One of a series of interviews with IMSLP contributors…
1). How did you first discover IMSLP?
Now that some three and a half years have passed since coming to IMSLP, I’m no longer entirely sure what brought me here in the first place. In any case, they haven’t been able to get rid of me. I’ve been a contributor to Choral Public Domain Library since 2001, when I submitted a set of full scores to Handel’s Vespers psalms there, and it was sometime early in 2007 when the IMSLP showed up on the radar as a similarly motivated, well thought-out and worthwhile project, offering quite different musical material: scans of existing scores rather than new typesets, and of a wider range than CPDL’s more antiquarian and strongly choral focus.
If I recall correctly, someone had posted a link on the CPDL forums offering the prospect of all sorts of goodies for download at the other end, which meant it was only a matter of time before curiosity killed the cat – but my memory might be at variance with what really happened. What I do know is that discovering the range and potential of the IMSLP website was hugely more exciting and memorable than the means which had gotten me there.
2). What were your immediate goals?
When I first arrived, the IMSLP collection was under 5,000 scores, but the site also had the US file server in operation, so there were some extremely interesting scores made available that hitherto, had never been quite so easy to obtain. CPDL, for example, was initially very bandwidth conscious, and endorsed small-footprint typesets; by the time IMSLP started fast internet from home was becoming widely available and larger multi-megabyte downloads were a more practical proposition. Thus scans of full scores – forbidding tasks to typeset from scratch – were now readily manageable. I know within the first week of joining I had downloaded some things I didn’t already have in my own physical library, like full scores of Verdi’s Requiem; Brahms’ First Symphony and Academic Festival Overture (my favourites of his orchestral works); and Busoni’s Fantasia contrappuntistica.
The IMSLP had a much larger range of 20th century works – the CPDL was often hamstrung by its reliance on US copyright strictures – so I also noticed that the hosting of IMSLP in Canada allowed it to concentrate on a different collection of modern composers. I could also see that the collection could possibly grow to include samples of all sorts of music from the past: manuscripts and original sources of interest to musicologists alongside practical editions, full scores and parts. My goals for the site are unchanged – the library should continue to grow in all possible directions of conceivable musical interest. Really, we have only just scratched the surface of the music written before the 20th century, which I shall endeavour to indicate in a following article. And just as obviously as the years roll on we will gradually claw back some of the stuff currently protected under absurdly long copyright terms.
3). What instruments do you play?
Bwahahaha! I play recorder… badly. The alternate name for the instrument of “misery stick” might have been invented with my playing in mind. I haven’t graduated to any of the wind instruments with similar fingerings, though I keep threatening to buy a cheap re-make of the Renaissance cornetto from a maker in the UK and commit atrocities on early music. Be warned.
I play kazoo… badly. In fact, the time I performed my arrangement of the final portion of Rossini’s William Tell Overture for kazoo quintet, we were all bodily removed from stage before we reached the stringendo. I was enraged (but so was the audience, it’s fair to say).
I play keyboards… badly. One time I was performing Carl Vine’s Choral Symphony and the organist was absent from the dress rehearsal, so they let me lose on it, sight-reading from a full score. Fortunately, no one could tell when I played wrong notes as opposed to the right ones…
Another time I was asked to take a sectional rehearsal of a chorus without a repetiteur, so there I was conducting some Rachmaninov with one hand and thrashing away at a cheap electronic keyboard with the other, and ended up snapping off the D above middle. I now advertise my keyboard-wrecking skills in advance of similar engagements.
I play percussion… but not so badly as to break instruments. I leave that to the more extrovert performers I know.
I’m generally rather more accomplished as a singer – particularly in terms of versatility, since I started singing while at University as a tenor and more often sing counter-tenor/alto these days; but when performing with amateur choirs I’m occasionally asked to fill in other voice parts to make up for the shortcomings of other singers. Sometimes in-between singing the written alto or tenor part, I’ll leap up to soprano or down to bass to fill in those parts; its not uncommon that I’ve been asked to reinforce all four parts (at different times, naturally!) in the same piece of music. I have won a soprano aria competition for tenors and basses (singing high stuff from Le nozze di Figaro and Carmen), but it wasn’t pretty – sight or sound.
I taught myself to sight read from my mother’s library of full scores, so I tend to treat sight-singing in a rather instrumental fashion. I take no prisoners. Especially where conductors are concerned. Conductors are the scum of the earth.
Oh yes, I also conduct… so on that subject – tacet.
4). What are your musical interests?
Generally I was brought up on a diet of orchestral music of the late 18th and 19th centuries, as my father was a record collector and had a great love of the Beethoven symphonies, a huge range of orchestral favourites, and a variety of popular music up to the 1960s – but no rock and roll though. (Well, with the sole exception of ABBA.) The record collection fascinated me before I could even read: in fact, reading the back covers of whatever was playing on the stereo was part of my education learning to read as a three- or four-year-old. My tastes now are wider and considerably more eclectic, but also probably a lot snobbier than Dad’s: I have a number of potent dislikes, which depending on how cheeky I’m feeling at the time may be less than well-concealed. My mother was a professional pianist and singer, and my own rebelliousness is to blame for my not learning piano from her, but I think a lot of my attitudes to music stem from hers.
I have a love of vocal and early music going back to the 1400s, though I tend to prefer the monumental, nascently-tonal, polyphonic music of the Renaissance to the thin, weedy sounds that look back towards mediæval times; it is no surprise I’ve typeset the 40-part motets by Tallis and Striggio, or colossal vocal-orchestral works from the early Baroque and later periods. While I do enjoy the intimate chamber dimensions of some vocal and instrumental music, I love the greater potential and range of orchestral and large ensemble music.
Concertante music, or similar music with little to recommend it other than the virtuosity of the soloist(s), as well as opera in general, tends to leave me cold. Oratorios often bore me stupid. I view Wagner as a dangerous viral infection and limit my exposure to the various “bleeding chunks” (as Sir Donald Tovey described them) butchered from the operas. I enjoy listening to and performing modern music of all kinds, the weirder and more mentally stimulating the better. Commercial pop music might as well not exist in my universe – not that I have a huge amount of time for the indie scene either. I often hear unrecognisable doof-doof noises emerging from people’s iPod headphones on the train or tram, enough for me not to be hugely curious at making a closer acquaintance, I have to say.
In terms of performance, I think it’s important to always be looking to be doing new music (either “new new!” or otherwise, old music that you haven’t done before) in your concerts as well as revisiting the “bums on seats” repertoire staples. For example, before the end of the year I’m really excited to be doing Bach’s B minor mass and Havergal Brian’s Gothic symphony – in addition to less exciting seasonal fare such as Handel’s Messiah. My most recent concert was one consisting almost entirely of new works receiving their premières.
I’m also interested in making the best musical resources available for the performance of the works: access to original sources, or as early as are still extant, are obviously hugely important for the interpretation of music – just as important as reliable performance materials.
5). Who are some of your favorite composers?
The three HBs loom large: Heinrich Biber, the great violin virtuoso of the High Baroque; Hector Berlioz, to me the most colourful and literate figure of the Romantic generation; and Havergal Brian, the extraordinary composer of sharp-edged, monstrously conceived orchestral music. From time to time I’ve paid reverence at the altars of Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Mendelssohn. Sebastian Bach and Brahms I treat more with respect rather than adoration.
Then there’s a huge number of composers I admire from the time of Josquin and Brumel onwards to the current day, and it would be both boring of me to list them and pernicious to potentially leave some out: you can check out my userboxes (and I need dozens more in addition to those few). You would be wrong to also assume if I’ve edited a score by a composer, then there’s some liking there – I’m pretty allergic to large quantities of frequently-heard Handel and Fauré.
6). What are some of your other interests besides music?
I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who and am overjoyed at its current Renaissance on British television, though I think the pace of modern television is too forced for my liking and the show lacks the charm of its 70s-era version while having much superior production values. Keeping up with it makes following the other science fiction franchises a harder task, but my brother introduced me to the new BSG, which I greatly enjoyed in spite the militaristic, American, and Mormon overtones. I don’t tend to believe in narratives where problems are solved at weapon point. Looking at my DVD shelves I also notice Peter Jackson’s wonderful Lord of the Rings films standing out as a block, various excerpts of Monty Python and The Goodies, and the surreal technicolour 1960s cold-war paranoia of The Prisoner.
I’m an inveterate reader of science fiction (Clarke, Baxter, etc), and have also turned my hand to writing: two and a half novels are in various stages of incompletion which I might get around to finishing before too many more years elapse. I follow science and politics from the sidelines without contributing much except in the way of rebarbative commentary on blogs. The upheavals following the September 11 attacks finally convinced me of the evils of accomodationist strategies towards religion, so that I no longer shrink from concealing my atheism or treating religious delusions with undue respect and kid gloves.
Living in Melbourne it is not difficult to keep an eye on various sports in this sports-mad city; I’m currently watching Australia slaughter the old enemy England in the cricket (and listening to the radio commentary, which is the only civilised option) and will have the pleasure of watching the spectacle at closer quarters after Christmas. I enjoy dining out as often as my sometimes indifferent cooking allows, being blessed with fine cuisine and viniculture here. The Devon Rex cats named Biscuit and Cheese which share my flat in bayside Williamstown have their own interests that seem to involve much sleeping, sun worship, and random furniture destruction while simultaneously being almost irritatingly cute.
Image from www.mangalakatzs.com.au