28 April 2007

Scelsi: Tre canti poplari

Tre canti popolari (1958): Three movments for quartet of "natural" voices (remember N'Shima of Xenakis - more impossible music for untrained singers) this is recorded on an old Sub Rosa disc; the liner notes say it was recorded down a minor third as the original pitch proved impractical.Of the three movements the last is the most impressive - throughout it is divided into two duos - alto/bass, tenor/soprano, this is exploited to the best in the third movement. Anyway, the third features a repetition of an ascending tetrachord that sounds almost Indonesian, The voices sing vocables and fricatives. Not as good as the Canti Sacri.

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27 April 2007

More Lutoslawski

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1987): A large scale work for piano and orchestra that shows a lot of allegiance to older styles of concerto construction. That is to say, plenty of figuration in the piano part - we really get a sense of the interplay, who is soloist who is accompanying etcetera. Some nice moments but overall not too interesting.

Interlude (1989): Written to stand between Chain II and the Partita for Violin and Orchestra as a transition, this is an atmospheric 6 minute work in which the strings hocket back within a chord and series of chords and over which most, if not all, of the other members of the orchestra provide interjections. Mysterious more than tension filled.

Tarantella (1990): A small and quite well done song for Baritone and piano based on a verse of Belloc: "Do you remember an inn? Miranda?" Fits very well within the baritone voice and actually is quite enjoyable to sing and play. Makes efficient use of a few gestures and is pervaded by the "Miranda" motive throughout.

Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1990): Tame work for soprano and orchestra based on a number of poems for children by Desnois. Effective and pleasant work, but with nothing substantial, nor taxng on the listener. Well done vocal writing.

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23 April 2007

More Scelsi

More comments on Scelsi.

Four Pieces (for horn in F) (1956): There doesn't appear to be a recording of this - at least not one I can get my hands on, though I've seen the score. Uses stopped sounds in the first movement, muting techniques (up to the player) in the second. Exploring perhaps the different sound qualities. I can see how these very very bold for their time.

Ixor (1956): For Clarinet or other instrument like it, the recording I heard if for the English Horn. In one movement and demonstrating the technique that Scelsi was developing of expanding intervals - we begin on Db and we eventually open up before returning to Db. On the return, however, the Db sounds different, not like a tonic, more like a Neopolitan, but C doesn't sound like a tonic either move like a seventh. Subtle.

Divertimento No. 5 (for violin) (1956): No recording or score available.

Three Pieces (for trombone) (1957): More focused in pitch content than, I think, any of the other of these solo studies. The trombone has great qualities for this sort of sound which are exploited in the first movement much more than the other two. Consider the first movement, ABA effectively, with the A sections basically around a single pitch - is it Ab (I'd have to look again at the score) - that becomes extended through the use of glissandi in the B. The glissandi seem forced, somehow. The other two movements extend this pitch-centrism somewhat.

Rucke di guck (1957): Duet for piccolo and clarinet. Essesntially ogranizes the expanding interval concept on two instruments. This allows us to hear the fundamental pitch much more strongly and to allow for the other pitches to open up around them, we have a single line through two instruments and in two pitches - a complex pitch if you will. Otherwise forgetable.

I presagi (1958): In three movements for an ensemble of brass with percussion it is said to represent, like Yamaon before (and Ecuatorial by Varese before before) and Uaxuctum after the destruction of a Mayan city. The last movement provides that destruction with powerful explosion of percussion. The movements prior have some nice focus on single pitches and the complex monophony that I mention in regard to Rucke di guck. I'm intrigued by the use of the wind machine which leads me to believe this is, I shudder to use the wor, programmatic.

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17 April 2007

Copland: Various

Some more of the ongoing Copland listening. We've gotten into the late, strange stuff. Copland was coming down with Alzheimer's I believe and found composing to be quite difficult.

Down a Country Lane (1962): Beautiful, gentle piano miniature in the Fast-Slow-Fast ABA that is typical. The orchestratd version shows Copland's genius for orchestration. I get a sense that there is something restrained in the emotions, very New England throughout - the title is a bit precious.

Emblems for Wind Ensemble (1964): Copland was asked to write a work for wind ensemble and created somedthing that sounds as if it were the beginnings of the Midwest Wind Ensemble sound. The work is enjoyable, particularly in the slow pastoral opening, if not the jazzy middle section. However it is problematic. At about the middle of the opening section, he quotes Amazing Grace - which he claims just "fit" with the harmonies that he had already written - the hamronization is lovely, but the choice and the justification is not believable. Appearing as it does again at the end, after the jazzy section it almost seems to make a curious symbolic justification that I'm not sure if Copland meant - the jazzy sound associated as it has been in twentieth-century classical music with transgression redeemed by the hymn music - could this reflect on Copland post-McCarthy? Hard to say. I think we need to conceive of Copland's music, especially his non-Proclamatory music, as programmatic, consider the ballets, the film music.

In Evening Air (1967): A gentle short piano piece that makes no demands of the listener or really the performer's interpretive abilities. Simple, elegant, with repetitions of materials in shifted harmonies. Apparently the music derives from Copland's score to "The Cummington Story"

Inscape (1967): Frankly a ponderous affair filled with tension filled contrapuntal phrases that alternate with each other each seeming like it will ead to somewhere else, but never really going anywhere it seems. It's not an unpleasant piece, it just seems to feel like it is trying to say something rather important but never really does, like a bad lecturer. There are some tensions I think between Copland and the twelve tone language you can see the escape routes - the chords over which a disjointed violin line runs as if to use up the remainder of the pitches, the big twelve note chords - the first (at the opening) of which is impressive. Copland also claims to have used 2 rows, which in mjy opinion pretty much negates the aestheticism of row use. Said to be the glory of Copland's later years, I would disagree, though I don't have a suitable candidtate to take the mantle.

Ceremonial Fanfare (1969): There's not much to say about this brief fanfare. As a fanfare goes it works well, the harmonies are clean as per Copland, the melodies clear and speaking well through the instruments, probably also fun to play. In three sections of which the last is a culmination of the first - the first is simply canonic presentation of the melody. This is melody driven music.

Inaugural Fanfare (1969): This fanfare on the other hand is really quite strange - again ABA, but the B section is a dialogue of two trumpets marked "from afar" The main theme makes use of a Lydian fourth and the overall feel of the work is not all that triumphant, it’s a begrudging vidtory, ambivalent almost. The opening is striking with the percussion trading to the brass and then a lovely sound of two glockenspiels and flutes, But we never get full integration and the fanfare never really takes off. However compare this with an earlier fanfare like the Jubilee Variations or the Fanfare for the Common Man and we see a real decline in quality.

Happy Anniversary (1969): For Ormandy's Seventieth - relatively straightforward arrangement of Happy Birthday - tune is not modified - accompaniment builds up pandiatonic cluster chords as the song progresses. Lively and probably sounds good with the orchestra (no recording) but not as interesting as Stravinsky's "Greeting Prelude"

Duo for Flute and Piano (1971): Copland returns to his classic style in this piece for flute and piano. Opening is beautifuly diatonic, fast section seems very dry after a lamenting off-kilter second movement with minor and major thirds (more like the proclamotroy Copland).

Three Latin-American Sketches (1959-1972): Three movments based on various Mexican styles: Estribillo, and Danza de Jalisco bookend a slow evocative Mexican siesta scene. Makes extensive use of the trumpet as soloist. The second movement has a languid beauty in which almost everything can easily have the tendency to lounge on the beat, though that could be the recording, I think though playing it more straight would really dullen its effect. The final Danza is sparingly orchestrated at times, effectively, I think. Perhaps this next comment is informed by my knowledge of Copland's biography at this point, but these seem to be orchestrated in a spare manner, as if extra notes were too much trouble, or else there is an influence of the late twentieth century solo insturment sound present. Begun in 1959 and assembled and completed in 1972.

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Crumb: Star Child

Star-Child for soprano, antiphonal children's voices, male speaking choir, bell ringers, and large orchestra (1977): Large portentious orchestral work. Amazing the naivity of the mixed Christianity combined with 2001 astral-Jesus blah-blah-blah nativity replete with a Platonic cosmos made audible in concentric and coexistant Musica Humanas an Musica Mundana. The recording however cannot do justice to the amazing spatial qualities of the piece - whether the Seven Trumpets of the Apolalypse in the balconies or the Four Horsemen or the use of the 5 conductors. Effectively eliminates the strings from compsoing consideration by giving them a repeating music for the entire work practically. Overlong Soprano and Trombone Libera Me coming from a "Vox Clamans in Deserto" Nonetheless through all the gobbledegook the work is effective, if not particularly moving.

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11 April 2007


I appear to never have posted my notes on the great Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski. Spurred on by Naxos' budget collections of his music, and an attraction to the works of some of my colleagues which were clearly influenced by Lutoslawski (though at the time I didn't know it) - both are Oberlin grads - Curtis Hughes whose early orchestral piece whose name I don't remember and Michael Klingbeil whose "November Gales" I still find quite lovely, I decided to begin exploring the works of Lutoslawski. Like Ligeti, the early works are a variety of choral and school pieces in the spirit of Bartok. Later works move into what is usually refered to as an aleatoric period (in which players are given leeway in the way they play the provided notes) and then a more concise summation of technique in the later years. In general, I have found the music to be disappointing - the aleatoric works end up being a lot of noise with static harmony and Romantic gesture without attendant harmonic narrative. What follows is the work list followed by various notes - which I began taking late into the listening. Many of the early works and mass-songs I can find nothing out about. In coordination with the listening I have been reading Charles Bodman Rae's overly comprehensive and worshipful The Music of Lutoslawski

Has?o uczniów [Student Song] (1931) - choir (SATB/TTBB)

Requiem fragments (1937) - sop, choir, orch

Lacrimosa (1937) - sop, organ -

Symphonic Variations (1938) - orch

Two Studies (1941) - pf

Variations on a Theme by Paganini (1941) - 2 pf

Variations on a Theme by Paganini (1941, orch. 1978) - pf, orch

Pies´ni walki podziemnej [Songs of the Underground Struggle] (1942-44) - voice, piano - I cannot find anything about this.

Drobnich utworów polifonicznych (1943-44) - wind instruments

Cwicze polofonicznych (1943-44)

Trzy kole˛dy [Three Carols] (1945) - solo voices, unison choir, ensemble

Trio (1945) - oboe, clarinet, bassoon

Melodie Ludowe [Folk Melodies] (1945) - piano

Dwadzies´cie kole˛d [Twenty Carols] (1946) - voice, piano

Twenty Polish Carols (1946, orch. 1984-89) - soprano, female choir, ensemble

Szes´c´ piosenek dziecinnych [Six Children's Songs] (1947, arr. 1953) - children's choir, orchestra

Szes´c´ piosenek dziecinnych [Six Children's Songs] (1947) - voice, piano

Symphony No. 1 (1947) - orch

Two Children's Songs (1948) - voice, piano

Two Children's Songs (1948, arr. 1952) - voice, chamber orchestra

Lawina [The Snowslide] (1949) - voice, piano text(s): Alexander Pushkin, Obval (1829)

Overture for strings (1949) - string orch

Little Suite (1950) - ensemble

Little Suite (1950, r. 1951) - orch

Wiosna [Spring] (1951) - mezzo-soprano, chamber orchestra

Jesien´ [Autumn] (1951) - mezzo-soprano, chamber orchestra

Siedem pies´ni [Seven Mass Songs] (1950-52) - voice (unison chorus), piano

[Ten Polish Songs on soldiers' themes] (1951) - male choir (TTBB)

[Straw Chain and other children's pieces] (1951) - soprano, mezzo-soprano, ensemble

Silesian Triptych (1951) - sop, orch

Recitative e arioso (1951) - vn, pf - Very nice.

Wiosna [Spring] (1951, arr. 1952) - voice, piano

Srebna szybka / Muszelka [Silver window-pane / Cockle-shell] (1952) - voice, piano

Towarzysz [Comrade] (1952) - voice, piano

Bucolics (1952) - pf

Pie˛c Melodii Ludowych [Five Folk Melodies] (1945, arr. 1952) - string orchestra (school)

Bucolics (1952, arr. 1962) - vl, vc

Miniature (1953) - 2 pf

Diesie˛c tan´ców polskich [Ten Polish Dances] (1953) - chamber orchestra

Trzy utwory dla m?odziez˙y [Three Pieces for Young People] (1953) - piano

Dwie pies´ni dziecinne [Two Children's Songs] (1953) - voice, piano

Dwie pies´ni dziecinne [Two Children's Songs] (1953) - voice, piano

Three Fragments (1953) - fl, hp

Trzy pies´ni z˙o?nierskie [Three Soldiers' Songs] (1953) - voice, piano

Dwie pies´ni dziecinne [Two Children's Songs] (1953, arr. 1953) - voice, chamber orchestra

Szes´c´ piosenek dziecinnych [Six Children's Songs] (1947, arr. 1953) - mezzo-soprano, chamber orchestra

Concerto for Orchestra (1954)

S´pijz˙e, S´pij [Sleep, sleep] (1954) - mezzo-soprano, chamber orchestra

Idzie nocka [Night is falling] (1954) - mezzo-soprano, chamber orchestra

Warzywa [Vegetables] (1954) - mezzo-soprano, chamber orchestra

Trudny rachunek [Difficult sums] (1954) - mezzo-soprano, chamber orchestra

Cztery Melodie sla˛skie [Four Silesian Melodies] (1945, arr. 1954) - four violins (school)

Dance Preludes (1954) - cl, pf

Dance Preludes (1954, orch. 1955) - cl, ch orch

Dance Preludes (1954, arr. 1959) - ens

Zas?yszana melodyjka (1957) - two pianos

Five Songs (1957) - sop, pf

Five Songs (1957, orch. 1958) - sop, orch

Bajka iskierki [Sparkling Tales] (1958) - voice, piano

Piosenki dziecinne [Children's Songs] (1958) - voice, piano

Na Wroniej ulicy w Warszawie [On Wronia Street in Warsaw] (1958) - voice, piano

Musique funebre (1958) - str orch - Excellent

Sechs polnische Weihnachtslieder (1959) - 3 recorders

Trzy piosenki dziecinne {Three Children's Songs] (1959) - voice, piano

Three Postludes (1960) - orch

Jeux vénitiens (1961) - ch orch

Trois poemes d'Henri Michaux (1963) - choir, orch

Quartet for Strings (1964): I was not too fond of this quartet either.

Paroles tissées (1965) - tenor, ch orch: I found much of this to be rather dull. The vocal line clearly written specifically for Pears, but perhaps I'm growing tired of all of Lutoslawski aleatory.

Symphony No. 2 (1967) - orch

Livre pour orchestre (1968): Again, none too pleased.

Invention (1968) - pf: This invention is a somewhat atonal-ish eighth note study.

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1970): I feel like L. has changed here, the mumbling aleatory is gone replaced with a more extroverted aleatory. The cello is definitely pitted against the ensemble, maybe a little much so. Nothing changes in the work, there is no rapprochement. Also, it seems the preoccupation with 12 note chords seems to be a little toned down as well.

Preludes and Fugue (1972) - 13 str: Okay. Way too long. 7 preludes with all manner of Lutoslawski cliches, twelve-note chords, mumbly pizzicato etc, followed by a "fugue" with the Lutoslawski overlapping heterophony. What really bothers me is that we effectively have images of loud, soft, tense, animated, without really having it. Tense means lots of repeated notes, everyone playing fast, but this isn't matched in harmony whcih effectively stays thesame throughout the moods. Similar with the tempo - probably owing to lack, relatively, of harmonic rhythm. It is said this is a culmination of the aleatoric style, I certainly hope so.

Les espaces du sommeil (1975) - bar, orch: Again - Lutoslawski has nice moments but they are subsumed in a long boring stretch. The vocal line is mainly syllabic.

Sacher Variation (1975) - vc: Ok. Like all the Sacher pieces this takes the notes of his name and has them take over the piece essentially. In between an ascending "Sacher" are a number of ornamented playings on single notes - quarter-toned out ornament-wise.

Mi-parti (1976) - orch: Mi-parti shows Lutoslawski a little more in touch with his harmonies and has a few minor nice moments that are similar to what drew me to Lutoslawski, but ultimately I'm bored by it. I likethe use of the brass playing essentially heterophonically, with one playing 1, 3, 5 and the other playing 1, 2, 4, 5 and they come together at the beginningand end - I'm not describing it well.

Novelette (1979) - orch: Novelette is a story that never gets off its feet. It has a disturbing habit of moving to a level of "high tension" and then backing off, dispersing it with no ramifications ina chromatic flurry. Disappointing.

Epitaph (1979) - ob, pf: When Lutoslawski goes back to a small scale he is much more effective as he is in this tiny oboe and piano piece, that alternates a melody with a number of interpolations before the melody gets to play in full at the end. When he uses large scales he tends to fall into the same traps over and over. When he is using a few instruments he seems to be forced to find different solutions and in some ways return to the roots of his melodic sense.

Double Concerto (1980) - ob, hp, ch orch:

Grave: Metamorphoses (1981) - vc, pf: Not as effective as the oboe piece. People talk about how there is a new phase in Lutoslawski, but it's not particularly an interesting one - I do note more melodic writing and less dependence on effects developed from aleatory. I'm curious to see how he makes this into a string orchestra piece.

Grave: Metamorphoses (orch. 1981) - vc, str orch: Works better in string orchestra.

Nie dla ciebie (1981) - sop, pf: Cannot find any information

Mini-Overture (1982) - brass quintet: A small overture, nothing special.

Symphony No. 3 (1983) - orch: Long, long. Really only picks up in the end, when Lutoslawski has effectively put a lot of the improvisational material behind him.

Chain I (1983) - ens: Hard to say this piece, it has moments, but is not memorable.

Partita (1984) - vn, pf: Work for violin and piano - like much of Lutoslawski's chamber music it is far better than some of the orchestral works. Again there is a sort of Bartokian flair, combined with a slow movement that does have a dramatic sweep to it, muc in the way of Messiaen. There are some fine melodies - if we can cal them that, more like melodic writing - and a brash powerful opening.

Partita (1984, orch. 1988) - vn, orch: Transcription of the violin and piano work. I did not look at the score.

For Martin Nordwall (1984) - clarinet: Cannot find any information

The Holly and the Ivy (English Carol) (1984): This appears in a collection published in England called the "Chester Book of Carols" A rather straightforward rendition of the traditional carol - the melody remains the same as expected. The harmony is slightly pungent, but not enough so to distress congregational singers. Lutoslawski must have had a thing for Christmas given the amount of Carol settings in his worklist.

Chain II: Dialogue for violin and orchestra (1985): Tepid piece for violin and small orchestra in the "chain" form that Lutoslawski was looking towar.d He claims to be devoting much more attention to harmony but again loses it in the aleatoric sections. In the notated sections we come across a good deal of twiddly writing in the violins with percussive writing in the winds and strings - very melody accompaniment without any trong melodies, so here we have a tension that I think results in this feeling of tepidness that I experience. My understanding of this "chain" concept is that the accompanimnet, in this case the orchestra, and the soloist, here the violin, often do not begin and end together making neat phrases. In practice, I don't know that we hear like this - I certainly don't hear anyhting special in this overlap given the history of counterpoint and long phrasing schemes in much modern music.

Chain III (1985) - orch: What feels to me to be the most successful and interesting Lutoslawski work I've heard in some time. It feels good to say that I'm not disappointed in hearing this. There is a narrative structure within this "chain" method. It is said, by Stucky, that the opening is a prime example of this technique, which I feel like I may now have understood, essentially what it is is a succession, not so much juxtaposition, in that they overlap, of various musical fragments, which may or may not be related to each other, though the succession never seems incongruous as in say Stravinsk'ys SYmphonies of Wind Instruments, there may not be a narrative arch to the succession, though just as often there seems to be one, but the events flow into each other. This piece has a climactic ending which after a few crashing chords gives way to a keening group of cellos glissando-ing for a measure or so - very Ives-like. Chain form is like moment form but with an overlap.

Fanfare for Louisville (1986) - winds, perc: One finds it hard to speak of a tiny one minute fanfare. This iis loud with the sparking chords that are his metier

Fanfare for CUBE (1987) - brass quintet: But 20 seconds long, yet classical, in Eb, marked a la Polonaise.

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Scelsi: Various

After some chiding by Mika Pelo, I've returned to this posting. What follows are some notes, really, only notes, on my ongoing exploration of Scelsi.

Hyxos (1955): A beautiful piece for alto flute and percussion (1 playing 2 gongs and a cowbell). In 3 movements, sets up a meditative mood and manages to sustin it throughout its duration. Somewhat "Japanese" in flavor, but without seeming particularly derivative. Unlike any of the other works from this period of which I am so far aware.

Four Pieces for Trumpet (1956): Four pieces for trumpet, another in the series. Not memorable.

Three Pieces for Soprano Saxophone or Bass Trumpet (1956); Perhaps the finest of these "pezzi" for solo instruments and the soprano saxophone is the right choice. Essentially, Scelsi limits himself to the pitches of a fundamental chord for each piece and then plays around with pitches that are neighbors to these fundamental pitches. So in the first, based around D, we hear a lot of F#, C and A and Bb in the middle part of this first movement there is more whole-tone ish playing around. The second movement begins with a feignt we think F minor-ish, but eventually we find these to be the neighbors/sevenths to a G minor-ish area.

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