Since the 1980s I’ve been periodically making pieces for a varied range of ensembles and instrumentation responding to the marvelous secular songs of Guillaume de Machaut. I call the project Machaut in the Machine Age, and Can I have it without begging? is the seventh in the series. Can I have it without begging? takes as its starting point Ballade #19: Amours me fait desirer. The line that ends all three verses is “Que je l’aie sans rouver”, which translates to something like: “…so I can have it without begging.”
Against the backdrop of the “Me too” movement, I understand the lyrics of Machaut’s song as part of a long history of attending to the lover’s feelings and ignoring the specificity of the beloved. Machaut talks about Love, not the specific woman, he regards himself as victimized by desire, he will die without it. I am fascinated by how I respond to that pronoun — “it” — how for me at this moment, it embodies everything wrong with how heterosexual desire is depicted in Western culture.
The piece I have made is for live flute and pre-recorded flute samples (recorded on bass and C flute by Margaret Lancaster.) The piece begins with the premise that the live and pre-recorded lines are in the same universe, they want the same things. But the live flute keeps trying to become a soloist, to relegate the pre-recorded track to accompaniment, getting more and more frustrated, begging for something that can never be achieved if the track is merely background.
The irony is that the “failure” the piece embodies is actually pretty fun to listen to. Sort of like the endless number of romantic comedies we’ve all grown up watching.
Can I have it without begging? was commissioned by the National Flute Association, Inc. for the 2018 Young Artist Competition. Special thanks to Lisa Bost, Wayla Chambo, and Margaret Lancaster for their thoughtful advice and artistry as I was writing the piece.
The piece is October 6th in my ongoing project, A Book of Days. That’s the day after the Harvey Weinstein story broke in the New York Times in 2017.
TO THE PERFORMER:
The backing track starts softly and gets substantially louder; when setting levels, you’ll want to keep that in mind! Perhaps you should set the loudest level towards the end of the piece before beginning to play. At the beginning of piece you should strive to match the pre-recorded track (in volume and attitude); a certain tentativeness is attractive. Gradually become more and more self-serving and egotistical as the piece continues. By the end, you want to have something of a temper tantrum: you are playing the role of a perpetrator after all: don’t be polite!
Here is a score of the piece, please purchase the performance materials (including the optional video by Emma Courtney) by clicking the buy button below, and thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing. The fee for the materials was originally $40, but I have set it to pay-as-you-can for the duration of the pandemic: