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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29 March 2007


Sorry for the long delay. The thirteen instrument piece - Traffic - has been completed, parts are turned in and I wait in anticipation of the performance. What follows are a number of my reflections on the Xenakis I've been listening to lately. I've been unable to obtain really any of the scores for these later works.

Voyage absolu des Unari vers Andromede (1989): An electronic piece said to evoke an interstellar journey, what we end up with is a whole low of glissandi in essentially one continuous gesture. Pleasant, but not among his finer works in the medium.

Knephas (1990): A powerful choral tribute to Xenakis' friend and supporter Maurice Fleuret, the work is filled with complex choral clusters and an unremitting dissonance. Xenakis has a strange sense of counterpoint here in which chords are changed in the manuevering of individual elements within a sustained texture - we hear something similar in Tetora, I believe. Now this isn't particularly any different than Bach and it's hard to describe. The are no phrases per se, just shifting notes within a sustained harmony. Since Xenakis doesn't really change harmonies the sounding reslut is one of an almost prismatic reflection of dissonance. He also does a nice gesture in which different voices take up different notes of the melody, each holding their individual pitch. The sounding result here is one of a shifting melodic cluster - interesting.

Tuorakemsu (1990): Tribute to Takemitsu for which I was unable to obtain either a recording or score.

Kyania (1990): This a twenty minute orchestral piece that is somewhat interchangeable with a number of his other late orchestral pieces. There are a few interesting moments when various, or mostm, instruments drop out and the listener is left with a small curious melody, these are always striking moments and moreso here given the eternal saturation of the pitch space. In listening to this I was reminded of that piece of Stockhausen's whose name escapes me here - anyone? - in which instead of adding notes to a score he took a score full of notes and then subtracted some sections - the "negative space" if you wlll becomes the sounding space - that which remains. I think Xenakis' pitch use is similar. We take the entire continuum of sound and then we subtract most of it to leave a set of pitches which will be the sound of the piece. From there we saturate the space with that pitch collection. It's an aeolian harp gamut in which various parts are excited and other parts are not as different times. There becomes no harmonic motion, but there is pitch motion - like a progression of twelve-tone chords.

Gendy3 (1991): A much more interesting electronic piece, perhaps one of my favorites, though it seems it is hindered by strange synthesized sounds that sound remarkably similar to old-school synthesized instruments. The harmonic field is again relatively static and it seems like this piece could effectively be orchestrated. The harmonies are interesting and the sound is really of Xenakis - muscular. Apparently, he had quite a difficult time creating this piece. There is an article in a 1993 Perspectives that discusses with a lot of mathematical formaulas the construction of this work. It is an example of theory that attempts to recreate rather than elucidate a work, detailing the mathematical formulas that Xenakis went through to create the piece.

Troorkh (1991): Concerto for trombone and orchestra whose overall impression, to me, is one of stultyfying dullness and tepidness. There is alternation of the soloist and ensemble combined with a relaince on homophonic wind textures, the piece has none of the power and energy of his earlier works. I wonder if Xenakis was cowed by the ensemble.

Paille in the wind (1992): Unable to hear a recording - instead played it through myself on the piano. Against and alternating with cluster chords on the piano the cello demonstrates its tessitura. A short - two pages only - slow satisfying miniature that could be taken up by a pianist of moderate ability and a cellist of greater ability. We do however certainly hear the way that Xenakis uses sieves not as scales but as pitches isolated from the continuum of sound.

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15 March 2007

Shapey: Evocation II

I recently discovered the music of Ralph Shapey from a superb album on the Arabesque label with Joel Krosnick and Gil Kalish among others. This is scrupulous, passionate, uncompromising music rich, rough and powerful. I refer to the two works I've looked at so far, the Songs of Life for Soprano, Cello and Piano and the Evocation II for Cello, Piano ad Percussion. What strikes me about these ecstatic works is their depth while at the same time wish for accesibility - from the ending cadences which are just that, to the recurrent ostinatos, which while terribly apparent in the score are less apparent to the ear, to the way in which he takes the same material and repeats it in a different context and it sounds terribly fresh. For instnace, the opening third movement of the Evocation begins with a cello cadenza which, I believe, is exactly the same as when it appeared in the first movement. In a way there are two things at play: first, the material is strong enough that it doesn't need to be changed - this also probably makes the player happier too. Second, from the perspective of the listener, the effect will always be of one gesture as individual notes become molded in such a rapid dissonant texture. I also admire how the instruments must be fitted to the music and not vice versa, notice how in both these works, the cello is required to be tuned down.
I have great admiration for this music and immediately on hearing it, have that powerful muscular reaction that I so seldom get in other's music.

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06 March 2007


I had a at a certain point decided to look into the music of the Italian "mystical" composer Giacinto Scelsi, whose later works, particularly Anahit, I really admired. I dragged up a listing of his works and began collecting albums and began as is my wont at the beginning. I slogged through the many, I repeat, many early piano works - all quite large and unwieldy, some vey rewarding to play on the piano, others not rewarding at all and have now reached into what some refer to as his Second Period when he began to focus on so-called "one-note" music. After his explorations of the piano come a series of explorations for solo instrument or duo. My notes on the earlier pieces follow below:

1929: Chemin du coeur: Unavailable
1929: Rotative: Unavailable
1930-40: 40 Preludes for piano: Unavailable
1930-40: 6 Pieces from "Paralipomeni": Unavailable
1932: Dialogo: Unavailable
1932: Sinfonietta: Unavailable
1933: Tre canti di primavera: Unavailable
1933: L'amour et le crane: Unavailable
1933: Tre canti: Unavailable
1934: Suite No. 2 (for piano)
1934: Toccata (for piano): Unavailable
1934: Poems (for piano): Unavailable
1934: Sonata Vn. Pno.: Unavailable
1934: Concertino piano and orch: Unavailable
1935: Suite No. 5 (for piano)
1936: Trio No. 1: Unavailable
1936: Preludio, Ariosa e Fuga: Unavailable
1937: Perdus (voice and piano)

1936/9: Four poems: First is quite nice.

1938: Suite No. 6 "I Capricci di Ty" (for piano)
1939: Suite No. 7 (for piano)

1939: Hispania: My recollection is that this was not one of his better moments

1939: Sonata No. 2 (for piano)

1939: Sonata No. 3 (for piano): Quite nice as far as these go. The opening two movements have this sort of searching quality, searching through hamronic fields that I find interesting.

1939: Trio No. 2: Unavailable
1936/40: 24 Preludes: Unavailable
1940: Variations (for piano): Unavailable
1940: Variations and Fugue (for piano): Unavailable

1939?: Sonata No. 4 (for piano):A little bit more harmonic than some of the other really crappy piano music of Scelsi. I have a hard time here with the difference between improvising and composing. It seems that these piano works especially need a lot of editing.

1943: Ballata (for cello and piano): Unavailable

1944: String Quartet No. 1: Very long, some good moments. I listened to this long before I started taking notes.

1945: Introduction and Fugue: Unavailable
1948: La Nascita del Verbo: Unavailable
1950: Trio (vib., mar., perc.): Unavailable though a recording does exist

1952: Suite No. 8 "Bot-Ba" (for piano):Scelsi's orientalism is here apaprent in the "gong" notes, in the clamorous notes. This is though one of the better suites, along with suite 3. He does manage quite well to create a powerful twinkling effect on the piano through tremolo which might be good to reflect on in my own work.

1953: Quattro Illustrazioni (for piano): These are four illustrations from the life of Vishnu. Scelsi has found his niche now, though the piece is somewhat forgetable.

1953: Cinque incantesimi (for piano): On reflection, I have a hard time differentiating this from the others. It is more played, I imagine because it is shorter.

1953: Suite No. 9 "Ttai" (for piano): Another suite, on recollection one of the better ones.

1953: Piccola suite (for flute and clarinet): Here is the beginning of a number of solo and duo works for winds that explore one or two pitches with a bit or ornamentation, not developed really seemingly mere experiments.

1953: Quays (flute): Again an experiment for solo flute.

1954: Suite No. 10 "Ka" (for piano): A better one of the suites, developed, actually there are some very nice movements in it particularly is it the 6th which uses F and C augmented with a Db throughout. The last is not very successful, but really that's the only one. I was never all that pleased with these piano suites, with few exceptions, but this one I could actually live with.

1954: Pwyll (for flute): Experiment for solo flute, success depends on the interpreter.

1954: Preghiera per un ombra (Eb Clarinet): It is hard to distinguish these various pieces for solo instruments. All focus around several pitches have constant or near constant activity with various modal and/or "exotic" grace note figurations. This for Eb clarinet is the same - quasi-tonal with figurations leading up to or around important pitches scalar activity on the deeper level. In three sections, roughly, ending with longer notes. Very few rests.

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Copland: Music for a Great City

Music for a Great City (1964): Developed from the film music for "Something Wild" Dedicated to the ommissioning orchestra and its players (a nice move I think on Copland's part - who wouldn't want to play well a piece dedicated to the players themelves). As film music I bet it works quite well, as concert music not so much so. These aren't set pieces in the way that the Grover's Corners music is in Our Town, rather the movements seem to be fragments, often more rhythmic than melodic, sometimes breaking into sound effect - as in the "Subway Jam" movement, or else background - the "Night Thoughts" movement. Interestingly, it reflects the fashion of film music from the 1960s, I can't put my finger on it, but there is something about the sound of it.

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05 March 2007

Xenakis: Kassandra

Kassandra (1987): What Carla referred to as "the most annoying thing I've ever heard" thoug I seem to recal her having similar reactions to some other of Xenakis's pieces. Setting of a portion of the Oresteia in his "authentic" style, this time accompanied by several drums, five woodblocks and a lyre of sorts which sounds like an electric guitar using some pitch bend. The voice, wild, outrageous, alternates between a low bass voice and a high falsetto babbling incoherent at times and unstoppable. Uses untraditional notation, squiggles and time maps for the voice parts. A memorable experience, bold.

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Copland: Connotations

Connotation (1962): Portentious, loud, self-important orchestral work commissioned for the opening of Lincoln Center. In Copland's proclamatory style and using twelve-tone technique. Trying to make a big statement, but coming off as a windbag. This sounds like Krenek. When Copland uses the twelve-tone technique he tends to be more contrapuntal, as in the Quintet, or percussive as in the Variations (which while not twelve-tone per se share the microscopic attention to pitch class), here it is no different. One comes out of this work wondering just what is so important that Copland is ranting about for 19 1/2 minutes. In some ways, perhaps he was trying to shock, to bring some attention to himself, given, as biographers note, he was falling out of fashion in the 1960s. Nonetheless, it still sounds like Copland and the harsh dissonance is not that shocking. It strikes me with twelve-tone music, particularly of this sort, that a conductor isn't really sure what to do with it - does the cnductor wrk to bring out the row, as if it were a theme, or to work around it, as if it were an ostinato. The row stands in a difficult balance of these two modes of expression. In some ways, the row itself is completely unnecessary, it is just a scale.

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04 March 2007

Xenakis: Waarg, Echange, Epicycle, Okho

Waarg (1988): I've listened to this now three times and have developed more of a liking to the piece. It seems to me to be one of a new type of works of Xenakis, a relentless chordal tickertape. This is different from somehting like the relentlessness of Oophaa, in that it seems to use arborescences as well. The opening is nice, one pitch with a few flutterings around it and at times one could make an argument that it sounds like litanies, but one would be likely pushing the metaphor. Waarg = "work"

Echange (1989): For Bass Clarinet and wind ensemble. Dark, dark, dark. With a tense opening in the bottom registers and lots of long held notes and dark sonorities. Split tones in the bass clarinet as well. Without the exuberance that characterizes a lot of Xenakis music, this is claustrophobic, angry stuff.

Epicycle (1989): For cello and ensemble and indeed many of Xenakis' classic moves from solo works are present again - this piece is like Kottos but with an accompaniment. The opening reeks of Messaien and throughout the harmonies have that sort of sound, though the piece lacks an overall harmonic progression, there is a lot of activity throughout but it doesn't really seem to go anywhere. Not one of Xenakis' better pieces, though the recording could contribute to an overall lackluster sense surrounding it.

Okho (1989): Three djembes and big African "skin" Likeable rhythmic, it ac tually gets a groove several times and exploits the characteristic sounds of the djembes. Probably fun to play as well. Reading Harley's ridiculous description of it after hearing it is an absurd exercise.

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02 March 2007

Crumb: Dream Sequence

Dream Sequence (Images II) for violin, cello, piano, percussion (one player), and off-stage glass harmonica (two players) (1976): Exquisite work of about 15 minutes for piano, violin, cello, percussion and two offstage "glass harmonica" players. Over a drone from the offstage group the varios other players play "circle music" uncoordinated murmurings, flutterings and wisps of melody (including a fragment from "Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?). A true gorgeous mediative success, Crumb really creates a modd and stays with it in the way that he does with the Lux Aeterna, and so seldom does in his other more aphoristic works. I feel like this is a special place in Crumb's work that he only seldom allows himself to go to.

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