I’ve always been interested in how music can reflect the inner life of a composer: how on earth can you tell a literal story or paint a psychological portrait using abstract sounds? For years, I thought a great example was Britten’s Death in Venice, which uses serial techniques, hallucinatory changes in the organization of time and cross-cultural gamelan references to give a searingly beautiful expression of closeted homosexuality. Lou Harrison’s Young Caesar, while it has its own tragedy at the end, is a much more positive and warmly enveloping musical construction. Harrison uses all his love and skill to make a statement both about the deeply personal individuality of sexuality and also the wild colorful diversity of experience in society as a whole.
For me what is most amazing about that is that you can see it, you can feel it in the notes themselves. In his loving theft and unifying inclusion of many different cultural styles of music, in his dramatic organization, in his use of simultaneous time streams, in his musical humor and ritual. Just as one can talk about the humanitarian nature of Mozart’s Figaro, and talk about it in actual musical detail, so I believe you can talk about the actual musical detail of Harrison’s breathtaking portrayal of human love. I am so grateful for being able to live inside that technical world for a little while, and to see musical notes become love.