Thomas, Philip (2009) Abstruse Indeterminacy: Christian Wolff’s For Pianist as extreme performance practice. In: Sixth Biennial International Conference on Music Since 1900, 2-5 July 2009, Keele University. (Unpublished)

The 1950s was unquestionably the decade of experimental notational practice in which the performer’s role was recast from one which involves interpretation to one which requires realisation. It became common practice for scores to be not only prefaced by but mostly comprised of written instructions. The works of American composer Christian Wolff from 1957 onwards are in part marked for the obscurity and ambiguities of both the text instructions and the notations themselves. His For Pianist (1959) was an attempt to map his techniques of notational indeterminacy based upon performers’ interactions onto a work for solo piano. It is a bold and unusual work that is fuelled by uncertainty and risk, and was written in the knowledge that the first performer, David Tudor, was more than able to rise to the challenge.
This lecture-recital presents two performances of Wolff’s For Pianist alongside a presentation which unravels the compositional and performer processes at work in the piece. The analysis of indeterminate music is notoriously difficult and the approach taken here is based upon the premise that examination of the performance issues involved brings a revealing perspective on the aspects of works which rely so heavily upon performance to make them in any way tangible. Thus discussion is informed primarily by my own experiences of performing the work, recordings of other pianists’ interpretations, research being undertaken in April 2009 at the David Tudor archives (Getty Institute, LA), and interviews with other pianists and with Wolff himself concerning the work.

Conference programme
ICMSN-draft-PROGRAMME-APR-22-2009.pdf - Supplemental Material

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