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Larry Polansky:
"34 Chords: Christian Wolff in Hanover and Royalton" (1995)
for electric guitar

Larry Polansky writes:

34 Chords: Christian Wolff in Hanover and Royalton is an "orchestration" of Morton Feldman's choral work Christian Wolff in Cambridge (1963).My piece is inspired by the guitar piece that Feldman wrote for Christian Wolff (my good friend and colleague here), which was lost. I decided to write him a "replacement" piece for a private concert celebrating his 25th year at Dartmouth College. 34 Chords... was written to celebrate Christian Wolff's 25 years at Dartmouth College, and is dedicated to him with the greatest respect for his work and ideas. The piece is published by Frog Peak Music.

Some informal notes about the piece
I orchestrated Christian Wolff in Cambridge for the guitar, using an idea (common to a lot of my works) of more or less "direct transcription" (some other examples are my guitar arrangement of the Shaker hymn Compassion and the recent Three Fiddle Tunes Transcriptions by Ruth Crawford Seeger for two electric guitars). Using some extreme guitar techniques (two handed stuff, retuning on the fly, etc.), I tried to incorporate all the pitches in each guitar chord, for each chord in the original.

The title is a pun on Christian's "two homes" up here in New England, where we both live. Originally, though, I had it confused, I thought Christian's farm was across the border in South Royalton. My piece  was named accordingly for years, and performed a lot by myself and others. At one concert, in Beijing of all places, Christian and I were playing together in our Trio (with Kui Dong), and I went out on stage and played my guitar piece as a solo. He hadn't heard it since the original private party where I first played it. I'd played it many times, as had others, since, and it had evolved and improved a lot (it's difficult). He was wonderfully surprised, told me how much he liked it, and then politely informed me that his farm was actually in Royalton, not South Royalton. He was very sweet about it. I changed the title.

Another funny story about this piece happend when I was playing it in Buenos Aires. I ended a concert with it (it was a duet concert of me and Chris Mann, using a local improv band, and it was loud, lots of computers, noise, etc.). I decided that since, on the festival we were on, all these gringo performance artists were coming down and doing text pieces in English about their childhoods in the U.S., and the Argentines were getting really (and rightfully) pissed at the kind of colonialism they perceived, that it would at least be a humble gesture to introduce the piece in Spanish, which is sort of my second language.

In Spanish, in front of about 2000 people, I tried to tell the whole story, including the thing about the manunscript in the guitar case in New York City, how I heard about it on some bootleg tapes of Feldman in conversation with John Cage from the NYC radio station WBAI (now published and transcribed), and yadda yadda. I then said, in Spanish, "the name of the piece is Treinte Quatro Cuerdos". It all went well, everyone was very happy, a couple of local guitarists even learned the piece and a lot of my other guitar music after hearing me play, but one young cat, very cool, came up to me on stage after the concert, and very politely said "Maestro," (yikes!) "that was a very beautiful piece, and we were very happy that you spoke in Spanish, but I would like to make just one small correction. The word for "chords" is "acordes". "Cuerdos" means, more or less, people who are not insane". I wondered why I'd heard some laughing when I said the title!

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