ROVNER: Mr. Reinhard, could you please tell a little about your Microtonal Festival, how you began your studies of and interest in microtonal music and how did you begin your Festival?
CLARKE: My early life is that of a bassoonist. I have never been satisfied with what has been traditionally called repertoire for bassoon; it was fairly dry and not at all rich as it was for other instruments, such as cello and trombone, let alone flute or clarinet. I always wanted to play in a soloistic capacity, and therefore I had to play anything it, any music which I could possibly run across. To that end, in order to perfect my bassoon technique and skills, I received a conventional Masters' Degree in bassoon. From around that time, in my search for new, out-of-the ordinary repertoire, exceeding the ordinary, limited bassoon repertoire, I have begun to be interested in microtones and microtonal music; I have known about quarter-tones since high school through friends of mine, all of which have studied with George Tucker in New York City. I gradually became immersed in this new field of expanded technique and sound world. I have given a vow that once I have my Masters' Degree, I would turn to microtonal music with greater attention. It was only through microtonal playing that I found out that the field of microtonal music was a great repository of melodies, harmonies, as well as original music, fresh music, exciting music and meaningly emotional music. In fact I did play using the twelve-conventional tones in some early compositions but was dissatisfied personally with the limitations of the standard twelve-note pitch spectrum. Because of that I stopped composing for twelve years, during the time of which I developed as an improviser in rock-and-roll music and blues, following styles of improvisation that have no names. I began exploring the domain of tribal music, playing in a group called 'Cro-Magnon', that I led for eight years and in a microtonal rock band. I found out that microtones was a way to become more virtuosic, and I came up with the idea that there should be a separate forum for microtonal music, since among most conventional musicians it was neglected and discriminated against. One could say that the people who could hear fine discriminations in sound were being discriminated against. Finally, in this context, the American Festival of Microtonal Music has been created to fulfill some of my aspirations in the quest for new sonorities. The Festival's creation has been inspired by rock guitarist Jon Catler partly on a dare; Jon Catler said it would be an interesting idea to have a concert of only microtonal music regularly. Thus, in 1981, on March 7th, we had our first concert of the Microtonal Festival. We even called it the "Introduction Concert", so that we would have one to follow, which would be called the "Premiere Concert" - which took place on October 12, 1981.
ROVNER: What kind of musical "directions" is your Festival geared on? What kind of composers or "schools" of music do you perform or represent?
CLARKE: Still to follow on the first question, once I have received a Master's Degree in performance on bassoon from Manhattan School of Music, I did some independent research for a year on tuning systems of other cultures, mainly India and Egypt. As a result of this research, with some very stimulating new information, finding out about Urn-Kalthum, the great Egyptian microtonal singer, and actually playing with lead sheets with quarter-tones in the signatures, in the Atlantic Avenue Arabic area in Brooklyn, I became more convinced that microtonality had its place in the field ofethnomusicology. This gave me an impulse to engage in a serious study of ethnomusicology. To that end I applied to the musicology department at Columbia University where I was accepted and in fact, got a fellowship to study in the Doctoral program there for four years. However, my inclinations were too much on the side of performance of this exotic music, which made it difficult for me to adjust fully to the standards of this academic institution. After I graduated from there with a PhD, I dropped out of the sphere of the academia and went on to focus exclusively on performing non-standard music, soon to resume composing, utilizing all the new techniques and traditions which I have learned through my studies of microtonal music. I realized that microtonality was not a style of music nor limited to one domain in music. After doing a phenomenological study in the field, I produced a musicological paper called: "Phenomenology and its application to microtonality", the result of which seemed to point at the surprising conclusion that all music is microtonal; because if you did take it from the ethnomusicological point of view, and, hence, to a universal point of view, you would witness thereof that every single style of music practically is capable of supporting microtones. And therefore there were various and contrasting types of microtonal music; they could be popular or classical, common or foreign, commercial or non-commercial; it was, in fact, an inter-stylistic domain. And so, following this train of thought, I could confidently state that the American Festival of Microtonal Music is an inter-stylistic festival; just as America, accepts total diversity and grows with it, so we do the same - we accept the best of any style of music and merge them together in our concerts, which, due to the variety of styles and different tunings, put the concert-goer through a transformation, so radical to normal experience, that it is felt as a festival; and therefore, I treat microtonality as its discipline, a unified field theory in which all music can be considered microtonal. I say that because twelve-tone equal temperament as a conventional tuning is microtonally different from what exists in nature as the overtone series. I say this, because the human biological ear, cannot by itself dissect any interval into two equal parts (non-rhythmical-ly). I say this because if a human being can learn to hear twelve equal divisions of an octave, they can learn to hear anything, since that is one of the more complex systems that has ever been devised on the planet.
ROVNER: Due to the recent changes in Russia in the last ten years, there has been an increased interest in the "forgotten generation" of Russian avantgarde composers, who were prominent in the musical scene in the first three decades of this century, but who were suppressed by the Soviet regime in the late 1920s and early 1930s - the ones who remained in the Soviet Union, became musical "incognitos" while others have emigrated to the West, and had a better fate than their colleagues remaining in Russia but still did not achieve their due success and remained unduly unnoticed, except by a limited number of followers. One of the composers - Ivan Wyschnegradsky, you have performed many times in your Festival. Could you tell us, how did you discover and become involved in the music of Wyschnegradsky, where did you hear of him, obtain his music, and what place does he hold in your repertoire? What is you opinion of and attitude towards him?
CLARKE: Wyschnegradsky represents the very end of the Romantic period of music and the transition into 20th century modernity. One of his earliest oeuvres - his symphony "The Day of Existence" or "LaJournee de l'Existence", which features vocal music set to poetry in French, with full orchestra, written in 1917, remained unsatisfactory to him in style. He narrowed his ambitious aims down to writing a meditation with two of its themes, making an arrangement of them in 1918 for cello and piano. I have performed this work a number of times in several concerts and have recorded on compact-disc - in an arrangement from his cello and piano version into a version for bassoon and piano: in this case I perform it on the bassoon, playing third-tones and sixth-tones, which are prominent in this piece. These microtones are so intuitively placed with the overall texture of the cello (or bassoon) and piano, that many listeners do not hear them as anything unusual or different; they perceive the performance of the piece just emotional playing in a true Russian character. One of the positions that Wyschnegradsky has, in the realm of the entire microtonal repertoire, other than one of the founders, is that of a Russian composer: in how his music is expansive, in how it is often rhythmically steeped in the Russian language. We have performed "L'Evangile Rouge" together with pianist Joshua Pierce, a faithful member of my ensemble. "L'Evangile Rouge" is a song cycle for soprano and piano. It has a French title, along with French titles of the poems, since he wrote it in Paris, however it is sung in Russian, since it is set to Russian poetry. In our case, I play the vocal line on the bassoon with the piano accompaniment. As a bassoonist, I play everything I can lay my hands on by Wyschnegradsky. His music is extremely emotionally rewarding, and mostly, audience friendly - with a few exceptions: there are some later pieces of his which are more complex and dissonant, probably as a result of the influence of the new French music of the 1940s and 50s on him - after living in Paris for so long he did end up acquiring "some French stylistic traits into his music. He, on the other hand, influenced the new wave of French composers at his time, to the degree that quarter-tones are now common in most contemporary French compositions: I would think that this is quite clear that it is due to Wyschnegradsky.
ROVNER: There has been a slight controversy between Ivan Wyschnegradsky and Alois Haba, concerning the legacy of which one of them came up with the quarter-tone system first. What is your opinion of the matter and which of the composers do you prefer and consider a greater figure?
CLARKE: I am aware that Mr. Wyschnegradsky was a bit bitter about accolades that Mr. Haba was receiving about his allegedly first ventures into the realm of microtonal music. The controversies that surround pioneering figures are common and regularly abound. Most recent in New York has been the issue of Charles lves revising of the dates of when he wrote certain works and making certain revisions of the works themselves, with the accusation, that he was trying to appear earlier, ahead of his time in his modernistic discoveries than lgor Stravinsky or any of the other twentieth century pioneers. I am sure that this is not an important issue at all and I rarely have thought about it, except as to mention the fact that Mr. Wyschnegradsky did do a radio interview in California, which I have heard - it is a valuable historical document by now. Listening to that interview, you can sense in his voice his bitterness about the fact that he did not feel that he was given enough credit for his discoveries. I think it has more to do with the spheres of influences that certain countries have with each other: Russia and France had a closeness to each other at times similar to that which the Czechs had with the Germans, at least for a time in history. To my knowledge, Mr. Haba was a sweet man who did his best with all the capabilities that he had. As far as to answer, whom I prefer personally as a composer, I would say that each composer has reached height peaks at certain times and neither was completely consistent in his quality. But I must say personally, that I prefer the emotional Romanticism of Wyschnegradsky to the dry, intellectual athematicism of Haba.
ROVNER: Have you had much contacts with the sources and archives where Wyschnegrad-sky's music is located? Could you tell us about the Wyschnegradsky Society in Paris?
CLARKE: Yes, the Wyschnegradsky Society in Paris contains figures like Michel Elenberger, pianist Martin Joste, Claude Baliff, who is a composer teaching at the Paris Conservatory took the range more recently, as well as Alain Banquer, another composer from the Paris conservatory, who has been connected for a while. I am sure Boulez is listed somewhere in the letterhead of the society. These are all people who are spiritually connected with the Wyschnegradsky legacy in Paris and in France, and are committed to upholding his tradition. They have regular meetings of their society as well as a newsletter, letting all those, who love Wyschnegradsky, mainly in Paris, know about performances of Wyschnegradsky. Performances of his music occasionally occur, thanks to Wyschnegradsky enthusiasts, most frequently in Canada, the United States and Japan; there have had been performances occurring in Austria and Italy as well, within recent years. The Arditti Quartet recorded an entire CD of Wyschnegradsky's String Quartets, for that matter. I have received music by Wyschnegradsky from various sources: Bruce Mather, composer from Montreal, was the person who gave me the score of the "Meditation"; Rudolf Zeiler of Munich was able to give me a number of Wyschnegradsky works; Martin Joste has given me a number of works, and I have had to honor to met and speak with the son of Wyschnegradsky, Dmitri Vichney: he has changed his name. Norman Brottbeck has also made it possible to receive certain Wyschnegradsky works. One can say that there has been a worldwide sharing to promote Wyschnegradsky.
ROVNER: Have you had much contact with other performers of Wyschnegradsky's music, either here in the U.S. or in Europe and could you name any? One memorable performance of Wyschnegradsky's music which I have attended, was when the Arditti Quartet came to Moscow in September 1993 - one of the works that they have performed was Wyschnegradsky's 3rd String Quartet. Do you know of any other performers? Are you in contact with them?
CLARKE: There have been several and even continuous microtonal festivals sprouting out throughout the world. There is the Eckmelscher Festival which occurs once every two years in Salzburg, Austria, and they perform Wyschnegradsky's works there, regularly. There have been several performances in Amsterdam by the group "Prospekts" which may still be or may not be in existence any longer - they did some music by Wyschnegradsky. There was a festival in Graz, Austria, which focused on Wyschnegradsky's music, a one-time microtonal festival; and I have heard of some performances that have been happening in Japan. In the United States - nothing, except for what we do, to my knowledge. Even when the Arditti came to New York, they never played Wyschnegradsky. I have just recently heard of a ballet that Wyschnegradsky has completed: it has never been performed. That's what I am looking into now. These works have to be performed more often.
ROVNER: Even though Wyschnegradsky did not totally "make it" in achieving his due success in the repertoire of 20th century music, still he enjoyed some limited success. Even though he was a little "old" to mix with the avantgarde generation of the 1950s and 1960s, still many contemporary composers, among them, Pierre Boulez, to name one, held him in high esteem and said some very god things about him. How would you compare Wyschnegradsky's microtonal discoveries with the discoveries of the later microtonal composers, many of which you have performed in your Festival, including those of your own generation? Is he "old-fashioned"?
CLARKE: Wyschnegradsky.just like Beethoven, went through several stylistic periods, since he had lived a long life, which are very easy to distinguish. The same can be said of Schoenberg and many, many other composers. He went through a first period of rich, non-microtonal Romanticism, then he had a big sweep in several of his orchestral works to his microtonal style. In his early microtonal phase, Wyschnegradsky focused on it, in a way, as many other pioneers of microtonality did, in a rather pedagogic manner: these composers had to learn to hear new sounds, they had to learn the new materials of the new technique, they had to learn how to control and master them - it was not enough to be enthusiastic. Wyschnegradsky has written a notable Manual on Quarter-Tones, a very well-though-out work which was published in French - it was translated into English by microtone specialist, Ivor Darreg: I have had a copy of it for 15 years now. This is another way that he became a big influence on composers in France, since he actually wrote a theory work on microtonality. Uneducated people could laugh at somebody who heard foreign tones, at the very idea of it. In fact, only this year, in 1994, D.W.Griffiths of the New Yorker Magazine, mentioned Wyschnegradsky in one of his reviews as "crazy", to which I responded with a protesting letter to the editor. Unless there is something I don't know, he did not suffer from a medical condition, and he was rational, logical, and brilliant composer, and the use of such a pejorative word as "crazy" on such an individual, due to that person's work being microtonal, or even avantgarde, is improper in a publication of that stature. I would not say that he didn't "make it" in his due success. He was successful enough the degree that he has influenced most of the contemporary composition scene France, in the fact that so many modern French composers use microtones frequently in their compositions. That is a main foundation to Mr. Bouiez's support for him, as I suspect, because other than that he was not too supportive of Wyschnegradsky -just as he was not supportive of Stravinsky in his earlier years and then retracted his disapproval, to become the conductor the famous recording of the Cleveland Symphony of the Rite of Spring, which everyone in New York considers as the definitive version of the Rite of Spring - done by a man who has picketed Stravinsky when he was a youth.
ROVNER: Of course the quarter-tone scale, although new and fresh in its own time, must appear quite "simple" and "basic" as compared to the recent developments in the field of microtonal music - among them 3rd tones, 6th tones, 31-equal tempered scales, 43-equal-tempered scales, other exotic scales used in Harry Partch's music, as well as the "modal" system of combining all the possible scales and divisions of microtones into a musical composition, without even sorting them into scales. Does Wyschnegradsky's music and harmonic discoveries seem to be old-fashioned and out-of-date compared to the recent developments in microtonal music, or does he continue to hold his esteemed position of a "father" of microtonal music, without whose help none of the other later microtonal discoverers could have made their appearance?
CLARKE: I have neglected to mention the later period of his life about which you are now asking about. His "Meditation" from 1918, with his sublime usage of quarter-tones and sixth-tones against the twelve-note equal piano is a landmark of early microtonal writing in its inventiveness and inspiration. That piece in itself raises him to the high level of one of the five pioneers of microtonal music in the 20th century, all of whom started schools or even second or third generations at this point who worked together to do more independent things. Wyschnegradsky did not only write quarter-tones in his music but sixth-tones. He also did do a third-tone piece after going to visit ... in the Netherlands to hear a 31-tone organ. He himself explored a great degree past the domain of quarter-tones, beginning from his earliest microtonal pieces and certainly advanced even farther towards more complex scales in his later period. The quarter-tone is indeed limited - it merely doubles your conventional twelve and provides "neutral" intervals, notes between major and minor, such as 3rds and 6ths, but does not go a long way past these functions. There are so many other ways to fill up a beautiful succession of tones, whether vertically or horizontally. How does he stack up in the field of microtonal music? He certainly stacks up as well as Alois Haba, Julian Carillo and Harry Partch, in his position of a pioneer in the field. Next after these in importance, one could also name Mordecai Sandburg, as another important figure, as well as David Adrian Bocker. One should also name, among the followers of the tradition, such figures as Richard Stein and Molandorfin Germany and Ivor Darreg in California. Then there are many, many people who are involved with microtonality as instrument builders, as theorists, as journalists, as electronic wizards, of course as performers and composers, as editors, musicologists; there are microtonalists in almost every sphere of persons, down to diamond-cutters or people who work with micro-biology, all the people who are really closely examining the phenomena of nature. Ultimately, there are microtonalists who are pure listeners, the growing audience members, who follow the concerts of microtonal music from one to the next.
ROVNER: What other Russian microtonal composers did you perform in your series? You have performed Gubaiduina's bassoon duet and have included a few pieces for violin and piano by Maria Koval. Could you tell us about these pieces as well as any other Russian pieces?
CLARKE: I concur with Leighton Kerner of the Village Voice that Sofia Gubaidulina is a peerless composer from Russia. She is the composer that I enjoy the most listening to, and concurrently, it is not perhaps a coincidence that Ms. Gubaidulina is a master of using microtones. Her "Duo for two bassoons" is, without question, the best piece for two bassoons I have ever performed. I have played it in Seattle and New York and I hope to perform it in further concerts. I especially love the second bassoon part in fact because it forms a wonderful bass part for the first bassoonist, who has probably never played microtones before. Maria Koval I became familiar with through a violinist in Hamburg, Germany, Michael Kollars; as he was coming from Germany to perform in New York with the American Festival of Microtonal Music, he told me about her and her music, and that she had already written two works for him, microtonally, just as a suggestion for me to place on the program. We performed her pieces for violin and piano in a festival in Trenton, New Jersey, consisting of three microtonal concerts; her music was very well received. I look forward to more performances of microtonal works by Russian composers; they have been quite successful as of yet, so far.
ROVNER: Since you are a composer as well as a performer and promoter ofmicrotonal music, tell us about some of your own compositions
CLARKE: My music is usually improvisatory at least to a degree that much of music of the last 150 years has taken improvisation out, for me it is an important ingredient to the success of a composition. My compositions, as a rule, have many different microtonal scales and tunings, used interchangeably. I rarely if ever write a piece in one scalar tuning - in fact I have probably never done so. The case could be made that every piece is moving from tuning to tuning, which is a higher level for me, than moving from scale to scale. Within any tuning there are many scales, which makes composing for me almost like playing three-dimensional chess. All of my music, increasingly as time goes by, uses tunings that have been created "artificially", that are not based on any other tunings previously used before. The thing which is both surprising and exciting is that new tunings continuously keep coming up. I have just finished a piece four days ago, for solo bass, in three movements, the first movement is in six-isometric seven, which means I am taking six-equal-temperament and seven-equal-temperament and placing them on top of each other, so that they both start on the same first note. Then what you have is a twelve-tone scale, which is symmetrical but has no tonal fifth - it could be, perhaps, ideal for serial procedures, although that is not my interest. Another new means ofmicrotonal tuning is having the golden mean of the octave spirally, which is the second movement of the same piece. Another means is using quadratic primes, which I do in another piece, where I am using eighth tones. And so forth - it just goes on and on, the ways that you can split up an octave. However I do recognize the octave as my unit or anchor in this measureless sea of microtonal possibilities.
Although for a certain amount of time we have to grow up with quarter-tones, but they are, as I observe, rather limiting. According to my observation, every composer who used them at first, eventually went on to something more advanced, despite the fact that some of the best microtonal war-horses are written in quarter tones. Among these one could mention, for instance, lves' Three Piano Pieces in Quarter-Tones, Haba's opera "The Mother", as well as some of Wyschnegradsky's earlier String Quartets. Recently, I came up with the idea of a tuning that I have only used in a very small way: there's a tuning that we call harmonic thirteen; those who know what just intonation is, could see it as a tuning in a scale derived precisely from the overtone series. Usually we speak of the just intonation, mode, we speak of limits based on the number of the overtone series that you stop and to which you limit yourself. So thirteen limit mode would be using notes that are made out of numbers in ratios, that are divisible by a number smaller than thirteen. This tuning does that much better: harmonic thirteen means that every note is made up of a ratio, that is in fact, a multiple of thirteen. So instead of calling it thirteen-minimal, we call it harmonic thirteen.
ROVNER: What are your plans for the future, for the Microtonal Festival and for any performances ofWyschnegradsky's music on it?
CLARKE: I have mentioned earlier that I have discovered a ballet by Wyschnegradsky, which I want to look into the possibility of programming. I am looking forward to performing longer works of microtonal music, since some really fine works have been building up which need to be performed, including works of Julian Carillo and Charles lves, and many other works, sadly neglected. I look forward to requests to hear Wyschnegradsky: I would be very happy to perform any work that anyone would request to hear by Wyschnegradsky, if we could only receive what is only basic for living and still maintain our professional level.