Just realized I haven't blogged for over a month, eh? So here I am again. When I was in Indonesia last month I got another negative comment about my Rapsodia Nusantara : the usual phrase that it is not my music but an Indonesian folk-tune instead. Well, it is ! Let me tell you how it works, for the n-th (and hopefully the last!) time :
The idea of "Rapsodia" (let's call it RN since now, although it sounds like another flu virus spread by Donald Rumsfeld's company) was first mentioned by my late friend, composer Yazeed Djamin. He wanted to do a series of RN (the title was HIS idea) for me, for piano solo, so that I could have a series of Indonesian virtuosic piano works and at the same time introduce Indonesian folk-tunes in my concerts. Until then (he died in 2001) there weren't any really virtuosic piano works by an Indonesian composer, can you imagine ? I mean, those ones that could bring the house down as the closing piece of a concert. Now, this idea itself is not original : it was inspired by (what else?) Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies. If you now go to Hungary and hear some familiar folktunes, well you can be thankful to our old friend Ferenc who introduced them to you by incorporating them (or using them as material) in his Rhapsodies. And Yazeed's (and my) argument was : why do we Indonesians always end our concerts with Hungarian Rhapsodies ? Why don't we make our OWN Rhapsodies ?
Liszt's case wasn't the first, nor the last time that composers "steal" from folk-tunes. It goes back to the 16th century and maybe before. You can hear them in works of Sweelinck, Rameau and Mozart. The extreme case are those pieces called "Rumanian (and Bulgarian) Folk Dances" by Bela Bartok, as if HE was the composer of those folk dances. Now what, would you point your finger to him again and say that he cheated ?
Guys, it's not the material that counts. It's the development of it, it's what you do with the material. It's like saying "When life gives you lemon, make lemonade". Materials (it's cooler for artists to say "inspiration") could be found everywhere; even you can DEFINE a material in words (such as "three short notes and one long note" for Beethoven's Fifth). It's like a grape, which you can just eat as it is, or turn into very refined wine. And yeah, wine IS grape ! Who said it's not? So, d'you get it now that I am not trying to boldly write music which no man has written before?
Anyway, you won't say that those running octaves and crazy arpeggios are not mine, right ? You say they belong to folkmusic, and many people would be dead trying to sing them !
So, enough of that. I am writing --to be precise, trying to write-- my third opera at the moment. Usually I love writing operas, but it is now a different issue. There will be no real strong protagonist in this opera ; at least 8 singers would be a soloist in a certain moment. The difficulty is that I don't have those singers in mind. I always have this wishful thinking that my music would still be around after I die, and they will be played and sung by musicians that I won't be acquainted personally, but at the time of writing the music, the figure of the musician in the back of my head really does help in making the shape of the music. One of my greatest pleasures in writing music was when I wrote a series of duos (for violin, bassoon, trumpet etc. with piano) for the handicapped people here in Spain : it was their handicap, and their love and enthusiasm to music that inspired the music that I wrote. And those duos can be (in fact, will mostly be) performed by any musician with complete limbs of the body. So it is not about the virtuosity or genius of the musician ; it is just themselves and each of their particular way of making music. Every person is special to me, and there is always an element in everyone that makes me fall in love with them, and therefore, be inspired by them. The proof is, everytime I wrote music for (a) certain musician(s) for the second time, it always turned out to be better !