30 March 2007

Scelsi: Various

More from my ongoing listening and playing of the music of Scelsi.

Three Studies for Eb Clarinet (1954): Not a very impressive work for Eb Clarinet - basically it’s a trascription of Scelsi fooling around around certain particular pitches, twiddling nervously one might think, there is always though a sense of direction, ifnot of reason behind particular pitches. Again no rests, no respite from the constant note flux.

Divertimento No. 2 (for violin) (1954): I looked at this on the piano as there is no recording available. After playing through it, it becomes clear why this is the case. This is not an entirely satisfying piece, harmonically, melodically or idea-wise, and it seems to be quite challenging to actualy play. It ends with this very strange almost diatonic bit that sounds like a Venetian carnival song played at breakneck speed. The remainder of the four movement work is more in keeping witht he angular atonal Scelsi of the 4 Poems and before than the quasi-modal Scelsi whose image is put forth to represent the composer.

Yamaon (1954): For Bass voice and a handful of Bass instruments this is a striking, powerful evocation, using (like Varese) a Mayan text about a destruction of the city - O those Mayans! - however, it seems the vocal part is primarily phonetic. The ensemble is a fascinating one deep and dark. The liner notes of the Kairos recording speak - quoting Benjamin - of the instruments gradually appropriating the music of the soloists through mimesis, which I think is putting far too much thought onto this. More likely Scelsi is trying to evoke some sort of theosophically-influenced vision of the east through mimesis himself of what few recordings he was able to get his hands on.

Action Music (for piano) (1955): A new way of looking at the piano, though not particularly an interesting way nor one that Scelsi really does interesting things with and in fact not really so new - recall that Henry Cowell was doing such things almost twenty years prior. In many movements and burdened with a cumbersome notation this is almost entirely in clusters and intended to be played with the palms or the fists. The end result is a lot of baging and an over-reliance on pentatonics - resulting obviously from the clusters of black notes. Not worth the effort that would go into learning it.

Divertimento No. 3 (for violin) (1955): This is the only of these divertimentos that is recorded. Less single note-y than his other solo works, (Preghiera, Pwyll, etc.) But as with them without any seeming overwhelming structural focus. In four relatively brief movements dealing basically in different styles of articulation, II is legato-ish, another is more martellato, another more lyrical and neoclassical. None that interesting.

Divertimento No. 4 (for violin) (1955): Much more Scelsi-like and with the exception of the first movement much more interesting, not so much ramblings as Divertimento 2, instead the pitch-centered works that are the image of Scelsi - ends with a curious G minor bit. I'm surprised #3 is recorded but not this one. It seems these divertimentos in a way are to the violin what the Suites are to the piano - and these various other pieces are to various other instruments.

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