Entrevista a Pedro Amaral / Interview with Pedro Amaral
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Interview with Pedro Amaral



Paris 1994


I left to study composition in Paris with Emmanuel Nunes in 1994. It was a dream I had had for a long time. In Emmanuel’s teaching I discovered an attitude, which constantly put my ideas into question. And that was very important; not only with regard to individual technical solutions, but also to the consciousness of that bridge, which exists in every one of us, between what we construct as a work and what we are by human nature. In this sense, Emmanuel’s teaching became an almost permanent psychoanalysis of my musical being, or the way in which that “being” is projected musically. The fundamental question of his teaching is: “what is there in you, which corresponds to what you have written?”. It is a difficult journey to make if we accept the need to dig down deeply; but it is extremely fertile. It seems to me to be difficult that we should be fulfilled as people and as artists without an unconditional acceptance of what we are. This is part of Nunes’ teaching. And such an acceptance presupposes a constant self-analysis, at every level.

After that, we find our own technical solutions, our own individual premises. I must say, too, that from a certain point onwards, the discovery of this individuality, with all the compositional technique generated from it, seemed to me to be insufficient. Self-analysis is fundamental for a complete command of our own territories, but I still needed to probe into a wider vision, a sort of historical map of my recent past, almost a “justification” of my individual options in a global historical context. With music, I have always cultivated an almost obsessive historical reflection. So I decided to do a masters’ degree on Gruppen, by Stockhausen, because it is one of the works with takes the concept of system furthest, in the context of serial language, which is in fact the extreme extent of musical systems (in the middle of the fifties). The tonal system constituted an extraordinary paradigm; from the moment it became a dead language, we had no other solution than to invent new paradigms, transitory, personal, and relevant to today. The fifties was a period of constant reinvention, by each composer in each work, of new paradigms of the systematisation of musical language. (In the sixties we were to witness an increasing corrosion of these paradigms, which fits exactly with western social evolution throughout that decade.) However, reflection on the serial language (which is the last relatively stable language before our own generation) led me to need to study a huge work in this context, which is the reason I chose to study Gruppen.



Concepts of time and space studied from Gruppen


In this work there is a very interesting fusion between the spatial dimension and the transitory dimension. Paradoxically, in contrast to what one thinks when hearing the work in concert, with three orchestras surrounding the public, with the sound in permanent movement, the space, as an abstract dimension, does not have a major importance in the poetry, in the architecture of the system. It is hardly more than a consequence of the temporal structure, which really does constitute the actual cornerstone of the musical architecture. Strangely enough, this dichotomy between a flagrantly obvious aspect and its almost irrelevance and place at the heart of the system, is a constant in many of Stockhausen’s works. There is no doubt that the system can be, as it is here, taken as far as possible; but Stockhausen goes even further, to a purely living and sensorial dimension of the world of sound. It is this dialectic which makes him such a creative artist.

Quite honestly, the analysis of this work affected me hugely, both as a musician and as a student, but not really from the technical point of view; it helped me, in my historical reflection, to frame my own language, but at no time did I adopt the concrete solutions that Stockhausen puts forward. Influence, when it is profound, goes far further than the mere formal or circumstantial context of the works.

After having taken the first three years of classes given by Emmanuel Nunes at the Paris Conservatoire, I did the fourth and last year at the same time as the first year of the École des Etudes en Sciences Sociales. I finished the Conservatoire in 1998, and obtained my masters degree at the same time. In fact, without knowing it at the time, I had begun a period of wider theoretical reflection, which would lead to a doctorate on another work by Stockhausen – Momente.



Momente and the problematics of form


My “theory” is the following: in the fifties the creation of a serial language results in the appearance of new forms, which are in keeping with its fundamental principles; the development of these new forms results in turn in the dismantling of certain principles of serialism. Obviously, it would have been quite meaningless to continue with classical forms in the fifties – the second Viennese school had given in to this temptation in the previous decade – Webern in particular, in a sequence of works in which we find the clear systematisation of classical forms, as if it were a demonstration of the validity of his new language, as if the new principles were being put to the test by means of the of the certainty of the canons of the past. This in itself reveals a somewhat paradoxical train of thought. But in the fifties, the serial language is taken to such extremes that it actually entails the research into new forms. And at a moment when the various different aspects of musical language appear to be reasonably well established, the last one, practically the only one that is not on a same level as the other aspects of language, is formed. Until then, in the first years of systematic serialism, there were completely no forms in keeping with the nature of the musical language and its constituent principles; there was no real consideration of form. (There are forms that depend on the text, even if there is some development, as is the case with Marteau sans Maître, which is dependent on the form of the poetry and on the interweaving of three cycles, which in itself is derived from Messiaen’s concept of form, especially the interweaving cycles of the symphonie Turangalîla, although Boulez himself hates this parallel to be made; and then there are the somewhat free forms, like those of Stockhausen of the first half of the fifties).


By 1955, the musical language is sufficiently systematised and stable enough to allow for the appearance of new forms. The composers realised that without a tonal context there is no reason for musical form necessarily to follow a single narrative sequence or a self-completing cycle. Joyce’s late-felt influence had its effect on the world of musical composition.

In the context of tonality, classical forms depended on a closed world where the key structure is effectively unambiguous and has a controlling share in the form. The tonal language (which one could compare to a fixed model of the universe, a perfectly stable gravitational system) quite logically calls for fixed forms. In a language whose terms of reference are by definition more open-ended (one could compare it with a universe that is in constant expansion), the new world of form quite naturally calls for new musical forms – forms that are in expansion, forms that are themselves open-ended. And so we come to the world of open form. However, open form – at the beginning, around 1956 (Stockhausen and Boulez) – was based on systems of integral serialism, so to speak. But as the actual notion of open form develops, so the system itself becomes fundamentally modified, and plays itself out. In Stockhausen, for example, each section needs to be so individually characterized that it requires a point of reference – almost a tonic, to use tonal terminology – that identifies and embodies, as it were, its singularity: it marks the end of the extreme relativity of serialism and its famous abolition of the principle of identity. It is no coincidence that Momente has an almost completely tonal harmonic morphology: major or minor chords, major and minor chords or diminished chords (although Stockhausen obviously completely disfigures the principle meaning of this morphology: we really don’t hear a single fragment of Momente in tonal terms, in spite of the actual structure of its harmonic material).

In other words, in the middle of the fifties the musical language led to the appearance of a new formal typology and, less than ten years later, the situation is inverted: the acquisition of this new formal typology will destroy the world of musical language that produced it. I was fascinated by this small observation and my analysis of Momente became so detailed that it ended up by being the single subject of my doctorate.



The concept of form in Pedro Amaral’s music


I always think of form as a thing in itself. In this sense, my ideas differ fundamentally from those of Emmanuel Nunes. Form in his music is the direct, practical result of the relationship between the various parts of the musical content, as they are developed, not a structural dimension in itself. In this sense, what I learnt from Stockhausen was fundamental. Not in the development of my technique (the technique of Momente cannot be repeated), but it enabled me to pinpoint and back up some of my own ideas as regards form. There are, however, other artists and works that have influenced me in this field as much as Stockhausen has. Maybe even more. Like Proust. Proust’s work is fundamental to me as a composer and at the deepest level of artistic appreciation. I have been reading Proust for several years; I stop and start constantly as if I was wandering around a city in permanent rediscovery.

There is a fascinating aspect of Proust, which is particularly relevant to the consideration of questions of form. For example, the structure of his sentences, which are sometimes very long and which need to be read in various stages. As a first reading, for example, we could leave out the many parentheses and interruptions. Later, bit by bit, the sentence acquires additional elements on further readings and at subsequent levels of understanding. This sort of thinking has influenced me greatly, not only in the structure of phrase in musical terms, but also in the creation of an overall form which is coherent with it. In fact this follows Proust’s example closely where “sentence”, “section” and the “whole” of the work obey exactly the same labyrinthine principles of construction.

For example: my work Script for marimba and live electronics has a fragment at the end which I have called Post Scriptum which is a detailed study of phrase and form in this sense. The score has a series of parentheses of various types. The performer begins by reading the score and playing only that which is not in brackets – in reading the score, when he gets to a bracket he jumps over it, ignores it, and carries on until reaching the end of the score. Having reached the end, he starts again and includes a first level of brackets. As in mathematics or in computer programming there are various levels of brackets. It is the same in literature, and in musical literature, as I understand it, the same is also true. The fragment, which to begin with is a single phrase, grows from inside, expands and completes its meaning as a result of repeated readings. In a sense what is being created is an open form. Not an open form as Boulez understands it – which provides the possibility of a variety of orders of a finite number of objects. Nor an open form as Stockhausen understands it – where the interpreter plays the same musical object repeatedly, but from different perspectives. Post Scriptum can be seen as an open form in terms of the actual meaning of phrase, of form, and of the work as a whole: as the player comes into repeated contact with the same musical objects, meanings, ramifications, extrapolations, developments are added to his understanding and an overall meaning begins to be unveiled as the result of a succession of intermediate meanings. The form opens out gradually. Sense of phrase in Proust has directly influenced my work – but there are other examples of this sort in the last sonatas and last quartets of Schubert, for example, although less generalised, certainly, and less systematic.