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If Not Now, When?

By Chris Gordon

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Piano Solo, Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Cello, Flute (doubling piccolo), Clarinet in Bb, Violin, Viola, V'cello, Piano - Intermediate - Digital Download
Composed by Chris Gordon. 20th Century. Score. 39 pages. Published by Cool Wind Music Digital (S0.214961).

Item Number: S0.214961

Full set of parts: Please contact Chris Gordon at the email address on the first page of music for details.


If Not Now, When? gets its title from the novel by Primo Levi, the Italian author who both survived life in Auschwitz and fought the continued German military presence in Italy with the Resistance after the Italian surrender to the Allies in September 1943. Levi meant that revolution and the overthrow of tyranny should never be 'put off until tomorrow'. If you believe you are on the side of right, then 'seize the day'- tomorrow may be too late.

The inspiration for INNW? grew from research I was doing into an early song by Alban Berg called An Leukon which Berg wrote in 1907 while a student of Arnold Schoenberg. In delving into the kind of world which Berg inhabited in the Vienna of 100 years ago, I was fascinated by the café culture* which played a pivotal role in the lives of most artists: not only composers, but also writers, painters, architects and journalists. They swirled around the fashionable 'watering holes' sucking up current thoughts and ideas, high on Viennese coffee, cigar smoke and idealism!

I envisaged a play which tried to encapsulate all this and wrote a few scenes with characters such as Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Steuermann, Pisk, Kraus, Gropius and Altenberg heatedly discussing music, art and poetry over large cups of milky coffee. This grew into the framework for INNW? which, to paraphrase Pirandello's play about characters seeking an author, is a 'play without words in several scenes'. The piece is organised into 8 short movements or 'scenes' showing the 'Schoenberg cirle' sharing their radical and daring ideas and the shock or delight (or both simultaneously) with which those ideas are greeted.

The first, which happens to be the longest, is rooted in conventional tonality. It begins with a fanfare in D flat major ('aux armes, citoyens!'), then seeks a 'freer' tonality by means of the 'emancipation of the semitone' only to capitulate in the central section and, finally, to 'fall back to earth' by winding down in G sharp minor.

These 'scenes' are not meant to represent particular composers. They are, however, meant to represent the kinds of directions in which music could progress, given the 'breakdown' or 'stretching to its limits' of traditional harmony which had occurred in the previous 10 to 20 years. So many ways forward were promulgated, with one after another extraordinary, and often unexpected, futuristic musical panoramas glimpsed momentarily. My aim is to demonstrate which directions they decided they could head in having cleared the 'overgrown' path before them.

* I even discovered that, around this time, in the Café Central, a certain Leon (Lev) Bronstein, otherwise known as Leon Trotsky, banished by the Okhrana (Imperial secrect police) from his native Russia, would spend all day in a back room playing chess. How delicious, I thought, if Schoenberg had ever brushed passed Trotsky or, indeed, had ever spoken to him: the one planning political and the other musical revolution!

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