October 2009: Conversation with Composer, Harold Meltzer

Harold Meltzer interview regarding Brion Fifteen years ago, when I was in Verona, Italy I went to see the old castle museum which had been remodeled as Verona’s main art museum. I was struck by the building itself and the way the art was displayed. There was a brilliant effort made to position the works of art in relation to natural light and a use of natural material: wood, metal and glass. It was rarely ostentatious and although it drew your attention to the art, it was the building that I remembered. The architect, Carlos Scarpa, also designed the Brion Vega Cemetery and I was determined to seek it out.

By the time that I got there I had already determined that I was going to write a piece in response to the space from seeing pictures. It was hard not to be utterly overcome by the sight itself and musical ideas came to me right away. So much of what I find appealing about writing music are qualities that I found in abundant display at the Brion Vega Cemetery. Some sections were incredibly detailed, and other sections were just a slab of poured concrete or a square of grass.

The balance between ornate detail and unadorned slabs was really wonderful to me, and the first musical analog that made sense was florid Renaissance counterpoint and a very sophisticated baroque aesthetic existing side by side and reinforcing each other. There are many different musical worlds being inhabited now, and I’m privy-to some of them, and though I don’t understand all of them, I certainly understand the idea of a highly decorative or worked out set of musical materials that don’t repeat and very carefully go to one place or another, and other kinds of music which is just about being in a place.

Recently I’ve been writing music that places side by side musical ideas that have things in common, but I don’t try and relate them by way of transition. I sharply cut off a section and mirror a next section. The idea is to try and find some kind of harmonious balance among these elements, which relate, though not on the surface. Each section in itself is contrapuntal though not nearly as sophisticated as Monteverdi who is as close to a musical hero of mine as I can imagine.

The cemetery itself has walls that come up surrounding it, just under eyesight, so I could see through to the fields. There was a constant feeling of lightness and permeability, between the cemetery and the fields and the town surrounding it, and I wanted to make sure that whatever I did, had a lightness and permeability about the textures of the place and that got captured in the music. It was perfect writing for the Cygnus Ensemble which includes the folk sounds of mandolin and guitar. There are no heavy bass instruments, only one cello and no bass or horns, so the instruments lend themselves to the kind of lightness I had in mind.