24 February 2007

Xenakis: Taurhiphanie

Taurhiphanie (1987): Electronic work based on the bellowing of bulls, planned to accompany a live improvisation based on the movement of bulls and horses in a bullring. One hears a long opening and the bellowing sound, which must have been interesting to Xenakis because of their deep-glissandi effects. The transformations of the bull sounds bring to mind what is a major problem with much electronic music, everything can become through manipulation everything else, why bull sounds and should they retain any of their bullishness? Here they do, but they sound equally like other synthesized sounds, whether stings or complex sine-waves.

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Schutz: Symphoniae Sacrae III (V)

SWV 406: O Jesu süß, wer dein gedenkt super Lilia convallium Alexandri Grandis: Contrafactum of a work by Monteverdi's successor Alexander Grandi. Schutz underlaid words and made some minor revisions. It's hard to make a value judgment on such a work when we know that it is not Schutz's music, however a brief description should point out differences in styles. Grandi alternates verses for soloists with ritornellos which remain the same in each iteration. The harmonic touches are similar to something Schutz would do - repetition at the third, as are some of the double suspensions into cadences.

SWV 407: Lasset uns doch den Herren, unsern Gott, loben: A much longer work this time all Schutz. Various verses with the individual soloists culminating in the full complementum praising God. Some classic examples of the old-fashioned motet style here. The shifting soloists over continuo, one, two, then together, maybe a third, then all together and so forth. It's interestig if we look at the ensembles as they shift throughout the piece. Consider: V=Violins; SATB=SATB. V | T S | V | T A (TAS) | (BV) (SAB) | T A (SA) T (ST) | (BV) (TB) S | Tutti. We can see from this, the violins only sound with the Bass, there is a narrative to the two male voices joining - they only join at the end. I wonder if this would be a good place for inquiry in many of these motet-style pieces.

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Copland: Nonet

Nonet (1960): For the Dumbarton Oaks series, and dedicated to Boulanger. Seldom heard work for three each violins, violas and cellos. In typical Copland fast-slow-fast form with the final fast a varied reprise of the opening. Homophonic chorale like opening in quite beautiful nine-note harmony. Doesn't have the robustness of much of Copland's fast material, more lyrial and pastoral than barn-dancy. Doesn't strike me as if he is using twelve-tone techniques, but there is clearly an importance placed on intervallic relationships. Copland commented on the elegiac sound saying that the bottom heavy insturmentation lends itself to such sentiment.

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22 February 2007

Composing Today

23 February

I’ve taken the piece to a very strange place, what I think will effectively bring in the noisy third ritornello. After the ensemble slows down and becomes one, I was able to incorporate a sound that to me is reminiscent of the Laotian mouth organ I heard an old man play in a Thai village. This is tied in through the use of the 5, 7 and 11 quarter-tone cycles. This struggles with the cyclic harmonies which eventually reach a culmination point with the entrance of the piano on the cluster chords from the meltdown section of the second ritornello. The ensemble doesn’t give up so easily and with the piano clustering in the middle of the keyboard the entire ensemble plays fff an unbelievably dissonant chord built from the 11-quarter-tone cycle. This repeats after a pause, is joined by the powerful percussion on the skinned percussion before the entire ensemble takes up the original percussion figure from the blocks – transposed to various levels. From there the third ritornello will enter. I will have to work to compose it out. We are at about the 8:30, 8:45 point in the piece (on the realization) in real life its probably more like 10:00, I’m thinking the third ritornello will be quick before the next three relatively short sections and the culminating ritornello. Perhaps this noise chord will overtake the structure, eating away at it before the final ritornello. I’m also thinking that the three final solos – for Cello, Violin and Horn will make use of an extremely limited palette of pitches.


Composing Recently

21 February 2007

It has been quite some time since I wrote in this. This is not because I haven’t been composing. On the contrary, I’ve actually been composing quite a bit. I’ll try to tie up what has happened in the past week.
After laying out the scaffolding for the slowing down section, I attempted to compose it at the piano, printed out on a smaller sheet. This ended up being a bad idea for several reasons, especially because I wanted to compose out a section that comprehensively deals with a quarter-tone harmonic system. My plan was to build chords on each entry point for each layer of the rhythms and I began with that plan. To tie it together in a somewhat neoclassical mode (but without the attendant irony) I thought to treat this as a development section and use the quarter-tone equivalent of a circle-of-fifths progression to propel the harmonies of the piece along, I would cycle through a circle of five-quarter tones, assigning one pitch to each accent in the slowing down polyrhythm, when I reached the end of the five-quarter cycle, I, instead of returning to the opening pitch used it as a pivot into a seven-quarter tone pitch space cycle, again at the end, before returning to the original pitch, I pivoted into an eleven-quarter-tone pitch space cycle. In all these instances before entering the new pitch space I repeated the chord that had been held. After reaching the end of the eleven-quarter-tone pitch cycle, I moved back through parts of the cycles I had already traversed – the exact details are in my sketches. Why these cycles? Well, the 5, 7 and 11 quarter-tone cycles are the only ones that will cycle through all the quarter-tones within the chromatic scale without repeating any pitches. I actually have yet to finish up the cycles.
Eventually on doing this, I realized that it would not be necessary to assign triads for each of the accent points, I could just allow the cyclic pitches to speak for themselves, extending them where the overall harmonies would be more pungent. This is where I’ve been.
Over these shifting harmonies, I applied a radically different set for the solos, for trumpet, then bass, then trombone. These solos are limited in their pitches – the trumpet uses only six, the bass is similar. So borrowing a phrase from the percussion part, I’ve redone it for the trumpet and then for some of the bass. The bass alternates low pizzicatos with high quarter-tone harmonics before bowing out with the four open strings, the trombone simply plays long tones around F – its primary pitch.
On Monday I met with my old teacher Stephen Siegel, perhaps one of America’s finest relatively unknown composers – his new String Quartet really begs to be heard. Steve is also a fabulous teacher and on hearing the piece urged me to trim down and cut out various parts, cleaning up the piece more to make it more sleek, more differentiated. I’m not sure that I agreed with all of his suggestions, but I did implement a number of them and have put a fresh eye and ear to the opening ritornello, making subtle changes that serve to really enhance the work. This took a few days.
Today was/is Ash Wednesday and I have been busy playing organ in New Jersey. Tomorrow I must really get down to serious, more serious work, as I was only able to clean some things up today. My time is fading and I need to make the most of it. There is still a good deal of music that needs to be written.


Schutz: Symphoniae Sacrae III (IV)

SWV 404: Feget den altern Sauerteig aus: Strange setting of a strange section of Corinthians - in which there is talk about Christ as the leavened bread. The setting begins with a nother beautiful, if odd, symphonia, followed by essentially a constantly scored bit for all voices more or less all singing evenly, the liner notes refer to "motet-style" I think this is really a good example of a work in the old-style, but not a particularly interesting piece.

SWV 405: O süßer Jesu Christ, wer an dich recht gedenket: A setting of a verse of Bernard de Clairvaux in German translation. Alternation of a number of duos and trios speaking of various aspects of what it means to have Jesus in one's life concluding with the full complement amplifying the message. This is a textbook example of Schutz's art - competently competent, elegantly workman, yet beautiful and rewarding. No surprises. Lovely the way that he sets off the two duos throughout in an almost symbolic way.

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20 February 2007

Crumb: Makrokosmos III (Music for a Summer Evening)

I have been listening to the music of George Crumb chronologically. Back in college I was quite enamored by his music after hearing Ancient Voices of Children in the old Jan DeGaetani recording on Nonesuch. At a certain point I got to meet Crumb himself after a concert of the Kronos Quartet playing Black Angels at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I went up to him afterwards and shook his hand telling him how much of an influence his music was on me - I had just written my first larger piece a work for Soprano, String Quartet and Percussion called Gettysburg Hospital, which I'm still quite fond of. I still recall what he said to me that day, something on the order of: "Just be sure that you never use the sounds as sound effects." Recently, I decided to explore his works, primarily influenced I imagine by the complete series being put out on Bridge Records. What follows are my notes to his works.

Sonata for Solo Cello (1955): This is played a lot, but I don't particualrly like it. Very Bartok like which may account for its popularity - ooh look I'm playing modern music!

Variazioni for large orchestra (1959)
Five Pieces for piano (1962)
Night Music I for soprano, piano/celeste, and two percussionists (1963)
Four Nocturnes (Night Music II) for violin and piano (1964)
Madrigals, Books I-II (1965)

Eleven Echoes of Autumn (Echoes I) for violin, alto flute, clarinet, and piano (1966): All the techniques are here, the ghostly playing, the piano harmonics, whistling. Overlong piece full of special techniques, a little too whispery for me: it never seems to get where it is going. What is amazing though is the way that all these techniques that we take for granted were worked in this Crumb piece and developed with Crumb. He has to explain things that seem quite basic.

Echoes of Time and the River (Echoes II) for orchestra (1967): I did listen to this. It was relatively unmemorable.

Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death (1968): Quite nice, the last especially with the droning major chord and the detuning double bass.

Madrigals, Books III-IV (1969): I found this to be more interesting than some other of Crumb's works. Though I note a lot of sound efects in the piece. Odd considering how Crumb suggested to not have sound effects when he spoke to me. The final piece is moving with the bass as bourdon. However, the screeching spoken soprano is not particualrly effective.

Night of the Four Moons for alto, alto flute/piccolo, banjo, electric cello, and percussion (1969): Crumb refers to this as an occasional piece; it was written during the Apollo landing. What surprises me is the felxibillity of the material, that is the way in which Crumb can cut and paste and write quickly if he wants to. It does seem a little token in its exoticism - the mbira, but also the ending with the Mahler tends to stick out too much; the Mahler is too beautiful in the context and it,not Crumb, becomes the memorable part.

Black Angels (Images I) for electric string quartet (1970): The earnest numerology of this is fascinating only insofar as it is hard to believe that someone could be so earnest in their obvioususe of it. Everything is 7 or 13, number of notes in a phrase, interval strcuture, measures in a section etc. Also still effectively lacking in development, tons of small fragments that collage together, but don't develop from each other. I'm finding this fragmentation to be problematic.

Ancient Voices of Children (1970): The classic Crumb - here is his version of the Kindertotenlieder. Some dull moments, particularly the "dances" - his "ghost music" is trite - but after the harmonica major chord drone collage we move into a new world. These are still fragments but Crumb is able to unite them much more clearly.

Lux Aeterna for soprano, bass flute/soprano recorder, sitar, and percussion (two players) (1971): Here is a gorgeous piece. Finally Crumb is taking something whole, not the aphoristic fragments that allows him to not develop. The use of the sitar is quite lovely and not at all contrived.

Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) for electric flute, electric cello, and amplified piano (1971): Some lovely movements, but tied up in this Druid mumbo-jumbo. The ending is lovely, but it does take a long time to get there and we have to sit through this seagull stuff and whistling. Trite if it weren't among the first.

Makrokosmos, Volume I for amplified piano (1972): A catalog of new piano technique tied up again in three layers of mumbo-jumbo: the titles, the zodiac, the dedicatees. If I ever hear a pianist who can pull off the speaking and singing I'll be amazing, much less the ghost moaning.

Makrokosmos, Volume II for amplified piano (1973): A further catalog of piano techniques. The comments above are the same here, where is development, it is merely presentation and the same scales, the same harmonies.

Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III) for two amplified pianos and percussion (two players) (1974): Extended (40 minute) work for two pianos and percussion. Similar use of the typical Crumb ideas - a fragment of Bach (in a long movement that seems like it should be profound), percussionists whistling a hymn (seems like it is again "Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown" as in the Makrokosmos - I don't recall which book), a faux "Hymn to the Star Child" done with held down notes and strumming and in a minor-modal sound, a solemn pentatonic ending that is to signify some sort of culmination of striving (as in Vox Balanae). Nonetheless, it is a pleasant listening experience as suceeds in what it aims for. I only wish that Crumb would start doing something different. I understand that a composer works with what works and this period is when Crumb is really cultivating his techniques. It remains to be seen where exactly he wil go with them in the next thirty years.

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19 February 2007

Xenakis: Ata, Rebonds

At this point the Xenakis survey is looking more and more difficult to do. I've done some searching and it appears that I will be unable to obtain any of the scores from the 1990s. While I do have recordings of most of these pieces, the lack of scores will make it more difficult for me to study them. Xenakis entries will continue, but they will likely be far more sporadic.

Ata (1987): No score available. Boisterous, loud for full orchestra. Mainly consisting of a lot of sawing in even rhythms, with the occasional varied accelerandos that Xenakis began creating in Persephassa. Stinging ending with the ensemble pooping out after spending ten minutes or so beating its collective chest in an orchestral matam. One feels this music directly in the organs, though the visceral impact of the live performane cannot be matched in the recording. I recall hearing this at Ostrava and being constantly amused and charged with each new loudness. Close in some ways to the ecstasy of Lichens. Ata, according to Harley: ancient Greek for "human folly that imprisons one inside oneself"

Rebonds (1987-1989): Solo percussion work in two interchangable sections. Mainly stays with drum sounds with five wood blocks added for effect in part B. A constant steady sixteenth motion that must make this rather enjoyable for the player, I had fun myself playing fake drums while following along. There doesn't seem to be much a place for this piece to go and the thoughts that crossed my mind were in a way related to minimalism, which I think has a strong inspiration on this piece, though probably minimalism as mediated by something like Ligeti's etudes. The "a" section features a little bit more of randomness thrown into a steady drum soup.

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17 February 2007

Schutz: Symphoniae Sacrae III (III)

SWV 403: Siehe, es erschein der Engel des Herrne Joseph im Traum: Setting of the story from Matthew of the Angel telling Joseph to flee to Egypt. Set in a manner reminscent of the Auferstehunghistorie, particularly in some aspects of the opening chorus depicting the words of the angel. Also of interest is the chromatic writing of the same portending the tortured crucifixion symbol of Bach later and earlier the opening of O Sußer, o Freundlicher from the Kleine Geistliche Konzert. Other points of interest is in the use of the chorus as amplification, through repetition of the words, of the angel and later of God. A clean satisfying setting well in line with his other Biblical narratives.

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Xenakis: Tracées

Tracées (1987): Five minute massive work for orchestra, which, surprisingly, sounds small likely because of the pitch saturation and the constant activity - the strings just don't have, for the most part, especially in the beginning, the time to really dig their bows into the strings. The bass drum has a particularly prominent role. Tracées = "traced" The ending is an almost frightening chorale at quarter = 7.5, and notated in small values, implying a very close look at the material. I recall being taken by the visceral experience, the first time I heard this music, but now, almost four years later I find it to be more tame. I should also note the odd piano solo which uses a low ostinato which Harley says is taken from Keqrops.

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Varese: Un Grand Sommeil Noir

This is the first entry in a series of listening notes on Varese's music. I have surveyed Varese a few times before - it's not too hard, there are only about 17 pieces, of which 16 are in circulation - most recently more than six years ago I suspect.

Un Grand Sommeil Noir (1906): Written while a student in Widor's composition class, this is said to be the only published piece of Varese's youth to have survived. It's an atmospheric song for soprano and piano that uses all the exoticisms one would suspect to describe a "grand sommeil noir": Eb minor, open fifths, chromatic progressions etc. Dark and gloomy, but listenable more as an artifact of a particular musical field at the time than as a premonition of Varese's skills.

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15 February 2007

Xenakis: àr.: (Hommage a Ravel)

àr (1987): Short - 2.5 minutes, piano piece seems like a throw off piece, something that Iannis sketched out in an afternoon. Chromatic lines in contrasting motions (I don't think the term arborescences is appropriate as they are usually one voice) with interjecdtions of chords in generally the upper register. The middle of the piano is not used particularly much. Challenging but not overly difficult compared to his other piano music.

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14 February 2007

Composing Today

13/14 February 2007
Today was a fruitful day in terms of planning, if not of actually composing notes. I worked out the second B section with the three decelerandos to quarter = 48. Essentially what I tried to do was figure out sequences that will allow for the three tempo layers to merge. Eventually with some effort I determined sequences such that there could be steady decelerandos among all the layers. This involved determining the mathematical sequences that would yield these. So for the layer of quintuplets, I determined that 12 sixteenths at 72 equals 15 sixteenths at 90. I then needed to figure out a series of durations that totaled would begin with one beat at 90 and slow down to one beat at 24. So if I take 22 measures of 4/4 at 90 this yields me 110 quintuplet quarters, multiplied by four I have 440 quintuplet sixteenths. If I allow each duration to repeat four times before slowing down slightly, which is necessary for audibility, I am able to exact the decelerando over 22 measures. Here’s the math, 4 x 5 means four times five quintuplet sixteenths:
(4 x 5) + (4 x 6) + (4 x 7) + . . . + (4 x 14) + (4 x 15) = 440.
It is necessary to use each duration more than once, or else the longer durations are reached too quickly.
For the layer of triplets (quarter=108), the same amount of time gives me 528 sixteenths. The sequence here is by necessity a bit more complex.
3(4) + 2(5) + 2(6) + . . . + 2(12) + 3(13) + 3(14) + 4(15) + 4(16) + 5(17) + 5(18)
I tried several versions of this and opted for this one because I thought it had the smoothest slowdown. Similar decisions were made for the quarter note layer.
For the layer of quarter notes there is also not as elegant a solution as the quintuplets. 352 sixteenths is the magic number.
6(4) + 5(5) + 5(6) + . . . + 5(11) + 5(12)
My plan now is lay out the scaffolding in a separate document. I can then compose out the harmonies and orchestrate them according to the ensemble change scheme.
The scaffolding is in place it now remains to compose out over it. This will lead into (or be interrupted by) the next ritornello. I’m thinking of doing some sort of a fast lane – slow lane feature for the third B section. Before the triumphant final ritornello.
I’ve also laid out the proportions for the various section lengths.

Carla and I have reservations at a fancy Sushi restaurant on the East Side to try and take in a new level of Sushi experience.


13 February 2007

Xenakis: XAS

Xas (1987): Xas, is surprise, surprise, Sax backwards. Adolphe Sax the inventor of the saxophone. The quartet though has some flaws as I see it, in some ways he treats the four saxophones like they are the same instrument instead of like a string quartet, whose ranges they effectively duplicate. There is much homophonic writing in the piece and a good number of parallel chords - some multiphonics (a new obession it seems at this point for Xenakis) but not used well. Almost as if he is unsure of what he can do, which is strange since Xenakis is always writing things that stretch or challenge accepted instrumental techniques. Harley claims the lack of glissandis must stem from a desire to avoid "blues-type" sounds, which I find dubious, Harley also suggests that Xenakis was quite busy at this time, which I think is a more likely idea. The piece seems to sound like it had been quickly written. There is also something very Andreissen in the sonority, the use of the pelog-like scale (evidently the same scale as from Serment) and in the combination of Lutoslawski-like heterophonic passages and clustery chords.

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12 February 2007

Composing Today

12 February 2007
I worked today on the clarinet solo leading into an oboe solo section. I have now a real sense of where the piece is going to go for the next thirty or so measures and it will require some long term planning. My feeling is that here we are in the slow section of the piece and here we can really allow the colors of the various trios to speak, as they do in the oboe area. There are a series of harmonies that begin to skew microtonally. The solos in this section aren’t virtuosic solos in a traditional sense but instead they play between the notes of the harmonies. I’ve reached a merge and now will split up again into four layers reaching toward another merge. In terms of the long-term planning, what I’d like to do is to set up the entire length of the sections of this third tempo merge and actually mark out the rhythmic points that would create this merge, from there I can add the harmonies that will keep the tension alive. I have a vision of a two or three minute arch or more perhaps before the entry of the third ritornello, which I’ve decided will have a much more dirty sound. From there I’d like to bring back some of the material from the solos in switched instrumentation, particularly some of the opening percussion figures in the brass, which I think will be quite exciting.
I’m thinking of this piece as another example of a dynamic form. I’ve come to the conclusion that the old return of initial material at the end of the piece is in fact a rather dull and programmatic form – it doesn’t imply any sort of dynamism, but instead posits a system in which things don’t change. In reality, in our lives and elsewhere, things change, shit happens, and we come out differently, that’s the wonder of the journey. I’d like my musical forms to have this sort of dynamism. I think this is a lesson I learned from Jonathan Kramer who first suggested it. I recall asking him what were some solid examples of pieces that had such dynamic forms and he read me well suggesting Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments, in which there are various episodes that follow one another in an almost cinematic fashion and that add up to more than their individual parts. I recall also an analysis of the same work that Betsy Jolas presented nearly fifteen years ago in which she spoke of the piece being various litanies by various parts of the ensemble, she used the Debussy memorial piano piece of Stravinsky’s (which formed the basis of the wind chorale at the end of the piece) as almost musicological evidence.


Xenakis: Jalons

Jalons (1986): This is an awful strange piece written for the Ensemble Intercontemporain - (one of everything ensemble + Bs. Cl, second violin and harp). It seems almost as if Xenakis is simply having fun writing for the ensemble, there little of the cohesiveness that ties together some of his other pieces, and the sections are not as clearly demarcated as in something like Empreintes. It is amazing also how thin the ensemble seems in Xenakis' orchestration. There are a few ideas that are worth recounting, the enveloping of the opening sonority - in that different pitches of the chord fade out as they would in an electronic setting. Also the sort of relentlessness of the sixteenth-note rhythm throughout - it is almost Baroque in a way. There's no percussion in this work. Nice moment toward the beginning with the high winds playing a glistening cluster around B as the strings have complex glissandi-melodies, which sound almost like talking especially with the entry of the low Bassoon. It almost seems as if Xenakis is really showing an awareness ofr hte acoustics and harmony here, which given his proclivity later in the piece and elsewhere for pan-scalar sonorities piques the ear, though this idea is not developed. Here is where I feel really left out of this piece, the sectional nature doesn't evidence, at least to my ear, development. Rather it is closer to moment form which is something I've never been all that compelled by. Jalons="signposts, landmarks" just like Horos - his last big commission, interesting, no?

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Copland: Orchestral Variations

Orchestral Variations (1957): A return to the Piano Variations can be read in any number of ways, which I'l get into in a moment. This is an orchestration of the modernist Piano Variations of 1930, one of the more proclamatory pieces of Copland filled with bell-like minor ninths throughout the writing. Where the piece really bothers me is not in its clangorous theme, or in the brilliant orchestration that Copland does here, but rather in the intensely sectional nature of the variaiton structure. There is little change of phrase length and the listener is constantly hearing always in the forefront this annoying little note progression, the regularity beomes, well, regular and one hears Copland and/or this melody trapped in this phrasal box. The return to it at this histirocal point is particularly interesting. This was always one of Copland's more note-sensitive scores and in the climate of rising serialism, we can see it as Copland wanting to jump on the bandwagon, which we'll see later with his other "serial"-type scores, or else by the commissioning agency, in this case, the Louisville orchestra, wanting to present a "serial"-type-sounding piece with the imprimatur of an established conservative name. From the political perspective, if we assume that Copland had the progressive views, and that they are reflectied in his "modernist" scores and that there was an important outlet for progressive art as opposed to socialist art - which Mark Carroll outlines well in his study we can see Copland renewing his political advocacy of progressivism in a return to this note-y work.

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11 February 2007

Xenakis: Lichens I

Lichens I (1983): Is there a Lichens 2? Exuberantly noisy orchestra work with some real showpieces for the percussion. Begins with a weird alternation of the strings and some violin solos and eventually explodes in a riot of brass essentially performing slow tremolo interjections in the manner of a Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments, but much faster.

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10 February 2007

Composing Today

9 February 2007
The piece has reached a strange place. The second ritornello is effectively complete and I’ve moved into what would be the clarinet solo section. Unfortunately, I’m having a hard time getting a sense of what the sound of this area of the piece is. In some ways I’m confused about the larger scale architecture, even though I’m settled on the smaller scale architecture is for the work. Coming out of the opening ritornello is a 30 second section in which the entire ensemble plays in a complex contrapuntal manner eventually leading into the upper reaches before petering out and the piano enters solo. After this second ritornello, the clarinet has a small trio with the violin and flute in long notes accompanied by the nipple gongs and bass drum. This is interrupted by the entire ensemble, as happens in the piano solo, but this time it falls apart, two chords with the nipple gong and then that’s where I’m stuck. In thinking about this now – my initial feeling was to have the ensemble try to build to another climax, but I’m not sure.


Copland: Dance Panels

Dance Panels (1959, revised 1962): In seven "movements". Copland at his most Copland-esque. Long pastroal melodies, bouncy tunes, a snare drum here or there. This is film music without a film, the "dawn" opening on a single pitch with offstage horns, ending with a return of the opening material after a deus ex machina trumpet solo that brings the becoming dissonant festivities to a jarring halt and the dawn rises again. Underplayed and enjoyable. The panel technique allows him to experiment with several different moods, which I'm coming more and more to realize is the essence of Copland's language. Consider even his first piece, the terrible piano work: The Cat and the Mouse, in a way this is similar and stands rather separeate from the more "abstract" proclamatory works like the Piano/Orchestral Variations. The orchestration is consistently ovely an here is an interesting point to be aware of - in COpland's music we are hearing a sound orchestrated for the instruments, instead of the instruments playing the music - its a subtle difference, but one that I will come back to. There is the blending of sounds that is so French - back to the Impressionists and forward to the Spectralists - that differs in so many ways from a contrapuntal style as in, say Carter or Ruggles.

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09 February 2007

Xenakis: Horos

Horos (1986): Monumental orchestra piece reknown in Xenakis theory circles as being the first extensive usage of cellular automata. According to Makis Solomos, the opening harmonies derive from self-developing algorithms taken directly from an issue of Scientific American and used on Xenakis' hand computer - the strange numbering at m. 10 (4200410) is an example of this. The work is massive as befits its title - horos = landmark - and its focus is with rare exception on harmony. I'm not sure again if it can be called harmony becuase for the most part the entire chromatic gamut is in play often in varying registrations - this is almsot an organ piece in its orchestration. So the strings play shifting colors of the chromatic complement over which the winds play the chromatic complement at a different speed with interjections from the brass - the entire pitch spectrum is so saturated that we don't hear it as such. Only when the winds come in with a high Lutoslawski-esque usage of a pelog-like scale do we get a reprieve before it happens again. By the end of the piece - a massive solid sonority with quicker interjections by various groups at quarter = 15 - we feel like we are hearing the whole spectrum when I don't believe we are. This is perhaps the most Messiaen-ic of the Xenakis works I've heard until now and seems to be pointing in a different direction - though its my belief that Xenakis didn't use the automata very much more owing to the difficulty of calculating out the pitches.

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07 February 2007

Xenais: A l'Ile de Goree

A L'Ile de Goree (1986): For Harpsichord and Ensemble ( 1.1.1 Named after the slave trading island off the coast of Dakar. Less dissonant work, begins with a beautiful and harmonically staic cluster with resonance that recurs modified at the end. Do I detect Bminor? F#, G, A, Bb, Cb, D, C#, E = B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A, A# = B harmonic minor + A. This gesture - like waves lapping on shore - lasts much too short, before a rather rhythmic rest of hte piece. Xenakis makes the first extensive use of (subtle) multiphonics since, was it, Akrata, and begins using ensemble vertical sonorities extensively, including a rather lazily notated unison spatial bit. A very strange nd beuatiful trumpet plus other brass melody at the end, but still these pitch sieves aren't really used as scales in a harmonic or contrapuntal sense, they are used as a compound sonority as if pandiatonicism is attached to different collections of pitches from the standard diatonic.

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06 February 2007

Schutz: Sinfonia Sacrae III (II)

Wo der Herr nicht das Haus bauet (SWV 400): Setting of Psalm 127. This is a strange piece, it took me two listenings to really get a hld of it. I think the enigma of the work lies mainly in the psalm which speaks of having the Lord as the foundation of a proper family using the metaphor of a night watchman for the husband - if the Lord isn't there, the night watchman will scan the skies in vain: the Lord gives sleep, the Lord gives children. He who has children is like the armed man with a quiver of arrows, he shall fear no enemy. So Schutz divides the setting basically into two parts, the first a gentle three with the singers in thirds, repeating a head motive on "Wo der Herr" the second part introduces the Bass voice and eventualy moves into a stile concitato ala Monteverdi to refer to the enemies at the gate. I think Schutz does a good job foreshadowing the nightwatchman/war motive with the pictoral use of the wathcman's call in the first half, which then returns in the vocal parts toward the end. Second, he has a good time painting out "sleep" and an interesting use of playing off "kinder" against "Siehe" mixing, in effect, the head motives of the two halfs - thus somehow uniting this disparate somewhat disparate Psalm.

Mein Sohn, warum hast du uns das getan? (SWV 401): Conflation of the story from Luke of Jesus at the temple combined with prasie from the 84th Psalm: How beautiful is thy dwelling place. Set in four parts: after a quiet, solemn symfonia the begins low and moves high there is first a "dialogue" of Mary and Joseph looking for Jesus slow and with a low tessitura, the second the child Jesus accompanied by the two violins, a much higher tessitura, a choir praise, more dialogue followed by an interaction of the soloists and the tutti. Tender work.

O Herr, hilf, o Herr, laß wohl gelingen (SWV 402): A small amalgam of two texts, apparently an expansion and filling out of a one of the Kleine Geistliche Konzerte, praising the Lord and asking for prosperity. In three parts with an introductory symphonia. Alternation of duple and triple meter - rhapsodic pleas in duple, triple meter for praise, ending with an almost hocketing between the vocalist and instrumentalists. Interesting the tonal movement of the final repetitions of praise - begun always with the tenor, first starting on D, then C, then Eb, then F. So there is an overall ascent to the larger melodic line, but with that jog downward which keeps it interesting. Otherwise, relatively unremarkable.

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Xenakis: Keqrops

Keqrops (1986): Another piano concerto, in some ways between than Synaphai, in other ways not. Premeired at, of all places, the NY Phil, with Roger Woodward. Sunning opening, with full orchestra pounding almong with low drums off the beat - powerful. However, at other ,oments it falls into a Palimpsest-like dullness of multiple layers of non-octaviating scales overlapping in slightly differnt tempos - these never work for me, they seem to be space-fillers. One beautiful moment sticks out in what I think was an otherwise relativdely lackluster piece, though lackluster is a strong term - a trio for piano and harp in highest registers in a free spatial-esque notation accompanied by clusters in the bass. The sound is really nice. Otherwise, I feel that the rest of the piece doesn't live up to the promise of the opening, the level of activity of tension of intensity is on par with Empreintes, but then it falls down, restored at moments, but only moments.

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Composing Today

6 February 2007
A small entry tonight. More work on the second ritornello and a thought that perhaps something radical – likely tonally – should happen in the next set of sections. I’ve, I believe, laid out the extent of the duration of this ritornello, though likely not the actual details. Have added some more percussion to the mix – 4 nipple gongs. Not a super productive, but a full few hours of work nonetheless, both in cleaning up and creating new.


05 February 2007

Composing Today

5 February 2007

It’s hard to really get down a sense of what was accomplished today. I took the ending off and then proceeded to work out the second ritornello – moving, crushing, repeating, doing all sorts of things to try to recapture the spirit of the opening, I’m not sure I really got there, and not sure in fact, that it is necessary to do so, perhaps the spirit is really all there is and it can be degraded somewhat, in some ways the final ritornello is a degraded version of the opening. I worked also on that pesky viola section working and building around it so that it can provide a suitable return for the ritornello. I think it works, it involves some noodling in the piano in the very highest registers and then some material derived from that noodling in the bottom of the bass and bassoon combined with the cello chopping away in its own manner. The cello really seems to have a life of its own in this piece, being apart even when it is supposed to be part of a group, I’m sometimes like that, so no reason the cello shouldn’t be. The brass then enters in and a bunch of contrapuntal lines that ascend up to the whistles of the piccolo and the reentry of the ensemble. The overall effect is of a rather tight harmonic labyrinth that leads into the ritornello, but I don’t know how planned it was. I’m coming to trust that sometimes I should just go with my instincts, even if I’m not entirely sure of what they are trying to tell me – there is nothing that can be lost by doing so, if it sounds terrible I can always delete it and try again. I do however, need to be a bit more careful with some of the canonic utilities which can sometimes really mess with the rhythmic treatment of the piece. Usually, I accept this randomness in order that it may open my mind to something new, but sometimes it makes a mistake that isn’t so good and that I don’t catch until its too late. Nonetheless, I’m accepting all this in the process of composing. No matter how much we plan, things will happen and I have to accept them and work with them. The process of composing is a part of the composition and this dialectic of freedom and order and freedom within order and freedom straining against order is very much a part of the piece.


04 February 2007

Composing Today

3 February 2007

Cleaned up some more and worked on what was to be the second ritornello. Unfortunately, or fortunately and with a little help from some of my canonic utilities, I seemed to have composed what will be the end of the piece. It is a glorious, almost ecstatic gloss on the horn material that ebbs and flows in tempo, in harmony, in microtonal character that is quite lovely to me. Perhaps this section I’ve just written will serve as an ecstatic summation after the difficulties of the piece. “Que Vida!” I’ve decided to stop work on it completely, save it as something else in order that it will flow properly when I am able to return to it. In the meantime, I think I have to give the second ritornello another chance – I guess it is not a bad thing.


03 February 2007

Xenakis: Naama

I wouldn't usually do such a thing, but, here to quote from the liner notes of the Ultima 2-CD set that features a recording of this work: "Naama (meaning 'flux') calls for 'periodic constructions thanks to a group of exahedric transformations and stochastic distributions'" Now, this is quite ridiculous. Stochastic is random, conjectural and refers to the process of generating pitches. "Exahedric" appears in only one internet citation - that relating to this quote and as best I can piece together, is either from exa- "10 to the 18th power" + hedric - from hedron faces on a geometric figure, or else from exo-, which becomes ex- =outside of as in "exoskeleton" + a- the Greek negation, thus meaning outside of the negation of the faces of a geometric figure. Whatever it means, is this supposed to tell us anything about the piece, or else allow to understand it better. Obviously not, it's put forth to make someone feel as if they should respect a piece and points to a lack in confidence in the sounding result of the work. That aside, this work for harpsichord is generally exciting, it makes full use of the capabilities of the instrument, brings out its colors, has rhythmic vitality and surprising moments. Uses a non-octaviating scale in an almost Sheppard tone sort of way, uses another scale in apedantic way - actually both scales are used pedantically. Its as if once we accept the pitch sieve we don't need to do anything with it.

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02 February 2007

Composing Today

2 February
Today was a rather furstrating day composing. After the late-night I spent at the Bennington reunion I woke and had a hard time concentrating. This continued into my afternoon composing. I’ve been working very hard to try to make the viola solo work and having great difficulty. I’m tempted to stop reshaping it and just rewrite the whole thing. On top of this, I findt he accompaniment rather busy and the overall effect not all that satisfying. I think I can make it work and can give it one more day before I’ll have to let it be. I also today laid out the return of the ritornello discovering the harmonies – the complement of the six in the beginning – that I would use for the section. It’s very strange to hear the measure transmuted into the new harmony. I also sat down and harmonized out the whole section, in much the same manner I did with the original opening. This will then get fed into the computer and transformed likely quite a bit. I think in the second group, I will have less of a running counterpoint – I’m already starting to tire of its busyness and instead work on the instruments fighting over pitches, rather than musical space as a whole. This will I think bookend the slow section, where they will fight over chords, before having, I imagine, some sort of symmetrical close.
Finished reading Crist’s book on Copland, which became increasingly disappointing as it progressed. I always felt that it was a little too dissertation-y and the wiki-paragraphs describing everything she mentioned a bit pedantic. Her analysis of Copland works from the 40s become a bit more hagiographic and less compelling – the analysis of Appalachian Spring basically hews to a script for the ballet that was discarded. Nevertheless, I appreciate the analysis very much and am pleased that someone is trying to work with musical symbols. However, I remain convinced that the key to Copland’s music lies in his film music and a narrative-dramatic approach is the best way to think about the pieces.