Elasticity in Boris Blacher's "Duet" for Flute and Piano

Cecilia Taher, University of Arkansas

This paper proposes an original theorization of the concept of form present in late compositions by Boris Blacher, by means of analyzing his Duet for flute and piano (1972). In 1950, Blacher began to use systematically varying metric units to provide logic to the apparently arbitrary rhythm of modern music. This practice led the few scholars who have studied his compositions to concentrate on the mathematical organization of metrical units, underestimating the other musical elements. This study is based on the idea that it is not the mere disposition of meters, but mostly the interaction between such organization and other musical elements that makes the peculiar durational organization audible, thus perceptually relevant. The technique of expansion and contraction that becomes evident in the organization of the meters is also present in the disposition of durations at other hierarchical levels and in the pitch structure. Furthermore, the mathematical metrical scheme is the foundation for a deeper universe of systematic organization. Blacher's techniques provide a unique sense of movement to his compositions, the aural effect of an "elastically developing music." This idea is also applied in simultaneity to the registral disposition of pitches and textural development, conveying vertical elasticity. The Duet's elasticity results from the horizontal (durational) and vertical (registral) contraction and expansion of musical elements at different levels. This broader conception of the musical structure aims to describe the evolution of the music as a process rather than its objective definition, entailing analytical aspects and levels that extend beyond the traditional study of form.

Blacher's Duet is here presented as a practical manifestation of a conceptual change from the traditional notion of form and texture to a new idea of constantly moving, elastic shape. The organization of the musical materials in the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the total space becomes a unique principle of formal definition, the elastic development of the musical content itself. Finally, the systematic arrangement of meters that has been the center of attention of the study of the music of Boris Blacher, the sole aspect in which scholars have concentrated the theoretical and compositional importance of his work, is merely the most immediate audible frame of a more thorough systematic organization and an original formal conception.