A Case Study in Interpretation: Density 21.5 (Part 1 of 3)

April 25, 2011

Recently, IPAP’s esteemed founder and I were having a conversation about how much we enjoyed Laura Pou’s performance of Varese’s Density 21.5 for solo flute. One of the things that we both responded to was the real sense of personality and ‘expression’ that we heard in the performance, even going so far as to say that she made the music tuneful – an adjective not always ascribed to Varese’s music.

Underneath the video, one commentator says:

“The original is much more ‘mechanical’. She is trying to ‘sing it’ and did it very well, sounds a lot more human. This would be a good test to detect a T-1000 trying to pass for human.”

For those of you missing the reference, a T-1000 is the evil android played by Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 (see below).  I infer three things from this comment:

      1. That other performances of this piece have struck the listener/commentator as robotic and inhuman
      2. That the inhumanity of those performances is rooted in the composition itself rather than any particular interpretative decisions and/or failings – the commentator states that it is the “original” that is “mechanical”
      3. By violating the composition’s supposedly robotic character, Laura Pou’s interpretation is somehow a counterfeit rendition even if the commentator finds her performance to be musically preferable to other renditions of the piece.
Over the next few posts, I’d like to look more closely at different sets of issues raised by Varese’s composition, this particular performance, and the three points I made above in reaction to the earlier commentator.  Future installments of this series will focus on interpretation as it relates to this site’s sub-focus on entrepreneurship, exploring what the score to Density 21.5 does and does not suggest to a performer regarding the work’s interpretation, and, if all goes according to plan, a brief history of the performance practice of Modernist music.  Until then, enjoy Laura Pou’s  performance.  Please also feel free to share any of your own favorite (or least favorite) performances of the piece as well as any other thoughts you might have.
      Is Robert Patrick the face of 20th century music?       IPAP readers decide.
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2 Responses to “A Case Study in Interpretation: Density 21.5 (Part 1 of 3)”


  1. […] markings support the mechanistic, unemotive, inhuman view of the piece that was put forward in Part 1 of this series. This contradiction was implicitly noted by one IPAP reader who posted the following […]


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