29 May 2007

More Scelsi

Khoom (1962): 7 Movements in an unwritten love story from far away for soprano, string quartet, horn and percussion. Now I don't know what this has to do with the ridiculous title other than seem "exotic" but these are generally ok movements with the exception of IV which is actually quite lovely and tender - note the Carnatic shadow heterophony, and V which brings together the primitive power of Yamaon or Hurqualia and has harmony of all things. Worth hearing for these two alone and perhaps could have done with some editing.

20 Canti del Capricorno (1962 - 1972): These are compositions for solo voice and occasionally another instrument - percussion in a few and a surna-type in others. I haven't seen scores. They have a feeling of the sorts of improvisations one does with one's voice when trying to sound shamanistic - or else vocal improvisations I remember from my first year at Bennington with Frank Baker. Guttural shouts, r-k-d-k-t-p kind of rhythmic articulation. Strong indebtedness it seems to ponsori singing of Korea, though admittedly my knowledge of that is slight. A few stand out particularly - 4, 5 and the last which has no vocal soloist.

String Quartet No. 3 (1963): In five movements each appended by a "direction" reflecting a journey of a soul to some sort of mystical state. Interesting how there can be some many different moods from these simple movements on one note, or at best one chord. Remarkable moments, the flat submediant relation that pops up here ad there in movement four and the repeated E naturals at the end of the final movement. None of these are very long and development is not necessary, they last about as long as pop songs and about as long as it takes for one to be really into the sound and then it leaves, if it were longer it would, it seems, be too much - so in this way, although unsatisfying from a larger scale perspective, their proportions are just right. As to the interplay of timbres, I hear the various changes, but I'm uncertain if there is a conscious narrative of timbre, a conscious ompsing out of the timbres of the work. They seem more to me to be momentary and unattached beyond their immediate musical context. One at times hears an arch of dirtying up the sound and then returning to a clean sound, though, as well and this is certainly a composing out of a different aspect of the composition.

Hymnos (1963): Massively powerful work for massed orchestra and organ, an enormous challenge no doubt for any recording engineer. It is said that an overtone hymn emerges from the sound of this at some point, but I must admit in hearing the work many many times over the years and beiung aware and listening for this sound, I have no clue as to where it is or what it is. I would love to see a score or else have someone point out this mystery overtone chorale, though I'm doubtful of its existence. Nonetheless, this is a sonic marvel, an exciting visceral work in a loud-soft-loud sort of form.

Chukrum (1963): For strings alone, it does have quite a bit of Psycho in it, with its jabbing downbows over single pitches. Not of the caliber as some of the other works, particularly Hymnos.

Oleho (solo voice or choir and 2 gongs) (1963): No score - no recording

Xnoybis (1964): In three movements and scored for solo violin, this seems to be on one level a study for Anahit. Uses the one-staff-per-string notation, which allows for some compositional freedom particularly when it comes o the timbre of a single pitch which now can be spread easily (at least to the eye) between several strings - this could be exploited more. For the most part there are variations around single pitches throughout exploiting the combination of open and stopped string owing tot he scordatura. In a way the new notation serves its function well. Not too long and constantly interesting.

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23 May 2007

Some Schoenberg

I began listening to Schoenberg's music primarily in an effort to get me to read more carefully Allen Shawn's book on Schoenberg. I began quite some time ago and ran into some difficulties particularly in regard to the canons, which were difficult to get a hold of, and the castol oil like flavor of a number of the pieces - the Opus 26 quintet, for instance. For the most part the density of ideas has been too much for my little ears and the rhythmic tics all too apparent. Nonetheless I'm soldiering on through the music. My comments began late in my journey and remain for the most part rather tiny.

The chronological list of works follows:

Mailied (Zwischen Weizen und Korn) [May song (Between wheat and grain)] (voice, piano

Stück, d (188-?) (violin, piano)

In hellen Träumen hab’ ich dich oft geschaut [In vivid dreams so oft you appeared to me] (1893) (voice, piano)

Gedenken (Es steht sein Bild noch immer da) [Remembrance (His picture is still there)] (1893/1903?) (voice, piano)

12 erste Lieder [12 First songs] (1893/96) (voice, piano)

Ein Schilflied (Drüben geht die Sonne scheiden) [A bulrush song (Yonder is the sun departing)] (1893) (voice, piano)

Warum bist du aufgewacht [Why have you awakened] (1893/94) (voice, piano)

Scherzo (Gesamtausgabe fragment 1) (ca. 1894) (piano)

3 Stücke [3 Pieces] (1894) (piano)

Waldesnacht, du wunderkühle [Forest night, so wondrous cool] (1894/96) (voice, piano)

6 Stücke [6 Pieces] (1896) (piano 4 hands)

Ecloge (Duftreich ist die Erde) [Eclogue (Fragrant is the earth)] (1896/97) (voice, piano)

Presto, C major (1896/97) (2 violins, viola, violoncello)

Mädchenfrühling (Aprilwind, alle Knospen) [Maiden’s spring (April wind, all abud)] (1897) (voice, piano)

Mädchenlied (Sang ein Bettlerpärlein am Schenkentor) (1897/1900) (voice, piano)

Nicht doch! (Mädel, lass das Stricken [But no! (Girl, stop knitting)] (1897) (voice, piano)

Quartet, D major (1897) (2 violins, viola, violoncello)

Scherzo, F major (1897) (2 violins, viola, violoncello)

Ei, du Lütte [Oh, you little one] (late 1890s) (chorus)

2 Gesänge [2 Songs], op. 1 (1898) (baritone, piano)

Mannesbangen (Du musst nicht meinen) [Men’s worries (You should not...)] (1899) (voice, piano)

Die Beiden (Sie trug den Becher in der Hand) [The two (She carried the goblet in her hand)] (1899) (voice, piano)

4 Lieder [4 Songs], op. 2 (1899) (voice, piano)

6 Lieder [6 Songs], op. 3 (1899/1903) (voice, piano)

Verklärte Nacht [Transfigured night], op. 4 (1899) (2 violins, 2 violas, 2 violoncellos)

Gruss in die Ferne (Dunkelnd über den See) [Hail from afar (Darkened over the sea)] (Aug 1900) (voice, piano)

Leicht, mit einiger Unruhe , C-sharp minor (Gesamtausgabe fragment 2) (ca. 1900) (piano)

Langsam [Slowly], A-flat major (Gesamtausgabe fragment 3) (1900/01) (piano)

8 Brettllieder [8 Cabaret songs] (1901) (soprano, piccolo, trumpet, snare drum, piano)

Gurre Lieder [Songs of Gurre] (1901/11) (6 solo voices, multiple choruses, orchestra)

Pelleas und Melisande [Pelleas and Melisande], op. 5 (1902/03) (orchestra)

Deinem Blick mich zu bequemen [To submit to your sweet glance] (1903) (voice, piano)

Schubert: Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern: incidental music, D. 797 (arr. Arnold Schoenberg, 1903?: piano 4 hands)

8 Lieder [8 Songs], op. 6 (1903/05) (soprano, piano)

Quartet no. 1, D minor, op. 7 (1904/05) (2 violins, viola, violoncello)

6 Lieder [6 Songs], op. 8 (1903/05) (voice, orchestra)

Ein Stelldichein [A rendezvous] (1905) (oboe, clarinet, piano, violin, violoncello)

O daß der Sinnen doch so viele sind! [Oh, the senses are too numerous!] (Bärenreiter I) (April? 1905) (4 voices)

Wenn der schwer Gedrückte klagt [When the sore oppressed complains] (Bärenreiter II) (April? 1905) (4 voices)

Wenig bewegt, sehr zart [Calmly, very gentle], B-flat major (Gesamtausgabe fragment 4) (1905/06) (piano)

Kammersymphonie [Chamber symphony] no. 1, op. 9 (1906)

Quartet no. 2, F-sharp minor, op. 10 (1907/08) (soprano, 2 violins, viola, violoncello)

3 Stücke [3 Pieces], op. 11 (1909) (piano)

2 Balladen [2 Ballads], op. 12 (1906) (voice, piano)

Friede auf Erden [Peace on earth], op. 13 (1907) (chorus)

2 Lieder [2 Songs], op. 14 (1907/08) (voice, piano)

15 Gedichte aus Das Buch der hängenden Gärten by Stefan George, op. 15 (1908/09) (voice, piano)

Am Strande [At the seashore] (1909) (voice, piano)

5 Stücke [5 Pieces], op. 16 (1909) (orchestra)

Erwartung [Expectation], op. 17 (1909) (soprano, orchestra)

2 Stücke [2 Pieces] (Gesamtausgabe fragments 5a & 5b) (1909) (piano)

Stück [Piece] (Gesamtausgabe fragment 6) (1909) (piano)

Stück [Piece] (Gesamtausgabe fragment 7) (1909) (piano)

Stück [Piece] (Gesamtausgabe fragment 8) (ca. 1910) (piano)

Die Glückliche Hand [The lucky hand], op. 18 (1910/13) (baritone, 2 mute roles, chorus, orchestra) *

3 kleine Orchesterstücke [3 Little orchestra pieces] (1910)

6 Kleine Klavierstücke [6 Little piano pieces], op. 19 (1911) (piano)

Herzgewächse [Foliage of the heart], op. 20 (1911) (soprano, celeste, harmonium, harp)

Pierrot lunaire, op. 21 (1912) (voice, piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, violin, viola, violoncello, piano)

4 Lieder [4 Songs], op. 22 (1913/16) (voice, orchestra)

Die eiserne Brigade [The iron brigade], march (1916) (2 violins, viola, violoncello, piano)

Die Jakobsleiter [Jacob’s ladder] (1917/22, unfinished) (multiple solo voices, multiple choruses, orchestra)

Mäßig, aber sehr ausdrucksvoll [Measured, but very expressive] (Gesamtausgabe fragment 9) (March 1918) (piano)

Reger: Eine romantische Suite [A romantic suite], op. 125 (arr. Arnold Schoenberg & Rudolf Kolisch, 1919/1920)

Langsam [Slowly] (Gesamtausgabe fragment 10) (Summer 1920) (piano)

Stück [Piece] (Gesamtausgabe fragment 11) (Summer 1920) (piano)

Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen [Songs of a wayfarer] (arr. Arnold Schoenberg, 1920)

5 Stücke [5 Pieces], op. 23 (1920/23) (piano)

Serenade, op. 24 (1920/23)

Suite, op. 25 (1921/23) (piano)

Denza: Funiculi, funicula (arr. 1921: voice, clarinet, mandolin, guitar, violin, viola, violoncello)

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (arr. Arnold Schoenberg & Anton Webern, 1921)

Schubert: Ständchen [Serenade], D. 889 (arr. Arnold Schoenberg (1921)

Sioly: Weil i a alter Drahrer bin [For I’m a real old gadabout] (arr. 1921)

Strauss: Rosen aus dem Süden [Roses from the south], op. 388 (arr. 1921)

Weihnachtsmusik [Christmas music] (1921) (2 violins, violoncello, harmonium piano)

Bach: Chorale prelude: Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele [Deck thyself, oh dear soul], BWV 654 (arr. 1922: orchestra): Absolutely exquisite arrangement of Bach, everything is perfect. Scored for cello with ensemble, impossibly well orchestrated and conceived.

Bach: Chorale prelude: Komm, Gott, Schöpfer, heiliger Geist BWV 631 (arr. 1922: orchestra): Another absolutely exquisite textbook-worthy arrangement.

Quintet, op. 26 (1924) (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon): Dreadful. Long, boring, long, dull.

Strauss: Kaiserwalzer [Emperor waltz], op. 437 (arr. 1925: flute, clarinet, 2 violins, viola, violoncello, piano)

4 Stücke [4 Pieces], op. 27 (1925) (chorus, mandolin, clarinet, violin, violoncello): These are absolutely interesting, the curious sounds of the accompaniment, the bold inventiveness, the accumulation of tensions, worth hearing again.

Langsame Halbe [Slow half-notes], B (Gesamtausgabe fragment 12) (1925) (piano)

3 Satiren [3 Satires], op. 28 (1925/26) (chorus, alto, violoncello, piano)

Suite, op. 29 (1925) (E-flat clarinet, clarinet, bass clarinet, violin, viola, violoncello, piano): After a very striking beginning we are brought into some strange Schoenberg squareness, whether the reliance on the mannerism of the double-dotted eighth followed by ascending figure - "dum-da-dum, ba-dum" or the relentless almost Baroque rapid rate of change of harmonies. In hearing this music we are aware of one how good Schoenberg is at what he does and how this gets in his way, the constant counterpoint, the repeated similar phrasing, the reliance on old forms - there is a theme and variations and a gigue! As for the theme it is perhaps the most banal theme I've heard, hardlty a theme, more like a Cantus Firmus and not a good one at that, and the variations are similar to everything else we hear throughout. The gigue is relentless. I imagine Schoenberg was trying to make the connection between the contrapuntal mastery of the Baroque and his new technique, but Ihe is so constrained. I wouldn't say the piece is a failure, indeed it is important and a success in some way, but its not enjoyable listening and not even enjoyable non-enjoyable listening. It's like taking a bad tasting medicine.

Wer mit der Welt laufen will (Bärenreiter XXI) (March 1926; July 1934) (3 voices)

Canon (Bärenreiter IV) (April 1926) (4 voices)

Von meinen Steinen [From my stones] (for Erwin Stein) (Bärenreiter V) (December 1926) (4 voices)

Quartet no. 3, op. 30 (1927) (2 violins, viola, violoncello): This is like taking medicine. All the squareness is there, all the sorry caricatures of Schonberg's music, the martial rhythms, double-dotted eighth notes, motivic saturation. The only respite comes in the third movement a rather mysterious Intermezzo in which the rhythmic sameness takes a break and we have alternating units of 2s and 3s within a relative 9 measure.

Variations, op. 31 (1926/28) (orchestra): What has a reputation as a very important piece, yet I found it too suffer from the same problems I find throughout Schoenberg's music, with few exceptions - stiff rhythm, a sense of climax thwarted and overrelaiane on certain rhythmic motives. Disappointing.

Bach: Prelude and fugue, E-flat major “St. Anne”, BWV 552 (arr. 1928: orchestra): An orchestration of the Bach prelude and fugue. The orchestration brings out the various contrapuntal concerns of the original, for instance, in the prelude we have one motive answered by another wth contrasting orchestratration. Not klangfarben like Webern's version of the Ricercare, instead more familial in the orchestration. The fugue is also very well done: the sections of the fugue are broken up according to the families of the orchestra, thus the opening is for winds, the second main section features the brass (or was it the strings) and the third the other. In the final portion, all members come together. Hee we have a prime example of the instrumentation serving the expressive needs of the music.

Arnold Schönberg beglückwünschst herzlichst Concert Gebouw(Bärenreiter VI) (March 1928) (5 voices)

3 Volksliedsätze [3 Folksong movements] (1929) (chorus): Contrapuntal tours-de-force, it bears noting that Schoenberg returned to Bach and folksong setting and canons during this time when he was developing his technique. These are all dense, though only four voices. The third is beautiful, but not ravishing. Particularly nice moment at the beginning of the second verse when there is a small two bar introductory melt before the melody comes in in the soprano.

4 Deutsche Volkslieder [4 German folksongs] (1929) (voice, piano): Each works like a busy chorale prelude though the text is secular - the melodies (15th and 16th century German tunes) of course sound like chorales. These work much better when you don't follow the score and allow the contrapuntal clarity to pass over you, with the score it becomes overdense, too complicated, too many strands to follow. Without the score the strands become lines and their patterns elegant. Exciting pieces.

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09 May 2007

Scelsi: Aion and Riti

Aion (1961): About eighteen minutes in four movements, the first a single-pitch oscillation dronw - a beautiful squawk at the beginning: is that a clarinet multiphonic? The second movement with a good deal of drums that interrupt a similar feel. The last movement a strange bagpipe-y drone complete with the tritone-to-fifth grace note figure and ending with a radiant chord in the upper partials of the fundamental. The orchestration is quite good, as per usual, and I'm struck by how "Hollywood" this all sounds - Hollywood in a modern sense particularly.

Riti: version for Achilles (1962): This is scored for four percussionists, apparently later versions were made for different ensembles, presumably taking the rhythmic framework as a scaffolding. It is an austere work, slow, stately, with a good use of membrane percussion. A microphone is supposed to be placed over the percussion which lends an "aura" to the piece which can be unsettlingly loud drone when it is on for some time. I'm curious to see how the other versions differ.

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06 May 2007

Aretha does Puccini

This was mentioned in the New York Times Arts Section today and warrants spreading, her diction is not so good but the singing is amazing and the arm gestures.

It ranks up there with another outside the fach video I saw recently "What I did for love" with Leontyne Price singing which unfortunately is no longer available on YouTube.

For the purists, here's


05 May 2007

Xenakis: Pu Wijnuej we fyp

Pu Wijnuej we fyp (1992): children's choir: After several days of data entry, I was able to hear this piece in Finale. Its an unholy noise that coming out of children would probably be quite demonic. I wonder if andhow this was performed - the score lists a premiere. Cluster chords throughout, so that the kids could basically sing any pitch at some point and they would be right. Quite difficult. And full of nonmusicall anagram syllables of a poem of Rimbaud - there is no informaiton about the cypher. Entering the work though was a major learning experience into Xenakis' methods, like cluster gamelan, or cluster kecak.

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Copland: Late Piano Works

Midday Thoughts (1944/1982): Apparently derived frm sketchs from the 1940s and put together by a then very frail and ill Copland in the 1980s, this is a quite lovely and profound ABA piano sketch, triumphant in a restrained way, like the Fanfare for the Common Man but half-asleep. Beautiful phrases and clear architecture. Very lovely.

Proclamation: (1973/1982): Copland's last thoughts in any medium, this is a harsh dissonant succession of chords without any real break. Trapped music. In the style of the orchestral works of the 1960s. Notable more for its curiousity value than its deep content.

At this point I have heard almost all of Copland's work with the exception of some of the film works, which will eventually come from Netflix's warehouses to my DVD player. It has been a good experience, far more pleasant than some of my other traversals.

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04 May 2007

Scelsi: Wo Ma

Wo-Ma (1960): H-go, o-go-do t-ho. Is this Scelsi's attempt at some sort of "oriental" speech, a ritualised Asian priest of some sort? Interesting for the first three minutes, I.e. the first movement, but after that progressively duller and more annoying. As Carla said, "this piece annoys the shit out of me", I don't think its that bad, but nonetheless, an idea piece that would have better had it been shorter.

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03 May 2007

Copland: Threnodies 1 and 2

Threnody I: In Memoriam Igor Stravinsky (1971): Over a repeating three voice canon in viola, cello and violin, a flute plays an impasioned melody conjunct but wide ranging in harmony. Transparent and beautiful.

Threnody II: In Memoriam Batrice Cunnigham (1972): For Alto Flute and string trio in a somewhat sustained ABA form, the center tries to get off the ground into something fast but falters then picks up into some harsh chords before settling. These two threnodies - such an interesting title choice - are both quite elegant and beautiful, the Stravisky one moreso. I think playing them one after another is not a good choice. Simple use of a tone row throughout.

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Scelsi: Coelocanth and Ho

Coelocanth (for viola) (1955): A twittering work for solo viola, more in line with the divertimenti than the future so-called "one-note" pieces. The viola flutters around a good deal often in what seems like its higher range.

Ho "Five Songs" (1960): For unaccompanied female voice, this uses again only vowels, "gh," "l" and the like. Scelsi was probably quite interested in the sense of the ecstatic with these songs. The first is a centering piece, focusing solely on the pitch F, quarter-tone inflections of it and the seventh degree. The second opens up to explore a chord-area on B, (Interestingly the same pitches as the opening of the quattro pezzi for orchestra). We then take the opening as if putting the singer into a trance who then can bring forth the Scelsi as instrument for revelation. There is probably one too many, though the fifth is quite nice, focusing as it does on a high-G coming back to the low B-F.

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02 May 2007

Scelsi: Quatro pezzi su una nota sola

Quattro pezzi su una nota sola (1959): This is Scelsi's justifiably famous big "one-note" piece, though he had been getting there for some time - not for orchestra proper, more like a large chamber group - 22 players, no violins, four hourns, two saxophones. In four movements this time - each an exploration of a single note - F, then B, then Ab then finally A. Tellingly dramatic and strangely compelling, no doubt to the large scale prolongation of a cadence from the diminished resolving to A in the final movement: this is tonal music, 100%. I think this is what leads to the drama of the work - the romantic narrative. What lends it its internal motion, I'm not certain as it seems the quarter-tone inflections aren't guided. Excellent.

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01 May 2007

Scelsi: Tre canti sacri; Kya

Tre canti sacri (1958): Three movements for choir on sacred fragments: "Angelus" "Requiem" and "Gloria" of the three "Angelus" is the least interesting. The other two make use of what would become typical ways of working for Scelsi - the oscillations around a particular interval - in "Requeim" F-C and the expansion over time to a particular interval, the fifth (B-F#), in the Gloria. Intervals chosen for the sacred connotations no doubt. Shows an awareness of the trends of the time in the choral klangfarbenmelodie as in Nono's recent choral works. Here the choir members are trading off melodies and interval oscillations which must contribute to making this extrememly difficult piece easier to perform. Powerful recording made by Neue Vokalsolisten. The "Gloria" also has a great dramatic arch and here Scelsi's works can really succeed in that he ties together the narrative arch of Romanticism with the sensitivity to timbre and harmony that he had in his earlier works.

Kya (1959): Again in three movements (someone must have told Scelsi to write three movement pieces at some point - I've done it too - they tend to be more lithe and less clunky than four movements), this is for C clarinet (a richer more klezmer sound) and seven instruments - english horn, bass clarinet, horn, trumpet, trombone, viola, cello). Beautiful and lyrical even with the limited accompaniment palette - primarily oscillating drones. The clarinet wanders about like Hariprasad Chaurasia, the drama builds in the third movement, but its not harsh. The instrumentation is particularly rich in partials. Very successful.

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