1975 of this piece. See Chapter 3 of this volume on these. Chris Dench, ‘Biography’, (accessed 29 May 2018). Potter observed that Dench had ‘started to find his own individual path in that very difficult area, full of pitfalls for composer, performer and listener, which has been charted most familiarly in this country so far, and in their own very different way, by Brian Ferneyhough and Michael Finnissy’. Keith Potter, ‘New Music’, Classical Music, 5 July 1980, p. 16. [Emphasis added.] Roddy Hawkins and Roger Wright. Unpublished interview. London, June 2007. Potter did so in an early feature article on Finnissy that (exceptionally) drew attention to the first performance of English Country-Tunes. See Keith Potter, ‘Feature: Michael Finnissy’ [New Music column], Classical Music, 1 Dec 1979, p.  12. Potter also wrote: ‘His reputation as a composer — as well as a pianist, playing not only his own frequently difficult music but a wide range of composers a different as Brian Ferneyhough and Howard Skempton — is, it seems, much higher in Europe than in Britain.’ Michael Finnissy and Roger Wright (eds.), New Music 87 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 82. According to Dick Witts in ‘Theme and Variations for the Future’, The Guardian, 6 July 1984, p. 11.


Roddy Hawkins

29 Wright, unpublished interview. The word ‘slightly’ is important here, since the BMIC trustees included well-connected figures such as Ursula Vaughan Williams. 30 During the informal post-concert presentation of Finnissy’s Presidency, Finnissy tells the audience that he began concerts at the BMIC in 1978. 31 Michael Finnissy, ‘Presentation of Michael Finnissy as the new president of the BMIC friends’, BMIC, 10 Stratford Place, London, 17 December 1985. (Cassette 858, Track 858.15, British Music Collection, Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield.). 32 Finnissy and Wright, New Music 87, p. vi. See also Michael Finnissy, Malcolm Hayes and Roger Wright (eds.), New Music 88 (Oxford University Press, 1988); Michael Finnissy and Roger Wright (eds.), New Music 89 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). p. vi. 33 Michael Finnissy (performer), ‘English Country Tunes’, Music in Our Time, Stephen Plaistow (Chief Producer, Contemporary Music), BBC Radio 3, 2 October 1986. 34 See footnote 17. 35 See Michael Finnissy, interview with James Weeks, at https://michaelfinnissy. (accessed 18 February 2019). 36 Michael Finnissy (piano), Kris Donovan (dancer), in Michael Finnissy, English Country-Tunes, Brighton Polytechnic, 1984. Video uploaded to YouTube by Andrew Toovey (29 August 2010), at (accessed 2 July 2018). 37 Programme note in concert programme of the same date, 11 February 1982. 38 See Ian Pace in Chapter 3 of the present volume. 39 Suoraan concert programme, 22 January 1979, Wigmore Hall, London. 40 Roddy Hawkins and Richard Emsley, Unpublished interview. London, July 2008. 41 Roddy Hawkins and Michael Finnissy, Unpublished interview. 42 In the late 1980s Finnissy also performed with the ensemble Focus, set up by Josephine Nendick and containing the same core of players as Suoraan and Exposé. Most of its concerts took place in Cambridge. 43 Concert programme of the same date, 4 March 1984. 44 Roddy Hawkins and Roger Wright, unpublished interview. ‘I did ask particular people [to perform] who I thought maybe already sympathetic to the notion of coming and doing something [at the BMIC], and those tended to fall—and this is a horrible generalisation—into either a very sort of middle-of-the-road category from the Composer’s Guild or, on the one hand, English simplicity and English experimentalism—so out of the Michael Nyman book arrives Gavin [Bryars] and John Wright and Dave Smith and Michael Parsons and Howard Skempton—and what then subsequently was called the “new complexity” and it was very much Michael. It was Michael Finnissy that was driving most of that. There is [also] an interesting overlap between someone like Michael and Howard Skempton because Michael was rather interested in the music of Howard Skempton, so when he was doing a recital he’d often drop pieces by Howard into it. […].’ 45 In an article which can be viewed as a precursor to ‘Four Facets of “The New Complexity”’, Richard Toop notes that: ‘England has two outstanding composers (Birtwistle and Ferneyhough), a very substantial elder statesman (Tippett), some solid secondary figures (Maxwell Davies, and perhaps [Anthony] Gilbert and [Jonathan] Harvey), and a handful of promising youngsters (particularly James Dillon, and others from the group that sprang up around Michael Finnissy).’ [Emphasis added.] See Richard Toop, ‘From Outside Looking In …’, in Michael Finnissy and Roger Wright (eds.), New Music 87 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 67.

Marginality and Finnissian performance


46 Chris Dench, reflecting on the period 1983–7, has written that: ‘In retrospect, I am aware that the primary feature I was trying to incorporate into my work was a quality of punk. I unconsciously felt about most English modernism of the time rather as the punks felt about Prog Rock: that it was feeble, smug, and mediocratisingly amiable. My attempts to insert a bit of  edge,  of  dirt,  into my pieces were less than entirely successful at the time, but I can recall even then describing their textures with terms such as “wirewool” and “plasma”, […]. Finishing this empunktion process and liberating them to completion is a debt I owe these works.’ See Dench, ‘Biography’. 47 Both are reviewed in New Music 87 and New Music 89 respectively. 48 The Darmstadt concert by Exposé took place on 13 August 1988 and included Michael Finnissy, Iisei (1981); James Clarke, On Fire (1980); James Erber, Fax (1988), and Aurora (1988); Roger Redgate, Eperons (1988); Richard Barrett, nothing elsewhere (1987); Richard Emsley, from swerve of shore to bend of bay (1985); Michael Finnissy, Quabara (1988); and Roger Redgate, mais en étoile (1987–8). 49 This recording is now available in Darmstadt Aural documents, Box 4: Pianists, NEOS11630 (2017). 50 The London School of Economics’ Library holds many of the sources related to the political history of Section 28, and provides a useful contextual overview of both the Act and the archive. See ‘Section 28, three decades on: the legacy of a homophobic law through the LSE Library’s collections’, http://blogs.lse. (accessed 20 September 2018). 51 It was promoted by The Aids Positive Underground Theatre Company and the performance titled Stretching Frontiers. It took place at the Marlborough Pub Theatre in Kemp Town, Brighton, on 15 May 1990 during the Brighton Festival (but not as part of it). 52 Stefan Collini, Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 415. 53 See Max Erwin’s Chapter 14 in this volume, for example. 54 The point has been eloquently made both by Benjamin Piekut and James M Harding in different books. See Benjamin Piekut, Experimentalism Otherwise: the New York Avant-Garde and its Limits (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011); James M. Harding, The Ghosts of the Avant-Garde(s): Exorcising Experimental Theater and Performance (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2013). 55 Michael Finnissy, ‘Introduction’ in Music Breaks Free (Brighton: The Centre for Composition and Contemporary Music Research, Sussex University, 1994), p. 4. 56 Jake Johnson, ‘The Music Room: Betty Freeman’s Musical Soirées’, TwentiethCentury Music, 14/3 (2017), 391–409 (p. 406). To prove Johnson’s point, the contrast between the spaces examined here and the Beverly Hills gatherings examined by Johnson could not be starker, even as he himself opposes salons (as private, invitation-only spaces) from public, institutional spaces such as universities and specialist arts centres. He thus appears to close off the possibility that salons can be disentangled form the private-public dichotomy he ostensibly sets out to critique. 57 Reflecting on the cultural impact of Thatcherism (from the perspective of precrash, pre-Brexit Britain), Finnissy has remarked that as a composer the experience of living in Britain ‘makes a certain kind of topic the object of satire, potentially. So England, instead of being a straight-forward topic, becomes a series of satirical cartoons. That would be my response to it. I can’t see it artistically anyway, as anything except a monstrous kind of [Gerald] Scarfe caricature


58 59 60


Roddy Hawkins

rolling around in its own excrement.’ Asked about Thatcher specifically he said: ‘Well, I mean she was just a revolting person wasn’t she? Just revolting to look at, revolting to listen to—dreadful bandsaw voice—and the views … I don’t know with, again, any degree of political accuracy because, economically, perhaps even some of it made sense … but it was the whole complex of attitudes which came with it. The “tighten your belts and fill your larder because, you never know, we might be having a hard winter” kind of mentality. The little British bulldog mentality; things I find really, really revolting about this country—well about any country but especially this country—she seemed to write large. I remember a comedian at the time saying that she was the kind of woman who wouldn’t let you have your ball back if it went into her garden. There was something about the hatchet face and the hatchet ideas that were just revolting; and the arts curled up and died under that because there was just no oxygen, under that regime. Certain kinds of art kept going: the “theme park Britain” idea, and classical culture goes on, you know. I think at that point probably … in some ways the idea I’d grown up with that new music which was adventurous and good fun and, you know … maybe dangerous but, “okay, that’s fine” … I think it simply expired. Or went somewhere else. I think that was the end of a particular kind of new music and when it resurfaced—if it has properly resurfaced—it was all new only in the sense that packaging experts use the word “new”. There wasn’t … it wasn’t dirty.’ (Roddy Hawkins and Michael Finnissy, Unpublished interview). Luke Stoneham, in Music Breaks Free, p. 19. Junction Dance Company was  founded in the autumn of 1976 by Ingegerd Lönnroth and Kris Donovan. In his review of Darmstadt in 1986, Christopher Fox writes: ‘The sort of breadth of awareness which was evidently behind the assembly of the programme for 1986 was also to inform much of the best music that I heard. Nowhere was this more evident than in the music of Michael Finnissy, who was, with Brian Ferneyhough, the senior member of a large British contingent (amongst the others performed were James Dillon, Richard Emsley, James Erber, and Paul Robinson). There were performances of his String Quartet (1984) (the Arditti Quartet), The Eureka Flag (1983) (Nancy Ruffer), English Country-Tunes (1979) [sic] (Finnissy himself), Duru-duru (1981), and Contretänze (1985) (both by Exposé) …’ See Christopher Fox, ‘Plural Darmstadt: The 1986 International Summer Course’, in Michael Finnissy and Roger Wright (eds.), New Music 87 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 102. Michael Finnissy, ‘Works: Full List’, at php (accessed 17 July 2018).

Bibliography Barrett, Richard. ‘Avant-Garde and Ideology in the United Kingdom since Cardew’. In Mark Delaere (ed.), New Music, Aesthetics and Ideology (Wilhelmshaven: Verlag der Heinrichshofen-Bücher, 1995), pp. 170–81. Bloxam, Debbie; Molitor, Claudia; Payne, Andrew; and Willoughby, Rachel, eds. Music Breaks Free: Issues of Gender and Sexuality. Brighton: The Centre for Composition and Contemporary Music Research, Sussex University, 1994. Collini, Stefan. Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Darmstadt Aural documents, Box 4: Pianists, NEOS11630 (2017). Dench, Chris. ‘Biography’. At (accessed 29 May 2018).

Marginality and Finnissian performance


Emsley, Richard; and Hawkins, Roddy. Unpublished interview. London, July 2008. Finnissy, Michael. ‘Introduction’. In Music Breaks Free (Brighton: The Centre for Composition and Contemporary Music Research, Sussex University, 1994), pp. 3–5. Finnissy, Michael. ‘Biography’. At (accessed 27 June 2018). Finnissy, Michael; and Hawkins, Roddy. Unpublished interview, Steyning, West Sussex, July 2008. Finnissy, Michael; and Nonken, Marilyn. ‘Biting the Hand that Feeds You’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 21, no. 1 (2002), pp. 71–9. Finnissy, Michael; and Wright, Roger. ‘Presentation of Michael Finnissy as the new president of the BMIC friends’, BMIC, 10 Stratford Place, London, 17 December 1985. (Cassette 858, Track 858.15, British Music Collection, Heritage Quay, University of Huddersfield.) Suoraan concert programme, 22 January 1979, Wigmore Hall, London. Finnissy, Michael; and Wright, Roger, eds. New Music 87. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Finnissy, Michael; and Wright, Roger, eds. New Music 89. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. Finnissy, Michael; Hayes, Malcolm; and Wright, Roger, eds. New Music 88. Oxford University Press, 1988. Finnissy, Michael; Fox, Christopher; Pace, Ian; and Brougham, Henrietta, eds. ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 1–42. Finnissy, Michael (piano); Donovan, Kris (dancer), in Michael Finnissy, English Country-Tunes, Brighton Polytechnic, 1984. Video uploaded to YouTube by Andrew Toovey (29 August 2010), at (accessed 2 July 2018). Fox, Christopher. ‘Plural Darmstadt: The 1986 International Summer Course’. In Michael Finnissy and Roger Wright (eds.), New Music 87 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 102–5. Halbreich, Harry. ‘New Sounds, New Personalities: British Composers of the 1980s in Conversations with Paul Griffiths, by Paul Griffiths [Review]’. Tempo, no. 158 (1986), pp. 57–8. Harding, James M. The Ghosts of the Avant-Garde(s): Exorcising Experimental Theater and Performance. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2013. Johnson, Jake. ‘The Music Room: Betty Freeman’s Musical Soirées’. TwentiethCentury Music, vol 14, no. 3 (2017), pp. 391–409. Palmer, Andrew. ‘Michael Finnissy’. In Encounters with British Composers. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2015, pp. 171–82. Palmer, John. Conversations. Kindle Book: Vision, 2015. Piekut, Benjamin. Experimentalism Otherwise: the New York Avant-Garde and its Limits. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011. Potter, Keith. ‘Feature: Michael Finnissy’ [New Music column]. Classical Music, 1 Dec 1979, p. 12. Potter, Keith. ‘New Music’. Classical Music, 5 July 1980, p. 16. Reeve, Stephen. ‘Of Finnissy and Ferneyhough’, Classical Music, 7 June 1980. Sheen, Jack. ‘Interview with Michael Finnissy – ddmmyy’, at www.ddmmyyseries. com/Interview-with-Michael-Finnissy (accessed 26 June 2018).


Roddy Hawkins

Toop, Richard. ‘From Outside Looking In …’. In Michael Finnissy and Roger Wright (eds.), New Music 87 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Toop, Richard. ‘Four Facets of the New Complexity’. Contact 32 (1988), pp. 4–50. Warnaby, John. ‘Michael Finnissy’. Music and Musicians, February 1988, pp. 42–5. Witts, Dick. ‘Theme and Variations for the Future’. The Guardian, 6 July 1984. Wright, Roger; and Hawkins, Roddy. Unpublished interview.


‘My “personal themes”?!’ Finnissy’s Seventeen Homosexual Poets and the material world Gregory Woods

The sixth section of Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound is titled ‘Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets’. The poets in question are presented in reverse chronological order by birth date, ranging from 1953 to 1840, as follows: Gregory Woods (1953–) Mutsuo Takahashi (1937–) Thom Gunn (1929–) Allen Ginsberg (1926–) Frank O’Hara (1926–) Harold Norse (1926–) Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–) James Kirkup (1918–) Jean Genet (1910–) Stephen Spender (1909–) Federico García Lorca (1898–) Ralph Chubb (1892–) Jean Cocteau (1889–) Konstantin Kavafis [Constantine Cavafy] (1863–) Oscar Wilde (1854–) Edward Carpenter (1844–) John Addington Symonds (1840–). Each is represented in Finnissy’s piece as an individual episode, connected by meditative interstices. Seven poets are from the UK; three from the USA; two from France; and one each from Spain, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Japan. They span a period from when buggery was still punishable in England and Wales by death (repealed in 1861) to the time of composition in the 1990s, when reverses brought about by AIDS-related hostility were themselves being reversed, and it was starting to seem possible to equalise such things as ages of consent and access to matrimony. Of the words in the title of Finnissy’s piece, only ‘Seventeen’ is completely unambiguous and unproblematic. (It does, though, raise the question,


Gregory Woods

why seventeen?) Each of the other three demands to be hedged about with inverted commas. For a start, some of the ‘Poets’ are not principally known as poets. Some were other things besides, and pretty major other things: Wilde the dramatist and novelist; Symonds the art historian, translator of Michelangelo’s sonnets, sexologist and historian of homosexuality (pioneer of the use of the word ‘homosexual’ in English); Carpenter the sexologist and political activist; Chubb the painter and printer; Lorca the dramatist; Cocteau the dramatist, novelist and film-maker; Pasolini the dramatist, filmmaker, novelist and political activist; Spender the editor and public intellectual; Genet, the novelist, dramatist and film-maker; Takahashi the novelist, dramatist and essayist; Kirkup the prolific translator – of, among others, Cocteau, Lorca, Genet, Pasolini and Takahashi. So we must take the designation ‘poet’, or the more specific one ‘homosexual poet’, as applying to the broader landscape of a career as (let’s call it) a gay writer. Moreover, when they are writing poetry, the Seventeen do so in a wide variety of modes. For all that the category may seem narrow to those who have not given themselves the leisure to explore it, where homosexual poetry is concerned Finnissy’s tastes are broad. ‘Immortal’ is an evaluative term now long out of fashion (perhaps the contemporary equivalent would be ‘iconic’). Of the Seventeen, although a majority of the poets were unambiguously dead at the time of composition, some might be described as immortal, in the conventional sense, for their poetry alone: I would suggest Cavafy, Lorca, Pasolini, O’Hara and Gunn. Others might merit immortality as major cultural figures: Wilde, Cocteau, Spender and Genet. We might be tempted to nominate other gay poets more ‘immortal’ than any of the Seventeen (Walt Whitman, say, or W.H. Auden), but this does not have to be a competition. ‘Homosexual’ is often used as a supposedly neutral term because it is ‘scientific’, a psychological, medicalised word coined in German in 1868,1 in contradistinction to such moralising terms as ‘sodomite’ with their blatant connotations of perverse choice. But it raises questions. Notwithstanding its longevity and familiarity, which encourage us to take it for granted, it is by no means a stable category. Even its grammatical status is open to doubts – adjective or noun? – with far-reaching implications. Is ‘homosexual’ (a) a series of activities or practices (as the law sees it)? (b) a state of being, perhaps even amounting to an identity? (c) a condition of consciousness, or of the unconscious, perhaps amounting to an obsession? Is ‘the’ homosexual essentially the same as the non-homosexual in all but the mechanics of sexual acts? Or is the homosexual different, if only as a consequence of social/historical circumstance? Is the homosexuality of one time and place identical to that of another, or are there geopolitical and historical variations so broad as to render the single term inappropriate? Wilde and Spender were heterosexually married and had children. Does this make them bisexual, or is that side of their lives to be disregarded as having been imposed by strict convention, contra naturam?

‘My “personal themes”?!’


Can there be a politics, a culture, a poetry of homosexuality? If there is such a thing as a homosexual poet, what is a homosexual poem? Must it have homosexual content? If not, what? If there is such a thing as a homosexual composer, what – in the absence of homosexual content – is a homosexual composition? Is the marginality associated with the sexual acts, or the identities, to be visited down on the works of art? And might that not be, in any case, a desirable alternative to assimilation into the sluggish mainstream? Finnissy’s use of ‘homosexual’ implicitly raises such questions, without necessarily requiring the listener to provide any of the available answers. While he was working on the piece in the mid-1990s, one of Finnissy’s main sources was The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, edited by Stephen Coote (1983).2 It contains work by all of the Seventeen except Wilde (very odd, this), Takahashi and Woods. Coote raised hackles with the strategic vagueness of his key terms and concepts. The title’s ‘Homosexual’ becomes ‘gay’ in his introduction’s opening sentence: ‘This is a collection of poems by and about gay people.’ He is referring to same-sex lovers, female as well as male, of any cultures, from the time of Homer to the present; from Achilles and Patroclus to the protagonists of Michael Rumaker’s gay-liberationist poem ‘The Fairies Are Dancing All Over the World’. The anthology is also striking for its inclusion of major canonical poets, from Homer himself through Virgil, Horace, Ovid; Dante, Marlowe, Shakespeare; Goethe, Wordsworth, Pushkin; Tennyson, Whitman, Dickinson; Hopkins, Housman, Rimbaud; and so on. The contents pages alone deliver Coote’s most powerful argument: that the literature of homosexuality is no mere sideline tradition of mediocre writers, of interest only to a minority of readers; no stagnant oxbow of justifiably neglected curiosities – although the book does have its fair share of these – but, arguably, the centre of the mainstream. (Fifteen of Shakespeare’s sonnets, for a start.) One of the implications of this high-cultural cachet must have been that, not just its poetry, but same-sex love itself has occupied a central place in the mainstream of Western social and cultural development. On the other hand, Coote defines ‘a gay poem’ as ‘one that either deals with explicitly gay matters or describes an intense and loving relationship between two people of the same gender’. This allowed for the inclusion of poetry that, notwithstanding its thematic relevance, was not of canonisable quality. Reviewing the book for the TLS, Alan Hollinghurst complained that ‘a large number of the poems here are, simply, dreadful’.3 However, Coote’s use of the word ‘Verse’ in his title, rather than ‘poetry’, seems to have been a deliberate indication that the included material would be of interest less for its aesthetic refinement than for its revealingly unguarded enthusiasm, whether erotic, romantic, or political. A case in point might be Edward Carpenter, whose poetic project Towards Democracy, based on Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, was reissued as a ‘gay modern classic’ by Gay Men’s Press in 1985. He tries to inject a measure of Whitman’s expansive new-world optimism into British social life, by way of the twin promises of socialism and sexual


Gregory Woods

reform, with a lanky imitation of Whitman’s long free-verse line, dangerously close to unintended parody. What still impresses is one of the sources of his verse’s vulnerability: its earnestness. Far from striking attitudes, Carpenter, manifestly and transparently, believes in the vision of homo-erotic socialism he so eagerly pursues. The politics transcend the aesthetics. In Finnissy’s piece, ‘homosexual’ denotes, emphatically, not just poets who ‘happened to be’ homosexual. All of them chose, in some degree, to write as man-loving men, not always making an explicit argument as such, but aware that their sexuality had an influence on their poetry, and content to allow it to do so – or rather, interested in working with and within it to access their own individual creative springs. Even if not writing explicitly on the topic, they were conscious of the Unconscious: it would exert its inevitable influence. According to Ian Pace, Finnissy chose the Seventeen for reasons ‘as much to do with their iconic status (from which in part springs their immortality) as their actual work’.4 I take this aspect of their status as including: Wilde, Lorca and Pasolini, the radical martyrs; Carpenter, the activist-theorist; Pasolini and Spender, the public intellectuals; Wilde and Genet, the jailbirds and outcasts; Cocteau, the camp, butterfly artist of prolific talents; Ginsberg, the naked, drug-taking Beat; Gunn, the strapped-in introvert, gradually coming out of the closet and his irony-encrusted shell; and so on. What strikes me even from this partial list is not so much their sameness as their difference. Even with regard to sexual self-definition, the Seventeen form a disunited front. They were writing at different stages in the modern theorisation of homosexuality. Wilde used the terminology of the pioneering German sexologist and campaigner for sexual law reform Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. In a letter to Robert Ross in February 1898, he wrote: ‘To have altered my life would have been to have admitted that Uranian love is ignoble.’5 Symonds, too, thought of his type as ‘Urnings’ and ‘inverts’, before moving on to ‘homosexual’.6 But Carpenter spoke of ‘homogenic love’ and – when following Ulrichs’ theory of individuals with a woman’s soul in a man’s body, and vice versa – of ‘the intermediate sex’. At the other end of the chronology, Norse, Ginsberg, Kirkup and Gunn all subscribed to the principles of the gay liberation movement and spoke of belonging to gay communities or subcultures. On the other hand, some of the Seventeen did not identify with developing urban homosexual subcultures, or indeed with homosexual/gay identity itself. Lorca had been shocked, on visiting New York in 1929, to find so many maricones associating with each other in specifically gay social venues. He seems to have been both impressed and depressed by this. In his famous ‘Ode to Walt Whitman’, when he quotes homophobic, hispanophone epithets being called out in city streets around the world, it is unclear whether he wants them to be heard as being endorsed by himself, or as prized insults to be adopted as badges of queer identity and identified with. Who shouts these words? Is this a queer-basher or a queer?

‘My “personal themes”?!’


Fairies of North America, Pájaros of Havana, Jotos of Mexico, Sarasas of Cadiz, Apios of Seville, Floras of Alicante, Adelaidas of Portugal.7 More actively and unambiguously opposed to mutuality, Jean Genet was, on occasion, a queer-bashing queer. Notwithstanding the number of gay readers to whom his work became extremely important in their celebrations of lives lived against the grain, in 1983 he insisted: ‘I did not write my books for the liberation of the homosexual.’8 He was not interested in the so-called Sexual Revolution of the 1960s. Just as Genet sided with the working-class masculinity of the cops at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968, Pier Paolo Pasolini was on the side of the police when bourgeois students were rioting in Europe.9 Pasolini, who thrived on the fact that the purdah in which Italian girls were kept pure left Italian boys in a useful state of extreme sexual frustration, was anti-feminist; and when he visited New York in 1966 he strongly disapproved of the ghettoised politics and pleasures of the gay subculture, and especially of the aspirations of any gay men to assimilate themselves openly into bourgeois society.10 When Michael Finnissy was interviewed for Trebuchet magazine, on 3 February 2013, the following exchange took place: Interviewer: It’s been written that your personal themes have come to the fore in pieces like Shameful Vice and Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets. To what extent do you see this as the case and is it the case that these comments are equating ‘sexual’ with ‘personal’? Finnissy: My ‘personal themes’?!11 The closing punctuation here adeptly conveys both a tone of voice and a facial expression. To characterise a theme, or rather a vast cluster of themes, in this way is to demote them from the seriousness and universality of the impersonal and objective. (Shameful Vice, from 1995, alludes to the end of Tchaikovsky’s life.) The work of women writers and artists has been dismissed on these grounds for centuries. Is this, then, the category into which they must all be forced, all of the composer’s references, passing or developed, to gay/queer culture and history? Personal (‘?!’) themes? The interviewer and the cited commentators are referring to an accumulation of easily identified compositions. These include the two mentioned, along with others of his works that bear any


Gregory Woods

glancing or full-on reference to gay/queer culture or politics: such pieces as  Stanley Stokes, East Street 1836 (1989), derived from Neil Bartlett’s account of a prosecution for homosexual assault, and a subsequent suicide;12 the piano trio Un chant d’amour (1999–2000) to accompany Genet’s rhapsodic film of prison life; Éros uranien (2002), alluding to gay texts by Sar Peladan and Oscar Wilde; Von Gloeden Postcards (2003), alluding to the great nineteenth-century photographer of Sicilian boys; Molly House (2004); Whitman (2004–5), settings from the verse of Leaves of Grass and the prose of  Specimen Days to provide an autobiography of the poet… These are works with a material context no more personal (‘?!’) than Hansard or the Dow Jones average. They all connect thematically with powerful trends in gay cultural history, affecting the broader society as a whole.13 In any case, the truth is that even the simplest, supposedly private fact of one man loving another, of one man saying to another ‘I love you’, is commonly treated as a public fact  – because it has long been established as a matter of public concern. Consider just one line from John Addington Symonds’ poem ‘Ithocles’: ‘What will men say, Lysander, if we love?’14 So much for privacy! It follows that one of the great themes of gay writing has been the fear of public scandal. In Oscar Wilde’s comedies, frivolity is underpinned by terror: the potential unveiling and unravelling of double lives in The Importance of Being Earnest; the threat of blackmail in An Ideal Husband… As Neil Bartlett puts it, ‘I thought Wilde was a comic writer, but now I know better. All of his characters are in terror of being discovered. Their elegance of diction is only a front; anything rather than speak the truth.’15 The very emblems of privacy – locked doors, thick curtains, lowered voices, twilit spaces – become, in gay literature, signs of oppressive public intrusion; signs of public ownership. The man-loving men in Constantine Cavafy’s poems conduct their marginalised but life-enhancing love lives in the hinterland between public and private spaces. The armoured masculinity of so many of Genet’s sexual icons never exists in domestic spaces, unless burgling them, being more at home in the claustrophobic, homosocial confinement of prisons or barracks or ships. Beyond these, it flourishes at night in the areas of cities where it is advisable to carry a weapon. In a letter to me (23 September 2003), Michael Finnissy wrote: ‘you doubtless know that there’s very little written intelligently about gay composers, and dozens still in the closet. How? Why? … [M]usicologists still ask “does it really matter whether x is gay or not?”’ The musicologists’ question implies that it does not really matter. Finnissy’s quoting of it implies the contrary, that it really does matter whether x is gay or not – it really does make a material difference, if not in topic, in tone and undertone. This is not a question of being indiscreet or self-indulgent or obsessive (as all gay artists are eventually accused of being). It is a matter of disinhibiting one’s world view at the same time as engaging with the subcultural history that partly shaped it. Calling such themes personal (‘?!’) is implicitly to demand that they be silenced and

‘My “personal themes”?!’


incarcerated. It is a call for censorship. It is a call for self-censorship too, designed to inhibit artistic activity. The characterising of Finnissy’s references to gay/queer culture as personal (‘?!’) has a context reaching back into laws imposing total secrecy on same-sex relationships for fear of imprisonment or worse. It was not without reason, nor merely for the sake of a striking metaphor, that Lord Alfred Douglas spoke of ‘the Love that dare not speak its name’ in the famous poem, ‘Two Loves’,16 which was quoted in evidence against Oscar Wilde at one of his trials in 1895.17 Much later, the partial decriminalisation of male homosexual acts in England and Wales in 1967 allowed only for sexual activity between two consenting adults ‘in private’.18 Even where cultural production was concerned, discretion was required. Hence the radical indiscretions of the gay liberation movement and, indeed, of the poets who subscribed to its principles. The whole point of coming out (‘of the closet’), whether individually or en masse, was an absolute rejection of the privacy imperative. One of the most obvious instances of kick-back against gay liberation included Section 28 of the UK Local Government Act 1987, a direct attack on the availability of information about gay and lesbian people.19 That this law was passed at the height of the AIDS panic, when access to accurate information could literally be a matter of life or death, and not repealed until 2003, says much about the continuing strength of feeling against gay and lesbian indiscretion two decades after male decriminalisation. In such a context it would seem that personal (‘?!’) music, when performed, necessarily violates the implied imperative that it remain silent altogether. Federico García Lorca was killed by the fascists in August 1936, at the age of thirty-eight. The Lorca family and estate subsequently did their best to suppress the connection between his work and his sexuality. Most notoriously, they prevented the publication of his Sonetos del amor oscuro (sonnets of dark love) until forced to allow it by the clandestine production of a limited edition in mysterious circumstances in 1983. Even though the sonnets do not specify gender, the Lorca family were sufficiently worried by the phrase amor oscuro to attempt to keep them in the darkness. In the very act of enforcing privacy, if only for four decades or so, they ensured an eventual public profile not only for the sonnets themselves but for the broader issue of the politics of publication. One of James Kirkup’s poems suddenly became so notorious that the rest of his long and distinguished career, both implicitly and then explicitly gay, has vanished into its shadow. Published in the fortnightly newspaper Gay News in June 1976, it was brought to the attention of the censorship campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who used the opportunity to test Britain’s long-ignored blasphemy laws. Spoken by the centurion Longinus, the poem sexualises the corpse of Christ and homosexualises his life history, in sixtysix lines of free verse. Its title, ‘The Love that Dares to Speak Its Name’, is an inversion of Alfred Douglas’s famous line (later echoed in the title of Finnissy’s 1996 orchestral piece Speak Its Name!).20


Gregory Woods

Here again, in both the poem and its subsequent fate (Gay News was eventually found guilty of publishing a blasphemous libel), the question of the right to speak or the duty to remain silent is raised: the enforced privacy of the marginalised ‘personal’ (‘?!’) versus the open discourse of full society membership. The silencing of a poem which ends with the naïve line ‘the love that now forever dares to speak its name’ had its own clumsy ironies; but it served as a mere prelude to the battles to be fought, in the next two decades, over the relationship between ‘personal’ (‘?!’) morality and the body politic, within the context of the AIDS epidemic. In a letter to me (17 June 1992), Thom Gunn wrote, ‘I have found that the reviewers like reading about dead queers. Quite acceptable, that’. He had in mind, among other things, the rave reviews he was receiving for The Man With Night Sweats (1992), with its elegies for men who had died with AIDS, following the relative general indifference to the previous collection, The Passages of Joy (1982). Here, at last, were ‘personal’ (‘?!’) feelings the critics could stomach: not desire but loss. The figure of the tragic homosexual is so convenient: the poetry is in the pity. Gay literature, like its straight counterparts, is at its most censorable when addressing desire, desirability and sexual activity themselves; and these happen to be the crux of what is most likely to be regarded as definitively private and personal (‘?!’). Every published expression of homo-eroticism is a deliberate violation of this rule. The ruder, the more so. Lorca: ‘the sun sings in the navels / of boys who play under bridges’ (‘Ode to Walt Whitman’). Spender: ‘But the boy lying dead under the olive trees / Was too young and too silly / To have been notable to their [the guns’] important eye./ He was a better target for a kiss.’ (‘Ultima Ratio Regum’). Cocteau: ‘And how my autumn loved your spring!’ (‘To a Sleeping Friend’). Chubb: ‘My friends delighted in me and I in them. / We lay abed bestowing close kisses of comradeship’ (‘The Sun Spirit’). Genet (trans. Kirkup): ‘his milk / Thickens my throat like a long white flight of doves. / O, be always a rose, a pearl-dropping petal’ (‘A Song of Love’). Pasolini: ‘Going toward the Caracalla baths / young friends / on Rumi or Ducati bikes / with male modesty and male immodesty / indifferently hiding or revealing / in the warm folds of their trousers / the secret of their erections.’ (‘Toward the Caracalla Baths’). Ginsberg: ‘who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy’ (‘Howl’).21 Norse: the Gluteus Maximus Poems, including one beginning ‘Your ass has given me insomnia.’

‘My “personal themes”?!’


O’Hara on adolescents: ‘Such pimples! such hardons! such moody loves! / And thus they grew like giggling fir trees’ (‘Blocks’). Takahashi: count the taboos that are broken in the closing lines of his boisterous poem ‘Myself With a Motorcycle’: ‘My god eats Kentucky fried chicken, drinks Coca-Cola, / and from the dawn-colored slit of his beautiful ass he ejects shit.’ Count all the more in his 40-odd-page ‘Ode’ to the pleasures of cottaging and fellatio. Gunn: ‘Sweet things. Sweet things’ (‘Sweet Things’).22 Even Oscar Wilde, not particularly noted for his poetic range, writes in erotic tones as diverse as, on the one hand, his passages of wistful, classicist pederasty – He was a Grecian lad who, coming home With pulpy figs and wine from Sicily, Stood at his galley’s prow and let the foam Blow through his crisp brown curls unconsciously… – and (speaking of the Unconscious) moments of something much deeper, more self-interrogatory, perhaps even more proto-pre-Freudian – Each narrow cell in which we dwell Is a foul and dark latrine, And the fetid breath of living Death Chokes up each grated screen And all, but lust, is turned to dust In Humanity’s machine.23 There is a world of experience between the bookish Hellenism of the former and the semi-documentary expressionism of the latter; or between the private rooms of Magdalen College, Oxford, and the auto-panopticon of Reading Gaol. We hear echoes of the former in Symonds and Chubb, even perhaps in Takahashi; and of the latter in Genet.24 They resonate idealism and disappointment, concomitants of the mundane process of ageing. Above all, collectively, the Seventeen remind us of the relationship between desire and language, the rhythms of the tongue. Genet: ‘The word “balls” is a roundness in my mouth’.25 But isn’t eroticism the epitome of the purely personal (‘?!’) matter? Not if it puts you in prison, it’s not. Nor if it gets you attacked in the street. It is no more personal (‘?!’) than homophobia. Erotic poetry’s public expression is itself an argument against both the suppression of speech and the repression of desire. Neither the aesthetics nor the politics of the matter can be accepted as belonging behind closed doors. More familiar than Wilde’s eroticism to most readers and audiences are the cadences of his wit, whether recorded by friends who heard or invented


Gregory Woods

his table talk, or refined by his own pen and fixed in the scripts of his plays. Their tones are hard-edged, resistant to sentiment, often verging on a cynicism tinged with hurt. These would be recognisable even a century later as deriving from the mannerisms of Camp. There are echoes of them in Cocteau and O’Hara, but they are consciously avoided by Carpenter, Cavafy, and Gunn. Camp is an argot of resistance to the gagging orders imposed by societal homophobia. It makes fun of ‘normal’ emotional states, both effusive and stifled, and undercuts the common sense of tautology with uncommon paradox.26 I take the liberty of reading into Finnissy’s response to the Trebuchet interviewer not only irritation – he went on to ask, ‘Would a heterosexual composer only be considered to have “personal themes” that were underwritten by their sexuality?’ – but also something tonally akin to Edith Evans’s Lady Bracknell (‘A handbag?!’), haughty and horrified, but also somewhat baffled and vulnerable, even hurt, as if suddenly left behind by the new manners of the unmannered. It is one of those camp moments of nervous pearl-clutching as one struggles not to lose one’s sang froid. When the composer-who-is-gay has the temerity to highlight the word-that-is-homosexual, this is not the harping on a ‘personal theme’, as claimed, but an engagement with social history, aesthetic tradition and a continuity of political development. He makes his point with an exemplary effusion of dismay. It brings me out in horrified laughter. All of the Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets chosen by Finnissy write on the universal theme of love; and on the universal theme of desire; and on the universal theme of the thwarting of love; and on the universal theme of loss. It is not because they are Homosexual that these are also personal (‘?!’) themes, but, I suppose, because they are human. Listed by name as a line of descent, even in counter-chronological order, they amount to a cultural genealogy down which a heritage of resistance has been bequeathed, much of it taking shape as a public struggle for the right to privacy – that is, for the right to be taken utterly for granted. Pace Symonds, some future Ithocles might comfortably ask one day, who cares what men will say, Lysander, if we love? Re-reading the Seventeen for the purposes of this essay, I came across three trivial connections I had not known before. Allen Ginsberg was among the individuals Pier Paolo Pasolini originally approached to play Jesus in The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Pasolini and James Kirkup, who translated him, first met when Pasolini picked Kirkup up at Roma Termini station. Kirkup met Mutsuo Takahashi in 1963 but then kept his distance because he felt he was going to fall in love with him… This string of mininarratives may sound like ‘mere’ gossip – or ‘tittle-tattle’, as the press like to put it – but gossip has been one of our key ways of maintaining the narratives of our own suppressed history as homosexual people. It is the samizdat account of the networks which enable our subcultural cohesion. We make our own retrospective genealogies of gay culture, connecting ourselves with previous generations of our sort, to make sense of a cultural history, both terrifying and life-enhancing, that generally goes unwritten, but also to enjoin a sense of familial heritage, none the weaker for being invented to order. I

‘My “personal themes”?!’


have spoken elsewhere of how such networks have been read and re-articulated, on the one hand, as evidence of subversive conspiracy; or, on the contrary, as defensive solidarity and creative collaboration.27 Every supposedly personal (‘?!’) link contributes to the public presence of homosexuality as a cohesive social force which cannot simply be amputated by those who imagine doing so. Even if we, we LGBT people, wanted to infiltrate society we could not, since we already exist, intimately, within it. Whether we assert our sameness or our difference, we do so in symbiosis with the object of comparison.

Notes 1 Neil Miller, Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present (London: Vintage, 1995), p. 13. 2 Stephen Coote (ed.), The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse (London: Allen Lane, 1983). 3 Alan Hollinghurst, ‘The Unspeakable Spoken’, Times Literary Supplement, 22 April 1983, p. 397. 4 Ian Pace, ‘The Individual Chapters of The History of Photography in Sound’, in Michael Finnissy, The History of Photography in Sound (Doddington, Cambridgeshire: Métier Records, 2013), p. 62. 5 Merlin Holland and Rupert Hart-Davis (eds.), The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde (London: Fourth Estate, 2000), p. 1019. 6 The term ‘Uranian’ later became associated with same-sex paedophilia, in part because Timothy d’Arch Smith used it – in preference to three alternatives, ‘homosexual’, ‘paederast’ and even ‘calamite’ – in his book Love in Earnest, even though he did so to distinguish his poets from paedophiles as well as adultloving adult homosexuals. See d’Arch Smith, Love in Earnest: Some Notes on the Lives and Writings of the English ‘Uranian’ Poets from 1889 to 1930 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970), pp. xix–xxii. 7 Federico García Lorca, Poet in New York (London: Penguin, 1990), pp. 160–3. 8 Edmund White, Genet (London: Chatto & Windus, 1993), p. 610. 9 For Pasolini, the police deserved more support than the students, for ‘Those cops were the sons of a poor subproletariat, disinherited by bourgeois society within the police force’. Pasolini issued a tract called Il PCI ai giovani!! expressing his sentiments. See Enzo Siciliano, Pasolini, translated John Shepley with introduction by Paul Bailey (London: Bloomsbury, 1987), pp. 325–8, cited in Ian Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013), p. 150 n. 22, available online at (accessed 28 June 2018). 10 Siciliano, Pasolini, pp. 375–6; Barth David Schwartz, Pasolini Requiem (New York: Pantheon, 1992), p. 473. 11 Michael Finnissy, ‘I have not gone out of my way to mythologise myself, but… [Michael Finnissy].’, Trebuchet Magazine, 3 February 2013, 6 January 2018, at (accessed 28 June 2018). 12 Neil Bartlett, Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr Oscar Wilde (London: Penguin, 1993), p. 98. 13 Of course, Finnissy is not composing music about such matters. As he says in the same interview, ‘remember I am trying to combine human and abstract! I write music NOT literature’.

178 14 15 16 17

18 19 20

21 22

23 24

25 26 27

Gregory Woods Coote, The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, p. 218. Bartlett, Who Was That Man?, p. 93. Coote, The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, pp. 263–4. H. Montgomery Hyde, The Trials of Oscar Wilde (London: William Hodge, 1948), pp. 235–6. When asked at his trial what was meant by ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, Oscar Wilde replied with his famous peroration on the idealised, Socratic love of an older man for a younger; but the poem itself does not do this. The full text of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 can be found at: www.legislation. (accessed 1 July 2018). Miller, Out of the Past, pp. 503–9. ‘The Love that Dares to Speak its Name’ appears in the contents list of The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, but when you turn to the page in question you find only a note saying, ‘Gay News was successfully prosecuted for blasphemous libel on publishing this poem. It therefore remains unavailable to the British public’: Coote, The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, p. 328. The poem is now easily found via internet search engines. Hence the 1958 obscenity trial. The ‘joy’ was what caused the offence. Lorca, Poet in New York, p. 159; Stephen Spender, Selected Poems 1928–1985 (London: Faber, 1985), p. 69; Cocteau in Coote, The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, p. 295; Chubb in ibid. pp. 303–4; Genet in James Kirkup, Refusal to Conform: Last and First Poems (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), pp.  117–120; Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roman Poems. San Francisco: City Lights, 1986), p. 43; Allen Ginsberg, Collected Poems 1947–1980. (London: Viking, 1985), p. 128; Harold Norse, Carnivorous Saint: Gay Poems 1941–1976 (San Francisco, CA: Gay Sunshine, 1977), p. 42; Frank O’Hara, Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 1991), p. 47; Mutsuo Takahashi, A Bunch of Keys (Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984), pp. 95, 27–73. Thom Gunn, The Passages of Joy (London: Faber, 1982), p. 27. Oscar Wilde, Complete Works of Oscar Wilde (London: Collins, 1994), pp. 797, 897. Ralph Chubb was and remains the hardest of the Seventeen to track down. Timothy d’Arch Smith had included an essay on him, as an appendix, in his 1970 book on the Uranian poets; and Coote’s anthology included three quite long extracts from much longer poems. On the evidence thus provided, his work seems ponderously expansive in its affirmation and analysis of ephebophile desire. See d’Arch Smith, Love in Earnest, pp. 219–34. The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse includes excerpts from The Book of God’s Madness, Song of My Soul and The Sun Spirit, amounting to five pages in all: Coote, The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, pp. 299–304. ‘Le mot “couilles” est une rondeur dans ma bouche.’; Jean Genet, Journal du voleur (Paris: Gallimard, 1949), pp. 261–2. Gregory Woods, Mqy I Say Nothing (Manchester: Carcanet, 1998), pp. 375–89. Gregory Woods, Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2016), pp. 1–30.

Bibliography Bartlett, Neil. Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr Oscar Wilde. London: Penguin, 1993. Carpenter, Edward. Towards Democracy. London: Gay Men’s Press, 1985. Coote, Stephen. The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse. London: Allen Lane, 1983.

‘My “personal themes”?!’


d’Arch Smith, Timothy. Love in Earnest: Some Notes on the Lives and Writings of the English ‘Uranian’ Poets from 1889 to 1930. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970. Finnissy, Michael. “I have not gone out of my way to mythologise myself, but… [Michael Finnissy].” Trebuchet Magazine, 3 February 2013, 6 Jan. 2018, at www. (accessed 6 January 2018). Genet, Jean. Journal du voleur. Paris: Gallimard, 1949. Ginsberg, Allen. Collected Poems 1947–1980. London: Viking, 1985. Gunn, Thom. The Man With Night Sweats. London: Faber, 1992. Gunn, Thom. The Passages of Joy. London: Faber, 1982. Holland, Merlin; and Hart-Davis, Rupert, eds. The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde. London: Fourth Estate, 2000. Hollinghurst, Alan. ‘The Unspeakable Spoken’, Times Literary Supplement, 22 April 1983, p. 397. Hyde, H. Montgomery. The Trials of Oscar Wilde. London: William Hodge, 1948. Kirkup, James. Refusal to Conform: Last and First Poems. London: Oxford University Press, 1963. Lorca, Federico García. Poet in New York. London: Penguin, 1990. Miller, Neil. Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. London: Vintage, 1995. Norse, Harold. Carnivorous Saint: Gay Poems 1941–1976. San Francisco, CA: Gay Sunshine, 1977. O’Hara, Frank. Selected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet, 1991. Pace, Ian. ‘The Individual Chapters of The History of Photography in Sound’, in Michael Finnissy, The History of Photography in Sound (Doddington, Cambridgeshire: Métier Records, 2013), p. 62. Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Roman Poems. San Francisco, CA: City Lights, 1986. Schwartz, Barth David. Pasolini Requiem. New York: Pantheon, 1992. Siciliano, Enzo. Pasolini. London: Bloomsbury, 1987. Spender, Stephen. Selected Poems 1928–1985. London: Faber, 1985. Takahashi, Mutsuo. A Bunch of Keys. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984. White, Edmund. Genet. London: Chatto & Windus, 1993. Wilde, Oscar. Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. London: Collins, 1994. Woods, Gregory. Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2016. Woods, Gregory. May I Say Nothing. Manchester: Carcanet, 1998.


Finnissy’s voices James Weeks

Is not song that arena where the voice is so spectacularly displayed, fuelled by so many breathless propulsions, fantasies, sexualities, and dreams?… The singer … come[s] to occupy a space of messianic figuring, embodying all that may drive us beyond ourselves, to incite metaphysical, social, and erotic gathering. Brandon LaBelle, Lexicon of the Mouth.1

The human voice has a central place in Michael Finnissy’s work. Our first image of him may be that of a pianist-composer (see Chapters 3, 5 and 12 for  more perspectives on Finnissy’s work as a pianist-composer and a concert  pianist) – yet arguably it is not the piano but the voice which lies closest to the heart of his compositional identity. ‘If you listen to my earliest works’, he has said, ‘the voice (in its melodic rather than declamatory aspect) has always been paramount’,2 and Christopher Fox, writing on Finnissy’s vocal music in the 1997 volume Uncommon Ground,3 points out that not only did roughly a third of his works up to that point involve singers – an unusually high proportion for contemporary composers – but that many of his instrumental works too are derived or transcribed from vocal music, including the Verdi Transcriptions, the Gershwin Arrangements, the Obrecht Motetten and much of the music based on folk and non-Western source materials.4 As Finnissy attests, part of the voice’s significance to him lies in its tendency to melody: his is an art of line, of connective lyric movement spun out over a breath.5 But it also lies in the voice’s inextricably personal nature, its tendency to subjectivity – a ‘body trying to be a subject’ as LaBelle describes it6 – emerging from inside us into the world around, creating and projecting us as selves, and searching for connection with others. The prevailing humanism of Finnissy’s art – confessional, connective, questing, expressively direct and emotionally demonstrative – finds in the voice its primal vehicle; his work manifests across the decades an abiding concern with the complex nature of this most bodily, most personal of instruments – what it is to give voice, to vocalise, to speak or sing in different contexts and different ways, private or public, as an individual or as part of a collective.

Finnissy’s voices


Who, then, are Finnissy’s voices, and what defines them? My intention in this chapter is to probe the above generalisations a little more deeply and investigate the nature and nuances of Finnissian vocality in two vocal ensemble works written thirty-five years apart: Tom Fool’s Wooing (1975–8, rev. 2015) and Gesualdo: Libro Sesto (2012–13).7 I choose these pieces out of the dozens of possible examples not only from personal familiarity8 but also because the liminal nature of the vocal ensemble – balanced ambiguously (indeed, ‘equivocally’) between the soloistic and the choral – presents a particularly rich site for the exploration of different modes of voicing, of the construction of vocal subjectivities and their performance. It will be seen that Finnissy fully exploits the medium’s polysemic vocal potential in both of these works; even so they offer only a snapshot of the vast and stillexpanding range of Finnissian vocality as it continues to engage with an everwidening field of vocal traditions (professional and amateur, classical and folk, Western and non-Western) and repertoires. Nevertheless, the extreme virtuosity of these pieces betokens a composer unrestricted by pragmatism and able to write freely: thus, a particularly fertile source of insight into Finnissy’s relationship to the voice.

Tom Fool’s Wooing: voices as archetypes, voices as bodies Tom Fool’s Wooing, for fourteen solo voices (with two singers doubling on congas) was written between 1975 and 1978 for the John Alldis Choir, who had previously performed Finnissy’s first vocal ensemble work Cipriano (1974) to great acclaim.9 Both works have a relationship to the theatre, but whereas Cipriano is a straightforwardly dramatic work, with a named protagonist sung by a solo tenor and a clear narrative arc, Tom Fool frames its central theatrical section (a setting of an English Mummer’s Play) between two more abstract tableaux vivants. The theme of the work is marriage and the joys of love: the outer panels create a montage of texts about amorous desire and courtship from various folk sources (Romanian, Greek, Turkish) while two singers (mezzo and tenor soloists) assume the roles of Bride and Groom, singing passages from Spenser’s Epithalamion. The opening section, featuring dialogues between onstage and offstage female voices, seems to be set just prior to the wedding itself, with its presentation of groups first of women then of men, though there is no explicit sequence of events, and a literal marriage ceremony is not depicted. Instead, in the central panel, Finnissy replaces it with an astonishing coup-de-théâtre: the English Mummer’s Play, a ridiculous burlesque which casts the music abruptly out of its erotic reverie and into a parodical ‘real world’, reminiscent of the appearance of the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After a somewhat perfunctory resolution to this absurd action, the music stages a swift cinematic dissolve into a revolving, starry universe of quiet, blissful consummation in which the two solo singers are lulled by the other voices, who gradually become more distant and disperse in their male and female groups to end the work.


James Weeks

Tom Fool was not performed on its initial completion; instead it waited almost forty years for a premiere in 2016, for which occasion Finnissy chose to rewrite the Mummer’s Play completely, replacing its Maxwell Daviesesque expressionist parody with an idiom of simple homorhythmic textures accompanied by crude drum patterns. Thus one of the most striking features of the work is the startling change of stylistic, dramatic and vocal registers at the appearance of this shockingly pared-down (though far from simple) mummer’s music, a substitution all the more disorientating coming between music of almost unprecedentedly transcendental vocalism: the outer sections of Tom Fool’s Wooing are a ne plus ultra of Finnissy’s 1970s vocal writing, presenting stupendous musical and technical challenges almost unmatched in the vocal ensemble repertory. Demanding as it may be, much of the vocality of Tom Fool’s Wooing is rooted in fundamental vocal archetypes, connected with the work’s similarly archetypal themes of love, courtship and coupling. It begins with a group of female voices calling out singly across imaginary vast distances (represented by a variety of onstage and offstage placements) after the manner of Swedish kulning (cattle-calling): strong, focused, extremely high sounds whose rhythmic and pitch contours are designed to catch the attention and identify the caller (Ex. 7.1). This is the primary function of the voice, which, according to

Ex. 7.1 Finnissy, Tom Fool’s Wooing (1975–8, rev. c. 2015), opening. © Universal Edition 1979.

Finnissy’s voices


Brandon LaBelle, ‘operates as an essential force that animates the other to bring him or her closer to me, while also prompting my own […] I speak in order to locate myself near you’.10 The first act performed in Tom Fool is thus one of connecting. The sopranos call out into the void to establish contact, no more: one can hear these initial vocalisations as more like calls than melodies, however ornate and spectacular they may be. So before there is music, there is a sounding-out of voices, bringing them together; gradually dialogues begin to emerge as more singers come onstage, and the voices are slowly becalmed and intertwined until they reach together a moment of harmony and rest. At that exact moment the male voices enter shouting, followed almost immediately by the mezzo soprano (the bride). With the whole company met, the mezzo sings an aria announcing the dawning of the marriage day, embedded in ecstatic wordless vocalisations from the chorus, before the scene dissolves and the drums enter, foreshadowing the Mummer’s Play. The whole first panel, then, enacts an arrival: a movement from far-and-dispersed to near-and-together. These ideas of dialogue, of coming into harmonious relation with another, from one, to two, to many, inform the piece on every level; indeed, it could be said that the piece proceeds by staging a series of dialogues or ritual communications between individuals and groups. The most overt staging follows in the form of the Mummer’s Play. This too takes the form of a series of dialogues and pits male and female groups against each other in humorous dispute. Following the drama’s resolution, the third panel opens with all fourteen voices together for the first time in the piece. This extraordinary, densely luxuriant texture frames a lyrical duet for the two lovers, their voices in audibly harmonious relation as they sing modal rather than chromatic material for the only time in the whole piece. They share the same text (Spenser again), entwining round each other’s parts; sometimes their melodies pull apart, other times they merge into one line. Around them floats the wordless chorus, both male and female, supporting and cushioning the lovers with sound right across the entire human vocal spectrum from very low to very high, in a moment of supreme conjunction. A final staged dialogue then occurs as the lovers disentangle, first mezzo then tenor singing enraptured solos while the chorus bifurcates into a slow suspended texture for the women and gruff, sotto voce interjections for the men. This closing image dies away, and the work is over. Viewing Tom Fool’s Wooing as a sequence of staged dialogues seems apt, for the work references throughout ideas of drama, rite and ceremony, placing the personal aspect of marriage (the two lovers) within its larger ritual and societal context (the chorus) in a similar way to Stravinsky’s Les Noces (which it closely echoes, dramaturgically if not musically). These archetypal human relations are often articulated by similarly archetypal vocal tropes: the opening’s calling-out, as has been shown, but also the use of shouted exclamation, hymn-singing (which appears at the end of the Mummer’s Play) and the lyrical writing which dominates the lovers’ roles. But an invocation


James Weeks

of archetypes is insufficient to account for the spectacular vocal display from both soloists and chorus which pervades the outer panels of the work and constitutes its most remarkable feature. In seeking to understand the place of this ostentatiously excessive vocality within the work’s aesthetic conception one can again make use of the idea of staging, for it is only a short leap from considering the voice as a connective vibration leading from inside the body to outside, to recognising the role of the voice in the staging of our subjectivity. That is, one may view the voice itself as a stage on which the subject appears, a stage on which many different performances can take place, and one on which the subject can play many different roles. This is particularly clear when considering what it is to sing rather than speak. Firstly, it is a raising of the voice (literally and figuratively), an expressive intensification through its focusing of the voice onto one pitch: As a special sounding, singing draws the energies of the body outward, to fill the chest, to ring the mouth, and to flood the nasal cavity with vibration. The entire body seems to stand up, resounding with tonality, whether real or imagined, tuned or not.11 If the voice stages the subject then singing may be said further to stage the voice, so that it takes on a special aura. To sing is to dramatise, to stage, to take on a role beyond that of ordinary spoken communication. The difference is physical: singing is the product of a special action, more focused than that of speech, that has a special effect on the body, that of resonance. LaBelle emphasises above some of the bodily vectors involved – the breath filling the chest, the vocal chords vibrating and producing sound, the sound resonating through the cavities in the head – until, as he says, the entire body seems to stand up, tuned-in to the sung frequency. Finnissy’s conception of the voice in Tom Fool’s Wooing, rooted as we have seen in notions of connecting, communicating and bringing us into relation with others, is also deeply engaged with the physicality of its production. Indeed, what is perhaps most remarkable about Finnissy’s construction of vocality here is the way that it explicitly embodies the voice, locating it within the singer’s entire body and articulating a radical physical performativity without which an understanding of this work as a sort of disembodied ‘music’ is incomplete. In Tom Fool, song – that is, a musico-poetic giving-voice – is reconnected with singing as a bodily act: this is certainly to a great extent music about singing, but further, singing itself is constituted here as the physical performance of being-human. Finnissy’s approach to embodying his voices is to set up extreme performative situations that uncover one or another aspect of the voice’s physicality. The extremities at play are obvious: here, vocal display becomes a stripping-naked, a revealing of the flesh and blood in the sound; at times in Tom Fool this becomes an almost improper, and certainly dangerous, act – the singer as athlete, as gymnast, as daredevil. This is a form of staging that leads us back inwards,

Finnissy’s voices


towards the inner mechanics of sound production, now revealed as fantastic physical exhibition. In this display, all aspects of vocal production are on show. To begin with, the raw material for the voice is breath, which is not customarily notated but is of course implied: so the first action of Tom Fool is the drawing of a breath to produce the required ‘forceful, strong’ sound. We are constantly aware of breath in Tom Fool – on the pauses on notes (how long can the singer hold?), in the pauses between the notes, and most obviously in the lengths of phrases. The singer’s breath control is audibly pushed to the limit: breathing itself becomes a topic of the music. Moving to the notes themselves, the most obvious aspect to Finnissy’s writing in the outer sections is the constant, rapid traversal of the range between low and high, often giving the sensation of jumping or leaping, and produced by tensing and relaxing the vocal chords to change the pitch, a muscular flexing whose physicality is here foregrounded by the sheer extremity of the writing. At the opening of the piece this merges with the affective and even programmatic intentions of the passage: a statement of presence, and the associations of the mating display, complete with the quivering trills of sexual excitement. A subtler configuration of similar ideas can be seen at the first entry of the mezzo-soprano, the bride. Ex. 7.2 shows the start of a gradual crescendo up to fff; the mezzo’s material is essentially that of the chorus, but she sings a little louder, and has text, where the chorus has none – in other words, they have singing, but she has song. We can see the same virtuosic movement across the vocal range as earlier, but now the dynamic is pp for the chorus and mp for the mezzo, so the element of display is contained, or restrained. Instead, this muscular flexing, the singers delicately touching each note before moving swiftly to the next, feels more like a waking, a stretching, a toning-up or sensitising towards a state of physical hyper-awakeness, an association heightened by the chorus’ lack of text: it is pure voice, and purely physical vocality. The mezzo’s text places her at one remove from this fully embodied state, until the music gets louder and louder and her words become further spaced apart. As the music gets louder, the air pressure across the vocal chords increases to produce more volume, bodily effort becomes more intense and things quite literally heat up. As for breathing, across the five pages of this passage there are no rests at all in any part apart from tiny gasps for the mezzo, so here Finnissy has evoked the mounting erotic excitement of the passage yet further by literally making his singers breathless. Such a foregrounding of the singers’ physical presences also reveals what Roland Barthes famously described as the ‘grain of the voice’: ‘the body in the voice as it sings’.12 Although for Barthes the voice’s grain is bound up with its articulation of text, which is generally underemphasised or entirely absent in the outer sections of Tom Fool, the physicality of the voice – its strains, pressures, muscular flexes, registral breaks and snatched breaths, the entire mechanism under thrilling duress – closely intersects Barthes’ statement that ‘I am determined to listen to my relation with the body of the


James Weeks

Ex. 7.2 Finnissy, Tom Fool’s Wooing, from first section. © Universal Edition 1979.

man or woman singing or playing and that relationship is erotic’.13 It could be objected that the exorbitant difficulty of the music as notated, both in terms of pitching and rhythm, militates against a singer being able fully to embody such physicality – is there not too much to think about? Certainly this too-muchness, this informational excess, is a feature of both Finnissy and Ferneyhough in this era: rather than invoking a straightforward physicality, the sense of vocal embodiment in Tom Fool coexists in a tension with other impulses driving the work, impulses concerning not only the sounding result as conventionally construed but also the act of notation, the manipulation

Finnissy’s voices


and permutation of compositional materials and even the physicality of the act of writing down. The music sets up, exists within, and draws its strength from these tensions, which we as listeners and performers alike are asked to negotiate. In Tom Fool, the physical impulse to make the sound is entrammelled within the intricate web of the notation. This may well at times involve the singer having to let go of the pitches in order to achieve the physical and affective presence of the sound, but whatever the compromises necessitated, the challenging notes and rhythms ultimately serve the singers in a positive way: the notation acts for them as a focus for the physical geometry required, a precision tuning-in of the vocal apparatus that gives focus, clarity and tautness to the final result, an expressive charge intensified by the extremity of the pressures that give rise to it. Tom Fool’s Wooing demonstrates a unique capturing of the physicality of vocal performance within the frame of notationally hyper-detailed, formal concert work. We might even consider the piece as a kind of ‘vocal ballet’ in which the voice is choreographed by the notation, the dance taking place within the vocal apparatus and compacted into the bodies of the singers themselves. At least, it has now been shown that Finnissy’s voices are not merely images of the human but real Bodies; that the essence of Finnissian vocality is located absolutely inside the body and is bound up in the performance of that bodiliness. But whose bodies are they? Tom Fool’s Wooing, for all its physical human presence, leaves us only with archetypes – the lovers, the wedding chorus, the buffoonish characters of the Mummer’s Play. To explore the question of subjectivity more deeply it is necessary to turn to a more recent work in which the performance of the self is articulated in more complex and subtle ways.

Gesualdo: Libro Sesto: the voice and the self I’m aware that my work is an uncomfortable, often by design, synthesis of many things, stemming from often very diverse forces, but they’re unified by this sexual thrust. Michael Finnissy in conversation with Christopher Fox and Ian Pace, 1996.14 To whom do these voices and these bodies belong? They are always someone’s. If there is an element of abstraction to the human ‘types’ of Tom Fool’s Wooing, the singers are nevertheless given some vital attributes: they are gendered, and above all they are sexualised, particularly the lovers, whose music and its physical performance are inescapably erotic. The work, as we have seen, stages a coming-together, from individuals to couples or larger groups; the final stages (from Fig. 24 in the score onwards), with their grunted male jabs and ecstatic female cries over the mezzo’s triumphant ‘For lo! the wishèd day is come at last’ is about as graphic a depiction of sexual intercourse as could be imagined, short of literally miming the act itself. As


James Weeks

Finnissy provocatively implies, the sexual – in its broadest sense – lies at the root of his work, as, one might suggest, it lies at the root of all human interaction, the basis of our desires, motivations, and impulses towards the social. All Finnissy’s works, but particularly his vocal works, involve themselves more or less explicitly in an exploration of this essential human condition. Finnissy’s voices are not only bodies but someone’s bodies, placed in relation to these cardinal questions through which they interrogate their own humanity.15 As we have seen, it is the embodied voice which performs this subjectivity, as LaBelle argues: it is my view that the voice is also a full body, always already a voice subject, rich with intentions and meanings; sexed and gendered, classed and raced, accented, situated, and inflected by the intensities of numerous markings and their performance (inscriptions, erasures, recitals…). I would argue that the voice is always identified (though not always identifiable); it is flexed by the body, by the subject in all its complicated vitality. Someone (or something) speaks to me, and it is not the voice I hear, but rather the body, the subject; not a disembodied intensity, a speech without body, but as someone that enters, intrudes, demands, or requests, and that also seeks.16 In Cipriano (1974) the embodied, sexualised nature of the ‘voice subject’ is woven deeply into the thematics of the work, which explores a conflict between sexual abstinence in the service of God and the sinfulness of carnality. The text was collated by Finnissy from Calderón de la Barca’s play El Mágico Prodigioso (1637), and projects us into a dramatic confrontation between St Cyprian (played by a solo tenor) and a Demon, who tempts him to give into fantasies of the flesh and yield to its offers of ‘the wisdom of the old world, sweet oblivion of all thought, and the love of beautiful women’. At the beginning of the work Cyprian is alone on stage, bravely resisting his own carnal desires by holding himself chaste within a single tone (the middle C on which he chants, like a charm against evil), deaf to dialogue, to encounter, to flex, to movement or dance. Both he and the singer playing him are held in an unnatural tension, as physical as it is spiritual, against the pressures and pleasures of being a body. The Demon, played by the rest of the ensemble, begins offstage (as it were disembodied, ironically no more than a figment of his imagination), shouting, grunting, flexing, writhing about in an excess of bodiliness, forcing Cyprian to redouble his will. As the hallucinatory temptations intensify, the singers join Cyprian on the stage one by one, led by a vision of female love, Justina, sung to music of lyrical suppleness by the mezzo soprano. At the end of Finnissy’s scena Cyprian does seem finally to overcome the demon’s temptations as the chorus finally dissolves, turning their backs on him. But Cyprian’s final statements of resolution and faith ring ambiguously into the emptiness: as he dedicates his body to God

Finnissy’s voices


rather than the pleasures of the flesh, his voice breaks and lashes out, his final word – cuerpo (‘body’) – screamed into the silent abyss. This last word becomes, as it were, the event-horizon of his agony, as Cyprian names that which truly torments him; in this fully embodied vocal act, Cyprian acknowledges and accepts his yearning for the corporeal in the abstinence that must now be his lot. In Cipriano Finnissy’s strategy is devastatingly clear, the musical contrast between Cyprian’s denial of the body and the Demon’s extravagantly virtuosic fleshliness pushed to extremes in creating this supremely dramatic scene. But even in less explicitly sexualised contexts the vocal performance of subjectivity is inextricable from the instantiation of bodily presence: there is always someone who ‘enters, intrudes, demands, requests…seeks’. One of the most interesting aspects of much of Finnissy’s music on religious themes, for instance, is the sense that the true subject is the worshippers and their desire to come together, to congregate in prayer, rather than any doctrine they may be expressing. This Church (2001–3, awaiting revision) is a celebration of community written for members of that community to perform; other works such as Marriage (2008) and Christening (2007) invoke rites of passage which involve the tying of the individual into union with another, or into a community. Seven Sacred Motets (1991) ‘stages’ twelfth-century music through an interlocked cycle of biblical narratives and hymns, identifying ‘with the ideas and character of another century in order to explore oneself and the contemporary world’.17 Once again we are watching people singing together, forming a congregation of believers: these believers in turn identify with, relate themselves to, episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary that deal with her joy at her conception, her relationship with her son, and the grieving community of disciples around the foot of the Cross. The texts of the hymns that surround these narratives are also gendered, directed towards Mary, the supreme icon of femininity, in prayers for intercession and for pregnant women. Finnissy’s music is likewise attentive to gender: male and female voices take turns to articulate chant and drone, but overall the cycle is weighted towards female voices, whose florid, soaring solo lines, particularly in the final Hildegard setting, are perhaps the defining musical image of the work. Thus a work ostensibly concerned with sacred doctrine can be seen to be rooted in a deeper articulation of Finnissy’s humanism, an abiding concern  for those who come together to express such doctrine, their identity, and their motivations for doing so. The subtle exploration of gender through the cycle shows Finnissy as a composer particularly sensitive to identity, to voices that are ‘sexed and gendered, classed and raced, accented, situated’; thirty-five years after the straightforward dramatic oppositions of Cipriano and the time-honoured sexual archetypes of Tom Fool’s Wooing, he was to  revisit the subjects of sexuality, identity and desire in a vocal ensemble work of richer and more multi-layered depths, Gesualdo: Libro Sesto (2012–13).


James Weeks

Finnissy’s programme note for the work is succinct but revealing: ‘Gesualdo’s sixth book of Madrigals provides a source for this piece, the texts and a few fragments of his music. Beyond that the fantasies are mine: about music, about love and death, about the voice.’18 The note explicitly invites us (as if Gesualdo’s texts weren’t explicit enough) to consider the work in terms of ‘fantasies’, that is, acts of the unloosed imagination, dreams of the improbable or impossible, reveries of desire in which music, love, death and vocality are inextricably entwined. The piece is in seven untitled movements, each of them re-setting a text from Gesualdo’s last book of madrigals for one or another combination of eight solo vocalists, thus: I II III IV V VI

(Se la mia morte brami) (Volan quasi farfalle) (Beltà, poi che t’assenti) (Quel “no” crudel) (Alme d’Amor rubelle) (Resta di darmi noia)


(Al mio gioir)

two trios, ATB-ATB two duos, SS-BB quartet, AATT duo, SS tutti, SSAATTBB quintet, SAATB, with S and T emerging as soloists tutti, SSAATTBB

Gesualdo: Libro Sesto, written for EXAUDI, marks a late return to virtuoso vocal ensemble writing, and in several movements (II, III and IV particularly) we see a similar type of extreme linear vocal gymnastics to that of Tom Fool, though now reconfigured as ‘histrionic’ display in the service of expressions of pained love. Elsewhere a much wider range of materials is explored, moving from the ‘delicious anguish’ of Gesualdan chromatic polyphony (I and VI) to soloistic fireworks (the latter half of VI), and in the two tutti movements an eerie chordal stasis, one rising inexorably from ppppp to ffff!, the other juxtaposing emphatic fff chords with mysterious, soft, wave-like antiphonal exchanges between quartets of singers. Whilst ostensibly a set of madrigals the tone is frequently operatic and latently scenic (or again, ‘staged’), in the manner of Monteverdi’s later books rather than those of Gesualdo. Finnissy himself sees a comparison between these madrigals and the later dramatic Monteverdi ‘in their expressionist ardour…but in much darker, and more lethally volatile, more Gothick, colours’.19 Indeed, the cycle can be viewed as presenting a conflation or combination of genres and dramatic registers between a cappella late-Renaissance madrigal and opera. The singers are variously members of a chorus, slightly more autonomous consort voices, and fully autonomous soloists, and often two of these at the same time (the pairs of soloistic voices in II and III, for instance). This fluidity of genre, register and ‘casting’ is significant in opening up the work’s play of subjectivity and identity far beyond traditional madrigal conventions. Rather than an archaic and inherently artificial texture of anonymous multiple voices under strict contrapuntal jurisdiction, all articulating the same subjective, amorous text and frequently personifying

Finnissy’s voices


indiscriminately male and female characters, madrigalianism is presented here as a site of subjective ambiguity and multiplicity, moving in and out of, and playing with, these conventions at will. In this respect of course Finnissy is invoking the later history of the madrigal, which exhibits very similar tensions between artifice and dramatic realism in the works of seconda pratica composers, particularly the Monteverdi of Books V–VIII: by reaching back to this liminal moment in musical history and poising his cycle right on the representational threshold, Finnissy is able to lead us into a richly ambiguous world, where roleplay, masquerade and cross-dressing abound, a mixed quartet of soloists can lament the same lover, and a pair of sopranos proclaim triumph over a pair of scarlet lips. In the light of this, the choice of Gesualdo as source text is intriguing and significant. If so much of the work’s representational ethos points towards the later Monteverdi, why use Gesualdo’s last Book as a basis? As a madrigalist, Gesualdo faces in a quite different direction to Monteverdi: conceptually his music remains more or less squarely within madrigalian conventions and is scarcely concerned with dramatic (that is, theatrical or realistic) representation, instead expressing its avant-gardism through the exploration of extreme chromaticism and a striking rhetorical style based on the stark juxtaposition of radically opposing emotional states and musical materials. Coupled with the well-worn biographical tales of uxoricide, sexual ambiguity and mental instability,20 what has been most fascinating to composers and listeners of the modern age has been the image of Gesualdo’s music as expressively transgressive, manifesting a complex psychology of sexuality and desire through musically exaggerated states of psychic extremity (joy, grief, love, premonition of death) and their unsettling mingling. This modern reading of Gesualdo’s late madrigals owes perhaps more than we can know to our inherited contemporary notions of psychology and to late Romantic and Expressionist movements in the arts, and it is nigh-on impossible to gauge from the music itself to what extent the emotional content is intended sincerely rather than as contrived histrionics (in this respect again Gesualdo would seem to differ from Monteverdi);21 nonetheless it is this image of Gesualdo that seems to lie behind the searing expressive temperature of Finnissy’s set, its own tendency to ‘lethally volatile…Gothick’ extremes and stylistic excess. ‘The melancholia is “pathological”, the joy a kind of hysteria. The piece is, again, a kind of exorcism (saving myself from visiting a psychotherapist!)’, he observes.22 The erotic, hyper-charged fantasies of the cycle are fuelled and given licence by Gesualdo’s lead; nevertheless, they are Finnissy’s own. Finnissy adopts the seven madrigal texts in their entirety exactly as they appear in Gesualdo’s book (the texts are anonymous and most probably self-penned); the use of Gesualdo’s musical material is altogether more sparing and often hard to identify. There are moments of near-quotation – some of the basses’ motifs in II, and the declamatory chordal openings to III and VI – and I and VI feature passages of faintly Renaissance-sounding modal counterpoint, though here the relation to Gesualdo’s actual music is in fact


James Weeks

more distant. More important than quotation or stylistic referencing appears to be the general principle of juxtaposing oppositions: Gesualdo’s tendency to switch constantly between chordal and contrapuntal sections is writ large across the cycle in the extreme opposition of stark homophony and more or less dense polyphony, both within movements (III and VI feature both) and between them (II and IV are entirely polyphonic, V and VII entirely homophonic). A further Gesualdan opposition exploited throughout is that between modality and chromaticism. These are occasionally directly superimposed as distinct ‘types’ – as in I, where the lower trio’s gently wandering modalism is impinged on and ‘spoiled’ by chromatic alterations in the upper trio – and in the latter half of VI, where the passionate, chromatic solo lines of tenor and soprano are underpinned by a single, held modal sonority. More often, however, the opposition of modality and chromaticism is integrated into the overall harmonic practice through the use of semitonal shifts away from modal sonorities: the overall harmony of I (that is, mixing together the two trios) demonstrates this, as do the closing bars of III and particularly the homophonic tutti movements, V and VII, many of whose chords are modal (often triadic) sonorities with one note semitonally displaced. Thus Finnissy adopts and develops Gesualdo’s harmonic and textural strategies, and the expressive principles underlying them, in different directions within the work. But his relationship with Gesualdo is, as we have seen, not the whole story. Even more striking a feature of the piece is the use of the voices themselves: the ever-shifting roles, the extreme juxtapositions of vocal manner, the provocative, abnormal combinations of voices within textures. VI, for example, begins as the most stylistically Gesualdan of the set, the five voices singing together in a chromatically-twisted chordal texture very similar to Gesualdo’s own setting of the same text. Yet even in the first bar something is wrong. The tenor is far too high in the chord, perched on a top A, above both alto and even the soprano parts. The chord is unbalanced timbrally and in terms of vocal effort – the tenor cannot but sound like a soloist within what should apparently be a tutti texture.23 A few bars later conventional service is resumed, but by the end of the madrigal this initial ambiguity of role appears prophetic: for later, almost out of nowhere, the soprano and tenor emerge from the contrapuntal texture into a full-blown operatic duet (Ex. 7.3), calling to each other in super-charged melismas at the top of their ranges while the altos and bass repeat a single held chord underneath. Compared with this shocking, unexpected denouement, the roleplay in I is rather more understated. Here the composer’s intention was to create a particular scene, the lower trio representing a group of madrigalists at the Court (‘whose burdensome melancholy is nonetheless well-fed and bejewelled’) and an upper trio as a Street group (‘cold, thin and hungry’) who are ‘whining and wheedling for attention. These opposing groups are dagger drawn against each other.’24 Both groups have the same ATB line-up, and what is most notable here is the way the two groups are overlaid in exactly the same register, making very precise delineation of characters difficult: even though

Finnissy’s voices


Ex. 7.3 From Finnissy, Gesualdo: Libro Sesto (2012–13), No. III. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016.

the upper trio is ostensibly more soloistic, it has a tendency to blend into the lower. The piece maintains an uneasy, ambiguous equilibrium, a tense, ever-shifting symbiosis of the two antagonistic groups, as between solo and ensemble, opera and madrigal, realism and artifice. This theme thus established, Finnissy continues with two movements that further pursue the idea of multiplied voices and identities while extending the scope of the work’s vocality in extraordinary ways. II, perhaps the most remarkable textural conception of the cycle, offers the bizarre juxtaposition of two soprano and two bass voices, the latter narrating the text while the former flit around overhead as the moth-Cupids who are singed by the ‘flame’ of the lady’s beauty (Ex. 7.4). The writing for the two sopranos is highly virtuosic, leaping constantly all over their full range (but pianissimo e legatissimo!), ostensibly soloistic material which is in fact textural and accompanimental, veiled and in the background yet impossible to ignore – the basses, charged with delivering the text, have no chance against this astonishing sotto voce display. Following this, III shows a similarly provocative combination of the  four inner voices, struggling against one another in the same registral space, a


James Weeks

strange and awkward blending of high tenor, mid-range countertenor (if one is used) and low mezzo that never allows the singers to settle into timbrally or vocally comfortable spaces. The sopranos return in IV, whereupon the veil of II is abruptly ripped off and the vocal exorbitance of Tom Fool’s Wooing once again rekindled. This is a mad scene-cum-revenge aria for a double subject, the two singers as continually-erupting twin volcanoes of vocal lava: their lines relentlessly traverse the entire soprano tessitura, frequently in huge leaps, revealing once again the body (and the grain) in the voice. Nor should this be ‘beautiful’ singing: Finnissy’s intention for the movement is that ‘it is between two Street women who have “made it”, going from poverty to riches: they have little pride and are yelling, drawing attention to themselves. I think of the actress Anna Magnani as the embodiment of the quality I am seeking here: strong, passionate, angry, reckless, prepared to die for her beliefs.’25

Ex. 7.4 From Finnissy, Gesualdo: Libro Sesto, No. II. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016.

Finnissy’s voices


And finally the two glacial tuttis, standing out from all the subjective, individualistic writhing as monolithic ‘choral’ statements, whose extreme extension of texture lies as far outside ‘normative’ compositional behaviour as the virtuoso movements around them. Here the whole company comes together, giving unison emphasis to the poetic meaning, but in spite of the unanimity any sense of conviction is elusive: the music, punctuated by silences, feels at once over-assertive and unsure of itself, provisional rather than definitive, the ‘joy’ we are offered in the final poem apparently undercut by the wistful emptiness of the work’s conclusion.26 The kaleidoscopic range of vocalities, vocal textures and vocal roleplay in Gesualdo: Libro Sesto is reflected not only in the range of materials and compositional strategies and their relationship to the Gesualdo originals, as shown above, but also in the overall structural experience of the work. One is reminded of Finnissy’s remark above about his intention to produce an ‘uncomfortable synthesis’ of things stemming from ‘very diverse forces’: there is no consistency or balance in Gesualdo: Libro Sesto, stylistic or structural – indeed, the arrangement of movements27 suggests an intention to create a conspicuously asymmetric structure, perhaps taking its cue from Gesualdo’s own strange formal strategies. In particular, the grouping of the three most virtuosic movements next to each other, and the loading of the rhetorical weight of the two slow tutti movements onto the end of the cycle, create a noticeable sense of structural disproportion. The work is, in sum, a disorientating and uncomfortable listening experience, from which we are left wondering: what were these fantasies, these performances, these stagings of the voice, of sexuality, of eros? To what end these mixings, multiplications and masquerades? And whose voices were they that performed them? They are, as Finnissy’s brief programme note implies, the voices of his fantasy, a succession of phantoms or roleplays, visions appearing and disappearing, agents of an unrestricted exploration and confrontation with psychic extremes, both dark and light: it is from Gesualdo that Finnissy takes his cue, or permission, to probe these extremes without the false comfort of an easy resolution. And Finnissy’s voices? They are all of us, searching for connection, in full possession of body, sexuality and selfhood. In Tom Fool’s Wooing the extreme virtuosity and physicality of the vocal demands serve to place Finnissian vocality decisively within the body; in Gesualdo: Libro Sesto the voice emerges from the body through strategies of multiplication and roleplay as the primary locus of our performance of sexuality and subjectivity. Finnissy’s profound engagement across his entire career with the nature of voice, his recognition, exploration and celebration of vocality as the preeminent musical site for the articulation of our embodied humanity, places it at the very centre of his artistic vision and constitutes one of his most significant achievements.


James Weeks

Notes 1 Brandon LaBelle, Lexicon of the Mouth (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), p. 45 2 Michael Finnissy and James Weeks, ‘“I assume ENTANGLEMENT”: Michael Finnissy on writing, drawing, listening, playing, collaborating’ https:// . 3 Christopher Fox, ‘The Vocal Music’, in Brougham, Fox, Pace, eds. Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997), p. 211. 4 The proportion has dropped to a little more than a quarter of the total (nevertheless numbering over 100 works) in the ensuing twenty years, which have seen a steady stream of solo, vocal ensemble and particularly choral works emerge embracing a remarkable variety of vocal constituencies, from virtuoso professionals to amateur choirs, untrained voices and church congregations. 5 For further discussion of linearity in Finnissy’s music, see my Chapter 12, ‘Finnissy’s Hand’ in the present volume. 6 LaBelle, Lexicon of the Mouth, p. 5. 7 Both works, as well as Cipriano (also discussed) can be heard on the CD Michael Finnissy: Vocal Works 1974–2015 sung by EXAUDI (Winter & Winter, CD 910 246–2, 2018). 8 As director of the ensemble EXAUDI I conducted the world premieres of both works: Tom Fool’s Wooing at Milton Court, London on 12 March 2016 and Gesualdo: Libro Sesto in St Paul’s Hall, Huddersfield as part of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 23 November 2013. 9 This work, in its first version, was investigated in some detail in Ian Pace, ‘The Theatrical Works’, in Uncommon Ground, pp. 266–71, two decades before it was performed. 10 LaBelle, Lexicon of the Mouth, p. 3. 11 Ibid. p. 49. 12 Roland Barthes, ‘The Grain of the Voice’, in Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977), p. 188. 13 Ibid. 14 ‘Conversations with Finnissy’, p. 33. 15 It might be argued that Finnissy’s tendency to sexualise his performers in works like Tom Fool’s Wooing could be seen as a form of objectification; this should be viewed from the perspective of these works as theatre or role-play – see the discussion of Gesualdo: Libro Sesto below. 16 LaBelle, Lexicon of the Mouth, pp. 5–6. 17 Michael Finnissy, quoted in Christopher Fox, liner note to Michael Finnissy – Seven Sacred Motets (Métier MSV CD92023, 1999). 18 Michael Finnissy, programme note to Gesualdo: Libro Sesto, first published in programme book of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 2013, p. 52. 19 Michael Finnissy, email communication with the author, 27 November 2013. 20 See Glenn Watkins, The Gesualdo Hex: Music, Myth, and Memory (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010) for an unsensationalised account. 21 Susan McClary views Gesualdo’s transgressive tactics – modal, structural and rhetorical – as sites of subjectivisation – for example, the use of drastic alternations of speed demonstrates one of his ‘fundamental elements of interiority’ – and notes further that ‘Gesualdo’s strategy of pitting neutral speech against stylized histrionics of anguish resonates with Judith Butler’s notions of “performance” or subjectivity as masquerade’; Susan McClary, Modal Subjectivities: Selffashioning in the Italian Madrigal (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 149, 160. 22 Finnissy, email communication with the author, 27 November 2013.

Finnissy’s voices


23 A further Gesualdan trait that finds an echo in Finnissy’s work is the tendency to write unusually (for the time) disjunct vocal lines and to take voices to the extremes of their range across the course of a madrigal. These ‘expressionist’ tactics are obviously reflected in Gesualdo: Libro Sesto, yet they are so much a part of Finnissy’s own typical modus operandi that the stylistic congruence does not seem especially noteworthy. It might be suggested that Gesualdo has, in this and other ways, long been somewhat of a kindred spirit to Finnissy. 24 Finnissy, email communication with the author, 27 November 2013. 25 Ibid. 26 Finnissy offers the following on these movements: ‘[they] should seem like a Greek Chorus, the voice of human experience, permanent, tireless, “these things are always going to happen”, whose wisdom we reluctantly bow to’ (ibid.) 27 In fact, Finnissy was uncertain for a long time of the best ordering of the movements.

Bibliography Barthes, Roland. ‘The Grain of the Voice’. In Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (London: Fontana, 1977), pp. 179–89. Finnissy, Michael; Fox, Christopher; Pace, Ian; and Brougham, Henrietta. ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 1–42. Finnissy, Michael. Programme note to Gesualdo: Libro Sesto. In programme book of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 2013, p. 52. Fox, Christopher. ‘The Vocal Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 211–57. Fox, Christopher. Liner note to Michael Finnissy – Seven Sacred Motets. Métier MSV CD92023, 1999. LaBelle, Brandon. Lexicon of the Mouth. New York: Bloomsbury, 2014. McClary, Susan. Modal Subjectivities: Self-fashioning in the Italian Madrigal. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2004. Pace, Ian. ‘The Theatrical Works’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 259–346. Watkins, Glenn. The Gesualdo Hex: Music, Myth, and Memory. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. Michael Finnissy: Vocal Works 1974–2015 sung by EXAUDI. Winter & Winter, CD 910 246-2, 2018.


‘Listening to the instrument(s)’ A performer’s response to Finnissy’s music for String Quartet and the Chi Mei Ricercari for cello and piano Neil Heyde

Chi Mei Ricercari for cello and piano In order to find a way in to the designs, strategies and experiences of the large and varied quartet repertoire of Finnissy, I will begin with some discussion of this collection of ricercars, written in 2013 and revised in 2015. These pieces allow a close focus on the ‘idea of the instrument’, as they were written with the specific aim of exploring the cello. Finnissy’s series of short notes describing these pieces include the following, which lists some of the musical references: The Ricercari arose from a collaboration between Southampton University (UK) and the Chi Mei Foundation in Taiwan. They are published by Verlag Neue Musik (2016). The Chi Mei Foundation owns a large collection of outstanding string-instruments, including numerous glories by Amati, Stradivari, Vuillaume and other world-famous makers. The piece is conceived as a series of seven conversations between an antique cello and a modern piano, the topics of their discussions being: i. ii. iii.

iv. v. vi. vii.

general allusions to Bach’s unaccompanied [cello] Sarabandes and Gigues, and to the études of [Jean Louis] Duport; Giuseppino Cenci’s lament ‘Dunque Clorinda mia per questi prati’ (c.1610); Domenico Gabrielli’s 5th Ricercar (c.1687–91) and the Presto from his Sonata in G major, also more generally to Vivaldi and Venetian folksongs; Domenico Galli’s Sonata No.12, Frescobaldi’s keyboard Ricercari (1626), Wagner (Siegfried Idyll) and Berlioz (Symphonie Fantastique); No.18 of the ‘Second Sett’ of John Marsh’s ‘Twenty Voluntaries’ (c.1795); re-visiting nos. iii and iv; Bach’s 2nd Gamba Sonata, and Gabrielli’s 2nd Ricercar, to Beethoven’s [Sonata for Cello and Piano] op.102 no. 2 (mezza voce

‘Listening to the instrument(s)’


con molto sentimento d’affetto), and fast-forward through atonality to the 21st century.1 The idea of chamber music as a kind of conversation, and a specifically  anthropomorphic view of the instruments, was picked up by Finnissy in public conversation following a performance of the set in November 2015.2 [It] must be very strange for these instruments – thinking of them as ‘people’ actually – […] waking up every morning in Taiwan: ‘What are we doing here? We were born in the Renaissance in Italy and here we are in Taiwan in the 21st century. What are we going to talk about?’ […] So, the fantasy was that they would wake up and talk to the modern piano – about the things they have played, and so on. It would be like they had met [at] an airport and said, ‘Well, what have you been doing since 1652, or 1783?’ […] That was how the piece started […] What you create is relationships […]’3 It is relatively easy to track some of the musical references in these pieces (and much harder to trace others), but as Finnissy observed in rehearsal, he is not sure what purpose that would serve.4 Our shared reluctance to engage in a detailed tracking of sources was framed in rehearsal by discussion of a letter from Schoenberg to Rudolf Kolisch in which his admiration of Kolisch’s tracking of the use of the 12-tone row in the third quartet is followed by the observation that this only leads to knowledge of how something is made ‘whereas I have always helped people to see: what it is!’.5 Rather than trace sources here, I explore some of the ways in which ‘conversations’ are managed, not just compositionally, but also through the interactions suggested by the notational strategies, and in rehearsal. The first piece of the set was substantially revised several times. Ex. 8.1 provides the opening in the penultimate and final versions. The cello part is unaltered in this revision, and in the context of Finnissy’s programme note it is obvious that the opening four-note chords suggest Bach’s solo cello sarabandes (BWV 1009, in C major, in particular). The final version focuses musical attention more sharply on this sarabande-like material, and the arpeggiation in the piano is now clearly in support/empathy, rather than counterpoint (although the rhythmic notation of the two parts appears designed to keep ensemble in suspension throughout). Finnissy has not indicated a performance practice for the cello’s chords, which are clearly part of the instrument’s inheritance; however, this was something that came up very  early in rehearsal. Because of the physical distribution of the chords on  the instrument I had been breaking them two-plus-two (i.e. C2-A2, E3-E4,1 perhaps more in the mode of the opening of the Elgar concerto than a Bach sarabande). One of the first things Finnissy asked after we ran the movement through was for me to ‘sweep’ these chords.6


Neil Heyde

Ex. 8.1 Finnissy, Chi Mei Ricercari (2013), i, bar 1. Penultimate version, private email to NH. Final version © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016.

We did not discuss the physical distribution of the chords on the instrument, but it is clear that a reference like this is always polysemous, accruing additional or alternative associations as a matter of course. Perhaps breaking the chords as I had done was less historically evocative than sweeping them (suggesting the early twentieth century rather than the early eighteenth century)? Part of the power of this kind of reference lies in its openness, and in order to open a conversation, it is useful if what is ‘known or inherited’ is also in some sense ‘unknown’. The obvious compositional strategy to achieve this is to frame material in new contexts (which happens throughout) but Finnissy also finds ways to make the material itself unfamiliar to the player as well as the listener. Although I have played the cello for over forty years, encompassing an enormous range of old and new repertoire, I am confident to assert that I have never played those pairs of chords before.7 I am thus engaged in a kind of curious listening to myself as well as to my relationship with the piano. This is a typical kind of starting point for Finnissy’s music, but in this case this kind of exploration is directly implicated in the ‘ricercar’ of the title. From a cello-playing perspective these voicings are a striking example of a defamiliarisation strategy, but perhaps this might seem tenuous to someone

‘Listening to the instrument(s)’


who doesn’t play the cello. (In this case, Finnissy’s peculiar sensitivity to, and awareness of, the kinds of voicings that can be found across the entire repertoire is possibly even more remarkable.) At the stage we rehearsed with Finnissy I had not thought consciously about the fact that these were ‘unknown’ chords to me so we did not discuss this aspect. However, the end of the piece, which Finnissy revised last, and which was completely rewritten in both parts, had prompted a private practice encounter that I wanted to share with him in rehearsal. Ex. 8.2 shows this passage, which consists of fairly continuous quavers in the cello, accompanied initially by minims in the piano. The tempo is quite moderate ( = 80) so when this revised ending arrived by email I looked at it quickly and thought ‘okay, that’s quite straightforward, we can work that through in rehearsal’. On first sitting down to play it, every bar fell apart and my performing part (shown in Ex. 8.2 (a)) reveals that I felt the need to place a fingering indication on almost every note. Although this would not be unusual for me in very fast or awkward writing it is surprising here; I had used a strategy I reserve for particular difficult passages (which this is not) to indicate ‘unexpected’ position changes (circled) or groupings (/), and the last system has a kind of ‘hop’ fingering

Ex. 8.2 (a) Finnissy, Chi Mei Ricercari, i, bars 26–31. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016.


Neil Heyde

Ex. 8.2 (b) Finnissy, Chi Mei Ricercari, i, bars 38–4. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016.

that I would normally avoid (indicated above the staff in Ex. 8.2 (b) with an exclamation mark, which is shorthand to myself to confirm that what might appear inept is actually intended). The specific details are not of interest in themselves, and I expect another player would have found quite different solutions, but as a whole, these indications speak to the way in which this material (which is entirely generic in its basic shapes) is surprising and unfamiliar ‘in the hand’. This is material that requires concerted learning and a coherent physical delivery strategy rather than pre-configured tools. I began by saying to Finnissy: ‘The amazing thing about what you’ve written here is

‘Listening to the instrument(s)’


that I’ve needed to put a fingering on almost every note.’ Using an extended metaphor of ‘awkward corners’, the next sentence he finished for me: ‘Every corner…’ [NH] ‘… is odd’ [MF]. As I talked on, about every corner being ‘worked’, Finnissy said nothing but appeared to beam with pleasure.8 Finnissy’s understanding that musical material exists in an individual’s private workspace as well as in public, and in their hands and body as well  as  in the sound that emanates (implicit in his appreciation of the physical ramifications in the exchange above) is an important component of his anthropomorphic understanding of instruments. Much of our rehearsal discussion consisted of discussion of the relation between the piano and the cello, exploring the language of accompaniment, which Finnissy described variously as ‘shadowing’, ‘sympathizing’, and ‘almost mouthing [the cello’s] words’.9 The piano and cello often occupy the same register in these ricercars, which runs against standard practice for handling the frequently asserted ‘difficult’ balance between the two instruments, although not with the overt aim of appearing imbalanced as in Prokofiev’s Ballade op. 15 (1912) in which the a muted cello is set against a thundering piano. Both Zubin Kanga and I expressed concern in rehearsal about the difficulty of attaining a ‘good’ balance between the instruments which Michael steered towards a discussion of texture. As in the observation about projection at the head of this chapter it seems clear that Michael is interested in exploring conceptions of ‘balance’ that are not determined by simple hierarchies  – either in volume or registral space but by interrelationships. Although one could draw many other examples from Finnissy’s music, Schoenberg’s use of ‘Hauptstimme’ and ‘Nebenstimme’ indications (in the 3rd quartet, for example) as a way of indicating relationships to the performers without being required to set out crude means for articulating them in performance sets a useful context. I expressed concern that I needed to ‘push’ material out in order to be sufficiently present, to which Finnissy responded:

I don’t think you do… . This is what expansive means. [It is part of the tempo indication for i: Adagio non tanto, espansivo.] It’s very broad. There’s a lot of detail underneath… . It’s the depth of the texture.10 I think [the piano accompaniment strategy] works but it is quite strange. It’s my preferred solution to not really writing an accompaniment but also not making the piano part too ostentatious, because then it just overpowers the cello. So, in fact you’re [ZK, piano] kind of a second cello. A lot of it is in the same register on purpose. It’s ‘setting’ and backlighting. It’s a bit like Hollywood – making the cello sound good.11 Finnissy’s interweaving of balance, texture, tempo, and instrumental roles in this response is typical of his thinking, but these pieces add an unusual element of complication. Although not explicitly stated in the notes for the Ricercari, Finnissy initially conceived the piece to be played on seven different cellos. For practical and technical reasons this is not easily achieved, and the


Neil Heyde

performance Zubin Kanga and I gave in November 2015 has at the time of writing been the only one given in this format.12 Although by no means an essential requirement, I feel strongly that the exploration of the ‘idea of the instrument’ is an essential component of the piece and that it can be valuable to perform and hear it in this way. Although I initially imagined that it would be interesting to have Finnissy involved in the selection of instruments from the Royal Academy of Music’s collection, and to engage in a shared mapping of particular cellos to individual ricercars, he made it clear that he felt I was better placed to undertake these decisions on my own. I spent only three sessions choosing instruments and rehearsing with them prior to the performance. Each cello was played as I found it, rather than set up as I might do if it were my own, or, indeed, if I had it on long-term loan. In addition to an exemplar of the ‘ideal’ cello of the nineteenth century (Vuillaume, 1850) I chose instruments that represent a wide variety of different physical and timbral personalities.13 The first session was a quick play on a large group of instruments in the Academy workshop to check that we would be able to have seven accessible instruments that would be suitable for the piece and that wouldn’t be too difficult to adjust to ‘on the spot’. Having made a rough list of possible instruments, Zubin and I met to rehearse and we spent an afternoon mapping instruments to ricercars. This was surprisingly easy and as we worked we shifted quickly from thinking about what might be ‘viable’ to what might be ‘interesting’.14 Apart from the selection of the Vuillaume for the opening piece, which was strategically designed as an ‘entry point’ for the listener, all of the other selections were made entirely intuitively. Finnissy keeps the cello in the middle of its range for the vast majority of this c. 30-minute cycle. We may assume that this is partly because of the reference points in ‘old’ music, but I think it is also motivated by the idea of exploring the heart of the instrument (physically as well as conceptually), and by a sense that listening to seven different instrumental voices might be assisted by having a focus on this common core.15 In both rehearsal and performance it seemed to me that these pieces do not present or project something already ‘known’ but that the strategies of defamiliarisation embodied in the music and in the use of different instruments set up a performance environment that feels like a possibility field for things to be revealed, or discovered, which is, of course, what is suggested by the title. The use of different instruments for each ricercar is in this sense possibly even more important for the performer’s experience of the discovery process than it is for the listener’s experience. I made observations to myself on several occasions that I felt I learned more about the cellos by playing Finnissy’s ricercars on them than by any kind of ‘normal’ testing out but I can’t provide any ‘trace’ to show this other than to play the pieces. The design, or structural management, of the handling of the two instrumental ‘personalities’ is clearest in the last of the pieces (ᅄ = 100, with no verbal indication) which provides a kind of summary of, and closure to,

‘Listening to the instrument(s)’


the set. In Finnissy’s words ‘the story here is that you [the cello] keep your personality intact whereas the piano changes quite dramatically from a Bachian accompaniment that begins in bar 2, to “Beethoven” at bar 28, “Reger” at bar 59 and “Finnissy” for the last [six] bars’.16 One might imagine this as a counterpart to the ‘departure lounge conversation’ suggested above, with the piano setting off on a journey, but perhaps it is also a commentary on the innate ‘personalities’ of these instruments and of the people who play them. The first movement of Elliott Carter’s Cello Sonata (1948) could be seen as a precursor (and the strategy traced back further to Debussy’s sonata of 1915, in which the roles of the instruments are also sharply differentiated). However, the discussion below of Nobody’s Jig clarifies the individuality of Finnissy’s approach. Certainly, with Finnissy himself playing the piano, it would be easy to read the piece as a dramatic embodiment of returning home.

The music for string quartet Hans Keller has provocatively described the string quartet from both the playing and composing points of view as a ‘secret science’, if by ‘secret’ we mean not something that shouldn’t be told, but something that can’t. It is impossible for any outstanding instrumentalist who is not a string and quartet player to understand a quartet player’s string quartet in all its intended dimensions; likewise, it is impossible for a composer, however great, to write an intrinsic string quartet if he is not himself a quartet player: the quartets of Brahms, Schumann, Debussy, Ravel, and yes, Bartók are more than adequate evidence.17 Finnissy is not a string player and clearly has a personal identification with the piano that has shaped his output for that instrument in ways that a string player cannot fully grasp. In 2016 I asked him to read Keller’s polemical introduction to The Great Haydn Quartets, from which the above quotation is taken, and Finnissy found it ‘badly written’ (in the sense that much of it was about the writer rather than the materials) and felt that it extolled a kind of historicism of which he did not feel a part (by which I assume he was expressing displeasure at Keller’s explicit canon-confirmation strategy).18 Nevertheless, Finnissy was taken with Keller’s idea that the quartet is the ‘truly symphonic’ medium, and at intervals through a public conversation with the Kreutzer Quartet given at the 2016 International Performance Studies Network Conference19 he referred to his way of working with the ensemble in ways that picked up Keller’s central idea that quartet music is specifically addressed to the players – and that composers thus identify with the players. The quartet is what it is. It is what you see before you. It is four guys and they work together.20 It is four people, and what interests me is people […] – what people feel, what they say, how they express themselves.


Neil Heyde The special thing about writing for a string quartet […] is that it is a very close-knit ensemble. For many years I ran a diverse instrumentation ensemble […] The personnel changed and the numbers of people involved changed […] We worked together all the time (we did many concerts), but it never got to the tightness of […] I don’t know. Something about the way you [The Kreutzer Quartet] communicate with each other and the way the instruments communicate with each other, and the sonority they produce both individually and collectively, is peculiar to the string quartet medium.21

Although Finnissy may not fulfil all of Keller’s deliberately provocative criteria for being a composer of ‘intrinsic’ string quartets, it seems to me – and to my colleagues – that he has an uncannily intimate understanding of the dynamic relationships produced by four closely-related instruments played by musicians with a close-knit working relationship that is implicitly shaped by interaction with a large and distinctive repertoire that reaches back to the eighteenth century. Although he expressed discomfort with Keller’s particular ‘historicism’, Finnissy’s fascination with musical contexts places him ideally to enter the corporate ‘mind’ of the quartet and all of his pieces for the ensemble speak to its living relationship with the past as well as the present. At the time of writing, Finnissy has completed eleven pieces for the string quartet formation (allowing for the addition of ‘small domestic objects of indeterminate pitch’ in Six Sexy Minuets). All of these pieces have been recorded by the Kreutzer Quartet, spanning three discs.22 1. Nobody’s Jig (1980–1), premiered by the Locrian Quartet (the title a melody from Playford’s English Dancing Master (1651)) 2. String Quartet (1984), premiered by the Arditti Quartet 3. Plain Harmony I-III (1993–5), (the second version of a piece originally written for COMA), premiered by the Amaryllis Quartet 4. Sehnsucht (1997), premiered by the Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble (the title taken from two Brahms songs: opp. 14, no. 8 and 49, no.3) 5. Multiple forms of constraint (1997), premiered by the Kreutzer Quartet (the title from Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality) 6. Six Sexy Minuets Three Trios (2003), premiered by the Smith Quartet 7. Second String Quartet (2006–7), premiered by the Kreutzer Quartet 8. Third String Quartet (2009), premiered by the Kreutzer Quartet 9. Civilisation (2004, rev. 2012–13), premiered by the Sonar Quartett, final version premiered by the Kreutzer Quartet 10. Mad Men in the Sand (2013), (a commentary on a string quartet fragment by Charles Valentin Alkan, located in the British Library (Hirsch IV.1455, f.10v)), premiered by the Rumore Quartet

‘Listening to the instrument(s)’


11. Continuation and Coda to the unfinished Contrapunctus in The Art of Fugue (2013), premiered by a large COMA string ensemble directed by Darragh Morgan, and as a String Quartet by the Kreutzer Quartet The more recent items interact quite obviously with the kinds of music one might ‘meet any afternoon on Radio 3’,23 but the earlier pieces – Nobody’s Jig and the String Quartet of 1984 in particular – are less clearly in dialogue with the history of the medium. Christopher Fox and Roger Redgate have written about these earlier pieces at some length.24 The use of four completely unsynchronised parts to make up Nobody’s Jig is hardly atypical for Finnissy, and can be dated back as early as Transformations of the Vampire (1968–71) and n (1969–72).25 This notational strategy reappears frequently in other works for quartet, but has a different meaning in this context than elsewhere, perhaps because Finnissy is aware that both audience and ensemble will listen with particular expectations. The reference to Playford in the title is probably intended to be provocative, suggesting traditional (folk) music,26 and enjoying the questions of ‘ownership’ it implies, rather than pointing to any specific musical relationships. But the seating arrangement of the quartet, explicitly indicated on the title page, speaks directly to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century practice: the two violins sit opposite, with the cello in the ‘normal’ twentieth-century position for the viola, and the viola next to the first violin.27 This suggests something quite specific to us as players, and highlights the notion of ‘dialogue’ through the spatial separation of the two violins, often played out through quite specific different roles for the instruments in the classical period repertoire. Curiously, Keller identifies the ‘problem of the second violin’ as one of the central issues of the core quartet repertoire and Finnissy is clearly sensitive to the potential danger of doubling of roles: both the Third String Quartet and Sehnsucht, for example, begin with extraordinary virtuosic flights from the second violin, not matched by the other players. ‘Period’ seating notwithstanding, seen from the perspective of ‘ensemble’ Nobody’s Jig could appear to be a violent rejection of the past and of traditional chamber music practice. Perhaps that kind of rejection could be seen as typical of the Finnissy of the 1970s and 80s, but it is clear that this is only part of the picture. Responding to a question (after a performance of the piece) about whether it was an obvious thing to have done (picking up the apparent ‘anti-chamber-music’ stance adopted by the first of Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet of 1914), Finnissy said ‘I wanted to see what would happen if I did it – and now I know’ which brought the house down with laughter.28 I still clearly recall the feeling of our first ever reading of it in the 1990s. We had all worked separately on our parts prior to meeting, began at the first note as instructed, and played through to the end – some twenty minutes of music. When we stopped, someone said ‘Bastard!’, and we all laughed. Why does something about this piece have the power to make us laugh? The first thing to note is that the swearing was expressed with love, and,


Neil Heyde

perhaps even more, with admiration. What Finnissy has done here ‘should not work’ as a string quartet, and yet it is so obvious on both performing and listening to it that it does. By appearing to ‘break’ all of the kinds of chamber music interactions that we take for granted as intrinsic to the quartet, Finnissy reveals that these are built on a quite different basis to the ‘simple’ musical interactions between parts that we might expect: instead they are implicated in the whole ‘idea’ of the ensemble. Finnissy surprises us, and we surprise ourselves, and this causes us to laugh. The implied absence of typical musical interactions encourages a conception of the four ‘parts’ as portraits of the instruments/musicians who play them, and, as performers, we learn to listen to the geography of the piece as a dialogue of behaviours almost more than of musical materials.29 Because this dialogue is emergent rather than explicitly stage directed it is quite different to the scenarios explored in, for example, Elliott Carter’s String Quartet No. 2 (1959) which is explicitly set out as a series of portraits. I see this implicit portraiture as exactly what Keller is pointing to when he says that the composer identifies with the players. By ‘reading one another’ we are able to maintain temporal relationships that allow us to finish very closely together after c. 20 minutes of unsynchronised playing. Finnissy makes this possible because of the way in which the features of each part are configured with a trajectory that can be ‘read’ using traditional chamber music awareness: the cello’s very long stepped crescendo towards the end, and then its strangely unvirtuosic, exceptionally difficult, juddering conclusion are easy to grasp, even in a kind of aural ‘blind spot’. In fact, most of Finnissy’s quartet music avoids a full score, existing only as sets of partbooks. Again this points to the early history of the medium (scores for quartets were not published until well into the nineteenth century), and also to a piece like Witold Lutosławski’s String Quartet (1965), for which a score was only published at the players’ request, and before that to John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958).30 In this, Finnissy shows a sensitivity to the need for individual differentiation in performance, and to the facilitating power of ‘not knowing’ exactly what others are doing. In a public session at the Royal Academy of Music in 1988, Lutosławski repeatedly urged the players of his String Quartet to ‘play like soloists’ – specifically not paying attention to what others are doing.31 Finnissy, however, wants his players to be listening, even when they play completely individually. In several sections of the String Quartet of 1984, Finnissy uses a notational strategy that has not appeared in quite the same form since. For example, in the extended passage from figure 20 onwards, each player is playing highly differentiated material, often in different time signatures to their colleagues. Finnissy has provided each musician with one other part (to give something to hang on to) but none of these references ‘join up’ (in contrast to more traditionally cued parts that have one or more points of focus): the player whose part I am reading does not know what I am playing, and the person whose part they are reading does not know what they are

‘Listening to the instrument(s)’


playing – and so on. This is contrasted with sections in full score, and sections where one player has a principal voice or Hauptstimme around which everyone else is oriented. Finnissy’s notation thus supplies indications of how the process of listening to one another might work in performance. Like Nobody’s Jig, the stylistic references allude to traits from high modernisms and folk musics. Sehnsucht, from 1997 (Ex. 8.3), offers a very different kind of listening model. It is published only in full score, so everyone can ‘read off’ everyone else, but the musical material is configured in ways that complicate the experience. The reference material here lies in two Brahms songs that share  the  title ‘Sehnsucht’: one appears in the viola part (op. 49, no. 3) and the other, rather less obviously, in the second violin (op. 14, no. 83, Brahms’s melody appearing in bar 3 following the ornate gesture out of which it emerges). The first violin and cello provide a kind of framing ornamentation. This sets out quite a specific hierarchy of listening, but not of explicit balance or performance roles: Hauptstimme in the viola, Nebenstimme in the second violin and accompanimental material in the first violin and cello. In performance, however, the second violin draws attention to itself with its ornate opening, but after its initial florescence it has to work hard to make its melody ‘present’ alongside the much more immediate melodic line in the viola. (This is even more strikingly the case in the second, Lebhaft, section.) It is commonplace that the inner voices in a string quartet need to work harder to make their presence felt and we often record somewhat ‘flat’ to the microphone to help with this, as did the Amadeus Quartet. Placing the core melodic material in these voices reorients the ensemble and it is only on occasion that the outside voices step forwards. I do not think that it is coincidental that this piece was written for the Royal Academy of Music’s Manson Ensemble rather than for an established quartet. One could even see it as a kind of ‘embodied lesson’ in quartet playing. Written in the same year, Multiple forms of constraint is effectively for violin and string trio rather than ‘quartet’. It was written for Peter Sheppard Skaerved and the other members of the Kreutzer Quartet, and I find it impossible not to see it as engaging with the idea of the ‘quartet leader’, who is in this case separated from the ensemble and placed at the back of the hall. The string trio works from score, strictly synchronised, and the solo violin plays its own material in its own time, its part notated independently of the others. There are large gaps at various points to ensure that nothing can be too closely predicted. Over the course of the piece the ‘sung’ ornamented diatonic material with which the solo violin begins gradually finds its way into the trio and the violin takes on some of musical qualities of the trio’s flickering opening material. In the course of this swapping over the cello is silenced. The piece explicitly dramatises the listening process for the traditionally seated concert audience, who are placed in an uncomfortable position of facing only a part of the process.32 It seems here as if the audience is invited into the ensemble in some way. It is difficult for me not to see it as some kind of portrait of the ensemble in 1997, although


Neil Heyde

Ex. 8.3 Finnissy, Sehnsucht (1997), bars 1–13. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2016.

‘Listening to the instrument(s)’


I don’t really know what it says about ‘us’. In conversation, Finnissy described his approach to writing for a particular ensemble: MF: For me, the best thing is to compose portraits, so there is a lot of portraiture in the work that I do with [the Kreutzer Quartet] […] The portraiture of composing has to do with the personalities of people as I see them at a particular moment, within the framework of a larger structural paradigm. Neil Heyde: We’ve chosen the instruments that we play, but we have also become one with them. The personality of the quartet cellist is a certain kind of personality, almost regardless of who plays it. 33 Plain Harmony and Mad Men in the Sand are typical of Finnissy’s fascination with reworking material, but the Second and Third String Quartets, and Six Sexy Minuets Three Trios, speak directly to the string quartet’s historical inheritance.34 The Second String Quartet and Six Sexy Minuets play very obviously with eighteenth-century conventions and Haydn in particular, but also reach out to the nineteenth century (Wagner and Tchaikovsky are suggested at the end of Six Sexy Minuets) and beyond (specifically to Gloria Coates in the case of the almost static ‘quasi glissando’ section of the Second Quartet). The Third Quartet is explicitly symphonic, referencing Bruckner and ending with the quartet silenced by pre-recorded birdsong (from Finnissy’s garden) that gradually displaces the quartet. Both the Second and Third Quartets have been the subject of extended pieces of writing. In addition to Christopher Fox’s liner notes for our recording (see note 24), and the work of Amanda Bayley and Michael Clarke on the Second Quartet (see note 1), Bayley has written a study of the Kreutzer Quartet’s rehearsal of the Third Quartet.35 The Third Quartet is largely notated in full score, frequently using different key signatures for the individual parts in order to facilitate differentiation of the voices, a strategy also adopted in Sehnsucht and a particularly effective way of enhancing instrumental differentiation by microtonal inflection. This is coupled with very minimal dynamic indication, presumably with a view to avoiding simplistic (hierarchical) distinctions between voices as observed in other examples above, but also because on this grand scale (c. 45 minutes in total) it becomes important to search for other means of maintaining continuity and perspective. (Scarcity of dynamic indications is also striking in Finnissy’s Liederkreis for clarinet quintet, completed in 2016, as are the Chi Mei Ricercari, possibly because in both cases he knew he would be able to collaborate with the initial performers directly.) The Third Quartet explicitly dramatises listening experience for both players and audience. From roughly the middle of the piece birdsong begins to intrude, initially underneath the quartet. It gradually gains prominence and there are longer and longer gaps between sections of quartet music – and within that music. Eventually the birds are left on their own and the quartet sits in extended ‘silence’. Instead of playing in an ‘expressive’ manner, as through most of the first half of the piece


Neil Heyde

(in quasi-late-romantic mode), the music making in the second half becomes much more obviously a kind of ‘activity’ in relation to the birds. This ‘activity’ gradually shifts from ‘doing’, to listening, which is something that feels very powerful in a concert hall, in front of an audience, but which cannot be translated in recording. I have sensed that audiences are uncomfortable with it, perhaps finding it difficult to identify with the players during the later sections of the piece. Personally, I find being ‘forced’ to listen as a dramatic device in this way almost unbearably expressive, and this was only heightened by Finnissy’s observation to us that the birds are not ‘singing’, but just ‘behaving’.36 The different kinds of ‘activities’ embodied in the Second String Quartet are perhaps less openly on display but are suggested in different ways.37 There is a ‘quasi minuet and trio’ (without explicit indication) from figure 6, and a direct reference to Haydn’s ‘Lark’ Quartet (op. 64, no.5) in the Adagio cantabile at figure 24. Surrounding these quite distinctive references to the eighteenth century are passages that feel more explicitly ‘choreographic’. Figure 18 of the score/parts, which leads into the Adagio cantabile, is so still that movement is almost imperceptible, and the beginning of the piece (either side of the Vivace) is ‘irregular and jumpy’. Again, Finnissy reveals a special sensitivity to the role of the second violin, which here appears to trigger the final section of the piece, described in the introduction to this chapter. In the midst of our highly expressive, ensemble singing, the second violin skitters off, almost as if bored, or off to another room to do something else. The parallel with the bird song is striking, but here the drama speaks directly to the quartet repertoire in which the second violin is often a disruptor.38 There is probably no better representation of Finnissy’s love for the playfulness of personal/instrumental relationships – and for the ways in which this is suggested in the music of the eighteenth century – than Six Sexy Minuets Three Trios (for string quartet and small domestic objects of indeterminate pitch, and published only as partbooks). The piece begins, provocatively, with a trio. The two violins and viola accelerate and decelerate wildly between ᅄ = 68 and ᅄ = 166 (there are also two jump cuts) while the cello ‘accompanies’ with pairs of crotchets on a domestic object. Curiously, it is the least ‘musical’ element of this that ends up shaping the experience. The first of the minuets is clearly Haydn-like in character, but it is full of awkward and surprising jump cuts, and at various points all of the players are ‘voiced’ individually by rhythmic deformations. Throughout the next trio (in which none of the players perform on their ‘instruments’ and we hear domestic objects only), Finnissy leaves everyone uncertain about when they should be together by placing repeat signs inconsistently across the parts and this playfulness continues in various forms across the set. In the Kreutzer Quartet we like to characterise the third minuet (Quasi Allegretto. Un poco minaccioso.) as the back end of a second-rate viola section: it is entirely pianissimo, except for two accented notes, and all four parts are predominantly in the middle of the range. The microtonal ‘stumbling’ seems to want to find a centre, but never does, and occasionally individual parts stutter out of time with the others.

‘Listening to the instrument(s)’


Only in the final minuet (Andante malinconico, con sordino) does the whole quartet get to play with a real feeling for the whole ensemble as a unit. This entire movement is muted (an idea presaged in Sehnsucht) and it is mainly because mutes rob the instruments of their characteristic overtone formations that Hans Keller famously claimed that their use creates an ‘invalid’ quartet sound, in which ‘the player is no longer able to produce and modulate his tone to the extent required by a quartet texture which has to differentiate more delicately than any comparable choral instrumentation’.39 It is clear that Finnissy uses mutes here precisely in order to diminish the differentiation of the instruments which is such a feature elsewhere in the piece. Civilisation has been described by Finnissy as being ‘about the dangers of civilizing musical experience’.40 To my mind the implications of this are both political, referring to the subjugation of some cultures by others, but also aesthetic, implying the dangers of replacing actual musical expression with merely the signs of expression. Three of the movements begin Primitivo, changing expressive tenor to Colto during their course. Two of those movements break down into a kind of musical chaos at the end, but the fourth ends with highly expressive Second Viennese material. The final movement is a Haydn-esque parody that ‘creeps away’ unsettlingly and curiously at the end. The jump cuts and bizarre placement of repeats in this movement (which caused multiple complete break downs in rehearsal) are clearly designed to be disruptive and Finnissy told us that he had used a random number generator (as he has done to determine various musical parameters in numerous works) to choose the position of the repeats. The beginning of this movement is shown in Ex. 8.4. As he said in public immediately before a performance of Civilisation, ‘I used to enjoy the unpredictability of performance, so a lot of the stuff I devise is deliberately off-centre’. There are two predominantly lyrical movements with the viola and cello  playing off one another as a pair, disrupted by the violins, but the really striking thing about this piece is its concern with what happens to material when it is ‘civilized’, and it seems no surprise that Finnissy would select the string quartet as the medium of choice for this exploration. The transformation of Romanian folk melodies, and music from the Solomon Islands and African tribes, into ‘Beethoven’ (the second movement specifically alludes to the ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’ from op. 132) and ‘Haydn’ – and others – is extremely discomforting, not least because the Primitivo music is so boldly articulated that the ensuing ‘cultivated’ music almost cannot help but sound saccharine.41 I think this discomfort is an essential component of Finnissy’s understanding of the medium and that the last movement can be read as an attempt to reclaim heritage by deliberately placing it off centre. Seen in brief here, as a whole, it seems clear that there is an overarching identity to Finnissy’s quartet music that speaks to his general compositional interests but also explicitly to the history of the quartet. In his quartet music we see distinctive and surprising instincts for revealing the historical roots of the ensemble, for shaping the way the players listen to one another, for


Neil Heyde

Ex. 8.4 Finnissy, Civilisation (2004, rev. 2012–13), vi, bars 1–22. © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2014.

dramatising the listening process for an audience, and, perhaps most compellingly, for differentiating the individual voices. It is this last aspect perhaps, that makes it clear that Finnissy’s music belongs at the heart of the string quartet repertoire. As he put it in conversation: […] the instrument and the player sound together. They are actually indivisible to me.42

‘Listening to the instrument(s)’


This idea that the person and the instrument are a kind of fused identity is perhaps what allows Finnissy, neither a string nor quartet player, to be able to enter the world that Keller would deny him. By identifying with the players as individuals, and by identifying with the performance environment as a place for revealing the thought, play and work of individuals, he speaks to a long tradition of understanding the quartet as a kind of conversation – from player to player, players to composers, and players and composers to audiences. This is not so far from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s famous letter to Zelter of 9 November 1829 that introduces the frequently repeated idea of ‘four reasonable people conversing’, in which he too is struck by the individuality of the instruments: Whenever I was in Berlin, I would seldom miss Möser’s quartet evenings. For me, such artistic presentations were always the most intelligible forum  for appreciating instrumental music, in which one heard four reasonable people conversing, as it were, believed their discourse to be profitable and became acquainted with the individuality of the instruments.43

Notes 1 Private email to Neil Heyde, 2016. 2 The inner life of the cello, 27 November 2015, Royal Academy of Music. Neil Heyde, cellos from the Royal Academy Collection, and Zubin Kanga, piano, with Michael Finnissy in conversation, 2016: at research-output/the-inner-life-of-the-cello (accessed 17 July 2018). 3 See interview video at the above link. 4 Early in the rehearsal Michael offered ‘to have a rampage through the sources’ with a view to letting me have the materials, adding ‘I’m not sure what purpose that would serve’. Chi Mei Ricercari rehearsal (video document): Neil Heyde, cellos, Zubin Kanga, piano, Michael Finnissy. Royal Academy of Music, 24 September 2015. 5 Schoenberg to Rudolf Kolisch, 27 July 1932, in Arnold Schoenberg, Letters, edited Erwin Stein, translated Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser (London: Faber & Faber, 1964), pp. 164–5. The German original reads: ‘Ich kann nicht oft genug davor warnen, diese Analysen zu überschätzen, da sie ja doch nur zu dem führen, was ich immer bekämpft habe: zur Erkenntnis, wie es gemacht ist; während ich immer erkennen geholfen habe: was es ist!’; Arnold Schönberg, Briefe, selected and edited Erwin Stein (Mainz: Schott, 1958), p. 179. 6 Finnissy, at Chi Mei Ricercari rehearsal, 24 September 2015. 7 It is the placement of the octave in the first chord that is most strikingly unusual. The permutations combine the eighteenth-century sarabande gesture with pitch manipulations typical of Stravinsky – as for example in the opening chords of the Violin Concerto (1931). 8 Finnissy, at Chi Mei Ricercari rehearsal, 24 September 2015. 9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid. 12 I would like to thank the Royal Academy of Music for the temporary use of the instruments from the collection, and in particular to thank the students with


Neil Heyde

instruments on loan who gave them up for the event and the instrument curator, Barbara Meyer, for her assistance throughout the process. 13 The instruments chosen were: I — Adagio non tanto, espansivo … Allegro molto Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, Paris, c.1850. II — Discorso drammatico William Forster II, London, c. 1790. III — Sognando, poco misterioso Giovanni Battista Rogeri, Brescia, c. 1690. IV — Sostenuto Joseph Grubaugh and Sigrun Seifert, California, 2013. V — Andante sostenuto fugato Gagliano (possibly Ferdinand), Naples, c. 1760. VI — Affettuoso e piano. Cantabile … Giga Francesco Rugeri, Cremona, c.1695. VII — (N = 100) … Molto Tranquillo Giulio Degani, Venice, 1906. 14 It emerged late in the process that Finnissy had written no. 6 first (Affettuoso e piano. Cantabile). This was also the first piece Zubin and I mapped ‘definitively’ to a cello from the collection. Retrospectively, it seems clear that this is because it is the most obviously expressive and cellistic of the set, and it was mapped to the obvious ‘star’ from the Academy collection. 15 In the talk given prior to the 27 November 2015 performance I made note of the Hill family’s assertion that even by the turn of the twentieth century focus had shifted away from the centre of the cello’s range to its extremes. W. Henry Hill, Arthur F. Hill, and Alfred E. Hill. Antonio Stradivari, His Life and Work (1644–1737) (New York: Dover, 1963), pp. 119–20. 16 Rehearsal on 24 September 2015, see notes above. 17 Hans Keller, The Great Haydn Quartets: Their Interpretation (London: J.M. Dent, 1986), p. 2. 18 Private discussion with NH prior to the conference from which the following quotations are taken. 19 Performance Studies Network (PSN) Conference, Bath Spa University, 16 July 2016. 20 The reference to ‘guys’ is picking up an observation I had made earlier about Michael’s description elsewhere of the quartet as ‘four guys in a room’. Michael goes on here to make it clear that ‘guys’ is a generic term and nothing to do with gender, as all of the ‘guys’ may in fact be ‘girls’. 21 PSN Conference, 16 July 2016. 22 Items 1–5 are recorded on Michael Finnissy, Kreutzer Quartet. Metier, MSV CD92011 (1999); Items 6, and 9–11 are due to be released on Metier, MSV CD28581 (2018); Items 7 and 8 are recorded on Michael Finnissy: Second and Third String Quartets. NMC, NMCD180 (2012). 23 Finnissy’s description from public conversation, PSN Conference, 2016. He is using ‘Radio 3’ (the BBC’s classical music station) to suggest the idea of a shared musical culture. It is possible that he uses this formulation in playful reference to Hans Keller who played a defining role in the establishment of the identity of the station. 24 Christopher Fox. ‘Some Recent British String Quartets’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 33 (2014), pp. 266–80; Roger Redgate, ‘The Chamber Music’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox, and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998).

‘Listening to the instrument(s)’


25 See Philip Thomas’ discussion of Finnissy’s use of this strategy in Chapter 2 of the present volume. 26 Finnissy also draws upon this source for material for his piece for pianist wearing Morris Bells, Kemp’s Morris (2018). 27 It was also common in the nineteenth century for the cellist to sit next to the first violin, as can be seen in many photographs and drawings (for example, the Joachim Quartett). 28 PSN Conference, 2016. 29 See Richard Barrett in Chapter 15 of this volume for more on instrumental ‘behaviours’ in Finnissy. 30 See Chapter 2 of this volume. 31 Private communication with Paul Patterson, then Head of Composition, 2008. 32 The audience response at a Kreutzer Quartet performance in Munich many years ago (the date cannot be confirmed) in which not one person in the large hall turned around to see what was happening behind them was the subject of much discussion afterwards as the reaction was atypical. Most audiences have felt the need to ‘understand’ what was happening by watching all parts of the process. 33 PSN Conference, 2016. 34 On Finnissy’s wider relationship to musical genres, see Ian Pace in Chapter 3 of the present volume. 35 Amanda Bayley. ‘Ethnographic research into Contemporary String Quartet rehearsal’, Ethnomusicology Forum, vol. 20, no.3 (2011), pp. 385–411. 36 Private conversation with the Kreuzer Quartet. Date unknown. 37 A discussion of a number of aspects of Finnissy’s notation in this quartet can be found in Amanda Bayley and Neil Heyde. ‘Communicating through notation: Michael Finnissy’s Second String Quartet from composition to performance’. Music Performance Research. vol. 8 (2017), pp. 80–97. 38 See Joseph Harrop, ‘The Rhetoric of the Second Violin: a study of performance practice in the string quartet’, (PhD thesis: University of London (Royal Academy of Music), 2006). 39 Keller, The Great Haydn Quartets, p. 9. 40 PSN Conference, 2016. 41 Finnissy employs comparable strategies in The History of Photography in Sound, especially in the chapters North American Spirituals and Unsere Afrikareise. See Ian Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013), pp. 66–72, 73–95, 241–67 for more details on this. 42 PSN Conference, 2016. 43 Karl Robert Mandelkow (ed.), Goethe’s Briefe, Band IV: Briefe der Jahre 1821–1832 (Hamburg: Christian Wegner Verlag, 1967), no. 1443, cited and translated in John Irving, ‘The invention of tradition’, in Jim Samson (ed.) The Cambridge History of Nineteenth Century Music (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 178.

Bibliography Bayley, Amanda. ‘Ethnographic research into Contemporary String Quartet rehearsal’. Ethnomusicology Forum, vol. 20, no.3 (2011), pp. 385–411. Bayley, Amanda; and Clarke, Michael. ‘Analytical Representations of Creative Processes in Michael Finnissy’s Second String Quartet’. Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies, vol 3, issues 1–2 (2009), pp. 139–57.


Neil Heyde

Bayley, Amanda; and Clarke, Michael. ‘Analysing Michael Finnissy’s Second String Quartet: A Multimedia Interactive Approach’. In Christian Utz (ed.), Music Theory and Interdisciplinarity.  8th Congress of the Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie Graz 2008 (musik.theorien der gegenwart) (Saarbrücken: PFAU, 2010), pp. 319–34. Fox, Christopher. ‘Some Recent British String Quartets’. Contemporary Music Review, vol. 33 (2014), pp. 266–80. Harrop, Joseph. ‘The Rhetoric of the Second Violin: a study of performance practice in the string quartet’. PhD thesis: University of London (Royal Academy of Music), 2006. Heyde, Neil. ‘Communicating through notation: Michael Finnissy’s Second String Quartet from composition to performance’. Music Performance Research. vol. 8 (2017), pp. 80–97. Hill, W. Henry; Hill, Arthur F.; and Hill, Alfred E. Antonio Stradivari, His Life and Work (1644–1737). New York: Dover, 1963. Irving, John. ‘The invention of tradition’. In Jim Samson (ed.) The Cambridge History of Nineteenth Century Music (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 178–212. Keller, Hans. The Great Haydn Quartets: Their Interpretation. London: J.M. Dent, 1986. Mandelkow, Karl Robert, ed. Goethe’s Briefe, Band IV: Briefe der Jahre 1821–1832. Hamburg: Christian Wegner Verlag, 1967. Pace, Ian. Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation. Swarland: Divine Art, 2013. Redgate, Roger. ‘The Chamber Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox, and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 135–68. Schönberg, Arnold. Briefe, selected and edited Erwin Stein. Mainz: Schott, 1958. Schoenberg, Arnold. Letters, edited Erwin Stein, translated Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser. London: Faber & Faber, 1964. Finnissy: Music for String Quartet. Kreutzer Quartet. Metier, MSV 92011 (1999). Michael Finnissy, Second and Third String Quartets. NMC CD180 (2012). Michael Finnissy String Quartets. Kreutzer Quartet; Linda Merrick, clarinet. Metier, MSV 28581 (2018). Bayley, Amanda; and Clarke, Michael. Evolution and collaboration: the composition, rehearsal and performance of Finnissy’s Second String Quartet. DVD: PALATINE. 2011. Chi Mei Ricercari rehearsal (video document): Neil Heyde, cellos, Zubin Kanga, piano, Michael Finnissy. Royal Academy of Music, 24 September 2015. The inner life of the cello, 27 November 2015, Royal Academy of Music. Neil Heyde, cellos from the Royal Academy Collection, and Zubin Kanga, piano, with Michael Finnissy in conversation, 2016: at (accessed 17 July 2018).

Section C

Compositional considerations

Taylor & Francis Taylor & Francis Group


Notational and non-notational paradigms in Finnissy’s music Nigel McBride

As seen in Chapter 4, Finnissy’s attitudes towards musical notation and scoring vary in terms of their co-dependence with particular musical works. As also argued in that chapter, however, the roles of specific musical notations  are more than incidental to their musical works; they serve to fix their identity,  and provide a means with which to realise the work. Within  these  notations, Finnissy establishes and utilises multiple paradigms, which variously transform a passively indicative role for notation to  one which is  actively compositional. In this chapter, I will examine Finnissy’s notational paradigms for their compositional and musical content. Due to the sheer size of Finnissy’s catalogue, an exhaustive investigation of his notation is beyond the scope of the present chapter. However, an identification of specific paradigms from key works can still provide a general framework for exploring Finnissy’s notation. Which paradigms should qualify for examination, and why? I previously discussed the notion of ‘paradigmatic works’, paradigmatic because they exemplify the causal relationship between a work’s performing-means, and the musical work itself. This category will serve as a sieve through which Finnissy’s notation will be filtered. The major questions raised by standard notation have been multiply addressed elsewhere,1 so this discussion will focus upon that which is specific to Finnissy’s works, and has previously received little comment. The paradigms that will be discussed are exceptional because they sit outside of, and often against, the general paradigm Jerrold Levinson attributes to Beethoven, and ‘most “classical” compositions, and effectively all from 1750 to the present’.2

Methods In Chapter 4, I proposed a synthetic model for paradigmatic works that fuses aspects of Jerrold Levinson and Nelson Goodman’s ontologies, which constructs the musical work as a composite of the performingmeans and  the sound structure it indicates. Goodman’s notational/ non-notational classification was used to show the strict relationship between


Nigel McBride

a musical notation and any potential resulting sound structure. Levinson proposed that: An instance of a musical work W is a sound event which conforms completely to the sound/performance-means structure of W and which exhibits the required connection to the indicative activity wherein W’s composer A creates W.3 The performing-means structure is in part subject to Goodman’s notational/non-notational classification; in part because the structure is itself a more complex conglomeration of musical notations, instrumental forces, and musical-historic contexts. Goodman’s classification is dependent upon notational differentiation, in which the content of musical inscriptions, marks, and utterances, is unambiguous and fully determinate.4 According to Goodman: A system is notational, then, if and only if all objects complying with inscriptions of a given character belong to the same compliance class and we can, theoretically, determine that each mark belongs to, and each object complies with inscriptions of, at most one particular character.5 Compliance, in Goodman’s ontology, is the correlation between an inscription and what it denotes. In Ex. 9.1 the marking A4 has as its compliant a pitched tone within the tuning system that corresponds with A4 (which, for most purposes is a tone at 440Hz); a ᅄ in the context of the metronome marking ᅄ = 60, has as its compliant a duration of 1/s. It is a composite inscription of both pitched and rhythmic information, for whichever instrument is indicated in the performing-means.6

Ex. 9.1 A4 indication.

As the example above indicates no specific instrument, the compliance-class of the figure can be achieved with any instrument capable of producing the tone indicated in the inscription, which lies within the range of almost every instrument common in Western art music.7 There is no process by which a retrieval of a notation can be made compliant: whatever is denoted by a symbol, or inscription, or utterance, or mark, is by definition compliant with it.8 Goodman notes, that in any given system, many things may comply with a single inscription (such as the example of a free cadenza), which collectively comprise the ‘compliance-class of the inscription under that system’.9

Notational and non-notational paradigms


For Goodman, the quality of being compliant is only attributable to structures which are notational; musical elements which are non-notational are by definition not capable of having a compliance-class, and as such cannot have compliants. Goodman, in summarising his definition of a notational system, states that ‘the properties required of a notational system are unambiguity and syntactic and semantic disjointness and differentiation’.10 It is this framework that I will use to identify the notational and compositional consequences of Finnissy’s inscriptions. Further to Goodman’s system, two additional concepts are introduced. The quality of ‘compliance-potential’ will indicate notations which for one reason or other are expected to fail compliance in retrieval as a result of context, not through lack of notational potential (see the section ‘Extended N inscriptions’, further on). Rather than considering compound inscriptions (such as Ex. 9.1, where the combination of the clef, stave, and notehead position relative to them, together have a compliance) as being either notational or non-notational, they will be considered in terms of what notational information they do convey. For example, and as seen in Ex. 9.3, if a pitch is indicated without any rhythmic values, this will be considered as a notational subsystem in which those inscriptions have compliance-classes. For clarity, from this point onward, ‘N/NN’ will be used to refer to Goodman’s notational/non-notational model, with N referring to inscriptions which are notational, and NN referring to inscriptions that are non-notational.

Compliance Ex. 9.2 is an extract from Finnissy’s piano piece De toutes flours (1990), which can be analysed in these terms. This passage can be considered N: all of the indicated musical features are fully determinate, and fixed. Considered in the context of Goodman’s model, it is, at least theoretically if not practically, possible to consistently retrieve the indicated sound structure from this extract. The speed of each rhythmic duration is specified through the tempo marking, each pitch is clearly differentiated from the other, and the dynamic volume of the passage is indicated, although the nature of conveying material loudness is an entire debate in itself and not considered by Goodman as being a N inscription.

Ex. 9.2 Finnissy, opening of De toutes flours (1990). © Oxford University Press 1998.


Nigel McBride

By contrast, Déjà fait for unspecified ensemble (2006) features two inscription systems, one of which contains little to no N elements, which Finnissy refers to as ‘a discontinuous accompaniment’, and is not potentially-compliant:

Ex. 9.3 Finnissy, from Déjà fait (2006). © Michael Finnissy.

The indicated pitches have no reference clef to indicate their absolute pitch value, there is no rhythmic or metric information, and no dynamic is specified. The other inscription system employed in this work is what Finnissy terms ‘conventionally written material’, which is subject to the standard notational conventions associated with the standard notational paradigm.11 This example corresponds to Goodman’s discussion of multiple notational subsystems within a work, which may have multiple compliant performances. So while the inscriptions in Ex. 9.3 do not have any potentially-compliant performances, due to the nature of the inscribed elements, the actual work Déjà fait may as a whole have multiply compliant performances. Despite the fact that Goodman’s N model can be applied to Finnissy’s ‘conventionally written material’, Finnissy’s inscriptions for the accompaniment material have no compliance themselves as an N system. They can, however, have compliance in the context of the wider work. Finnissy states that the accompaniment material should be ‘played in either treble or bass’, which allows the pitched material two compliance-classes (for treble, and bass), and ‘[w]henever elements of the material are repeated a different ‘reading’ should be made each time – either of clef and register, duration and tempo, articulation, or dynamic’, which further limits the range of performances that might be compliant.12 Even though Finnissy’s textual direction is not itself a musical notation, it serves the function of contextualising the inscriptions that have no potential-compliant, and as such establish a retrieval framework that the NN elements can comply with.

Composite N inscriptions Composite N inscriptions are those inscription by Finnissy which comprise some N inscription and additional contextual information supplied through other NN inscriptions. In his chapter on Finnissy’s chamber works in Uncommon Ground, Roger Redgate notes that Finnissy is ‘acutely conscious of the relationship between the psychological nature and structural function of his notation’, echoing

Notational and non-notational paradigms


Finnissy’s own comments from his interview in the same book.13 The example that Finnissy gives of notational distinctions between half-notes and sixty-fourth notes, which I illustrate in Ex. 9.4, is itself quite revealing:

Ex. 9.4 Illustration of Finnissy’s example of notational distinctions in ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’.

Despite the vast notational distinction between (a) and (b), the sounding consequence – at least theoretically – is identical. However, the hemidemisemiquaver figuration contains, and implies, significantly more notation information. There is no capacity for minims to be beamed together in standard notation, so metrical groupings through beaming are not possible for (a), while they are for (b), and seen in (c). Aside from the notational distinction,  smaller durational values have a specific historical and musical connotation, which despite more recent compositional trends, is still prevalent in musical pedagogy. As such, smaller durational values have the connotations of being more virtuosic, more intricate, more complex, and typically faster, and it is not unreasonable to anticipate that these characteristics affect not only how a performer might engage with the durations, but also the preparation of such figures. One might be inclined to practise (b) as a set of individual beats, and as such emphasise that fact through a slight reduction of their durational value, as where (c) might be more likely to be prepared as a grouped rhythm, and as such less emphasis or preparation is applied to the individual attacks, and more on achieving a uniform rhythmic profile. Ex. 9.5 shows what this might mean in the context of an actual Finnissy work.14

Ex. 9.5 Finnissy, All the trees they are so high for solo violin (1977), a passage in the original form, then with octupled note values. © Michael Finnissy.


Nigel McBride

In composite N inscriptions, the notation has full compliance-potential, but also contains additional contextual information that aids in the comprehension of the musical material. Whether this is a more abstract and psychological composite or a more clearly indicated one, depends on the context of the material. Explicitly referring to NN inscriptions, and their relation to the retrieval of a work from a score, Goodman says: Thus the verbal language of tempos is not notational. The tempo words cannot be integral parts of a score insofar as the score serves the function of identifying a work from performance to performance. No departure from the indicated tempo disqualifies a performance as an instance – however wretched – of the work defined by the score. For these tempo specifications cannot be accounted integral parts of the defining score, but are rather auxiliary directions whose observance or nonobservance affects the quality of a performance but not the identity of the work.15 While Goodman is referring to tempo indications such as presto, allegro vivace, allegro assai, and so forth, the conclusion he derives is quite clear, and equally applicable to the sort of composite N inscriptions directly under consideration.16 An example of what constitutes an explicit composite N inscription is seen in the previously quoted Ex. 9.2 from De toutes flours, where Finnissy indicates the source of borrowed material in the tenor line.17 While the whole of Finnissy’s piano piece uses elements from the triplum of Machaut’s ballade B31,18 it is seen in its most intact form in the tenor line, where it is presented in a comparatively unaltered state, having been subjected to minor rhythmic transformations, and transposition down a minor 2nd, assuming Finnissy’s source was the Guillame de Machaut: Musikalische Werke.19 Left unindicated, Finnissy’s work would have as its contextual information: a piece for piano, composed by Michael Finnissy, at such a point in time, and other technical details. However, the indication of the source of the material appends additional contextual information to the list of qualities that the notation already possesses, namely some of those associated with Machaut, and with B31 more specifically. Put plainly, what has happened is that Finnissy has made it known to those who have seen his score that Machaut’s work is a point of reference to his own. No singular conclusion can be drawn for the implications for a performer or scholar of Finnissy’s work, but it does significantly expand the range of factors for consideration when scrutinising the piece, evoking constructions of medievalism, its associated performance practices (such as they have been established), contemporary composers’ allusions to early music, and so on. Another example of a composite N inscription can be seen in Ex. 9.6, the opening of North American Spirituals, from Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound. Unlike in the example from De toutes flours, the composite N inscription seen in Ex. 9.2, Ex. 9.6 is not a composite of an N

Notational and non-notational paradigms


Ex. 9.6 Finnissy, opening of North American Spirituals (1997–8), from The History of Photography in Sound. © Oxford University Press 2004.

inscription and an inscription with no compliance-potential; rather, it is a refactoring of an N inscription and its surrounding N context. While in De toutes flours Finnissy added extra contextual information by marking an explicit attribution, in North American Spirituals Finnissy adds contextual information to the N inscriptions by implying a musical tradition also indicated through the inscription of the material itself. The tenor line is at the forefront of the musical texture, made clear by the fact that its noteheads are larger than the other notes surrounding it, and the explicit indication of which voice holds the melody.20 On a strictly musical level, the notational strategy leaves no ambiguity as to the balancing of this passage: the upper voices are indicated to be played mp, with the tenor line marked f; the use of smaller notes surrounding it almost implies an ossia around the main material, a piano reduction, or the visual style used for ornaments marked in certain scores of the Romantic virtuoso tradition.

Extended N inscriptions Extended N inscriptions are those notations in Finnissy’s work which have full potential-compliance, but other factors undermine their retrieval. There are prime examples throughout Finnissy’s work, but a particularly relevant example is found in Piano Concerto No.4 (Ex. 9.7) – which is among Finnissy’s most technically demanding pieces. The tempo for this passage is marked at ‘Allegro [ᅄ = 132]’, which means that the duration of an unmodified quaver is 0.366/s. Some of the registral leaps at this tempo are challenging enough (the jump from G7 to C4 in the top stave is three octaves and a 5th!); when combined with the complexity of the multi-layered

Ex. 9.7 Finnissy, from Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996). © Michael Finnissy.


Nigel McBride

rhythmic relationships and the voice-leading, result in a passage that undermines the reliable retrieval of the indicated sound structure. In such extreme circumstances, the methods proposed by Goodman begin  to fracture.While the passage in Ex. 9.7 theoretically has full compliant-potential, the only realm in which such a compliant retrieval would be possible is from a mechanical production. Yet, a mechanical production does not solve the N issue in this passage; it is beyond the present means for digital or mechanical devices to perform these paradigmatic musical works. They can accurately retrieve indicated sound structures to a degree that is vastly beyond the possibilities of human performers, but they do not have the capacity to make sense of the musicohistorical context of the musical work, which has been previously argued to be an intrinsic and central component of a musical work’s ontology. As such, some other method must be found to account for such musical moments.21 As argued in Chapter 4, Goodman’s N/NN fails in practice, as his system of retrieval and compliance is predicated on a subjective understanding of perception. In the context of Goodman’s model, an implicit tension resides between the retrieval of musical works from notation, and the musical ideal that the notation represents, due to Goodman’s system’s focus on notation’s qualities, rather than accounting for the physical dimensions of performance. In fact, it is seen that all musical notations indicate an ideal sound structure  that is variously unobtainable; a fully compliant retrieval of Yankee Doodle or Twinkle is as likely as that of Finnissy’s Piano Concerto No  4.22 Of course, Yankee Doodle and Twinkle present fewer obstacles in both their retrieval and recognisable comprehension, but as these categories are so hopelessly subjective, they are not a meaningful way to either measure or define performance, which as an activity is more likely still to be unmeaningfully unmeasurable. Consequently, a notational situation is presented in which an N inscription, which has a compliant in the hypothetical, is indicated that presents no viable compliance-classes from a performative view. As such, it becomes necessary to view such N inscriptions through the lens of an NN inscription, to which multiple, rather than a single, compliance-class belongs. Goodman discusses such a situation in relation to English language: in object-English, neither a “ktn” nor a “k” has any compliant. Not only may compound inscriptions happen to be the least units with any compliants but an inscription compounded of inscriptions that have compliants may or may not have compliants; in object-English, though “green” and “horse” have compliants, “green horse” does not.23 By their definition, scores depict a musical ideal.24 Most significantly, the extended N inscription, as typified in Ex. 9.7, forces Goodman’s ontology to admit that musical ideals specify not only specific notational systems and sub-systems, but also non-notational systems which are only indicated implicitly. In Chapter 4, I discussed Goodman’s acknowledgement that any score can employ multiple notational sub-systems, but in doing so, any additional

Notational and non-notational paradigms


sub-system that is non-notational requires the deployment of choice by a performer in how to retrieve any indicated information. Goodman’s example of both figured-bass and free cadenzas admits that they offer ‘free choice between figured-bass and specific notation’ and that ‘[t]he performer, again, is given wide scope’.25 Rather than dismantle the architecture that he has erected, Goodman accounts for these NN elements within the context of his ontology by stating that ‘the language of musical scores is not purely notational but divides into notational subsystems.’26 Such notational subsystem are indicated through extended N inscriptions. An ideal musical sound structure is indicated in N terms, but any practical retrieval is inhibited through its own definition. The fact that the indicated material is specific in its composed elements is a telling sign of how the specific extended N inscription is to be treated. As will be demonstrated shortly, Finnissy does employ inscriptions which either contain no, or diminished, compliance-potential, so such a passage as indicated in Ex. 9.7 must be taken at face value. Ian Pace, in discussing other musical passages with similar retrieval issues, proposes a method in dealing with such inscriptions.27 Additionally, in discussing the passage from Piano Concerto No. 4, he offers this: My feeling is that this notation creates a type of impossible ideal, which one can strive for in order to push oneself to the limits, which will generate a certain type of result even if one falls short of complete accuracy.28

Semi-N inscriptions These are inscriptions which lack one of more of the attributes needed to have full compliance-potential, but do retain some compliance-potential elements. Most prevalent in Finnissy’s scores are pitched inscriptions which lack N durational information. A recurrent device that occurs in the History is that which Pace categorises as ‘[u]nmeasured music: Grace note interjections, pointillistic gestures’,29 as in Ex. 9.8. While their relationship between the N potential and its inscription is largely unchanged when used, the compositional impetus can vary wildly

Ex. 9.8 Finnissy, from Le réveil de l’intraitable realité (1999–2000), from The History of Photography in Sound. © Oxford University Press 2004.


Nigel McBride

from piece to piece, and even within the same work. Ex. 9.8, which is the first full instance of this kind of material and inscription in The History, arrives without announcement, or if that is not the case, at least emerges from the preceding material. In this specific example, Finnissy provides no indication of the precise nature of this notational paradigm. In terms of potential N compliance, there are indications that a new sub-system begins at the Eᅈ6 in  the  middle of the bar, where the quasi-quaver inscription no longer functions as it did previously. For example, the quasi-quavers begin to behave quite unlike quavers would in paradigmatic notation; the placement of the B#2 that is positioned  just after the {F#4 – D5} dyad contradicts the standard proportional 2:1 hierarchical relationship between rhythmic units in conventional notation, so it cannot be assumed that this is how they are to be  interpreted. There are some clearly maintained N elements, such as the pitch indications, for which there is no ambiguity. So, what remains is  the rhythmic ambiguity. Even within this now ambiguous framework, there are indications as to how the passage might be retrieved: in this passage, and others like it, some canonical rhythmic elements are retained, including crotchets, quavers, and the inclusion of a third duration, which is the stemless note head. In the specific example in Ex. 9.8, a metronomic indication from the start of the section (page 28), of [ᅄ= 108] would still be in effect, from which a base duration for the quasi-quavers and crotchets could be derived. There is no precedent for the stemless notehead (as seen with the D#7), but the compositional action here quite clearly indicates that the duration is not specified, and as such it must be inferred that it is at the discretion of the performer. Like in the example of extended N inscriptions, semi-N inscriptions of this order have multiple compliance-classes which they denote. Finnissy treats this particular paradigm in a few different ways. Later on in The History, he explicitly frames them in a proportional context:

Ex. 9.9 Finnissy, from Unsere Afrikareise (1998), from The History of Photography in Sound. © Oxford University Press 2004.

Notational and non-notational paradigms


Ex. 9.9 shows another configuration in which these semi-N inscriptions appear. Interestingly in these sections, the actual stave itself becomes a part of the N context. The direction, that ‘[e]ach line: approx. 7 seconds’, bounds the duration of the enclosed inscriptions to the dimensions of the stave lines, resulting in a subsystem that suggests certain compliant-classes. The most practical way to approach realising such a section is the one used by Pace when performing this passage. The bar is equally divided into seven sections, corresponding to the indicated c. 7’ duration (see Ex. 9.10 for a graphic realisation of this). Doing as such offers a general indication as to what pitch events happen when, and generally how long they should be sustained for.30 Although not necessary, this proportional notation could be combined with the strategy proposed for Ex. 9.7, in which the 2:1 ration between quaver-like and crotchet-like inscriptions is maintained, while the gracenote-like and unstemmed inscriptions both occur outside of the implied tempo framework.

Ex. 9.10 Finnissy, from Unsere Afrikareise, with lines to indicate placing of attacks. © Oxford University Press 2004.

The points of strong vertical alignment at seconds 1’, 3’, 5’, and 6’, may indicate that this method of analysis corresponds to Finnissy’s composition of this passage. Consequently, this notational paradigm has as its complianceclasses all those retrievals which approximately engage the specified pitches between approximately the durations specified. Much more can be said about the role of this paradigm in the History which is beyond the scope of the present discussion. Pace, in his monograph on the History, details the compositional process of these pointillistic sections, and offers analysis of their potential poetics within the context of the History more widely.31 Examples of semi-N inscriptions that treat rhythm in a similar way to the two examples discussed previously can be found throughout Finnissy’s works. Some notable examples include afar (1966–7), which uses both indeterminately durationed pitch inscriptions, and a large finale in fifty sections that sets the duration of the semi-breve ‘as long as the breath can be held’.


Nigel McBride

‘Naked original skin beneath our dreams & robes of thought’, from Beat Generation Ballads, indicates a system similar to that seen in Ex. 9.8 and 9.9. Semi-N inscriptions are not limited to situations that redefine rhythmic relationships. In Casual Nudity (2000–1) (Ex. 9.11), the parts for bass flute, guitar, double bass, and piano each contain ‘unpitched’ material, in which rhythms are indicated without any pitch information beyond general indications relative to a central stave line:

Ex. 9.11 Finnissy, from Casual Nudity (2000–1). © Michael Finnissy.

The vibraphone part does not contain any such unpitched material of this sort, while its performer is also responsible for another intriguing percussion part in the score. Finnissy is quite explicit in his requirements for these passages: 7) The unpitched material is to be played on the performers’ clothing, body, or the floor-space around them. Only minimal (and ‘unconventional’) use should be made of the instruments. The focus should clearly be on interesting, and audible, SOUNDS. Additional sound-sources and means to active them should be avoided in preference to tapping, scraping, stamping, clapping, rubbing and slapping!32 Such inscriptions in Casual Nudity have as compliance-classes all such realisations that meet Finnissy’s requirements, which can be very many. Semi-N inscriptions need not necessarily be considered as entirely selfcontained paradigms. Much as was demonstrated with composite N inscriptions, semi-N inscriptions can comprise contextual information which alludes  to various traditions and interpretive strategies. A particularly common trope that reoccurs in Finnissy’s music is an allusion to the sung liturgical music commonly associated with the Roman rites. His short piano piece Cibavit eos (1990) (Ex. 9.12), is an example of this paradigm.

Ex. 9.12 Finnissy, opening of Cibavit eos (1990). © Oxford University Press 1998.

Although the musical context for Finnissy’s piece is on the surface quite removed from any sacred context, his piece is a reworking of the work attributed to Mozart, Cibavit eos, KV 44.33 Without an explicit attribution, the

Notational and non-notational paradigms


presentation of the unmeasured material in this way creates a strong visual allusion to the tradition of liturgical chant. The implication that this passage  is to be realised in a manner that alludes to the liturgical tradition is compelling, however, as this is a composite inscription, and not strictly N, is it not possible to evaluate the compliance-classes that belong to it in terms of their pseudo-liturgical delivery. Similar examples to this one are recurrent throughout Finnissy’s works; June (2003), for piano trio, features an entirely unmeasured violin part, set against N material in the cello and piano part. Many of the considerations in Ex. 9.8, 9.9, and 9.11 also apply here. Although the composite N paradigm is not applicable through a clear allusion to another kind of musical practice, it is in fact still relevant in such examples. In the context of June, and other works which feature this configuration, the fact that a semi-N inscription is set against N material creates a composite-semi-N paradigm. The setting of two systems of inscription against each other is both a salient issue in terms of the identity of the work  as  a whole, and a vital compositional decision. Due to the pervasive nature of the ‘psychological’ aspect of musical inscriptions, it is hard to imagine that any of Finnissy’s inscriptions are not subject to the composite paradigm in some shape or form.

NN inscriptions There are relatively few truly NN inscriptions in Finnissy’s output. When they do occur, they are primarily in the ‘kit’ pieces produced for unspecified ensembles, such as Après-Midi Dada (2006), and Post-Christian Survival Kit (2003), or in works inspired by others employing graphical means, such as Babylon (1971) (whose notation resembles directly sections in scores of Sylvano Bussotti). Après-Midi Dada features ‘twelve “graphics”’ (such as Ex. 9.13) for realisation by percussion and/or any other unpitched sound sources (including electronic and pre-recorded).34 Unlike in semi-N inscriptions, the percussion graphics have no potential compliant-classes, due to the fact that the inscriptions do not denote any compliant. As ‘the properties required of a notational system are unambiguity and syntactic and semantic disjointness and differentiation’ are not present in the indicated graphics, the system fails to be notational.35 It is important to clarify that to categorise an inscription as NN is not a pejorative evaluation, only an observation that it fails to constitute and determine consistent musical material. If the issue of consistency is the primary deciding factor as to whether or not an inscription denotes a musical material, then some of the inscriptions addressed earlier would also fail to be musical material; semi-N inscriptions have only a partial theoretical consistency, where their identity is predicated upon having at least one consistently indicated material parameter that does satisfy some aspects of notationality. It would be erroneous to conclude then that all NN inscriptions are in some way


Nigel McBride

Ex. 9.13 Finnissy, graphic from Après-Midi Dada (2006). © Michael Finnissy.

supplementary to the musical work. They can still serve one of the primary functions of a musical text by specifying sounding musical elements, even though the general characteristic of the musical elements are variously undefined. The example in Après-Midi Dada is not wholly permissible. In fact, the elements are stipulated quite clearly: ‘percussion and/or any other unpitched sound sources (including electronic and pre-recorded)’. As such, it would be possible to differentiate between musical textures that satisfy this requirement, and those that do not, even if it were not possible to differentiate the texture that belongs to the work Après-Midi Dada, and those belonging to another work that stipulates the same texture. Taking into account the previous discussion on how the presentation of inscriptions can influence the way in which the materials are conceived, the graphics of Après-Midi Dada can conceivably indicate varying intensities and density, although the way in which these inscriptions are to be determined is entirely at the discretion of those realising them. It would be no more incorrect to interpret the graphics as an indication that the white-space of the page indicates the density of attacks than that the black marks do so, which would be an unorthodox, but equally valid, reading. If one were to decide that the NN inscriptions were incidental to the work and not interpret them, then while the NN materials may remain, to use Goodman’s term for being without a compliant, ‘vacant’ both ontologically and in performance, such a decision would have wider ramifications on the rest of the work. The identity of the work stipulates that these graphics form a constituent, if undifferentiable, part of it; in a sense,

Notational and non-notational paradigms


the work and its instructions form a composite semi-N inscription, in which the semi-N inscriptions comprise the atomic components of those inscriptions that truly are N, or have compliance-potential, and have the graphical inscriptions as their contextual NN inscriptions. Post-Christian Survival Kit makes use of a similar device for the indication of unpitched percussion (see Ex. 9.14). The indication Finnissy gives in the preface of the score for these inscriptions is: These are maps, roughly indicating the performance-space. The sounds are of two types indicated by different symbols: a small ‘v’ and a squareblock. The sounds should be discreet and of short duration, not necessarily made by conventional percussion instruments. The players (any number) follow the pathways indicated on the map. This element of the texture is, nonetheless, ‘background’ and should in no way dominate or distract.36 Unlike in Après-Midi Dada, which is particularly broad in terms of the acceptable realisations of its graphics, Post-Christian Survival Kit limits the character of sounds to two types, thus narrowing the number of compliantclasses it shares with other similar works.

Ex. 9.14 Finnissy, graphic from Post-Christian Survival Kit (2003). © Oxford University Press.


Nigel McBride

In Babylon, Finnissy utilises a NN inscription that is more obviously musical than in the example from Après-Midi Dada.37 Ex. 9.15 has features in common with the semi-N inscriptions discussed previously. Unlike those semi-N inscriptions, the example in figure 13 as an inscription has no potential-compliance of its own. Without the accompanying stave and bass clef, all musical features would be at the discretion of the interpreter, as in Ex. 9.13. While pitch information can be generally inferred from the contour and positioning of the shaded field, no rhythmic information is supplied, and no means of execution are indicated. As with the examples from Après-Midi Dada and Post-Christian Survival Kit, it would not be possible to determine whether the resulting sound structure produced from Ex. 9.15 is different to another sound structure that is defined from similar constraints. The revised version of Babylon (2001) removes the sorts of NN inscriptions as seen in Ex. 9.15, but additionally contains graphics closer to that of Ex. 9.14, such as in Ex. 9.16.

Ex. 9.15 Finnissy, graphic from Babylon (first version, 1971). © Universal Edition 1979.

Ex. 9.16 Finnissy, diagram from Babylon (revised 2001 version). © Michael Finnissy.

Notational and non-notational paradigms


Works and their inscriptions By viewing Finnissy’s music through the apparatus of their inscriptions being notational, or non-notational, and those compromises between them, it is possible to see how the musical materials and inscriptions define their own relation to their performance. The methods, derived, but not replicated, from those of Goodman and Levinson, show the very central role of not only the traditionally musical inscriptions, but also the contextual elements that define their execution and content. In the examples given of Finnissy’s kit pieces, there is no single verifiable sound structure that is Après-Midi Dada, or Post-Christian Survival kit. However, all sound structures that indicate these works will have elements in common with each other, and potentially to the sound structures of other works. This is not unique to Finnissy’s music, however. Every work that has ever indicated the note seen in Ex. 9.1 has that atomic sound structure in common. For such an element to be common amongst musical works does not weaken the identities of those that share them. Works as a whole cannot have their identity bound to all inscriptions having compliance-classes. While a work has a compliance-class as a member, that compliance-class can function as the central aspect of the work’s identity. Other compliance-classes that pertain to it may variously reinforce or diminish the works identity based on how many other inscriptions also may share that compliance-class. As much as different compliant performances can be of the same work, even if they do not all have the same identical sound structure, down to the micro-timings of rhythms, and intonation of pitches, performances can be compliant in the same way, even if some specific inscriptions have no compliants.

Notes 1 There are a great many texts and sources which deal with the notation of musical ideas, and the grammars and syntax of musical notations. See Gardner Read, Contemporary Instrumental Techniques (New York: Schirmer Books, 1976); Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice (New York: Taplinger, 1979); Twentieth Century Microtonal Notation (New York and London: Greenwood Press, 1990); Pictographic Score Notation (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998); Modern Rhythmic Notation (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003); Kurt Stone, Music Notation in the Twentieth Century: A Practical Guidebook (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980); ‘Problems and Methods of Notation’, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 1, no. 2 (Spring, 1963), pp. 9–31; Christian Dimpker, Extended notation: the depiction of the unconventional (Münster: Lit, 2013); Erhard Karkoschka, Das Schriftbild der Neuen Musik. Bestandsaufnahme neuer Notationssymbole; Anleitung zu deren Deutung, Realisation und Kritik (Celle: Moeck, 2004). 2 Jerrold Levinson, ‘What a Musical Work is’, The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 77, no. 1 (January 1980), p. 15. 3 Ibid. p. 26. 4 Content in this context means the value of the inscription, which could be considered a pitch value, or a rhythmic value, so that no A4 could be visibly mistaken


5 6


8 9 10 11 12 13

14 15 16 17 18 19


21 22

Nigel McBride

for any other pitch, and a rhythmic duration could not be mistaken for any other duration; it should not be possible for a crotchet to mean both a crotchet, and a quaver simultaneously, or an A4 to also mean a B4 simultaneously, as an example. Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (Indianapolis, IN, New York and Kansas City: The Bobbs-Merril Company, 1968), p. 156. Although there may be various reasons for the origins of metronome markings in scores, and indeed approaches to the interpretation of them, in the context of musical notation, which relies on a hierarchical relationship between indicated beats-per-minute, and subdivisions thereof, this statement holds true. If a flexible approach were taken to this statement, it would have cascading consequences for the notational system of musical inscriptions, in which any figurative realisation of any marking can be justified by reasonable approximation. Is it also worth noting that in Ex. 9.1, the A4ness of the inscription is achieved by the combination of the notehead and its position relative to the stave and clef; without the stave and clef, that particular inscription has no A4ness about it, while it might still have a crotchet-like quality. See Ian Pace, ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’, in Darla Crispin (ed.), Unfolding Time (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), pp. 151–92, for a negative model of notation which is defined not in terms of which complianceclasses a notation has, but rather, which compliance-classes it has not. Goodman, Languages of Art, p. 144. Ibid. p. 144. Ibid. p. 156. Michael Finnissy, preface to score of Déjà fait (Unpublished, 2006). Ibid. Roger Redgate, ‘The Chamber Music’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), p. 150, and ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, ibid. pp. 32–3. My thanks to Ian Pace for suggesting and typesetting this example. Goodman, Languages of Art, p. 185. Ibid. See Ian Pace in Chapter 3 of this volume on Finnissy’s processes and categories of borrowing material. Though ornamented using figurations from piobaireachd. See Ian Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, in Uncommon Ground, p. 100. Friedrich Ludwig (ed.), Guillaume de Machaut: Musikalische Werke, Vol. 1: Balladen, Rondeaux und Vierlais (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1954), pp. 35–6. Had Finnissy not indicated the origin of the material, then the chances of the source material having been identified would be significantly diminished, and would only be available to those that had more than a passing familiarity with Machaut’s secular songs. However, because the source is indicated in the score, much contextual information is added to what would otherwise be an inscription much like any other. See Ian Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013), pp. 73–95, on North American Spirituals, for a detailed discussion of the musical and cultural context to which Finnissy makes reference. See Chapter 4 for a discussion of musico-cultural context. See Chapter 4 for a discussion of how Goodman’s model underscores the theoretical nature of music notation. The absurdity of such a statement is not lost. But

Notational and non-notational paradigms

23 24

25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33

34 35 36 37


the realm of Goodman’s model, and indeed the present discussion is situated well outside of musical practice, and firmly in the domain of hypothetical musical situations. Such hypothetical situations arise in works by Finnissy, Ferneyhough, Schoenberg, Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, and many others, in which a notational situation emerges that inhibits a musician from simply ‘playing the piece’. In much the same way that a pianist must sometimes find a novel fingering to facilitate the execution of a score, it is sometimes necessary to approach the musical notation with an eye to the novel, so that some partially viable retrieval is actuated. This is not due to a deficiency in the compositional capabilities of these composers, but rather reflects the reality that musical notation and the sounding life of music are distinct in their form and ontology. Goodman, Languages of Art, p. 145. If the score and its inscriptions are to be viewed as a kind of musical ideal, which given that ‘scores serve the function of identifying a work from performance to performance’, is practically the defining characteristic of a certain kind of score, then it must be taken that scores do indeed represent the ideal of a particular inscription that denotes steps taken to retrieve a sound structure. See Goodman, Languages of Art, p. 184. Ibid. Ibid. Ian Pace, ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’, in Darla Crispin (ed.), Unfolding Time (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), p. 152. Ian Pace, instant message to the author, 18 June 2018. Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, p. 59. Though Pace makes clear that this is just a rough guide, and some of the layout of lines clearly relates to the practicalities of notating them so they ‘fit’ and are clear. Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 19–20, 264–5. Finnissy, preface to score of Casual Nudity (Unpublished, 2000–1). First published in the programme notes for one of the installments in Pace’s yearlong festival of Finnissy’s piano music, Pace drew attention to scholarship identifying that Mozart’s K44 was actually a copy of Johann Stadlmayr Musica super cantum gregorianum, composed in 1625 and transcribed by Mozart in 1769. Pace, Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (7), 7 November 2016, and Cliff Eisen, ‘The Mozarts’ Salzburg Music Library’, in Eisen (ed.), Mozart Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 102. Larry Goves later made the same observation, but failed to attribute this discovery to Pace, who had communicated it to him; see Larry Goves, ‘Michael Finnissy And Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Composer as Anthropologist’, Tempo vol. 71, no. 280 (April 2017), pp. 47–55. Finnissy, score of Après-Midi Dada (Karlsruhe: Tre Media Musikverlag, 2006), p. i. Goodman, Languages of Art, p. 156. Finnissy, preface to score of Post-Christian Survival Kit. See chapter 12 for a statement from Finnissy acknowledging the influence of Bussotti on his notation. Finnissy’s awareness of Bussotti and the particular ways in which his notations have been realised, indicates that there was a certain performance practice that had emerged around these graphical inscriptions.

Bibliography Dimpker, Christian. Extended notation: the depiction of the unconventional. Münster: Lit, 2013.


Nigel McBride

Eisen, Cliff. ‘The Mozarts’ Salzburg Music Library’. In Cliff Eisen (ed.), Mozart Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 85–138. Finnissy, Michael; Fox, Christopher; Pace, Ian; and Brougham, Henrietta. ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 1–42. Finnissy, Michael. Preface to score of Casual Nudity. Unpublished, 2000–1. Finnissy, Michael. Preface to score of Déjà fait. Unpublished, 2006. Goodman, Nelson. Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols. Indianapolis, IN, New York and Kansas City, KA: The Bobs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1968. Goves, Larry. ‘Michael Finnissy and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Composer as Anthropologist’. Tempo, vol. 71, no. 280 (April 2017), pp. 47–55. Karkoschka, Ehrhard. Das Schriftbild der Neuen Musik. Bestandsaufnahme neuer Notationssymbole; Anleitung zu deren Deutung, Realisation und Kritik. Celle: Moeck, 2004. Levinson, Jerrold. ‘What a Musical Work Is’. The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 77, no. 1 (1980), pp. 215–63. Ludwig, Friedrich, ed. Guillaume de Machaut: Musikalische Werke. Vol. 1: Balladen, Rondeaux und Vierlais. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1926. Pace, Ian. ‘The Piano Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 43–134. Pace, Ian. ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’. In Darla Crispin (ed.), Unfolding Time (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), pp. 151–92. Pace, Ian. Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation. Swarland: Divine Art, 2013. Pace, Ian. ‘Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (7)’ (November 2016), available online at (accessed 23 June 2018). Read, Gardner. Contemporary instrumental techniques. New York: Schirmer Books, 1976. Read, Gardner. Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice. New York: Taplinger, 1979. Read, Gardner. Twentieth Century Microtonal Notation. New York and London: Greenwood Press, 1990. Read, Gardiner. Pictographic Score Notation. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998. Read, Gardiner. Modern Rhythmic Notation. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003. Redgate, Roger. ‘The Chamber Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 135–68. Stone, Kurt. Music Notation in the Twentieth Century: A Practical Guidebook. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1980. Stone, Kurt. ‘Problems and MEthods of Notations’. Perspectives of New Music, vol. 1, no. 2 (Spring 1963), pp. 9–31.

10 Finnissy and pantonality Surface and inner necessity Arnold Whittall

A piece of music will always have to be tonal, at least in so far as a relation has to exist from tone to tone by virtue of which the tones, placed next to one another, yield a perceptible continuity. The tonality [itself] may then perhaps be neither perceptible nor provable; these relations may be obscure and difficult to comprehend, even incomprehensible. … If one insists on looking for names, “polytonal” or “pantonal” could be considered.1 The expression, atonal, cannot be taken seriously as an expression.2

Schoenberg tied himself in knots in the attempt to explain how music could not be atonal, even when dissonance is fully emancipated and tonality is not singular and stable (‘monotonal’) but (in English) ‘floating’, ‘fluctuating’, or ‘suspended’.3 As a result, he set a challenge for commentators on music since 1900 that remains in place more than a century after his initial terminological forays in Harmonielehre.4 Yet even if Schoenberg created more problems for music theory than he could solve by his methods of composing, he was right to anticipate long-term discontent with the negative connotations of ‘atonal’, among thinking musicians, and with the difficulties that attempts at blanket labelling involve. When asked in 2014 by John Palmer if he thought that ‘“pantonality”, and by that I specifically mean a non-discriminatory tonal eclecticism in composition, may be the true musical idiom of the 21st century’, Michael Finnissy replied briskly that ‘I try to leave labelling to other people’. He was clearly not prepared to be set in stone as a non-discriminatory tonal eclectic, preferring to ‘have fun in exploring, challenging, skating on thin ice’.5 In music today no ice is thinner than that which a commentator can confidently claim to pantonally cover the surface of something that is otherwise even more difficult to label.

A multiplicity of labels The ‘other people’ to whom Finnissy is happy to leave the task of providing labels are likely to include music theorists, many of whom in recent times have given little credence to ‘pantonality’ as a useful concept, despite or because of its Schoenbergian provenance. For example, Richard Cohn’s


Arnold Whittall

willingness to use ‘pan-triadic’ – by analogy with Nicholas Slominsky’s ‘pan-diatonic’ – to refer to ‘any composition, or segment thereof, that consists exclusively or predominantly of major or minor triads without determining a tonal centre’, on the grounds that ‘both terms designate music that uses fundamental materials of tonality in tonally indeterminate ways, one by using diatonic scale without triads, and the other by using triads without diatonic scales’,6 seems expressly to exclude non-triadic contexts, along with other contexts in which dissonance is emancipated and ‘common practice’ is not so much extended as contradicted. Cohn’s focus is rather on the kind of ‘tonal multi-stability’ he finds in arrestingly chromatic yet triadic materials like Wagner’s ‘Tarnhelm’ motif. Cohn’s terminology, like Dmitri Tymoczko’s ‘extended common practice’,7 appears to stop short of Schoenberg’s post-tonal credo that ‘one may sooner sacrifice logic and unity in the harmony than in the thematic substance. … A piece whose harmony is not unified, but which develops its motive and thematic material logically, should, to a certain degree, have intelligent meaning.’8 This wording resembles an attempt to balance modernist lack of harmonic logic against classical motivic-thematic logic, in the interests of a degree of ‘intelligent meaning’ – by which the high-modernist Schoenberg seems to understand something akin to perceptions about ‘sense’ as cogent and connected. By comparison, a hyper-modernist like Finnissy might appear to by-pass conceptual ‘logic’ or ‘intelligent meaning’ altogether, though this emphatically does not mean a preference for incoherence or mindless meaninglessness. Rather, it is as if both tonality and thematicism can be ‘suspended’ in the manner of Felix Draeseke’s proto-Schoenbergian notion of ‘aufgehobene Haupttonart’ (1861) in which, as William Kinderman suggests, ‘the German term retains connotations of preservation together with the basic meaning of abolishment or cancellation’.9 Finnissy has never sought to play down the challenging and complex aspects of his music, least of all at the time of his fiftieth birthday, when his wide-ranging conversations with Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace include such declarations as ‘I’m aware that my work is an uncomfortable, often by design, synthesis of many things, stemming from often very diverse forces, but they’re unified by this sexual thrust’.10 The core idea of ‘an uncomfortable … synthesis’ pinpoints the possibility of a style that is not so much unambiguously avant-garde or experimental (and therefore, in such cases as Boulez’s Structures Ia, genuinely atonal) but rather aims to bring  the  great opposing tendencies of Western art music – classicism and modernism  – into interactive conjunction. In such contexts, ‘synthesis’, at its purest in the kind of classical tonal structures revealed by Schenkerian analysis to be richly integrated around their fundamental unities, is made ‘uncomfortable’ rather than gratifyingly triumphant by input from modernism’s disruptive and fracturing features. During these 1997 conversations Pace remarked that ‘a lot of people find it surprising that you’re a regular advocate and performer of composers like

Finnissy and pantonality


Howard Skempton [and] Chris Newman’, provoking a two-stage response from Finnissy: ‘Well, I like and know Howard and Chris and I believe in their work passionately’. This passionate belief is then rooted in Finnissy’s claim that (despite the superficial contrasts) he sees important similarities between their work and his own. ‘We are all dealing with large topics like fragmentation of life at the end of the twentieth century, the despair and nihilism of people’s responses, the dark cloud of annihilation hanging over us all. I don’t think Skempton or Newman do this particularly differently from me. The surfaces of the music might seem different but not the inner necessity.’ Finnissy then goes on to assert that ‘the number of notes [many for him, fewer for Skempton] become irrelevant. … In a piece like Howard’s Even Tenor, the circle is not being closed. It’s a harmonic sequence which stops short of closing a circle, which I find exactly the same as the kinds of processes I’m interested in. … There are more important things than notes or even diatonicism versus atonality or pan-tonality or whatever, those are all surface factors. It’s the philosophical concerns of these people which interest me.’11 It is true that ‘philosophical concerns’ cannot be ‘surface factors’ in music, though defining their contribution to some kind of background presents considerable challenges. But it is equally true that ‘notes’ – whether identifiable as diatonic scale degrees or as members of modes, post-tonal series forms or sets – can complement their surface functions with more fundamental structural identities, suggesting the presence of hierarchies. In his conversation with Palmer, Finnissy speaks of present-day ‘pluralism’ as ‘a state of stylistic acceptance that characterises the current condition of the arts, at least in music’. And in response to Palmer’s question about pantonality, Finnissy refers to his Brahms-acknowledging Piano Quartet in A Major (1861–2) and Piano Quartet in C minor (1861), both from 2009, saying that ‘I never wanted to abandon tonality, the hierarchies make it interesting. But Chris Newman tells me that I write “atonal tonal music” or “tonally inflected atonal music”. I am careful to avoid cadences and conventional punctuation, a poetic influence maybe, vers libre.’12 By using Newman’s ‘atonal tonal’ dichotomy in the context of the declaration that it is ‘the hierarchies’ that make tonality ‘interesting’, Finnissy dramatises the terminological and conceptual problems that bedevil attempts to devise consistent technical language valid for critical accounts of present-day music. Similarly, the conjunction of an idea of open-ended form and of musical language endlessly engaged with such archetypal notions as diatonicism, atonality and pan-tonality is of great interest and importance, even when the less superficial matter of shared ‘philosophical concerns’ is sidestepped. Referring in passing to diatonicism and atonality, Finnissy might seem to be speaking casually, and (in technical terms) conventionally, and yet the term ‘pan-tonality’ tends to sound more specialised, even more recondite, in part because of its Schoenbergian connotations. ‘Pan-’, as a prefix implying possible reference to, or inclusion of, all – in this instance – tonalities seems to


Arnold Whittall

make sense for Finnissy in relation to the perception that a simple opposition between diatonicism and atonality fails to do justice to the richness of latemodernist musical realities.

A Skempton analysis Even Tenor, written in December 1988 and dedicated to Finnissy,13 is in two distinct sections. Part One comprises a chorale-like sequence of four chords (Ex. 10.1a) drawn from a 14-note gamut (Ex. 10.1b) whose predominant Es, Bs and F#s suggested the spectral, background presence of a Messiaenlike 8-note mode (Ex. 10.1c). Each of the four chords is used five times (the sequence possibly determined by the throw of a dice) and dividing this sequence into two unequal parts based on the presence or absence of immediate repetitions – 11233422144 132431324 prompts a further exploration of invariants – for example, the presence in all 20 chords of the B above middle C – as embodying a Schoenbergian kind of chromatically extended E- tonality, to which the ‘emancipated dissonances’ of Chords 2, 3, and 4 contribute strongly.

Ex. 10.1 (a) Howard Skempton, Even Tenor, source chords. © Oxford University Press 1996.

Ex. 10.1 (b) Howard Skempton, Even Tenor, pitch gamut.

Ex. 10.1 (c) Howard Skempton, Even Tenor, pitch mode.

Finnissy and pantonality


Ex. 10.1 (d) Howard Skempton, Even Tenor, first and last pitch groups.

If the durational as well as the pitch invariants of this first Part of Even Tenor can be heard as offering the prospect of monotonality (though extended, not diatonic), the second part’s sequence of 32 broken chords complements rather than continues such a structural template. The four pitch-classes excluded from Part 1’s mode – A, A#, C and D – all occur within the first 8 bars of Part 2, and the invariant process of graded descent by half steps in one or more of the music’s four linear strands serves to counter Part 1’s relative stability with regard to tonal centricity. As Finnissy indicated, Part 2 stops just short of closing the circle and completing the descent of an octave in all four strands (Ex. 10.1d). And instead of the familiar compositional drama of the polarity between an evolving melody and its accompanying harmony, random movement across a fixed space (Part 1) and logical movement through a changing space seems to be the main idea of the piece. If the constant B of Part 1 personifies one manifestation of evenness, the ways in which its disappearance reappearance and ultimate disappearance again in Part 2 shows that a different kind of evenness or regularity can gently subvert its own apparent principles. It is not so much that Skempton is employing Finnissy’s kind of pantonality – not here, at least – rather that a modernist aesthetic underpins the focus of divergence within Even Tenor in ways which Finnissy can admire, even when he doesn’t imitate them.

Schoenbergian associations In 1949, one of Schoenberg’s favoured American pupils, Dika Newlin, declared that ‘tonality can actually be expressed more fully than ever before, with the resources of the twelve-tone technique’.14 Newlin’s belief that tonality was not incompatible with twelve-tone technique is more likely to have been the result of her knowledge of Schoenberg’s compositions than the product of his actual teaching: and her declaration could be all the more unqualified, given that the newspaper in which this bold assertion appeared was hardly the appropriate forum for an attempt to explain what kind of ‘tonality’ might be present in twelve-tone works from the 1940s like Ode to Napoleon or Dreimal tausend Jahre. Newlin might even have preferred to leave the impression that the fullest exploration of such issues lay in the hands of future generations of twelve-tone composers, not of Schoenberg himself. Nor did early attempts after Schoenberg to theorise extended tonality and pantonality promise speedy and unambiguous advances to specific technical initiatives, if the only book to include the term ‘pantonality’ in its title


Arnold Whittall

is anything to go by. Rudolph Réti attempted to capture the elusive nature of the phenomenon by identifying something ‘which does not appear on the surface but is created by the ear singling out hidden relationships between various points of a melodic or contrapuntal web’.15 But his actual examples did not provide a very persuasive basis for its theoretical validation. Later references to pantonality outside the Schoenberg literature have also been sparse, though the concept resurfaced in the 1980s as scholars sought to discover how the ever-questing Michael Tippett found harmony and tonality discussed in ways that satisfied him. According to Ian Kemp and Meirion Bowen, Tippett’s explorations of harmony texts in the 1930s led him from ‘the pedantries of C.H. Kitson’ to ‘Schoenberg’s Harmonielehre and Hindemith’s Unterweisung im Tonsatz’. However, ‘what he needed was something that dealt with the living emotive force of harmony and tonality. Eventually, he found it in Vincent d’Indy’s Cours de Composition Musicale.’16 As a student, Tippett preferred French pragmatism to Germanic dogmatism: and in 1979 David Matthews summarised Tippett’s technical evolution from a ‘conservative’ principle based on ‘the re-creation of Classical tonality’ to a ‘synthetic language, with its Americanised, blues-based vernacular and widely allusive range, and its use of tonal gestures within a generally non-tonal background (one can usefully employ Rudolph Réti’s term “pantonality” to describe it)’. Matthews argued that it was still too early to determine whether that ‘synthesis’ was ‘a wholly adequate substitute for the Classical tonality of his earlier works’: and his crediting of the term pantonality to Réti rather than Schoenberg might have had something to do with the reservations he expressed a little further on as to the ‘limited expressive range’ of Schoenberg’s own essentially expressionistic language. As Matthews saw it, composers who wished to evoke ‘states of joy, gaiety, exuberance’ in their music ‘might profitably consider how Tippett’s language in its development from orthodox tonality to pantonality has always been a potent vehicle for the widest range of expression’.17

From Schoenberg to Finnissy When Finnissy said of Skempton, Newman and himself that ‘we are all dealing with large topics like fragmentation of life at the end of the twentieth century, the despair and nihilism of people’s responses, the dark cloud of annihilation hanging over us all’ he might have seemed to be decisively rejecting Tippettlike ‘states of joy, gaiety, exuberance’ in favour of unremitting melancholy. Nevertheless, other very different emotional states do occur in Finnissy’s music, and one of the simplest instances of possible pantonality appears in the hymn settings of This Church (2001–3). Near the end, Finnissy sets the four verses of George Herbert’s ‘Teach me, my God and King’ for a partly or exclusively amateur choir. The harmony is purely homophonic, consonant, almost entirely comprised of root-position triads (Ex. 10.2). These chords all derive from an accidental-free white-note collection, but there are no

Finnissy and pantonality


cadences (‘I am careful to avoid cadences’) or other structural progressions to support a predominant C major or A minor tonality. Instead, what Finnissy terms ‘the fundamental musical material’18 presents a melodic sequence – A4, D4, D4, F4, G4 – as both a thematic cell and a paradigm of mobile tonality. The effect is not of composing-out a fundamental structural progression in a single key, but of moving through a sequence of tonal possibilities which intersect and overlap: for example, because the D minor emphasis of the first four chords does not proceed with tonality-enforcing elements (no Bᅈ or C#), the chord of F major at the beginning of bar 2 makes no claims to function as a new tonic, of F, as a mediant of D or, given the G major chord that follows it, a subdominant of C. Such roving or floating tonality plays with the homing, tonicising instinct so fundamental to human perception, keeping the prospect of more far-reaching relations to a single, superior tonic in suspense. Some music theorists, following Schoenberg, might argue that this harmonic strategy works best when clear allusions to one tonality prevent (perhaps until a final cadence) the unambiguous establishment of a second. But Finnissy’s hymn tune seems to prefer a consistent ambiguity that flows from the sense in which the work’s generative thematic cell includes only a single triad – D minor – and places that identity in opposition to the overall melodic motion from A to G. A range of tonalities – D minor, C major, F major, E minor, A minor, G major – could all play functional roles in a composition deriving from such a cell, and it is the emphasis on possibilities rather than actualities that result when the specific chromatic elements needed to realise most of those keys are avoided, rather than choosing a single ‘victor’ as the result of a dramatic musical conflict, that gives this setting its pantonal aura. That said, this hymn tune, and the white-note instrumental paraphrase that follows it, bringing This Church to an end, is very much a special case for Finnissy, and some more characteristic instances, with prominent chromaticism and dissonance, will now be considered.

Master of disguise: Finnissy and Schoenberg In his 1997 discussion of Finnissy’s ‘large transcription cycle’, Gershwin Arrangements and More Gershwin, Pace comments as follows: ‘at the same time that Gershwin was writing his immensely successful music, the Second Viennese School were pioneering atonality and dodecaphony on the other side of the Atlantic. The arrangements attempt to synthesise these musical worlds, which Berg’s student Theodor Adorno, amongst others, saw as fundamentally opposed. Gershwin’s home-spun brand of chromaticism is pushed to its limits, a narrow melodic tessitura being echoed intervallically in “They can’t take that away from me”, providing a transformational parallel to Schoenberg’s advancement of Wagner’s harmonic experimentalism.’19 Writing a little further on about Folklore 3, Pace mentions ‘references to composers who, either as a result of integration or rejection, had


Arnold Whittall

Ex. 10.2 Finnissy, This Church, setting of four verses of George Herbert’s ‘Teach me, my God and King’. © Michael Finnissy.

Finnissy and pantonality


a substantial effect’ on Finnissy: these include ‘allusions to compositional styles, in particularly those of Brahms (the “progressive” as described by Schoenberg, a view that was once shared, but later violently rejected, by Finnissy), Skryabin, Ives and Bussotti’.20 There appears to be a clear contrast here between the transformational synthesis of Finnissy’s Gershwin pieces and the anti-integrative rejection of stylistic allusion in cases where misleading claims have been made – as, it appears, with Schoenberg’s understanding of Brahms as ‘progressive’.21 Between 2000 and 2008 Finnissy composed the three large-scale piano pieces that comprise his Second Political Agenda. The second piece, Mit Arnold Schoenberg, has a particularly intricate web of musical and textual allusions bringing to the fore fundamental questions about post-tonal techniques and pantonality. For a performance in November 2016 Pace provided notes referring to Finnissy’s own comments – comments which suggest a clear continuity of thought with those earlier concerns with Schoenberg’s ways of thinking in 1940s Los Angeles,22 and his pedagogical if not compositional commitment to harmonic progressiveness in Brahms. In particular, Finnissy seems to be fired up by an oppositional conjunction between two very different texts: Schoenberg’s essay ‘Brahms the Progressive’ and its citation of bars 11–23 from the first movement of Brahms’s String Quartet Op. 51 no. 1, and Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, with its fiery admonition to ‘blast open the continuum of history’. The polarity between Benjamin’s call for ‘Aufzusprengung’ and Brahms’s non-disruptive enrichment of traditional harmony and form brings the Schoenbergian dilemma into high relief by suggesting opposing political and cultural strategies and committing to the claim that progressiveness is not enough. Finnissy’s Mit Arnold Schoenberg begins beyond Brahms, ‘with an intense section drawing upon material from Schoenberg’s Lieder Op. 1 and 2, Gurrelieder, and other early works’ and eventually moving on to ‘a hushed and mysterious passage spanning the whole keyboard, which Finnissy relates to “the expressionist landscape of Erwartung and Herzgewächse”’. This continuum is ‘intercut with allusions’ to the beginning of Schoenberg’s Brahms quartet quotation (see Ex. 10.3), too reticent to create a sense of ‘blasting open’ the steadily evolving texture, but forming an expressively decisive precedent for the much more fractured material which follows. Finnissy sets up a new conjunction between ‘a stark series of isolated pitches with varying durations and dynamics, like a sudden leap forward to a post-1945 integral serial language’ and material reducing ‘the dynamics to a uniform piano and mostly triadic harmonies, in a reference to Schoenberg’s 1940 comment in his composition class in Los Angeles that “there is still plenty of good music to be written in C major”’. Pace sees the later stages of Mit Arnold Schoenberg as ‘highly ironic’. Finnissy seems not to agree with Schoenberg, in that the music it provides – arguably in G more precisely than in C – is too primitive to be ‘good’: and the case against writing tonally – as distinct from pantonally – is


Arnold Whittall

then reinforced by a closing section described by Pace as ‘a somewhat mangled rendition of the first movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in G Op. 18 No. 2’23 – the mangling involving a final Benjamin-fuelled swerve to end on octave Fs. Finnissy’s three sets of Political Agendas embody some of his most bitter and uncompromisingly negative statements: one thinks of ‘You know what kind of sense Mrs. Thatcher made’ (First Political Agenda, 1989–2006), which treats Parry’s Jerusalem ‘in reverse’ and ‘flattens all musical meaning through the extreme dynamic and rhythmic stasis’23 or the pillorying of ‘Rule Britannia’ in ‘Corruption. Deceit. Ignorance. Intolerance’,24 the first

Ex. 10.3 (a) Brahms, String Quartet in C minor, op. 51, no. 1, as cited in Arnold Schoenberg, ‘Brahms the Progressive’.

Finnissy and pantonality


Ex. 10.3 (b) Finnissy, from Mit Arnold Schoenberg (2002). © Tre Media Verlag 2004.

movement of the post-Brexit-referendum Third Political Agenda (2016). This ‘uncomfortable’ admission of ‘despair and nihilism’ links the political to the personal, and the constantly shifting substrata of memories and allusions in Finnissy’s multifarious materials might be expected to engage a parallel migration between tonal and atonal, connected and fractured, that occasionally settles into a relatively stable pantonal middleground. Two very different examples of this potently unsardonic aspect of Finnissy’s work are Uncommon Ground for baritone and piano trio (1990) and Brahms-Lieder (2015) for piano. Together they represent the uneven but mesmerising tenor of a kind of hyper-modernism that has become more rare in British music as the attractions of the mainstream (and even the middlebrow) have continued to thrive.25

Unknown Ground The title of this work is a conveniently unambiguous metaphor for absent rootedness. Yet just as the technical concept of pantonality highlights multivalence rather than absence, rootedness is not so much absent in Finnissy’s music as rigorously questioned, by way of processes involving a continuum between simple reinforcement and explicit obliteration: the more inescapable, the more intensely resisted. Music cannot not connect with other music, existing genres, and the protagonist of Unknown Ground describes a journey even more bleak than that of Schubert’s narrator in Die Winterreise. Since Schubert, the possibility that a song cycle can be as unsparingly tragic as the most starkly delineated opera has been obvious. But Finnissy the hyper-modernist questions basic identities more consistently than the classic-romantic Schubert. Unknown Ground is a ‘song cycle’ with scenas rather than songs and with a ‘protagonist’ who shifts identities between the ‘I’s of three AIDS victims, whose texts are highly prosaic and often informal,


Arnold Whittall

and the ‘I’s of three Russian poets, set in English. It is a monodrama whose single character represents those whose words he is transmitting – the class of modern commentators on suffering, on the meaning of awareness of impending death. Finnissy needs pantonality to sustain a kind of expression that is affectingly poignant rather than merely sentimental, acknowledging from the beginning that this is a work of art and not a drama-documentary or fundraising appeal. The initial cello line (another of the composer’s purely white-note inventions) has overt generic connections with ritualised vocal chant, its modality possibly intended as a counterweight to the English tradition of song-cycle as chamber music with a pastoral tinge epitomised by Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge, whose tolling bells commemorating love, war and death Finnissy will echo in due course. When the voice enters with a less florid kind of stepwise chant-derived line, there is a complementary relation to the cello, a shared emphasis on D as the goal of arioso-like melodic motion, and a possible context for all the non-D-ness that will emerge as Finnissy makes clear that this ‘natural’ modality will not evolve into civilised, well-tempered, rule-governed tonality, whose apotheosis in Brahms, Grieg and Bruckner he acknowledges elsewhere. Nor will it use its folk-like aura to update towards vernacular or popular archetypes. Like the hymn in This Church, written later, this all-white-note section floats across the possible fundamentals but ends with heightened tension as the voice emphasises B against the cello’s A (Ex. 10.4). The ‘driving-force in my life’ of which the text speaks is having difficulty in projecting the prospect of a single, uniquely fulfilling goal: ‘whatever the future is, I don’t know’. Unknown Ground’s short second section involves a strong change of perspective that throws any similarities to Section One into stark relief. First, the cello is replaced by the piano, which reiterates a single, low Eᅈ throughout the vocal music. The shifting centredness of Section One is replaced by the tolling bell of a single root, and the baritone initially conforms to this pentachord (Gᅈ, Aᅈ, Bᅈ, Dᅈ above the Eᅈ1) as the dark, slightly agitated brother of Section One’s A, B, D, E, G pentachord. As if disturbed by the absence of melodic response in the accompanying instrument, the vocal line grows increasingly chromatic, and only when the voice stops does the piano provide a sense of what ‘somewhere in the distance, men are singing’. Moving above and below an initially emphasised D4, while the low Eᅈ1 continues to toll, the piano melody continues in the chant-like manner established at the beginning, and by almost completely avoiding Eᅈs it demonstrates that for Finnissy pantonality is more about countering potential diatonic singularity than about bitonally or polytonally deploying neatly balanced conflicts between alternative single centres (Ex. 10.5). At the end of Section 2 Eᅈ is not being enriched by a mixture of diatonic and chromatic decorations: rather it is being estranged by something that seems increasingly indifferent to it. In this non-atonal, non-tonal world we cannot ignore the pull of sustained and reiterated tones, or the historical associations of modal or diatonic scale

Finnissy and pantonality


Ex. 10.4 Finnissy, Unknown Ground (1989–90), Song I. © Oxford University Press 1991.


Arnold Whittall

Ex. 10.5 Finnissy, Unknown Ground, Song II. © Oxford University Press 1991.

segments. But the result is not simply a new version of an old harmonic procedure. A single pedal note provides fixity without controlling surface details after the manner of classical tradition. It orientates and disorientates indifferently. Like Section 2, Section 3 has two stages distinguished by different types of instrumental counterpoint to the ‘musical prose’ of the vocal narrative. The text is an impassioned refusal to admit that those afflicted with HIV should declare themselves guilty – of a crime, a sin. The move to decisiveness that this involves requires the music to shift from something smoothly uncommitted to unquestioning affirmation, the voice closely circling repeated G2s while the violin hammers out the same pitch unadorned, with dramatic silences in between. The section is not in some kind of extended G-tonality throughout, and if one prefers to hear it as arriving at that tonality from a

Finnissy and pantonality


virtually atonal beginning, rather than being pantonal around G from the outset, this may be the result of not wanting to associate the earlier stages with the connections to D and Eᅈ found earlier in the work. In any case, it is the varying tensions that matter most, since Unknown Ground seems to be evolving towards its concluding confrontation between the elemental determination of white-note modality (with an upbeat ‘major’ quality supplanting pentatonic neutrality) and the destructive atonal despair of expressionistic clusters and microtonal slithers.

Brahms, Schoenberg, Finnissy Twenty-five years after Unknown Ground, and a decade or so after Mit Arnold Schoenberg, the first of Finnissy’s Brahms-Lieder for piano (2015) is a no less intense example of the composer’s estranging engagement with aspects of pre-modernist traditions that can be evoked in order to give new energy to modernism’s own determination to survive. The intriguing title gives no hint of where Finnissy’s music might fall along the line between straight transcription and complete transformation. Comparing the first four bars of no. 30 from Brahms’s Deutsche Volkslieder WoO 33 with the opening of Finnissy’s composition shows that the melodic line of the former reappears within the upper parts of the much more diverse texture of the latter. But differences begin with metre and tempo – ‘Lebhaft und herzlich’ for Brahms, ‘Lento pianissimo espressivo’ for Finnissy – and extend into texture. What is a

Ex. 10.6 (a) Johannes Brahms, Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33, No. 30, ‘All mein Gedanken’.


Arnold Whittall

Ex. 10.6 (b) Finnissy, Brahms-Lieder (2016), No. 1. © Verlag Neue Musik 2015.

melody with accompaniment in Brahms is no longer so clearly differentiated in Finnissy, and the purely visible distinction between quoted Brahms  and the context Finnissy provides may not be audible – the Brahms melody is absorbed into something else (and metrically displaced, relative to the other parts) rather than simply quoted with a different accompaniment, and in any case Brahms’s continuation – a repeat of the same melodic phrase with different accompaniment – is not reproduced by Finnissy (Ex. 10.6).26 Brahms’s song is in G major, Finnissy’s piano piece is not. Asked by Palmer to explain his ‘approach to classical tonality’ in light of his two Brahms-alluding works from 2009, Piano Quartet in A major (1861–2) and Piano Quartet in C minor (1861), Finnissy declared that ‘I never wanted to abandon tonality, the hierarchies make it interesting’.27 This leaves open the possibility that references to aspects of the kind of tonality used by Brahms,  with its work-spanning hierarchies, might facilitate the rethinking both tonality and hierarchy from a more modernist post-tonal, and/ or pantonal perspective. As noted earlier, Schoenberg’s own later theoretical forays into harmonic theory were not concerned with following up the compositional implications of ‘pantonal’ as a governing concept, but rather with the kind of distinctions between ‘extended tonality’ and ‘suspended

Finnissy and pantonality


tonality’ in his early songs which he illustrates in Structural Functions of Harmony. Both depend on using the ‘Roman numeral’ symbols of functional harmony to represent the interaction between two different regions of a governing tonality. With extended tonality, a tonic (D major in Schoenberg’s ‘Der Wanderer’, op. 6, no. 8) is extended by interaction with the flat submediant and the flat mediant regions, reinforcing the hierarchic superiority of the tonic by not actually modulating away to a new key but rather chromatically enriching the existing monotonal structure. With suspended tonality (Eᅈ major in ‘Lockung’, op. 6, no. 7) there is also a sustained interaction between a tonic and subordinate regions, only this time ‘the tonic [chord] does not appear throughout the whole piece’. Among later commentators, Richard Kurth has built on this foundation to argue that, in the later, twelve-tone Schoenberg, for example the Fourth Quartet, ‘tonality can be thought of as present, but suspended, “because the tonal references are not explicit and because the logic and coherence of the music does not depend on them in any case”’. Also, what Kurth defines as Schoenberg’s devising of ‘a remarkable mode of “closure” that is no longer final or static’ might create associations with Finnissy’s aim ‘to avoid cadences and conventional punctuation’.28 If according to Kurth Schoenberg ‘does this by manipulating the gravitational power of several different fundamentals, and by generating a sense of mobility and resolution with respect to them’ there is at least a suggestion of how the dualistic emphasis of suspended tonality might open up the wider and less classically defined potential of a truly pantonal harmonic design, along with a radically non-classical approach to thematic identity and development. The different layers that begin Finnissy’s Brahms-Lieder I, a work which, according to Pace, makes reference to the ‘three against two’ rhythms of Brahms’s Ballade op. 10, No. 4,29 replace the homogenous B major harmony of that work with what might be thought of as ‘several different fundamentals’ in a context where suggestions of ‘gravitational power’ are supplanted by a modernist predisposition to dis-empower hierarchies as embodiments of classical essences. To an even greater extent than suspended tonality, pantonality fends off the prospect of classically-integrated structural hearing. You hear the febrile lack of convergence and collaboration between the superimposed layers; the citation of a tonal melody but not its original tonal harmony dramatises a dialogue between affinity and antipathy. Here the past is both an inspiration and an intrusion. The dictionary definition of hierarchy that applies to classical diatonic composition – ‘classification in graded subdivisions’ – invites, if not dismissal, then sceptical rethinking, even if the disconnected equalities of genuine atonality become even less appealing in consequence. For Pace, in Finnissy’s Brahms-Lieder ‘the material (in all parts) is in a continual state of flux, as Brahms’s type of “developing variation” is reconfigured in a much later post-tonal context’. This invokes another central Schoenbergian concept, to do with the idea of comprehensible structures


Arnold Whittall

evolving from a basic shape or Grundgestalt in ways that promise a more straightforward connection between the thematic processes of the tonal and post-tonal (twelve-tone) Schoenberg than does an attempt to plot a path from diatonic tonality to pantonality. However, it is by no means clear that Finnissy uses basic shapes with as explicit a connection to the motivic processes of pre-modernist music as Brahms or Schoenberg do. The continuities of the first of the Brahms-Lieder have the essential continuity of recurrent rhythmic patterns, but the resulting counterpoint is shaped by that ‘continual state of flux’ that appears no more beholden to the basic shape of the Brahms melody than the resulting harmony is beholden to traditional ways of enriching a monotonal structure. Overall, nevertheless, the texture certainly evokes the flowing ‘broken chords’ of the Brahms Ballade. The connection is therefore broadly generic rather than more intricately ‘thematic’, and this opens up the radically different ideas about continuity and musical character that are apparent when ‘pure’ Brahms, or Schoenberg, are compared with ‘pure’ Finnissy.

Notes 1 Arnold Schoenberg, Theory of Harmony, translated Roy E. Carter (London: Faber and Faber, 1978), p. 432. 2 Arnold Schoenberg, Style and Idea, edited Leonard Stein (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), p. 211. 3 See particularly Arnold Schoenberg, Structural Functions of Harmony, edited Leonard Stein (London: Ernest Benn, 1969). 4 See for example Arnold Whittall, ‘Metaphysical Materials: Schoenberg in Our Time’, Music Analysis, vol. 35, no. 3 (October 2016), pp. 383–406; Matthew Arndt, ‘Schoenberg on Problems, or, Why the Six-Three Chord is Dissonant’, Theory and Practice, vols. 37–8 (2012–13), pp. 1–62; Richard Kurth, ‘Suspended Tonalities in Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone Compositions’, Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Center, no. 3 (2001), pp. 239–66. 5 John Palmer, Conversations (Vision Edition:, 2015), pp. 66–78. 6 Richard Cohn, Audacious Euphony. Chromaticism and the Triad’s Second Nature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. xiv–xv, 23. Nicholas Slonimsky, Music since 1900 (New York: Norton, 1937). 7 Dmitri Tymoczko, A Geometry of Music: Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). 8 Schoenberg, Style and Idea, p. 280. 9 William Kinderman, ‘Introduction’, in Kinderman and Harold Krebs (eds.), The Second Practice of Nineteenth-Century Tonality (Lincoln, NB and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1996), p. 13 n. 6. Kinderman is citing a lecture by Draeseke, ‘Die sogennante Zukunftsmusik und ihre Gegner’, delivered in Weimar on 8 August 1861 10 ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground. The Music of Michael Finnissy, ed. (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997), p. 33. 11 Ibid. p. 35. 12 Palmer, Conversations, p. 75.

Finnissy and pantonality


13 The uncredited liner notes with Finnissy’s recording of Even Tenor on NMC D002, (1989) closely resemble his 1997 comments to Pace. 14 Dika Newlin, New York Times, 16 January 1949, cited in Kenneth H. Marcus, Schoenberg and Hollywood Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 263–4. 15 Rudolph Réti, Tonality, Atonality, Pantonality: A Study of Some Trends in Twentieth-Century Music (London: Rockliff, 1958), p. 65. 16 Meirion Bowen, Michael Tippett (London: Robson Books, 1997), pp. 167–8. 17 David Matthews, Michael Tippett, an Introductory Study (London: Faber and Faber, 1980), p. 103. 18 Michael Finnissy, notes with CD recording of This Church (Metier MSV CD92069, 2003). 19 Ian Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, in Uncommon Ground, p. 96. 20 Ibid. p. 123. 21 Schoenberg, ‘Brahms the Progressive’, in Style and Idea, pp. 398–441. 22 Ian Pace, ‘Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (7)’ (November 2016), available online at (accessed 23 June 2018). 23 Ibid. 24 Ian Pace, ‘Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (1)’ (February 2016), available online at (accessed 23 June 2018). 25 See Arnold Whittall, ‘Individualism and accessibility: the moderate mainstream,1945–75’, in Nicholas Cook and Anthony Pople (eds.), The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 364–94. 26 See Ian Pace in Chapter 3 of this book for a wider exploration of Finnissy’s different categories of musical borrowing. 27 Palmer, Conversations, p. 75. 28 Richard Kurth, ‘Moments of Closure: Thoughts on the Suspension of Tonality in Schoenberg’s Fourth Quartet and Trio’, in Reinhold Brinkmann and Christoph Wolff (eds.),‘Music of My Future’: The Schoenberg Quartets and Trio (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), pp. 146, 149–50. 29 Ian Pace, ‘Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (8)’ (November 2016), available online at (accessed 23 June 2018).

Bibliography Arndt, Matthew. ‘Schoenberg on Problems, or, Why the Six-Three Chord is Dissonant’. Theory and Practice, vols. 37–38 (2012–13), pp. 1–62. Bowen, Meirion. Michael Tippett. London: Robson Books, 1997. Cohn, Richard. Audacious Euphony. Chromaticism and the Triad’s Second Nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Finnissy, Michael. Notes with CD recording of This Church. Metier MSV CD92069, 2003. Finnissy, Michael; Fox, Christopher; Pace, Ian; and Brougham, Henrietta. ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 1–42. Kinderman; William; and Krebs, Harold, eds. The Second Practice of Nineteenth  Century Tonality. Lincoln, NE and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1996. Kurth, Richard. ‘Moments of Closure: Thoughts on the Suspension of Tonality in


Arnold Whittall

Schoenberg’s Fourth Quartet and Trio’. In Reinhold Brinkmann and Christoph Wolff (eds.),‘Music of My Future’: the Schoenberg Quartets and Trio, edited (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000, pp. 139–60. Kurth, Richard. ‘Suspended Tonalities in Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone Compositions’, Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Center, no. 3 (2001), pp. 239–66. Marcus, Kenneth H. Schoenberg and Hollywood Modernism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. Matthews, David. Michael Tippett, an Introductory Study. London: Faber and Faber, 1980. Pace, Ian. ‘The Piano Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 43–133. Ian Pace, ‘Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (1)’ (February 2016), available online at (accessed 23 June 2018). Ian Pace, ‘Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (7)’ (November 2016), available online at (accessed 23 June 2018). Ian Pace, ‘Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Music (8)’ (November 2016), available online at (accessed 23 June 2018). Palmer, John. Conversations. Vision Edition:, 2015. Réti, Rudolph. Tonality, Atonality, Pantonality: A Study of Some Trends in TwentiethCentury Music. London: Rockliff, 1958. Schoenberg, Arnold. Structural Functions of Harmony, edited Leonard Stein. London: Ernest Benn, 1969. Schoenberg, Arnold. Style and Idea, edited Leonard Stein. London: Faber and Faber, 1975. Schoenberg, Arnold. Theory of Harmony, translated Roy E. Carter. London: Faber and Faber, 1978. Slonimsky, Nicholas. Music since 1900. New York: W.W. Norton, 1937. Tymoczko, Dmitri. A Geometry of Music: Harmony and Counterpoint in the Extended Common Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Whittall, Arnold. ‘Individualism and accessibility: the moderate mainstream,1945–75’. In Nicholas Cook and Anthony Pople (eds.), The Cambridge History of TwentiethCentury Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 364–94. Whittall, Arnold. ‘Metaphysical Materials: Schoenberg in Our Time’. Music Analysis, vol. 35, no. 3 (October 2016), pp. 383–406.

11 The medium is now the material The ‘folklore’ of Chris Newman and Michael Finnissy Lauren Redhead

In the preface to Michael Finnissy’s score for the extended piano piece Folklore, the composer outlines the meanings and associations of the term ‘folklore’ that are explored in the music as an introduction to the work. Paraphrased, they make reference to: […] a distant memory, an assemblage, a critical elaboration, an opposition of conjunctions, an open-ended investigation, a palimpsest, a selfportrait […]. […] Inherent attitudes […]. […] Imperialism is served […]. […] A simulacrum […].1 All four definitions can be related to Finnissy’s use of quoted and source material in the piece and throughout his musical oeuvre. They might also be related to his approach to form, which could be compared to a montage in which different episodes follow each other without forward or backward reference.2 Folklore, not uniquely among Finnissy’s compositions, presents the piano as both the material of the work (in its historical, social, and instrumental contexts) and as its medium. The use of extended-duration piano works as a medium for the translation of musical and cultural ideas is an important aspect of Finnissy’s work. In addition, notation is a further medium of his work: Finnissy’s music has been associated with the label ‘New Complexity’ since the 1980s, if not earlier.3 As a result, the complexity of the subject matter dealt with by his music and the perceived complexity of his notation have often been conflated:4 in this way the material of his music has been refracted through the medium of its notation. On this surface level of notation, no composer might seem superficially more different to Finnissy than Chris Newman. The notation of Newman’s works communicates straight-forwardness – and perhaps anti-complexity – in its sparseness, use of silence, space, and empty staves, his preference for single notes or lines, and the contrast of his handwriting to that of Finnissy (see for example Ex. 11.1). However, like Finnissy, Newman makes extensive use of quotations and source materials. These are most often drawn from the


Lauren Redhead

history of Western art music but are not limited to it: his own works often appear as self-quotations. Furthermore, quotations in Newman’s music are heard on the musical surface, without significant compositional manipulation of the original material, promoting their recognisability. In this respect, these quotations might seem as straightforward as the surface of Newman’s notation.

Ex. 11.1 Chris Newman, The Reason Why I am Unable to Live as a Composer in my Own Country is a Political One (1983–4), page 2, systems 5–6. © Chris Newman.

However, the opposition of Finnissy and Newman is impossible to accept. To do so would be to accept that ideas like ‘complexity’ only exist on the visual and aural surfaces of music, and that musical material can only be explored in a narrow set of ways. Some of the terms employed by Finnissy in his description of Folklore – memory, assemblage, opposition, self-portrait, and simulacrum in particular – might just as well describe aspects of Newman’s music. Indeed, the different but equally important relationships of both composers to the piano – and their long-standing artistic collaboration – invite a reading of their work alongside each other.5 (Exx. 11.2 and 11.3 show two occasions where musical features can be observed in Finnissy’s work that are also characteristic of those of Newman.)

Ex. 11.2 Finnissy, excerpt from ‘Le demon d’analogie’ from The History of Photography in Sound (1995–2001), p. 6, in which Finnissy writes lines visually similar to those found in The Reason Why. © Oxford University Press 2004.

The medium is now the material


Ex. 11.3 Finnissy, Pimmel (1988–9), systems 7–8, p. 2, which show different layers of material moving at different speeds and in different registers; a feature often found in Newman’s instrumental music. This example also shows the only barline in the work, which functions to separate two categories of material rather than to denote time. © Oxford University Press 1991.

The opposition of notational and aural complexity might also be thought of as a dialectic between the two compositional styles. This is explored by Newman in his essay ‘February and March’.6 He questions the subject/object divide, writing that, ‘“self expression” means […] imposing the “I”, the subject, onto life, the “object”’,7 but that this relationship can be reversed, as can be discovered in artistic and extra-artistic practice. He writes: ‘you are the object of life, subjected to it, the object has become the material, the subject is the medium’.8 This explains how what has been traditionally seen from inside to outside (i.e. as subjective) can now be seen from outside to inside (i.e. as objective): ‘[t]he medium is now the material’.9 Through this change of perspective, Newman writes, ‘[t]he material of the material or the material of the medium remain the same, but they have been “refunctioned”’.10 He posits this as the function of his work, stating that a key part of his compositional practice is understanding how one thing affects another as a ‘transforming element’,11 simply stated as: ‘[n]ot that they were like that and now they’re like this, but the action itself’.12 In Finnissy’s work, quotations and source materials might be thought of as transforming elements; the dialogue of materials and their affects assumes the role of formal processes in tonal music. Similarly, in the practices and processes of Newman and Finnissy, the media of the piano and its music are ‘refunctioned’ in various ways: for example, from a vehicle of virtuoso display towards a more abstract medium for foregrounding historical and socio-cultural references, as I will explore further. Thus, their work might be read side-by-side to move towards a deeper aesthetic understanding of ‘medium’ and ‘material’. Finnissy’s and Newman’s works can be considered in counterpoint with Nicholas Bourriaud’s concept of the ‘exform’;13 their materialism could be


Lauren Redhead

described as a ‘generalised decentering’14 of the sources that they draw upon, which finds parallels in Bourriaud’s thoughts about the avant-garde, aesthetics, and politics. The exform ‘designates a point of contact, a “socket” or “plug” in the process of exclusion and inclusion—a sign that switches between centre and periphery, floating between dissidence and power’.15 In this chapter, I explore quotation as a material at first separately from, and then alongside, the idea of ‘material’ as an abstract concept, and relate this  to the concept of the ‘exform’. Conversely, the piano as the medium for transmission of Finnissy’s and Newman’s work is considered beyond its materiality. As both Finnissy and Newman have written prolifically for the piano, it is not possible to address the entirety of their work in this medium here. Therefore, I will focus primarily on brief examples from each composer’s piano works (and other keyboard works, in the case of Newman). Ian Pace’s extensive analyses of Finnissy’s piano works are central to the understanding of this music: in particular, his analysis of Folklore represents a particularly informative and in-depth music analysis of this piece;16 Maarten Beirens, in his aesthetic investigation into this work, similarly observes that Pace’s analysis functions as an extensive catalogue of the materials and references in that work.17 Therefore, here I contrast observations from Pace and Beirens with Newman’s music, which by comparison remains under-examined. By far the largest body of writing on Newman’s work concerns his visual art; numerous essays on his solo exhibitions have been published, along with his own poetic reflections.18 These texts can also be considered relevant to his music, due to the strong links between his practices across media: he has asserted these links as further expressions of his artistic practice which is made manifest as his daily life.19 Newman describes the ‘presentation of self as an extension of the compositional act’,20 but the opposite might also be thought to be true: the presentation of art as an extension of the act of living. Motivations for quotation in music have been described by Philip Keppler as ranging from ‘misappropriation’ to ‘association’; he contends that quotations deliver ‘a concealed comment’ and rely on, ‘the listener’s foreknowledge of the quoted source’.21 Both Finnissy’s and Newman’s musics construe this picture as too simple; the number of references in Finnissy’s music (as outlined by Pace in his analyses) are too many to be immediately perceptible for an individual listener on a single hearing even though most of them can be discovered by analysis and/or sketch study. A ‘concealed comment’ also seems an unlikely explanation: there are multiple occasions in Finnissy’s work where quotations are positioned as the premise of the music – such as his Verdi Transcriptions (1972–2005) or Gershwin Arrangements (1975–88). Similarly, Newman seems to make every attempt to make his quoted sources recognisable: for example, his Piano Sonata No. 6 (1997) asks the pianist to play Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor op. 90 in the right hand and his own Symphony No. 3 (1999) in the left: the Beethoven source material is easily recognisable.

The medium is now the material


Beyond quotation as a comment, the repetitive nature of the musical histories and canons from which Finnissy and Newman quote might be considered. Bourriaud invokes the concept of Durcharbeiten or ‘workingthrough’: this term applies to repetitive labour – for example, factory work in its original use – and in artistic practice could be compared to going over the same scene many times, such as in the play Heart’s Desire by Caryl Churchill (1997). The re-performance of the works of music history in examples such as those above could be considered examples of Durcharbeiten; this can be contrasted with art that ‘sets chains of signification in motion’.22 There are multiple chains of signification to be found in Finnissy’s work. The first is the integration into the material of the quotations themselves: for example, in the first movement of Folklore materials are drawn from a collection of Norwegian folk melodies, quotations from Grieg’s music, an incomplete tribute to Sorabji by Finnissy, and freely composed material.23 Links are made, therefore, between transcriptions of folk sources, the music of composers who have used them, homage, and the idea of free-association in the compositional process. But a second chain of signification can be identified between the listener and the work: this is a chain of unlimited semiosis, where the signified is – or can be – endlessly substituted as a signifier for a further signified.24 It would be difficult to assert that Finnissy selects his quotations in order to control the latter chain of meaning, but possible to imagine that he does seek to invite multiple semiotic processes that might begin with the quotations themselves. In his monograph on The History of Photography in Sound, Pace describes many of Finnissy’s compositional processes with and through quotations as: ‘ad hoc modifications’; preferences for ‘wide contours and spread chords [and] constantly mutating pulses and tonalities and for a general ostentatiousness and extravagance of result’; and extracting fragments ‘in ways that blur the sense of key or metre’.25 This is summed up as, ‘a combination of two metaphors: discovery on one hand and appropriation on the other’,26 and describes well the contrast and synthesis of Durcharbeiten and chains of signification in the music. ‘Discovery’, on Finnissy’s part, ‘works through’ the material, whilst these operations provide the fertile ground for future signification. Compositional operations such as ‘ad hoc modifications’, ‘mutating pulses and tonalities’, blurring the ‘sense of key or metre’, and composing quotations as an act of discovery might also describe many aspects of Newman’s work. An example of this can be found in the opening bars of the extended piano piece The Reason Why I am Unable to Live as a Composer in my Own Country is a Political One (1983–4), where a quotation from Sibelius can be heard. The first four systems (the piece does not employ conventional bar lines) transcribe bars 1–8 of the opening of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 5 in Eᅈ (Ex. 11.4). All the notes sound in the bass clef: the flute and oboe parts have been read a compound minor third down, and the piano left hand plays chords that roughly correspond to those spelled out in the horn parts read as if


Lauren Redhead

untransposed. The rhythm has been simplified into groups of dotted minims, and accidentals have been cancelled, giving an overall feel of F Lydian mode. Here, the practice of Durcharbeiten can be observed, the rewriting of this quotation and, further, its relationship with the chains of signification that it musically sets in motion. This quotation also exhibits many of the compositional techniques that Pace finds in Finnissy’s use of quotation: blurring the sense of key, mutating tonalities, and ad hoc modifications that indicate the quotation as the subject of the compositional process rather than its object.

Ex. 11.4 Chris Newman, The Reason Why I am Unable to Live as a Composer in my Own Country is a Political One (1983–4) page 1, systems 1–4. © Chris Newman.

In an interview with Gisela Gronemeyer, Newman describes his approach to material as ‘Schrott’ (‘scrap’).27 Such a term implies something that is discarded, but not yet used up. Bourriaud quotes Althusser’s idea of ‘aleatory materialism’ as a way to account for this type of artistic practice.28 He understands this to mean that the material starting point is arbitrary, and that art is

The medium is now the material


found in its processes.29 Bourriaud describes this as ‘the logic of emergence’: as a result of this use of material, ‘something new begins to function in an autonomous manner’.30 Such aleatory materialism might be identified in both Finnissy’s and Newman’s work. The use of the term ‘aleatory’ does not mean that the materials selected are arbitrary – that the composers do not put any consideration into choosing them – but that their material function is not linked precisely to their selection but to their Durcharbeiten in the musical work. Bourriaud describes this approach as a facet of meaningfulness and meaning-making in all artistic production; describing art as an ‘eidetic generator’: something that translates, ‘an idea, a sensation, into organisation and order gives it new meaning’.31 Those familiar with Finnissy’s work may see this as a useful metaphor for his approach in many of his works: for example, Christopher Fox makes a similar observation about the baritone, chorus and ensemble work Maldon (1990), writing that it functions simultaneously as a piece about a specific battle and a piece about all battles.32 In the case of Folklore, Beirens observes a similar phenomenon, writing: ‘the recognisability of the source material is of little importance; what is essential is the way that the material is combined, interspersed, alternated, modified, followed with or by other material’.33 Beirens’ assessment is somewhat in line with ‘aleatory materialism’ and with Newman’s practice: he does not dispute the careful selecting of materials that Pace demonstrates in his analysis of Folklore, but rather points out that the criticality of Finnissy’s work is not dependent on the materials themselves, but on their treatment. Pace, it would seem, agrees, as he writes in a comparison of Folklore and The History that, in each piece, one might think of ‘material as archetype’.34 Pace’s and Beirens’ approaches describe the possibility of unlimited semiosis both for the composer and the listener. As a result, one might then understand how Pace’s detailed analyses might have contributed in a material way to his performances: both the aesthetic connotations of the source materials and their poietic presentation offer approaches to the musical text that take the performer beyond the re-presentation of quoted source materials in performance. Moreover, the sources that Finnissy and Newman engage with ideology as well as history. The practice of ideology (and its links with culture and history) in music can be identified on numerous levels: the most commonly explored has been in modes of engagement in the concert hall. However, hierarchies of musical materials and composers’ reproductions of these as a part of their compositional practice are also the means by which these ideologies are made manifest: such hierarchies are expressed as compositional ‘norms’ in the form of technique and performance practices. They can be observed as forms, textures, voicing, and the preferences for certain types of musical expression; thus compositional material is one way that music asserts its ideologies. Although local, generic, and stylistic variations might be observed, when expected compositional ‘norms’ are not adhered to, the role and purpose of the piano may be brought into question. Indeed, both composers often invoke strategies that undermine both the expectations of


Lauren Redhead

the compositional development of the musical material within perceived traditions and of their own compositional strategies towards such material. For example, Beirens contrasts virtuosic and monodic passages in Folklore, finding the latter ‘perhaps the most surprising element of the cycle’, especially because they differ from ‘what is traditionally considered to be orthodox writing for the piano’.35 Newman’s bare, monophonic lines similarly undermine the expectations of composition for the piano. He addresses the issue of surface simplicity as a compositional tool, explaining that he would rather call his material ‘naked’ than ‘reduced’ or ‘simply single notes’.36 An example of this ‘naked’ material can be seen in the organ piece Song to God (1994): this piece is a single, monophonic line (Ex. 11.5).

Ex. 11.5 Chris Newman, Song to God (1994), page 1, systems 1–2. © Chris Newman.

Such a presentation of material is more than unorthodox for an organ work: it undermines everything that could be expected from a piece for the instrument. Combined with abrupt stop changes, that sometimes fall in the middle of a phrase and – depending on the instrument – will likely effect changes of octave or register as well as timbre, this composition exposes the inner workings of the organ to its listeners. As such, the instrument, as well as the material, could be thought ‘naked’. A useful comparison can be drawn with Newman’s visual artwork. In the catalogue for the exhibition Existential Hinge, he writes: Diese Elemente sind einander überlagernd kombiniert und streben nicht miteinander nach Harmonie, sondern sind eher aneinander gelehnt, wie Öl auf Wasser, eine Art von sich automatisch ergebendem Kontrapunkt, fast so, als müsse das Auge selbst die Elemente zusammen bringen.37 (These elements are combined and superimposed on one another, and do not strive towards a harmony, but rather they lean against each other, like oil on water; this yields a kind of automatic counterpoint, almost as if the eye forces the elements together.) If one were to substitute ‘eye’ for ‘ear’ in this statement, a similar situation to that of the listener of Song to God emerges: the ear is left to ‘force’ its narrative of monophonic elements together, to form a meaning that is greater

The medium is now the material


than the sum of their parts (similarly so in Newman’s Piano Sonata No. 6). The overall result is not of independent melodies or musical ideas working together but against each other. The work of meaning-making is here done by the listener (whose ear forces the elements together) rather than a compositional process of smoothing out the disjunct. The instrument – here, the organ or the piano – represents the border where medium and material meet. It is therefore unsurprising that, for example, Pace’s analyses of Finnissy’s works emphasise how the compositional material he uses interacts with the piano as its medium. He writes: ‘what should be emphasised is the way in which each of Finnissy’s sources generate a rich and distinct palette of colours’.38 These colours are only realised on the instrument. The piano as medium also receives comment from Beirens, who writes that in Folklore its use is, ‘not only an act of unification but a decision involving several connotations [of the piano]’.39 The piano is considered not only a medium but a signifier, and not for a single bourgeois culture but a host of social and performance situations in which it might be or might have been found. Beirens writes further that its employment is, ‘an unrelenting statement, reflecting upon or formulating a critique of many issues that are crucial to late-20th-century human existence’.40 These issues may include the separation of public and domestic, or ‘classical’ from ‘traditional’ cultures, and the implications for identity and culture. In contrast, in correspondence in 2009, Newman describes the piano (along with the orchestra) as being ‘simply there’, writing ‘its thereness and inertness is what I like’.41 These competing significations and contradictions of the piano are rendered unstable by Newman’s and Finnissy’s practices of the instrument as medium and material. Beirens observes this through the example of the suggestion in Folklore that the pianist play ‘folk’ material ‘quasi violino’, even though the act of striving to do so on the piano has the effect of, ‘paradoxically emphasizing the existence of [its] limitations’.42 Similarly, an example of this instability can be found in pages 25–30 of the score of The Reason Why…; the ‘thereness’ of the piano as a medium is here demonstrated by a tension between the instrument and the anti-pianistic material offered to the performer to place on it. In this section, twenty one chords, all notated as semibreves (barring the final chord which is dotted), follow each other in slow, deliberate succession. Each chord brings together the intervals of a fifth and a third, with the exception of three that contain two notes as an octave or augmented octave. Three musical cycles of fifths and thirds can be identified, their end-points signaled by the octaves. The ‘spelling’ of the intervals used highlights false relations between successive chords, and blurs what can be heard as tonal relationships between consecutive intervals. Despite an implication of D major, this is actually a 12-tone passage that undermines the sense of key by a final dissonant chord. This material is similarly ‘naked’ as that in Song to God: these chords are ‘placed’ on the piano but their repetitious sounding and decaying reveals a similar tension with the instrument to that when Finnissy asks the performer to


Lauren Redhead

play as if a violin. Newman’s approach here could be seen as the opposite of Finnissy’s Durcharbeiten of the connotations of his musical material in Folklore: he creates the possibility for the resonance of the piano’s connotations in the mind of the listener. In these simple chords, the bourgeois connotations of the piano hang awkwardly against ideas of accompaniment and amateur playing. Thus, Newman accesses the same range of connotations of the piano as do Finnissy’s references to folk music and traditions, albeit through different means. A comparable example can be found in Finnissy’s work at the beginning of the eighth chapter, Kapitalistisch Realisme (met Sizilianische Männerakte en Bachsche Nachdichtungen) of The History of Photography in Sound. 43 Like the rest of the work, this section references a multitude of sources. The opening passage (Ex. 11.6) derives material from three works of Beethoven: the String Quartet in A, op. 18 no. 5, the fifth Piano Sonata in C minor, op. 10, no. 1 and the Symphony No. 5 in C minor, op. 67, all used successively for the left hand, while the right hand part is derived from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and later from music of Bruckner.44

Ex. 11.6 Finnissy, from Kapitalistisch Realisme, p. 207. Left hand derived from Beethoven String Quartet in A, op. 18, no. 5, right hand derived from Wagner Götterdämmerung. © Oxford University Press 2004.

Someone familiar with Newman’s and Finnissy’s collaboration might hear a reference to Newman’s work in this section, in particular, as a parallel with Newman’s frequent return to Beethoven as a source. He has described his Piano Sonata No.1 (1982) as ‘homemade Beethoven’,45 and Beethovenian quotations appear in many of his pieces. Writing about the composition of the piece Air Fool Agony Face (2009) for accordion, Newman states: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony takes the strung-out pitches from a song from my cycle “Format” and registrates them and rhythmicises them

The medium is now the material


afresh. Beethoven “shapes” my pitches, my pitches “choose” Beethoven, they “pick up” Beethoven. This is a kind of pathway-piece in which the own and the official are welded together in a single line melted together in the making of the piece.46 The use of the term ‘official’ to refer to Beethoven describes something of the connotations of music history that Newman – and perhaps Finnissy, too – attempts to access through musical material. Pace writes that in the passage from the History described above, ‘[t]he incessant nature of the Beethovenian left hand […] provides a cantus firmus upon which the passionate and highly chromatic Wagner material [from Götterdammerung] can be conceived as a type of overgrowth’.47 This compositional practice of reading one piece through the lens of another creates the impression of the piano as an historical narrative that is accessed through its materials. The ‘official’-ness of Beethoven and the inescapable relationship of the contemporary musical material to this ‘official’ history is presented through their overlay and interplay. In Newman’s case, the composer’s own material is made to conform to the historical narrative by way of its structure; in Finnissy’s case his compositional technique is presented as an extension of the layering of history upon history. In this way, the piano is ‘simply there’ as Newman describes: these histories are always-already sounding through its medium; Finnissy and Newman access, subvert, and render them precarious through the compositional process. Newman’s and Finnissy’s approach to composition beyond personal styles and systems might be described as political in the cases of both composers. For Bourriaud, the ‘political’ dimension of art ‘bring[s] precarity to mind: to keep the notion alive that intervention in the world is possible’.48 Similarly, Finnissy describes his work as documenting ‘social awareness and humanity’49 as a political, but not party-political, element. Bourriaud writes that, ‘[t]o oppose a system, one must first conceive its nature as precarious’,50 and of this political effect, that: ‘one of the essential elements of contemporary art’s political programme is that of bringing the world into a precarious state’.51 Examples of this precarity can be found throughout Finnissy’s and Newman’s work. For example, the tenth chapter of the History, Unsere Afrikareise, takes its name from Peter Kubelka’s 1966 film of the same name. The film depicts Austrian tourists on safari, juxtaposed with the African people who serve them. Pace lists five types of musical material in this chapter, that range from transcribed folk music materials, to appropriated or ‘assimilated’ materials, to representations of the same, to more contemporary, abstract, material (see Ex. 11.7).52 Pace also notes that this section acts as a counterpart to the North American Spirituals (chapter 3 of the cycle), in that it explores orientalism and exoticism in connection with its sources.53 Kubelka’s film sets up a binary opposition between Europe and Africa. By the use of juxtaposition, he creates a narrative that shows the


Lauren Redhead

Europeans to be barbaric and the Africans helpless in the landscape: the opposite construction of the one that the viewer is supposed to imagine in the minds of the European tourists. Finnissy’s composition renders this binary opposition precarious through his Durcharbeiten of the materials. Rather than a postcolonial opposition between cultures, this chapter of the History draws together African and European influences as a musical ‘tourist’, highlighting how these might yet have artistic afterlives – distinct from their histories – as influences on an individual who views them as equally valuable musics. Thus, the ‘geographical’ location of these influences is rendered precarious through their location within the person of the composer through the composition. Pace notes that, in this chapter, the distinction between the ‘“original” material [and] that coming from Western appropriations/representations become[s] blurred’.54 As such, the potential unlimited semiosis of this material is realised through its contact with an individual rather than its juxtaposition.

Ex. 11.7 Michael Finnissy, from Unsere Afrikareise, p. 299. Here folk-derived materials are combined in a process of symmetry/inversion, and could perhaps be read as the ‘mirror’ Kubelka’s film holds up to the tourists. The relationship between this chapter and chapter 3 of the cycle can be noted in the interjection of the ‘ragtime’ bar. © Oxford University Press 2004.

Precarity can also be observed Song to God. Its title both references the function of the organ in liturgy and demonstrates an irreverent stance towards this physical and musical situation within the church. The musical material in  the piece is drawn from a range of Newman’s earlier songs, including his New Songs of Social Conscience (1990) whose lyrics (for example, ‘it wouldn’t do you any harm to give some money to that old lady’ and ‘good day after good orgasm’) might be read as humanist, or irreverent, although not specifically anti-religious. Rather, the discursive nature of these lyrics connote singing at (to), rather than singing for (to) as in the manner of a hymn

The medium is now the material


(Exx. 11.8 and  11.9). Therefore, the sacred/secular distinction in song and music that seems to be set up in the title and presentation of the work is rendered precarious. As in Finnissy’s work, the potential for unlimited semiosis here is not achieved through juxtaposition but through the working through of elements from the subjective point of view of the composer. Bourriaud explains this as a feature of art, writing that, ‘the work of art does not offer formal content alone; it also presents a corresponding interpretative and historical context’.55 This is linked with the political act of the production of art which cannot be avoided: ‘situating oneself in a political space signifies, first and foremost, choosing the historical narrative within which [one] positions and displays [one’s] work’.56 Finnissy also mentions this political dimension as one that imposes ‘ethical considerations’ on the work of the composer.57 This is not a form of political intervention that seeks to enact social change, but one that seeks to make the already-political dimensions of artistic production explicit and precarious in their enactment.

Ex. 11.8 Chris Newman, Song to God (1994), page 4, movement II, system 9. The first phrase in the bass clef quotes the melody line of ‘It wouldn’t do you any harm’. © Chris Newman.

Ex. 11.9 Chris Newman, Song to God (1994), page 5, movement III, system 3. The first two bars quotes the melody line of the laughter (‘a-ha-ha-ha-haha-ha’) from the song ‘Good day after good orgasm’. © Chris Newman.

The political associations of works composed by Newman and Finnissy are often openly accessible in their titles.58 Even if not intended as the complete interpretation to the pieces to which they are attached, these titles point to composition as a way to work not only with musical material but with the social circumstances of music. Finnissy himself describes Folklore as a political piece, stating, ‘it isn’t asking you for a shocked emotional response; rather to consider issues critically’.59 Folklore, he says, isn’t the presentation of a single political view but rather, ‘an investigation of different modes of presence’.60 As a general approach to composition, this falls between and beyond ‘absolute’ and ‘abstract’ music, arguably drawing on what might be seen as the most productive categories of both approaches: the piece does not claim to create meaning in and of itself, but nor does it claim to be without


Lauren Redhead

extra-musical meaning either. Despite not having a programme, the work does still, on some level, offer a narrative of meaning-making. Similarly, Newman outlines that he is not interested in absolute approaches or those that attach meaning to practices drawn from music history (Bourriaud’s ‘norms’). He rejects the term ‘abstract’ entirely: ‘Ich nenne das nicht abstrakt, für mich ist das sehr konkret, so zu denken. Für mich gibt es nichts Abstraktes. Ich sehe das sehr, sehr konkret.’ (‘I don’t call it abstract, for me it is a very concrete way of thinking. For me, nothing is abstract. I see it very, very concretely.’)61 The ‘concreteness’ of this approach is again found in its bareness. For example, An Everything and Us (1990) is created from discrete categories of materials that are separated in register, texture (single notes, open intervals, chords) that follow each other without attempts to relate or develop them (see Ex. 11.10). Pitches (either as intervals or melodic material) remain associated with specific and differentiated rhythmic material throughout the piece. ‘Concrete’, in this case, might also bear comparison the resistant material namesake: brutalist architecture could be brought to mind. The ‘concreteness’ of Newman’s approach can be identified in its clear

Ex. 11.10 Chris Newman, An Everything and Us (1990), MusikTexte, issue 38 (February 1991), pp. 13–22; systems 1012, page 15, in which different materials are situated at different registers. © Musiktexte 1991.

The medium is now the material


structural delineation and lack of surface decoration, just as Finnissy may sometimes present different material categories as strata or sections such as in the piece Snowdrift (1972) which similarly moves in places between different material categories in ways that Pace has categorised as ‘cinematic’.62 Therefore although the musical material is differently constituted in each case, their structural approaches are similar. Maarten Beirens has written that Finnissy’s music ‘implies there is such a thing as a “personal folklore”’.63 This ‘personal folklore’ is the subjective expression of the composer amid the objective approach to the compositional medium (e.g. Newman’s subjectivity expressed as his objective processes), and in return invites the subjective response of the material to an objective approach to composition and the piano as media (e.g. the tensions between the original contexts of some of Finnissy’s source materials and the pianocontext in which they find themselves in Folklore and the History). This ‘personal folklore’ could be the strongest link between Finnissy and Newman: for each, their approach to the practice of composition is the way that the act of composition itself becomes politicised. The medium (composition) becomes the material that is offered for critical reflection. It is both personal and political in as much as their personal, compositional narratives destabilise overarching socio-musical ones. Such destabilisation is central to the political effect of their works as art that has the ability to resist ideologies in cultural life. Key aspects of both Finnissy’s and Newman’s work in this reading are their properties of ‘decentering’ and making precarious. As such, ‘differences’ between the two composers can hence be seen as complementary parts of the same idea: material that is expanded in re-composition is further discovered through the process of Durcharbeiten; the sonorous properties of the scrap of musical histories are discovered by their re-sounding in the musical work; the signification of a medium such as a piano is revealed in its contrary use that renders its ideologies and ‘norms’ precarious; composition is, by its nature, beyond abstraction. ‘Exformal’, as a descriptor for this music, is not a category but a property of boundary-crossing and making precarious. The works described are indeed ‘site[s] where border negotiations unfold between what is rejected and what is admitted,’64 and as such they re-configure the ideologies and processes of meaning-making of contemporary music. In this way, the ‘personal folklores’ of Finnissy and Newman, through their aleatory materialism, render unstable the musical categories on which they draw, and allow negotiation of the ‘Schrott’ of these categories for both composer and listener.

Notes 1 2

Michael Finnissy, preface to score of Folklore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). Richard Barrett, in ‘Michael Finnissy—an overview’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 13, no.1 (1995), pp. 37–9 describes this ‘cinematic’ influence in



4 5

6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Lauren Redhead

Finnissy’s work. See also Ian Pace’s consideration of the subject in Chapter 16 of the present volume. Richard Toop’s article, ‘Four Facets of the New Complexity’, Contact 32 (1988), pp. 8–18 focuses on Finnissy’s work, and gave the term wider currency. For the earlier provenance of the term, the first use of which Finnissy attributes to Harry Halbreich in 1978, see the Introduction to the present volume. See Nigel McBride in Chapter 9 of this volume for more on this and other related issues. Finnissy appears as a pianist on many recordings of Newman’s piano works (e.g. Michael Finnissy plays Weir, Finnissy, Newman and Skempton, NMC D002 (1992); Chris Newman: New Songs of Social Conscience/Six Sick Songs/London Review Records rere 185cd (1998); and Chris Newman Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 4, 6 & 10, Mode 201 (2008)) – and has long been a champion of Newman’s work for the piano. French Piano (1991) responds to Newman’s drawing of the same name, and Pimmel (1988–9) is dedicated to Newman (who is undoubtedly referenced in the irreverent title; see Ex. 11.3); Newman’s piece Untitled Combine (1996) was composed for Finnissy’s 50th birthday. Chris Newman, ‘February and March’, KunstMusik, 5 (Autumn 2005), pp. 45–6. Ibid. p. 45. Ibid. Ibid. p. 46. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Nicholas Bourriaud, The Exform, translated Erik Butler (London: Verso, 2016). Ibid., p. XII. Ibid. p. X. cf. Ian Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 43–134, 111–33. Maarten Beirens, ‘Archaeology of the Self: Michael Finnissy’s “Folklore”’, Tempo, vol. 57 no. 223 (January 2003), p. 47. See for example Chris Newman, ‘Existential Hinge’, in Katalog: Kunstgeschichten – Die Sammlung des Arp Museums Bahnhof Rolandseck 1987–2009 (Richter Verlag, Düsseldorf, 2009), and Solid State Variation (Leonhardi-Museum Dresden: Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2009). These are examples of art publications that contain texts where Newman discusses ideas that he – elsewhere – has also associated with his music. Chris Newman interviewed on Radio 3’s Composers’ Rooms, BBC Radio 3, 10 January 2015, available online at (accessed 17 July 2018). Chris Newman, communication with the author, 13 June 2009. Philip Keppler Jr., ‘Some Comments on Musical Quotation’, The Musical Quarterly, vol. 42 no.4 (October 1956), p. 473. See also Ian Pace’s extensive survey of theoretical literature on borrowing in Chapter 3 of the present volume. Bourriaud, The Exform, p. 5. Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, pp. 112–16 gives an outline of the exact order of materials in this movement. cf. Umberto Eco, ‘Unlimited Semiosis and Drift,’ in The Limits of Interpretation (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990), pp. 23–43. Ian Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013), p. 5, available online at (accessed 3 November 2016).

The medium is now the material


26 Ibid. 27 “…ohne die Berührung der menschlichen Hand” [without the touch of a human hand]: Chris Newman im Gespräch mit Gisela Gronemeyer, MusikTexte: Zeitschrift für neue Musik, 38 (February 1991), p. 3. 28 Louis Althusser, Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan, translated Jeffrey Mehlman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), p. 22, cited in Bourriaud, The Exform, p. 23. 29 Althusser demonstrates this both in his conception of history as a process without a subject and of philosophy as a discourse based in and on its own tradition, cf. Louis Althusser, ‘The Underground Current of the Materialism of the Encounter’, in Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978–1987, edited Oliver Corpet and François Matheron, translated G.M. Goshgarian (London: Verso, 2006), pp. 163–207. 30 Althusser, Writings on Psychoanalysis, p. 42, cited in Bourriaud, The Exform, p. 11. 31 Bourriaud, The Exform, p. 8. 32 Christopher Fox, ‘The Vocal Music’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), p. 215. 33 Beirens ‘Archaeology of the Self’, p. 48. 34 Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 8–43. 35 Beirens, ‘Archaeology of the Self’, p. 49. 36 ‘Newman im Gespräch mit Gronemeyer’, p. 4. 37 Chris Newman, ‘Existential Hinge’ (2009), available online at www.chris-newman. org/chris-newman_texts.html (accessed 11 November 2016). My translation. 38 Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, p. 102. 39 Beirens, ‘Archaeology of the Self’, p. 50. 40 Ibid. p. 46. 41 Chris Newman, Communication with the Author, 13 June 2009, quoted in Lauren Redhead, ‘The Reason Why I am Unable to Live in my own Country as a Composer is a Political One: The Politics of Self-Alienation in the Music of Chris Newman’, Terz, Komponieren Im Exil 3 (2013), at php?z=362&id=364 (accessed 9 November 2016). 42 Beirens, ‘Archaeology of the Self’, p. 50. See also Beirens’ remarks in Chapter 13 of the present volume. 43 In this piece movements are given the designation ‘chapter’ which implies ‘reading’ in the sense of Foucauldian discourse found, for examples in Michel Foucault, ‘The Enunciative Function’, in The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. by A. M. Sheridan Smith (London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 99–118. Foucault describes this as a ‘repeatable materiality’ that ‘reveals the statement as a specific and paradoxical object’ (p. 118). 44 Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 201–9 addresses the precise integration of these references to Beethoven into the piece. For a very different view of the same piece, see Richard Beaudoin, ‘Anonymous Sources: Finnissy Analysis and the Opening of Chapter Eight of The History of Photography in Sound’, Perspectives of New Music, vol. 45, no. 2 (Summer 2007), pp. 5–27, and see Ian Pace’s response in Chapter 3 of this volume. 45 Chris Newman, Liner Notes, Chris Newman: piano sonatas (Mode Records, 2007), mode 201, available online at html (accessed 6 March 2017). 46 Chris Newman, Programme note for Air Fool Agony Face (Music We’d Like to Hear, 25 June 2009), available online at pdf/08072009.pdf (accessed 1 March 2017).


Lauren Redhead

47 Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, p. 202. 48 Bourriaud, The Exform, p. 43. 49 ddmmyy, ‘Interview with Michael Finnissy’, ddmmyyseries (2015), at www. (accessed 10 March 2018). 50 Bourriaud, The Exform, p. 36. 51 Ibid. 52 Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, pp. 245–6. 53 Ibid. pp. 242–3. 54 Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, p. 23. For a slightly different perspective on this work, see Maarten Beirens’ commentary in Chapter 6 of the present volume. 55 Ibid. p. 45. 56 Ibid. pp. 45–6. 57 Interview at ddmmyy. 58 For example, chapter 4 of Finnissy’s History, My parents’ generation thought War meant something, and his three Political Agendas (1989–2006, 2000–8 and 2016), the final part of the third of which is titled ‘My country has betrayed me’. See Chapters 3, 10 and 14 of the present volume for more on the latter group of works. 59 ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, in Uncommon Ground, pp. 1–42; quote p. 24. 60 Ibid. p. 25. 61 ‘Newman im Gespräch mit Gronemeyer’, p. 3. My translation. 62 Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, pp. 54–5. See also Chapter 16 of this volume for a more detailed exploration of the cinematic dimension of Finnissy’s work. 63 Beirens, ‘Archaeology of the Self’, p. 55; Finnissy is reported by Ian Pace as having described the work is embodying his ‘personal folklore’ as well as multiple other concerns. 64 Bourriaud, The Exform, p. x.

Bibliography Althusser, Louis. Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan, translated Jeffrey Mehlman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. Barrett, Richard. ‘Michael Finnissy—an overview’. Contemporary Music Review, vol. 13, no.1 (1995), pp. 23–43. Beirens, Maarten. ‘Archaeology of the Self: Michael Finnissy’s “Folklore”’. Tempo, vol. 57, no. 223 (January 2003), pp. 46–56. Bourriaud, Nicholas. The Exform, translated Erik Butler. London: Verso, 2016. Eco, Umberto. ‘Unlimited Semiosis and Drift’. In Umberto Eco, The Limits of Interpretation (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990), pp. 23–43. Finnissy, Michael. Preface to score of Folklore. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Fox, Christopher. ‘The Vocal Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 211–57. Keppler, Philip Jr. ‘Some Comments on Musical Quotation’. The Musical Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 4 (October 1956), pp. 473–85. Newman, Chris. ‘February and March’. KunstMusik 5 (Autumn 2005), pp. 45–6. Newman, Chris. ‘Existential Hinge’. In Katalog: Kunstgeschichten – Die Sammlung des Arp Museums Bahnhof Rolandseck 1987–2009 (Düsseldorf: Richter Verlag, 2009).

The medium is now the material


Newman, Chris. Solid State Variation (Leonhardi-Museum Dresden: Verlag für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, 2009. “…ohne die Berührung der menschlichen Hand”: Chris Newman im Gespräch mit Gisela Gronemeyer’. MusikTexte: Zeitschrift für neue Musik, no. 38 (February 1991), pp. 3–7. Newman, Chris. Interview on Radio 3’s Composers’ Rooms, BBC Radio 3, 10 January 2015, available online at (accessed 17 July 2018). Pace, Ian. ‘The Piano Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 43–133. Pace, Ian. Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation. Swarland: Divine Art, 2013. Toop, Richard. ‘Four Facets of the New Complexity’. Contact 32 (1988), pp. 4–50. Michael Finnissy plays Weir, Finnissy, Newman and Skempton. NMC D002 (1992). Chris Newman: New Songs of Social Conscience/Six Sick Songs/London. Chris Newman, voice; Michael Finnissy, piano. Review Records rere 185cd. (1998). Chris Newman Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 4, 6 & 10. Michael Finnissy, piano. Mode 201 (2008).

12 Finnissy’s hand James Weeks

The hand’s essence can never be determined, or explained, by its being an organ which can grasp […] every motion of the hand in every one of its works carries itself through the element of thinking. Martin Heidegger1

The moving hand As a young student of Michael Finnissy,2 one of the many things that fascinated me about my teacher was the sheer quantity of music he produced, and the extraordinary creative momentum it must surely betoken – putting my own laboriously-eked efforts into unflattering perspective. Discussing frequently the craft and act of composition with him, I remember conversations in which he would refer to the ‘hand moving across the page’, as if it were this that drove the compositional flow. Though partly no doubt offered as a provocation, this idea has stayed with me through my own working life as a composer, teacher of composition, and conductor (not least of Finnissy’s music), and forms the starting-point for this chapter. For it seems to me that this image of the ‘moving hand’ is all of a piece with our several ideations of Finnissy’s work as a whole. It can be found everywhere within his creative production: the attention to the aesthetics and ontology of notation; the preoccupation with transcription (writing across or through) and the dialogue with the musical literature (that is, the written scores of other music as well as the sound of it) which it entails; the predominance of linearity in his work; the immaculate, hand-copied scores; and his hands moving across the piano keyboard, his own instrument and musical ‘confessor’.3 My intention is to connect and illuminate these familiar attributes of Finnissy’s work by exploring the role played by the hand in his practice of making. I suggest that the special features, or peculiarities, of Finnissy-asmaker might be fruitfully understood with reference to a phenomenological discourse of embodiment, in which the hand, and its inherent physicality and mobility, plays as fundamental a role in the act of making as more traditional notions of eyes, ears and imagination. The deep interdependence of hand and brain in human intelligence has long been recognised in scientific

Finnissy’s hand


and philosophical thought. The neurologist Frank Wilson writes that: ‘The hand is so widely represented in the brain, the hand’s neurological and biomechanical elements are so prone to spontaneous interaction and reorganization, and the motivations and efforts that give rise to individual use of the hand are so deeply and widely rooted, that we must admit we are trying to explain a basic imperative of human life.’4 The hand may be seen as an extension of the brain, and the question of what motivates the moving hand becomes one of entangled complexity. Indeed, the evolution of the human hand – with its saddle-jointed thumb and independently flexible fingers enabling the precise use of tools – plays a seminal role in theories of the development of human intelligence and language. For Martin Heidegger, language is the key to human uniqueness, and the hand is the key to language, because of its ability to grasp and hold – to establish instrumentality: ‘Man does not “have” hands, but the hand holds the essence of man, because the word as the essential realm of the hand is the ground of the essence of man.’5 What we call ‘mind’, ‘thought’ or ‘imagination’, therefore, resides in this entangled complex of the hand-brain: the mind, hand-like, reaches out into the world, touches and holds it. But ‘touching’ is not restricted to the action of the hand: the Finnish architectural philosopher Juhani Pallasmaa, citing medical and anthropological evidence, argues that ‘all the senses, including vision, are extensions of the tactile sense; the senses are specialisations of skin tissue, and all sensory experiences are modes of touching, and thus related to tactility’.6 For him, ‘touch is the sensory mode that integrates our experiences of the world and of ourselves. Even visual perceptions are fused and integrated into the haptic continuum of the self…This fundamental hapticity of the human life world heightens the significance of the hand.’7 It is clear, then, that as brain and hand are entangled, so too are hand, eye, ear, and our other sensory organs. To return to our image of Finnissy-as-maker: insofar as we can discern special qualities of Finnissy’s work that make it different to others, might these peculiarities be understood as the result of a difference in the relationship of these ‘modes of touching’? And might such considerations shed light, too, on the recurrent accusations of ‘Paper Music’ levelled at his work?8 To begin our investigation we must move away from the writing desk and encounter the composer first at the piano.

The playing hand We can’t see the hands but we know they’re dancing: we hear the sonic trace they leave as they spring, bounce, jump, reach, flow across the keys of the piano in the treble range, in the irregular, lithe, twitchy rhythmic movement of Finnissy’s personalised pióbaireachd. The dancer herself, holding her hands crossed high above her head, seems to echo or counterpoint the pianist’s moving hand in the quick motions of her feet; her static crossed hands echo the pianist’s striking black braces, and the flying, coloured tassels


James Weeks

of her costume offer a further image of fast, wild movement and entangling. Later, the crossing and entangling are taken further as the performers come together, first holding hands (while the pianist continues to play with the other hand, and the dancer is still) and then (while the piano is silent) embarking on a sequence of intricate poses together, holding hands and linking arms as the dance continues. Much of Finnissy’s early working life was spent playing for dance. His intensive collaboration in the later 1970s with the dancer Kris Donovan  – their collaborative work Reels (1980–1) is described in the paragraph above – began after they met while working at the London Contemporary Dance School in around 1973.9 Before then, Finnissy had already spent nearly a decade playing for classical ballet and jazz dance classes as well as contemporary dance, working extensively with the leading jazz dance teacher Matt Mattox in the late 1960s, at whose studio he played for such luminaries as Twiggy, Danny Kaye and Gene Kelly.10 Typically such classes involved improvisation in whatever style was required, a skill Finnissy prized highly: ‘I had to be top. So I observed other people playing, and thought how crap they were, and worked on becoming the best.’11 Finnissy’s pianistic encounter with the world of the dance class was immersive and lasted almost twenty-five years,12 sometimes as much as six days a week. At the very least, then, it is unsurprising that as well as Reels, many of his early piano pieces are either titled as dances or are otherwise based on dance tunes.13 But we might reasonably surmise that such an experience might have other, deeper ramifications: first, in connecting the act of playing the piano, hour after hour, day after day, with the intense physicality and disciplined movements of dance; second, in honing the skill of finding, in the moment, the ‘right’ notes and pathways of the hand required in improvisation. In his 2001 book, Ways of the Hand: A Rewritten Account, the sociologist David Sudnow describes phenomenologically his gradual acquiring of the skill of jazz improvisation, from first fumblings to the painstaking identification of melodic pathways, to an eventual ability to move fluently and eloquently around the keyboard, ‘singing with the fingers’.14 As there is no time in the moment of performance first to think up a melody and then play it, these melodic pathways are found by the hand, ‘wayfully engaged on a path’:15 ‘one behaves wayfully singing with the fingers if every key is entered with its future and past wheres securely present in a route-finding hand’.16 One finds just such route-finding, ‘melodying’ (as Sudnow calls it), in Freightain Bruise (1972, rev. 1980), a piece directly influenced by Finnissy’s jazz dance playing. At the start (Ex. 12.1), the right hand is guided up and down the keyboard melodically, falling as it goes into accompanying chordal shapes which privilege seconds at either the top or bottom of the chord, or both (that is, fingers 125, 145 or 1245), a kind of simultaneous-crushed-note stylisation of jazz playing. The right-hand part moves mostly easily and fluidly around the keyboard, offset by the wider-leaping left-hand, pitched

Finnissy’s hand


Ex. 12.1 Finnissy, Freightrain Bruise (1972, rev. 1980), opening. © Oxford University Press 1991.

somewhere between a free-style stride bass and a jazz double-bass line. These are some of Finnissy’s own ‘ways of the hand’ deriving from his experience as an improviser; the Gershwin Arrangements (begun in 1975) show others. The route-finding hand might also be discerned in Finnissy’s non-jazzbased piano music. Finnissy has recently stated that ‘my piano writing is, I think, “orchestral”…I am not aware of any meaningful equivalence, or even connection, between the physical movements necessitated in producing the sound and the composing process.’17 Yet as Ian Pace has pointed out, ‘it is hard to deny that Finnissy’s piano music bears the hallmarks of a very distinctive approach to the instrument […] he […] would seem to have his own particular characteristics as a performer in mind. This may be unconscious on his part.’18 Reels, for instance, might almost be a transcription of the hands’ movement at the keyboard (though it is not): in No.1, for example (Ex. 12.2), the hands move energetically, staccato, around a restricted space in the treble register, taking it in turns to articulate the single line. The short stabs of the staccato notes alternate with the momentary physical convulsions required to play the grace notes, and every so often the flow is punctuated by a characteristic Finnissy ‘reach’ into a different register (for example, the Eᅈ in bar 11). If not conceived as movement, this is certainly music with movement somewhere in mind – both of the fingers and hand, and of the Scottish dance on which it is based. The same may be said of Autumnall (1968–71), a work in Finnissy’s ‘transcendental’ style which calls for such extreme and rapid traversing of the keyboard from note to note that the score has almost the look of a tablature


James Weeks

Ex. 12.2 Finnissy, Reels (1980–1), No. 1. © United Music Publishers 1984.

notation, a direct representation of physical movement (this is further exaggerated by the use of a single stave in the opening section). This is more than a sequence of far-spread pitches: it is an instruction to an extreme performative physicality that arguably defines the work as much as the resulting sound. The hands move between hyperactivity and stasis; the grace-note convulsions (the implication being, faster than the measured rhythms) are swallowed into the general frenzy of activity. The final page of the work (Ex. 12.3) exemplifies the restlessness of Finnissy’s pianism, a welter of different figurations – chords arpeggiated upwards and downwards, clusters, swirls of grace notes – each with their own physical imprint and necessitating bravura control. But keyboard hyperactivity, however striking, does not represent Finnissy’s most fundamental pianistic ‘way of the hand’. For if ‘singing with the fingers’ is Sudnow’s goal, it would also seem to be Finnissy’s: he has said that ‘the voice (in its melodic rather than declamatory aspect) has always been paramount’,19 and of those early piano works not based on dance, the vast majority of the rest refer to vocal music or singing. Even Autumnall (based on a Donne sonnet) contains a species of that linearity that Finnissy sees as archetypally vocal; My love is like a red rose (1990) shows it in a particularly pure form (Ex. 12.4). Here the right hand moves supply and connectedly around a decorated version of the tune, the grace-note skips and flutters creating little flexes of quicker finger motion within the languid legato of the main melody. Yet even within this dreaming line the ebb and flow of Finnissy’s defining restlessness continues to work, pulling and pushing the hand around the notated rubato, never quite settling, even for one single bar, on the 89 metre that – on the page, at least – underpins it.

Finnissy’s hand


Ex. 12.3 Finnissy, Autumnall (196871), last page. © Oxford University Press 1991.

Ex. 12.4 Finnissy, My love is like a red rose (1990). © Oxford University Press 1998.


James Weeks

The writing hand In seeking understanding of Finnissy’s ways of the hand at the keyboard, I have traced a line from his early immersion in the world of dance class playing, through his jazz improvisation-inspired piano works, to other quite different manifestations of his pianistic idiom. Hypothesising Finnissy’s route-finding hands in these different contexts, we should be wary of making the leap – however small it may be – into considering this music as ‘notated improvisation’, in which the physical performance of the music comes first, followed by the transcription into notation. Finnissy has repeatedly confirmed that his basic (if not exclusive) modus operandi is to write at the desk and then test and refine at the piano – indeed, it would be hard to imagine passages such as the last page of Autumnall coming into being the other way round.20 Nor is it a matter of whether, say, the hand or the ear is dominant at one or another point – the lesson of Sudnow (and of Pallasmaa) is that the senses cannot be thus disentangled. Rather, it is to observe that there are very specific and personal pianistic physicalities ingrained within this music (such as: basic irregularity and non-repetitiveness of movement; restlessness; connected flow interrupted by sudden ‘reaches’ outside the immediate space of operation; constant small flexes or twitches (for example, grace note figurations) within slower movement; and in earlier transcendental works the rapid and hyper-energised movement around the entire keyboard space); to suggest that the hapticity of his own piano-playing is constantly at work during the writing process; and to propose that this inherent physicality might itself be considered one of the defining features of his music as a whole. The writing hand, like the playing hand, moves. It, too, is a route-finding hand, ‘wayfully engaged on a path’. In linguistics, the way of the writing hand is known as the ductus, a term originating in medieval scribal practice describing both ‘the visible trace of a hand movement while the pen is on the paper and the invisible trace of the movements when the pen is not in contact with the paper’.21 Like the playing hand, then, the writing hand performs a connected, continuous series of movements on and off the page: as the anthropologist Tim Ingold has suggested, the act of writing with a pen (as opposed to typing) might be likened to a form of ‘wayfaring’, a linear movement (whether literally drawing a line or not) through the ‘landscape’ of the page. He also points out the ‘original identity of drawing and writing’ and argues for their fundamental equivalence; indeed – whether or not one accepts Ingold’s somewhat broad-brush reasoning – we might add that modern musical notation contains aspects of both. Like writing, musical notation consists of successions of defined symbols; like drawing, it possesses dimensions – typically, vertical through pitch space, horizontal through time – and therefore the possibility of tracing movement (both of these aspects are also integral to some logographic and pictographic scripts). These might be the active lines of Paul Klee, dynamic, temporal, developing freely and in their own time and (as Finnissy himself is fond of quoting) ‘going for a walk’.22 Or they may be the ‘exploring

Finnissy’s hand


lines’ of the artist Andy Goldsworthy cited by Ingold, ‘alert to changes of rhythm and feelings of surface and space’. Drawing, says Goldsworthy, is ‘related to life, like drawing breath or a tree drawing nourishment through its roots to draw with its branches the space in which it grows. A river draws the valley and the salmon the river.’23 Finnissy received an early education in draughtsmanship, first from his father, who had trained as a surveyor and ‘taught me how to use a pen’,24 and then from his art teacher at technical training school. Here he learnt figure drawing ‘simply to teach to you look’,25 but his teacher, knowing his interest in writing music, suggested he focus on graphics, working in black and white with pen and ink. Just as significantly, Finnissy discovered the work of Hokusai and other graphic artists as well as Chinese calligraphy, where, as he notes, ‘the control of the brush is also linked to emotion and psychology, so you’re actually expressing a state of being in the gesture of the brush on the page. Sound familiar?’26 In considering the work of the hand in Finnissy’s practice of making, this early training in and exposure to the aesthetics of graphic art, calligraphy and penmanship is significant. Although not remotely as extensive as his pianistic training, it would similarly have engendered to some degree that intimate relationship between brain and hand we call manual skill (though as Ingold reminds us, our modern distinction between skill and art is misleading,27 the former being more than merely technological). To have undergone such a training is to have developed a control over the hand and the pen it holds that is quite unusual amongst composers, towards the point where the pen becomes an ‘inseparable extension of the hand and mind’.28 This is the hand which is moving across the page, possessed of a learnt and embodied skill of draughtsmanship, through which one becomes capable of ‘expressing a state of being in the gesture of the brush on the page’.29 In a 1996 interview with Christopher Fox and Ian Pace, Finnissy makes the link between this training and his writing practice as a composer: ‘I think, although I am sensitive to colour, I still prefer pen and ink drawings and lithographs to painting. Now, by analogy, I pursue the sense of line, rather than colour and texture, in my own work. It’s something I do consciously, though I’m not sure if it started like that…Line is what I learnt from drawing and line is what I pursue in music.’30 The significance of this cannot be overstated: here Finnissy is suggesting that the essential linearity of his music, so often remarked on and so obvious both on the page and in sound, is fundamentally related to his training as a graphic artist. We should be wary of taking this too far – we have already seen that elsewhere Finnissy has suggested his line-making is influenced by a primarily vocal melodicism – but it is nevertheless indicative. In a more recent interview, Finnissy describes his writing practice thus: I tend to write them as lines for a certain length of time, and then I will add – because you can’t write two noteheads at the same time – so there’s


James Weeks that moment, which is quite an interesting one, of conjoining the two lines. By habit I work this way – I make the mark, I make the line, a phrase, a breath, one thing, and then something else is joined to it.31

This is the Finnissian ductus, a wayfaring, connected movement of the hand leaving a linear trail of notes in its wake. And (unlike more hesitant writers, perhaps) it really is a movement, a more-or-less continuous flow: on the question of fluency ‘in the moment’ of composing, Finnissy continues: I think it’s less about ‘fluency’ (in the sense of ‘facility’) than developing the capacity for longer and more sustainable, and effective, flights of fancy. Developing the capacity to look (or hear) ahead, and to respond to every moment as if it was but a link in the chain, and not distracting yourself by pausing to adore the supreme beauty of seemingly special moments.32 Interestingly, Finnissy’s description above is essentially of monodies, which are then overlaid until enough lines are in play: the hand performs an initial ‘pass’ through the blank page and then goes back and starts over at the same (or similar) point, adding a new line to the first. When it returns to that same point, however, the page is no longer blank: the landscape has been traversed and has gained a temporal and otherwise musical identity. This is closely related to another technique Finnissy describes as ‘palimpsesting’, or overwriting: I palimpsest, which can be irritating as once you’ve written over something you’ve lost the original, so I’ve now taken to making photocopies of the first version before I write over the top.33 And further: One reason I write the stuff down is so that I can go back over it, again and again, adding things, deleting things – but I need the energy and momentum of those ‘flights’ to encourage the music to come.34

Ex. 12.5 Finnissy, sketch material for Were we born yesterday? (2017).

Finnissy’s hand


Evidence of some of these activities of the hand can be seen in this short line of sketch material (Ex. 12.5). This is a short insertion into pre-existent material for Finnissy’s piano piece Were we born yesterday? (2017). In the initial two bars three active lines have been superimposed: the line on the  lower stave is the fastest and alternates between two registers; the top line is a little slower and moves more connectedly and singingly; the middle line is the slowest, filling in the harmony. Finnissy has added a second note here and there to the monodic top line to create dyads (the extension of the stem to the second note is clear). One can imagine each line being written through consecutively in a single ‘flight’, as in the description above; adjustments and second thoughts are visible in the numerous crossings-out. This initial three-fold flight breaks off after the second bar; later a third bar (a new flight) has been joined onto the first two by way of the held Eᅈ in the middle voice. If the pen (not pencil, which is ‘too faint to see, and feels/looks indecisive’) is the essential writing tool, compositional ‘tools’ of the kind most other composers make use of are strikingly absent: one is the computer (the implications of which are explored below); others are the elaborate pre-compositional plans,35 programs and systematisations of material on which many composers are reliant in order to write freely. ‘My brain, my imagination, is the toolbox’, Finnissy has said. ‘I am not pedantic about writing, I would rather let it happen, and be resourceful as the occasion demands.’36 This recent statement might best be treated as a summary of current practice and applied only with caution to Finnissy’s whole career, and indeed it would be a mistake to accept without question the composer’s own impression of spontaneous creation; yet evidence from earlier periods would tend to back up the assertion that he prefers to ‘travel light’ with respect to technical apparatus. In Barrie Gavin’s documentary film Dust in the Road (1988)37 Finnissy is seen discussing his pre-compositional materials: a reservoir of non-systematic pitch and rhythm permutations of a found melody. Of course, one other thing likely to be on his desk at any point after around 1980 is a copy of the source material of the work; but beyond this, the characteristic plasticity (or again, restlessness) with which he treats the pitches and rhythms of this material seems to be achieved more-or-less en route. What is important to Finnissy during the act of composition is to be in the moment, to sustain a ‘flight of fancy’, whose ‘energy and momentum… encourage the music to come’.38 Leaving its trail on the page by way of the writing hand, this ‘flight of fancy’ whose momentum (that is, impetus of movement) is so vital is not purely an act of the imagination alone but takes place in what Pallasmaa describes as ‘a state of haptic immersion, where the hand explores, searches, and touches semi-independently’.39 Once again, linearity is the key: it is Finnissy’s emphasis on the line as the essential condition of his musical thought which brings it into alignment with the wayfaring ductus of the hand and allows – indeed, necessitates – these ‘flights’. As


James Weeks

Pallasmaa continues: ‘it is impossible to know which appeared first, the line on the paper or the thought, or a consciousness of an intention. The image seems to draw itself through the human hand.’40

The listening hand I enjoy changing stuff. Why do I enjoy doing that? Because it makes it feel more alive.41 Changing stuff is what Finnissy does: it is the reflexive restlessness of brain and hand, or brain-through-hand, noted several times above. No two bars are the same (an abhorrence of the repeat-mark has been, at least until recently, a venerable Finnissy precept): rhythms shifted, stretched, compressed, permutated; pitches transposed, reordered; motifs turned about, distorted, reshaped. But ‘changing stuff’ is more than the scratching of an itch: it ‘makes it feel more alive’ because it creates movement. Once again, this changing, this movement takes place on the page, by way of notation – indeed, the nature of the changing which takes place is defined by the possibilities and limitations of what can be notated. One of the special features of Finnissy’s music is the apparently limitless variety of its notation, particularly with respect to rhythm, and it is clear that this is an aspect of writing which the composer is both consciously exploring and in which he is undoubtedly taking aesthetic pleasure, particularly in the more baroque notational fantasies of the 1970s and in the ‘experimental’ indeterminate notations typically juxtaposed in many works of the late 1990s and early 2000s.42 But this way lies danger. The look of the music on the page is seductive, its cornucopia of visual forms – symbols of infinite variety and infinitesimal nuance – the beguiling images of an expansive creative imagination. Yet they are not the sounds they symbolise: in charting as we have done the wayfaring path of the writing hand, we have so far ignored the sonic translation of these visual traces. In Finnissy’s case this duality, though intrinsic to musical notation, has created considerable confusion owing to the undeniable visual allure of his scores, both in terms of their notational intricacy and abundance and of the immaculate calligraphy in which they are presented. To read Finnissy is a pleasure in itself, following the entanglement of its superimposed ducti ‘like a hunter on the trail’.43 To what extent, then, is the ear involved in this process, in the hand’s wayfaring? Finnissy, characteristically, offers multiplicity: ‘it so happened that I addressed my own inefficiency as much by visual means as by aural means, and I think my ears and my eyes work together’,44 he says. ‘I’m interested in technique. I’m interested in what my pen can do, what my eye can do, what my ear can do, what I can hear, what I can analyse.’45 Here Finnissy invokes a fully embodied practice in which visual and aural senses are both present, working in conjunction through the notating hand. This is far from saying that he is not interested in sound; but interestingly, it is not saying either that

Finnissy’s hand


he is only interested in sound at the moment of writing, or rather that it is not only his ‘inner ear’ that he trusts to find it. Once again, the hand is at the heart of the matter. Asked whether he has been tempted to write at a computer, he replies: No. I like to physically make the note, because that means I am hearing it, whereas just tapping on a keyboard and seeing the thing come out like a printed score would be a deception…It’s a moment of living with it because it takes several seconds to write… So this is why I draw the note, because that focuses the sound of that note for me in a way that pressing a computer keyboard wouldn’t…I say to people, although they always look puzzled, you can improvise with a pen in your hand. I remember Bussotti saying ‘I draw my scores’. I thought that was quite interesting – he wasn’t afraid of declaring the fact that the graphic image was for him the stimulus for making the music work. Because he knew enough about the sounds he was writing […]46 For Finnissy, then, the moment of drawing the note, of actualising it visually on the page, is also the moment of actualising it in his mind’s ear: it is focused at that point, and not – he implies – previously. We can compare his insistence on the hand over the computer keyboard with Heidegger’s assertion that the typewriter ‘tears writing from the essential realm of the hand’.47 For Heidegger, the word written by hand is the essential agent by which we are able to become ‘world-forming’; likewise for Finnissy the physical inscription of the note by hand is the moment when it becomes ‘real’ in his inner ear – when the imagining mind reaches out into the world and reveals it.48 It might be argued that his dismissal of the mediation of computer technology in the act of composing (‘a deception’, as he provocatively describes the use of notation software above) may read as evidence of a strain of technophobia in Finnissy’s thought – it is not as if the concept of a keyboard is alien to his practice, after all. Certainly, Finnissy has been reticent in embracing new (especially digital) technologies throughout his career in the same way that he has tended to remain faithful to – even when taking a critical stance towards – numerous other inherited paradigms of Western art music production, and the extent to which his aversion to the computer is based on experience is open to question. But this is not in itself a reason to doubt the validity of the connection Finnissy asserts between the moment of drawing and the fixing of the sound in his ear.49 Furthermore, it may be the visual stimulus provided by the graphic act itself that ‘makes the music work’ – provided you know enough about the sounds you are writing: I can’t see, though, if you’re writing things down, how you could not look at it, how you could remain insensitive to the curvature of notes in a line – of course they’re about sound, but they also have a sensuality of shape and texture.50


James Weeks

One cannot, however, expect to imagine completely the sounds one is writing when they reach a point of vertical density typical in Finnissy’s work, nor is it necessarily desirable for them to remain unrealised in sound throughout the composing process from beginning to end. On both points, Finnissy is pragmatic: I need the physical effect of the sound. I can only work a certain amount concentrating purely on the page. The sound of the thing also leads me in other directions that I wouldn’t have thought of – you know, I like surprises, I like to challenge…I have to invent chords at the keyboard, I can’t do them aurally – never been any good at hearing vertical harmony. I have to test it. If I try and do that things will be in the wrong position. I was very heartened to hear from Bunita Marcus that Feldman used to improvise for hours getting the right voicing of a chord, because I can really key into that. I’ll happily sit there for an hour and a half with one chord, revoicing every possible way, every possible octave, because I still like to have fun exploring that. Composers who really know how to do that, like Stravinsky and Ravel, also worked at the piano. They found  those chords physically, they didn’t hear them first and then try and transcribe them.51 Here the opposite applies: it is the sound, discovered through physical movement at the keyboard, that leads the imagination. The situation, then, is complex, precisely as one would expect of an embodied creative act involving intrinsically all three of ear, eye and hand. What then of the accusations of ‘Paper Music’ – of ‘drawing music’ that sounds ‘like shit’ – alluded to above?52 Chacun à son goût, one is tempted to shrug, yet there is even in this crude barb a glimmer of insight. For Finnissy’s music arises, as we have seen, from multiple modes of ‘touching’ – visual, aural, haptic – all of which could be said to be in play at any one point and any of  which might momentarily seem to take the lead. In this, his music is unlike those composers  who  treat  notation and the act of notating as a laborious but  necessary exercise in orthography, a more-or-less transparent means  to a sonic end.  Like those composers, however, the resulting artistic product of Finnissy’s process is nevertheless sound, and only sound. These are not (except in a few exceptional cases) graphic scores; the music is not, to borrow Feldman’s phrase, ‘between categories’:53 the marks made on the page are symbols with sonic equivalents, and to this end we have no option but to trust the composer’s ear and our own judgement: à son goût, enfin.

The reaching hand One could certainly argue that the dance of sensory stimuli described above renders Finnissy’s music not entirely ‘pure’ in its sonic conception – that it

Finnissy’s hand


carries in its sounding traces of the experiential multiplicity and ambiguity of its creative process. But to suggest out of hand that this is a weakness of the music is to fail to place it within its larger aesthetic context. For this is in no sense a ‘pure’ art. ‘I assume ENTANGLEMENT’, Finnissy says. ‘I cannot disregard all notions of ethics and morality in regarding the movement of my hand across the page’.54 In his published interviews, Finnissy habitually deemphasises issues of making, seldom discussing matters of technique in more depth than politeness would seem to demand (this is also, broadly speaking, the present author’s recollection of his teaching). Instead, the focus is brought back constantly to the whys: to the ‘ethics and morality’ referred to above, to cultural and philosophical matters. For Finnissy it is clear that these things are not just interesting ‘liner note’ scenery, they are primary motivators of the music and an intrinsic part of its meaning. Multiplicity – indeed, impurity – are aesthetic principles: matters of craft are inextricably ‘entangled’ with the wider aesthetic context, itself manifold in nature: ‘I’m aware that my work is an uncomfortable, often by design, synthesis of many things, stemming from often very diverse forces’,55 he has remarked. ‘Hence the relevance of Film to my work, essentially ASSEMBLING ad hoc, and often oppositional elements, rather than the Apollonian ‘distillation’ and assertion of a supposedly ORGANIC unity. The HOW of the music’s creation is fed by ideological concerns, in which pattern-making and respect for systems play a relatively small role.’56 In a recent article, the composer Larry Goves has drawn a persuasive link between Tim Ingold’s description of dynamic, linear ‘wayfaring’ (discussed above with respect to the ‘wayfaring hand’) and Finnissy’s relationship with the world around him. He posits Finnissy as the ‘quintessential compositional wayfarer’,57 relating this notion to the way Finnissy ‘writes through’ (arguably a richer and more indicative term than ‘transcribes’) found materials as a kind of territory to explore, in a form of cultural anthropology.58 For Goves, the creative movement ‘through’ the found materials is akin to a movement through the world, a movement which defines the wayfarer: ‘[t]he wayfarer is continually on the move. More strictly, he is his movement’.59 For Ingold, the notion of wayfaring is opposed to transporting: whereas the latter is a point-to-point movement across a territory from node to node, occupying but not truly inhabiting, wayfaring is movement along lines within the territory. ‘The traveller and his line are […] one and the same. It is a line that advances from the tip as he presses on in an ongoing process of growth and development, or of self-renewal.’60 Rather than being destination-oriented, the wayfarer’s lines create meshes, or ‘zones of entanglement’: ‘In this zone of entanglement – this meshwork of interwoven lines – there are no insides or outsides, only openings and ways through.’61 Ingold’s figure of the wayfarer illuminates many aspects of Finnissy’s creative practice. ‘I write all the time […] I do think of my works as a path through my life’,62 he has said, and in their open-endedness (‘I prefer just to close the door, as if the music is still going on behind that door’) and in the compulsive


James Weeks

curiosity of his engagement with other musics we see precisely the relationship with the world Ingold is describing.63 But we can also go further than Goves and join these general observations to insights made earlier in the chapter. Just as Ingold elaborates an argument from the dynamics of Klee’s active line and the scribal ductus to the idea of wayfaring as an ethos of habitation, so we can follow Heidegger in asserting that it is the embodied linearity of Finnissy’s practice (that is, the way of the hand) that becomes the agent of his revealing or disclosing the world during the creative act. The Finnissian ductus, drawing lines, superimposing, palimpsesting, weaving line upon line into texture, is, at this fundamental level of embodied craft, the vehicle of his wayfaring. This, then, is the final way of Finnissy’s hand: simultaneously moving across the page and reaching out into the manifold world that surrounds it, in all its mess and impurity. Trying not to leave anything out but to capture as much as possible – ‘wandering […] through a dense landscape with a lot of overlaid information’,64 as he has described himself – and in so doing connecting, encountering and engaging with people and peoples, the ultimate subject of his work and fascination of his art. ‘I don’t design monuments. I have adventures. I go on journeys’,65 he told the composer Cassandra Miller. And it is the writing hand – imbued with the intelligence of ears, eyes, imagination and conscience – that finds the way.

Notes 1 2 3

4 5 6

Martin Heidegger, ‘What calls for thinking?’, Basic Writings (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 357; quoted in Juhani Pallasmaa, The Thinking Hand (Chichester: John Wiley, 2009), p. 17. Privately 1996–7; at University of Southampton, 2000–5. Michael Finnissy and James Weeks, ‘“I assume ENTANGLEMENT”: Michael Finnissy on writing, drawing, listening, playing, collaborating’, https://michaelf The image appears in a discussion of Finnissy’s piano writing: ‘I don’t think of piano-timbre when I am writing for the instrument, but it is so frequently the confessor to my thoughts, I might be wrong.’ The idea of the piano as a ‘confessional’ here bears a strong resonance of the story, likely apocryphal, of Liszt confessing his sins to Pope Pius IX for a whole five hours, after which the Pope cried out ‘Basta, caro Liszt! Go and tell the rest of your sins to the piano!’ However, nineteenth-century popes never heard confession. See Alan Walker, Franz Liszt: The Final Years, 1861–1886 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), pp, 86–7, n. 5. Frank R. Wilson, The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998), p. 10, quoted in Pallasmaa, The Thinking Hand, p. 32. Martin Heidegger, Parmenides, translated André Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992), p. 80. Pallasmaa, The Thinking Hand, p. 100. Pallasmaa’s argument is founded on this quote by anthropologist Ashley Montagu: ‘[The skin] is the oldest and the most sensitive of our organs, our first medium of communication, and our most efficient protector […] Even the transparent cornea of the eye is overlain by a layer of modified skin […] Touch is the parent of our eyes, ears, nose and mouth. It is

Finnissy’s hand

7 8


10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

23 24 25 26 27 28 29


the sense which became differentiated into the others, a fact that seems to be recognized in the age-old evaluation of touch as the “mother of the senses”.’ Ashley Montagu, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), p. 3. Ibid. pp. 101, 100. Finnissy is notably sensitive to criticisms of his work as ‘paper music’ – that is, music for the eye more than the ear; although articulations of this viewpoint cannot be traced in print, he has discussed one of them in a recent interview (see note 52 below) and has several times referred to them in conversation with the present author. It is clear, at least, that he perceives this to be a recurrent trope in the reception of his work. Michael Finnissy and Kris Donovan, Reels (first performance, Brighton Polytechnic, 1981). Video at (accessed 9 February 2017). A further poetic response to this work (presumably the piano solo version) was made by the poet Harry Gilonis in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox, and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground – The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997), pp. 348–9. The poet draws a connection between the visual and aural realms throughout the poem: ‘listening to notes in accord / seeing, a labyrinthine dance / attending to the clarity of value / unfolding conjunction of opposites / poised in disrupted flow’. Michael Finnissy and James Weeks, op. cit. Ibid. Finnissy estimates his dance playing years as circa 1962–86 (personal communication). For instance, Strauss-Walzer (1967, rev.1989), Svatovac (1973–4), Jazz (1976), Kemp’s Morris (1978), Fast Dances, Slow Dances (1978–9), Boogie-Woogie (1980–1, rev. 1985, 1996), Freightrain Bruise (1972, rev. 1980). David Sudnow, Ways of the Hand: A Rewritten Account (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), p. 71. Ibid., p. 68. Ibid., p. 71. Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit. ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, in Uncommon Ground, p. 43. Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit. Ibid. Rosemary Sassoon, The Art and Science of Handwriting (Bristol: Intellect, 2000), p. 39, quoted in Tim Ingold, Lines (London: Routledge, 2007), p. 96. A much-paraphrased dictum. See, for example, Paul Klee, Pedagogical Sketchbook (New York: Praeger 1960), p. 16: Section 1.1 – ‘An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal.’ Discussed by Finnissy in Brougham, Fox, Pace, eds., op. cit., p. 2. Andy Goldsworthy, Stone (London: Viking, 1994), p. 82, quoted in Ingold, op. cit., p. 133. Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit. Ibid. Ibid. Ingold, Lines, p. 130. Pallasmaa, The Thinking Hand, p. 50. Heidegger argues for the fundamental importance of handwriting (as opposed to typing – see later discussion) to humanity’s ability to be ‘world-forming’ – that is, to reveal or disclose the world rather than simply inhabit it – owing to the primacy of the hand in establishing our apprehension of instrumentality (see Heidegger, Parmenides, p. 80).

296 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48


50 51 52 53

54 55 56

James Weeks

In ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, p. 2. Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Barrie Gavin, Dust in the Road (BBC, broadcast 11 December 1988). At www. (accessed 9 February 2018). Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit. Pallasmaa, The Thinking Hand, p. 72. Ibid. pp. 91–2. Michael Finnissy and Cassandra Miller, ‘Transcription, Photography, Portraiture’ Cerenem Journal 6 (2017), p. 64. See Chapters 2 and 9 of the present volume for more on these notations. Ingold, Lines, p. 27. Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit. Finnissy and Miller, ‘Transcription, Photography, Portraiture’, p. 63. Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit. Heidegger, Parmenides, p. 81. As Ingold remarks, it is the hand’s ductus which is lost in typing: ‘the very movement by which the hand tells, when it holds a pen, is annihilated when it strikes the keyboard, for it leaves no trace upon the page. The correspondence of gesture and inscription, of hand and line, is broken.’ Tim Ingold, Making (London: Routledge, 2013), p. 122. It is also notable in this respect how different Finnissy’s music appears when typeset. Comparing an early example of typeset Finnissy, the edition of Seven Sacred Motets (1991) published by Oxford University Press, with Finnissy’s original is instructive: the sense of linearity and flow in the music, so strikingly conveyed by the composer’s manual ductus with its elegant freehand ties and slurs and rounded san-serif script, is subtly but palpably diminished in the printed version. In particular, the typesetter has clearly struggled with the spacing of the notes in movements such as Hymnos sacrae quos virgini, which incorporate stemless plainchant note-heads, conventional rhythmic notation and grace notes within the same line. This notational strategy of Finnissy’s is intrinsically involved with the act of writing down and suggests to the performer different kinds of rhythmic flow; the spacing of the notes is vital to help the performer negotiate the difference as their eye moves across the page. The OUP edition is inconsistent in spacing, sometimes overly distended and frequently excessively compressed, pulling and pushing the visual reading speed around. The singer’s cognitive flow becomes stumbling and disjointed, and the movement thus rendered considerably more difficult to perform from the printed score. Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit. Ibid. Ibid. Morton Feldman, ‘Between Categories’ (1969), in Give My Regards to Eighth Street (New York: Exact Change, 2000), p. 88: ‘I prefer to think of my work as: between categories. Between Time and Space. Between Painting and Music. Between the music’s construction, and its surface.’ Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit. ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, p. 33. The sentence continues: ‘…but they’re unified by this sexual thrust’. Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit.

Finnissy’s hand


57 Larry Goves, ‘Michael Finnissy and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Composer as Anthropologist’, Tempo, vol. 71, no. 280 (2017), p. 53. 58 The extent to which this ‘writing-through’ of found materials could be viewed critically as a species of cultural appropriation is of course open for debate, but is outside the scope of the present argument. For some consideration of such questions, see Ian Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013), pp. 73–95, 241–67; Maarten Beirens, ‘Archaeology of the Self: Michael Finnissy’s Folklore’, Tempo, vol. 57, no. 223 (January 2003), pp. 46–56; and Maarten Beirens in Chapter 13 of the present volume. 59 Ingold, Lines, p. 78. 60 Ibid. Compare Finnissy: ‘It is, need I add?, my own journey that is being articulated through the ‘line’…who else is putting the things together, making the choices? It’s not arrogant and idealised self-portraiture, it is an attempt at truthful and honest Documentary Revelation, with all the mess and muddle’ (Finnissy and Weeks, op. cit.). 61 Ingold, Lines, p. 106. 62 ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, p. 37. 63 Ibid. p. 20. 64 Michael Finnissy interviewed in Classic Britannia, Episode 3 (BBC4, first broadcast June 2007). 65 Finnissy and Miller, ‘Transcription, Photography, Portraiture’, p. 61.

Bibliography Feldman, Morton. ‘Between Categories’ (1969). In Give My Regards to Eighth Street (New York: Exact Change, 2000), pp. 83–9. Finnissy, Michael; and Donovan, Kris. Reels, first performance, Brighton Polytechnic, 1981. Video at (accessed 17 July 2018). Finnissy, Michael; and Miller, Cassandra. ‘Transcription, Photography, Portraiture’. Cerenem Journal 6 (2017), pp. 58–70. Finnissy, Michael; and Weeks, James. Interview, 2018. At https://michaelfinnissy. Finnissy, Michael; Fox, Christopher; Pace, Ian; and Brougham, Henrietta. ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 1–42. Goldsworthy, Andy. Stone. London: Viking, 1994. Heidegger, Martin. ‘What calls for thinking?’. In Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), pp. 369–91. Heidegger, Martin. Parmenides, translated André Schuwer and Richard Rojcewicz,. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992. Ingold, Tim. Lines. London: Routledge, 2007. Ingold, Tim. Making. London: Routledge, 2013. Klee, Paul. Pedagogical Sketchbook. New York: Praeger, 1960. Montagu, Ashley. Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. New York: Harper and Row, 1971. Pace, Ian. Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation. Swarland: Divine Art, 2013.


James Weeks

Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Thinking Hand. Chichester: John Wiley, 2009. Sassoon, Rosemary. The Art and Science of Handwriting. Bristol: Intellect, 2000. Sudnow, David. Ways of the Hand: A Rewritten Account. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. Walker, Alan. Franz Liszt: The Final Years, 1861–1886. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996. Wilson, Frank R. The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.

Section D

Contexts and case studies

Taylor & Francis Taylor & Francis Group

13 Questioning the foreign and the familiar Interpreting Michael Finnissy’s use of traditional and non-Western sources Maarten Beirens Many have commented in these pages and elsewhere about how Michael Finnissy’s music contains a wide range of references to other music. As in the Gershwin Arrangements or the Verdi Transcriptions, these references can be the focal point of an entire set of pieces. More remarkable, perhaps, are those works in which a vast range of different musical references is combined into a single composition. Disentangling the numerous quotations, allusions and their many transformations from Finnissy’s musical fabric can be quite an endeavour in its own right. Ian Pace’s painstaking identification of musical sources quoted, transformed, implied and referred to in Folklore,1 or in The History of Photography in Sound,2 may stand as representative examples of the rather encyclopaedic scope of Finnissy’s incorporation of or allusions to other music. They also reveal the substantial catalogue-like musicological rigour it already takes merely to list those sources. The more urgent matter, however, seems to be on the hermeneutical level. What does Finnissy’s music accomplish though the incorporation of those references? It is primarily this issue which I will address in this chapter. Finnissy has based entire works on or included references to a wide variety of  traditional music, ranging from English, Scottish and Irish tunes, Australian Aboriginal material, Negro Spirituals, to various Central European, Asian and African sources. As always, the presence of pre-existing material invites speculation on the epistemological function of those appropriated materials, as well as the implications of the process of appropriation itself. There are a range of possible angles from which one can approach how Finnissy deals the rich fabric of references and their interpretations, a few of which I will consider here. As main examples serving here are the Folklore cycle (1993–4) and Unsere Afrikareise (1998), the penultimate section from The History of Photography in Sound (1995–2000). The dense nature of these works opens up the possibility of developing multiple hermeneutical readings of the material involved. In the case of traditional music, this process could conceivably involve two implied opposing dichotomies: that between art music and ‘folk’ music on the one hand,3 and that between the Western and the non-Western on the other hand.


Maarten Beirens

The use of traditional music as source in classical composition has a long history and one of the issues at stake in works like Folklore is the very decision to engage with that tradition of borrowing, appropriation and the associated hermeneutical implications, rather than simply referring to traditional or non-Western music. Likewise, there are several musicological traditions which have considered the implications of such references, reading them in terms of issues such as nationalism, romantic escapism, exoticism and orientalism. I would like to begin with a few quite different late twentieth-century examples of such music alluding to traditional or non-Western traditions, in the context of which I will compare Finnissy’s approaches, to show how they do not readily align themselves with such established models. In 1970–1, Steve Reich composed Drumming, arguably a major breakthrough work, which established his international reputation and put American minimalism on the map. The first movement in particular, with four percussionists playing on two sets of four tuned bongos, was immediately perceived as highlighting an ‘African’ aspect in the use of rhythmic patterns, metrical ambiguity, and of course, systematic repetition, and the ritualistic, perhaps even trance-inducing, effect this might bring. Unlike the rhythmic cycles of Terry Riley or Philip Glass, who employed rhythmic structures derived from their encounter with Indian music, but did so through sounds decisively rooted in a Western rock/jazz amplified ‘electric’ tradition, it was the instrumentation of Drumming Part I which appeared to openly acknowledge the primacy of African inspiration. Moreover, Drumming was written almost immediately upon Reich’s return from a summer spent in Ghana, where he had studied the percussion music of the Ewe tribe.4 Against this almost overwhelming body of evidence, Steve Reich himself emphatically refused to acknowledge his African experience in terms of ‘inspiration’, but rather as ‘confirmation’ of his intuition to use acoustic and notably percussion instruments.5 It was also a confirmation of the potential of musical ideas from the pieces preceding his African trip (such as Piano Phase or Violin Phase (both 1967)), including similarities in form (the 12-beat patterns, multiple downbeats) and technique (the phase shifting processes).6 Although it is impossible to guess Reich’s reasons to downplay the ‘African’ inspiration of Drumming (while consistently continuing to mention his general affinity with African and later also Balinese music),7 one plausible explanation might lie in his concern to distance himself from notions of exoticism, appropriation and – as Edward Said would a few years later place high onto the academic agenda – Orientalism.8 Although Said’s points can – and have been – criticised in many respects, his main tenets remain quite clear: Orientalism is essentially an Occidental way of looking at the exotic, stressing its otherness, reducing it to idealised picturesque representations or even entailing a phantasmagorical construction with no substantial relation to the actual reality of oriental life and culture. Most importantly, it harbours a rhetoric of power, of colonialist relations, of assuming a polarity between notions of ‘civilised’ versus ‘primitive’

Questioning the foreign and the familiar


cultural aspects. It involves ‘narratives of national identity as well as struggles concerning gender, class, and race, always focused on the “positional superiority” of one group vis-à-vis another’.9 Jann Pasler goes on to point out the ambiguity that underlies so much of early twentieth-century orientalist art and music. On the one hand there is a fascination with the picturesque side of the East (her example is the evocation of India in the work of French composers Albert Roussel and Maurice Delage): the exotic, the spiritual, the erotic.10 On the other hand, there is the awareness of the growing economic and military power of the Far East: the uneasy sense of potential conflict if and when these colonialist power relations were to shift. Both aspects foreground the ‘otherness’ of the East and its people. Whether enthusiastically embracing sounds, ideas, images and models from geographically remote places and thus opening up to (from the Western perspective) ‘new’ artistic possibilities in terms of musical material, form and expression, or taking position against a potential (military and/or economic) contender, it is a discourse contrasting their own position with something identified as foreign, an artistic set of familiar techniques, materials and narrative topics confronted with or supplemented by unfamiliar elements. It is exactly this notion of otherness, which lies at the core of dealing with non-Western influences. While Said’s concept was initially directed towards representations of the Middle East and the Far East (the geographical terminology itself already showing a Western European perspective), it may be applicable to many cultural dealings with the non-Western world. The focus on difference as an epistemological ground for discussing non-Western music both has a long tradition in Western thinking (such as Hegelian dialectics) and a more recent surge in scholarly attention as gender studies and postcolonial perspectives emerged as leading topics from the 1990s onwards. With the case of understanding African music as his topic, Kofi Agawu even asserts that difference lies at the very core of ethnomusicology as such. Ethnomusicology is founded on difference. Notions of unlikeness or dissimilarity lie at its core both in concept and, more spectacularly, in practice. From its antecedents in Enlightenment representations of world cultures through its concrete emergence as die vergleichende Musikwissenschaft or “comparative musicology” to its institutionalisation as a formal fieldwork-based discipline in the 1950s, ethnomusicology has invested considerable stock in the production of cultural differences and notions of otherness. To say that ethnomusicological epistemology is an epistemology of difference is to utter a virtual truism.11 In the case of most African music, the primary parameter to locate the notion of difference would be rhythm, which Agawu claims is theorised as being of primary importance, complex and connected to an innate rhythmic sensibility shared by African people.12 This would then be contrasted with a European predilection towards pitch organisation – melody and particularly


Maarten Beirens

harmony.13 One can understand Reich’s hesitation to associate himself with the exoticist or ‘Africanist’ label that might be attached to his percussiondriven music built around (shifting) repeated superimposed rhythmic patterns. The association of rhythmic structure with African elements would neither serve Reich’s identification as a Western composer, nor would it do justice to the intricacies of African music that cannot be reduced to rhythmic structure alone.14 But the binary oppositions Western/African, rhythmic/harmonic also harbour an underlying epistemology of the African as related to dance, the physical, earth-bound (as opposed to the ‘intellectual’ refinement of harmony), and hence the erotic and the ‘primitive’. As purely technical and descriptive as the topic of ‘African rhythm(s)’ may be approached in the ethnomusicological literature, it remains difficult to separate it from the orientalist aspects that somehow seem to be entangled in it. Whereas Reich looked for a way of somehow assimilating African ideas, it seems that Michael Finnissy thematicises the very impossibility of such assimilation.

A postcolonial African journey It is the clash of these notions, the Eurocentric against the primitive, the cultured against the savage which is critically examined in Peter Kubelka’s 1966 experimental movie Unsere Afrikareise. There, the film director contrasts short shots of Austrian tourists travelling through Africa, mostly on an oldfashioned safari trip (which traditionally involved hunting a lot of animals just for the fun of it) as well as some shots of the same tourists cruising on the Nile and visiting the Abu Simbel temples. Interestingly, Kubelka points out that the reasons for this group of people to go on an African trip were more to do with social distinction than genuine curiosity about the places they visited, let alone about the lives of the local people they met there. I have often said that this film should not be thought of as a personal account of these special people; they represent a whole class. They were wealthy people who lived in a small town. They were not passionate hunters. Among Austrian business people, to be a hunter brings a certain prestige. You might start by paying to shoot deer in Austrian hunting reserves. Then you might upgrade and go to Poland, maybe, and shoot a bear. To upgrade from that, you would go to Africa or somewhere equally exotic. This is exactly what they did. Theirs was not really a trip of desire, but a reflection of a certain social structure, which makes it understandable that they didn’t really want to travel. They didn’t really want to see people different from themselves.15 Kubelka’s juxtaposition heightens the perception of Western tourists assuming a position of superiority against the African natives and helps to critically examine the underlying ‘Orientalist’ tenets. What is remarkable about Kubelka’s approach is the extremely fragmented nature of his

Questioning the foreign and the familiar


cinematographic language. He avoids any hint of narrative sequence, by using extremely short shots, alternating fragments from different places and from different moments in that ‘African journey’. The editing, with sudden transitions from one (very short) shot to the next heightens this sense of fragmentation, as does the soundtrack, which only uses elements recorded during that trip (dialogue, ambient sounds, music), but often recombines these with different images. By repeating shots or cutting up takes and dividing the short segments across different points in the course of the film, Kubelka further stresses the nonlinear nature of his cinematographic style.16 In his own Unsere Afrikareise, Finnissy adopts a similar approach, juxtaposing musical material derived from Moroccan, Ethiopian and Venda traditional music, which are contrasted with fragments derived from minuets by Mozart and Ecossaises by Schubert. However, as Ian Pace has analysed in detail in his essay on The History of Photography in Sound, Finnissy never simply uses crude juxtapositions of ‘African’ and ‘European’ models, but instead presents many different ways of transforming, and even fusing both.17 Kubelka establishes a cinematographic language which does indeed stress a crude opposition between European and African elements, resulting in a more antagonistic Said-like model of criticising the underlying Orientalist features in terms of power and oppression. Finnissy creates a more diverse range of references, where the sources have various degrees of recognisability, often blending into each other, or to quote Pace: However, the origins of much of the material ceases to be of much consequence when it becomes transformed, as Finnissy uses configurations associated with one of the material types in order to transform another.18 Moreover, Finnissy includes references to several European – particularly French – representations of African culture, (Victor Massé, Félicien David, Camille Saint-Saëns, and others). By including these outright orientalist romantic compositions with their idealised and eroticised depictions of orientalist tropes, he adds considerably to the complexity of the perspectives offered by his composition: encompassing original ‘traditional’ African material, contrasting Western ‘traditional’ material and material representing the Western perception of the African/oriental world. By merging the musical material of these three types of sources, the composition offers a continuously changing perspective. Said argued that the East – in spite of the Western depictions of it – was never a ‘stable reality’ but used his analysis to argue that the oppressive stance was a quite obvious – though often unspoken – reality. By means of contrast, Finnissy’s approach of joining, contrasting and merging elements in an ongoing manner presents us with the impression that nothing is stable and that the complicated African-European cultural connections are in a permanent state of flux which works in both directions. Oppression and resistance to it are then no longer clear-cut opposing categories, but an intricate set of connections.


Maarten Beirens

Unsere Afrikareise is neither an attempt at integrating African sources, nor is it a straightforward critique of the colonialist attitude behind a longstanding Western tradition of depicting the non-Western. When alerted to the presence of the French ‘colonialist’ material, a listener might become aware that the ‘African’ and ‘European’ sources do not function as simple representations of two autonomous cultural traditions that are simply available to be musically joined, but are already linked by a shared (colonialist) past, characterised by structural inequality. The permanent fluidity of the material further helps to go beyond simple binary relations: there is no real sense of otherness by juxtaposing familiar ‘Western’ and unfamiliar ‘exotic’ tropes. Instead of directly representing such tropes, the piece is very much about such representation (and the history of such representation). In the permanently shifting perspective all the material becomes, to some degree, defamiliarised. In the absence of a stable point of reference, the complexities of the encounter between European and African cultural aspects are presented as exactly that: unstable, fleeting, historically charged with connotations, entangled and complicated.19 If Steve Reich could be considered to appropriate African-inspired material (and specifically rhythmic material, the most obvious musical trope in referring to Africa, as Agawu has pointed out), then it is far less unequivocal what Michael Finnissy is appropriating in Unsere Afrikareise. Evidently he does quote from Vendan, Ethiopian and Moroccan music, but also from Mozart and Schubert, and most significantly from several French orientalist compositions. By juxtaposing these sources, blending their musical characteristics, transforming them and generally forging both contrasts and connections between them, he moves away from the binary critical attitude of Kubelka, playing out Western (post)colonialist attitudes versus African elements. Instead, he contextualises the confrontation of Western and non-Western materials within a historically and culturally charged history of Western dealings with the East (or, in the case of Africa, Northern dealings with the South). As a British composer himself, Finnissy does not stand outside the practice of appropriating music from elsewhere. Does that entail an ‘oppressive’ Western stance, as a Said-like reading might have it? I would argue that this is indeed not the case, because of the acute awareness of his position as a (Western) composer and the way Finnissy weaves this into the epistemological features of the musical tropes at which he hints. Thus, Finnissy can be said simultaneously to appropriate African music, and in turn David’s, Massé’s or Saint-Saëns’ orientalist appropriation of similar non-Western tropes. Instead of merely drawing upon non-Western elements, it also draws on the history of dealing with such elements. It both contrasts and combines (or even fuses) this history with archetypal classical and romantic fragments from the Western canon, further complicating the possible interpretation of composing out any pre-existing material across different historical or geographical origins. Instead of some kind of assimilation of the African sources (Reich)

Questioning the foreign and the familiar


or a clear-cut critical opposition between African and European (musical) elements (Kubelka), it presents the transcultural appropriation in a way that highlights the awareness of the historically and politically charged implications of such an appropriation. If in the fragmented texture of Finnissy’s Unsere Afrikareise the composer does deal with African music, he also deals with what dealing with such music means for a British composer in 1998.

Finnissy’s strategies of musical heterogeneity Where Said focused on exposing and criticising power dynamics and an implicit sense of cultural superiority, another quite influential approach to transcultural elements has gained currency in the late twentieth century. This is the deliberate fusion of geographically and culturally diverse sources, which are then blended into an eclectic style. The later works of György Ligeti may stand as a good example of the latter. Ligeti famously described Fanfares (from his first book of Études) as ‘emanating from an imaginary island somewhere between the Balkans, Central Africa and the Caribbean’. It is in the imaginary aspect that his position touches upon the equally imaginary and therefore idealised phantasmagorical depictions (and thus reductions) of the non-Western world which Said criticised in orientalist viewpoints. The difference is that Ligeti (and many other composers dealing with such a sense of transcultural musical fusion) does not contrast the primitive with the civilised, or the non-Western with the Western, but seeks out novel musical possibilities through the appropriation and combination of musical characteristics and techniques derived from these non-Western sources. At first sight, one might be inclined to read the presence of non-Western elements in Finnissy’s music in a similar way. The encyclopaedic nature of a piece such as Folklore, with its broad selection of elements taken from different geographical (and historical) sources would seem to point in that direction. However, I consider Finnissy’s approach as remarkably different in several respects, which I will briefly list as different angles or keys from or with which to approach hermeneutically the function of the non-Western elements in his music. An obvious starting point is the engagement with music as a political signifier, as witnessed in the intricate way of dealing with the historical-political dimension of representing the European versus the African in Unsere Afrikareise. This political point is perhaps even more strongly present in Folklore, where the references evoked by the selections of traditional music from around the world are turned into a reflection on the composer’s as well as the listener’s (possible) relation to this material. The geographical range and variety of musical sources may appear eclectic, through a fusion of musical ideas derived from quite different origins not unlike the Ligeti example above. The main difference is that for Finnissy, these elements are often – as in Folklore – combined with a critical, politically motivated subtext which unfolds an intricate web of criticism and reflection. Oppositions become less antithetical, questions turn out to harbour further


Maarten Beirens

questions, seemingly opposing perspectives turn out to be similar. Instead of an attempted transcultural synthesis of the heterogeneous elements, as the Ligeti example would suggest, Finnissy manages to keep the tension between those elements active at the core of his musical discourse. Unsurprisingly, the final phrase from Finnissy’s introduction to the score is ‘Evocation becomes provocation’.20 For the purpose of this chapter, I will limit myself to listing five representative aspects of Finnissy’s approach that may serve as starting points from where a deeper exploration of the rich hermeneutic content of a piece such as Folklore or Unsere Afrikareise could start. Although these aspects are specifically defined in relation to Michael Finnissy’s ways of dealing with traditional and non-Western musical sources, many of them may apply in a broader sense to (aspects of) Finnissy’s compositional technique in general.

1. Criticism For Finnissy, musical material is never only material of a purely abstract nature, although indeed his ways of working with and transforming material may involve a quite sophisticated composition-technical aspect. The approaches to ‘filtering’ or transforming the Vendan and Mozart/Schubert materials through each other’s characteristic configurations in Unsere Afrikareise, serve as examples of this.21 There is always a deep sense of ongoing reflection about the implications of the chosen material and of its treatment. In Folklore, for instance, one recurrent theme is that of oppression. The implication that traditional music would be considered as culturally inferior (indeed, the very term ‘folklore’ itself is nowadays mostly avoided because of its derogatory overtones) is immediately critically turned around, as the traditional materials there often articulate the position of outsider or ‘symbols of oppression’. The prominence of African-American spirituals is a very obvious example of such a reading, but also on a music-historical level, the inclusion of references to Edvard Grieg (so prominent in Folklore I), Kaikhosru Sorabji, Percy Grainger or Cornelius Cardew show Finnissy referencing composers who can be considered as outsiders from the vantage point of the classical canon.22 The ways in which Finnissy brings these musical sources together and draws on them to make his music establishes a set of connections between the materials (musically) and between the associations they carry (epistemologically). This invites hermeneutical readings that depend upon the connections that are made (or not – again, this may depend on the position, background and knowledge of the listener) between these levels.

2. Sound The critical potential of Finnissy’s music, if only in the sense of the ability to bring out ideas evoked by or associated with the type of material

Questioning the foreign and the familiar


or with the particular sources involved, may be evident, as argued in the description of the first strategy above. However, it would be misleading to suggest that for  Finnissy, the selection of musical sources is primarily a matter of addressing  the associations, cultural implications or political relevance of that material. As opposed to making musical choices as mere signifiers of something else (nationalism, eroticism, colonialism), the choice for incorporating traditional music from the perspective of the composer often involves a fascination with the pure musical materiality – the very sound – of these sources. In the programme notes to his recent Beethoven’s Robin Adair, Finnissy argued that: ‘Beethoven was interested in generic folksong as MUSIC because he found its shapes intriguing and sexy, not for reasons of nationalistic fervour and not simply arranging them for money.’23 It is tempting to consider this as the composer’s personal statement and assume that we can substitute the name of ‘Beethoven’ with ‘Finnissy’. The point Finnissy makes here is an appeal to the primacy of musical intuition, to the basic fact that composing involves working with basic elements such as pitches and rhythmic values. Although many hermeneutic aspects can and do become involved, none of them would make sense without a primary attraction to the source’s sheer musicality. Interesting ideological connections are bound to become irrelevant if the sounding music in its very materiality would be incapable of engaging the listener.

3. Transcription Transferring traditional music to other instruments – the ‘spineless and domesticated’24 utterly Western piano in Folklore or The History of Photography in Sound – serves as an efficient way to immediately separate the traditional music from its origins. Scottish pìobaireachd bagpipe ornamentation becomes pianistic grace-note technique in Folklore 2. Fiddle tunes from Grieg and folk melodies collected by Ludwig M. Lindeman in Folklore 1 lose part of their original identity and purpose when transferred to a piano. That the pianist is in one place instructed to play ‘quasi violino’ (in this case for a setting of a Picardie folk song) actually heightens the awareness of the impossibility of adequately evoking the original medium and the inherent sound qualities of the original. The notion of transcription is a very crucial one in Michael Finnissy’s music, for which he uses, following Busoni, a very encompassing definition: There’s the essay in which Busoni refers to all musical composition as transcription […]. He says that you ‘transcribe a thought’, which I think is a very meaningful expression to anyone who has been through the experience. You ‘transcribe it’ because in a sense you realise that you never literally write it in the way it initially comes to you; writing it is also changing it, thinking through, imagining.25


Maarten Beirens

Transferring traditional music from the mostly vocal or quite specific instrumental (fiddle, bagpipes) sound of its origins, also serves to render the traditional music as raw material. Finnissy does not present us traditional music as such and neither does he even make arrangements of traditional music (as opposed to Grieg, Lindeman or Grainger). Instead, unified in the sound qualities of the piano, of pianistic technique and contrapuntal texture, the material refers to the traditional music from which it is derived, rather than evoking such music more directly. Unified by the pianistic language, the material is to some extent neutralised, made malleable and open to meaning that is at least as much derived from the combinations and transformations involved in its compositions as the associations which come from identification of its provenance. In interview, the composer argues that deriving his material from elsewhere (which, as the vast array of sources throughout his oeuvre testifies, could be anything, from the classical repertoire, through Gershwin tunes, to traditional music from different parts of the world) is not any different from working with original material of his own invention, because: ‘Composition remains the same business of actually discovering what your object is and revealing what your perceptions are, what your insights are about that object.’26

4. Heterogeneity, juxtapositions, contrasts Finnissy’s techniques involve not only transformation of such musical objects, but also a cinematic montage-like approach and dense ways of layering. Elements appear mostly in combinations, in modified guises, in layers and/ or in juxtaposition with other elements. Non-unified tempo, harmonic language, dynamics, articulation register, and other such aspects serve a highly heterogeneous surface which would hopefully thwart even the most stubborn hermeneutic attempt to reduce it to simplifications or binary meanings. The associations, references and hence meanings attached to the separate selections of material are less relevant as they might be in a different context, because of the multiplicity and variegation of the material. It is not the isolated elements as such which carry interpretive weight, but rather the fact that these elements are continuously combined with, transformed by and presented alongside other elements. The diversity of sources and types of material found in Folklore or The History of Photography in Sound is deliberate and generates ample opportunity for connections and oppositions, both in terms of the musical (textural, harmonic, rhythmic, and so forth) characteristics as well as in terms of what these might bring on an epistemological level. It is most poignantly in the juxtaposition, fusion, transformation, layering, or other type of combination of these materials that meaningful elements emerge.27 In Kubelka’s Unsere Afrikareise, the binary opposition between the European tourists and the indigenous Africans is quite obvious. While any documentary-like account of that African trip would have succeeded in exposing the late colonialist attitude, sense of cultural superiority and derogatory treatment of the African people by the Austrian company, Kubelka chose

Questioning the foreign and the familiar


to present it in a very particular, fragmented way. He used extremely short shots, disregarding chronology, in a montage with a very sudden alternation of heterogeneous scenes and images. This way, Kubelka succeeds in making a point about what came to be known as an essentially orientalist attitude not by adhering to a coherent narrative of his own, but by presenting bursts of images, with sudden contrasts and juxtapositions whose non-linear sequence heightens the immediacy of the critique of cultural inequality that is at stake. Michael Finnissy has often used a similar cinematographic approach to composition and particularly to montage-like techniques that at times also resemble William Burroughs’ ‘cut-up’ approaches. Juxtapositions or layering of materials are very much present in Folklore – one set of remarkable examples of this are the monodic passages in Folklore 2, where the texture (pure monody, played by one hand)28 parts ways with the standard expectations of piano writing, which is made all the more effective by the sudden textural contrasts with the quite dense multi-layered and contrapuntal material (or the passages with the Cardew-inspired ‘overlaid’ grace notes).29 In his Unsere Afrikareise, possibly encouraged by Kubelka’s film, Finnissy employs ever more extreme juxtapositions of different selections of material and texture at a very high rate, as Ex. 13.1 shows. The ongoing transformation of the materials does not prevent the identification of some of their basic characteristics, such as the rhythmic and motivic shape of the Ecossaise that still quite clearly reveals its origin, in spite of the un-Schubert like dissonance in the harmonic separation between left and right hands.

5. Subjectivity In his preface to Folklore, Michael Finnissy refers to Antonio Gramsci’s ‘imperative to compile an inventory of the “infinity of traces” that historical processes leave on “the self”’.30 Although the composer’s dealings with these traditional sources intersect with their historical and political meanings, interpretations and implications, the dealings are also personal. They do not present the traditions as static, well-defined entities, but subjective processes, a set of formative influences that are to a large extent personal and individual. The traces left by the traditional music to which Finnissy refers not only address larger historical, cultural and political issues, but are equally related to a personal perspective and, inevitably, an autobiographical factor. Traditional music however remote it may seem geographically can and does constitute quite strong formative effect, as Finnissy testifies in interview. My parents had contact with Polish people during the war so there were books of Polish folk music on the piano from when I was a child, which I made use of in early pieces and which then led to Chopin.31 It may be for this reason that the salient political sympathies in Folklore are not only with the oppressed (hence the prominence of the African American


Maarten Beirens

Ex. 13.1 Finnissy, from Unsere Afrikareise. © Oxford University Press 2004.

spiritual Deep River) but particularly with the outsider – in Folklore represented by the aesthetically marginalised Sorabji as well as by the politically marginalised Cardew. It is the perspective of the outsider, however, that grants a truly critical vantage point from which fully to consider the intricate, complex and contradictory nature of a topic such as in this case for instance: cultural identity when confronted with cultural otherness. It is particularly in this subjective respect that the entwining of different non-Western sources in Finnissy differs fundamentally from the imaginary fusion of similar sources in Ligeti.

Defamiliarising the familiar, familiarising the foreign Dealing with music from outside the Western art music tradition opens up many ramifications about cultural values, perspective and inclusion. The very notion that something would be considered as being ‘outside’ a certain cultural framework is already problematic as borders between art music and

Questioning the foreign and the familiar


traditional music or, for that matter, East and West are never clear-cut. Still, in line with Edward Said’s definition of orientalism, there can be found many inherent features in Western cultural dealings with the non-Western that harbour binary thinking, assuming a familiar stable point of cultural reference against which the ‘foreign’ elements are cast as essentially unfamiliar. Especially in the works where a vast array of references is used, across such stereotypical cultural boundaries, Finnissy manages to question the validity of such notions. On the one hand, there is a strand of unifying approaches discernible: in the very act of transcription, in the unifying factor of the piano and in the critical perspective involved which organises the musical material in such ways that connections and interpretive possibilities can and do emerge. On the other hand, there is a fundamental sense of openness, of variety, of multiple connections that invite multiple readings. The critical dimension and political function of such works is then not as much a matter of presenting a particular argument, but rather raising the awareness of the complexity of connections and values that are at stake. The montage-like structures, the open juxtaposition of elements, the permanent sense of transformation (including, once more, transcription), but also the way in which musical treatment of material-asobject does not readily identify with material-as-carrying extrinsic meaning: all these hint at the fundamental heterogeneity even within cultural values. The call for subjectivity when confronting these different non-Western and traditional sources implies that instead of stable categories of familiar versus unfamiliar elements there emerges the permanently shifting perspective of a subjective and highly personal relation to music of vastly different provenance.

Notes 1 Ian Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 111–31. 2 Ian Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013). 3 These categories are of course far from unproblematic. For one critical exploration of their development, see Matthew Gelbart, The Invention of “Folk Music” and “Art Music”: Emerging Categories from Ossian to Wagner (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). 4 See Keith Potter, Four Musical Minimalists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 204–7. 5 Steve Reich, Writings on Music 1965–2000, with an introduction by Paul Hillier (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) p. 67. 6 As Reich said in an interview: ‘Everything African in that piece [Drumming]12/8, repeating patterns – I’d done in Piano Phase and Violin Phase back in 1967. Going to Africa was a pat on the back: yes, repeating patterns are fine, yes, acoustical instruments are richer than electronic sound, and yes, percussion can be the dominant voice in an instrumental group. With that green light I allowed myself to write Drumming.’ – Edward Strickland, American Composers. Dialogues on Contemporary Music (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 43.


Maarten Beirens

7 For a more balanced account of non-Western influences on his music, see Reichs’s essay ‘Non-Western Music and the Western Composer’, in Writings on Music, pp. 147–51. This also includes a discussion of taking original African source material as the basis for the first movement of Electric Counterpoint (1987). 8 Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978). 9 Jann Pasler, ‘Race, nationalism and distinction in the wake of the “Yellow Peril”’, in Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh (eds.), Western Music and Its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2000), p. 86. 10 Ibid. pp. 90–107. 11 Kofi Agawu, Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions (New York and London: Routledge), 2003), pp. 152–3. 12 Ibid. p. 55. Agawu subsequently devotes two chapters to debunking the persistent ‘myths’ of ‘African Rhythm’, regarding these as misrepresentations, typically made by Westerners, of African music. 13 As always, such binary oppositions tend to oversimplify and ignore, for instance, all the Western music that is not much concerned with harmony as such (e.g. plainchant) or African music that is primarily melodic. 14 It would be misleading to imply that ethnomusicology only stresses the rhythmic aspect of African music. Obviously its melodic features ought to be (and have been) recognized. See for instance Simha Arom’s work on African polyphony, in his African Polyphony and Polyrhythm (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991). 15 Scott McDonald, ‘His African Journey: An Interview with Peter Kubelka’, Film Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 3 (Spring 2004), p. 4. 16 The first 27 seconds after the opening credits (0:08–0:35) already may serve as an illustration of the highly fragmented sequence of images (using already 8 different shots) Kubelka brings together: (0:08) tourist hunter aiming at an antelope; (0:16) wide river with hippopotamus swimming; (0:18) tourists lounging on deckchairs and chatting [three shots, the middle of which is a slightly longer traveling shot]; (0:29) river with hippopotamus; (0:33) tourists on deckchairs; (0:34) tourist hunter firing his gun, while leaning on the shoulder of a African boy, supporting the gun. 17 Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound pp. 245–67. 18 Ibid. p. 246. 19 A similar position in bringing together music representing white settlers and Afro-Americans can be found in North American Spirituals from the History of Photography in Sound. See ibid. pp. 73–80. 20 Michael Finnissy, preface to the score of Folklore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). 21 Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, p. 246. 22 See also Maarten Beirens, ‘Archaeology of the Self: Michael Finnissy’s Folklore’, Tempo, vol. 57, no. 223 (January 2003), pp. 50–1. 23 Michael Finnissy, programme notes to Beethoven’s Robin Adair, programme booklet for TRANSIT Festival 2016, Leuven, Belgium. 24 Finnissy, preface to Folklore. 25 ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 2–3. The Busoni essay to which Finnissy refers is his ‘Value of the Transcription’ (1910), in Ferruccio Busoni, The Essence of Music and Other Papers (New York: Dover, 1987), pp. 84–95. 26 ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, p. 3. 27 See also Beirens, ‘Archaeology of the Self’, p. 48 and passim. 28 Such monodic writing for piano is not a novel feature in Folklore, but is already present in smaller traditional music-derived works such as Terekkeme (1981)

Questioning the foreign and the familiar


and also relates to extended monodic passages in works that go back as far as Snowdrift (1972) and English Country-Tunes (1977, rev. 1982–5). 29 For a detailed description of the different types and sources of material in Folklore 2, Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, pp. 116–22. 30 Finnissy, preface to Folklore. 31 ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’, p. 28.

Bibliography Agawu, Kofi. Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions. New York and London: Routledge, 2003. Arom, Simha, African Polyphony and Polyrhythm. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Beirens, Maarten. ‘Archaeology of the Self: Michael Finnissy’s “Folklore”’. Tempo, vol. 57, no. 223 (January 2003), pp. 46–56. Finnissy, Michael. Preface to score of Folklore. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Finnissy, Michael; Fox, Christopher; Pace, Ian; and Brougham, Henrietta. ‘Conversations with Michael Finnissy’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 1–42. Finnissy, Michael. Programme notes to Beethoven’s Robin Adair, programme booklet for TRANSIT Festival 2016, Leuven, Belgium. Fox, Christopher. ‘The Vocal Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 211–57. Gelbart, Matthew. The Invention of “Folk Music” and “Art Music”: Emerging Categories from Ossian to Wagner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Keppler, Philip Jr. ‘Some Comments on Musical Quotation’. The Musical Quarterly, vol. 42, no.4 (October 1956), pp. 473–85. McDonald, Scott. ‘His African Journey: An Interview with Peter Kubelka’, Film Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 3 (Spring 2004), pp. 2–12. Pace, Ian. ‘The Piano Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 43–133. Pace, Ian. Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation. Swarland: Divine Art, 2013. Pasler, Jann. ‘Race, nationalism and distinction in the wake of the “Yellow Peril”’. In Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh (eds.), Western Music and Its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 86–118. Potter, Keith. Four Musical Minimalists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Reich, Steve. Writings on Music 1965–2000, with an introduction by Paul Hillier. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Said, Edward. Orientalism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978. Strickland, Edward. American Composers. Dialogues on Contemporary Music. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991.

14 Michael Finnissy’s three-point plans Political Agendas and musical enunciations Max Erwin

Letter to the Editor of Tempo, July 1998: I was shocked to read the phrase ‘queer musicology’ on page 26 of Tempo 204 […] one does not need to question the influence of a creative artist’s sexual orientation on his or her work to insist nonetheless that, however queer (in the proper, nonsexual, meaning of that word) some of it may be, musicology deals with music and leaves matters of sexuality (that of the characters or that of the creators) to biography, dramaturgy, psychology, sociology, gossip and half-a-dozen other non-musicological disciplines.1 On the following page, directly opposite, there was a notice of the UK première of Michael Finnissy’s North American Spirituals, performed by the composer.

Periodisation, analogy, taxonomy, analysis Michael Finnissy’s output has been divided into two distinct stages, with the ensemble work alongside (1979–80) representing the summation of his first period which was largely defined by increasingly abstract figurations.2 Subsequent commentators have retained this bipartite division, and, for the purposes of the present study, it serves as a useful template. The three Political Agendas – dating from, respectively, 1989–2006, 2000–8, and 2016 – appear to span the majority of the duration of this second period (although, in the first two cases, actual composition occurred rather more towards the later end of the range given) and, were it not for the mammoth, kaleidoscopic The History of Photography in Sound more obviously serving such a purpose, might be reasonably positioned as a culmination of his aesthetic concerns over these 35-odd years. Indeed, it would be possible to go a bit further and propose a third period of Finnissy’s practice, complimentary with the first two, where the stylistic and gestural techniques characteristic of his earlier compositions are combined, critically foregrounded, and conceptually enriched in large-scale formal frameworks. Such a model would, neatly and

Finnissy’s three-point plans


perhaps helpfully, emplot Finnissy’s compositional development as moving from thesis to antithesis to synthesis; more importantly, it would allow this third period to reflect critically on what has gone before. For the more modest purposes of this chapter, this model is useful insomuch as it can connect the reflective position of Finnissy’s latest (or third) period to the musics of his pasts – not least his own compositions. Elsewhere in this book, Ian Pace has remarked in detail on how Finnissy’s work consistently draws from the syntax of film.3 Such a deployment is prefigured by Finnissy’s approach to material as archetype: as readymade, syntactically charged units rather than spontaneous, non-associative invention.4 The crucial distinction here (which a more ambitious chapter might use as a springboard to interrogate the categories of modern and postmodern) is that Finnissy’s various borrowings are shorn of the trappings provided by their historical context, the only aspects of these which remain being those delineated by Finnissy himself. In other words, the original musical, narrative, and ideological functions of these borrowed materials are overwritten through Finnissy’s subjective deployment of them: a passage taken from a forgotten (though contemporarily well-known) Victor Massé opera no longer refers to the Romantic pathos of its original context but to the syntagmatic framework constructed by Finnissy (in this case, an exhibit in an Afrikareise). In aesthetic terms, the resulting composition may be helpfully considered as a sort of collage of reciprocal alienation – fragments shored against each other’s ruins. Unlike The History of Photography in Sound, the form of the three Political Agendas is aphoristic: even in their most extended form, as in the Second Agenda with its numerous subsections, each movement is devoted to the articulation of a singular, self-contained musical form. As such, Finnissy’s syntagmatic framework is much simpler here: each musical archetype is not presented in a grander syntagmatic contextualisation (as in History) or even functionally developed, but left to stand ‘in itself’ (cf. Political Agenda 2.3). Such a simplicity and directness, at least at the global level, is characteristic of the cycle, which can be understood metaphorically as musical arguments. Fig. 14.1 shows the schedule of Finnissy’s Political Agendas (all formatting sic): As I have just emphasised the importance of syntax in Finnissy’s practice, I am hopeful that a brief typographical analysis would not be perceived as irritatingly scrupulous. The polemic intensity of each movement (or item) can be determined by the degree of punctuation in its title. Accordingly, the First and Third Agendas are defined by extroverted and unambiguous material while the Second is introverted, nuanced, and frequently delicate, giving the cycle a rough sonata form: ABA. However, the title of third movement of the Third Agenda returns to the open-ended syntax of the Second Agenda, suggesting a coda to both the Third Agenda and the series as a whole. This typographical characterisation is borne out in the music. On a global level, the music of the First and Third Agendas is blunt and direct, with each individual movement being primarily and often entirely characterised


Max Erwin

First Political Agenda 1. Wrong place. Wrong time. 2. Is there any future for new music? 3. You know what kind of sense Mrs. Thatcher made. Second Political Agenda 1. ERIK SATIE like anyone else 2. Mit ARNOLD SCHOENBERG 3. SKRYABIN in itself Third Political Agenda I. Corruption. Deceit. Ignorance. Intolerance. II. Hier kommt U.K.Ichbezogen Populismus. III. My country has betrayed me Fig. 14.1 Finnissy, the three Political Agendas.

by a single material archetype – musical bullet points, as it were. The Second Political Agenda is an argument of a far more nuanced and extended character, reminiscent in scope and form (if not in content) to the Alkan-Paganini chapter of the The History of Photography in Sound, where long, elaborate, and often virtuosic musical phrases are generated from a single sustained idiom – more style-copy than collage, but with aspects of both forms. As such, the punctuation in the titles of movements is further enunciated in their musical form: full stops (and the rhetorical question mark of Political Agenda 1.2) indicate closed form and, on a semantic level, direct – if frequently ironic – political significance, while open titles are accordingly translated into reflective, carefully elaborated, and more ambiguous large forms. The syntactic difference is between slogans and discourse, and, crucially, both these modes of musical articulation are grouped together here as political. The opening movement of the First Political Agenda, ‘Wrong place. Wrong Time’, begins with a barrage of notes in the bass which gradually work themselves up to the middle register of the keyboard, distinctly reminiscent of Finnissy’s earlier pianistic output (that is, pieces in the first, more ‘abstract’ phase of his work) generally and the first movement of all.fall.down (1977) particularly, wherein a similarly wrought, rising chromatic line is followed in the subsequent movement by a descent, and which Ian Pace positions as exemplifying Finnissy’s ‘move to a high degree of abstraction’.5 Such  a parallel suggests that the title of this movement is most likely a ruefully autobiographical one. The second movement, ‘Is there any future for new music?’, is, at least graphically, one of the most direct and obvious use of quotation in Finnissy’s entire oeuvre: the score reproduces both the tempo marking (Andante molto cantabile e non troppo mosso to which Finnissy adds Con tenerezza.) and movement title (, complete with Gothic script) of the section of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (1819–1823)

Finnissy’s three-point plans


which it draws from. The third movement, ‘You know what kind of sense Mrs Thatcher made’ (see Ex 14.1) is almost entirely derived from Hubert Parry’s hymn ‘Jerusalem’ – a borrowing very much in line with Finnissy’s lifelong engagement with music that has a metonymic relation to England – rendered (to adopt Pace’s filmic analogy once again) in ultra-slow motion. Correspondingly, this quotation is much more apparent on the page than it is on hearing, since the music is slowed down past any aural recognition – the tempo indication is Extremely slow (ᅄ = 52; = 26); the pianississimo dynamic bears the additional indication ‘frozen’ – and Finnissy has flattened the already rather plodding melody of the hymn into a static procession of minims and semibreves (such rhythmic ‘flattening’ found elsewhere in Finnissy’s music is discussed elsewhere by Nigel McBride).6

Ex. 14.1 Finnissy, opening of ‘You know what kind of sense Mrs Thatcher made’, from First Political Agenda (1999–2006). © Tre Media Verlag.

The work being done by this material is not a representation of the exact kind of sense that Mrs Thatcher made but its results: exegesis rather than mimesis. The Second Political Agenda is markedly unique in the cycle, most obviously in that it is at least three times the length of its companion pieces. The three individual movements are published as separate scores; there is, at present, no collected volume of the Second Agenda. Furthermore, there is no evident ‘political’ content of a civil sort; a piece of short text for a concert featuring both the first two Agendas says it ‘considers the way Satie, Schoenberg and Skryabin have each been in or out of favour with prevalent musical taste and both public and political opinion’.7 It would appear, therefore, that this piece is something of a hidden agenda, informed subcutaneously by Finnissy’s self-image as a composer in the world (‘Virtual failure in commercial terms, but who the hell cares either way?’). Correspondingly, the music is rather less lehrstücklich than the previous Agenda; the Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire describes SKRYABIN in itself (2007–8) thus: ‘Expressive, with a poetic quality in the opening which passes through two canons and eventually gives way to an Andante sostenuto.’8


Max Erwin

The Third Political Agenda returns to the overt political pessimism of the First and amplifies it. Written in an extremely short period of time – Finnissy began work on it immediately after the results of the UK’s referendum on membership in the European Union on 23 June 2016; the première was given by Ian Pace two weeks later on 7 July – the work contrasts with the other Agendas both in its almost instantaneous creation (cf. the evident decadeslong gestation of the First Agenda) and its rhetorical transparency. The first movement, ‘Corruption. Deceit. Ignorance. Intolerance’, is a shrill exercise in three-voice polyphony (which seems like it should be a canon, but isn’t) never descending below the middle register (the lowest note of the section is a D#3). The second is a grim, grotesque march (the tempo marking is Meccanico. Alla marcia), quite similar in conception and effect to the third of Berg’s Drei Orchesterstücke, op. 6 (1913–15), beginning with fanfare-like cadences and descending into a rigid, harsh ostinato of repeating minor seconds. In these two movements, the Inhalt of Finnissy’s Political Agenda resembles less a deliberately nuanced collage as it does a pub rant. This trend is entirely reversed in the third section, ‘My country has betrayed me’ (see Ex. 14.2). The melodic material is derived from Polish folk music sources, which relates to both Finnissy’s growing up with Polish family friends as well as the attacks directed at Eastern European and specifically Polish people and businesses in the aftermath of the referendum. Immediately striking is that the music is entirely monophonic; at no point are two notes sounded simultaneously. The pitch range of this movement is slightly less than two octaves – D4 to A6 – which almost exactly coincides with the comfortable singing range of a soprano voice. The indication Parlando – the sole marking of tempo or dynamics – and the placement of

Ex. 14.2 Finnissy, opening of ‘My country has betrayed me’, from Third Political Agenda (2016). © Verlag Neue Musik, Berlin 2018.

Finnissy’s three-point plans


rests between each melodic phrase, suggesting breaths, further emphasises the soloistic vocal character of this music. Such a voice – characterised by both delicacy and persistence, and always appearing in modal, folk-melodic contours – is something of a Leitfigur in Finnissy’s second period. It reappears in certain sequences of Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets – most extendedly in the Ralph Chubb section – and, perhaps most bracingly, in Unknown Ground (1989–90). Finnissy’s description for this latter piece clarifies: ‘It is about death, fighting for life, and, if that battle is lost, then losing it with pride and dignity.’9 This voice is at once an embodiment and an essence,10 macrocosmic victim and microcosmic conqueror (with both personae being a bit camp), perpetually dying and enduring. Accordingly, the Third Political Agenda ends with both a recognition and modest transcendence of political failure.

Practices, historiography, commitment For all of his mining of musical traditions, it is rather difficult to emplot Finnissy himself within a broad tradition of some sort of art music. Indeed, in view of Finnissy’s own manifest iconoclasm, there seems to be good reason to avoid such an attempt entirely. Nevertheless, I believe it is helpful in understanding how Finnissy approaches the political, both as an aesthetic category and a mode of communication, to view his music in dialogue with the aesthetic and historical interpretation of two other Anglophone composers, both of whom were experiencing their greatest professional success when Finnissy was a young man, the one engaged as a queer artist,11 the other engaged as a (non-revisionist) Marxist artist: John Cage and Cornelius Cardew. Jonathan D. Katz identifies a series of relative early pieces, beginning with Credo in US (1942), where Cage dealt with aspects of his personal life in a relatively straightforward expressionistic mode. He was dissatisfied with this mode, however, commenting on Perilous Night (1944): ‘I had poured a great deal of emotion into the piece, and obviously I wasn’t communicating this at all.’12 Katz characterises Cage’s subsequent adoption of Zen as a repositioning of his creative relationship to his personal life and particularly his sexuality, ‘not as a source of repression or anxiety, but as a means to achieve healing; it was in not talking about – and hence not reifying – one’s troubles that healing began’.13 This is in turn, Katz notes, connected by various commentators to the projected world-historical phenomenon of aesthetic postmodernism as exemplifying ‘an instantiation of a nonexpressive authorial voice, an early indication of the “death of the author”’.14 But Katz is at pains to stress that this is not a passive abdication on Cage’s part, since if Cage’s social intention for such a silence was to disguise his homosexuality, ‘it was a manifest failure’. Rather, ‘Cage became notable precisely for his silences’ because these silences were so conspicuous in a Cold War context, ‘dissolv[ing] the oppositional by freely allowing other voices to be heard’.15 But within Katz’s critical framework, Cage, for his own part, was not always comfortable with which


Max Erwin

other voices his music allowed to be heard, one notorious example being his fury at a performance of his 0’00” (4’33” No. 2) (1962), in this context part of Song Books (1970), by Julius Eastman which involved the ‘leering, libidinous’ undressing of a male subject onstage.16 Indeed, Cage’s rejection of this particular performance is made in terms familiar from his disappointment towards Perilous Night: ‘Now, last night when the S.E.M. Ensemble [of which Eastman was a part] performed the Song Books, I regretted that I had composed it. I regret that I have, that my work exists now, as something so widely misunderstood.’17 What is fundamentally at stake within this model of political composition is communication – the transmission of an ideal mode of being through compositional mediation – communication that is destroyed by the assertion of an authorial ego. From such a perspective, Finnissy’s work is largely in harmony with Cage, insofar that its political content is determined through structural mediation in its creation. This mediation at the poietic level takes the form of Finnissy’s use and manipulation of pre-existing (and thus ‘objective’) musical material in an archetypical fashion. Christopher Fox has eloquently characterised this working method as ‘syncretic agglomeration’, which he explains as ‘the drawing together in a single work of ideas from many different sources – different times, different places, different cultures – which nonetheless are shown to have something in common’.18 These would correspond to the ‘other voices’ Katz speaks of, arising from aesthetic concerns, historical contexts, cultural traditions, lived experiences, and geographies vastly different than Finnissy’s own, but deployed on his subjective terms. The ‘something’ which they are shown to have in common, then, is Finnissy himself, or rather his authorial presence. Thus, in this context, Finnissy’s authorial ego may be seen to be not so far removed as Cage’s on the global level of the music, but it retains the American composer’s desire to exercise subjectivity indirectly. There is comparatively less to unpack in the praxis of Cardew’s late phase, perhaps best exemplified by his work with People’s Liberation Music (PLM),19 beginning in March 1973 (and thus roughly corresponding to the dissolution of the Scratch Orchestra) and continuing intermittently until his death in December 1981.20 During this period, as Virginia Anderson succinctly puts it: ‘Cardew’s music carried a clear political message in an accessible musical style.’21 Pursuant to this, Tony Harris explicitly foregrounds Cardew’s artistic legacy in toto as ‘the shaping of future generations’.22 This is rather to the point, and Harris draws a direct parallel between Cardew’s artistic conviction and Jacques Attali’s contention that ‘music not only reflects its contemporary society but also prophesies what is to be’.23 From the lyrics and song titles found in Cardew’s late compositions, there is seemingly very little ambiguity about the kind of society Cardew willed to be; but what is relevant in this context, in juxtaposition with Katz’s reading of Cage, is the manner in which Cardew combined the categories of musical and social meaning-production in his desire to bring such a transformation about. Somewhat paradoxically, the social music-making formations required for Cardew’s universalist

Finnissy’s three-point plans


project are of a decidedly nominalist character: the musical personnel were his close friends, collaborators from previous ensembles (notably AMM and Scratch), and even family members, but always those fervently committed to a non-revisionist Marxism-Leninism (or at the very least those, like Tilbury, who were fellow travellers). Not surprisingly, the social formation of PLM was tight-knit. Indeed, it appears that such a devotion was of tantamount creative importance to the group, superseding the music itself. Vicky Silva, the co-lead vocalist of the group (alongside Cardew) remembers Cardew in these terms: ‘He could sing/play in any circumstances, in the rain on the back of a truck or when being pelted by fascists or under attack by the State, [and] he became more central as time went on.’24 Yet Cardew eventually expressed despair at Maoist ideology and (implicitly) his own practice: ‘How does culture assist in the promotion of political line? It can only disrupt the work.’25 Like Katz’s Cage, Harris’s Cardew measures his own failure by the structural mediation of composition. Finnissy himself has described Cardew’s creative process in some of the piano works of this period as ‘the isolation and critique of “tonal” objects’.26 Indeed, certain formal parallels between these works and Finnissy’s second period are greatly appealing. To use one particularly adventurous example, Cardew’s Vietnam Sonata (1976) contains references to various Beatles songs and popular standards (as Tilbury points out, this repertoire would be fresh in Cardew’s mind, since had taken an apprenticeship as a pub accompanist during this period) which are juxtaposed with, and sometimes overlap, ‘Beethovian’ material.27 Such a range of quotation is admittedly somewhat uncharacteristic; nevertheless, the adaptation of pre-existing musical material, in particular popular and folk songs, was a consistent feature of Cardew’s late period. Indeed, the original repertoire of PLM can be seen to operate as style-copies of ‘popular music’ in much same manner that Finnissy reproduces the style of various composers of art music in the Second Political Agenda. Of course, Finnissy’s works, even at their most stridently polemic, never approach the orthodoxy of ideological stratification (‘authentic’ proletarian material is presented as good; bourgeois material, as in the Three Bourgeois Songs (1972–3), is presented as critique) found in all of Cardew’s late music. Rather, within this discourse, Finnissy’s musical practice can be understood a compromise, a sort of middle way between these two traditions of mediated political music in the experimental tradition. On a superficial level, his compositions often rise to Cardew’s polemic extroversion, while never relinquishing the thoroughgoing subjectivity and intimacy of Katz’s Cage. On a deeper structural level, Finnissy’s music does the (projected) political work of Cardew’s via the subjective positioning of Cage’s practice, which, within the terms of this scholarship, would propose a social space where the subjective authority of the author is present through its absence – a normative suggestion rather than a command. Thus the ‘voice of the author’ is no longer asserting the meaning of the work but its framing, nuancing the conditions in which possible meaning can arise. Michael Finnissy the man


Max Erwin

with certain ideas and experiences in politics and sexuality is, like Katz’s Cage, absent in a strictly arbitrational function (‘recast[ing] the audience from passive to active, from consumer to producer, from co-opted to resistant’)28 but, like Harris’s Cardew, is present in a curatorial and ultimately polemic function. Within such a context, Finnissy’s work repositions the rhetorical logic of how the political relates to the compositional ego: the authorial object of ‘Finnissy’s’ voice is the set of preconditions for musical meaning.

Michael Finnissy like anyone else From the time that the letter that serves as this chapter’s epigraph was published, queer studies has become a significantly more established discipline; the appeal to a ‘proper, nonsexual’ definition of ‘queer’ now seems jarringly anachronistic. In the model described above, the queer artistic subject, here a composer of experimental music, deploys new methods of structuring musical material as a means of articulating a particular message – a political agenda. Such a queering is, in turn, assimilated historically as a turn from authorial dominion over the art object. Nevertheless, Finnissy here utilises means beyond the structuring of the musical text to articulate his political agendas. As a pianist, Finnissy occasionally gives performances paired with a verbal introduction to the audience describing the creative history of the piece and his relation to it, of pieces by various composers he knows personally; he terms these concerts a ‘cabaret’. By most situational indications, these are in no sense a cabaret of any recognisable sort; they are quite obviously recitals of (mostly) British piano music, being given usually in a small-ish university concert hall. As such, this deployment of ‘cabaret’ does not act as a descriptive category but as a normative one, establishing an index of social engagement, of communal entanglement. In practice, this is quite a bit simpler than the above sentence might suggest. A recent Mini-Cabaret given at City, University of London comprised a series of short, unimposing pieces by several composers who were also his friends – Chris Newman, Laurence Crane, Howard Skempton, etc. – and many of Finnissy’s other friends, musical and otherwise, were in the audience. This in itself probably would not come as a surprise to anyone; musicians and their circles of friends tend to be in attendance at each other’s performances. What is different is Finnissy’s foregrounding of this sort of admittedly quite simple social arrangement in a context that has been determined by a cultural tradition of ‘autonomous’ art music. Through its use of this context, the manifest content of Finnissy’s political agenda becomes evident: the establishment of a social space where identity is simultaneously manufactured and shared, where artistic production and reception can be a virtual failure in commercial terms but a concrete (or at least substantive) success in social terms.

Finnissy’s three-point plans


Notes 1 Michael Graubart, ‘Letter to the Editor’, Tempo, New Series, no. 205 (July 1998), p. 54. 2 This observation was first made in Richard Barrett, ‘Michael Finnissy – An Overview’, Contemporary Music Review, vol. 13, part 1 (1995), p. 32. For a later espousal of this model, see Ian Pace, Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation (Swarland: Divine Art, 2013). pp. 8–9. Available online at (accessed 24 June 2018). 3 See Ian Pace in Chapter 16 of this volume. 4 See also ibid, pp. 8–43. 5 Ian Pace, ‘The Piano Music’, in in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy, (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), p. 61. 6 See Nigel McBride in Chapter 9 of this volume. 7 ‘Michael Finnissy Piano Recital’, at (accessed 24 June 2018). 8 Maurice Hinson and Wesley Roberts, Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire, fourth edition (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014), p. 387. A small bit of pedantry: there are, in fact, three canons before the second section of the piece, which occurs one page after the Andante sostenuto marking. 9 See ‘Unknown Ground, Michael Finnissy: Description’ at https://global.oup. com/academic/product/unknown-ground-9780193453265?cc=gb&lang=en&# (accessed 24 June 2018). 10 As Christopher Fox points out in reference to Unknown Ground, this is an important epistemological shift, since ‘in the art-song, as the form itself has moved from the private to the public domain, the singer has moved slightly off-centre, singing about rather than being the subject’. Christopher Fox, ‘The Vocal Music’, in Uncommon Ground, p. 247 (Fox’s emphasis). Such a foregrounding of subjectivity and embodiment, and its uneasy mediation in Finnissy’s music, is exactly what I try to contextualise in the next section. 11 In the sense highlighted at the outset of this chapter. 12 John Cage, For the Birds: John Cage in Conversation with Daniel Charles (London: Marion Boyars, 1981), p. 148. Quoted in Jonathan Katz, ‘John Cage’s Queer Silence or How to Avoid Making Things Worse’, in David W. Bernstein and Christopher Hatch (eds.), Writings through John Cage’s Music, Poetry, and Art (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 43. 13 Katz, ‘John Cage’s Queer Silence’, p. 45. Katz himself appears to be less than convinced by Cage’s reasoning (as he sees it), calling it ‘psychic slight of hand’ (ibid, p. 46). 14 Ibid, p. 46. Of course, composers working well before Cage deployed structural devices for a similar transcendental purpose; perhaps the most uncontestable example being the hundreds of unnumbered Zwolftönspiele composed by Josef Matthias Hauer from 1940 until his death in 1959. 15 Ibid, pp. 50–51. 16 Ryan Dohoney, ‘John Cage, Julius Eastman, and the Homosexual Ego’, in Benjamin Piekut (ed.), Tomorrow is the Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2014), pp. 45–6. Interestingly, Dohoney’s juxtaposition of Cage’s practice with Eastman’s, especially the latter’s use of outright camp, ultimately makes the same claims for Eastman’s music that Katz had conversely made for Cage’s, using David M. Halperin’s description of camp as ‘a form of cultural resistance that is entirely


17 18 19


21 22 23

Max Erwin predicated on a shared consciousness of being inescapably situated within a powerful system of social and sexual meanings’ (ibid). There is a historical contingency to this reversal: Dohoney notes that, at the time of Eastman’s 1975 performance of 0’00”, post-Stonewall gay activism concerned itself with exposing the use of certain social discourses as means of control and subjugation, especially after the American Psychiatric Association’s removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973. There is, of course, a second historical contingency at work in Dohoney’s account: his own position as an American academic in the second decade of the twenty-first century. He has a tendency to emplot Cage as a repressive figure guilty of ‘condemnation of a fellow gay musician’ when, as Dohoney himself admits, what was at issue was the interpretation of one of Cage’s scores. As such, in Dohoney’s reading, Cage and Eastman represent two diametrically opposed approaches towards queer artistic engagement, the one (Cage) a misguided, ‘solipsistic’ Apollonian asceticism, the other (Eastman) an affirmative, Dionysian spirit deployed ‘to forge a queer community among his collaborators’. To support this, Dohoney rather oddly claims that Katz positions Cage’s resistance as ‘not active but passive’, despite Katz spending considerable time describing the opposite. Quoted ibid. p. 48. Fox, ‘The Vocal Music’, p. 214. See also Maarten Beirens’ comments on an ‘imaginary fusion of similar sources’ in the music of György Ligeti in Chapter 13 of this volume. Eventually integrated into the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist), which itself was renamed in 1978 as the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), as part of the Progressive Cultural Association (PCA). See John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew (1936–1981) a life unfinished (Harlow: Copula, 2008), pp. 548–720. Robert Service characterises all these iterations as ‘permanently ineffectual’; see Service, Comrades: Communism: A World History (London: Macmillan, 2007), p. 400. Tilbury demonstrates that there are ‘widely differing interpretations’ of the dissolution of the Scratch Orchestra, placing it at various dates between 1971 and its formal renaming as the Red Flame Proletarian Propaganda Team in April 1974 (see Tilbury, Cardew, p. 688). Nevertheless, the Scratch moniker appears to be in use right up until this latter date; a concert given of new Cardew works at the Purcell Room on 5 March 1974 is described by a reviewer as being ‘presented by himself [Cardew] and the Scratch Orchestra with Jane Manning (who, unlike the others, is not committed to socialist revolution)’. This review itself is broadly representative of the critical reaction to Cardew’s music of this period: ‘Some of it is, at least, very pretty; but none of it was performed with anything like adequate musicianship (even by Maoist standards).’ Passing mention is also made of ‘some dismal rock music played by People’s Liberation Music’. See Michael Chanan, ‘Cardew and Quilapayn’, in Tempo, New Series, no. 109 (June 1974), pp. 53–4. Virginia Anderson, ‘The Legacy of Cornelius Cardew by Tony Harris (review)’, Music and Letters, vol. 94, no. 4 (November 2013), pp. 717–19. Tony Harris, The Legacy of Cornelius Cardew (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), p. 10. Ibid, p. 89. It may be worth noting that Harris’s ideation of Cardew’s legacy has been harshly criticised by both Anderson and Edward Venn. However, I am not so much interested in Cardew’s legacy per se as how a particular scholar understands the social function of his political composition. It must nevertheless be conceded in passing that there is a certain dishonesty, both in the Attali quote itself and its use by Harris, in the suggestion that the quasi-messianic force of art is both directional and intentional, a line of reasoning that would find precedent in Cardew’s practice for trade union strikes but not, say, nationalist rallies.

Finnissy’s three-point plans


24 Quoted in Tilbury, Cardew, p. 683. 25 Quoted ibid, p. 920. This is reported from an evidentially private conversation with Tilbury, and, as such, should be treated with due scepticism. Tilbury himself is, naturally enough, far from being a neutral observer; indeed, presenting Cardew’s late Maoist period as his primary original contribution to music, as it is presented here, would probably elicit objection from him, as he is at pains to emphasise the continuity of Cardew’s musical thought (although he would most likely agree that there was little to indicate a volte-face towards the end of Cardew’s life concerning his political music). 26 Quoted in Tilbury, Cardew, p. 711. 27 Ibid. p. 815. 28 Katz, ‘John Cage’s Queer Silence’, p. 58.

Bibliography Anderson, Virginia. ‘The Legacy of Cornelius Cardew by Tony Harris (review)’. Music and Letters, vol. 94 no. 4 (November 2013), pp. 717–19. Cage, John. For the Birds: John Cage in Conversation with Daniel Charles. London: Marion Boyars, 1981. Chanan, Michael. ‘Cardew and Quilapayn’. Tempo, New Series, no. 109 (June 1974), pp. 53–4. Dohoney, Ryan. ‘John Cage, Julius Eastman, and the Homosexual Ego’. In Benjamin Piekut (ed.), Tomorrow is the Question: New Directions in Experimental Music Studies (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2014), pp. 39–62. Fox, Christopher. ‘The Vocal Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 211–57. Graubart, Michael. ‘Letter to the Editor’. Tempo, New Series, no. 205 (July 1998), p. 54. Harris, Tony. The Legacy of Cornelius Cardew (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013). Hinson, Maurice; and Roberts, Wesley. Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire, fourth edition. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2014. Katz, Jonathan. ‘John Cage’s Queer Silence or How to Avoid Making Things Worse’. In David W. Bernstein and Christopher Hatch (eds.), Writings through John Cage’s Music, Poetry, and Art (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001), pp. 231–52. Pace, Ian. ‘The Piano Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998, pp. 43–133. Pace, Ian. Michael Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound: A Study of Sources, Techniques and Interpretation. Swarland: Divine Art, 2013. Service, Robert. Comrades: Communism: A World History. London: Macmillan, 2007. Tilbury, John. Cornelius Cardew (1936–1981): a life unfinished. Harlow: Copula, 2008. ‘Michael Finnissy Piano Recital’, at (accessed 24 June 2018). ‘Unknown Ground, Michael Finnissy: Description’ at demic/product/unknown-ground-9780193453265?cc=gb&lang=en&# (accessed 24 June 2018).

15 Finnissy’s alongside Richard Barrett

In early 1980, the London Sinfonietta mounted a series of concerts in St John’s Smith Square, London, under the heading ‘1945A’, a fairly comprehensive overview of the kinds of music which had come to the fore in previous decades, although electronic music and ‘minimalist’ styles were excluded. At that time the Sinfonietta had existed for only eleven-and-a-half years, together with what became a standard instrumentation for contemporary music of single woodwinds and brass, piano, percussion, and string quintet – a different kind of concept from, for example, the fifteen instruments employed in Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony, which with its duo and trio respectively of variously sized oboes and clarinets, and its two horns, is constituted more as a scaled-down orchestra (capable of timbral homogeneities as well as divergences) than the ‘large chamber ensemble’ such as alongside is written for. On 19 February 1980, the Belgian conductor Ronald Zollman conducted the work’s first performance, in a programme which also included Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie II (1965), Nigel Osborne’s In Camera (1979), and Mauricio Kagel’s Ensemble (1967–9).1 This was the first time I had ever heard any of Finnissy’s music. The year 1980 was also when I first heard music by James Dillon and Chris Dench, the year in which I decided to devote myself to composition, and (in December) in which the first performance of a composition of mine took place. For a while at the beginning of the 1980s, it seemed to me that Finnissy’s work of the previous few years (along with that of a few others, like Nigel Osborne) had opened a new chapter in British composition, more international in outlook, more exploratory in style, and taking the postwar European avant-garde as a starting point in a more radical way than their continental counterparts, who, at that time, seemed rather to be heading back into a neoromantic past. At the same time, of course, Brian Ferneyhough and his work were having a parallel influence on his students at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, including several British composers such as James Erber and Roger Redgate; but Finnissy’s influence at this time emanated less from teaching (which he only took up much later) and more from his inexhaustible energy and productivity as both composer and pianist.2 His performing repertoire of course centred on his own work, but also took in

Finnissy’s alongside


music by those of the younger generation who had been decisively affected by it, as well as music seemingly from the opposite end of the ‘complexity’ spectrum such as that of Howard Skempton. It seemed to me at the time (and still does) entirely appropriate that these two directions should be complementary parts of his repertoire, having in common a rejection of a stylistic ‘middle way’, whose composers rapidly came to dominate concert programmes, not least those of the London Sinfonietta, as the 1980s (and, I’m bound to say, the Thatcher era) wore on. Going back to February 1980, though, alongside came like a bolt from the blue, a pivotal event, with a sense that even in the relatively staid world of British music (in which excitingly progressive composers like Stockhausen, Xenakis, Kagel, Cage, and the rest, with whose recordings I had grown up, were comparatively thin on the ground) there was at least one composer who wasn’t just keeping up with worldwide developments but actually leapfrogging over them, to a place where anything might be possible. I would like to think that I have retained and cherished that sense to this day, and of course I am by no means alone in this. As for alongside, the score remains as much a source of astonishment now as it did at the time. I should note before continuing that my principal reason for writing about this work in particular was the decisiveness of the circumstances under which I first encountered it, rather than an idea that it represents a ‘key work’ within Finnissy’s oeuvre, which has generally not evolved in that sort of way; each of his works tends to explore a musical paradigm of its own, interrelated with others perhaps but not dependent on them, and I would not say that the smaller ones play a lesser role in the unfolding of his musical world than the larger. Nevertheless, within a short time of the completion of alongside, there occurs a profound shift in Finnissy’s points of musical reference. alongside and the works that surround it are more often than not characterised by ecstatically jagged contours of the sort associated with the international postwar avant-garde. The liberation of the energies latent in Anton Webern’s comparatively foursquare pitch and rhythm structures can be seen in many compositions of the early 1950s by composers such as Pierre Boulez, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, for example in the piano part towards the end of the latter’s Kontra-Punkte (1952, rev. 1953) (the last third or so of this piece was omitted in its first performance on the grounds of being too difficult).3 The ‘folk’ elements which often come to the surface in this period of Finnissy’s work, such as the modal material with which English Country-Tunes (especially in the second and seventh of its eight sections) is pervaded, seems to be targeted at (if not ironically, then certainly incisively critical of ) the prevalence of such materials in the ‘pastoral’ strand of British twentieth-century composition, against which the expressive immediacy, and frequent ferocity, of Finnissy’s music set itself from the beginning. Not long after alongside, however, the relationship of his music to folk traditions took on a different cast, in which I suggest his extended stay in Australia in 1982 was decisive, and which resulted in the often abrasively heterophonic music in tightly


Richard Barrett

constrained pitch-bandwidths that characterise many of his compositions of the 1980s. Nevertheless, Finnissy in his original programme note mentioned Japanese gagaku music as a point of reference for the way in which the musical material of alongside involves a division into three fundamental categories: melodies, harmonic aggregates, and punctuating attacks (a strategy he also used in his orchestral work Sea and Sky (1979–80)).4 In gagaku these modes of musical behaviour are strictly distributed among the distinct groups of instruments which make up the ensemble, whose orchestration was fixed around 850 BC, and whose repertoire also remained fixed until the late twentieth century. In classical gagaku, a punctuating or colotomic function is assigned to drums and plucked strings, melodic function to groups of double reeds (hichiriki) and flutes (ryuteki), which play slightly different versions of the same line so that they move unpredictably between unison and close ‘harmony’ (made more complex by different glissandi and ornaments), and finally sustained aggregates of pitches to a group of sho mouth-organs.5 A typical gagaku piece will involve an overall gradual accelerando, during which more local ‘ornamental’ changes of tempo are played independently by the small kakko drum played by the leader of the orchestra. Many of the aforementioned features occur in sublimated form in alongside, without in any way diluting the individuality of Finnissy’s musical concept and sound. The seemingly unrelated simultaneities, which are characteristic of many forms of Japanese traditional music, are here registered as a precedent for the kinds of simultaneities with which Finnissy’s music at that time was centrally concerned. Indeed it might be interesting to note in this context how gagaku has been used as a kind of filter through which composers of the late twentieth century have seen their own musical concerns. The central movement of Olivier Messiaen’s Japanese-influenced Sept Haïkaï (1962) is entitled ‘Gagaku’ – about the original music of that name Messiaen has this to say: ‘The music contains a melody that is surprising to European ears, played by a small, primitive oboe: the hichiriki. Its sound is extremely vinegary and it is doubled badly by other instruments which add flourishes and don’t stick to the same modes. These false doublings are both extremely disagreeable and at the same time expressive.’6 Messiaen’s patronising attitude to the music is reflected in his ‘version’, which tidies up the original into Western instrumentation, equal temperament and metre, losing much of its character in the process of being assimilated into Messiaen’s langage musical. Toru Takemitsu’s In an Autumn Garden (1973) decouples the instrumental groups of a traditional gagaku orchestra from each other and uses their sounds to articulate the kind of delicately poised or freely evolving forms familiar from his works for Western instrumentations. Stockhausen’s Der Jahreslauf (1977), on the other hand, concentrates on the possibilities of using the different temporal levels represented by the gagaku groups to create the kind of wide spectrum between local and global time which characterises most of the components of his opera cycle LICHT (of which Der Jahreslauf, in its version for Western

Finnissy’s alongside


instruments closely imitating their Japanese originals, was the first part to be composed). Something immediately obvious from the score of alongside, apart from its refusal to imitate anything as closely as the aforementioned pieces, is that the three fundamental categories of musical behaviour mentioned above are not associated with particular instruments or groups, often being blurred into one another. Much of Finnissy’s work, as is clear from the other chapters in this book, is concerned with entering into a creative relationship with pre-existing musics of one sort or another, and I think it would be true to say, first, that this feature has become more apparent as time has gone on and, second, that its points of reference have shifted in directions to which listeners, most profoundly affected by the startling radicalism of his music up until the 1980s, might have a difficult time relating. The points of reference for a work like alongside, including perhaps the choice of gagaku as a model, seem to lie within the tradition of the postwar avant-garde, which itself often involved pretentions to being not a ‘style’ but an attitude, of a way of musical thinking in which irregularity and disjunction in such areas as pitch-sequences, rhythm, and form, forcibly detach themselves from inherited notions of coherence and closure. Finnissy’s own take on this historical moment is much too personal and original to allow itself (except in a few early cases) to be characterised as an emulation of those antecedents; part of his assimilation of that way of imagining music is an assimilation of its sense of going beyond superficial stylistic features, like characteristic harmonies or motives, by internalising the non-harmonic, non-motivic sound-forms of integral serialism, aleatoric methods, stochastic techniques, and their various offshoots. This can be very clearly seen and heard in alongside, not only in the contours of its tangled instrumental strands but also in its structure, and the way in which it is often poised on a knife-edge between merging into a texture of inextricable interweavings on one side and remaining a conglomeration of discrete behaviours on the other. The possibility of changing focus between these perspectives at almost any moment, or of entering a kind of ecstatic listening state where all perspectives seem to be simultaneously present, is for me one of the most attractive, powerful, and indeed influential, features of this music. ‘Behaviours’, in fact, constitute perhaps the most useful and accurate formulation to describe the things that happen in this music. Such ‘material’, as there is, seems to rest on freely chosen and/or systematically randomised distributions within carefully established limits, which tend to remain constant for long enough that a ‘textural’ identity is clearly established. These ‘behaviours’ take shape at the moment in which the music solidifies into notation – as Finnissy says in a 2011 interview, ‘my music isn’t there before it’s written down’7 – preparatory work for a composition is kept to a minimum so as not to obstruct the spontaneity with which Finnissy brings it into being literally by hand (although other composers, such as myself, might claim that the principal function of extensive preparatory work is precisely to enable spontaneity in one’s exploration of the musical worlds thus outlined). In fact,


Richard Barrett

there is little evidence of any kind of systematic organisation in alongside – it is not at all clear that the contents of the score can be ‘explained away’ by reference to a system which on some level could be regarded as rationally motivated. If one of the attractive aspects of, for example, Stockhausen’s comparably ‘complex’ Gruppen (1955–7) is the way its sense of rationality is used as a means of expanding the imaginative consciousness of composer and listener alike. Finnissy seems to take the resulting delirium as a starting point; and here his approach bridges Stockhausen’s serial universe and Cage’s aleatoric ‘Zen garden’, where the result of disciplined contemplation gives the impression of things that ‘just happen’ to have fallen that way rather than another, or that ‘just happen’ to have evolved organically according to their own impenetrably mysterious inner forces, while at the same time showing the imprint of the human hand everywhere, transcending any division between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’. All of the above features, which alongside shares to a greater or lesser extent with many of Finnissy’s other works composed in the few years before and after it, had a decisive influence on a number of younger composers who at that time could be described as being in Finnissy’s ‘circle’ to one degree or another. This can be heard for example in the chamber-orchestra work Kinjiki (subsequently retitled Symphony No.1) (1977–80) by Chris Dench (b. 1953), and … Once upon a time (1980) for instrumental octet by James Dillon (b.  1950), both of which had their first performances later in 1980; and in numerous pieces written for the ensemble Suoraan, founded by composers Richard Emsley (b. 1951) and James Clarke (b. 1957), whose pianist was Finnissy himself, including Emsley’s The Juniper Tree (1981), my own Coïgitum (first performed in an incomplete version in 1984 and then completed the following year), and several subsequently withdrawn pieces by Clarke.8 All of these composers had, of course, arrived from different directions to the points represented by those pieces, and proceeded from them in different directions too, but I think is clear from the briefest study of the aforementioned works that alongside, and the works around it, provided in all cases a model of a liberated music, beholden to no unspoken rules and regulations but those evolving from its own uncontainable internal energies. The score’s preliminary notes already display some unusual features.9 The seating plan for the ensemble is centred on the piano (with its lid removed) but places the woodwind quartet in front of the string quintet, instead of behind it as might be expected. This feature is explained by the woodwind material being more often concerned with melismatic melodies, even if sometimes at very quiet dynamics, while the strings are more often given long unchanging aggregate sounds which act as a variously coloured and textured backdrop to the rest of the music. The percussion setup is typical of Finnissy’s music in consisting of a highly restricted set of instruments: a maraca, plus four tomtoms, and a suspended cymbal always played with hard sticks. Taking an overall view of the score, it can easily be seen that, more often than not, each of the three fundamental behaviours on which the structure is

Finnissy’s alongside


based is given to a ‘family group’ of instruments: the three brass, four woodwinds or five strings, the exceptions being the piano, which has the most complex and soloistic part in the work, and the percussion, which has the simplest (although often also ‘soloistic’ in terms of dynamics, as well as being assigned the only actual solo in the work, as will be seen). I would identify eight principal sections in alongside, whose junctions vary between, on the one hand, the new section being a continuation of the previous one but with some significant change (for example in horizontal and/or vertical density), and, on the other, a ‘cut’ involving a simultaneous change in most or all parameters. The durations of these sections tend to cluster around shorter (between 1’ and 1’30” – sections 1, 3, 4, 6, and 8) and longer (between 3’ and 4’ – sections 2, 5, and 7) values without any intermediate durations, this being one of the many ways in which alongside could be seen as excluding median values and concentrating on one extreme or the other. There follows a description of the work section by section, although it will soon become clear that all the sections are connected by more or less clear cross-references and transformations (though not ‘developments’ in the sense of musical material undergoing processes that present themselves either immanently or retrospectively as teleological), with some pauses along the way for closer examination of some more general points that arise from the music as it metaphorically goes by. Section 1 divides the ensemble into three dynamic levels, which Finnissy suggests in the score should be rehearsed separately:

) flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, trumpet, violin 2 ) trombone, piano, violin 1, contrabass ) bassoon, viola, cello

I.  ( II. ( III. (

In his astute review of the first performance, Paul Driver refers to Finnissy’s attempt at ‘a radical recovery of ‘balance’ as an expressive means in its own right’,10 and indeed this is one of the most suggestive, and indeed perhaps one of the most influential, aspects of alongside. But the division of musical behaviours between the instruments does not correspond precisely to this division. Ex. 15.1 shows the opening of the piece. In ‘group I’ the flute, oboe and clarinet play melodies occupying more or less the entire pitch-range of each instrument, principally rather slowly with occasional grace-notes interpolated between the long durations, but occasionally speeding up for a short time, especially in the last bar of this section (the bar before rehearsal number 3) where all begin to play groups of equal (but different) note values between semi-quavers and quavers. The horn, on the other hand, plays bursts of between one and eleven legato grace-notes at irregular intervals; the trumpet alternates between groups of equal note values (in the same approximate duration range as the woodwinds at the end of the section) played non legato, and less regular stretches of detached and accented notes (again in the same duration range). While the horn and trumpet parts both once more occupy a wide range, the second violin remains mostly relatively high, beginning with


Richard Barrett

Ex. 15.1 Finnissy, alongside (1979), opening. © Universal Edition 1979.

Finnissy’s alongside


the same kind of longer durations as the woodwinds (without the grace-notes) but remaining with this same behaviour throughout. In group II, violin 1 has similar material to violin 2 but in artificial harmonics (‘poco vibrato’) so that it is generally the highest component of the overall texture. The trombone has similar material to the trumpet’s non legato chains of notes but in a lower register and with more irregular durations. The piano (in its lowest register, with the sustain pedal only raised at phrase-beginnings which are also marked by accented clusters) and (pizzicato) contrabass have chains of notes that look initially as if their durations are equal quavers, although both are marked ‘freely, irregularly’ and have unpredictable numbers of notes per bar but not specified in tuplet ratios. Group III plays long durations which begin and end synchronously, occupying a restricted range in the tenor register of less than two octaves (each group of three actually has a range of an octave or less including the auxiliary notes of the trills, and each contains at least one major/minor second); the bassoon plays only trills, the cello bowed tremoli, and the viola both. Given that the register of group III is constantly being encroached upon by the trombone, and also sometimes by the trumpet and clarinet, group III will be audible only fleetingly, hence its much simpler material. The percussion is not part of this scheme but instead plays long separated drum rolls (on drum 3), each with a crescendo from to . Returning to the three groups, it can easily be seen that groups I and II both involve all three fundamental categories of musical behaviour (melodies, sustains, punctuation) that characterise alongside, as well as both containing at least one from each ‘family’ of melody instruments, and both being spread over almost as wide a pitch-range as their constituent instruments will allow. In distinction to this, group III carries on a shadowy and circumscribed existence almost like an intermittent background ‘noise’ behind the teeming activity in the fore and middle-grounds. Thus, the unchangingly dense texture of section 1 already contains within itself many of the extreme disjunctures between instruments, perspectives, pitch-ranges, behaviours (as well as within them), and notational manners (between precise and imprecise), which henceforth occur ‘alongside’ one another in a great variety of combinations and degrees of density in different dimensions. Section 2 (rehearsal numbers 3 to 12) is the longest section according to my subjective division of the piece, being about three times as long as its predecessor. The sudden change of dynamic to tutti at the beginning of the section (with a ‘noise’ element contributed by the maraca) is followed after two bars by an equally sudden shift to ! after which dynamics become more stratified. The woodwinds (now completed by the bassoon, which however also operates at a dynamic level some distance below the others) basically continue their previous range of behaviours but in a more variegated way, with the inclusion of more long silences, staccato passages, trills (in the clarinet part) and so on. They are joined by a monodic piano part tracing a jagged outline across the top half of the keyboard, and (after 8) by




Richard Barrett

a horn part, slightly softer than the upper woodwinds, which continues the ‘freely, irregularly’ played rhythms of the contrabass and piano in section 1. Apart from the aforementioned melodic material, the piano part also involves dissonant staccato chords in the lowest register, and, later on, rumbling trills and tremoli in that same area. Both of these behaviours recur in later sections and make a central contribution to the soundworld of alongside, what might be called a ‘seismic’ level whose changes literally shift the ground beneath which the rest of the musical activity is taking place. The punctuating type of material is shared between these low chords and a series of isolated attacks on drum 4 of the percussion, at the beginning tutta forza and eventually . As for the strings, at the beginning of the section the violins and violas have wide and rapid glissandi sul ponticello with approximately the same range of speeds as the woodwinds, changing to tremolo-glissandi in longer note-values and, eventually, sustained sounds changing only occasionally and independently in pitch. The lower strings converge on this same material, after beginning with shorter sustained sounds with extreme crescendi and diminuendi and often adding a second (double-stopped) voice. In the middle of the section (at 6), the wind instruments drop out to create a ‘window’ of five bars where piano and strings are temporarily exposed (although this does not affect what they play). The second section, after an ‘anomalous’ few bars at the beginning, is thus a more extended exploration of some of the behaviours that comprised the dense and chaotic first section, and embodies a very gradual movement in the direction of greater homogeneity. A global sketch like the foregoing might give the impression of a schism between a fairly unambiguous and even simplistic formal profile and the febrile microstructure which it articulates, but this is not really the case: within the broad outlines described here are many levels of variation within the different strata and of interaction between them. Another feature worth mentioning at this stage is the way that the conducted metre in the score, which in section 2 involves a range of time signa3 and 47 and several gradual changes of tempo, seems to bear tures between 16 little or no structural relationship to the music it – to varying extents – coordinates; apart from the free and irregular horn part in this section, tuplet brackets frequently extend across barlines, and there appears to be no pattern in the succession of time signatures. This feature, however, is anything but random: what it means is that the conductor’s ‘part’ then contributes as much as any of the others to the achievement of Finnissy’s note in the preface to the score that ‘[a]lthough notated in detail the rhythm is intended to sound free and spontaneous, unmechanical, and without discernible regular pulse’.11 This feature is brought into sharper focus in section 3, which opens with two long bars in which each beat has a different (precisely measured) duration. In the first (at 12), only the piano has precisely notated rhythms (now in two independent parts which explode across the keyboard in two streams of notes and clusters), while the horn has a sustained stopped (written) Eᅈ4 with a harmonic glissando to a high open Cᅈ5 at its end, the cymbal has


Finnissy’s alongside


two  secco strokes which may be placed anywhere within the second and fourth of the five beats, and the three upper woodwinds have yet more wideranging melodic material, but now in sequences of accented demisemiquavers without tuplet subdivisions but desynchronised from each other and from the conductor’s beat, which provides only an irregular frame of reference around which these four layers are arranged (Ex. 15.2). The second bar (at 13) begins with a flutter-tongued accent from the brass trio, has woodwinds now or , the flute in flutter-tongued grace-notes, again two secco cymbal strokes but now precisely placed in time, cello and bass pizzicato ‘freely, irregularly’, and both violins, also pizzicato but initially with an eventual crescendo to !, playing independently accelerating sequences of semiquavers. After these two bars, the time signature switches to 38 for the remainder of this one-minute section, while the tempo undergoes



Ex. 15.2 Finnissy, alongside, beginning of section 3. © Universal Edition 1979.


Richard Barrett

four accelerandi after each of which the starting tempo is re-established for a few bars. The violins, joined by the viola, continue as a trio with the same independently accelerating pizzicato material, now with a crescendo from to ! on each phrase in each instrument. With little internal variation, this texture, with frequent stops and restarts, continues throughout the section, as do the lower strings which play somewhat slower chains of tremolo pitches, precise tuplet subdivisions, and more unpredictable (and coordinated) dynamics. While, at the level of detail, this material might seem to belong to the ‘melodic’ category, the way the strings are bound together into a duo and trio might suggest that each of these textures as a whole belongs to the ‘sustain’ category. Like the previously mentioned instability between discrete and textural sound, the division of musical behaviours between the three original characters depends on how one chooses to listen. The percussion (on drum 2) has two long crescendo rolls akin to those in section 1. The upper woodwinds, horn and piano have a similarly intermittent presence in the main part of section 3, with their most individuated behaviours so far, in terms of speed, dynamic and durational regularity, although never quite losing the morphological commonality shared by almost all the ‘melodic’ material in alongside, where a constant scanning in more or less wide intervals up and/or down across the entire range of the instrument is constantly being disrupted to a greater or lesser extent. Sometimes the disruption is so great that the melodic strands take on an almost randomly meandering character; at other times the directedness of the strands is hardly disrupted at all – both of these extremes can be clearly seen in the right and left hand voices of the piano part in section 8. Section 4, which has around the same duration as its predecessor, begins at rehearsal number 18, and, like section 1, divides the ensemble into four dynamic strata, although now the ensemble is reduced in size by half to only seven instruments:



ff  ff  

( ) horn, trumpet, trombone ( ) piano ( ) cello ( ) clarinet

… plus a percussion part playing iterated crescendi, this time using the maraca, later replaced by secco cymbal strokes. The single-line piano part unfolds throughout, varying in speed, register, range, dynamic and the ‘thickening’ of its monody into cluster-like aggregates, and the intermittent pizzicato cello part alternates between precise and free rhythms. The brass trio begins by returning to their behaviours of section 1 (but now all in the same dynamic group) and the clarinet plays a mostly slow and high strand again reprising its behaviour from the opening of the piece. The section opens with the clarinet having a barline every three conducted beats and the rest of the septet every four, although again this is something

Finnissy’s alongside


perceived in terms of freedom from metre rather than of polymetre. At 19, the piano breaks free from the conducted beat altogether, and at 20 so does the percussion. At 21, a brief tutti aggregate, diminuendo al niente, acts (uncharacteristically) as a cadential event leading to the change of texture at 22. This is where the long section 5 begins, returning to something more similar to the collage-like form of section 3, but structured mostly into two antiphonal groups with the piano providing punctuating material independently from either. Bassoon, horn, trombone, and all four drums of the but later in percussion, play complex melodic material (initially always multiple or single crescendo), frequently ‘ornamented’ by trills in the three winds, glissandi in the horn and trombone parts, trills with glissandi (horn), and grace-notes and dyads (drums). The ornamentations in the brass parts bring up the question of idiomatic instrumental writing in Finnissy’s music of this period, which frequently employs such features, along with quartertones, seemingly with scant regard to how they might actually be realised. Certainly it is clear that not all the trombone glissandi can be played using only the slide, since they frequently exceed the slide’s range of a tritone, and even when they don’t they can’t always be accommodated by the instrument – for example none of the three glissandi in the trombone part at 24 can be played exactly as notated (Ex. 15.3). At the same time it isn’t at all clear how the trombone trills are to be realised, or the trill/glissando combinations in the horn, or the trills on quartertone-inflected pitches in the bassoon. What is to be made of this? One way of answering is to remark that a committed attempt to realise these notations will produce a rich, complex and somewhat unpredictable result on the level of the internal details of individual instrumental gestures which could be seen as the real meaning (as opposed to a simplified ‘literal’ meaning) of what the notation is communicating to the players. Finnissy’s way of notational communication is poetic rather than didactic, which doesn’t make it any less precise – by ‘poetic’ what I mean is an analogy to the way that poetry changes, expands and multiplies the possible meanings of words which in other contexts might have a straightforward and unambiguous function, focusing on rather than minimising their ambiguities. Another way of looking at this situation is to imagine the notation in terms of the kind of approximation which is generally necessary when transcribing music from oral traditions, and (remembering Finnissy’s statement in the interview quoted above) there is a sense in which the practice of notating a composition is for him related to a concept of transcription, something which of course comes much more clearly into focus in relation to his later works. The second principal element in section 5 is a series of long-held chordal blocks sempre for all five strings, some or all of whom may be playing double-stops, artificial harmonics or both, so that each sound is a dense and complex timbre whose individual elements are almost impossible to discern. Against this and the wind/percussion quartet, punctuational material is


Richard Barrett

Ex. 15.3 Finnissy, alongside, episode from section 5. © Universal Edition 1979.


provided once more by very low piano chords, usually either or , often spread so as to give an indistinct and effectively pitchless sound. Both strings and piano deploy simultaneous pitches in such a way as to negate any sense of ‘harmony’, something they of course share with the sho of gagaku music, whose sound is approached most closely by the string music of this section. A further articulative feature in section 5 is the presence of several brief interjections by the upper winds, which refer back to the brevity of the tutti ‘anacrusis’ just before the beginning of the section, but also to various dynamic and articulative behaviours which have occurred earlier in the piece in different forms, including for example the independently accelerating pizzicato phrases of the upper strings in section 3, which are referred to here in two of the interjections, for flute and oboe playing staccato.

Finnissy’s alongside


While there is no ‘upbeat’ at the end of section 5 comparable to that at the end of section 4, there are signs towards its end that a change might be about to happen (this is a prominent feature of the closing moments of most sections in English Country-Tunes and many other Finnissy works). At three bars after 28, a string ‘chord’ is left alone for much longer than usual. The ensuing silence contains only a single staccato chord in the depths of the piano, followed by the last of the string aggregates which is now played sul tasto. The music is fragmenting into its constituent components. After another silence, briefly ‘coloured’ in the same way as the previous one, the brass/percussion quartet enters, for the first time simultaneously with an upper woodwind burst, with all of the instruments playing crescendi. Surrounded by silence again, the quartet plays another crescendo from to (except that the percussion ends tutta forza). Finally, at 31, another simultaneous entry by all instruments except piano and strings (woodwinds , brass !, percussion again ending tutta forza) conceals the re-entry of strings and piano leading to section 6, a brief section this time, beginning at 32 and returning to the almost unvaryingly high density of sections 1 and 2. Until rehearsal number 33, section 6 involves clearly delineated transformations and recombinations of various elements familiar from earlier sections: rapid swooping contours in all woodwinds, and now incorporating more extended groups of grace-notes in the upper instruments; brief brass interjections which echo those of the woodwinds from section 5; an alternation in the percussion part between brief recollections of the complex ‘melodic’ material of section 5 with silence and accented dyads; a piano part remaining in the lowest register but now consisting only of tremoli (right hand) and trills (left hand), and slow sustained behaviour from the strings, now desynchronised from one another. Everything but the brass and percussion is hushed, and even these have subsided into quiet dynamics by 33, when a long rallentando begins and the materials are shuffled again: woodwinds continue but now the flute and oboe alternate their flurries with silence, and clarinet and bassoon return once more to the widely irregular durations they played in section 1. In the brass, the trumpet has long notes sometimes with trills while the horn and trombone play once more ‘freely, irregularly’, the horn legato and alternating between stopped and open phrases with the staccato trombone. The piano part condenses once more into deep spread chords, but now with the sustain pedal down, while the strings continue their glacial polyphony almost unchanged, eventually settling on a sustained chord at 35 where the brass stop playing, the woodwind dynamic level becomes and the percussionist, having sustained a quiet maraca roll for several pages (an expansion of the percussion part at the beginning of section 2), suddenly plays a two-handed tutta forza accent on drum 1, an event which now disrupts the music completely: the winds all stop dead in their tracks, the strings fizzle out in a cloud of glissandi, harmonics and tremoli and the scene is set for section 7, three bars before 36, where irregularly spaced attacks on this drum, subsequently and then once more , are initially all that is heard.




ff ffff




Finnissy’s alongside

Section 7, only slightly shorter than sections 2 and 5, thus begins as the opposite extreme to section 1 in the constant traversal of different states of density which the music has been exploring for its entire duration. It is a moment which stands both outside and entirely within the structural and expressive ambitus of the music heard thus far, which simultaneously ruptures and redefines the identity of alongside in the listener’s perception and memory. What can possibly follow this? Slightly after 37, while the random drumstrokes continue implacably (before switching from to a little while later), an extravagantly linear piano solo begins, the behaviour of its two strands (the left hand continuous, the right hand intermittent) familiar from numerous earlier instances of wide-intervalled melodic material. The final section 8, another of the shorter ones, begins at 39, and is introduced by the strings together playing a ‘harsh’ glissando (three instruments descending, two ascending, through different wide intervals). This is then the only material played by the strings from here until the end, as they occupy for the first and only time the ‘punctuating’ type of behaviour which other instruments and groups have variously represented up until now. Indeed there is less internal variation in section 8 than in any of the other dense areas of the piece. The wind material (both woodwinds and brass) in this section is a dense polyphony once more, but now each voice is generally slower than has previously been the case in these passages, and the intervals of the melodies are generally smaller, with flute and oboe in their highest registers throughout, all winds being marked al fine. The percussion plays a series of crescendo drum rolls, each this time on a different drum and terminating in a group of grace-notes. As previously mentioned, the intermittent piano part in section 8 (also sempre) continues from the previous section except that the two hands now have divergent behaviours: the right hand with swathes of notes spread irregularly across a range of almost five octaves, while the left hand (mostly at a faster speed) plays scalic movements traversing the remaining range of the keyboard, initially rising only but then often changing direction. Sections 7 and 8 (not unlike the corresponding seventh and eighth movements of English Country-Tunes in fact) represent two different, and differently radical, ways of pushing the preceding structure to breaking point: first by reduction to a single element, and then with a final peroration whose overall block-like stasis is articulated by a massive but texturally coherent internal incandescence, which is cut off as suddenly as it (and the whole piece) started. By the end of section 6 the outlines and materials of the music’s sonic identity have become established, reaching a point where their “envelope” can be sundered, its limits transgressed. In choosing the terms used for my descriptions, and the issues isolated for closer examination, I am of course saying more about the influence this music has had and continues to have than I could possibly say by pointing at specific instances and parallels. Over and above these concerns, however, is the question of the poetic-expressive voice of a work like alongside, and in



Finnissy’s alongside


particular the way it refuses to have anything to do with pulling punches in the interest of good taste or coherence. Its expression of an unapologetically intense sensual-intellectual way of being is at the centre of its continuing attraction and significance, to myself as well no doubt as many others on whom it was unleashed in February 1980.

Notes 1 Paul Griffiths, ‘London Sinfonietta’, The Times, 20 February 1980. The concert took place on 19 February at St John’s, Smith Square, London. 2 See Roddy Hawkins in Chapter 5 of the present volume for more on this. 3 Michael Kurtz, Stockhausen: a biography, translated Richard Toop (London: Faber, 1992), pp. 58–60. 4 See Julian Anderson, ‘The Orchestral Music’, in Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 180–7. 5 William P. Malm, Japanese Music and Musical Instruments (Clarendon, VT: Tuttle, 1959), pp. 118–67. 6 Quoted in Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone, Messiaen (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2005), p. 252. 7 Anthony Palmer, Encounters with British Composers (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2015), p. 180. 8 See Roddy Hawkins in Chapter 5 for more on the activities of Suoraan. 9 Michael Finnissy, alongside (London: Universal Edition, 1979). 10 Paul Driver, ‘Michael Finnissy’s ‘alongside”’. Tempo, New Series, no. 132 (March 1980), p. 42. 11 Finnissy, preface to score of alongside.

Bibliography Anderson, Julian. ‘The Orchestral Music’. In Henrietta Brougham, Christopher Fox and Ian Pace (eds.), Uncommon Ground: The Music of Michael Finnissy (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), pp. 169–210. Driver, Paul. ‘Michael Finnissy’s ‘alongside”’. Tempo, New Series, no. 132 (March 1980), pp. 42–5. Finnissy, Michael. Preface to score of alongside. London: Universal Edition, 1979. Griffiths, Paul. ‘London Sinfonietta’. The Times, 20 February 1980. Hill, Peter; and Simeone, Nigel Messiaen. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2005. Kurtz, Michael. Stockhausen: a biography, translated Richard Toop. London: Faber, 1992. Malm, William P. Japanese Music and Musical Instruments. Clarendon, VT: Tuttle, 1959. Palmer, Anthony. Encounters with British Composers. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2015.

16 From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter Finnissy’s cinematic and televisual inspirations Ian Pace To Larson Powell The influence of cinema and other forms of moving image upon Finnissy’s music has long been tacitly known and mentioned, but how this is manifested has rarely explored in any type of detail. Twenty years ago, Christopher Fox explored a certain amount in his chapter on Finnissy’s vocal works in Uncommon Ground, exploring in particular cinematic dimensions of text setting,1 while I touched upon the subject in my chapter on the piano music in the same volume,2 and have written a little on the subject in my monograph on The History of Photography in Sound,3 but few others have explored this issue further. But this is perhaps not wholly surprising, as the influence of cinema upon musical composition – specifically that musical composition not written to be used together with moving images – is a relatively underresearched area in general.4 Nonetheless, there is a small body of relevant work, which I will now summarise, from which some techniques and approaches can be drawn. Several scholars have been stimulated by Debussy’s comments, after seeing Louis Feuillade’s 1913 film L’agonie de Byzance, about renewing symphonic music through the application of ‘cinematographic techniques’ (see below for questions of translation), and how moments of cinema had passed his mind when composing.5 Richard Langham Smith considers how the visually evocative writing in the Nocturnes and shifts between different tableaux in the orchestral Images resemble cinema (and the proto-cinematic ‘shadow plays’ of Henri Riviere performed at the Chat Noir), though only in quite general terms.6 A much more comprehensive engagement with such a model has been undertaken by Rebecca Leydon, who attempts to explain the forms of ‘enchainment’ between successive musical elements in Jeux and the Études for piano in terms of dissolves, juxtaposition of varied camera angles, direct cuts, close-ups, adjustment of film speed and direction, superimpositions and matted images, and double-exposure. Some of Leydon’s analogies may be far-fetched in this context – representing a transition between pizzicato and arco as a ‘shot/reverse-shot’, or presenting antecedent/consequent relationships as ‘cross-cutting’ – but others, such as the metaphor of cinematic

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter


superimposition for Debussy’s use of simultaneous disjunct tonal spaces, are compelling and have plenty of application for later music,7 though there is plenty of reason to think Debussy derived some of these (in particular superimposition of motives using all-black or all-white notes) from his knowledge of Stravinsky’s Petrushka.8 A more convincing model comes from Mark McFarland, who does note Debussy’s admiration for Petrushka, and extends Edward Cone’s theory of stratification between disjunct materials in Stravinsky (linked to Richard Taruskin’s later theorisation of drobnost, elimination of transitional or developmental material so as to create a music characterised by an interplay between static moments rather than developing processes) backwards to encompass two pieces from the second book of Debussy’s Preludes, whilst also noting in a less didactic manner the similarities with the techniques of early cinema.9 All of these qualities can be found in a range of later music including much of Finnissy, though the value of cinematic analogies is not necessarily self-evident. Nonetheless, McFarland is one of the few to take seriously the cinematic dimension of Petrushka as well,10 which remains under-researched. Louis Andriessen and Elmer Schönberger devote a short section of their book The Apollonian Clockwork on the use of montage technique in Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments (a work also considered by Cone), referencing the theories of Eisenstein and Pudkovkin and films of Viking Eggeling and René Clair, but are ultimately content to register the similarity of musical collage techniques to cinematic montage in general,11 a cursory approach common to various Stravinsky commentators who evoke cinema.12 Raymond Knapp, however, goes rather further in applying the theories of Lev Kuleshov on the relationship of cinematic context to meaning to Mahler’s employment of disparate materials in the Third and Fourth Symphonies.13 Sabine Feisst has considered multiple cinematic dimensions to Schoenberg’s work, from his ideas on using film in Die Glückliche Hand (1910–13), through speeches on the advent of the talking film in 1927, to the composition of his Begleitungsmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene (1929–30), whose through-composed episodes with unclear boundaries contrast with Stravinskian dynamic montage.14 Whilst providing an illuminating conceptual and intellectual consideration of Schoenberg, Feisst’s work, like that of Alexandra Monchick on Hindemith,15 offers less in the way of wider models for analysing music indebted to cinematic ideas. Elsewhere, Neil Lerner uses topic-based analysis to explore how Aaron Copland’s music relates to pastoral and other tropes which also interact with musical codes used in film scores (including some of Copland’s own).16 Finnissy’s generally post-tonal and metrically irregular music offers less obvious points of contact with mainstream film scores, but such connections certainly exist, and this could make for a fruitful future study, though is beyond the scope of this chapter. Jonathan W. Bernard examines the influence of Eisenstein’s theories of montage (as well as others’ theories of time and the literary work of Joyce and


Ian Pace

Proust) upon the work of Elliott Carter. Bernard compares specific scenes from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin with passages from Carter’s Variations for Orchestra (1955) and Double Concerto (1961), for the latter of which Carter himself used the metaphor of a ‘camera-eye’ focusing in on different elements of the musical material as they proceed simultaneously.17 Carter had made explicit the influence upon his First String Quartet (1950–1) of Jean Cocteau’s film Le Sang d’un poète (1930) and its use of a slow-motion shot of a chimney being dynamited as a framing device,18 and had also written in some detail on his interest in Eisenstein’s ideas.19 This body of work, if uneven, does provide models for wider investigation, some of which I will draw upon below. However, one should also consider the more sceptical view of Scott D. Paulin, who looks critically at crude employment of ‘musical analogies’ for cinema and ‘cinematic analogies’ for music. Paulin notes the too great ease with which many draw analogies on the basis of just a few attributes, and in particular a near-exclusive focus on montage, the tradition of thought rooted in the theories of Eisenstein, and discontinuity or transitions in general (which have a wider provenance pre-dating the history of cinema),20 oblivious to other theorists such as André Bazin who argued for quite different priorities (and a different type of cinema).21 Arguing quite reasonably that one should not attribute influence of cinematic developments which were as yet unavailable or underdeveloped at the time the composer was writing, Paulin critiques various writers on Debussy, and disputes the common translation of Debussy’s traitement du cinématographe as ‘techniques of cinematography’, rather than ‘cinematographic treatment’. He reads Debussy’s comments instead as a response to earlier essays by Vincent d’Indy, and makes a compelling argument that Debussy was talking about actually making films, not adapting cinematic techniques to music.22 Leydon’s cinematic analogies for Debussy are too tenuous to support her all-encompassing model; Paulin is rightly more circumspect. Nonetheless, I do believe that a transition-based model of Debussy’s use of texture, relating a little to some of the work of Leydon, is valuable at least for the earlier Finnissy, which abounds with comparable transitions. Ex. 16.1, from the seventh of Debussy’s Préludes, Book 2 (1911–13), ‘…La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune’, shows a transition from a texture spanning the whole compass of the keyboard (albeit with only one note in the lower two-and-ahalf octaves, though this can be accounted for through Debussy’s characteristic concern with timbral balance), to a focus on dense chords within a roughly three-octave tessitura in the upper half of the instrument, combined with wide-voiced bass octaves with a fifth. But then there is a major shift in focus at the Un peu anime towards the central registers, accentuated by other aspects of the change of character from mysticism to playfulness. If the pianist releases the low bass sonorities at this point, a whole layer of sound evaporates, adding extra clarity to the new material, exactly analogous to either a cinematic zoom or at least shift of focus (the repeated low B-flat in

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter


the second bar of the new section becomes just a residue of the preceding section, no longer given the focus provided by the earlier voicing).

Ex. 16.1 Claude Debussy, Préludes, Book 2 (1911–13), no. 7, ‘…La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune’.

Finnissy’s piano and other works are as replete with textural and registral shifts as are Debussy’s (and, for sure, numerous other composers who followed in Debussy’s wake). A wholly characteristic example is given in Ex.  16.2, from Snowdrift (1974), in which the flurry of high grace notes (combined for at least some of their duration, because of the molto ped, with some other lower sustained pitches carried over from the previous system) are cut abruptly to a series of other ‘resonance fields’, almost entirely in the bass registers, then a sustained D1 is a trigger for a more gestural figuration in higher registers (superimposed upon the D1, one could say). Then there is a further superimposition of the high grace notes, before a further pedal change creates a new focus upon a more measured melodic line in the upper central register.


Ian Pace

Ex. 16.2 Finnissy, from Snowdrift (1974). © Edition Modern 1975.

In cinematic terms, Ex. 16.2 could be compared to a direct cut between two very different shots, then several small shifts of focus coinciding with the pedal changes on the first system above, a close-up at the beginning of the next section, upon which there is briefly superimposed material from the first shot (and then the pitches within the line could be conceptualised as imperfections on the film). However, these are only partial metaphors – they do not account for differing degrees of melodic angularity in the above, nor for the dynamics, harmonies, and so on, various of which require explanation in purely aural terms. Nonetheless, at least in textural terms, cinematic analogies can provide a useful means to account for Finnissy’s use of dynamic contrasts and interrelationships, especially in earlier works, and the more measured interactions between contrasting but overlapping textures in orchestral works such as Sea and Sky (1979–80) and Red Earth (1987–8). These techniques have their origins in some of Finnissy’s earliest acknowledged mature compositions. In this chapter, I will first examine some models  from film theory which inform my general approach here and elsewhere, consider briefly the nature of Finnissy’s acknowledged cinematic influences, then examine three areas in more detail: how early Finnissy works relate to American experimental cinema, especially the work of Stan Brakhage; which works of Finnissy can be said to employ different types of para-cinematic montage as theorised by Eisenstein and others; and how The History of Photography in Sound relates to some of its explicitlymentioned cinematic and televisual influences, in particular the work of Dennis Potter, as well as Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma. The size of this chapter precludes presentation of a comprehensive cinematic model for analysing  Finnissy’s music and its composition, not least because one should also consider wider influences from the visual arts, literature, theatre,

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter


dance, structural anthropology and elsewhere. However, I hope to suggest some new perspectives and analytic approaches, and expand some existing ones which can nuance future writing on the music of Finnissy and other composers.

Neo-formalist approaches to cinema The term neo-formalism was coined in a film-theoretic context in 1981 by Jerry L. Salvaggio in a review of two books of Noël Burch, including his The  Theory of Film Practice, and the first edition of David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s Film Art.23 Burch focused on the concept of decoupage,  meaning for him ‘the underlying structure of the finished film’,24 and from this explores types of spatial and temporal relationships between different shots or sections.25 He arrived at a view by which a film is defined by its formal and textural properties rather than simply its ‘content’, the relationship between which Burch related to the manipulations of rows in serial composition or the cellular approaches of Debussy.26 Bordwell and Thompson took and continue to take a more moderate view, rejecting a form/content dichotomy, and considering subject matter and abstract ideas as part of ‘the total system of the artwork’, all of which interact with each other as a result of its form,27 a view rooted in the thought of Eisenstein.28 Salvaggio had related Burch’s view in particular to the antipathy towards content in the work of early Russian Formalist literary critics (though this relaxed somewhat during the second stage of this movement) and the theories of Eisenstein.29 Thompson built upon the link with Russian Formalism in a 1981 study of Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible and in her foundational 1988 text overtly embracing neo-formalism, Breaking the Glass Armor,30 as did Bordwell in his 1985 Narration in the Fiction Film.31 For Thompson, like Viktor Shklovski before her,32 a defining attribute of art is its defamiliarisation of reality and existing conventions, even if only to a small degree.33 More broadly, her presentation of neo-formalism rejects the idea of a method, as the term had come to be understood, entailing a particular set of procedures which are bolstered by a particular selection of films for consideration. Instead, she opts for a self-critical approach which can be expanded and modified in response to careful and detailed analysis of particular films, with the potential to raise theoretical issues and consider the very possibilities for film as an art.34 She also rejects models of art either as communication or disinterested contemplation, stressing the active and cognitive role of the spectator (against the emphasis on the unconscious by psychoanalytic film theorists), not least in films of Alain Resnais, Yasujiro Ozu or Jacques Tati with enigmatic or incomplete narratives which demand active participation from the spectator, but also replaces the model of spectatorial ‘passivity’ with one of familiarity with certain cinematic codes. Above all, Thompson renders interpretation as ‘one tool among many for the neoformalist critic’ and suggests instead the task of ‘re-defamiliarising’


Ian Pace

familiar films.35 Interpretation itself is framed in terms of function, the way in which any element in a film relates to every other and to the film as a whole, and motivation, the reason for such elements’ presence (which does not have to be the same thing as the intention, conscious or otherwise, of one or other individual involved in the making of the film).36 Her four categories of motivation are compositional, necessary for aspects of the narrative, realistic, appealing to notions of the exterior world, transtextual, relating to conventions of other artworks, and the most complex but perhaps most relevant here, artistic, to do with the abstract artistic qualities of a work i.e. its form, and especially pronounced when devices are used in such a way as foregrounds their artificial nature.37 The latter two of these are most relevant to music.38 The rejection of art as communication also implies a rejection of the ‘encoding/decoding’ model pioneered by Stuart Hall,39 an approach which Bordwell links to content-heavy approaches to film study which eschew visual and aural engagement in favour of traditional literary features of plot, character and dialogue, and critical reviews.40 Such approaches are even more problematic for the hermeneutically amorphous medium of music than for film.41 Furthermore, Bordwell and Thompson’s rejection of method leads them to reject much from semiotics, psychoanalysis and some varieties of feminism and identity politics.42 Many of these approaches can provide a vital renewing force for a musicology which has otherwise moved in the direction of broad-brush hermeneutics/interpretation (sometimes informed by the approaches of Hall which dominate large areas of cultural studies), sometimes with only minimal engagement with the detailed manifestations of sounds occurring over time.43 Neo-formalist approaches can be especially productive for the study of new music, including that of Finnissy. A clear form/content dichotomy, invariably to the benefit of ‘content’, trivialises sound and sonic structures by rendering them primarily as pointers to external phenomena, in the process denying  any autonomous role for music. A very large amount of music in many  traditions involves the employment and defamiliarisation of existing conventions (see my discussion of genre in Chapter 3), while Finnissy’s works such as Red Earth undoubtedly defamiliarise the visual phenomena depicted. Any fixed method will always be limiting for the study of a heterogeneous body of work, as Finnissy’s certainly is, whilst it is also in my opinion important to engage with the active cognitive aspects of listening to such ambiguous and sometimes estranged music. Such approaches are not necessarily new, even if somewhat unfashionable at the time of writing, and do not necessarily require wider recourse to cinematic analogies. Those aspects of neo-formalist film theory founded upon ‘narrative’, in the sense of an external ‘story’, have more limited applicability to music, except for some overtly programmatic works.44 However, other concepts such as roughened form, formal devices designed to make perception and understanding less easy, delays, by which narrative progress is held

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter


back in line with wider aspects of the total design of the film, and stairstep construction, in which the progress of one primary thread is subject to delays and digressions from stretches of other material (free motifs as opposed to the main bound motifs),45 not to mention the dominant, the main formal principle organising the devices into a coherent whole,46 do have clear musical analogies. Nonetheless, while I will make some use of these terms below, it should be underlined once again that neo-formalist analysis is an attitude rather than a method, so should not be employed simply to contain works within manageable known categories. On the contrary, it is imperative to keep expanding the categories to take account of the diversity of the works, with music as much as with film. Thompson argues that ‘the neoformalist critic can take a familiar film and point out its underlying strategies – strategies usually camouflaged by motivating devices’.47 Whilst Finnissy’s music could hardly be described as ‘familiar’ in this sense, by employing cinematic analogies I aim less to map the works metaphorically onto another artistic medium than to illuminate some of their formal workings (and in the process ‘re-defamiliarise’ them), by examining a developed and (for some Finnissy pieces) appropriate taxonomy of devices.

Finnissy and film Finnissy’s interest in cinema can be dated back to his teenage years. He recalls first going to the National Film Theatre in London around 1963 and watching seasons of major French, German and Russian silent films, by G.W. Pabst, Jean Epstein, Germaine Dulac and Jean Renoir, then work of the New York Underground – Stan Brakhage, Gregory Markopoulos, Harry Smith, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol, Robert Breer and Stan Vanderbeek. Today he lists as his major cinematic influences the work of Brakhage, Markopoulos, Jack Smith, Warhol, Jean-Luc Godard and Pier Paolo Pasolini; other important interests include the work of Lindsay Anderson, Derek Jarman, and earlier Soviet film makers such as Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin or Dziga Vertov.48 The work of most of these figures demonstrates a high degree of self-conscious artifice; even Pasolini’s early essays in Italian neo-realism do not really convince as being exemplary of the genre, and are all the stronger as a result. Many of them resist unambiguous interpretation or ‘decoding’, and often require a fair degree of active input from the spectator, in the manner outlined by Thompson. From within Finnissy’s oeuvre, six principal categories of works are notable for their relationship to cinema: (a) works whose titles explicitly allude to films, in particular the Songs (1966–78) and Unsere Afrikareise (1998); (b) works alluding to proto-cinematic devices, such as Traum des Sängers (1994) and Eadweard Muybridge – Edvard Munch (1997);


Ian Pace

(c) works from the 1960s and 1970s structured using devices involving sharp contrasts and discontinuities of register, dynamics, texture, density, obviously paralleling cinematic language, as in Snowdrift, mentioned above, and many other works from Le dormeur du val (1963–8), Wild Flowers (1974) to alongside (1979); (d) ‘tableau’ works involving long, relatively static expanses of relatively consistent material, lending the works an episodic structure, including From the Revelations of St John the Divine (1965–76), Transformations of the Vampire (1968–71), Red Earth (1987–8), Nine Romantics (1992), and My Parents’ Generation thought War meant something (1999); (e) works involving a high degree of stairstep construction (as a specific manifestation of montage), with long expanses of intercut strands of material, beginning with Jazz (1976) and especially common in some 1980s works inspired by folk musics – such as Aijal (1982), Hikkai (1982–3), and Câtana (1984); also Folklore (1993–4) and much of the History, as well as various of the 23 Tangos (1968–98). (f) works written to accompany existing silent films, specifically Un chant d’amour par JEAN GENET (1999–2000) and À propos de Nice (2001–2), both for piano trio, and other incidental music for film, much of it currently unknown.49 Furthermore, Finnissy’s compositional processes often resemble those of a filmmaker, involving the creation of stretches of material of varying lengths, which are later intercut with one another.50 Sometimes ‘left-over’ material, like cinematic ‘rushes’, will find their way into a later piece; indeed Finnissy’s transcription from Verdi’s Don Carlo (the sixth piece from Book 4 of the revised and expanded 2005 Verdi Transcriptions) was originally entitled Rushes, for this reason. I will not deal here with the works in category (f), which are essentially separate from the others, nor those in category (b), which can be viewed as particular instances of categories (c)–(e). For category (d), Finnissy has cited the influence of Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie (1962), in which a young woman’s initial desire to escape her bourgeois surroundings leads to dashed hopes in a descent towards prostitution and ultimately death, told in a series of 12 episodes, employing non-naturalistic devices common to much of his work, including particular types of titles and musical fragmentation. The influence of Warhol can be located in works or sections of works with long stretches of stasis, as in many of the ‘tableau’ works, or simple linear development, in such works as when upon a tranced summer night (1966– 8), Banumbirr (1982–6) or Marcel Duchamp, the Picabias and Apollinaire attend a performance of Impressions d’Afrique (1999–2000). The influence of Pasolini (one of Finnissy’s Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets) can be observed in various senses: the attraction to aural landscape, the dual interest in sacred and profane themes, the use of music from spirituals and the blues, and the attraction to folk music of the mezzogiorno region.

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter


Few of Finnissy’s works simply reconstruct the structural workings of specific films, not even a piece like Unsere Afrikareise. Rather, some cinematic devices are freely adapted to a musical concept and are combined with other aural, conceptual, textual, theatrical and/or other concerns. The following sections will consider some examples of this approach.

Brakhage, the Songs and Finnissy’s early musical language Finnissy’s eighteen pieces entitled Song are a response to the 31 silent, predominantly short, 8mm films of the same name by Stan Brakhage, These are generally of a lyrical nature, structured by abstract properties rather than narrative, and are sometimes combined into pairs, another split into two. Most of them are entitled simply Song followed by a number, though the 15th piece (at 38 ½ minutes much longer than the previous 14, none of which are longer than 4 ½ minutes) is entitled 15 Song Traits, the 23rd 23 Psalm Branch (a whole 69 minutes), and a few others in similar fashion. Finnissy describes his first encounters with the films as follows: I first saw his films at an impressionable age (17 or so) at the NFT, and was seriously overwhelmed by their ‘visual music’, the rhythm and  detail of his editing, the intimacy and introspection, the obvious self-involvement, the sense of ‘documenting’ rather than fantasy-narration – his work has remained a visual model of my ideal ‘montage’ but also  over-arching ‘content and character’. His Songs seem to me: aphoristic (as are Wittgenstein’s ‘Tractatus’ and the music of Webern) – investigative; imploded compressions of material sometimes deliberately  disregarding legibility; and inevitably they present what can seem like foretastes of later, much more thoroughly explored, material.51 Finnissy composed eighteen pieces entitled Song between 1966 and 1978. The first four were originally conceived as a set, and the cycle was once planned to be longer, bringing together all of the forces in a final piece. But the pieces which exist to date are: (a) Six vocal pieces: four pieces for solo voice (nos. 1, 14, 15, and 16), using texts of Torquato Tasso, Walt Whitman and Francesco Petrarch (no. 15 is wordless), another for soprano and clarinet (no. 11), with a text by Algernon Charles Swinburne, and one for soprano and four instruments (no. 3) with a text by Alexander Blok. (b) Five pieces for solo piano in a continuous sequence (nos. 5–9). (c) Three pieces for medium-sized ensemble (nos. 2, 4 (with 2 solo pianos) and 10). (d) Four others for solo bass clarinet (no. 12), violin (no. 13), guitar (no. 17) and double bass (no. 18).52


Ian Pace

Finnissy’s numbering in no way parallels that of Brakhage; so there is no reason to compare Finnissy’s Song 8, say, with Brakhage’s Song 8, any more than with any of the other songs. Several of Brakhage’s films exemplify his characteristic techniques and style. Song 2 & Song 3 (1964), are a pair, which he described as ‘An envisionation of fire and a mind’s movement in remembering’.53 Song 2 employs a large amount of superimposition and montage, in order to establish connections between the otherwise hugely distinct images of parched desert-like landscape, plants, and the sea. In Song 3, the use of black and white screens and increasing disruption foreground the artificial quality of the film (a type of roughened form), whilst the change in the light on essentially monochrome screens creates a type of dance. The appearance in the film of images of cars is startling in this context. Brakhage himself, in an interview, mentioned how he and his wife Jane were listening to Brahms’s Third Symphony and ‘became very tortured by the incredible beauty of its seeming to build up various kinds of tension and never breaking through any of them’,54 in the manner of neo-formalist ‘delays’. Song 14 (1965) is described by Brakhage as ‘A “closed-eye” vision song composed of molds, paints, and crystals’, and involves a large amount of work directly on the film strip. The frantic activity which results (see Fig. 16.1), forever morphing into new forms, relates directly to the types of textures which have become characteristic of Finnissy, not to mention the utterly stark discontinuities and employment of what might appear ‘alien’ material. I detailed the workings of Finnissy’s Song 7, consisting of 16 fragments each sharply defined by extremes of dynamics, register and density, in my essay on the piano music in Uncommon Ground;55 Christopher Fox did the same with Song 11 for soprano and clarinet.56 Here I will look at two others, whose key elements are (a) overlaying of disconnected formal structure; (b) abstraction through fragmentation; (c) stark juxtapositions; (d) creation of unexpected correspondences, with neo-formalist ‘artistic’ motivations; (e) superimposition; (f) overlaying of a thread of material with passages of nonactivity (stairstep construction); (g) transitions into and out of non-activity; and (h) distortions.

Fig. 16.1 Images from Stan Brakhage, Song 14 (1965).

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter


Ex. 16.3 Finnissy, from Song 1 (1966). © Michael Finnissy.

The link to Brakhage in Finnissy’s Song 1 (Ex. 16.3), for solo voice is far from obvious, but operates beneath the surface. The song uses a text by  Torquato Tasso, ‘Ecco mormorar l’onde’, which was also set by Monteverdi: Ecco mormorar l’onde E tremolar le fronde A l’aura mattutina e gli arboscelli, E sovra i verdi rami i vaghi augelli Cantar soavemente E rider l’Oriënte. Ecco già l’alba appare E si specchia nel mare E rasserena il cielo E le campane imperla il dolce gelo, E gli alti monti indora. O bella e vaga Aurora, L’aura è tua messaggera,  e tu de l’aura Ch’ogni arso cor ristaura.

Now the waves murmur And the boughs and shrubs tremble It the morning breeze, And on the green branches the pleasant birds Sing softly And the east smiles. Now dawn already appears And mirrors herself in the sea, And makes the sky serene And the gentle frost impearls the fields And gilds the high mountains. O beautiful and gracious Aurora, The breeze is your messenger, and you the breeze’s Which revives each burnt out heart.57


Ian Pace

The text has resonances with aspects of Brakhage’s Songs 2 & 3. The following is my delineation of how Finnissy divides it into phrases or gestures: 1: ‘Ecco mormorar’ 2: ‘l’onde’ 3: ‘E tremolar le fronde a l’aura’ 4: ‘mattutina’

5: ‘E gli arboscelli’ 6: Untexted 7: Untexted 8: Untexted 9: Untexted

10: ‘E’ 11: Untexted 12: ‘sovra’ 13: Untexted 14: ‘i verdi: 15: ‘ra-(a)-’ 16: ‘(a)-’ 17: ‘mi i’ 18: ‘vaghi augelli’ 19: ‘cantar soavemente’ 20: ‘e rider l’oriente’ 21: Hum 22: Half hum 23: Hum

medium-paced, some extended pitches, tessitura of a major 12th. descending, sustained E5 to short F#4. more rapid, with inner close chromatic sections, same lowest note, now tessitura of a major 10th. long sustained pitches (modal B4-D4-A5 preceded by Bᅈ4, with crescendo, hairpin, diminuendo, tessitura of major 12th. sustained, all on single Eᅈ5 pitch, , ending with morendo. sustained B4, crescendo, preceded by C4 grace note. wide, extravagant gesture, tessitura of major 13th. staccato E5. more rapid and terse gesture, but tessitura of augmented 11th. single C4 pitch. medium-active, tessitura of augmented 11th. rising major 7th, second note repeated wide-ish tessitura (major 9th), expansive. descending sustained contour, tessitura of minor 7th. single note and tiny gesture. narrow, quite rapid. more expansive. pair of moderately wide phrases, antecedent/consequent. first and only quarter-tones, terse gesture. long, expansive, tessitura of a major 12th. downward/upward contour. descending 4th. more fragmented.

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter 24: Half hum 25: ‘Ecco già l’alba’ 26: ‘appare’ 27: ‘E si specchia nel mare’ 28: ‘E rasserena’ 29: ‘il cielo’ 30: ‘E le campane imperla’ 31: ‘il dolce gelo’ 32: ‘E gli alti monti indora’ 33: ‘O bella’ 34: ‘e vaga’ 35: ‘Aurora’ 36: ‘L’aura è tua messaggera’ 37: ‘e tu de l’aura ch’ogni arso’ 38: ‘cor ristaura’


single pitch, long, then shorter one minor 9th lower. expansive and wide again, diminished 11th tessitura. descending contour, major 9th tessitura. wide, major 13th tessitura. anacrusis (g’) then reiterated As. up and down, minor 7th tessitura. more sustained, major 9th tessitura. angular gesture, diminished 7th tessitura. wide, major 12th tessitura. ascending semitone, drawn out. short repeated D4s. wide gesture, minor 10th tessitura. more involved, active, but wide gesture, augmented 11th tessitura.  slightly more held back, minor 9th tessitura, resolving to D4-F#4. high ascending gesture, rising through interval of major 7th.

Finnissy’s musical divisions do not necessarily respect the poetic lines of Tasso, but tend towards abstraction, not least through the insertion of the untexted fragments. Whilst the types of musical gestures employed are reminiscent of those in Luciano Berio’s Chamber Music (1953), Pierre Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maître (1953–5, rev. 1957), and Improvisations sur Mallarmé I and II (1959–62, revised 1983, 1989), or Luigi Nono’s Il canto sospeso (1956), their ‘function’ (using the term in the manner defined by Kristin Thompson, as outlined above) is quite different. Most fragments relate to others through a plural range of attributes – for example 3, 9, 16 and 24 obviously correspond in terms of rapidity, but 3 also corresponds to 11, 13, 25, 26 and others in terms of tessitura encompassed, while 5, 12 and 28 all share the use of reiterated pitches; one could equally divide the fragments up according to whether they are texted or untexted, or according to numerous other parameters. Such a wide range of potential correspondences and relationships within an abstract cinema-poetic form allows the listener to make their own connections, just as do Brakhage’s assemblages of related images. By contrast, Song 9 for piano is one of the most grandiose and convoluted of the cycle. This work uses dense textures with some degree of linear development (sometimes simply through extended crescendi, diminuendi, accelerandi and ritenuti). At the outset Finnissy presents a developing frenetic image (interspersed with emphasised individual notes in the manner of a type of cantus firmus), leading to extreme rapidity and dynamics, suddenly



Ian Pace

Ex. 16.4 Finnissy, from Song 9 (1968). © Michael Finnissy.

intercuts this with a delay in the form of a flurry of grace notes, then picks up similar material in a modified state of development – beginning in the upper half of the piano, just below the peak dynamic – then returns to a low dynamic with a rapid crescendo (Ex. 16.4). Then there is the first of several long silences, like the sudden monochrome canvasses in Brakhage’s films. After figure 7 there is a flash of activity, then a staccato cluster – like the disturbances added manually to

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter


the film in Brakhage, but which also connect with the wider threads of material. Then from figure 10 in the score there appears a different material made up of superimposed periodic lines (amounting to a free motif), before a return to the material of the beginning (in totality a bound motif), which is thus set into relief. After some further passages, a series of aperiodic chords and clusters provides an oblique link between the periodic lines, and the strident procession of chords at the outset of this section. Again, the structure is an abstract assemblage with its own internal correspondences and structural rhythms. Something more akin to a narrative can be found in Brakhage’s Song 4, which he describes as ‘A round-about three girls playing with a ball … handpainted over photo image’. A lot of visual ‘noise’ eventually yields to a series of sequences of some girls playing with a ball, intercut with blank screens. In Afar (1966–7), features a greater number of sections developing in a linear fashion, lending the work a more ‘prosaic’ quality compared to the ‘poetic’ one of the Songs. Finnissy creates different subsections of the ensemble (flute, cor anglais, three trumpets, percussion and celeste), and categories of points, line and gestures (here some links to 1950s serialism are clear). As in the Songs, he exploits the interrelationships between the materials – for example, a passage at figure 2 can be heard as a thinning out and extension of that at the beginning of figure 1, through reduction to flute alone, in a dialogue with similar material in the trumpet, while the three trumpets go in and out of ‘view’ in successive sections. However, Finnissy suddenly dissolves into a series of sustained pitches and sounds for a long final section (roughly 5-10’). The structural function of this is not dissimilar to that of the girls with the ball in Brakhage’s Song 4, as it is hinted at earlier on in the piece before appearing in clear form. Various other works from around this early period, including elaborate ones for large ensemble or orchestra such as Offshore (1975–6), or Pathways of Sun and Stars (1976), develop such strategies further.

Montage Sergei Eisenstein set out five basic types of montage in his 1929 essay ‘Methods of Montage’, elaborating his fundamental idea of the synthetic power of the device: 1. 2. 3.

Metric montage: based upon metrical procedures and absolute lengths, independently of other qualities of the images. Rhythmic montage: more flexible, based upon the demands of the images, so as to create a sense of continuity. Tonal montage: to create an emotional connection between shots on the basis of their affective qualities (their ‘tone’ or what Eisenstein called the dominant, from which Bordwell and Thompson derived the term), and generate a corresponding reaction.

360 4.


Ian Pace Overtonal montage: a combination of the first three types of montage to produce a more complex effect, based upon both the dominant and multiple ‘secondary dominants’ of different elements. Intellectual montage: the use of material external to the primary narrative in order to create a meaning in the form of a critical commentary.58

He also delineated two other types of montage elsewhere: 6. 7.

Potential montage: conflict within a single shot, which could ultimately lead to the separation of its constituent elements. Polyphonic or vertical montage: the simultaneous progress of multiple lines which operate independently, which contribute to the course of the sequence, so that when two different elements proceed through alternating shots, they are perceived to be unfolding at the same time.59

Regular intercutting between long strands of material can be found in Finnissy’s works from Jazz (1976) onwards. Mr Punch (1976–9) uses a type of mini-montage within successive episodes.60 In the Piano Concerto No.  3 (1978), interactions between the piano and the rest of the ensemble, with separate strands of material, use a principle of stepwise construction in the section encompassing figures 11–19, whereby the trombones and cellos have relatively static, unchanging material (the bound motif), which alternates with freer rhetorical gestures for the piano (the free motifs), but enlivened by highly irregular durations of the ensemble snippets. The Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996), has more sustained primary threads in regular rapid semiquavers, whose progress is delayed through interruption by other fragments or longer segments, as also for a much slower material in the earlier sections of the Piano Concerto No. 6 (1980). After a pause for a few years (during which Finnissy employed devices of varying superimposition in otherwise more continuous works such as Duru-Duru (1981), Keroiylu (1981), Warara (1982, rev. 1991) and Banumbirr (1982–6)), Finnissy took up this strategy again pronouncedly in Aijal (1982), Hikkai (1982–3), and numerous subsequent works. Equivalents of all of Eisenstein’s categories of montage can be found in Finnissy’s work,61 if one replaces the ‘shot’ with the fragment of continuous musical material. The opening of Câtana (1984) employs a metric montage, with 78 quavers of one type of material, then 78 of another, then 44 of each, then 54 of each, before patterns become more irregular when three other types of material are intercut in the following section. Passages in Le démon de l’analogie, or Sizilianische Männerakte, from the History, use rhythmic montage to effect reasonably smooth transitions between distinct material. The String Trio (1986) abounds in tonal montage between passages with changing degrees of vehemence, tenderness and mystery; the same could be said of various sections of the Derde symfonische Etude (2013), with varying degrees of Schumannesque lyricism between passages, leading to a clearly recognisable allusion to the third movement of Schumann’s Second

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter


Symphony in the second section. Forms of overtonal montage can be found in Finnissy’s later works, especially from Folklore onwards (in particular in Folklore 3), while intellectual montage could be located in the use of ‘commentary’ material in the third of the Obrecht Motetten, or in many of the theatrical works, and others. This last can also be linked to Gérard Genette’s concept of metatextuality, by which one text comments on another without making explicit reference to it (see my Chapter 3 for more on Genette’s five-part taxonomy of textual reference). This is prominent above all in the History. Potential montage, in the form of conflicting simultaneous sonic phenomena, is very common throughout Finnissy’s output from the early ensemble works onwards, from Afar through Warara to Greatest Hits of all Time (2003), as is polyphonic/vertical montage, through superimposition of distinct materials, in several of the Piano Concertos, some of the 1980s works or Folklore and parts of the History.

The History of Photography in Sound There are several explicit allusions to cinema in the History. Gregory Markopoulos’s film Galaxie (1966) was a model for the Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets; Finnissy’s characterisation of each poet in terms of some cultural attributes which can be considered their ‘possessions’ mirrors Markopoulos’ pans around the apartments of his subjects (artist and intellectuals),62 whilst Finnissy’s construction of the piece out of a range of relatively short and distinct sections mirrors Markopoulos’s use of thirty 100’ reels simply edited together.63 Other explicit models are Kubelka’s Unsere Afrikareise (1966), discussed amply elsewhere in this volume, Derek Jarman’s unfilmed screenplay Sod ’em, a prototype for the film Edward II (1991),64 and the early experiments in moving images of Eadweard Muybridge.65 Many chapters are packed with montage of various types, not least Unsere Afrikareise, which does not simply mimic the structure of Kubelka’s film, but rather employs parallel ranges of correspondences (and a comparable plethora of short snatches of material, especially in the central section) between sharply distinguished material categories, which themselves have corresponding associations.66 I have written elsewhere about the rendition of material from Bach’s MatthaüsPassion in homage to Pasolini’s film Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (1964),67 and mentioned earlier the ‘tableau’ structure of My Parents’ Generation and its relationship to Godard’s Vivre sa vie. I also wrote elsewhere about the relationship of Finnissy’s music to the work of Dennis Potter,68 but wish to return to this in more detail, and also consider one of the major influences on the History, Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma, not previously explored.

Dennis Potter Potter, whose work Finnissy was studying in some detail during the time of composing the History,69 was of course a screenwriter rather than a director.


Ian Pace

He directed very few of his own works – one which he did, the series Blackeyes (1989), was one of the least successful, though this was also due to other controversial aspects of the drama. To my mind, Potter was not fundamentally a visually-minded artist, and this element was best supplied by others. But as a dramatist thinking in fundamentally televisual terms, and also in terms of the use of music, he had few equals. Amongst the recurrent themes in Potter’s work is the magnetic hold that popular culture can have, but also the dangers of the sanitised alternative reality it offers. In Where the Buffalo Roams (1966), the mentally disturbed teenager Willy Turner finds solace in fantasies from the Wild West, but then gets hold of a real gun and commits murder. In Follow the Yellow Brick Road (1972), the central character of Jack Black prefers the perfect world portrayed by the commercials in which he stars to the reality of his fading marriage and deteriorating mental health.70 Music played a similar role in Moonlight on the Highway (1969), about a fanatical Al Bowlly fan trying to deal with memories of sexual abuse, and then in his three most important extended series: Pennies from Heaven (1978) (directed by Piers Haggard); The Singing Detective (1986) (directed by Jon Amiel); and Lipstick on Your Collar (1993) (directed by Rennie Rye). These each used iconic songs associated with a particular era (the 1930s for Pennies, 1940s for Singing Detective, 1950s for Lipstick on Your Collar), with characters regularly lip-synching these (sometimes for a wholly different type of voice or even gender from the character, to foreground the artificiality of the device). While in a classic Broadway or Hollywood musical, songs would serve to focus and intensify an emotional moment arising from the narrative, for Potter they are more often profoundly estranged from the context (and directors often introduce glaring changes of lighting to accentuate such an effect), only serving as a result to emphasise the gap between dreams and reality. Pennies from Heaven is permeated by song throughout, reflecting the central character Arthur Parker, a sheet music salesman. Otherwise, Potter generally maintains two or three narrative strands at any one point, but these proceed more or less in chronological linear fashion, while the montage is not fundamentally different from that found in many other more orthodox films or television dramas (the use of songs is another matter entirely). The same is true in general of Lipstick,71 but the situation is very different in The Singing Detective. There are numerous songs and other music, which relate to the wider narrative, but lip-synching is used much more sparingly. However, two extravagant numbers stand out prominently: ‘Dry Bones’ (Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians) in the first episode, and ‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive’ (Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters) in the fourth. These parallel the two ‘big numbers’ of an imaginary (in this case atonal) 1940s popular music in Finnissy’s My Parents’ Generation,72 a piece which has much else to do with The Singing Detective in general. The narrative structure of The Singing Detective is considerably more complicated than in Pennies, consisting of a series of chronologically dislocated

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter


strands which also shift between the ‘fictional’ and the ‘real’, all relating to the central character of Philip Marlow: (a) Contemporary: Marlow in hospital. Gradual recovery from psoriatic arthropathy, especially chronic in the earlier episodes, peppered by the character’s rants at the staff, fellow patients, his wife and the world. (b) 1940s – memory: Memories of Marlow’s childhood - including discovery  of his mother’s adultery, defecation in class, which he blames on his  mother’s lover’s son, and his mother’s suicide during a trip to London. (c) 1940s – fantasy: Imaginary world of the Singing Detective (also Marlow), as part of an enigmatic but rather inconsequential spy thriller. (d) Contemporary/imaginary: (linked to (a)) Marlow’s wife Nicola, supposedly having an affair with Mark Finney. Sometimes the boundaries between these threads are crossed, especially towards the end, so that fictional and real characters, or those out of different time periods, meet one another. But most importantly, songs provide many of the links between the different layers.73 My Parents’ Generation similarly cuts between ‘contemporary’ material, in the form of discursive quasi-pointillistic writing, a fantasy world of imaginary popular music of the 1940s, memories from or anticipations of other parts of the cycle, and an older world of remembered hymns and war songs, though Finnissy finds a wide range of musical correspondences between the different strands, just as Potter regarded the popular songs as ‘latter-day psalms’ providing a similar type of wish-fulfilment.74 The context for Potter’s second ‘big number’ is as follows: one of the doctors, Dr. Finlay and other hospital staff, have arrived in the ward as part of an off-duty evangelical mission, singing the dreadful white gospel hymn ‘Life at best is very brief’ (also known as ‘Be in Time’), much to the displeasure of Marlow. This stirs up memories of childhood for him, including the key memory of having defecated in class then blamed it on his mother’s lover’s son (who is brutally beaten as a result and later ends up in a psychiatric institution). As an escape from this and its associated guilt, Marlow returns to his fantasy world of the Singing Detective, but this transmogrifies into a further escape, this time from the hymn, through imagining the evangelicals singing Harold Arlen’s ‘Ac-Cent-Thu-Ate the Positive’. Nonetheless, even this song comes to assume an accusatory tone, as the evangelicals point the finger at him during it, with the same fervour as religious fanatics – a comment on the hegemonic role of popular culture. The sequence leading up to the first ‘big song’ in My Parents’ Generation mirrors this in many ways, even if not providing a wholly parallel narrative. From after the double bar on p. 91 of the printed score Finnissy employs a material derived from African-American Spirituals on one hand (those used in North American Spirituals), and a rendition of Arthur Sullivan’s ‘Whatever


Ian Pace

you are’ turned into a type of faded popular song. He freezes the narrative at several points, and when it seems to be going nowhere, suddenly finds refuge through a quick segue into an imaginary (if atonal) popular song, with exaggerated booming bass, which itself explodes into a rapid series of chords and notes, then returns to more blank and aimless material, just as the bubble bursts for Marlow, and he hears the hymns again.

Jean-Luc Godard A little over half-way through Godard’s King Lear (1985), an off-stage character reads the following text, a slightly modified translation of Pierre Reverdy’s ‘L’image’ (March 1918),75 which also appeared in André Breton’s first Surrealist Manifesto.76 The Image is a pure creation of the soul. It cannot be born of a comparison, but of a reconciliation of two realities that are more or less far apart. The more the connection between these two realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be, the more it will have emotive power. Two realities that have no connection cannot be drawn together usefully. There is no creation of an image. An image is not strong because it is brutal or fantastic, but because the association of ideas is distant and true.  This statement is vivid as a model for Finnissy’s music in general, and for The History of Photography in Sound in particular. It is also hugely important for Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma, which Finnissy has acknowledged as an influence on The History of Photography in Sound. Throughout the cycle, Finnissy (like Godard) is continuously striving to find connections between very distant realities, in the form of musical materials, in order to find purpose in bringing them together. A very large proportion of Godard’s Histoire(s) is derived from found materials: clips from many films, texts from throughout history, in multiple languages, photographs, music (classical, popular and other).77 As Douglas Morrey has argued, this does not mean the spectator need be versed in the intricacies of cinematic history, but can read particular moments as representing particular times and places,78 just as no listener could be expected to specifically identify many of Finnissy’s often heavily modified sources. The only truly ‘original’ content is a series of monologues by different actors, including Godard himself, not least through his scenes at the outset of the cycle at his typewriter, the structural role of whose sound parallels the ‘walking’ music in Finnissy’s Le demon. While this is extended through the film cycle through primarily visual means, the individual parts of the cycle are more often held together by extended spoken texts or indeed by music. At the opening of La monnaie de l’absolu, part 3a, Godard uses Bach’s organ

From Jean-Luc Godard to Dennis Potter


chorale prelude ‘Erbarme dich mein, O Herre Gott’, BWV 721, together with a Victor Hugo’s text ‘Pour la Serbie’ of 1876, protesting Turkish atrocities against Serbs during the Serbian-Ottoman war of that year. This is combined with images from Goya, Orson Welles’ film Othello, Ucello, Delacroix, and the 1994 massacre in Rwanda. Godard’s prominent use of Bach chorales here and elsewhere in the cycle resembles Finnissy’s use of the Bach chorale prelude ‘Herr Gott, dich loben wir’, BWV 328, in the History79 – not least because in both cycles the Bach rarely appears alone. The elaborate superimposition of strands of material derived from snippets from elsewhere in the cycle, held together by the Bach, at the end of the Poets,80 is an arch-example of this. Another important musical parallel is found through Godard’s use of clusters in Une vague nouvelle, which interrupt music of Shostakovich (his incidental music for Hamlet) and later Webern, as Finnissy does in several chapters of the work. Often Godard uses the openings of musical works, almost like ‘headings’. This has parallels in Finnissy’s allusion to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and various other sources. Godard was sent a range of CDs by Manfred Eichner of ECM, who was a great fan of the director’s work, and he used many of these in Histoire(s) and elsewhere. They included the music of the likes of Giya Kancheli, or the Norwegian light jazz pianist Ketil Bjørnstad, in particular his sentimental album The Sea, which has an overwhelming presence in part 4b, Les signes parmi nous.81 The effect of this music combined with the many horrific images and allusions to fascism and Stalinism in that chapter is mawkish, and has no parallel in Finnissy’s History. A case might be made for the ‘Sicilian’ material in Sizilianische Männerakte having a similar role, but here the particular dissonances between this and the other materials derived from Busoni offset and defamiliarise the former much more palpably – at least if this is not ironed out in performance. Another parallel is found in Godard’s frequent use of at least two simultaneous strands of material – for example a voice-over combined with another voice,82 often taken from a film or a director (such as