Bruce BrubakerWhile Mahler's Symphony No. 9 will not be performed during NEC's Mahler Unleashed concerts, NEC piano department chair Bruce Brubaker serves up his re-composition of the work for piano quartet on November 29, as part of a "Mahler in Chinatown" concert. As Brubaker ruminates on whether this work is "appropriation, theft, or just reading," his words suggest that this music affords us an opportunity to anticipate the celebration of the John Cage centennial performances that will take place at NEC in 2012.

Mahler UnleashedBruce Brubaker's
Mahler's Ninth Symphony

“Every poem is the misreading of a parent poem. A poem is not an overcoming of anxiety, but is that anxiety … There are no interpretations but only misinterpretations.”
—Harold Bloom, 1973

The video artist Douglas Gordon has made Twenty-four Hour Psycho, musician Leif Inge has produced 9 Beet Stretch, twenty-four-hour-long versions of classics: the film by Alfred Hitchcock and a recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. “Postproduction” artists make pathways through accumulated culture. Operating like DJs, they read and facilitate readings of classics. And isn’t that what musicians performing classical music always do?

Douglas Gordon’s work provoked me to fashion a chamber piece for piano, violin, viola, and cello: Bruce Brubaker’s Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. I began with a score of the last movement of the Ninth Symphony by Gustav Mahler. I took simultaneities from the score in the order they appeared, although not always consecutively. I wrote down only things found in Mahler’s text, leaving out a lot. I prolonged most harmonies for ten seconds or more—a more glacial pace than the symphony. My choice of instrumentation was occasional: the piece was to be played on a chamber festival program of piano quartets.

John Cage wrote his way through James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and other texts, to make what Cage termed “mesostics.” In some music, “borrowing” is so commonplace that another word seems called for. If jazz players use the changes from George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” they are working with material that has by now become (or returned to being) part of nature. Modeling seems to be in operation in the finale of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, in Pierre Boulez’ Structures (after Olivier Messiaen) and John Adams’s Eros Piano (flowing from Toru Takemitsu’s riverrun, itself with beginnings in Joyce’s Finnegans Wake). But, is my Mahler’s Ninth Symphony something other than modeling? Is it appropriation, theft, or just reading?