Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Art of Composing Music by a Method entirely New

This gem, the first description we know of "chance music" comes from William Hayes, and was published in London in 1751. Read the whole hilarious thing here. (Here's a transcription--or should I say "tranfcription"--of pages 21 and 22.)
Hitherto the Business of Composing Music hath been chiefly in the Hands of the Masters; but this admirable Scheme of mine will enable Gentlemen to make their own Music; and by a Method so easy, that a Child of Five Years may do it -- as well as myself.

Any one must imagine so noble an Invention was not brought to Perfection in a Day, any more than Rome was built in that Time; no; it was a very laborious, toilsome Undertaking.

The End proposed, is one Thing; but the Means whereby to effect it, is another. Saying, I would teach the Nobility and Gentry to Compose Music, to the great Mortification of their Masters, was soon said: but finding out the Method, was a Work of great Labour and Difficulty.

The first Thing that occurred, was the Lagado: that wonderful Invention of the learned Professor mentioned in Captain Gulliver’s Travels: which, with some little Alteration, might have fitted my Purpose extremely well, and which I could easily have got made. as now I live in a Place famous for mechanic Operations. But then, the Bulk of the Machine, and the Number of Hands required to work is, viz. Forty Pair at least, made it at best inconvenient; and in many Cases wholly impracticable. Otherwise, it would have been the prettiest Employment imaginable for those ladies and Gentlemen who are remarkable for their Dexterity in cutting Paper, and pasted them on the little Pieces of Wood: which you know is very like cutting out the Figures in coloured Prints, viz. Birds, Beasts, Flowers, Trees, Men, Women, Houses, etc. and pasting them on Cabinets and Dressing Boxes, then varnishing them over: this is the modern Art of Japanning; and was the sole Amusement of the Polite of both Sexes for a considerable Time. However, for the above reasons I dropt all Thoughts of the Lagado.
After another couple of pages, Hayes finally reveals his method, and it involves taking a stiff brush, the kind used for making splatter decorations on the covers of books, and turning the splatters into noteheads:
Stepping one Day into my Bookbinder’s shop whilst he was at work, I stood some time and chatted with him: regarding but little of aught he did, till leaving me for a Minute, going to one Corner of his Shop, and fetching from thence a Gallipot with a Brush in it: thinks I, what can this be for? I soon discovered, that Use he applied it to, was to sprinkle the Edges of the Leaves, and (with some Variation) the Outside of the Covers. ‘Twill do! ‘Twill do! said I in the greatest Rapture imaginable! and directly flew out of the Shop.

[The Man told me afterwards, he thought me mad.]

Home I went, and immediately made me one of these Machines: which for the future I shall beg leave to call a Spruzzarino; not by that vulgar Name a Brush any longer. I made Experiment of my new Discovery, and fount it answer, even beyond my Expectation. Before I give you thorough Directions in what manner to apply this Instrument, I shall beg leave to suggest a few Things as being absolutely necessary to be observed, in order to make a right Use of it.

First, It will be proper you should be acquainted with the different Fashions and Make of the Blackheaded Notes . . .
Not having a proper Spruzzarino on hand, I downloaded a picture of some splatter painting, to which I applied my trusty Noligraph (I followed Hayes' direction to avoid open notes and only consider the black-headed ones). I did this without a thought of anything besides lining up the notes in a plausible way.

Then I did another, using a bit more thought (but not too much), and improved it with some accidentals:

Here's a modern transcription:

You can listen to this Spruzzarino masterpiece here:


David Wolfson said...

Elaine, that's priceless. To think I've been toiling away by more traditional means...

Where do you find this stuff?

Elaine Fine said...

There are true treasures to be found in the Petrucci library if you poke around!