Friday, April 21, 2017

Tales From the Old New Land - Tale 4 1/2 an interview with Ivan Ticoczki - Getting Closer

AC Charlap: We have just heard the fourth and worst of the Psalm settings by the Composer of the Old New Land, Ivan Ticoczki, whose settings of the Psalms we broadcast all throughout our podcasts. Ticoczki is a recipient of the Polar Music Prize, known also as the Musical Nobel, and is known particularly for a joint statement of protest against his receiving the award co-signed by famous critics and musicologists Norman Lebrecht, Edward Said, Robert Craft, Richard Taruskin, Jay Nordlinger, Martin Bernheimer, Alan Rich, and John Simon as being the worst possible recipient of the Polar Music Prize. You responded in your acceptance speech that you agreed with them and said, and I quote: "when you survive the Camps they want to give you a lot of awards."

Ivan Ticoczki: That's true.

Charlap: Evidence was then presented that you were not in fact in the Camps and had escaped during World War II and at various points lived in New York, London, and Los Angeles.

Ticoczki: Also true.

Charlap: Whatever the truth, you've clearly lived an extremely fascinating life. You've at least claimed to have been witness to most of the major cultural developments of the last hundred-three years.

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: How did this come to be, can you tell us where you're born?

Ticoczki: I was born in a town called Bransk.

Charlap: It's known for its Science Yeshiva yes?

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: Now Bransk is in a part of Europe that has belonged at various points in your life to Austria-Hungary, Czarist Russia, Poland, the Free City of Danzig, The Soviet Union, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, then Slovakia, and now I believe it's part of Belarus. Is that correct?

Ticoczki: Who cares.

Charlap: Fair enough.

Ticoczki: I did not live there long enough to go to the Bransk High School of Science, we left by the time I was three.

Charlap: And I believe you were born on June 28, 1914, the day of the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand is that also correct?

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: It is said that there is a picture of you being held by your father in the October Revolution when he stood next to Lenin.

Ticoczki: Yes, my father was a Chassidicher Rabbi turned Orthodox Marxist who personally shot the family of Czar Nicholas.

Charlap: But the dates for that don't quite line up. Your father fell out of favor with Lenin because of his failure to starve more than half-a-million peasants by the time of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk's signing so that the provisions Germans provided for Russia's withdrawal from the war would last the Red Army through the coming Civil War against the Whites. This was in March 1918, so your family escaped from the Soviet Union a full four months before Czar Nicholas the Second was assassinated.

Ticoczki: Is that my fault?

Charlap: I suppose not. But even if your father was not the assassin of Czar Nicholas, you played an pivotal role in the death of Walter Rathenau.

Ticoczki: Yes indeed, we had to make a living in Germany, and for a bit less than a year I was Rathenau's personal shoeshiner. I was not quite eight years old yet, and in the climate of Weimar, he did not even trust his personal chauffeur. He chose me because I told him I was fifteen, not eight. The circumstances of the death of Rathenau were very similar to that of the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand. I thought I knew a shortcut to the Foreign Office on Wilhelmstrasse. Unfortunately, we were intercepted on the way by right-wing extremists in a car with a machine gun. The machine gun missed me and may have missed Rathenau, but when they lobbed a grenade into my seat, I reflexively threw it in the direction of Rathenau, and it exploded half his body. This means that I may not only have been Rathenau's cause of death, but therefore the cause of eighteen-million more deaths due to Hitler - a fact of which I am both ashamed and deeply proud.

Charlap: It's also interesting because one of the first deaths at the hands of Nazis was your father's a year later.

Ticoczki: My father believed greatly in believing in things. He died in Munich during Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch the day after a Nazi threw a brick at him. He was so thrilled by the experience that he made me promise on his deathbed to try to join the Nazi Party.

Charlap: Records show that you became a Nazi party member in 1933 for exactly one day.

Ticoczki: Yes, I joined the Nazi Party in the hope of getting musical commissions from Albert Speer. We had an appointment to go swimming in a Berlin gymnasium followed by a Turkish Bath. My membership was revoked when it was discovered I was circumcised.

Charlap: How did you not see that coming?

Ticoczki: There were lots of Jews in 1933 who wanted to join the party.

Charlap: How can that be?

Ticoczki: We didn't think Hitler was serious!

Charlap: You didn't??

Ticoczki: He could a man that swish be a Nazi???

Charlap: But this was a very interesting period for you. In the Early 30's you lived in Berlin, and apparently had an affair with Hannah Arendt.

Ticoczki: Indeed.

Charlap: Apparently you went into hiding when your rival for Arendt, Martin Heidegger, put you on an arrest list, and escaped to Paris with Raymond Aron.

Ticoczki: Ja.

Charlap: And Aron would later claim that his book, The Opium of the Intellectuals in which he criticized the fashionable flirtation of intellectuals with totalitarian systems...

Ticoczki: ...was based on the contempt he felt after talking on the train with me. Arendt also later said that 'the banality of evil' was based on her experience of our relationship.

Charlap: That claim was proven to be a lie.

Ticoczki: If you say so.

Charlap: But let's stay on Berlin for a moment. You were also involved briefly with Lotte Lenya, weren't you?

Ticoczki: Everybody was. Brecht, Einstein, Heinrich Mann, Georg Grosz, Fritz Lang, one night she went home with the entire Frankfurt School.

Charlap: How did Kurt Weill feel about this?

Ticoczki: He didn't know.

Charlap: It's interesting that you mention Fritz Lang. When you were 17 you wrote a score to accompany M.

Ticoczki: Yes, Lang hated it so much that he burned it.

Charlap: Really?

Ticoczki:  He told me that he could just have Peter Lorre whistle Hall of the Mountain King and it would be better than what I wrote.

Charlap: That's pretty harsh.

Ticoczki: Nein, it was scheissemusik.

Charlap: Did you have any involvement with the great opera companies of 20's Berlin?

Ticoczki: Indeed I did. I sang third boy in The Magic Flute with Bruno Walter and he was so impressed with my performance that he immediately agreed to premiere my fourth symphony in his concert series at the Berlin Philharmonic.

Charlap: That was known as a disastrous premiere.

Ticoczki: Indeed, Bruno Walter had a stomach ailment, but it was said that he was so disgusted with the music that after the symphony was over he threw up in the Wagner tuba.

Charlap: Nevertheless, shortly thereafter you got a commission from Otto Klemperer to write for the Kroll Opera.

Ticoczki: Ja, it was only a chamber opera for which I wrote the book in which the Emperor of a distant kingdom goes off in search of a woman with the perfect nosejob. It was six hours long, had a cast of a hundred fifty plus chorus and an orchestra of three hundred. It has not been staged in full since 1928.

Charlap: You absconded to Paris but you didn't spend much time there until after the war.

Ticoczki: Quite true.

Charlap: By 1934 you were living in Vienna.

Ticoczki: Yes, I went to Vienna to abandon music.

Charlap: Vienna is the city of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Berg at the time... That seems rather counterintuitive.

Ticoczki: Perhaps, but I wanted to be a writer.

Charlap: Did you write anything?

Ticoczki: No.

Charlap: Then how were you a writer?

Ticoczki: There were lots of writers in Vienna who did not write.

Charlap: Then what did they do?

Ticoczki: They sat in the coffeehouses, where they would loudly proclaim witticisms to rich bourgeois who would make a great show of laughing, even though the din was so loud that they could not hear properly most of what we said.

Charlap: So, in a sense, you were a professional former of witticisms?

Ticoczki: Yes.

Charlap: Can you tell us any of them?

Ticoczki: No.

Charlap: You can't remember any of them?

Ticoczki: They lose meaning in translation.

Charlap: But surely...

Ticoczki: The Vienna of those years is impossible to convey to those who were not there. It was a great and unrepeatable gathering of intellect, and being intelligent was so important that nobody did anything.

Charlap: Fascinating.

Ticoczki: There were writers like Musil and Broch and Canetti who wrote very long books that we all claimed to have read and none of us made it past the second page.

Charlap: But you all read Stefan Zweig.

Ticoczki: Yes, but he paid us to read him.

Charlap: I'm told that when the Nazis came to Vienna you attempted suicide half-a-dozen times.

Ticoczki: This is true.

Charlap: You must have been quite despondent.

Ticoczki: No I actually felt I that in suicide finally had a metier to become a great artist. Suicide in Vienna was a great art into which many artists and philosophers put great effort into staging. I had a magnificent idea for a suicide in which I would be strung along by pulleys into a pile of marzipan, between getting my head caught in the pulleys and the molasses, I was sure I would die. Unfortunately, the pulley's broke, and I contracted diabetes for which I lost a foot in the Jewish hospital.

Charlap: You then arrived in London and claim you were the lover that drove Virginia Woolf to suicide.

Ticoczki: She was a very confused women. She was a lesbian who was also an anti-semite, but she was also attracted to particularly ugly and dwarf-like Jews, whom she thought possessed a cheap and low cunning which she found incredibly erotic. She could live very easily with her attraction to women and with infidelities to Leonard, but she hated herself for being attracted to Jews, and planned on blaming her suicide on me as an assassination. The famous suicide note she left for Leonard Woolf was in fact planted by me, when I realized that she would use her letter to frame me, and I made a copy of a new letter in her handwriting.

Charlap: This resulted in your being accused by George Orwell of having murdered Virginia Woolf.

Ticoczki: I will not answer any more questions about this matter.

Charlap: You also became a frequent houseguest of John Maynard Keynes in London.

Ticoczki: Yes, and he was a swine.

Charlap: What do you mean?

Ticoczki: I have known many many geniuses in my life, but Maynard Keynes was, without a doubt, the most unpleasant in addition to being one of the most brilliant. He was an anti-semite and a snob who was always trying to throw me out of his house for having sexual relations with people who were not him.

Charlap: Why didn't you leave?

Ticoczki: I had to have somewhere I could bring Virginia, and being at the receiving end of Maynard's abuse was much less boring than staying with Forester or Elliot...

Charlap: You also claim you were in Terezinstadt during this same period.

Ticoczki: I had a rich Capo who was a very great fan of music, and he allowed me week-long visits to Virginia and John in England on chartered planes for which he would pay the full expense.

Charlap: But there were so many great musical figures in this period living in Terezin in circumstances that were truly sub-human: Pavel Haas, Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krasa, Karel Ancerl, Gideon Klein, Alma Rose, Ilse Weber....

Ticoczki: Oh... Ja, they were let out too.

Charlap: What??

Ticoczki: They went to see their various lovers in Prague and Vienna for weeks at a time on furlough so long as they promised to return.

Charlap: This will be news to the entire music world. Why did they return?

Ticoczki: They believed the camps were their best chance for survival.

Charlap: How is that possible?

Ticoczki: We all believed that Terezin would eventually change and be the humanitarian city for the Jews which the Fuhrer claimed it was.

Charlap: How could you have possibly believed that?

Ticoczki: In Vienna we were vermin. In Terezin we had a chance to be the most honored Jewish composers in history.

Charlap: That's the most incredible thing I've ever heard!

Ticoczki: Remember, none of us thought that the Deutschen Volk would be as stupid as they were. Eventually, the German people would rise up and atone for their sins and we would be the honored artists of the Deutschen Reich who were rewarded extra performances for our persecution.

Charlap: But you never returned to that area after the war.

Ticoczki: Not to live no....

Charlap: In fact, during that period of the early 40's, both Stravinsky and Schoenberg claimed you took lessons with them in Los Angeles.

Ticoczki: Ja. I was on furlough from Terezin.

Charlap: They flew you there and back from California???

Ticoczki: Why is this so unbelievable.

Charlap: You'll just have to permit me a minute of disbelief.

Ticoczki: I learned very little from either Schoenberg or Stravinsky.

Charlap: They both seem to have agreed with that statement.

Ticoczki: Ja...

Charlap: Schoenberg apparently wrote of you to Thomas Mann and said that 'He is by such great a margin the most incompetent pupil I ever had that even John Cage is Mozart in comparison.'

Ticoczki: I can't help it if Schoenberg did not accept the theories of music I tried to teach him.

Charlap: You had theories you tried to teach Schoenberg???

Ticoczki: Ja! He was so rigid and dogmatic. His music required such great order that it sounded like disorder. I told him that the crucial key to writing great music which he missed was incompetence and amateurism. I deliberately wrote terrible part exercises to show him that bad musicianship is more beautiful than good.

Charlap: He claimed that you wouldn't know how to write better counterpoint even if you tried.

Ticoczki: What does that matter?!?

Charlap: In any event, one thing at which you were clearly not an incompetent at was bartending. In fact, when not even a teenager, you were remembered as the youngest bartender in Paris.

Ticoczki: Oui, I was still only eleven and a bit over four feet tall. So I would stand on the bar of the Moulin Rouge and take the orders of many Americans like Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds, at twelve I lost my virginity to Josephine Baker and again to Sergei Diaghilev. I threw Hemingway out of the Moulin Rouge many times and nearly beat him to death with the soprano saxophone of Sidney Bechet. And I was drawn by Jean Cocteau, Picasso, Dali, Chagall, Matisse, Mogdiliani.

Charlap: All of these drawings, by the way, are evidently lost.

Ticoczki: They were confiscated from my Ile Saint-Louis flat by Vichy.

Charlap: I see.

Ticoczki: I also invented the Boulevardier for Zelda Fitzgerald and the Jack Rose for Maurice Chevalier.

Charlap: Did you have much to do with music during this time?

Ticoczki: I wrote a lot of Charleston Dances for Josephine and ghostwrote about a hundred thirty pieces for Darius Milhuad, but no. Not really.

Charlap: Your biography says that immediately after the war you went to New York.

Ticoczki: Yes, this period was the favorite period of my life, but I'm afraid I must get some sleep now.

Charlap: Can we talk about it when you wake up?

Ticoczki: We can talk about it when you come back in a year or two, I'll still be here.


Charlap: About four years before you got the Polar Music Prize, you published a rather infamous memoir.

Ticoczki: I don't understand what was so infamous about it.

Charlap: Well, first of all because it was a three volume, twenty-eight hundred page memoir in which you claimed yourself the greatest cultural figure since King David. 

Ticoczki: Is it such a crime to be a great man? 

Charlap: Don't you find the claim rather extravagant?

Ticoczki: Is it my fault to be what I am?

Charlap: Well regardless of what you are, I think a lot of people thought you should have been more charitable to others?

Ticoczki: What about this world is charitable? The charity of tolerance has given us the chaos of the twentieth century. I strive to bring a bit of order to a world experiencing much chaos. 

Charlap: Your opinion is your opinion, but it does not seem to be shared by anyone.

Ticoczki: History will vindicate me. 

Charlap: Well, let's take just a few examples of your... we'll just call them uncommon opinions. For example this one: "The music of Bach is the Christian lie set in musical form. It presents an all-knowing, infinitely compassionate God whom in his ever loving mercy sends all but a hundred-forty-four thousand of us to hell. Bach's music is supposedly the music emanating from Heaven's organ-loft, but it is in fact the Devil's Trill."

Ticoczki: What's wrong with that opinion?

Charlap: Well nothing's wrong with it, but you must admit that your opinion is uncommon.

Ticoczki: Common opinions are for common people. I still believe that Bach was a minorly great composer after a fashion and it is not Bach's fault that he was the instrument through which posterity subsumed an entire millennium's worth of Christian music, but the music of Christianity is a music of a transcendence that does not exist nor would it be desirable if the world allowed for it. 

Charlap: Well then there's the infamous passage when you said that there were a half dozen better composers in the generation preceding you than Stravinsky, Bartok, or Schoenberg. Milan Kundera pointed out in 'Testaments Betrayed' that you excoriate Stravinsky for having abandoned feeling and Bartok for having abandoned didacticism in the same paragraph.

Ticoczki: You should not forget that I also attacked Hindemith in this passage for abandoning both. But it is not my doing. I cannot help it if Bartok's two transcendent masterpieces are musical instruction manuals.

Charlap: You mean the 44 Violin Duets...

Ticoczki: ...and the Mikrokosmos. In the growth of this music's sophistication we hear the evolution of intellect and human soul to its full capacities. 

Charlap: But these are instructional pieces to help children play their instruments.

Ticoczki: I knew Bartok, you didn't. He was a human robot, only his children moved him. 

Charlap: But what about your praise of pieces like the Third Piano Concerto and the Concerto for Orchestra?

Ticoczki: Yes, they still have problems but they are better.

Charlap: And you really believe that Kodaly is a better composer than Bartok?

Ticoczki: Insofar as his artistic priorities are more correct, yes.

Charlap: There are people who dislike Bach, but this is an opinion shared by literally no one.

Ticoczki: History will prove me right.

Charlap: And then you talk about Stravinsky, from whom you received an enormous amount of financial help in Los Angeles during the War, and you say that after Les Noces he should have never written another note because all he ever produced was notes. 

Ticoczki: Stravinsky wouldn't have given me a penny if he wasn't interested in my ex-wife. 

Charlap: But nothing Stravinsky did was worth anything? Oedipus? The Rake's Progress? Agon? The Symphony of Psalms? The Fairy's Kiss? The Violin Concerto?

Ticoczki: Well, the last three you mentioned are better. Stravinsky wasn't a composer, he was a brilliant musical thief. 

Charlap: That's a direct quote from your autobiography.

Ticoczki: Yes. When he stole from the Russian sources that meant something to him, his thievery was very moving, but when he tried to steal from other cultures the act of stealing meant nothing to him. 

Charlap: Speaking about what you said about your wife, you also seem to allude to the idea that Stravinsky....

Ticoczki: Yes, he stole my wife too, but she was German, and therefore his act of theft was not sincere at all.

Charlap: You also say that there have only ever been exactly nine great composers, and every other composer is at best a composer who wrote great music by accident.

Ticoczki: Monteverdi, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Mussorgsky, Janacek, Mahler, Ives, Shostakovich.

Charlap: You then talk of nine levels of lesser greatness - you call it 'lesser receptivity.'

Ticoczki: Yes, the first and highest level of receptivity are those composers whose ears act as the crown from which you can survey the entire kingdom of music, and can absorb and adapt all modes of influence into their music and render them in such a way that any expressive or emotional reaction is possible. They are pure expression through sound. I then refer to the nine lesser levels of receptivity under different names, there are nine different composers in each category, because there are exactly nine great composers, exactly eighteen composers who are good, and exactly twenty-seven who are decent, and exactly thirty-six composers who are competent. It is my belief that there will be another ten composers who are greater than incompetent before music ceases to be altogether.

Charlap: I suppose our audience will want to know which composers are which.

Ticoczki: The good composers are divided between the wise composers: like Haydn and Mendelssohn and Liszt and Brahms and Nielsen who are masculine, and the intuitive composers like Schubert and Dvorak and Bizet and Poulenc and Gershwin who are feminine.

Charlap: That's truly insightful.

Ticoczki: We then move to realms of the decent composers. The kind composers like Faure and Copland and Vaughan Williams, severe composers like Schoenberg and Bartok and Sibelius, the beautiful composers like Chopin and Debussy and Purcell. Beneath them lies the realm of the competent composers: the eternal composers like Bruckner and Messiaen and Josquin, the splendid composers like Richard Strauss and Handel and Berlioz, and the foundational composers like Bach and Gluck and Machaut. Underneath them, you have the king-composers. A king is an unjust man who takes what should be rightfully the property of others, therefore they are the composers who emulate other composers but are in fact only imitative of greater voices. Neo-classical composers are particularly in this sphere: Stravinsky is one, Hindemith is another, Prokofiev, Milhaud, Martinu, but also Wagner, and pre-classicists like Vivaldi, Lassus and Palestrina who plagiarized themselves hundreds of times.

Charlap: But isn't this a little too mathematically neat?

Ticoczki: That is not possible. Music requires formal cohesion.

Charlap: But isn't it possible you have to make exceptions for composers you haven't heard yet?

Ticoczki: Do not question me.

Charlap: Alright. I'm sure you know what the obvious question is about your nine great composers...

Ticoczki: No.

Charlap: What made them great?

Ticoczki: I already defined them. These are the nine which had the correct artistic priorities.

Charlap: Which are?

Ticoczki: I explained it as simply as I could, and if it could be properly explained I would do so.

Charlap: But you spend 450 pages doing exactly that.

Ticoczki: But that is a failure, I estimate that it would require another eight-thousand pages.

Charlap: Nevertheless, I'm going to quote you. "The correct artistic priorities are a willingness to be open to all the diverse possibilities of the universe's expression. All expression of human experience, animal and plant experience, biological, chemical, physical, must manifest themselves in the greatest music, and one must have an omnipresent sense of the unpredictability of experience's totality."

Ticoczki: I would not be nearly so dogmatic today. I was a young man when I wrote that.

Charlap: You were eighty-five.

Ticoczki: Nevertheless...

Charlap: You also write of tragic examples of composers who came close enough to the correct artistic priorities that we can only mourn that their music is not better than it is.

Ticoczki: Rather more numerous.

Charlap: You pretty much rip apart every composer who ever lived for their badness. Henri Dutilleux commented that he wasn't sure his music was any good because he was not at the receiving end of your abuse.

Ticoczki: He was alive when I wrote that book, I prefer not to talk about the living.

Charlap: You talk for ten pages about how horrible you find Arvo Part!

Ticoczki: He's not alive.

Charlap: Sure he is!

Ticoczki: His music is not alive.

Charlap: Well what about other living composers?

Ticoczki: Their priorities are generally not mine.

Charlap: Meaning that their priorities are incorrect?

Ticoczki: I did not say that.

Charlap: Surely there are living composers whose music you love.

Ticoczki: Of course there are, but I do not find their priorities appropriate.

Charlap: What does that even mean?

Ticoczki: You seem to know my book better than I do so I shall defer to you for an answer.

Charlap: Well in the book you even say that there are at least a few dozen reasonably famous composers of whose work you're reasonably fond. Can you tell us who they are?

Ticoczki: I cannot.

Charlap: Why not?

Ticoczki: Because that will be three-hundred-fifty pages in the fourth volume of the autobiography.

Charlap: Well, I see then... When will that be released?

Ticoczki: Sometime between 2019 and 2021. It will be fourteen-hundred-eighty pages long.

Charlap: Why so long?

Ticoczki: It is not long, the editor insisted I cut another twelve-hundred pages from this volume. In this volume I outline the importance and purpose of the Psalm project.


Ticoczki: I chose to focus on the first seven in this interview because these seven animate a very important didactic philosophical principle.

Charlap: Which is?

Ticoczki: Untranslatable into verbal language in less than five million words.

Charlap: Can you try?

Ticoczki: Why must you push me?

Charlap: Talking about the Psalms is sort of the point of this broadcast.

Ticoczki: Well, what's important to say about it is that I have made a bargain with God, and He will keep me alive until I complete all one-hundred fifty Psalms.

Charlap: You've made a bargain with God?

Ticoczki: Yes, I had a vision of Him.

Charlap: A vision?

Ticoczki: A vision, it may have been induced by the medication.

Charlap: What was the vision?

Ticoczki: i'm a hundred-three years old, I was ninety-nine when I had the vision. How should I remember what the vision was?

Charlap: So this interview was all for nothing?

Ticoczki: Perhaps.

Charlap: Well, can you try at least?

Ticoczki: In order to talk about it I must speak about my encounter with Yossele Rosenblatt in Berlin on February 27th, 1933, the day of the Reichstag fire. The world's greatest cantor was in the middle of a world tour and exhausted, he had been swindled by two New York journalists who wanted to start a Yiddish paper to compete with the forty-nine Yiddish papers published daily in New York. Rosenblatt was not a practical man and the great venture was a disaster that put him millions of dollars into debt which he had to pay off in the middle of a Great Depression which cursed the whole world. I have heard all the great tenors: Caruso, Gigli, Melchior, Vickers, Corelli, del Monaco, De Stefano, Domingo, Pavarotti, but none were as great as Rosenblatt and he had standing offers from every opera house in the world to sing but he was too orthodox to sing anything but Jewish music. Needing the money and realizing that he could make more, I came to him with an offer to write him Jewish music in the style of Verdi.

Charlap: That sounds amazing but Rosenblatt was already long since living in Jerusalem by then.

Ticoczki: Whatever. I told him that the most obvious Biblical Texts to set are the Psalms, the Tehillim. I told him by '35 I could write him all 150. He was very enthusiastic but told me he didn't have much money so I just write him one and he would tell me as we go how many he could pay for and wire me payment upon receipt. I wrote him the first Psalm and sent it to him in Jersualem, but in July it was returned to me in a package that said 'returned upon death of recipient.'

Charlap: Well, whatever the truth, that's a shame.

Ticoczki: So the first Tehilah was written in 1933, just as Hitler came to power. The project then languished for eighty years until I had a vision from God.

Charlap: And the vision was?

Ticoczki: Well, it wasn't technically God. It was more some combination of the archangel Michael and Elijah and Moses, telling me some end of the world stuff.

Charlap: They told you the world is ending?

Ticoczki: Not ending, just taking a break.

Charlap: What does that mean?

Ticoczki: Not the world, just this particular era, epoch, of the world.

Charlap: How do you explain that?

Ticoczki: This is where the didactic philosophical principle happens.

Charlap: OK...

Ticoczki: My music is not very good. We've established that and everybody agrees.

Charlap: They most certainly do, but what then is the point?

Ticoczki: The didactic philosophical principle is to point a way forward for music in a new dark age when Jews will be coerced back into the ghettos and shtetlach.

Charlap: What??

Ticoczki: The lack of specifically liturgical Jewish art music is an embarrassment. We now have a long tradition of secular art music with Mahler including Klezmer and Bloch providing a poetic Judaism of the spirit and Bernstein providing dramatic reenactments of scenes and dialogues with God. But Christians have a long tradition of their greatest composers providing settings of the mass and Biblical texts in Latin and Greek. We have nothing yet to compete.

Charlap: So you're trying to compete with composers like Byrd and Tallis and Palestrina and Machaut?

Ticoczki: Not particularly. Their music is grounded in the Christian eschatology: salvation, redemption, judgement, the material world being a test and foretaste of the greatness of the world to come. Eschatology is not the purpose of Judaism, the purpose is teleology - direct action and experience bringing us closer to God through a series of tactile actions.

Charlap: So your music then is didactic spur to action?

Ticoczki: No. Jews are not a particularly musical culture. We are, as the Islamic saying goes, the 'people of the book,' and the greater share of Jewish contemplation is not of the world to come but of how to act in our world. Art and music in Judaism cannot provide a spur to direct action, but a didactic spur to contemplate the sacred texts. Particularly in such a visual age, when literacy is so trivial that there is no longer great spiritual impact in reading.

Charlap: That all sounds full of shit.

Ticoczki: You are the one who wanted this interview!

Charlap: Have you said a single thing that is true this whole time?

Ticoczki: Probably not.

Charlap: So what am I supposed to do with all this footage?

Ticoczki: What should I care?

Charlap: Alright,... so can I get you to talk more about each of the first seven Psalms?

Ticoczki: I already told you about the first Psalm. It was written in 1933 against the backdrop of Hitler in the style of Rosenblatt's Shir HaMaalos. it includes a brief quote from that piece's melody.

Charlap: What about Psalm 2?


Charlap: Alright.

Ticoczki: Psalm 2 was written eighty years later if you must know, Psalm 2 is a War Psalm full of apocalypse and carnage. I developed from a first version of it I wrote in 1946 after hearing about the camps.

Charlap: I thought you were in the camps!

Ticoczki: Of course I was in the camps! But I didn't die in the camps!

Charlap: Alright, (sighs)... just keep going...

Ticoczki: What I realized was that the ending of it was always unsatisfactory, so I had to rewrite much of it, and it is no simple task to write choral music in 2013 that approximates a style of orchestral music written by Shostakovich and Mahler as I did then. I could not simply write myself back into a style I used seventy years ago, particularly because at the time I could not think of a satisfactory ending, so I incorporated a much more modern style like the Rendering of Schubert by Berio or the rearrangement of the Vier ernste Gesange by Glanert. it was a self-rendering.

Charlap: Was there a particular point to Psalm 2?

Ticoczki: Yes. It is thus far the most difficult and the least liked of the Psalm settings, but I think it is the finest.

Charlap: I liked it very much too.

Ticoczki: Young composers will always be unaccepted, their music is the air of another planet to their audiences.

Charlap: But you're... alright, never mind.

Ticoczki: The first Psalm was a simple piece of liturgical music. This, in its original conception, would have been the style of all one-hundred fifty.

Charlap: That sounds rather monotonous.

Ticoczki: Perhaps, but an artist must challenge himself. With the perspective of age I do not doubt that relative to my expectations it would have been a great failure had I even reached Psalm ten or twenty.

Charlap: So you wrote the first version of Psalm 2 in 1946. I suppose one must wonder if it was in relation to hearing about the Holocaust.

Ticoczki: No, not at all. I was the director of a amateur Jewish choir for a very brief time in Baltimore and wrote it for them as a challenge, but they were barely good enough to sing Psalm 1.

Charlap: That's a shame.

Ticoczki: The Baltimore Jews, they were the most difficult people I ever encountered, and remember, I was a Nazi Party Member.

Charlap: That might be why they found you difficult...

Ticoczki: They didn't know that!

Charlap: Anyway, so nearly seventy years later, you came back to Psalm 2. Clearly some of these things must have been based on things you learned from your time as a teacher at Darmstadt.

Ticoczki: Yes, but it was more from my relationships in New York with Edgar Varese and Charles Ives. From Varese I learned the great value of electronic music, or musique concrete, from Ives I learned the great value of backdating music so that I could claim that I was the first to use certain techniques.

Charlap: That second problem led to a rather contentious relationship with some figures at Darmstadt.

Ticoczki: That is a common misunderstanding. I've always had a very productive friendship with certain figures: Berio, Messiaen, Haba, Ligeti... But the trouble with Boulez was not at all about backdating pieces I wrote, but because Boulez commissioned me to write a companion piece to write to Stockhausen's Gesange der Junglinge - which I misunderstood as re-arranging songs for children. Because of this misunderstanding I sang polytonal versions of The Wheels on the Bus and The Itsy Bitsy Spider with accompaniment from an Ondes Martinot.

Charlap: Ah yes, that was the performance which Adorno compared to Bergen-Belsen.

Ticoczki: Indeed. In fact, Boulez was not at all upset about the Children's Songs, he was upset that I used polytonality instead of atonality.

Charlap: Polytonality has been a very important part of your work all throughout.

Ticoczki: I would not necessarily call it polytonality or even progressive tonality. I believe the most progressive harmonies in my work go back not to Stravinsky or Schoenberg or even Bartok, but to Ives and Lutoslawski, Berio, yes, perhaps even Stockhausen. I would therefore call it a 'radical tonality.'

Charlap: But Berio and Stockhausen were both significantly younger than you and Lutoslawski is your exact contemporary...

Ticoczki: Oh yes... I suppose I'm front-dating my music.

Charlap: Would you say that John Cage has any influence on what you try to accomplish?

Ticoczki: No, Cage is very different. The electronic music I use always has an acoustical basis that occurs outside of real time.

Charlap: What does that mean?

Ticoczki: Like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, I give my musicians an outline that is a page long on which all the musical themes are given, and tell them to improvise upon them in takes that are ten or twelve minutes long. I then experiment with manipulation and juxtaposition so that the most fitting of their improvisations are used.

Charlap: This sounds a bit like rap or DJ sampling.

Ticoczki: Well, as you know, in the 90's I was briefly a hip-hop artist.

Charlap: MC Cossack.

Ticoczki: Yes, I'm told that occasionally my album is still played in illegal New York clubs.

Charlap: But it still doesn't sound like your process for the Psalms is at all like the composers you mentioned.

Ticoczki: It doesn't matter because I influenced all of them. I used all of their techniques before they did.

Charlap: Your use of all of them was proven to not happen before 1990.

Ticoczki: That's what they want you to believe but all the people who can prove it are dead.

Charlap: Uh huh. Anyway, I think most people's problem is about three and a half minutes in when you have a ninety second polytonal cluster that may in fact be the loudest recording of all time, and the chord does not move at all, the listener must simply absorb a chord of maximum volume and dissonance for what at the time will seem like half the length of the work.

Ticoczki: Music lovers should be able to withstand physical pain.

Charlap: I'm sure that's true, but lots of people probably think it's a very stationary chord that has no motion at all.

Ticoczki: When one portrays the wrath of God, one should not simply use a chord that allows listeners a way out. The listener must feel boxed in and made crazy by the vibrations of forty-four different notes going at maximum volume for an excessively long period.

Charlap: Couldn't you maybe have given some motion within the chord?

Ticoczki: I honestly thought about doing something like that, in the way that Mahler does at the climax of his Tenth Symphony's opening, and yet that would also blunt the impact and give charity to a listener who deserves none.

Charlap: I can't imagine why people didn't like that piece... But then there's the entire second half, which is simply an entire avant-garde collage of assembled parts from the Psalms, sometimes manipulated or played backwards? Isn't that a bit like feeding scraps to a dog after you're done with a meal?

Ticoczki: You're lucky that no one has talked to me in a month or I would walk out of this interview.

Charlap: I'm sorry but seriously, what is the point of six and a half minutes of biblical noise?

Ticoczki: It is, so far as I can create it, the unknowability of the divine. The entire world is assembled from disparate parts, and we never experience the totality of it. If I cannot give the unknowability of the divine, I can, in my small way, give an experience of the world's totality.

Charlap: Well that's a very pretentious explanation. And if you really wanted to create the totality of the world, couldn't you take from other sources than your own compositions?

Ticoczki: Not this world's totality, but the totality of the spiritual world, the world to come. By including all the prayers together, perhaps we create a conduit to a world of the spirit and how it would present itself to us in our physical forms.

Charlap: Well again, that is breathtakingly pretentious.

Ticoczki: You asked...

Charlap: I suppose I did... But a number of people who didn't much care for Psalm 2 have had nice things to say about Psalm 3.

Ticoczki: Yes, in Psalm 3 we have the emergence of the Soprano figure. Psalm 3 is the first Psalm of King David, and therefore a singer must make an appearance.

Charlap: Why did you choose a soprano?

Ticoczki: Why not? People are much concerned with casting conforming to type today. In my day I both played Olivia in a production of Twelfth Night for Max Reinhardt and I watched Sarah Bernhardt play Hamlet.

Charlap: Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet fifteen years before you were born.

Ticoczki: Whatever. That's what you think.

Charlap: It might have been the film version they made.

Ticoczki: No, it was theater and she played Hamlet.

Charlap: She died when you were nine.

Ticoczki: Do not question me!

Charlap: Alright, so in Psalm 3 you went for something much more tonal.

Ticoczki: So long as the human ear eventually retreats to stability, there are no limits to the dissonance it can absorb. This was one of the many great insights of Charles Ives, and I suppose I had in mind the the Fugue from his Fourth Symphony.

Charlap: Well you certainly create something a world apart from Psalm 3. And yet there is also a passage of great turbulence in this one as well.

Ticoczki: Yes, but it is quickly dispelled. It is a very different kind of Psalm than the one before it. Psalm 2 demands vengeance, Psalm 3 is an assurance that God will save us from long lasting pain.

Charlap: You seem to set that turbulence as though it were a dream.

Ticoczki: Yes I do, I very much had Jacob's dream of the Angels on the Ladder in mind.

Charlap: Or perhaps the Schoenberg piece based on that?

Ticoczki: Not one of Schoenberg's finer moments. My setting is better.

Charlap: (sighs) If you say so... It's certainly shorter, and yet this setting truly takes its time as well.

Ticoczki: Yes, I am of two minds about concision. It is very important to properly give time for music to unfold, and yet in a hundred and three years I have never understood if one can absorb a listener through empty space. Many composers, particularly contemporary composers like my friend Karlheinz Klopweisser believe that attention can be absorbed through silence, I am not so certain, and many composers who believe in attaining spirituality through meditative music like Morton Feldman sound like an emptiness which requires a boiling liquid poured into it.

Charlap: That's an opinion that ought to piss someone off.

Ticoczki: Nobody likes Morton Feldman anymore, it's alright.

Charlap: There is something about that Angel's Ladder that sounds very much like the Rhinemaidens in Rheingold or the Flower Maidens in Parsifal.

Ticoczki: Yes, I had those in mind.

Charlap: Now, about Psalm 4.

Ticoczki: Yes, it's not very good is it?

Charlap: No, not at all.

Ticoczki: Let's not talk about it then. I plan on revising it by the time I turn a hundred and forty.

Charlap: I'm sure people look forward to that.

Ticoczki: Psalm 5 was my attempt to write something simple, it turned into a chamber of horrors.

Charlap: How many different clarinet lines do you have going at the beginning of Psalm 5?

Ticoczki: It's difficult to remember, I believe at least eighty.

Charlap: An orchestra of atonal clarinets?

Ticoczki: Once again, it is radical tonality.

Charlap: You then quote a melody quite blatantly from the Ma Tovu from the Jewish shacharit service.

Ticoczki: Indeed, the line from the Ma Tovu comes from this Psalm, and a blatant quote eliminates the need for me to compose more.

Charlap: I'm sure there are people very grateful for that.

Ticoczki: Indeed they are.

Charlap: You then do something completely unexpected with the end.

Ticoczki: Quite so. I have three choirs of eight sopranos singing different notes simultaneously, each of which then are manipulated in a glissando, a slide, all the way down to the lowest pitches which the ear can perceive and then a second glissando/slide up the highest notes.

Charlap: What motivated you to do that?

Ticoczki: I often find the most productive way to set the text is to find the most visual dramatic imagery and find a musical equivalent to it. In the case of the last tenth perek, or sentence, of Psalm 5, the greatest image is of the heathens, about which the Psalmist says: 'For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulcuhre; (some modern translators translate that as 'yawning gulf'); they flatter with their tongue.' I image of the open sepulchre, or yawning gulf, in the throat is quite striking. And I think I came up with quite an appropriate musical metaphor for it.

Charlap: Indeed. One can almost imagine you a good composer after such an unexpected musical event.

Ticoczki: I almost convinced myself.

Charlap: Now the setting of Psalm 6 is quite concise, you have three sections.

Ticoczki: Yes, the first section is supposed to be something approaching a divine heartbeat.

Charlap: Quite pretentious.

Ticoczki: Indeed. By heartbeat, I do not know if I mean human consciousness or the likeness of the human image to God, or how humans waste their divinity with their lack of closeness to God, or divine anger at humans straying from their path. But whatever it is, the divine heartbeat goes very far up, and then slows to the point of near death.

Charlap: One can hear a very similar closeness to the theme from Mad Men.

Ticoczki: I only realized that after I wrote it. In many ways, I was more interested in the similarity to minimalism. It began with a very minimalist pattern, but minimalism depends upon consistency of pulse for its organization. It is, by definition, music that is very difficult to dramatize, and dramatization is the point of what I attempt to do.

Charlap: Many people say you fail.

Ticoczki: They're probably right.

Charlap: But the second part of Psalm 6 is extremely different.

Ticoczki: Yes, it is perhaps an erotic dream, or divine despair, or simply the despair of humans.

Charlap: You set it with a Schoenberg-like series of sprechstimme lines, but it also sounds strangely...

Ticoczki: Erotic? Sensual?

Charlap: I'm wondering if people will need a cold shower after listening to it.

Ticoczki: The erotic connotation of the line being set is unmistakable: I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Like much of Schoenberg, it is both a line of great despair and great sensuality.

Charlap: Aren't you worried you might eventually be sued for having singers sing like that?

Ticoczki: If I am not subpoenaed by the end of this project I have done it incorrectly.

Charlap: The ending is much more tranquil.

Ticoczki: As befits a text which says that the Lord has heard the Psalmist's prayer.

Charlap: Now Psalm 7 is jazz, and yet....

Ticoczki: I have no idea how to write a jazz piece of music. It is jazz influenced, I doubt it is properly jazz.

Charlap: It's also very long.

Ticoczki: Yes, it is currently too long by approximately three minutes. By the time it is broadcast here I hope to cut it significantly.

Charlap: Will it be an easy fix?

Ticoczki: There have been easier. There are a number of moments when the invention is simply too thin. It is a battle Psalm and I required a musical style that had a great deal of motion and cacophony. No music has more of either than Hard Bop.

Charlap: I also understand that it was extremely expensive.

Ticoczki: Hiring musicians, at least hiring them properly so that you can earn their trust for further work, is not an easy expense to fulfill.

Charlap: Many people did not like this Psalm.

Ticoczki: Once again, I find that mystifying. Not because it is particularly good, but it is certainly better than ones which escape comment.

Charlap: Well, maybe that's because the worse ones are not even good enough to make people notice them, but the better ones are at least good enough to make people angry at how bad they are.

Ticoczki: That gives me great consolation...

Charlap: This sounds a bit like Rothko, who wanted to create a new artistic language to compete with his great heroes like Rembrandt and Turner and Michelangelo.

Ticoczki: No this is not Rothko. Marcus was an artist of inspirational integrity but he believed in tragedy, he believed the importance of the human was such that only tragedy was worth any rendering into art. He had no sense of absurdity and did not assimilate himself to comedy which surrounded him everywhere in New York. The suicide of such men is foreordained.  What I wish to create is an artistic world that resembles The Bible in all its diversity in which every character has space to be human yet what matters is the totality to which they contribute.

Charlap: But you're a musician. 

Charlap: I understand you're quite fond of some popular musicians too.

Ticoczki: Certainly. I think their artistic priorities are better.

Charlap: Can we try to get a better definition of what you mean by artistic priorities?

Ticoczki: I'd rather let my work speak for itself.

Charlap: But how many people want to read twenty-eight hundred pages.

Ticoczki: You cannot contain the complexity of the world. It must contain all the nuances and details of the world at hand.

Charlap: That makes no sense.

Ticoczki: Because you do not examine the full complexity of the statement.

Charlap: Can you convey it?

Ticoczki: Not in the time allotted for this interview.