Richard Einhorn: Yesterday Is Not Today

New Music and Old Music

FRANK J. OTERI: I wanted to talk to you about what the past means in terms of how the present is affected by the past, so let’s start with a really tricky question. What is new music?

RICHARD EINHORN: Oh, boy. That is a good question. Um, I think the best way to answer it operatively is to say that new music is music written in the past x number of years; name the number of years that you want, or name the number of months that you want. But one of the things, you know, that I was thinking about after we started to talk about this is the fact that on another level, even something by Machaut, in some way is new music, if you haven’t heard it or haven’t really encountered it. You know, the twentieth century was the first time that you had access to records and you had access to the entire history of music as it eventually got released, which would be toward the end of the century and suddenly rather than having the demands of a certain kind of fashionable present, you had an opportunity to poke around as much as you wanted, in any kind of music you wanted, in any era of music as well. I don’t know…new music is basically just music that we write now. Nothing terribly special about it, I guess.

FRANK J. OTERI: O.K. So what is old music?

RICHARD EINHORN: Old music…Frank Sinatra, that’s real old music! Barry Manilow

FRANK J. OTERI: He’s still around!

RICHARD EINHORN: He’s still old! Who’s that guy? Harry Connick? That kind of strikes me. I guess that’s middle-aged music. I guess that being middle-aged, I am supposed to like it, but I can’t, you know. I can’t answer it any other way… Old has a connotation for many of us as being old and tired. And so to some extent if you take any kind of emotional spin on it, at least for me, in terms of a connotation, it turns out that it’s basically music that I’m just not interested in. "That music is so old." And technically, of course, it can be music that is, you know, music that’s thirty years old or more. In a sense, the seventies are ripe for the Academy of Ancient Music now. You know, Christopher Hogwood could have some fun, you know, resurrecting Berio! So, I don’t know… I think that when it gets into something like Perotin, for instance, I remember the first time that I heard that, when I was in college… I had this course in music history and Ernest Sanders was my teacher. He handed out these print outs but you weren’t ever supposed to go through them all in terms of records that you were supposed to listen to, so of course, I spent the entire time in the library listening to as much music as I could and I came across Perotin for the first time and I couldn’t believe it! Here was this music from the thirteenth century and it sounded like something that had been written, you know, a week ago or two weeks ago! It had this kind of sane, kind of strange, modal, rhythmic harmony that I’d always found attractive in the popular music, in the rock n’ roll that I’d been listening to and even in the jazz. And suddenly here it was in this, like, pure form. So on one hand, it was six hundred plus years old. On the other hand, it sounded as fresh as something that was made yesterday. So, I’ll go back and say Barry Manilow, Frank Sinatra, that’s old music.

FRANK J. OTERI: What rock groups were you listening to at the time?

RICHARD EINHORN: Well, in the late sixties and early seventies, what happened was that I was in high school with another composer by the name of John Luther Adams. And John and I were drummers in rock bands and John would join a band, you know, then he’d move on to a better band, then I’d join the band, you know, and the band would break up. And this went on and on and finally we met and we discovered that we both had developed a real taste in what was then the avant-garde in terms of rock n’ roll and jazz. Both of us loved Zappa, both of us loved Captain Beefheart. You know, and then we’d go on to The Fugs and, there was a band that used theremins called Lothar and the Hand People. Do you remember them?

FRANK J. OTERI: I know of them but I don’t remember them. I’m too young to remember them!

RICHARD EINHORN: Yeah. And then John moved down to Georgia and he found a band called the Hampton Grease Band who I was never able to find recordings of.

FRANK J. OTERI: There was only one record called Music to Eat.

RICHARD EINHORN: Yeah, yeah. I heard about it, but, like, never really knew their music. But then what happened is that Zappa, as I’m sure you know, had a quote on the early Mothers records, which was, you know, from Edgard Varèse and it got me intrigued as to who Varèse was and that got me interested in the whole, you know, the whole spectrum of modern music, contemporary, twentieth century music and I sort of, like, left rock n’ roll behind, as did John. You know, we went our separate ways but then ultimately we’d ended up actually at the same place. You know, both of us basically gave up drumming and gave up pop music and just got very interested in this other stuff ‘cuz it was more challenging, more interesting, more enjoyable.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, that Varèse quote on the Zappa album is an interesting quote to talk about: "The contemporary composer refuses to die." And in terms of what we’re talking about now, we live in a society, a cultural society, on the one hand we have pop culture which keeps changing everyday, and you know today’s star is forgotten. You know, Britney Spears is the star of the moment, but who remembers Paula Abdul at this point? I remember she was the Britney Spears of her day and she was everywhere and it’s all you heard and now she’s "old" music. But then we have a classical music culture that really tries to hermetically seal itself from letting the new stuff in. Now, when you mention older music, you mention Perotin, you mention Machaut. It’s curious; you didn’t mention Beethoven or Tchaikovsky or Dvorak, or any of these people who, I would dare say, appear on concert programs instead of music by people who are alive today.

RICHARD EINHORN: Right, that’s right.

FRANK J. OTERI: But the period instrument movement has thrown a wonderful monkey wrench into all of this by saying that the way Beethoven has been played on concerts isn’t the way it would’ve been played in his time. And, oddly, the period instrument groups…you mentioned Hogwood… are somehow closer in spirit to the new music aesthetic than they are to the standard repertoire aesthetic. What a wonderful disconnect.

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