Book of Challenges: The Player as a Partner

A. Hajdu

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


One can look at this book from different sides. a/ As a large collection of pieces intended for performance. b/ As a research in a scientific sense, clarifying and demonstrating basic musical features and principles. In this it follows the path of Bach's theoretical compositions - a trend which was pursued by some leading 20th century composers as Schönberg, Bartòk, Messiaen and Ligeti who created musical pieces which are at the same time theoretical investigations and models for composition. In this book too, each piece can be perceived as a 'problem' and its possible solution(s). c/ As an outcome of my own practice of teaching musical creativity: practice which embraces several disciplines and binds them through improvisation. Part of the pieces was directly written for my pupils with whom I wanted to share my ideas and ways of composing. This interaction and the feedback of our work shaped the way this book is written and it may explain some of its unusual aspects. The first thing the reader will notice is the great number of open pieces. Sometimes the rhythm and the texture is given while the pitches are left to the imagination of the player, sometimes the piece stops in the middle and continues later leaving a void to be filled, sometimes just a raw-material is given and the whole task of constructing the piece is left to the player. What led me to this method of writing was the necessity of making my students participate in the very process of composition. Instead of giving them my own solutions, I wanted to create in their minds the conditions for a cognitive process which works the best in action (hence the necessity of improvisation). It became evident that for them (after a period of uncertainties and fears) it was much more exciting and stimulating to create a piece of their own from the seeds they received, than to learn a finished piece. It was also more instructive and less mechanical, for they had to grasp the underlying principles in order to realize the pieces. All this has some resemblance with the way of teaching jazz (rather “oral” than written) but I didn’t want to be restricted to one style. The liberty I wanted to give to the player goes much further than what is called “aleatoric writing” which leaves usually a very limited place for the player’s imagination. With my pupils (usually 15-20 years old) we gave several concerts and workshops – all this much before the book in its present form was written. In a later stage I began to organize workshops for teachers who wanted to be part of this experience and who continued to work with their students on these pieces after having worked on them with me. But all these pedagogical aspects and the theoretical explanations should not discourage the “normal pianist”: after all most of the pieces are written in order to be played in concert, and I had the luck to hear them played by some outstanding players – part of whom played also the open pieces! I don’t have the feeling that the theoretical research, which lies in the background of this music (or my pedagogical goals), hindered my self-expression as a composer. For conceptual thinking and self-expression are not contradictory, far from that! The four volumes of “Book of Challenges” are organized according to the fields of interest and the topics they deal with. Those directly connected to pianism (work of the hands and possibilities and sonorities of the instrument) were put in the Volume I. Those dealing with musical time, meter and rhythmical concepts were ranged in Volume II. Theoretical concepts (intervals, modes, tonality, symmetry) are the object of Volume III. The last volume (IV) concerns the “cultural” side of music: all what is carried by styles, traditions and writing practices. Types of pieces The reader will find in this book pieces having different uses and functions. a/ “closed pieces”, written from the beginning to the end; b/ “open pieces” which need to be completed by the player. In them I left only a few things missing and the essential is written out; c/ itineraries for improvisation – here only a framework and some basic features are given. These can hardly be called my compositions for each realization of them will differ radically from player to player – and even the same player. With all the freedom I left they need a careful lecture and a period of interiorisation; d/ exercises are the pieces intended to be meditated upon rather than performed in public; e/ models – I called so a piece entirely consecrated to the demonstration of a principle; f/ games are pieces in which the playing with the elements seemed to me more important than the final outcome; g/ riddles – in these I asked the player to find one – or several – solution(s) to a given problem; h/ tests – here the aim is to see how the player understands – and responds to – a given idea. As one can see, there is a continuity between two extremes going from “closed” compositions to mere raw-material to be almost entirely created by the player. But even the closed ones can be “re-opened”, their elements re-organized otherwise – as it happened frequently when I worked with my students. (But one can open a piece of any composer in this way… .) For public performance I should advise first of all the written out compositions and the open ones if the performer has some penchant for improvisation. The others depend entirely of the player’s involvement in them. When they feel the musical material as their own, then it is worth to take a risk of playing them in public. I used to give the same itinerary to different players who play it one after the other, it helps the audience to see what is given by the composer and what is the contribution of each player. I must say that it was always fascinating to see the amount of original and personal ideas my students could infuse to my germs; usually I found their realizations much more exciting than all I could imagine. Some questions The main innovation of the book (teaching disciplines as different as theory, improvisation, composition and a phenomenology of piano-playing, the whole in form of musical pieces) may create a problem for the average musician or teacher who is not always open to creative thinking and musical cognition. In a world where piano-playing constitutes a study separate from other disciplines, and composition itself is divided to different topics as harmony, counterpoint, theory etc. and all this cut from improvisation (usually conceived as a part of jazz-practice) not everybody will understand to whom this book is addressed. To the pianist? Then why so many theoretical researches? To the composition student? Then why to use the improvisation as a main vehicle instead of written exercises? And if theoretical research is the main aim why not to write a book instead of musical compositions? And if the composer wanted to write music, why so many explanations and analyses? The answer to these questions can be found only in the praxis of the book: whether it “works” and how it works. As for me, it always worked and I could see a generation of musicians of a completely different kind coming out of this experience, musicians for whom the usual divisions of the musical field to Musicology, Composition and Interpretation (but also the divisions between genres like classical, ethnical, contemporary, jazz) is much less important than all-round musicianship and spontaneous expression. I know that it was easier to form this type of musicians by myself who had the “keys” in mind. Therefore I tried to widen the circle by forming teachers who could transmit this method to their own students. This worked too, because they were still close to the first source. Another question is how somebody having no “living tradition” and who must reconstitute from the written text not only the pieces but also the way to use them, will manage alone…? I only hope that the book is clear enough even for them. Finally, I would like to dedicate this book to my pupils who helped me by playing and experiencing these pieces with me: Shai Wosner, Tsach Drori, Aharon Razel, Ronen Shapira, Jonathan Nitsan, Ronen Shay, Amit Gilots, Yuval Brenner, Avital Reshef and others. Andre Hajdu N.B. “Book of Challenges” is not my first attempt in piano-pedagogy combined with theoretical research. “Milky Way” (published by Ortav in Hebrew and English and by Sikorski in German and English) and “Art of Piano-playing” (Ortav Hebrew/English) followed some path without going as far as using the “player as a partner” in the creative process.
Original languageAmerican English
PublisherIsrael Music Institute (IMI)
ISBN (Print)9781491175828
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

<p>Query date: 2022-09-21 23:10:23</p>


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