Back Alleys of Music

“Like Beethoven in the Grosse Fugue, Gesualdo turns to exploring the back alley o his system, leaving it to those who care to do so to retrace his steps”.

That’s Susan McClary comparing Carlo Gesualdo’s late madrigals to Beethoven’s op. 133 string quartet.

What’s interesting about her remark is the idea of back alleys for systems of music; a place where a form is taken to its limits. Perhaps not so much taken to its limits but somewhere unexpected, strange, and startling.

Forms are labyrinths in disguise. While simple or straightforward in concept, all it takes is for some slight detour to open up new alleys for exploration.

In this sense, musical forms are not rigid but organic, always expanding. How refreshing!


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