Music to Test Your Endurance

Saturday, November 05, 2016

La Monte Young's "Dream House" (

With the New York Marathon just around the corner, it's only fitting we usher it in with music requiring stamina from performers and audience alike. Here are 10 pieces of new music that will test your endurance and reward your patience.

1. Music in 12 Parts (Philip Glass)
As the story goes, Glass wrote the first part to this massive work in 1971. The title was originally supposed to reflect the twelve contrapuntal lines, but when an early listener asked about the other 11 parts Glass saw potential for a bigger piece than he had originally planned. Three years later, Music in 12 Parts was born. Duration: ~3 hours

2. String Quartet No. 2 (Morton Feldman)
Much like the New York Marathon, this particular work requires a Herculean amount of stamina. It's one thing to perform for six hours, but another entirely to play quietly for six hours while fighting hunger and fatigue. How does this feel for a performer? FLUX Quartet writes "Imagine yourself typing on a keyboard that is positioned about one foot higher than its normal placement, and doing that for six hours. That's what playing this piece is like for a violinist."  Duration: ~4-6 hours

3. Einstein on the Beach (Philip Glass)
Einstein on the Beach was Glass's first opera and remains his longest. This four-act experimental opera lacks both a formal plot and a seventh-inning stretch for your legs. The driving forces behind Einstein on the Beach are three different spaces constructed by Robert Wilson, and the "Knee Plays," short intermezzos that allow time for scene changes between Wilson's seven sets. Duration: ~5 hours

4. The Well Tuned Piano (La Monte Young)
Although finished in 1964, Young still considers it a "work in progress." The epic, improvisatory work is played on a specially-tuned piano and has no specific structure aside from listed durations for each of the seven sections. Apart from the composer himself, only Michael Harrison has performed the work publicly. Duration: ~5 hours

5.  The History of Photography in Sound (Michael Finnissy)
This gargantuan cycle for solo piano is only a few works of its kind. With 11 parts, it's incredibly nuanced; Finnissy floats in and out of subtle references to 18th-century African American spirituals, Beethoven, Charles Ives, Rameau, Bach and more. Don't blink - you might miss the moment. Duration: ~5.5 hours 

6. Sleep (Max Richter)
It's okay to fall asleep during this one – Richter calls Sleep "an invitation to dream." He wants his listeners to fall asleep during the opening movements and wake up feeling better rested. Stay awake for the whole piece. We dare you. Duration: ~8 hours

7. The Road (Frederic Rzewski)
Rzewski on The Road: "I decided that I wanted to write about the idea of the road. When you turn onto a road, it's usually already there, and when you turn off it to go where you want to go, the road keeps going somewhere else. So the piece has to be long enough to virtually guarantee that nobody (except of few nuts) will listen to the whole thing...things happen for no reason at all, they're just there, like a Burma-Shave sign, or a wrecked car that appears for a moment." Duration: ~10 hours

8. Vexations (Erik Satie)
Supposedly written around 1892-1893 and unpublished until 1949, John Cage produced the first marathon performance in 1963. Cage, David Tudor, James Tenney, and David Del Tredici were among the 14 performers involved in the 18-hour event. Vexations bears the inscription: "To play this idea 840 times, it would be good to prepare yourself prior to starting, and in the deepest silence, by serious inactivity." Duration: ~18 hours

9. Organ2/ASLSP [As SLow aS Possible] (John Cage)
How slow is "as slow as possible?" The St. Burchardi church in Halberstadt, Germany estimates about 639 years. Their rendition of Organ2/ASLSP began on September 5, 2001, the 89th anniversary of Cage's birth, with a 17-month rest before the first sound was even heard. The next sound change will be September 5, 2020, and the piece will end in 2640. Duration: 15 years and counting

10. The Dream House (La Monte Young)
In 1962, La Monte Young and Zazeela envisioned a place where a work could exist in time on its own. Together they bought a loft on Church Street in New York City and transformed it into a sound and light installation. Since 1993, the space has continuously played Young's The Base 9:7:4 Symmetry in Prime Time... Find a pillow and settle in. Duration: 23 years and counting


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