Audio Arts Cassette Vol 3 No.2
The Otherwise Very Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz (1976) is the result of the imposition of one found system on another found system - a process (that of Frederic Rzewski’s Les Moutons de Panurge, 1969) on a structure (the first 32 bars of the opening of Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube Op. 314). The Rzewski piece is based on the principle of the cumulative melody - 1, 1+2, 1+2+3, 1+2+3+4, etc. - and I thought it would be perhaps more interesting to apply this procedure to a (well-) known harmonic/melodic structure than an invented one. This recorded version is for five pianos; each pianist played the same simple piano reduction of the waltz. All start together but because of the difficulties of counting - having reached, for instance, the 8th bar, gone back to the beginning and started to build up the tune again, it’s diffuclt to remember whether you’d reached the 8th, or the 8th, or the 7th bar the previous time around - the players soon get out of phase with each other. As in the Rzewski piece the rule is ‘once lost, stay lost’ (Hence the ending, where one player plays the whole 32 bars through alone, is completely unplanned). The superimposition process appears to take over from the additive process, leaving an awareness of ‘some method’ of extending about 40 seconds of music to 12 minutes, and of the indestructability of the original harmonic structure.
The title derives from a derogatory comment of Arnold Schoenberg’s of the fact that the first six phrases are rhythmically identical: ‘Here one finds numerous slightly varied repetitions, as in the otherwise very beautiful Blue Danube Waltz’.
This is a recording of the first performance given in the Foyer of the National Theatre on 14th June 1976.
This issue of Audio Arts is produced in collaboration with Studio International and is complementary to the Nov/Dec issue: Art & Experimental Music. Acknowledgement is due to Michael Nyman for his invaluable assistance in the preparation of this issue of Audio Arts,