The Rest is Noise

Having enjoyed the book, I have tried to go to as many of the Southbank weekends as possible and have enjoyed them too. Much food for thought: so much ground to cover, almost too much to take in.

The weekend covering “The War to the Wall” i.e. 1945 – 1990 was particularly interesting to someone who had lived and worked as a musician during that particular period. I found myself wondering why I hadn’t got involved with many of the great names (Stockhausen, Henze, Cage, Nono etc.) of the period , why having played as much Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, Bartok, Britten as the next man I had hardly come across the “Darmstadt” group at all.


Hans Werner Henze in 1960

We did once try to play a Henze quartet but found it impossible to stay in the same bar together so incapability may have had some bearing on the matter. But on reflection it may have had something to do with the fact that what talents we as a quartet had were not sought after by these composers. Our ability to play a melody, to respond to the harmonic implications in the music, all the things that excited us and made us want to practise and rehearse were not very evident in most of what we came across so we naturally moved to the sort of music that we felt we had some sort of talent for.

I pose the question: most performers spend thousands of hours learning their instruments because they find at an early age that they have an ability to play a tune beautifully, respond to exciting rhythms, make a beautiful sound etc. etc. not because they can solve difficult rhythmical problems and play notes that have no obvious connection at great speed.

Shouldn’t composers respect this natural phenomena and at least try to reward the performer with some sort of pleasure other than the satisfaction of getting it all right? 

I would love to know how Stockhausen/Henze/etc. would react to this question. Perhaps some practising composer will respond!

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Categories: History of Music

About the Author,

For more than 50 years Peter Carter played the violin professionally in string quartets, orchestras and as a soloist.


2 Responses to The Rest is Noise

  1. Dear Peter,
    I was a pupil of Colin’s at Dartington in 1968 (I think – so long ago!) and my name might ring a bell with you. I still remember you and John Wellingham playing a sonata of Helens. Your comments really resonate with me both as a professional player and as a composer. I have long been excluded from the so-called mainstream, in fact ever since my Guildhall days when I was actively discouraged in some quarters because I still wrote notes, even if not strictly diatonically tonal ones. However, if you have look at my website and listen to the sound samples I hope you will enjoy some of my pieces. Thanks to the open- mindedness of the USA I am at last being performed, broadcast and recorded in my own country and elsewhere.
    I hope this finds you well – many happy memories of Dartington and of all the quartet concerts you gave that we were so priveleged to attend as students!

    • Hi Philip
      Many thanks for your your letter. It’s good to know that I’m not alone in worrying about the way some contemporary music is going.
      As I write I’m listening to the Steinberg Duo playing one of your sonatas – very beautiful -beautiful music beautifully played.
      The DSQ members all got together for Keith’s 80th! Unfortunately I couldn’t make it – I would have been the youngest at 78!
      Colin must be nearly 90. Nigel Amherst was there too. Must be the Devon air that keeps us all going – tho it’s a long time since I breathed it in.
      All best wishes and congratulaions


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