Paradies Remembered

It’s been over a month since the marathon premiere of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klang cycle. I have been wanting to share the experience here, but I survived the project with too many mixed feelings. However if I don’t get it out, my blogging energy may get permanently clogged. Also, Robert Bigio, the editor of Flute (the journal of the British Flute Society) has entrusted me with another project: a feature on Kathinka Pasveer. So it’s time to get my thoughts in order.

Paradies is an 18-minute work for solo flute with electronics (8-channel tape). It must be played eyes closed, from memory, while wearing a specific shade of pink (HKS31, it’s called in the German textile industry). A shirt in this color, worn with white pants and shoes, is also acceptable. The piece does not require movement on stage or any sort of choreography.

I have performed this piece 12 times between April 24 and May 29, 2010, and will perform it again in November in England.

Most of the questions that come my way have to do with how I managed to memorize the work. It is nowhere near as daunting as one might think because:
1) The piece uses the same series of 24 pitches over and over, mostly in sequence and only occasionally in easily recognizable variations. Analysis of this work is a no-brainer.
2) The player is involved in the compositional process.

To begin, I must explain that the work has 24 strophes. Each of these strophes has two parts:
1) a ritornello in which a melody is given but the dynamics, speed and articulation are decided by the player (this is the “involved in the compositional process” part)
2) a composed insert. The composed parts are called inserts because they may be inserted at any point during the ritornello. (Theoretically. This piece is fraught with unwritten rules, and the insertion of the composed insert must follow certain guidelines not given in the score.)

I began work on the piece after New Year’s 2010, so had just over 4 months preparation time. There was no way for me to memorize the piece from the outset, since the ritornelli needed to be worked out and played for Kathinka. I didn’t want to write anything onto hard disk only to have to erase it later. What I did memorize from the beginning was the structure of the piece. That in retrospect was a good idea. By the way, the ritornelli’s dynamics, speed and articulation should be worked out rather than improvized. Whether you write them out or not is up to you. If your memory is at all visual or photographic, as mine partially is, I recommend writing.

I also realized the sooner I had a good version of the ritornelli, the sooner I could begin memorizing them. So my first order of business was writing the ritornelli. During the first rehearsal with Kathinka (January 25th), I ended up having to erase about two-thirds of what I had written, having trespassed many of the unwritten rules. By the time of the next rehearsal with Kathinka, on April 1st, we had a version that we could both be happy with and I could start the memory work in ernest. At that point it was not difficult. The ritornelli had been worked on for so long that memorizing them came easily, and the structure and the composed inserts had already been memorized.

I hope readers were not expecting a full discorse on how one memorizes music. For most of us it is an individual combination of visual, analytical and kinesthetic elements. For me, it is perhaps
Visual = 10%
Analytical = 10%
Kinesthetic (muscle memory)= 80%

Some of my tricks included
1) Setting a time schedule by working backwards from the date of the performance. Divide and conquer. Don’t try to memorize all at once but set a certain amount for a certain time period.
2) Going through the piece without the flute in hand or the music in front of me. This I often did in the dark before going to sleep.
3) Procrastinating as much as legally possible in order to have the peace of mind required for clear intellectual work. This means taxes didn’t get filed, Spring cleaning waited until Summer. Sort of the buy now, pay later strategy. If you can afford it, it does work.

Photos: Melvyn Poore and Liz Hirst





4 responses to “Paradies Remembered”

  1. Tod Brody Avatar

    Helen, thanks as always for sharing this experience.

    One small (or for some, maybe not so small) addition to the arsenal of memorization skills is aural. In other words, developing a mental file, in sound, of what the succession of events sounds like, and learning to follow it as you play. For me, when this is achieved, it's the best possible way of remembering confidently.

    Maybe this is part of what you described as being the analytical part, but for me it's more about knowing it “by heart”.

  2. Flutin' High Avatar

    Tod, you have a good point, and I have been trying to think where this aural aspect belongs in my crude categorization. I suppose it lies in the kinesthetic. When I went through the work without the flute in the dark before bedtime, I was indeed hearing it as well as feeling the fingerings and articulations. I always kept the sound in my mind connected to a movement, even when I wasn't performing the movement but only “remembering” it away from the instrument. That's something I've heard the Feldenkreis folks do. I'll have to learn more about that some day.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Could you give some examples of the “unwritten rules”? Are these specific, note-for-note rules (as in species counterpoint or classical 12-tone technique) or are these more in the way of stylistic preferences?

  4. Flutin' High Avatar

    There is a structural “rule” concerning the placement of the composed insert within the ritornello that is not indicated in the score. The rule is: the insert may be followed directly by the next strophe, but one should avoid doing that twice in a row.

    The other “rules” are of a stylistic nature. As I mentioned, quiet dynamics are discouraged, unless followed by a crescendo. Notes need to be clear and recognisable in their proper octave. Therefore, no multiphonics or harmonics. I was disappointed about the no harmonics bit because I had a structural vision of the piece as a Hindu temple: initially busy, over-ornamented, worldy striving, like the facades of these temples. Then as you reach the center of the temple, the ornamentation becomes less until you have only the image of the God. I wanted to show this by having the ending quite sparse, using as many high harmonics of the notes as possible, so that the ascention to high partials could reflect the ascent to Paradise. That didn't sit well, and I had to modify this idea in the end.

    Another general guideline: the first statement of each ritornello within a strophe should be very clear, and not be too ornamented with trills or be too fast to recognise.

    Articulation is free, but must clearly be legato or staccato, not something fuzzy in between. No Baroque-ey stuff.

    Tempo is also free but one mustn't be too slow. There are composed fermatas, and these need to be recognised. If you go too slowly or sit on a note too long, it will weaken the impact of the fermatas.

    That's all I can think of now. More may come up as I need to re-learn the piece for a performance at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in November, so check back.
    Best, Helen

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