Cornelius Cardew composed pieces for each of the first seven paragraphs of The Great Learning by Confucius (translated into English by Ezra Pound). The book, compiled by Confucius and his pupils between the 5th and 2nd centuries BCE, expounds the philosopher’s social teaching. Cardew dedicated the cycle to the London-based Scratch Orchestra, which he had cofounded. Apart from musicians, the Orchestra consisted of actors, dancers, visual artists, and persons with no regular involvement in any discipline of art. TheGreat Learning score takes into account the unique make-up of that ensemble.
Paragraph 2, for singers and drummers, notates five vocal lines, the first of which already comprises the complete text, which means that the text is repeated five times. Each line consists of five measures with notated pitches, while note values depend on performers’ breathing but are also coordinated with rhythmic patterns. The drummers play through twenty-six rhythms, in any order each chooses, each measure corresponding to one such pattern, while the last one is played after the singing has ended. Paragraph 7, for unaccompanied singers, is notated as 24 lines, each sung on a single breath a specified number of times, which means that every singer sings at her or his own tempo. Each singer independently chooses a pitch to begin, and the following pitches (on which the other lines are then sung) are selected from among those sung at the given moment by the other performers.
Compiled by Adam Suprynowicz