Category: Archive

Test 2

As with the work of his compatriot Erik Satie, humor and nascent Dadaism are blended in Alphonse Allais’ once-off music. But unlike Satie, known for his precision, Allais seems to have taken little care in constructing the joke. In our times we understand not to confuse deafness with silent-ness. If it weren’t for that problematic, Allais’ score might be a masterpiece of minimalism. However, as the French would term it, Allais’ art was lacking a discours philosophique. There was no theoretical framework behind it, and appears to have been tossed off as a joke (Gann 2011). So his humorous invention of silent music was unnoticed and forgotten. A note from the author reads:

Great sorrows being mute, the performers should occupy themselves with the sole task of counting the bars, instead of indulging in the kind of indecent row that destroys the august character of the best obsequies.” (Whiting 1999:81)

Whiting also mentions an earlier title: “Great sorrows are mute; incoherent funeral march.” This fits in well with the tempo indication: Lento rigolando (slow, laughing). Allais had discovered something, and created the first empty musical score. Later, Hindemith would do something similar, in a parody of Wagner (Fonseca-Wollheim 2013). Neither of them felt that silence in itself was worth pursuing. It was only a tool for humor.

Is it performable? Absolutely. Yet the lack of rests or notes or a time signature suggests invisibility, or even suppression, because everything “musical” has been deleted from the score: time signature, rests, clefs. The horizontal lines of the staff read like a funeral march along a street. Allais, a master of the visual and textual pun, would have enjoyed the comparison.

Test 1

As far as I know, this is the first completely and intentionally silent piece in Western music. Humorist and journalist Alphonse Allais’ score to Marche Funèbre is subtitledFunérailles d’un grand homme sourd (funeral for an important deaf man). The score is twelve bars, on four staves, with no notes, and no rests: a conceptual silence printed in a rectangle, written long before Cage. It is meant to be seen, and definitely intended as a joke, as it is dated April 1st, 1897.