Richard Einhorn: Yesterday Is Not Today

The Cutting Edge

RICHARD EINHORN: Unfortunately, everybody wants to be in the avant-garde. But everybody that’s a composer wants to do the best, wants to be, you know, the cutting edge in a certain sort of way, so yeah, who’s going to say, who in the twentieth century would say, "Yeah, you know, I’m writing all this stuff for an audience. You know, I just want to please people."

FRANK J. OTERI: There are composers who say that.

RICHARD EINHORN: You don’t take them seriously. You couldn’t possibly take them seriously. Who were you thinking of?

FRANK J. OTERI: To some extent the minimalists said that.

RICHARD EINHORN: Yes.

FRANK J. OTERI: And at least to some extent, Copland would have said that.

RICHARD EINHORN: Copland said that there were two kinds of music. There was private music and there was audience music. Fair enough. But again, when you start thinking about the highest artistic values, anything having to deal with the awareness of the audience is considered as somehow a lessening… I mean that was the impression that I got. And, frankly, it wrecked a lot of music making.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now we’re faced with a weird scenario. The majority of people in this country not only don’t care about Schoenberg or don’t know who Arvo Pärt is, but they don’t even know who Mozart or Beethoven was and don’t care to. This was probably always the case in history, but now we’re aware of everybody as opposed to just the educated or just the wealthy. Classical music in total is irrelevant to the majority of the people living in the United States.

RICHARD EINHORN: That’s true. That’s true. That’s absolutely true. It’s a disgrace and one of the reasons, of course, is because they were, to use your phrase, hermetically sealed.

FRANK J. OTERI: But also because this music, this wonderful body of music, as great as it is, to the average American without any musical training is chronologically disconnected from their lives and geographically disconnected from their lives. I’ve gotten into fights with people about this. Why should a kid in the South Bronx say, "Wow, I really want to go to a Mostly Mozart concert?" The comeback is, "Well, it’s great music. They should want to hear great music!" Well, that isn’t enough. Sorry. "It should be enough," they say. But it isn’t. "Should be" and "is" are not the same thing…

RICHARD EINHORN: Yeah, well, that’s a problem. Basically, by denying the present and trying to live in the past, classical music people have wrecked their ability to have even a marginal influence in culture. We’re the most marginalized, within a marginalized group. You know, we speak a language that very, very few people know. I have to confess that as a composer myself, my interest in writing music for us, for people like us, is not that great. I mean, my interest is in, you know, writing music for many other different reasons, but it’s definitely not to reach, you know, this very small, marginalized audience.

FRANK J. OTERI: So do you want to write music that audiences will love?

RICHARD EINHORN: Um, the answer is, "Who doesn’t?" But would I change a note? No. No. But on the other hand, the real question though is, "Why does one write music?" I can’t talk about what I need to talk about without writing music. There are things that I want to say that I simply can’t say any other way and they are very specific things to the people that I love, to the people who are my friends, to the images of the people that I love, to dead people. You know, to people who will live. And that’s basically it. If I could say it in words, you know, I would do it. I think though that ultimately there is a human component to it, but not an audience in the sense, in the sense of like, I try to write new music that I think my friends will love that of course I will love. But, and I think I’m savvy enough in terms of an audience to know when a piece will connect with a large audience and when a piece will connect with a small audience.

FRANK J. OTERI: So you do believe like Copland believed that there are small audience pieces and large audience pieces…

RICHARD EINHORN: Yeah. Yes, but with an explanation. I don’t think that stylistically I change as much as Copland does between pieces. I think that a piece like Carnival of Miracles,which for me is smaller, is definitely not a piece that would sell out Lincoln Center. That’s a piece though that stylistically is very close to Voices of Light and The Silence. I think that if you took a piece like some of Copland’s more complicated piano pieces and Billy the Kid, you know, there is just such a wide, disparate difference and I don’t think there’s that kind of difference in my music. I think that I’m consistent, more consistent, although not as good a composer.

FRANK J. OTERI: We’ve talked about hermetically sealing ourselves away from the past, we’ve talked about how you grew up listening to all sorts of music and playing in rock bands and how that’s affected your sound world to some extent and world music has crept in and hearing music going back a thousand years into our tradition is part of your language—is there a sound that is the zeitgeist of now in music? Is there a sound of today that some composers are hitting, that other composers are not hitting? Is there a sound that is not hermetically sealed?

RICHARD EINHORN: I think so. Yeah, I do. I think that, immediately, the moment I say it, I keep coming up with exceptions to the rules, which goes to show how plastic these ideas are. I think that in general you can say that any music will hit our time if it is somehow based on African American rhythmic traditions and African rhythmic traditions. That’s a fancy way of saying you have to know your blues, your jazz, your rock n’ roll, your funk, probably if you’re younger, your hip-hop. You have to know this music. Brazilian music. You have to know those rhythms. If you don’t know those rhythms, how can you even begin to put together a music that’s relevant?

FRANK J. OTERI: Do you feel that those rhythms are a part of your language as a composer?

RICHARD EINHORN: Absolutely. Totally. But not in the sense where I go out and say "I’m gonna write a samba." I mean, that’s cheesy! Cheap. That’s like the classical music equivalent of a rock band, you know, of Paul McCartney writing a symphony. Rather than doing a samba, you have those rhythms in your head for part of your life and when you start to write rhythmically exciting music you call on a subconscious level for those kinds of music. You know, at the end of The Silence there’s a section that is very, very intense and very quote exciting: the violins are playing octave double stops in what appears to be, what sounds like a backbeat. The only problem with the backbeat is that the music underneath is moving around and scrambling about and changing meters and dropping eighth notes every once in a while, so although it sounds like 4/4 it really ain’t, if you ever try to tap your foot through it, it just isn’t gonna happen. And it’s that sort of thing that we’re talking about. It’s that sort of awareness, that kind of unconscious awareness, the same way that a dominant and a tonic were part of an unconscious awareness in the eighteenth century. You know, so that’s number one. I think everyone has to contend with electronic gizmos. Everyone. I mean, if you’re not dealing with electronic music on some level and computers, you’re just not part of the century, you’re not part of the twenty-first century. Music is going to have to deal with these instruments. They’re very primitive. We’re talking about the equivalent of a piano in the twelfth century. That is, we don’t even know what these instruments looked like yet, but these are the instruments we have and we have to deal with them. So people who are involved in writing music today, if you’re not plugged into this, it’s going to be very hard on many levels for you to understand it.