TO PAINT THEIR MADNESS
instrumentation: flute (piccolo), oboe (EH), clarinet, alto saxophone (tenor), horn, percussion, piano, harp, violin, viola, violoncello, bass.
duration: 10 minutes
commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University for Ensemble Dal Niente
premiered October 7, 2016 by the Ensemble Dal Niente; Harris Theater, Chicago, IL.
To Paint Their Madness draws its title from a passage of Diderot’s Paradoxe sur le comédien, an early text on the art of acting. Diderot’s ideal actor rids themselves of all emotion, instead creating a convincing and, most importantly, repeatable illusion of it. This paradox that lies at the heart of his theory strikes me as surprisingly modern, finding particular resonance in contemporary musical performance practices. In prioritizing repeatability, Diderot presages the Fordism that would insinuate itself into Western music culture, where the fetishization of technical perfection that one must prepare each “expressive” gesture at a pre-determined moment. With this piece, ideals of accuracy and expression recede, replaced with a pleasing roughness as the musical topography constantly shifts in and out of focus.