Alexander Tcherepnin discusses his career
BROADCAST: Nov. 10, 1959 | DURATION: 00:49:03
Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin discusses his early upbringing, training, and composing bagatelles in Saint Petersburg, as well as the influence of his composer father, Benois family relatives, Russian/Asian/European cultural influence, electronic music.
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Studs Terkel Across the microphone is a most remarkable, creative spirit living in Chicago. Sometimes we're too little acquainted with our fellow Chicagoans. He is, by adoption, Mr. Alexander Tcherepnin, who is a composer, pianist; I believe is certainly one of the most unorthodox at work today. Mr. Tcherepnin, your whole career, and that of your families' extends through about three different, would you say there are three periods to your life? Saint Petersburg, Paris, Chicago.
Alexander Tcherepnin Oh, yes. He was a great person. He was great composer, great teacher, and great conductor [in all ways?]. Prokofiev was one of his students in conducting. And he was really the one who composed the first ballet for Diaghilev who made the great hit. It started with him, with Benois, and Diaghilev. They started this movement of the Russian ballet.
Alexander Tcherepnin Benois [unintelligible] people of French origin who came to Russia after the French Revolution. And so they became [Russified?] down till the generation of my mother. None of them married any Russian; they always intermarried between French, or Germans, or Italians, whatever it is. But the generation of my grandfather was specifically known in their paintings. They were, most of them painted. My great grandfather was a painter, Albert Benois, [colorist?], and my--his brother, Alexander Benois, was a great painter of the stage, of the decor.
Studs Terkel So we're setting the two strains here; the painting on one side, French; the music, Russian, on the other side. Tcherepnin side, Benois side. And here we have Alexander Tcherepnin in Chicago. Of course, the first question comes up: small child, you, a small child in this household of cultures so fully dimensioned, did you have a problem? Your father, this, you're the son of a highly-talented man. Was there a problem for you as a son? As a small boy?
Alexander Tcherepnin As a matter of fact there was a problem, because my father was a tremendously active man and he was exhausted by all his activities. You know how conductors are specifically nervous, now he combined conducting, teaching, and composing. So he felt a certain degree that the job of a musician is a too exhausting job, and as I was the only son, he just felt that it would be, perhaps better that his son does something other. And, specifically, he felt, like many Russian, old Russian families felt, that the true happiness of a person is in a farm and the country. So he wanted to me to become a gentleman farmer. I must tell you that we had no farm. We had no money to buy one. But it was probably his own ambition and that's the ambition that he had for me. That's what I was told when I was young. But I always prayed to become a composer, for God, from the very moment that I remember myself. And so, at a certain moment, it came that, it had to become known and it came through a very strange coincidence. You know that my father, because being a very nervous person--I adore him, so please do not think that I'm saying this in a critical way--I was never allowed to play piano or to make any noise when he was at home. But I monkeyed after him when he was not at home. So I wrote scores, I composed when he was not at home and there were plenty of times that he was not at home. So I did everything and so I studied piano and I did lots of composing. And one day it was at my grandfather, Albert Benois. After a supper, Albert Benois, my grandfather, known that I was composing. Well, my father, perhaps he has known, but kept his eyes closed to this and don't specifically encouraged me to do that. Then after a supper my grandfather asked me to play something. It was the first time I played for my father because my father was present. So I played for him, as I remember this exactly: "Sarabande" from Bach's "English Suite." And then my grandfather said, "Yes, but it's a Bach. But can you play something that you composed yourself?" Then I played for him a little piece that I had composed myself and now this somehow moved my father. He said, "But, you know, I think you are a composer. So go on. Do it." And from that very moment on, the piano was put in my room and I was let loose. Still I was not there. I was not to touch the piano while my father was there. But there was plenty of time when he was not there.
Alexander Tcherepnin Oh, I start very early. I, really I start, I learned even how to write music before I learned how to write alphabet. That's absolutely true because I was more intrigued by that than by the alphabet.
Alexander Tcherepnin They came a little bit later. And the piece that I told you just, that I played for my father, was one of them. I mean, they were not called bagatelles but they were all kinds of small pieces that I composed as presents to my family members for Christmas, for Easter, or for their birthdays and I had so many families from the Benois side and plenty from the Tcherepnin side. So I always composed small pieces for them because a Russian child was not supposed to go to the drug store and to buy something for his parents or for someone. He had to produce something.
Studs Terkel And a bagatelle when Alexander Tcherepnin was thirteen. [content removed, see catalog record] So there, then, is a piano piece by a 13 year old. This is the, from the Saint Petersburg days?
Alexander Tcherepnin Mmm-hmm.
Alexander Tcherepnin Oh, followed many other pieces, many sonatas, many manuscripts that I have written in Russia and all, much of them, I left in the attic of our house in Saint Petersburg when we went to Georgia for a while and some of them I took, mostly out of sentimental reasons, with me. Now when, in 1921, my father, and my mother, and myself, we arrived in Paris and make our home there. Then my teacher, Philipp, who was my teacher of piano, at one day--
Alexander Tcherepnin Isidor Philipp, yes. One day I was engaged to play in London and he asked me, "My little one, what will you play?" I told him I will be playing my composition and before I never showed him that I have composed anything. He says, "But play me for something," and then I played for him those little pieces [unintelligible] he says, "But that's wonderful. I will make them publish." And so he introduced me to three of great French publishers and all of them wanted to have those pieces. So there's about 200 small pieces that I have written during my childhood. They are published under various names by different French publisher and nourished me for three years of my life. And somehow, I do not know why, but one set of those pieces of ten became better known than the other one. The bagatelles.
Studs Terkel The bagatelles. There's something that was said of you in the recent issue of the Paris paper, "Figaro." Philipp, your teacher, is quoted saying he had rarely seen such an outpouring of creativity from one person as from you. What of Paris? You spoke of Paris as being the most individual of cities.
Alexander Tcherepnin I think that Paris is, in that sense, a very interesting city. The people are meeting from various countries, they are coming from all parts. And, traditionally, from all parts of Europe, or America, wherever it is. Now, you remember probably, that Lully came from Italy, became French composer. But then it became also different. Like Mozart came from Germany and composed there his [French], the ballet for Paris Opera. Then it went further; it went to Meyerbeer, who became the great Parisian composer and, perhaps because living in Paris, he give more than if he would stay in Germany. Now Wagner, also, was a beneficiary of the Paris artistic climate. Now who was the fantastic beneficiary of this? It was Chopin. If Chopin would stayed in Poland he never would become what he is. But the Paris atmosphere make him more Polish than he would be if he would have stayed in Poland.
Studs Terkel Paris here works as sort of a, something chemical, it's sort of a catalyst, is that the idea? It highlights, I don't know what it is, but it highlights the nationality of that composer, is that the idea?
Alexander Tcherepnin Yeah. That's it. You see, there are so many other great dance, great musical dance. But let's say Vienna, or Berlin, or London, if you go there and live there you become kind of influenced by the average style of music that is written in those towns. In Paris they ask you to be the most part of yourself. That's where the American composers like Copland, like Harris, like Piston, like Virgil Thomson; they became American in Paris, not in United States. But when they studied there and spend their few years then they came back as great American composers.
Studs Terkel So this, then, is what you mean by the most individual of cities; the individual creative spirit becomes this particular American composer or this particular Austrian composer or Russian composer, as in you. What happened to you, then? The pieces that you composed in Paris, would you say reflected a Russianism more of you?
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes. I think I became more conscious that I was educated in Russia, that I belong to a Russian culture. And so, this, my composition became somehow more Russian than they were before. Now, if you compare the bagatelle that you just have heard with the slow movement of my trio that I would like you to hear, played by the Pro Musica Trio of Chicago, you will see the difference; it becomes more Russian, more Oriental--Orientalism Russian.
Studs Terkel There, then, you mentioned the Oriental feeling. That is, you spoke of, the Russianism came out, if you will, and the Oriental flavor. Would you mind explaining this, the two phrases there?
Alexander Tcherepnin You see, I have a specific view on Russian culture and the Russian race and the Russian development. I think that we had this Mongolian invasion and those Mongols, for three centuries besieged Russia and were the, how do you say, the--
Studs Terkel Dominant.
Alexander Tcherepnin The dominant. Now when they were beaten on the field they never disappeared. But the Russian serfs have inherited the Great Mongolian Empire. So all those Mongols who lived in Russia became gradually assimilated [of Russian?]. So I feel by that, that the Russians are not as pure Slavs as Pols, let's say, or like Bohemians, but they are already mixture with some Oriental races. And, therefore, what which is the Orient is never foreign to a Russian. There is a little proverb: "Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tatar." Now that's absolutely true, I think, that when you look--so some Russian compositions, let's say, like "Scheherazade" of Rimsky-Korsakov--that's not a cheap Orientalism that comes just because one would like to be Oriental.
Alexander Tcherepnin This is, all those themes, they are invented by him but they sound Oriental. And they are--he is at home in the Orient. So I think that what is happening, actually, is also this kind of melting pot of the Orient and of the Occident. And that's where the Russians somehow are, to a certain degree, Occidental, but another degree Oriental. Let's say, like, to put myself, Benois and Tcherepnin, I have them both, Orient and Occident, and I feel at home in both. But none of them is exotic.
Studs Terkel Thus far, then, in the, we're just touching, of course, you are so prolific a composer we'll come to later on, to the innumerable compositions that you've created. Thus far there were little touches: the boy in Russia, the young man in Paris, and we come to the third stage then, to America.
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes. Let's put this way: Because I lived in Paris from 1921 till 1949, but it means that I lived there, I had my domicile, I was resident but I traveled a lot. My first trip to the United States was in 1926. And since then I came, between 1926 and 1938, each year to play concerts here. But then, during the war, I was holed up in Paris and I stayed there and I came to live in the United States in '49. Now, how it came that I came to live here is also a little story, if you wish to hear it.
Studs Terkel Please.
Alexander Tcherepnin You know, because I was under occupation in Paris with my family, with my wife, with my father and mother, and then I had this wonderful feeling of, that came when the American Army liberated us. So far I had two great, fantastically great experiences in my life. One was the experience of Russian Revolution in 1917, when the Tsar was overthrown. I never had the slightest sympathy for the Tsar, [now for that reason?], I really felt a new era will start for Russia. The second was when we were liberated in Paris by American Army and the American Army came in and I learned to see those GI's walks, and to become friendly I played for them. It was the other great moment in my life. Now I would say there was also a third great moment. It was two years ago when I became American citizen.
Studs Terkel Memorable moments in the life of Alexander Tcherepnin. Before we touch the American phase, something else; I don't want to leave that Oriental touch yet. You, yourself have, you feel you've been in the past influenced by the music of China and Japan. Do you not? I mean, has that been an influence in your music, aside from the Russian?
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes. You see, there is a certain moment in the life of artists, and specifically in the life of artists of my generation; there was a great tendency to [the? be?] abstract in the 20s. And I was full of that tendency and I felt that's where I, perhaps, will express myself the best, in the abstract way of music. And then I felt at this certain moment, that there is something wrong; here I am expressing myself in abstract, here is the great humanity that I wish to serve, and we are separated by different kind of intellects that are guiding us. So I felt, like many of my colleagues, I felt like revising my vocabulary [unintelligible], like revising the way [how I?] writing. Now, for me, the way was that I felt that I should revise my vocabulary in [touch?] of folklore. In folklore not of one nation; not of Russia, not of France, not of Germany but of all nations. Any folklore would be welcome because there is something common for all the folklores of all the nations. It is that the folklore was composed by, nobody knows by whom, those songs existed there for thousand years and they are a body of music that has survived. And, to a certain degree, it is resembling to the human body, to the anatomy of human body. You know how many painters, when they wish to do something, they go and they study human body. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Delacroix, all studied human body. Therefore, their art was so strong because [so also studies] human body. Only the, only thing, very often people say, why he put the left eye into the right leg, etc. Good. He put left eye in the right leg. But those are eternal lines that he is operating. So it is just like Bartók cooperates with eternal lines of Hungarian, Bulgarian, Turkish, or whichever folklore. So the composer cooperates with the eternal lines, he is operating with the human body of music. And that was, for me, the way out of the abstract. That was kind of a rejuvenation and that's what I found, not only by what I have heard before, but specifically when I went to the Orient, to China, and to Japan. I played there four concert tours--
Studs Terkel If I may, just before you talk of China, something you're saying here is so important to all the arts right now, before we talk of your experience in China and Japan. It is the folklore. Folklore is to music what the human body is to painting, you're saying.
Alexander Tcherepnin Exactly.
Alexander Tcherepnin In enlightenment. Is that the idea? That's exactly. I would say that art, and generally in this I would like to insist on this purpose later on. Art has to serve humanity. It has to absorb what is in humanity and to give this back in artistic forms so that people can recognize themselves. If you love some, if you read some story in which you [will?] recognize yourself, you love that story. If you read story about some lions hunting in Africa, if you don't care for lions it is nothing for you. But if you hear this story in which you recognize your soul, in which you recognize something--
Alexander Tcherepnin Just to say about the folklore, that there is something, as we said already, similar in all the folklores. But when I went to China just for a short tour, I felt so much attracted by the folklore of China, and of Japan, that I stayed there longer than I expected. I went there four times and I study Chinese and Japanese instrumental music, folklore music, and traditional music and it enriched my vocabulary very, very much. The scales, the forms, etcetera. So, it became kind, the last step in this folkloristic period where I really felt that I have enriched my vocabulary and became, again, more human than in my purely abstract speculation than I was before.
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes. You know, like the communists say, proletariat of all the countries be united. Now I would say, that folklores of all the countries are same. Just like all the people of all the countries are also same. I do not believe in specific kind of, a good one might be black, the other one might be yellow, the third one might be white; but all of them have [lived the?] same place. All of them have [had?] the same place and good surgeon can operate on any race just with the same success.
Studs Terkel I don't want to leave this just yet because we're coming, we haven't touched the American phase; we're reaching it now. But in connection with what you just said, you once made a comment, it may have been in "Figaro," that technique itself is not important. That a Stravinsky's technique is always [changed?] but we know it's he. It's what he says that is important. Would you mind expanding on that a little?
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes. When we spoke of Stravinsky in that particular interview, I just felt this way: that Stravinsky all his life operates with the, I would say, [on? an?] folkloristic basis which ever he touches. Now, the only thing, he goes a little bit further. Now, in his earlier composition like "Firebird," like "Petrushka," like "Rite of Spring," up to "Noces," he used Russian folklore. Then, instead of using a folklore of a country, he start to use the eternal lines of eternal composers. Now, of Bach, then came out "Apollon musagète." Then, of Meyerbeer, came "Oedipus Rex." Then, of Rossini, came "Jeu de cartes." Now of Scarlatti, Alessandro Scarlatti, came "The Rake's Progress." Now of Shoenberg, "Le roi des étoiles," came "Agon," came "Threni." So, what he's doing, his approach is similar to the folkloristic approach; he takes eternal lines, but in operating them he always stays himself. So it don't, it don't [humiliate?], what I'm telling you is not putting him down. It's putting him up; that he's always operating with wonderful material. And with this wonderful material he builds wonderful, wonderful buildings. But very often people say, oh, he changed so much. Thank you that he changed. Thank you that he changed material, you know, like, because so at certain moment he start to do poetry. It's so su--it's just as great work of genius like a painting.
Alexander Tcherepnin For me he's just as great genius as Beethoven was and this is the greatest compliment that I can play because, for me, the Beethoven is the top of all music. And now Stravinsky's the other top. Those are two, you know, Mount Ararat and Mount [Alagyaz?], two facing each other in Armenia and bo--you don't know who is the greater one.
Studs Terkel That's right. And so we come to Tcherepnin now, the different influences, your growth. We've touched two other phases: the young, the small boy--if I may repeat again--in Russia, the young man in Paris, the mature adult now in America. And, again, your library, as you say, your vocabulary has broadened out, so many things. Even in instruments, you are considered today, you are [steeped in? seeking?] tradition yet you are unorthodox, too. I mean instruments; you have composed for the harmonica, for the saxophone, which you think of as a jazz instrument. Would you mind telling us about what instruments.
Alexander Tcherepnin Oh, yes. You know, there is a kind of a belief in our society that there are instruments that are lions. Now, for instance, piano is a lion; a pianist is a lion. A violinist is another lion. A cellist is a minor lion but still lion. But then there are instruments, and they are all playing in orchestra and they are just little animals that contribute to the general picture--
Alexander Tcherepnin Good. Little lambs. Now, I feel that all of them can be lions. And now, with the tremendous progress of the technique of those instruments, truly I am much refreshed to see, to hear a sonata played on a clarinet or a concerto for a trumpet, than I would hear again and again the same violin concerto played by another violinist, a little bit louder, a little bit faster, whatever it is. So that's where I felt the great interest to compose for various instruments. Now, I composed this sonata for timpani, you know, and piano and did this for orchestra and also I composed this sonatine for saxophone and piano. And that sonatine had that purpose. It was, it has to be a sportive sonatine. You know, the element of sport has something that we are sometimes missing in music. The element of sport has something that we do not know how it will end. You know, there are two baseball teams facing each other--
Alexander Tcherepnin Suspense. Yes. Now suspense; who will be there, who will? Now I felt that I will write a sonatine in where there will be compete, competition between the saxophone and piano. The first movement of that sonatine, that's a kind, like a competition of two boxers. Of course, one has to win and this [time?] the piano boxer has won. In the second there is, like a midway, you know, in a good tennis play when they just rest between the rounds and that's kind of relax. And the third movement, that I would like you to hear, is a canon. It is running; the saxophone starts, the piano follows. First on two measures difference, then on one measure, then half of a measure, then an eighth difference, and finally the saxophone escapes, makes a run but the piano [hits him in the head?] at the last moment.
Studs Terkel If we may hear this for saxophone. [content removed, see catalog record] There, then, is the saxophone. We think this is the same instrument, the same instrument played by Rudy Vallée, you know?
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes. It was a great pleasure for me when John Sebastian asked me to compose a concerto for harmonica and orchestra. And it is a long piece, [now?] for thirty minutes, but I was much more happier to compose a thing like that than to compose another violin concerto, for instance. I think there are plenty of the other one.
Studs Terkel You always seek challenges. There's something you said on this matter of challenge to you as an artist, as a composer. The art--don't you say this is not a trade, not a profession, it's a vocation.
Alexander Tcherepnin That's exactly how I feel. I feel that the artist, at least the composer or a performing artist, he should be a member of community and try to serve that community, not to dictate that community. And I, by this I do not mean try to serve, to give tasty cakes; but he is also an educator so he can try to lift the community up to him. But don't sit on a mountain and then spit. You know? Not this guy.
Alexander Tcherepnin Don't sit on the mountain and then spit. Spit from a mountain and everyone and say, I know everything but nobody knows. No. I have, I can go only as far as the community can go far. Now when we think about all the new systems, for instance, for the twelve-tone system, or dodecaphonic system, whatever it is, and when we think of the [unintelligible]--
Alexander Tcherepnin That's twelve-tone where you suppress the tonality. You know, that's very simple to explicate, to explain. First of all, there were church modes, eight church modes. Then they became [unintelligible] twelve church modes. Then, in time of Bach, instead of twelve church modes, they became two tonalities, major tonality and minor tonality. There were no other; the church modes were thrown away. And now, after the two tonalities, we became [unintelligible] tonality. I mean where there is only one now; one single tonality is the twelve-tone where you have all those twelve tones of the chromatic scale organized like a composer wish. So it is a normal process by going, first from this, then coming [to the other?]. Which reminds how Mr. Khrushchev spoke with Mr. Eisenhower on the television; one after another [comes?]. Now this twelve-tone came at the moment when we became [tired? fed up?] with the tonality. Now what comes next interests me much more. But this I think is the [unintelligible]--
Alexander Tcherepnin Well, just to say, any kind of, way of expression of a composer is always limited by the way of how his music could project and bring his message to the people that will listen to this. Now, just speaking of Beethoven, he certainly was not a [ninny?]. He could compose twelve-tone music but it would not have projected. Now, on the other hand, Mr. Schoenberg was also not a [ninny?]. And, so, if he would compose now the Beethoven-style music in two tonalities he would also not project. So I think everything comes in [cycles?].
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes. I mean, that's it. We can accept this already as [mean?], but it was not acceptable hundred years ago so each [unintelligible] produce his means that help the composer to project his ideas.
Alexander Tcherepnin Certainly. It always was that way. There are always enrichment of means and this is one of the enrichment of means, this liberation from the tonality. It's like, is similar to the plane that goes up in the air. We suddenly became airborne in music. [Now it good?]. If we can, if the community can follow that, good. If the community would not be able to follow this, it should wait or perhaps never come.
Alexander Tcherepnin I feel very much interest in jazz and I always listen it with great attention, all what was done in that field. But I am about one of the few composers who never have been influenced by jazz. Yet, I believe in great future of jazz. Specifically now, because jazz gives to the interpreter the freedom to be a musician. The nineteenth century puts this interpreter into a straitjacket; if you just play a little bit faster you are, be damned. And if you play a little bit slower you are a bore. But now, in jazz, that's not; the interpreter can impose, he can [offer? alter?] those riffs, he can improvise, just all but the music--
Alexander Tcherepnin Yeah. That's it. So that's where I think it's a fantastically refreshing medium. And when I think of hundred years from now, I do not know who will be the great person of the 20th century whom people will play. Will it be one of the great composers that we proclaim today the greatest, or will it be some anonymous composer who is just doing his good job in the jazz [arranging?] or jazz composing and who will be the classic of the future. I do not know.
Studs Terkel You don't know. That's very interesting. You, who yourself, are not personally interested in writing for jazz, you recognize that it's quite possible there may be someone in the field who may be a monumental figure in some other times.
Alexander Tcherepnin That's right. Look how music came: there was the church who produced all the base for musicians to write; church who give them technique. But then [there were?] those poor minstrels; they were [damned?], they could not marry, and they were suspected to be robbers. Finally, out of the minstrel music came out great music. Now, same thing; [are? our?] today's minstrels. Those people who do not attach great importance to their personality, [oh? all?] but they attach importance to do the good job. And now that's all what we have to do. [unintelligible]
Studs Terkel Yes. The public entertainer. And so we come to Mr. Tcherepnin again, Alexander Tcherepnin, and the various phases. There was a piano way back, [you wrote?] for the piano, then chamber music, writing for unorthodox classical instruments like the saxophone--unorthodox, generally. And then big orchestra, orchestral symphonic music, too. Mr. Munch, is it recently he conducted, Charles Munch, your fourth symphony?
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes. He just gave the first performance of this last year and then he played this in Tanglewood and I had the pleasure to hear from your station the Tanglewood performance that I could not attend because I was in Paris at that time.
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes. Here, very often people who ask me, here in Chicago, how it is; I have still my flat in Paris, I have still my friends in Paris, and I can make my living in Europe quite well, why I'm sticking to Chicago and why, particularly to Chicago, and not to New York or--because I, again, would be free to choose the place to live. Now, well, since I came to Chicago on the invitation of DePaul University, first of all, I love to--
Alexander Tcherepnin That's right. I am still teaching. It's my 11th year. And time devoted to my students, and I think that the American student is fantastically gifted, fantastically [interested?], and what more, he has fantastic possibilities in his own country. So it is not educating someone to have a very little [oration?], but educating someone who can serve his community. That's what I [try to teach them?].
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes. That's exactly; that's a composition that I composed in mind of Chicago. It was a Louisville commission and so, strangely enough, I choose the theme of Chicago as to fulfill that commission. It's a suite that has four movements; in the first movement, that's kind of a influence of the early morning, busy morning of Chicago. The second one is more like Chicago newspaper, it speaks about crimes and about all things that happen all around. There are plenty of crimes in New York, plenty in London, plenty in Paris, but it's Chicago newspapers who make an issue of this. That's why people think that Chicago is a crime city. I do not think it's more criminal than any other city, big city.
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes.
Alexander Tcherepnin The third one is kind of a nostalgic feeling, cannot tell whom, that I always feel when I'm travelling and traveling always. But I still feeling nostalgic when I come to a great town and then I am all alone. And with all those humans around me I don't know what.
Alexander Tcherepnin Good.
Studs Terkel This is Chicago, then, the second movement. [content removed, see catalog record] There's something you said here, in listening to this dissonance, you know; it seems to pause and then boom, ends, boom, like a guillotine coming down.
Studs Terkel So now we come to, perhaps, the most controversial facet of all your activities because it's the newest. Again, you have no borders, there's no limit to your horizon whether it's instrumentation, whether it's your approach. Electronic music. You're interested in--remember, question, you said you want to communicate. The artist must communicate. First, tell us about your interest in electronic music; how you approach it, what it's about. And then I'll ask the other questions.
Alexander Tcherepnin You see, the idea is that our musical scale and all our means that we call musical are somehow limited. We have a piano or organ that have a certain range and there is no other way go further, higher in, from that range, or down from that range, or between the pitch. If the singer sings out of pitch we say it's a bad singer. If the violinist play out of pitch it is a bad violinist. Because we believe in the pitch of a well-tuned piano, or so-called well-tempered pitch. Now, the well-tempered, which, by the way, is not the correct pitch but it was arranged so that we have all the octaves [here?] but let's not go into the technique. But, at any rate, what is happening there, that there are limited means of musical expression. Well, music is much more. You hear sometime--I was in Cape Cod, I could hear the insects, I heard birds. I can hear waves off sea, I can hear so many other sounds. And whenever music comes into my head, it don't come in that pitched, well-tempered system. So I have always to do a certain concession, to transpose this in a musical mean that is average musical mean. Now I feel, that this time, now to review that, to enrich what we call music by many other ways. And now, in electronic music, you have that. You can have any kind of volume, in any kind of pitch, in any kind of color, at any moment when you wish and you can construct this absolutely unconventionally. For the first time you have something that is absolutely unconventional, has nothing to do with old musical forms or old musical conception. It is rich in everything and it communicates its message. And the person, directly, it goes; or else you take, or else you do not take. Now I have taken this. I have heard the composition, it's called "Genese," by Dutch composer Henk Badings. And it is a composition that, this really gives you this ideal beginning of world; there is no one single note that is in pitch. Everything is produced by the, how they say, how they are called? Oh.
Studs Terkel Generators.
Alexander Tcherepnin So there are 12 generators and they can produce any kind of sounds that you would like. Any kind of sound that I can hear in me I can now produce by those generators. And that's what I am, actually, most interested in. What I will be working in January, in the studio of Philips and [unintelligible] in Holland and what I am going, in future I hope to introduce lots of this style of music writing into the field.
Studs Terkel New kind of music here. Of course, the question comes up, I'm sure, this is the first question I ask, is: isn't there a lack of hum--not humanity, now, but humanness? Somewhere here, is this all, is this produced technologically? Or am I wrong? Am I off on this, you see?
Alexander Tcherepnin Good. But everything is produced technologically; piano is not a human being, it's an instrument that was built. Everything was built; the trumpet was built, everything is--the only human instrument, God-given instrument is our voice.
Alexander Tcherepnin New instruments and also there are two ways; one, to use new instruments to produce--three ways, I would say--new instruments to produce. Then to use old instruments to produce new kind of music. And finally, to produce a finished work of art on tape by those generators. Now, very often they'll say, oh, what will the poor performer do? But just think, it is not so long that the composer was performer. Mozart was asked to play only his own composition. He was not asked to play other compositions.
Alexander Tcherepnin Yes, I play, also. So, there is not so far away. So a composer who will perform, I mean establish the performing of a piece that he has invented, that he has composed, is just like a painter who paints a painting.
Alexander Tcherepnin I mean, there are techn--engineers who help us [unintelligible] what we want but that's that. And now there is no further need of any further performance. But there is also electronic music who needs performance on electronic instruments, or else to compose that kind of music still using [core?] instrument but making them play unconventionally.
Studs Terkel Electronic music.
Studs Terkel Well, do you feel--this is, perhaps, is the last question we come to: the composer, the artist, communicates; you feel this will communicate? There is a communication to the audience, the world today? Remember, you spoke of the world has always a need and the artist fulfills the need of that moment, right?
Alexander Tcherepnin I feel absolutely it will communicate because it will communicate even to a greater number of people. Because it will not need, will exclude any knowledge of musical art, or whatever it is. You just listen, or else you enjoy, or else you throw this away. Now, that's no more necessity to say, oh, that's good because it's that way and that way. Or else it goes vertical on you or else not. And I think that when we analyze, every good music has a vertical effect. Unless, don't have vertical effect, no one will become curious how it is made. But if it is only good because it's made that way, or other way, then it's no good.
Studs Terkel So then we come, this is the current stage. Certainly not the last stage, but this is the current stage in the work, the creative life of Alexander Tcherepnin. It has gone now beyond cities, beyond countries to this new form of music. And, perhaps, one last thing, we hope soon--do you have an idea when your electronic composition will be heard?
Studs Terkel I think what, perhaps, is most apparent as we come to the close, Mr. Tcherepnin, as someone who is very much alive with a passion for life and his work, you once said, "I pity my dentist."
Alexander Tcherepnin Oh, yes. No, because in Paris I had a dentist, and this dentist, he was always reciting poetries to me while he was doing my teeth, you know, with this machine. And I could say nothing, of course, while he was doing this and I had to listen to those poetries. And then he told me, "You know, I am a poet. But I have to do this job and I hate it." And, by the way, his finger always smelled when he, he was not a very, but he was a good dentist. It's not my Chicago dentist, please. But it was my Paris dentist.
Alexander Tcherepnin That's it exactly. He says, "How could I be a poet? I have a wife and I have a daughter." Now, I have three sons. I had the privilege to have my mother, I have my wife, and still I do not feel that I am handicapped by doing my job because I think you have always to have the courage to go after what you want. During occupation there was no tobacco in Paris to have, good. We received three cigarettes. I somehow managed to always to have two packages a day. Now, how? I went to the concierge because I wanted this. Now, I want to become a composer, I become a composer. Whichever you really want, you will always get. The only people don't know how to want.
Studs Terkel And so, somewhere on the north side of Chicago, Alexander Tcherepnin lives, and works, and creates. And we're delighted, sir, to have you as our guest. A creative spirit, indeed. And soon, next year, we will hear your electronic composition.
Alexander Tcherepnin Thank you very much. It was pleasure to be on your station. I hear it so very often that I am so grateful that we have a station that plays really interesting music and we that can hear it all day long, you know. It's wonderful. So I congratulate your station and thank you for your hospitality.