When violinist Mandy Wolman approached me about composing Lascia fare mi, she offered a rather unusual proposition: she wanted me to compose a musical counterpart to Bernardo Bertolucciʼs 1973 film Last Tango in Paris, which starred a 19-year old Maria Schneider and 48-year old Marlon Brando engaged in an unlikely and tragic affair. The film caused a scandal when it was released and has since endured new opprobrium as contemporary revelations about Schneiderʼs treatment by both Bertolucci and Brando have come to light.
I was reluctant to engage with the movie given this, but Mandy had long loved this film for reasons that I found compelling, and was, furthermore, unaware of the scandal. Mandy is ardently drawn to Brandoʼs work, and her love of acting in general runs in her blood, as her mother was a celebrated actor. I decided to explore the film from her perspective (I had never seen it) and see what I could do. Around the same time I was finishing reading Willi Apelʼs The History of Keyboard Music to 1700 and had taken an interest in several works based on a shared motive: la–sol–fa–re–mi, or, given in Italian, “lascia fare mi,” translated often as “leave me alone.” Clearly as misanthropic a sentiment as that engendered by Bertolucciʼs film, I wedded the ideas for the present work.
My Lascia fare mi is a 13-minute fantasy for two violins that plays in nine uninterrupted “scenes.” They are roughly inspired by those scenes from Last Tango in Paris in which the characters of Jean (Schneider) and Paul (Brando) appear alone, and which take place almost entirely within a sparsely furnished apartment rented by the pair to host their assignations. These scenes reveal their evolving relationship, founded on the premise that they would never know anything about one another beyond what they experienced together in that room. As they inevitably come to know one another more conventionally, their interactions grow increasingly more passionate and more violently antagonistic.
Musically, Lascia fare mi is nearly exclusively based on the la–sol–fa–re–mi motive, which is subjected to a handful of permutations: it is heard (after the Renaissance manner) in the natural, hard, and soft hexachords, transposed (according to tonal principles), chromaticized, and, using all these basic forms, presented in inversion and retrograded and occasionally stacked up into chordal sonorities. At the same time, and corresponding to the “revelations” that Jean and Paul make about their lives beyond their rented room, historical “reminiscences” of the la–sol–fa–re–mi motive appear throughout my work, leap-frogging back through history. These reminiscences take the form of largely intact quotations from works based on la–sol–fa–re–mi by Johann Jakob Froberger (1616–1667), Giovanni Cavaccio (1556–1626), Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583–1643), and Josquin de Prez (c. 1450–1521).
Bertolucciʼs film concludes with an extended and increasingly desperate tango, which Jean ultimately ends with a gunshot. Lascia fare mi replaces the tango with a seguiriya (acknowledging Mandyʼs flamenco work) that features a relentless and obvious ostinato on la–sol–fa–re–mi; at this point in the work, the many permutations of the motive have fallen away, and we are left with the cold, implacable simplicity of identity, where nothing is hidden and thus nothing more is desired.