Every morning I walk past Piazza Santa Croce. It’s a beautiful piazza often filled by tourists taking photos or eating in its small restaurants. At the head of the piazza sits the Basilica di Santa Croce, the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini… Overshadowed on its left is Palazzo dell’Antella, a peculiar building, dark and tattooed with frescoes. But there’s one particular feature of the palazzo that interests me: as you look along the building the space from window to window increases. Due to this perspective trick, standing in the appropriate spot the piazza appears bigger than it is; face-on it’s delightfully bizarre.
Essentially this building gave me the idea to do something similar but with music. A piece in which as the musician reads the notation their experience of time passing in relation to the space the notation occupies on the page is not proportional. A simple notational joke or, in Italian, a scherzo.
With something like this it’s preferable that parts don’t exist—in other words, that only the score is used since the joke itself is the physical process of playing from the notation.
Additionally it would be more fun if two people have different experiences of the same notation and in performance have to mediate these experiences.
There’s one slightly obscure genre of composition that provides the perfect solution: mirror music, sometimes called tafelmusik (not to be confused with the music played at feasts). In this, two musicians play from the same sheet but they sit opposite one another, therefore reading in opposite directions and upside down. As a result of this procedure, at some point during performance the musicians will meet in the middle, so to speak: one moment in which they read and play from exactly the same notation. But, of course, because they’re reading the staves in different directions it won’t sound the same—that would be impossible. Or would it? In this piece this is another part of the ‘scherzo’.
Perhaps some jokes aren’t so different to music. The humour—the subject—of a joke can be what’s not said: where there are no words. In another word, silence. So if silence is, in a manner of speaking, the heart of the joke then perhaps silence can be the heart—the humour—of a musical scherzo…
In this piece at the point in the music where the two musicians will meet on the page, so to speak, rests are notated. For both musicians the rests are an interruption: the rests appear in the middle of a difficult passage which is also the harmonic and rhythmic centre of the piece, and, because of the translation into musical notation of the spacial trick with the windows, it’s not obvious visually where this moment is written.
In reality this piece, Scherzo, isn’t music: it’s a study for violinists that exercises intonation and hand positions in the first three positions. So if you’ve tired of Dont VIII why not give this a go?