Chapter 14 The Accordion in New Scores: Paradigms of Authorship and Identity in William Schimmel’s Musical "Realities"
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14 The Accordion in New Scores Paradigms of Authorship and Identity in William Schimmel’s Musical “Realities” marion s. jacobson TheAmericancomposerandaccordionistWilliamSchimmel(b.1946)hascomposed four thousand works over a twenty-year period, none of them original. In fact, all of them are based, thematically and structurally, on the works of other composers. Works that reference other composers—A Rossini Reality, Bizet’s Carmen Fantasy, Fantasy in Long Hair, and Tantric Bartok—are not transcriptions or fantasies in the conventional romantic sense of that term, nor do they represent conventionally modernist techniques of collage.1 Rather, as Schimmel has explained them, they constitute “musical realities” that do not depend principally on conventional relationships between the original and the “new” composer.2 In exploring relationships between different musical traditions and practices, Schimmel relies on an instrument that is somewhat unusual in the postmodern worldofcontemporarycomposition:thepianoaccordion.Schimmel,achildhood “accordion prodigy,” exploits the instrument’s unique tonalities, textures, and whatRaymondWilliamsmightrecognizeasa“structureoffeeling”3 —toenticethe audienceintoimaginaryworldsofmemory,tradition,andcommunity.AsSchimmel has said, “The accordion offers its own Diaspora. It has a hidden memory bank inside it. There is something in the marrow of it that when people hear it, it reminds them of something—a nostalgic moment, a flavor. It could evoke a taste, amemory.Nomatterhowabstract—itcansoundlikeWebern!—theaccordioncan evoke something that plays on a person’s memory.”4 296 marion s. jacobson Schimmel’s“realities”foraccordionunfoldonmultiplecreativelevels—modernistexplorationsofselfhood ,otherness,angst,andthesearchforausablepast— and his compositional process evokes Bakhtinian relationships; that is, he does nottreathissourcesasfixed,self-containedentities,butasfluidmatter.5 Another Bakhtinianprincipleevidentinhisworkisthedialogicsofcompositionalcontrol and intertextuality. In historical terms, collage is a modernist tool, but it can also be seen as a postmodernist strategy, for trading authorial control for intertextual references and eclecticism are themes that run through the history of twentiethcenturyaccordionmusic .Indeed,itisthesetensionsthatmakeSchimmel’swork so fascinating. Each work has its own musical “world,” evocative of particular places, spaces, and ethnographic moments, subject to a particular moment of music history and reworked through experience, memory, and self-reflection. Moreover, they resonate with Schimmel’s search for a fitting role and identity in the contemporary musical world, both as an accordionist and as a composer—or, as he prefers to describe himself, a “practitioner of musical realities.”6 Thedifferentsites,periods,andethnographictraditionsofhisworkslikeVariations in Search of a Theme for Accordion, Holbein in New York—A Seantic Drama, The Dolls: A Medieval Cantata, Fantasy in Long Hair, A Rossini Reality, and A Portrait of Harry Lime are reflections of Schimmel’s trajectory as a composer and working musician in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s. The concepts of space, place, and disaffection in Schimmel’s music are more than personal experiences and events;theyalsoembodytropesrecurringinpostmodernmusicalcomposition—of being, exile, and the resulting discovery of the emergent self and the Other. Says Schimmelabouttheseworks,“Theyoccupytheirownspace.”7 AsKevinMcNeilly haswrittenaboutJohnZorn’smusicalworks,itisusefultothinkaboutSchimmel’s uses of other composers’ themes and forms as a “subversive process from which the music emerges remade, having reshaped the fundamental ways in which we listen, both to each other and to the world around us.”8 As Roland Barthes has suggested, “[T]o give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.”9 Schimmel contends that by “opening up the writing,” we can come to define meaning and patterns of coherence in music.ThisessayexploresparadigmsofcompositionandidentityinSchimmel’s music,withaviewtolinkingthesecriticaltheoreticaldiscoursestoideasdevelopingaroundtheaccordionintheAmericanmusicalsceneinthetwentiethcentury , and the composer’s intellectual and creative motivations in these works. My first interactions with Schimmel took place in a musical context in which the accordion plays a unique role—the national membership organization for accordionplayersandenthusiasts ,theAmericanAccordionistsAssociation(AAA). Its governing board, of which Schimmel is a member, consists of prominent accordionteachers ,concertartists,andindustryrepresentatives.EachyearinJuly, 297 The Accordion in New Scores Schimmel presides over the AAA-sponsored Accordion Seminars in New York City.10 Compared to the rigid formality and buttoned-up concert-recital norms of AAA concerts, Schimmel’s two-day series of master classes and miniconcerts is an informal and festive event. The repertoire presents the cutting edge of the accordion, showcasing multimedia and theatrical works for accordion and works ofyoungeraccordionartist-composers,manyofthemhisstudents.AsSchimmel’s creative experiences are directly linked to his work as an accordionist and as an accordion “activist,” in and outside of the AAA, I will explore some of these in thisessay.Schimmelhasbeenquitereflexiveaboutthetypesofmusicalrelationships engendered in the “accordion world,” as well as the roles and identity they haveattemptedtocastfortheaccordion.Therearefrequentlymultiple,andoften subtle,linkagesamongSchimmel’slifeexperiences,hiscompositionalcreativity, and his use of the accordion. Prestige Value of the Piano Accordion The accordion can mean many things...


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