National University of Music Bucharest

Aurel Stroe or the Triumph of Daring

Alexandru Leahu

        In Nikolai Berdiaeff’s philosophical writings, creativity in its ultimate form is described as the „sacredness of daring”. It is that kind of daring which in music, for instance, makes perceivable in time the juxtaposition of certain layers of value detached from a vast non-temporal co-existence. There were many authors to speak out on plenitude that is the utmost gift of the artistic soul, the treasure, which becomes accessible only in very special moments, when the echoes of all life experiences that made the soul vibrate, interfere with each other.
        The inner resonance supports Aristotle’s idea that the substantiation of art is to be found inside the artist himself and not in the thing created. The question is how to reveal coevally the material, the specific and the artistic equivalent of such composite and transfigured impressions that have been stamped on the musicians’ consciousness by the patrimony of sciences and arts, on the one hand, and that of culture and nature, on the other.
In the music of the Antiquity, each chord of the system was meant to induce the resonance of a certain component of Memory and her legendary daughters, the famous Muses. The relationship established between perception and memory, sonority and musicality ruled by the Muses and the Planets was the effect of assidious conditioning through the symbolism of their appropriate modes and ethos.
        There is a completely different picture when the principle „everything introversive” is replaced in the 20th century by the endeavour of a totally externalising aesthetic experience, in the form of an object-specific compacting of resonances. The concreteness of the music by Edgard Varèse or Pierre Schaeffer, and the globalisation imposed by Iannis Xenakis through mathematical, static artifices, are the notable variants of these orientations.
        As for Aurel Stroe, everything – his reading of poetry and fiction, or philosophy, as well as his highly general scientific hypotheses – is organically related to the in-depth probing of the great stylistic synthesis comprised in the works of Monteverdi, Bach, Beethoven or Mahler. He is fascinated beyond the massivity or the compaction of the sounding matter that seems an equivalent of the mountain he used to wander about, or of the Brancusian silhouettes he idealised. The relevance of the various alloys tend to become manifest in his music, similarly to the way amber allows a glimpse of the life remnants randomly caught inside.
        Even from the perspective of the scientific epistemology, Karl Popper was postulating the necessity that every new theory should be able to incorporate and explain the success of the previous one, thus extending the validity of its perimeter without refuting its merits.
        Theorising of the so-called „composition classes”1 represented by experimental works of the „Praise”-type, and later by the compositions based on several tuning systems, which contain not only allusion but also layers of cultural paradigms, generates true „syntaxes of syntaxes”2 , as Ştefan Niculescu phrased it. This reminds us of a palimpsest, that parchment perpetually scraped off and re-used, like an other facette of that which Thomas Mann used to name „the time fountain”.
        All of these are convergent with Aurel Stroe’s intrepid attempt to realise a synopsis in form of a mould comprising the data of the work that come into consideration. These are incorporated within the block of an iceberg made of the chording systems layers and of the writings situated either above or underneath the sea-level, subject to the receptor’s capability of perception and cognition. The ingenious construction also highlights the inevitable fissure in structure resulting from the pressure of its components complexity and heterogeneity. It is perhaps, for the first time when the „substance of composition” unveils the ground and the path of those „mysterious and non-transmissible subconscious” operations referred to by Arthur Honegger with regard to the act of composing3 .
        Now, concerning the „form of composition” we should spotlight the theory that became emblematic for Aurel Stroe’s poetics, i.e. the morphogenesis inspired by the writings of René Thom, the French mathematician. Nonetheless, to look for direct repercussions of these on the profile of Stroe’s compositions, similar to the way Xenakis, for instance, realised his transpositions and conversions of mathematic formulas into homogeneous and depersonalised sounding substance, would be arbitrary since the determinant factor with Stroe is the idea of recuperating utterly divers cultural remnants, which in extremes also induce a feeling of discontinuity, which, however, is not filtered through according to the models recommended by René Thom.
        In his theoretical work Structural Stability and Morphogenesis4, the author mentioned above adopts the spectacular term of “catastrophy” for any of the discontinuities appearing in a relatively homogeneous medium. According to Alain Butet, who comments on the respective theory, “the catastrophy evokes in its ordinary language an unforeseen, tragic event, a dramatic upsetting of the universal order”. Even the old theoreticians of music harmony were considering certain dissonances, disfunctions, contrasts, as a catastrophic destruction of the universal order. The configuration of a solid, or its internal structure, are but the appearances of the alterations suffered by the “empirical magma”, by that amorphous ground area that signals the appearing of discontinuities. The final shape appears as essentially strainable and escapes all definitions of quantification. The limits of straining a solid became already centuries ago the subject-matter of topology, i.e. the analysis situs, or the“geometry of settlements”, suggested by Leibniz. The shape, according to Thom, is separated from its ground area, from a supporting space owing to certain discontinuities. In this very supporting space, Thom distinguishes two types of reference marks: the regular spots, which correspond to the continuity zones of the morphogenetic process and the catastrophy spots, where the phenomenological appearance of the underlayer show a sudden change, while the quality characteristics of the support display a rupture.
        The question of such a relationship between form and ground area has been transferred to multiple domains.
        The matter of interest in Thom’s theory consists in the inventory and hierarchy of the effects produced by an „organising logos”, i.e. by a complex set of causes that generate seven types of so-called catastrophies within a four-dimensioned space. In the order of their complexity, the seven basic catastrophes were named as follows: „fold”, „cusp”, swallowtail”, „butterfly”, hyperbolic umbilic”, elliptical umbilic”, and parabolic umbilic”. To note that the names are patently metaphorical and were used due to the shape approximated by the resultant of complex interaction. This reduction to the essential of the catastrophies’ typology prompted Eckeland, the mathematician, to assert that the Demiurge, according to Plato, has built the universe by taking into account the relationships contained in the five perfectly regular geometric shapes. Owing to Thom, says the same author, we can ascertain that Nature expresses itself by means of a language that encompasses the „key-words” representing the seven basic catastrophies.
        For the sake of the anecdote, I would like to recall Aurel Stroe in Buşteni, holding in his hand a reproduction of Breughel’s painting featuring the Babel Tower in the process of decaying and pointing at the Caraiman Massive that shows in its middle area a rupture of the same morphogenetic type.
        Sure enough, the so-called fault produced in the onthology of a music piece, referred to by Aurel Stroe, be it either his Orestiile [the Oresties] or other works, always has a symptomatic reverse meant to call attention to the complexity and not to homogeneity of the medium where the discontinuity appears; and to the inner saturation of the layers, which in spite of having lost their intrinsic significant characteristics as a result of  agglomeration, have nonetheless kept their distinctive characteristics.
        This in fact is an alternative of temporary incorporation by which the creative artist reveals the vast field of artistic solutions that he has at his disposal. The balance point is then shifting towards the ground area.
        In his daring venture, the author presents the paradoxical co-existence of archaic modes with modern ones, of stylistic paradigms of European composing as opposed to those originating from the Far East, of canonic rigour in contrast to aleatoric liberty, of prospective flow meeting with its retrospective converse, of hieratic rituals combined with the ingenuity of games.
        The surmised „catastrophies” dissimulated by crafty solutions belonging to the composer’s arsenal, turn into accents and manifestations of the „dissolution of solids and of the coagulation of the spirit”, something alchemists in past times used to take pride in. The supreme daring of Aurel Stroe becomes evident in his very attempt to highlight such triumph of creativity, an ANASTROPHY, an intertwining of layers through the symbol of existential catastrophic failure risen in rank to an event which functions as a „revealing metaphor”.
        In the act of auditioning that which apparently (by the allegory of the iceberg) was deemed to sink and freeze for good in the depth of the subconscious rises to the surface as a tectonic modulation similar to Arcades or islands in their formation.
        The stylistic effects, may they be singular, ingenious or allusive, are those to become stable, memorability flickering like treasures on the canopy of consciousness. Thus, a final consideration I often refer to is imposing upon us, i.e. by paraphrasing Goethe’s Faust:what could a musician obtain more than the revelation that through Art everything solid in the spirit will melt away, while everything that comes from spirit will outlast eternally.

1 Aurel Stroe, “Compoziţii şi clase de compoziţii”, Muzica Review, Bucharest, 4/ 1970, pp.9-14; 6 / 1970, pp.15-20; 11 / 1970, pp.6-9; 6 / 1971, pp.14-17.

2 Ștefan Niculescu, „O teorie a sintaxei muzicale” (A theory of Musical Syntax), Muzica Review, Bucharest, 3/1973, pp 10-16.

3 Arthur Honegger, Je suis compositeur, Éditions du Conquistador, 1957.

4 René Thom, Stabilité Structurelle et Morphogénèse: Essai d'une théorie générale des modèles, Paris, InterEditions, 1977 (2nd edition).

English Version by Christina Stefănescu