Writings About Music

From Claude To Charles

Curious to rehear the Concord Sonata by Charles Ives, which I had not listened to since graduating from college, I went to listen on YouTube, finding the Gilbert Kalish recording. Right away, from the opening movement, it becomes apparent that Ives was liberated by the music of Claude Debussy, including the “ivesceration” (better than evisceration here!) of traditional harmony. Aided by the use of whole tone scales, one may hear this music as poly-modal, with no limit to possible harmonic embellishments of a predominantly horizontally (and emotionally) conceptualized music, including the American composer’s purposeful and original investigations of his inner and outer experience expressed through the newly revealed universe of musical textures and pianistic tone colors Debussy unleashed. All this was hatched by the fortuitous accident of hearing Indonesian gamelan, famously experienced by the French composer.

During my one semester at Stony Brook, promoted by Eliot del Borgo’s suggestion that I take advantage of an opportunity to study with Turkish electronic music pioneer, Bulent Arel, the subject of Claude Debussy was joyfully raised by Arel. He took great pleasure in relating how Debussy had created a music that was so original as to defy any explanation or analysis in previous templates, forcing people to rethink both the experience of listening to and composing music, in addition to writing about music.

My original experience with the music of Ives, again after graduating from college, helped inspire dozens of abstract songs for voice and piano. These were followed by four one-act music dramas and a song cycle among other vocal works.

The subject of why some composers are reluctant to disclose the source of their inspiration is in some regards superfluous. Afterwards, working like Columbo, its only natural to notice obvious influences, with others more difficult to discern. For example, who would have guessed that Break On Through To the Other Side, which opens the revolutionary first album by The Doors, was inspired by, according to my late friend, Ray Manzarek, The Girl From Ipanema!

- Michael Robinson, August 2017, Los Angeles


© 2017 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).