Just as I settle down to my journey on the 91 I reflected on how often I’ve probably been on the 91. Many, many times. Does that somehow diminish the experience? Yes, there remains the notorious Russell Square roadworks that introduced a subtle variation to the journey which was enough to spark renewed interest. Apart from that the journey remains the same and I pass the same buildings and other landmarks in the same sequence each time I take the 91. With such repetition of an experience does one notice less and less? Have I become accustomed to the accoutrements to my bus journey that I take less note of the exterior world and take more time to stare at my book or lock and unlock my iPhone in an attempt to look busy?
I am obsessed with avoiding repetition in my own music, yet like my bus journey I crave the security of the known, the heard-before. It affirms the idea for me that structural resolution is often desired by the listener – and certainly extolled by much music – in that something will return to resolve the journey the piece has taken us on. The petite reprise in baroque dances, not all, is something of a tease I quite enjoy. A sense of arrival from (often) much modulatory interest gives a feeling of relief – that the end is near – yet typically the path of the petite reprise involves diversion. Diversion much as the 91 is occasionally subject to.
I often say to pupils – something needs to happen more than once to establish it as being necessary, important, in a piece. Reflecting on this I’m not sure I agree. Is this structural device – the return of material – more a construction of exam marking criteria than the burden of approaches to form in music history? Whether or not there is a reprise on a macrolevel, repetition occurs on the microlevel perhaps. Through repetition we are committing musical ideas to memory – through reprise we are teaching our music to the listener.
Berio’s transcription of a part of Bach’s Art of Fugue fascinates me. Such beautiful and subtle colouring of the lines, bringing out the lines in vivid relief. What fascinates me is that we are denied a structural resolution in that we are not given a cadence. The parts stop one by one and the most effervescent cluster chord results. It sounds as if the record player has become stuck, obsessively fixed and blurring the delicate counterpoint of the Bach. Such a close to a piece questions whether we do need endings to feel a sense of resolve.
Regardless of whether I reprise material in my own work I know that I will endure the 91 until it terminates. I need an ending, albeit one that comes 100 metres too early.