David Gutkin :: Unsettling the Score: Experiments in Notation, Part I & II / Sylvano Bussotti :: Piano Piece 3 for David Tudor

Sylvano Bussotti «Piano Piece 3 for David Tudor» (1959)

David Gutkin :: Unsettling the Score: Experiments in Notation, Part I & II

"Schematically speaking, the experimentation with so-called graphic notation on the one hand, and text-based scores on the other, might be construed as the two dominant poles of these post-war innovations in musical notation. On the “graphic” side we might take “Piece 3” from Sylvano Bussotti’s Five Piano Pieces for David Tudor from 1959 as a prime example. The score consists of approximately one-hundred hand-drawn, rather irregular, horizontal lines that collectively form a rectangle. Scattered among and within these lines are little figurations: an arc, a parallelogram, a profusion of dots. [See example 7 above.] There are no instructions for performance. Confronted with this score Tudor, the titular pianist who made a specialty of playing non-conventionally notated, avant-garde works, cut right to the chase: “Should everything be interpreted? Black and white? Only black? Only white? All lines?
Although the entire effect of Bussotti’s score would have been compromised if he had added instructions, some composers chose to accompany their graphically idiosyncratic scores with increasingly lengthy directions. In fact, for many, text would eventually constitute the entire score. The text (or mostly text) scores by Allan Kaprow, Yoko Ono, and Dick Higgins, among others, were inspired by John Cage’s work and exemplify a shift in emphasis from aesthetic to social forms that accompanied the “deskilling” of traditional notational competence. Thus the “anti-aesthetic” impetus, and often explicitly political content of “neo-avant-garde” art practices of the period partially stemmed from notational developments that had once been tethered to the narrower field of music."

"After working on She Was a Visitor, we moved to the main event: a group performance of two pages from Cornelius Cardew’s graphic score, Treatise (1963–67). All in all, Treatise consists of 193 pages of finely drawn lines, bulbous shapes, and other pictorially elegant geometric figurations with only the occasional vestige of conventional notational symbols and no accompanying directions. [See example 8 at the top of this page.] Although the graphics in Treatise stand in no clear relation to any specific sonic content, Cardew did not intend his score to function as a vague stimulus for improvisation. He writes: “The score must govern the music. It must have authority, and not merely be an arbitrary jumping-off point for improvisation, with no internal consistency.” Cardew also criticized the purely pictorial “aesthetic notations” of composers like Bussotti."