Edward T. Cone: Not Theory, Practice…

Is Anything Beyond Analysis?

FRANK J. OTERI: To take the question to the next level, I’ve also recently read this essay you wrote called “Beyond Analysis.” I’d like to talk about music that can’t be analyzed.

EDWARD T. CONE: Well, such as what?

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, is there music that can’t be analyzed?

EDWARD T. CONE: [laughs] I suspect I would have to say that if ultimately the music can’t be analyzed, then it fails as music. That doesn’t mean to say that we can analyze it. It may take another generation to analyze it. For example, I’ve never felt happy about the third of Schoenberg‘s Three Piano Pieces, opus 11. I can’t analyze it. That doesn’t mean that someday somebody won’t analyze it in a way that I would find perfectly convincing, but I haven’t seen it yet.

FRANK J. OTERI: There was a charge levied in the 19th century that Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto was somehow beyond analysis.

EDWARD T. CONE: You see, we now know that’s not true. [laughs]

FRANK J. OTERI: But what about the indeterminate music of the ’50s and the experiments of Cage, Earle Brown, Christian Wolff, people like that, and the more experimental things in electronic music in the ’60s and early ’70s? Is that music analyzable, and to what end?

EDWARD T. CONE: Take indeterminate music. You can certainly analyze it from the point of view of figuring out how it was produced and what the rules were by which it was produced, but it seems to me that’s quite different. Analyzing the way the music was written is quite different from analyzing music from the effect that it has on the hearer, or that the hearer can grasp. That’s the only kind of analysis I’m interested in. I’m not interested in how, except intellectually as a sort of puzzle to see how the thing was arrived at. What I am interested in is how it sounds. That’s the thing, it seems to me, that separates Babbitt’s music, for example, from let’s say Boulez‘s when he was writing strict twelve-tone music. Boulez’s music is very easy to analyze from the point of view of learning the rules by which he wrote it. I mean, he’s specified those and you can trace it very easily. The problem comes in trying to make sense out of your impression of the piece as you hear it. In the case of Babbitt, it’s also equally easy to learn what the rules are by which he wrote it. But when you try to analyze it in terms of what you hear you get much more of a reward because, as he has always said, there was no substitute for close listening to everything thing that you’re doing. I have a feeling that the indeterminate people, on one hand, and the strict twelve-toners, the very strict ones on the other hand, come together in this. That is, neither one of them has any interest in what the ultimate product is going to sound like. Whereas Babbitt can point to construction strictly posited as Boulez or any other from that crowd, yet his final decisions are always dependent upon what his ear tells him. Therefore when you listen to it your ear can find some sort of sympathy with his ear.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s so interesting that you say that because in general, the common perception is that Babbitt is one of those guys.

EDWARD T. CONE: I know, but this is quite wrong.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yes, I think so, too.

EDWARD T. CONE: Perle is the same way.

FRANK J. OTERI: Carter, as well.

EDWARD T. CONE: Yeah, but Carter, of course, was never a strict twelve-toner.