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The quiet music of Alois Pinos.

Alois S. Pinos (*1925) is a professor at the Music Faculty of the Janacek Academy of Performing Arts in Brno and one of the key figures in Czech music since 1960, both in composition and theory, and in teaching. The defining features of his personality are a positive outlook on the world, humour and vitality, a continuing taste for discovering new things, the ability to share them with others and an energetic commitment to his work that many two generations younger might envy. He is among those Czech composers who have been strongly influenced by the second avant garde but do not reject or deny roots leading back to Janacek or Bartok. He has composed both symphonic and chamber music, and his electronic and electro-acoustic work has also attracted attention. His works have been played in concerts all over the world and have been broadcast by major stations. He has won the Classic Prize for composition twice. Pinos's contributions to music theory lie mostly in the generalisation of his own techniques as a compo ser. His work in this context includes exploration of the possibilities of interval orders and tone groups (Pinos, A.: Tonove skupiny, Panton 1971, Pinos, A.: Tone Groups, JAMU 2002), the creation of a series of pieces using general principles of composition and the specifics of team compositions. In the 1960s he himself led a team of composers and today -- together with Milos Stedron and Ivo Medek -- he is a member of another composing team, with which he has written two chamber orchestras and a symphony. Pinos's lectures and publications are also important. Since 1984 he has been a permanent lecturer at the international courses in Darmstadt and has presented papers at dozens of conferences throughout Europe. In addition to the books mentioned above, he has been publishing regularly in the specialist journals for more than forty years. His teaching, as well, deserves recognition since he has been teaching without a break at the Janacek cademy for more than fifty years. Thanks to his contacts with trends in composition in Europe as a whole, and to his personal courage, even in the times of the repressive communist ideology of art in the Seventies and Eighties he always taught in the spirit of contemporary music throughout the world. His reputation drew many students from Slovakia and Prague.

This year Pinos was awarded the City of Brno Prize for Lifelong Achievement. We used the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

Do you think we can still expect some new development in contemporary music, and if so, can its direction be predicted?

Faith in progress in the arts, especially in the sense of continuous improvement, has been shown to be a chimera, but change and development in the arts, as in the whole of society, goes on. The arts and music with them keep changing. Just so long as they are not going round in circles! I only hope that the sparks of imagination and desire for aesthetic search and exploration won't be extinguished in the ocean of technically perfect and accessible automatic sound machines and that serious, I mean "non-popular" music won't be drowned in cheap eclecticism and commercialism. One can try and predict directions in musical development, but I doubt that any specific longer-term forecasts would be reliable.

How do you -- as a still active teacher at JAMU [The Janacek Academy] -- see developments in what is known as the "Brno School of Composition"?

The Brno school of composition crystallised in the 1960s. It was innovative, open to worldwide trends in new music, took a position opposed to the ruling "socialist" cultural policy and had its own specific distinctive features, from the updated tradition of Janacek to a fondness for montage and collage, multimedia projects, music happenings and team composition. Even in the 1970s and 80s, under the hardline communist regime after the Soviet invasion, the Brno school of composition stuck to its identity in tough conditions. The composition departments of the other Czechoslovak universities -- HAMU in Prague and VSMU in Bratislava -- were conformist and conservative. Following the revolution of 1989 these other schools also opened up to the world and improved the teaching staff, so that some of the differences were ironed out, but even today Brno composing has very distinctive features, such as greater "vitality", "pinthiness", sense of humour and interest in multimedia and team work.

Is there any point in training new generations of composers at university level when most fields of incidental music (film, theatre etc.), i.e. the areas in which there is the best chance of making a living by composing -- are dominated by people without higher musical education?

There would definitely be no point at all if the purpose of the five-year university music course were just to ensure its graduates a chance of making a living by composing and getting well-paid positions.

Do you keep up with developments among the youngest generation of composers? What is your view of the present situation of young composers -- their possibilities and their position?

As a teacher of composition at JAMU I've been in contact with the youngest generation of composers at the school for fifty years. As a jury member for the "Generation" composition competition open to people under 30, every year I look at dozens of new pieces by young men and women from all over the country, and I follow their activities at concerts, on the radio and so on. What's more, I have two representatives of the present young generation in my own family -- my son Mikulas and my daughter-in-law Katerina, nee Ruzickova. If young composers want to devote themselves purely to serious, i.e. "non-popular" music and build a life on that basis, their situation is very hard and sad. The field has low social prestige, and interest in it is marginal. This means that the only young people with a hope of success are young people with great talent, enthusiasm, perseverance and assertiveness, who can manage to make a living in other fields at the same time, for example as instrumentalists, managers, journalists, popu lar composers, information experts etc, or who have a very helpful and affluent family willing to support this eccentric luxury actitivity.

The titles of your pieces are often peculiar. Your recent work for example includes "Nomen omen or 13 portraits of a snake" and "Bestiarium". What importance do you attach to titles?

The title of a piece is important to me. It is a kind of key to the work, not just an arbitrary label. It has to have a basic, fundamental meaning for the piece. The title should not lead to descriptiveness. Music ought always to work simply in itself amd non-musical inspirations and associations are a sort of extra, although they can be very important. If a title needs explanation, I won't refuse it.

Many of your pieces, especially the recent ones, could be regarded as programmatic. What do you think about programmatic music?

The contrast between absolute and programmatic music became sharp in the 19th century. Today it is not so pressing. "Absolute" music can be latently "programmatic" and "programmatic" music can be "absolute" in its musical essence. As far as I am concerned, even when I write a piece which has inspiration from outside music and I disclose this to the public, for example in the title, I always try first and foremost to make sure that the music is also "absolute", i.e. that it would be understandable and logical even without a knowledge of this reference outside music. The "rationalisation" of musical illogicalities. the subordination of natural musical development to non-musical considerations and the literary descriptiveness that degrades music are foreign to my poetics. But of course, conversely, a piece in which there is no encoded element from outside music can inspire listerers to all kinds of non-musical ideas. Some experts regard all my music as purely absolute, while others consider nearly all my work to be the result of stimuli from outside music, albeit it in a very broad sense. Both are true in their way.

What is important to you when you are composing? What gives you the impulse to compose?

For me the process of composing includes all kinds of preliminary activities; thinking through a conception, playing with ideas even when they don't work out, deciding which of the potential variants to start to write now and which later, and inspirations of all kinds, reading, films, walks, debates, analysing and replaying pieces and so forth. In order to actually start composing a particular piece I have to have a good internal reason of my own. I can write in response to a request from performers or institutions so long as the commission speaks to me, interests me, and gives me enough space and time to realise the things that interest me. When I'm composing, what is important for me is ensuring the harmony of the whole with the inventiveness, appropriateness and fully worked out character of the details. Neither aspect should be sacrificed to the other. I am frightened off by pieces where an interesting idea, project or concept is mechanically "filled up" with sterile music, or on the contrary by pieces wh ich are teeming with detailed ideas, but as wholes just create chaos. One detail overwhelms and upsets the next and the listener is soon confused and weary. I often find the right kind of inspiration for my composing methods and techniques in universals that are not overburdened by established musical categories. It is a world open to other kinds of art, science and life experience. It provides me with continual impulses to find conceptual and specific solutions at all levels of composing including the details.

You are known for your activities in the field of team compositions. In the Sixties you founded and led a team of this kind and you are working with a team today. Are you planning something new in this line?

After the symphonic piece dedicated to the turn of the millennium, "Byly casy, byly" ["There were times, there were"], which was performed twice by the Brno State Philharmonic, we are returning to chamber opera, a genre in which we were very successful in the Nineties. This time we are planning to produce a full-length opera. I shall once again be working in a team with Ivo Medek and Milos Stedron. I am not going to tell you what it's about.

You are also known as a theoretician of contemporary music. Tell me about your activities in this field in the last few years.

Last year I wrote a study of multimedia work, with Ivo Medek tacking the second part. It will be published this year. My study "Glosy '99", in which I analyse the state of contemporary music at the turn of the millennium was published in the journal Melos-Etos in Bratislava, and next year the journal of HAMU in Prague will publish my article "The Importance of Timbres for the Contemporary Composer". On a running basis I write chapters on contemporary composition techniques. These are partly supposed to serve as a teaching text for students of composition. I am also taking on the subject of the transformation of sound objects and quotations and their integration into contemporary compositional structures. This is a work on which I am collaborating with Amost Parsch and Jaroslav Stastny. Recently I have lectured abroad at symposia in Saarbrucken, Dresden, Edlach an der Rax and in Lublyana

You yourself wrote text for your new pieces Bestiarium" and "Nomen omen or 13 portraits of a snake" What is your understanding of text in relation to music? Do you plan to write other non-theoretical texts?

I choose the texts for my compositions and treat them with the same care and attention that I bring to actually composing the music. I've been writing "non-musical, non-theoretical texts since my youth. In his article "Questions of Creative Thinking in relation to the Composers Aloise Pinos and Roman Berger" Jaroslav Stastny classified them, analysed them and published some of them. His conclusion was that some of my creative techniques were common to both music and non-musical spheres. I have already used my own texts for my compositions before, for example in the team vocal symphony "Ecce homo". With many vocal pieces the final text would be chosen from hundreds of alternatives, for example the choice of lonely hearts ads for the piece "Seznamen ["Introductions"] and the choice of the proverbs for the pieces "Dicta antiquorum" and "Prislovi ["Proverbs"]. With the Kafkaesque scenes, "Zatceni" ["The Arrest"] and "Obzalovany ["The Defendant"] the most fundamental idea was that of taking just the dialogues or e ven monologues out of certain chapters of the novel "The Trial". And finally, in the case of many texts we deliberately abridged and added greater emphasis to certain passages. As will be clear to you, work with texts interests me and I see it as an important part of invention. That means it is likely that I shall be doing it in future too, and if I need it to fulfil my composition ideas, I shall be happy to write another text for my music myself.

In recent years you have written a lot of very quiet, delicate music, often with religious references. Has something fundamental changed in your poetics or sources of inspiration?

Nothing fundamental has changed in my poetics or sources of inspiration. You can find quiet music in my output earlier as well--just randomly I could mention the Concerto for Harp and String Orchestra--and also philosophical-spiritual composition concepts. For example there is the cantata on Old Testament texts "Gesta Machabaeourm", describing the victory of a small nation against huge odds, the contemplative and hymnic Concerto for Organ and Large Orchestra, "Pastorela" on Christmas folk verses and the choral triptych "In extremis" on the words of St Matthew's Gospel. The last piece I wrote in the first years of the Soviet Occupation. It begins with the words, "Lord, save us, we perish' and ends with "Libera nos--Free us!" My friend the choirmaster of the Brno madrigal singers Josef Pancik, liked all aspects of the triptych, but in the end he said, "If we sing that at a concert, they'll immediatelly lock both of us up!" There have therefore been no fundamental changes in me, but of course over the years, and affected by new realities and experiences--there have been and still are certain changes of taste and greater emphasis on the kinds of theme that are now my priority. But even today, apart from such quiet pieces as "Mortonography", dedicated to the composer of quiet music Morton Feldman, and gentle reminiscensces on Gruber's song "Stille Nacht' my work still includes sharp, vital music for Dama-Dama--"Music of Good Hope or Stormy Music" and the phantasmagorically grotesque "Bestiarium". I think Jaroslav Stastny has summed the matter up very accurately when he wrote that, "...Pinos's music is distinctive for the absence of depressive and nostalgic elements. In him we find a clearly positive attitude to life, however complicated... In recent years he has been emphasising the theme of hope, crytallising in the form of struggle against the forces of evil."

You have just added another award "to your collection". What meaning has the City of Brno Prize for you in the context of your other honours?

The two prestigious Classic Prizes recently awarded to me were for specific compositions, with the 3rd String Quartet and "Stella matutina" being judged "compositions of the year". In contrast the City of Brno prizes are awarded more for longer term "meritorious activity" to academics and artists in various fields, one of them being music. The prize can go to a concert performer, conductor, composer, musicologist, ensemble or institution... It gave me great pleasure to have been chosen this year, and so to find myself in such good company. Others who were honoured with the prize this year included the outstanding poet Zdenek Rotrekl, persecuted under communism, and among the previous winners are my good friends and contemporaries the painter Miroslav Simorda, the director and former rector of JAMU Alois Hajda and the stage designer Inez Tuschnerova. I am not the kind of person who gets a lot out of official occasions, but I have to say that the ceremony and celebration was warm and cordinal and that the award is as it were a shot in the arm given the tough present circumstances for composers of serious music. It would be nice if the various awards sometimes had an impact on how much works are performed.
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Title Annotation:Biography
Author:Medek, Ivo
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:4EXCZ
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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