Although, in the Introduction we will be looking at three loosely divided periods of composition, there are certain general aspects of the music arising from concerns that span all three periods that I would like to explore with you first.
Much of this discussion is derived from discussions with Pleskow as teacher and as friend that go back to about 1963. When I can attribute exactly, I do; otherwise, the reader must understand that what I say is my understanding of what Pleskow has written and has said. As to the authencity of what I say regarding Pleskow's music I can only say that it is a product of those experiences as well as my own personal and independent understandings and observations of the scores themselves. As Pleskow laughingly said to me, "I'm not an authority on my own music."
It is not my purpose to adulate; it is merely to explicate and display the structure I see in the scores of a composer whose work I believe will occupy an important place in any continuing Western musical legacy.
The first, and overarching aspect of Pleskow's music has to do with history. One may place Pleskow's music as Post Webernian, both chronologically and stylistically; this particular taxonomic placement is no great acheivement, in fact it is rather obvious. The import of history is that his compositions not only progress from the current time in a logical way in musical development, but also that in it's writing it displays and incorporates a full awareness of the full expanse of musical evolution. Furthermore, this music derives not only from a sensibility of musical history, but also from a sensibility of literature and graphic arts and their histories which are inextricably intertwined with those of music.
More specifically and dynamically, Pleskow's music emerges, not from the personal solutions of problems posed by atonality that were solved by Webern, but more from a revisitng of those problems as well as from the further problems that those very solutions created. More on that specifically later.
[A Truly Brief Outline Of The Conceptual History of Music]
As an aside:
Sometimes it is fortunate that every solution to a problem generates yet more problems, thus not quite solving the problem. Socially this is a horror; musically, mathematically and scientifically it is a fecund serendipity, which provides that successors may safely graze.
A well defined style addressing the post Webernian problems (addressed here) merged early in Pleskow's music and which spans all his works. Part of this style is a consciousness of the history of musical literature that has gone before; part is simply his own personal nervous system expressing itself in making those intuitive choices for which there are no external criteria. You might say simply that he found his voice early in his composing. Looking at the earlier pieces, it would be very hard to argue that even there the work is derivative or imitative. Considering that that that early works of Beethoven and even Webern were quite derivative, this is somewhat astonishing.
That there is a consciousness of and a building upon for example the works of Anton v. Webern did not lead to imitation; while Webern sits at a pinnacle of refinement in dodecaphony, Pleskow's consciousness of the circulation of twelve tones does not use this constraint. There is an old interesting dictum of Goethe that "immature artists imitate; mature artists steal". This penetrating witticism doesn't mean, nor does it really purport to mean to extoll stealing in the sense of plagiarism, rather it means to take an underlying idea freely from someone else, transform it, and make it your own, something that expresses you. In this sense Pleskow matured very early on in his work since he has taken the underlying ideas running like threads through the fabric of the history of Western music, and extended, transformed and combined them in his own personal way, and in so doing expressed solutions to the problems and concerns that face any living composer.
While Pleskow has said that his music is not a personal music, from his internal musical voice or the music itself, this music possesses and expresses an overall cohesive personality. Were his name not on a score, I would know instinctively that he was the author, in a way that is no different from listening to some piece of baroque music, and knowing that the work was by J. S. Bach and not some lesser composer. A better, and perhaps simpler analogy perhaps is the instant recognition of a friend's voice on the phone, though you may not have spoken for years.
Let us get a little more specific on the matter of concerns and background ideas against which the music is expressed.
Exploration of all the values of all the parameters of musical space:
There is in the background of all Pleskow's work an acute awareness of vast expanse of this musical space that is created by all of the musical parameters that define this space. I'll stress at this point that Pleskow is not a mathematician and does not, as many post webernian composers do, indulge in express mathematical manipulations or the formal serializations of any musical parameters. If and when it may appear that way, it is "merely" a result of a finely detailed and refined musical intuition and sensibility that is very pitch oriented.
Stravinsky once said that the semantics, or meaning of music is "the dramatic unfolding of itself" [Stravinsky 1942]. In understanding this, I place an especial emphasis on the word "dramatic"; without that element, music becomes a mere calculation of some sort better suited to the joys of mathematics. While that can indeed be a joy, it is not music, it is mathematics; the two should never be confused. Whether or not one can hear this drama has very much to do with the individual, but also as much to do with the comminalities of human nervous sytems. There is drama in the works of Webern, but it is an intimate drama where voices whisper; powerful secrets can be whispered, and the inattentive can miss out because of their prejudiced ears. Where Webern explores complex dramas of whispers, Pleskow explores full ranges of possibilities with equally complex subtleties. This uninhibited Bacchanalian exploration of possibilities combined with an Appollian restraint embodied in the tying together of the words and statements in Pleskow's music through a high density of relationships, interrelationships and cross relationships is precisely its dramatic structure.
If one listens carefully, one aspect of the continuing drama is the everpresent tension between the exploratory and aspects and the sense and sensibility of the structure.
The explorations and interrelationships are internally created through Musical parameters: pitch loudness rythm pulse densities tone activities - voices multiplications of pitch in orchestration tone color
These are all
applied to or involve events and activities separately - and in the aggregate.
fractal like organization
relating the smallest structures to the largest structures that is typical
of the finest composers.
See also my essays on
[Music as Language]. [Problems for Postwebernian Composers]
Email me, Bill Hammel at