Entrevista a Evgueni Zoudilkine / Interview with Evgueni Zoudilkine
EDUCATION AND CAREER
I began to compose and to study composition during the Soviet period, or rather, in the times of Communism. I consider the first period, shall we say, - the “traditional” period, because, at the time Russia was closed. Or rather, for example, I knew Stockhausen’s or Boulez’s music when I was nineteen or twenty years old. Before that, I knew Bartok, Messiaen, Webern well,… but besides this I knew nothing.
I was lucky, one of my teachers was Edison Denisov, who travelled a lot and had many scores at home. He gave classes on “The History of the Music of the 20th century” and we used to listen to a lot of contemporary music, but when I was nineteen or twenty years old. I consider the first period “traditional” because I was very much influenced by the music of Bartok, Shostakovich and, perhaps, Debussy. And the first works I composed (for example, the Quartets, the “Concert for Violin and Orchestra”, the “Sonata for Piano” and vocal music) are fairly influenced by these composers. I consider this the “traditional period” in my creation. More or less four or five years before arriving in Portugal, my language evolved considerably. Or rather, I think that this was perhaps the more “experimental” period of my life, because at that time I composed a few works where I did not use bars, I did not use traditional notation, many special effects. For example, already in Portugal, one of the works I composed in the first years is called “Vocalise”, has this type of writing, and I think that it is possibly one of the works of the vanguard, [in my work as a composer].
I came to Portugal in 1993. I was invited by Luís Cunha, who created a professional school of music in Estoril. There were three courses in this school: the first course was the “Instrument” course, and then there was “Theory and Composition” and the third course was “Instrument Construction”. I was invited to give classes in the Composition course. We had disciplines such as “Free Composition”, “Composition Laboratory”, “Analysis”, well, that circle of important themes for Composition. I gave classes until 96, and then, in that year I went after a vacancy for Composition Teacher here in Aveiro, I started as assistant and I have been here for 9 years now. I then did my Doctorate on the orchestral music of Jorge Peixinho, which I took 5 or 6 years to do, because I did it in Portuguese and, of course, it was quite difficult. On the other hand, as there was no material on the music of this composer, I analysed all of his work and then I only used a part of the analysis I had done.
I have really a lot of material on Jorge Peixinho’s music, and, for example, I think that I used only a fifth of it for my Doctorate. Or rather, I only used the works which I consider to be the most important in Jorge Peixinho’s artistic career.
For me, composition is a way of expressing the sentiments, and I may perhaps be a little “traditional” in this aspect. Because I think that composing just to compose and to create abstract structures is to make science rather than music. And for me, music, shall we say, sonority, is like words; for example, a poet, a poet expresses ideas and feelings, just as music can. Therefore when I compose, I have a very free manner of doing so. There are sometimes moments when I see that I have to stop and look, because it seems that... there is something wrong! I then compose in a very strict way, always using a certain structure and I don’t deviate from that. Then, an idea comes up and I try to balance it with the material I already have and I can, again, continue the composition in a more intuitive way. Because, of course I always have the structures I use at the beginning in my head and I cannot forget them, because the music evolves and I cannot, for example, stop this evolution and begin other material which has nothing to do with the initial material.
For example, what happens with Mahler’s music, who is one of my favourite composers and by whom I am somewhat influenced these days, there is always an idea. For example, the 9th Symphony, where we have the last movement which is Adagio and which, shall we say, is the main movement. All the previous movements gradually lead to that Adagio. And we understand, step by step, what it is that the composer wants to transmit. This “idea” in music, seems very important to me. By way of example, I have a work which is called “Motum Contrarium” for violoncello and double bass. The idea of this work is, shall we say, a little extra-musical. Both of these instruments is a character. And the work begins in a very high register, in which the double bass has a melodic function and plays, shall we say, from a higher register than that of the violoncello. Then, little by little, they create a very dense counterpoint, and descend down to the low register. And in this process, the violoncello gradually predominates; or rather, predominates in the melodic sense. It begins to interpret the more melodic material and the double bass then goes on to have the function of a special effect. Little by little they descend to a very low register in which they then also, at the end, use scordatura. This idea is extra-musical, but when someone hears the music they feel that there is something leading the material. Or rather, from the beginning to the end it is a piece in which there is an idea, there is a form, there is a structure. The existence of the idea is, for example, one of the things we see in Ligeti’s music, which I like a lot and who is also a composer who has influenced my work. For example, even in the Quartet no. 2, a quartet which uses a lot of special effects, there is always the idea. Or, for example, in Lutoslawski’s music, which I also like, it is the same thing. For example, we can have the image of a Sonata form, there is no Sonata form, but there is an image in the way he creates and conducts the material. I even analysed, for example, his Symphony no. 2, the first movement, and I analysed it as a Sonata form, although the material is not traditional. And why did Lutoslawski use such an old form now? Because based on this form the composer can transmit ideas. If anyone has something to say, it can be said within a certain construction, or rather, within the Sonata form. When we hear, for example, this first movement, it is practically impossible to define the Sonata structure, because it has so many special effects, it has a specific material; however, when we analyse it we see the structure clearly.
THE CONCEPT OF EVOLUTION WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF WRITING WORKS
Another aspect which I also consider very important is evolution. I clearly remember when I was still a student and one of my composition teachers, Albert Leman, said that our work should evolve like a plant. Or rather, a plant is born and then it creates a certain structure, which is very logical and very natural. In other words, we have to hear the initial material clearly and lead this material in the way the material itself wants. This is what I call evolution. And this is why the moment of composition is for me an intimate moment, as I have to be alone, I have to hear the material that I myself have created clearly, and create a form, a more natural structure of moulding the materials. This is evolution in global terms. There is also evolution in hetero-rhythmical terms, which is, in fact, also very important. For example, from the most indeterminate structures, from the most aleatory structures, and even, for example, from the most rigid structures and vice versa. I use this type of evolution frequently in my music; for example, one of the last works that I composed in Portugal is “Recitatives for Percussion”. And in this work I used the evolution of fixed structures into indeterminate structures and vice versa.
I think that for me, then, evolution signifies that we are, for example, in the first bars of a work, and we have a certain material. And what do I do in the initial stage of creation? I have to analyse the material well and understand what the material can give. Or rather, I need to create a point of arrival for this material. Or shall we say, the material evolves up to a certain point, where it is transformed, where we create other material. I think that the most important process in composition is precisely this: to understand the direction that this material can evolve into. Sometimes there are various directions for its evolution and we have to choose one direction. In this case I do the following; I compose a fragment, shall we say, separately and try to see the direction of the evolution of this material. I do it like that. Continuous evolution... this, shall we say, also has a lot to do with an open work, it has to do with the meaning of the open work, which creates the continuous evolution, where nothing is repeated. In this sense, I can say that I have never used this type of language; or rather, for me it is important for the listener to be able to remember something he has just heard, because if he has something in his head, and ten minutes later he remembers it, this demonstrates that the material has quality.
THE QUESTION OF STYLE
For example, in 94, 95, perhaps, I might have thought about style. I used to think: “Ah! This is very contemporary, This is not very contemporary”, or “The sounds, for example, like Ligeti...”, etc. Now, since 94 or 95 I don’t think like that, I want to write what I want... For example, I had a student last year who was very concerned with the music he was writing, if it was more tonal or atonal... and we always, shall we say, used to correct tonal aspects into atonal, or atonal to tonal. However, this is an idea which no longer exists today. The concept of tonal or atonal music. If a composer uses, for example, the chord of “C, E, G”, it does not mean it is tonal, because tonality no longer exists. Just like atonal music. These concepts died some years ago. We are already experiencing another reality, therefore a composer should not be afraid of using any aspect. Or rather, he can use the scale of C Major. Although, of course, an intelligent composer will not compose “tonic, sub-dominant, dominant, dominant, tonic”, because this no longer exists, really. And the fame I have earned is perhaps because in these most recent works I am no longer afraid to compose, I express what I want, or rather, I am completely free. For example, I compose and I feel like doing something outside of the structure; I do it because I want to and I think that it sounds good.
One of the latest works I composed, “Music for violin and piano”, was perhaps the one I had the least difficulty in composing. I composed this work in ten days, in Moscow; it was a commission for an international violin competition in Lisbon, and was an obligatory piece. I had a month to compose it. I then arrived in Moscow and had no ideas. I knew I had little time, so I had to get on with it... I remember that one day I went out walking, and an idea popped up, shall we say, an idea which appears in the first bars of this work. Then, I got home, I wrote out the idea and continued, without thinking very much about the structure, nor about any rigid aspects. I wrote freely, during, for example, three hours. After a few days, I returned to it and then played what I had written and I thought it was fine. I mean I composed in an aleatory way without a set structure. Then I continued to compose and the work appeared, and I cannot even say which material I used, what structure or what language because I don’t know; so it came about just like that, very naturally. I tried to express a certain lyricism in this work, because I think that it is an aspect which is lacking these days, really. This aspect, for example, was very important in Mahler’s music; I sometimes say that a Symphony by Mahler could be reduced to the Adagios, because it is this that the public waits to hear most in a Symphony by Mahler, that is the Adagio. Why is it that the Adagio is so important in one of Mahler’s Symphonies? Because it expresses a very particular, very specific lyricism. And nowadays we no longer have this lyricism which “touches” people; in this work I wanted to transmit something of this point of view: or rather, to compose very lyrical intimate music, and this is why I therefore used quite simple material and I tried to configure the piano and violin well together in order to give the sensation of intimate, lyrical music.
INFLUENCES AND EXCHANGES
In Portugal I have been influenced not only by great composers, but also by my students. For example, as I give composition classes and I analyse many works by my students, I often have to explain why something is not good or why something would be better... Or rather, as soon as I look at the score, I already have enough experience to understand if something could be better...Or if it would be better to go back to the beginning?... This experience I have gained also helps me to compose, as very often the composer has the material, but does not know how to develop it and has to spend some days trying to understand the material. We can say that I, lately, pay little attention to the material and understand what it is I want to do. Something else that has influenced me here in Portugal was the music of Jorge Peixinho who is a composer who I relate to very much. Not in the sense of the musical language, it’s not that. But in the sense of his perspective as a composer, because he also only got to know avant-garde music very late, just like me. Then, just like me, he has a lot of freedom of expression and uses most of the techniques which existed in the 20th century, or even before, in his work. Or rather, he was never limited to a given technique or to a certain musical language. And in this aspect, shall we say, he helped me, because I felt supported in some way by Jorge Peixinho in my perspectives, although he died in 1995.