If you ever have the opportunity to hear Rob Kapilow dissect a piece of classical music, run, do not walk, to the place he’s appearing and buy a ticket. The guy is flat out amazing. Not only does he have an encylcopedic knowledge of music (he’s also a composer and conductor), but he has a wry, funny style of teaching that would make him the most popular faculty member of any school in the country.
Today he dissected a fairly difficult piece, Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, which has not much melody, multiple tone scales, and was considered pretty hard to follow when it debuted in 1893. Of course, after Kapilow’s lecture, we all understood it perfectly.
But what stood out to me was a couple of observations Kapilow made about the early modernists, a club of which Debussy would be considered a member. He said that they “valued originality above all else,” which sounds like a virtue until you think through its implications. Pressed to come up with a slogan for 20th century music (in which Kapilow placed this late 19th century piece), Rob said he came up with two short lines: “Make it new. Make it mine.”
Again, a pretty catchy slogan until you begin to think through all the implications.