This interview was conducted by the harpsichordist and composer Grant Colburn on behalf of Early Music America Magazine. It was partially reproduced in the article "A NEW BAROQUE REVIVAL" by Grant Colburn, which appeared in EMA's 2007 summer issue.
GC: How did you get interested in writing baroque music?
RT: Very simply: a few anatomical shorcomings and a pair of injuries have put an
end to all dreams of playing as a professional. So I started writing for
myself. To my great surprise some others took a liking to what I did.
GC: Do you play any instruments related to the baroque?
RT: Yes: Baroque Lute is my only instrument, even though I have written a few things for viola da gamba.
GC: How did you learn to compose baroque music? Self taught? College? Teachers?
RT. Largely self-taught, all the composer-friends my parents had when I was a
child back in the old country notwithstanding (some of them are now famous).
However, a couple of them took interest in me, and taught me how to listen, both
strategically and tactically. I grew up in Ukraine, and came to the US in
1979. I studied Art, and it remains my main calling. Parallel to that I
studied lute with Patrick O'Brien, who also taught me the basics of harmony and counterpoint.
As to composition: my learning method was rather unique- for years my
efforts were devoted to adapting various works by late-Baroque and later
composers (like Reger) for Baroque Lute, so I've read through tremendous amount of music,
instrument in hand. Some friends would inquire sarcastically whether I have already done
a Bruckner symphony up for a lute duet yet. Later I have also sought criticism from composer-friends, in particular Davide Zannnoni, Claudio Ronco, and the late Pier Luigi Cimma with whom I was engaged in a lengthy "correspondence course".
GC: Who are your musical influences i.e. what period composers, musical schools or nationalities?
RT: Empfinsamkeit (C.P.E.Bach), first and foremost: it permits considerable freedom within the Single Affect
Principle. Baroque and Avantgarde in one, if you will. J.S.Bach, of course. And many others. I should mention Zelenka, Reichardt, Zelter, Weiss, Graupner and Dittersdorf. Lesser Masters provide better picture of their time. I have never imitated any particular style though, but I have platonically imitated their thinking.
GC: Do you write other kinds of non period music? If so- what?
RT: I also write strophic songs and lieder im volkston. This lends impunity to
blatant medievalism and/or neoclassicism, because they are still found in living folk music. I also collaborate with Hans Kockelmans on experimental works, composed jointly.
GC: What are your reasons for writing baroque music?
RT: My instrument defined the limitations for me. It doesn't tolerate
gratuituous dissonance and can only function within the Single Affect
Principle. Such is its acoustic nature. So it meant a choice between
Baroque or Minimalism, and I occasionally permit myself the latter.
GC: What do you hope to get out of it?
RT: Ideally- royalties. Realistically- some of my music managed to draw interest
and curiosity from those wives of my lutenist-friends that were given to
disparaging their husbands' Early Music activities. This was the finest reward.
GC: Any interesting stories you could share about writing baroque music and
its acceptance (good or bad) in the modern world?
RT: I've had it both good and bad. Good- mostly. The momentous decision as always
came to me in the shower, so in the mid-1990's I wrote out some pieces in a
nice Baroque hand, signed them in German transliteration of the second half
of my surname, and sent them to some lutenists without a return address or
explanation. The music was clearly in Baroque Style, but not really in character,
being grim and morose as would have befitted an entirely different era. I wrote
about two dozen Tombeaux (this accounts for a third of this genre in its entire history).
Then I lost track of all this for some 5+ years.
Eventually the rumors of mysterious and interesting lute music treacled back
to me, so (now armed with a PC and internet) I produced some
"hypermusicological" mythology, explaining the range of styles from 1680 to
1840 with four generations of purported composers, all from the same family.
So after many flame-wars and a few accusations of immorality (some accusers
were oblivious of the quotations from Beethoven, Reger or Giazzotto that I'd
used...) I've earned some great friends for whom music's quality is
paramount to its pedigree. Not least of these is Luca Pianca (the founder of
IL Giardino Armonico), who generously included a few of my pieces in his
concerts at several international festivals, and Tim Crawford (musicologist,
the editor of Complete Works of S.L.Weiss), who wrote that my work
compared favorably with the like of J.B.Hagen (an 18th century lutenist composer).
GC: Anything interesting happening in the near future with your music?
Performances, publications? Commissisons?
RT: There have been interesting developments. I am now working on a series of audio-visual installations that would include both images and music. There have been some performances, and there are a few recordings in the planning. In the meantime I have put all my music in Public Domain. The drawback of this is that I'm rarely informed of the concerts. It took me 2 years after the fact to find out that Simon Paulus played my Lessing-tombeau during the G.E.Lessing's tricentennial in Wolfenbüttel.....
Lately however there have been more developments: since Ukraine managed to oust a fraudulent president all things Ukrainian have been somewhat "fashionable". I had some requests from classical guitarists for permissions to adapt my Ukrainian-themed pieces!
GC: So the main question regarding the whole passing your music off as by a dead guy is: "Why'd ya do it?"
RT: A multitude of reasons: Mythopoeia runs in my family, as does love of
mystery and gaming.
An uncle of mine had published his own erotic poems under Sappho's name, and
I don't think he knew about Pierre Louys' BILITIS.
I was bred on the works that were often enough great literary 19th century
hoaxes, De Coster, Merimee and Nodier, Prince Igor Saga, Koeniginshofer Ms etc, etc.
Descartes once said that when he was a seminarian his professor told him
that if one gets a really good Idea- it must be immediately ascribed to a
long dead authority.
GC: Were you surprised at the response your music got the moment some assumed
it was actual period music as opposed to be written by you?
RT: Yes and no. My ego was immencely flattered to be sure, but at the same time
I was surprised at the uncritical ears, oblivious to uncharacteristic
elements. Even detractors zeroed in on my alleged immorality, ignoring quality alogether.
The most realistic and the most flattering summary was voiced by a famous lutenist-friend who was in
on the entire affair. Initially apprehensive, he warmed up to my efforts
saying that I was certainly no J.S.Bach, but managed to produce some
"first-rate second-rate music".
GC: Would you do it again (theoretically of course!)?
RT: Yes, and I have done it again.