Cliché, Episode 2
(TX: 23rd March 1981, Radio 4)
Out of tune bleeps and bloops, like Wendy Carlos on an off-day.
PRESENTER: The final cadences of the last symphony of the Spanish composer Don Dimitri, who died early this morning at the age of 86. Cliché now pays its own special tribute to Don Dimitri – one of the true musical innovators of this century. Don Dimitri’s life was characterised by his refusal to accept the conventions and mores of the society in which he lived. In 1926, he went to the Sorbonne to study music. Rapidly, it became apparent he could not reconcile his own ideas with those of the establishment, and after three hours at the university, he left to set up his own school of musical thought. Professor Blakehust takes up the story.
BLAKEHURST: Don Dimitri’s biggest contribution to musical theory was the decative. Instead of the conventional eight note scale the octave, he initiated the ten note scale – the decative. He invented two new notes: H and J. Instead of ‘doh, ray, me, fah, soh, lah, ti, doh’, the decative would run ‘doh, ray, me, fah, soh, woh, boh, lah, ti, doh’. And in reverse: ‘doh, ti, lah, boh, woh, soh, fah, me, ray, doh’.
PRESENTER: And he wrote all his symphonies using this scale?
BLAKEHURST: Indeed. And the instruments in his orchestra had to be adapted accordingly. Pianos were fitted with extra black keys; flutes now came in four sections instead of three; and accordions were scrapped, as the decative made them far too long for human beings to play. Trombones ceased to be a musical instrument, and now became a lethal weapon. And the lengthening of bassoons and saxophones extended the mouthpiece into the region of the lower intestine. Incidentally, in Don Dimitri’s orchestra, women were banned from playing the cello.
PRESENTER: What other significant changes were inspired by the decative?
BLAKEHURST: Time signatures were changed. Instead of 3/4 time it was now 0.75 time. 7/8 time became 0.875 time, and common time – or 4/4 time – was now simply… 1. Don Dimitri’s quartets comprised of five players, and his triangles had two sides – neither of them connected.
PRESENTER: And now, the last note of the last chord of the last cadence is written. At the grand old age of 86, Don Dimitri passed away this morning. Never one to do things in a conventional way, he died in a manner he would probably have appreciated – trying to suck a kazoo instead of blowing it. He inhaled the kazoo, it became lodged in his throat, and he died to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. We leave you now with the strains of what is universally acknowledged as his masterwork: quintet for seven instruments in H minor. The only work he ever wrote in 0.333 recurring time, a time signature which never actually allows you to reach the end of the first bar. Hence it’s popular title: Dom Dimiti’s Unfinished Symph. Goodnight.
A warped version of I Do Like To be Beside the Seaside plays, with accompanying bleeps and bloops.