Richard Einhorn: Yesterday Is Not Today

New Music in Older Styles

FRANK J. OTERI: There are quite a few composers who in some form or fashion, either by choice of design or by accusation from critics, are in some way ignoring the twentieth century and going back into the past. There is a guy out in Lodi, New Jersey, who writes symphonies that sound like middle-period Haydn.

RICHARD EINHORN: Oh yeah. I know that, I know that music. It’s hilarious.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, you know, and there’s this whole "Derrière Guard" movement of composers who write music that sounds like it could’ve been written at a salon in the late 1870s.

RICHARD EINHORN: I guess one could say they were ass backwards.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, that’s the logo on their stationary!

RICHARD EINHORN: Are you serious?

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah.

RICHARD EINHORN: The marketing’s good!

FRANK J. OTERI: I got into a funny conversation about this the other night with Greg Sandow. He’s written operas that are very much in the style of Donizetti and Bellini. That’s what he does. What he’s doing is kind of avant-garde, in a way… It’s certainly going against the grain. And in the year 2001, how is that any less anachronistic than writing a hardcore twelve-tone piece?

RICHARD EINHORN: Mmhmm [nods].

FRANK J. OTERI: Now, in your music, that’s clearly not true in terms of the surface which is very rooted in the present tense, but the things that inspire it, the things that are underneath it, are very much a homage to the past. You’re very influenced by medieval music and you’ve written for one of the most outstanding medieval music groups, Anonymous 4. They are known for medieval music and yet here they are doing your music. That’s pretty strange. And there’re all these other composers, the Bang on a Can-ers just did a period instrument piece and it’s fantastic! These guys out in the Bay Area, American Baroque, commission all of these composers to write wacky pieces for Baroque period instruments. They sound great!

RICHARD EINHORN: Oh, yeah! Again saying something that’s probably a little outrageous, you know, the piano hit its maturity with Mozart. Then it got bloated into this ridiculous nineteenth-century thing! But these old instruments don’t necessarily evoke any specific period; it’s just that they sound great! The fortepiano is a wonderful sounding instrument. It’s the way that the piano is supposed to sound. A Baroque violin, you know, you tune it down from—what is it now? 443? You tune it down to 435 and you just go "Oh, gosh! Finally it sounds the way I’ve always imagined it!"

FRANK J. OTERI: And singers with pure tone.

RICHARD EINHORN: Oh, well yeah, of course. What’s this vibrato? You know, vibrato is an ornament. And rubato, you know… Basically a lot of the techniques of the Baroque and earlier times are techniques that make perfect sense to me emotionally, musically, dramatically, aesthetically. The nineteenth century and to some extent the twentieth century is an aberration.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, it’s interesting, the music of the nineteenth century was the music that was heard on classical radio for the most part of the twentieth century. You know, even my growing up was sort of the tail end of it. But then suddenly it became the eighteenth. There’s more eighteenth than nineteenth century music on the radio.

RICHARD EINHORN: Right, right, there are a lot of reasons for that. Bad reasons and good reasons. The bad reasons, of course, are that if you don’t listen carefully enough, the music has a tendency to be wallpaper. The dynamic contrast is smaller. You know, that’s the main reason. But there’s another reason as well, which is the whole early music revolution. You know, suddenly, you could hear Baroque music! I mean, performances, performances by people like John Eliot Gardiner and Les Arts Florissants, and William Christie, you know, those performances, that’s a completely different Baroque music! That’s not, you know, that’s not my childhood’s Baroque music. This is great. That’s what’s so exciting about it, these performances! I mean, if only people would play contemporary music with that kind of commitment. You know, with that kind of phrasing, shaping, and that kind of intonation; it’s awesome!