25 June 2007

Scelsi some more

Ko-Lho (1966): For flute and clarinet and a minor work. We get the sense of a continuum of sound that is sustained between the two instruments. Somewhere half between the solo and duo works of the late fifties and early sixties and the unison works like the Duo.

Elegia per Ty (1958/1966): In three movments and scored for viola and cello, this is elegiac though I wonder how much I'm being pulled in by the title. Ty was a pet name for Scelsi's wife, if I recall correctly. The first movment, based around Gb and F quarter-sharp gives off a remarkable keening in the beating between the cello double stops and viola lines. The second movement more dramatic with its powerful octaves. Overall moving, breathing, calming piece. Notice the use of nonpitched pizzicati. I read somewhere that in the trnascriptions, Scelsi would want everything on the tape transcribed - getting into the sound perhaps? - including the noise of the street, the tape hiss, the occasional knock of the radiatior. Could this be the daily life of Scelsi intruding on the composition and enlivening it? I find myself when listening to my old recordings that I expect the cough, I expect the paper turn - I even at one point incorporated sound from the recording - paper rustling - into a very early piece of mine. You get used to the wrong notes and they become the right ones.

Ohoi (1966): One big inexorable siren-like work of 8 miniutes for strings. Ascends from an ominous chord to louder and higher range always with interesting ornament. Doesn't really climax instead gets loud and then peters out. Could not get the score.

Uaxuctum (1966): The real Uaxuctun - "eight stones" in Mayan - and a pun on "Washington" - was a Mayan city close to Tikal that sruvived from the 4th century CE and was abandoned sometime after 900 CE. Scelsi's Uaxactum, the full title is "Uaxuctum: The Legend of the Maya City which destyroyed itself for religious reasons," programmatizes the mystery of this abandonment. For choir and orchestra in 5(?) movements. Ritualistic and strongly influenced by the breath - I get a sense very much like that of the people frozen running from Pompei. No doubt for Scelsi, Pompei would be in his mind even if Popol Vuh was in his library. So we hear the frozen sounds, the choir shouts at mezzo-forte. Fits in a vein of Scelsi's work that includes Yamaon and Hurqualia - Scelsi as prophet here - recreating this ritual act. I think also to really understand this we need to think of it in line with - now don't come down hard on me - Italian movie music - Morricone, the wordless choirs, the programs. Could not get the score.

Elohim (1965/67): Very much out of the ordinary for Scelsi, more like Xenakis. Alternation of differetly agitated chords with clusters. About four minutes and for strings. Striking. Very much about breathing, no doubt influential to spectralists. Could not get the score.

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18 June 2007


Pastoral Drone for organ (1982): A very minor piece for organ, over a constant 11th in the pedal a variety of quasi-medieval pastoral figures, recall a not-so-great medieval krumhorn dance. The score betrays a not entirely well-formulated sense of the organs possibilities.

Trio for Strings (1982): No information - does anyone know anything about this?

Processional for piano (1983): On the keys! A one movement, eleven minute work for piano, completely out of character in form, method, and to a certain degree content. Pandiatonic cluster chords with off notes, a satisfying form. It shows that Crumb can do longer things when he wants. Quite satisfying.

The Sleeper for soprano and piano (1984): A song based on Poe written for Jan DeGaetani and Gil Kalish. The piano part is almost entirely inside the piano. Moody, somewhat evocative, the sound of bells evinced by harmonics on the lowest three strings of the piano. Nothing special.

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A Return to Scelsi

Taiagaru (1962): Not too enthused about this one.

Yliam (1964): Definitely one of his better works, for female choir up to I think 8-10 parts spreads from an A out in both directions to a chord. There is a narrative sense to the piece which makes you listen even through the somewhat dull stretch in the middle, also in the female voices there are great means to realize the vision of this sliding alterately dirtied pitch world. A great success, if quite difficult to sing - woe be to whomever is singing Soprano 1 and 2. The literature that has sprung up around this musi is a bit overblown, but this is a cosmic sound experience made all the better to beheard in a reverberant space.

Duo (for violin and cello) (1965): Two movements for violin and cello, both of which seem to play in a strange area in which it is not supposed to be dramatic yet at the same time there are dramatic gestures - just when you think you can safely live in a detuned octave, say, the violin comes with a loud ponticello in the high register and so forth. THe first movement is about detuning a G octave, the second, more meditative. Just as Scelsi thoroughly explored one idea - for instance the piano for a while, he is now been in the strings, primarily for several years. I imagine he will soon move on to something else.

Anahit (1965): "Concerto" for violin and 18 instruments, spectacularly beautiful, with phrases based on breathing it seems. The orchestration is supple, the entry of the violin stunning - like the Sibelius concerto even - after the cadenza the violin is apotheosized - stunning.

Anagamin (1965): I was unable to see a score for the work. A piece for strings that moves around an octave and its higher harmonics. There is a sense of impending doom in this. The orchestration is ever lovely of course.

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Pärt: 2

Diagrams for piano opus 11 (1964): I was able to hear only one movement of this - the first a rant almost a figure- violine played throughout the range of the piano before a series of banging down on clusters which dissipates. Hiller speaks of the row material used and again a B-A-C-H motif as well as a sort of aleatoric quality.

Musica Syllabica for 12 instruments (1964): I can find no information. Hiller mentions it and remarks on its use of a twelve-tone row laid out in a particularly formal and followed through way, no surprise to me given the work Part is doing in other pieces.

Quintettino, opus 13 (1964): Beginning with a massive G major chord and ending with an Ab Major the remainder of the three short movements for woodwind quintet are pervasively dissonant second-based harmonies spread over extreme range - the progressions are fine when he does them, more often he pounds out the dissonances to pound them out - he's trying to be heard in this work, though the shave and a haircut of the ending clothes it in an air of ironic detachment - new musicologists would have a blast with this piece. Makes use of the BACH figure which became so prominent in his work of this year.

Solfeggio (1964): A logical, if radical, followup to what was done in the Perpetuum Mobile. Instead of a twelve-tone row however he is simply using the major scale. Every two beats another pitch enters and some drop out, at around m. 20 there is an odd bit where the altos sing an octave and for twelve beats instead of six, this leads me to believe that there is a mirror point there, though of what is not readily apparent.

Collage on B-A-C-H (1964): Developing out of the quintettino there are many similarities, the ironic oopening and closing chords, the toccata duplicated many of the quintettino's sonorities and methods - chang, chang, chang, chang downbows take over for martellato wind chords. The second movement is a Bach alternately orchestrated for oboe, harpsichord and strings and then piano and strings - the version with piano replaces Bach's harmonization with clusters, perhaps a needed thumb-nose at the time, but sounding stupid today. The third movement a ricercare on B-A-C-H is not particularly appealing either. Overrated.

Maekula Piimamees (film) (1965): No information

Pro and Contra concerto for cello and orchestra (1966): Three movements (of which the second is a four bar Baroque half-cadence attacca) for cello and orchestra that exhibits a well made dramatic sense and some tendencies that are becoming part of Part's stylistic bent - especially the process moments - cello 3 notes, ensemble 3 notes, celo 4 notes, ensemble 4 notes and so forth - perhaps from minimalism though I highly doubt it made it over there at this point, more likely from Schnittke, Penderecki etc, though I don't know that music really at all. Begins with the mock ironic Major chord ends with a mock ironic cadence, could stand to edit out the parts where the cellist plays the "cello" - i.e. not the strings. Some impassioned melodic lines. Excellent.

Symphony No. 2 (1966): Three movments and full of the sorts of things that Lutoslawski and Penderecki were doing at the time almost to the point of cliché. The second movement a massive cluster melody builds over pizzicato rain, the final movement uses a process much like what would take over the later music, timpani palys eight notes - strings a figure - timpani plays seven notes - strings a figure - timpani plays six notes and so forth. This dissolves into a tonal carnival-like melody (tchaikovsky) treated mock ironically yet with nostalgia. Also of note the (again) use of the B-A-C-H figure in the first movement. Hillier sees the use of tonality as foreshadowing a break - "it is the confession of a composer for whom a certain kind of expressiveness is inobtainable within the style that history has apparently ordained for him" I find this sort of reverse history disturbing.

Kurepoeg (animated film) (1967): No information

Operator Kopsi Seiklused (animated film) (1968): No information

Credo (piano solo, mixed choir, orch) (1968): Based on Bach's C Major Prelude and the Guonod Ave Maria-ization of it the beautiful strains break down through a controlled process of degeneration (set to the Latin "an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth") into aleatoric noises - played poorly in the recording I have (more like repetitive squawks than real improvisation) this too breaks down through a clear process into the Ave Maria again which sounds quite beautiful in this refrain. Part has a clear narrative sense of where he wants to go in the piece and organizes his 12-tone row (used just for the sake of having one it seems) so that when it degenerates into 11, then 10, then 9 pitchs it will end with the diatonic collection. He also puts a similar process onto his orchestration in which 5 instruments play, then 6, then 7 and so forth. Very lucid.

Symphony 3 (1971): Said to be a transitional piece in three movments attacca. Makes use of three motives, the most salient of which is a Landini cadence. These "gregorian" features are treated in an almost post-romantic or better neo-tonal way though someone like Hovanhess does it much better in any of his so-called mystical pieces. I hear this though not as a break at all but rather as a continuation of the collage techniques that Part had been using, however now the materials are neo-modal instead of twelve-tone - he never really used the twelve-tone rows in a comprehensively serial way in the same way that now he uses these medieval elements. I also hear a relation between the Landini cadence and the B-A-C-H motive that is so much a part of his previous works. On the whole, the work is dull.

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07 June 2007

Part - early works

I've begun listening anew to the works of the Estonian composer Arvo Part. When I was younger - much younger, I was really enamored with some of his music, particularly the Stabat Mater and the Miserere, which I found accesible and arresting at the same time. On seeing some of the scores , I was a bit turned off by the simple mechanics of the pieces. Nonetheless I've decided to give him a second chance. I've begun as per usual chronologically and so far have been impressed with some of the early works. Here begins my notes. I've been using Paul Hiller's volume - Arvo Part - as a companion.

Music for a Children's Theater (1956): Four pieces for piano based on children's tales: Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, Butterflies and Walking Ducklings. The kind of music that would be perfectly appropriate as background in a puppet theater, nothing more. Sounds like Kabalevsky or one of these minor early twentieth-century Russian composers whose music shows up in beginner's piano methods. Negligible.

Sonatina Opus 1, no. 1 (1958): Two movements for piano. It has that quirky, sardonic tonality of quartal harmonies in which sharps easily become flats that I find so annoying in Shostakovich and also some Prokofiev - though this seems more Shostakovitch than Prokofiev. Could work well dramatically. Minor.

Sonatina Opus 1, no 2 (1958): Again minor, less Shostakovich than number one and in three movements of which the second is a largo that provides just the right wrong notes when the right right notes would suffice. An air of menace hangs over it, but that's just the mood. Has tension without counterpoint - the kind of piece that bangs a few big chords and then hits a low octave. Searching for skills. A curiosity nothing more.

Partita for Piano op. 2 (1959): An overwrought piano piece in four movements attacca. Less of Shostakovich than before though very similar to the Sonatinas. These are no doubt study pieces for developing something new - I can hear a voice in there, but its tied up in this accepted sound.

Meie aed for children's chorus and orchestra (1959): A piece like this - a fifteen minute poem about planting gardens - standard socialist realist stuff whether done by Part or Copland (he's got children's choir pieces like this too) - is only worthwhile to listen too whn we put it in the Adorno frame of ironic detachment in which all Russian artists are mocking the system, where wrong notes (to quote the liner notes) "get corrected" and have more import than simply as wayward harmonies. Painless.

Nekrolog (1960): Like 12-tone Shostakovich. I'm not certain if it is strict twelve-tone writing, but nonetheless there are rows. Military rhythms, and a dramatic sense to it - an accompaniment without a script: the solo melody first langorous in the oboe and then taken up again at the end after a high call in the trumpet. Ends with the clarinets - like Berg - in trio falling to the low reaches before taken up in a funereal timpani. Ok.

Vanda Polka (1960): No information

Perpetuum Mobile, opus 10 (1963): A simple gesture spread over seven climactic minutes for orchestra. A twelve tone row is sounded one pitch at a time throughout the orchestra and sustained in sections. Each pitch enters at a slightly faster speed than the previous. This gesture occurs in waves builiding to a powerful climax. Bold, strong.

Symphony 1 (1963): A number of interesting ideas, harmonies and drama, but some of the way in which it is couched should have been reconceived - for instance the second movement which builds up to a great sound is understood as a prelude and fugue. Give me a break, the fugue subject which coming as it does after a rambling, quasi-recitative for orchestra prelude is unecessary, redo the whole beginning. Similarly in the first movement eliminate the point from about 2/5 to 3/5 of the piece. Nonetheless, a lot of potential and a powerful sound. Hillier makes na interesting comment about how the twelve-tone rows were poured into the orchestral sounds that Part envisioned.

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A return of Lutoslawski

Prelude for G.S.M.D. (1989) - orch: A tight mysterioso in the manner of the Interlude - wandering basslines that become melody lines in the violin are punctuated by wind chords ending in a big major chord. A study for something else?

Fanfare for Lancaster (1989) - brass ens, side dr: For brass with side drum, chatty, ultimately leading to the fanfare chords. Tame.

Symphony No. 4 (1992) - orch: One movement symphony of about 20 mintues, in two sections, the first builds quite well to an explosion, but like other Lutoslawski it is not a sustained explosion, rather like a bubble bursting, so we build, build, build and explode and then move on to another idea - so the form is two mountains, the second half also builds with the instruments joining together to form a melody in mostly unison before again exploding, some twitters and a good exit with percussion. A good listen for most of the duration, though it has some petering out at various moments - that is, the tension is ignored sometimes. Excellent harmony, especially in the beginning.

Subito (1992) - vn, pf: Concise moto perpetuo for violin and piano, in the clean manner that is typical for these smaller chamber pieces. Keen harmony, first in stacked thirds and then more diffuse, a bit too much chromaticism. Exhilirating encore.

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Schoenberg: Opus 33a and b

2 Stücke [2 Pieces], op. 33a (1928) & 33b (1931) (piano): Two short pieces written for respectively the Universal Edition 20th century piano book and Henry Cowell's New Music Edition, both brief. The first uses a lovely arch as a thematic gesture and then contin ues in an always moving stream of tensions, the second reverts to a more tentative approach much more staccato, classic dum-da-dum rhythmic gestures toward the beginning and wandering left hand. There is indeed variaiton developing througout, but sometimes I feel like there is too much development. Here is the indebtedness to the Romantics.

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Some Varese Notes

Ameriques (1918 - 1921): The grand big orchestral outbursts at the end still remain striking with the crescendos and the triplet figures and flashes. However, on hearing it again after so may years, I'm struck first by the almost recompsoing of the Rite of Spring that takes place in the beginning of the piece - the bassoon transformed into an alto flute, with additions of bassoon, the Rite-chords changed also. I'm also interested in the love of absurdity that is shown from the laughs of the trombone, notated with a "Ha! Ha! Ha!" to the beginnings of the crescendo chords at the end which are responded to by the percussion with the siren prevalent, almost like the percussion standing in awe - it sound like people saying ah! - In retrospect I don 't think its supposed to be funny, but rather actually a Moloch-like silent film moment - consider Cabiria when the god is being fed children, it is like revealing the awe inspiring moment. I also noticed the extreme sectionality of the piece and its odd proportions, we move from one idea to another rather quickly and the only idea that is fully developed, if we can say it is developed at all is the ending. Alos that great Major-seventh figure from the beginning how luminous it soun ds when it is taken up by the C trumpet, its as if sunshine was peering through. I wonder if there is some sort of futurist narrative that is going on in Varese's mind.

Hyperprism (1922 - 1923): Powerful four minutes for flute, clarinet (Eb), 3 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones and 7-10 percussionists. Brilliant opening on C# - one can see that Scelsi must have been aware of this, later opening into Varese chords propelled into space, art-deco steely melodies of sevenths and ninths and brilliantly orchestrated ercussion climaxes - the cymbals rolls out of the bass drum roll - something to be learned there especially int he way the percussion is treated as families - for instance things that can bring sound out over some time: rolls, cymbal rolls, siren, lion's roar, you then orchestrate these pitch-wise; others: jangling things: tambourine, sleigh bells, anvils and then drum families. Exciting.

Ionisation (1929 - 1931): This is completely and totally evocative and interesting and throughout its brief duration actually picks up a pretty interesting groove. It is certainly well laid out with the use of pitch gradualy emerging from a primordial percussive chaos - teleologicaly. At the same time, its short duration makes it seem an exercise of sorts as if in trying to do what it sets out to do very well.

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Celestial Mechanics (Makrokosmos IV) for amplified piano (four hands) (1979): A much more effective, it seems to me, version of the many larger scale piano works of Crumb's 1970s. Must be thrilling to watch live with the choreography that was involved - I was lucky to be following along in a score that was used during an early performance and was intrigued by markings such as "duck." There is a mix of rhythmic moments and non-rhythmic movements which livens things up also interesting the way in which Crumb has an almost DIY (if I were French I could say bricolage) attitude toward the extended sounds particularly in the use of household implements like rulers to change the sounds of the piano into some combination of a Nancarrow-esque tack piano or a Stockhausen modulated piano. Hints of Ives abound to with the melodic appearance of fragments of Dies Iraes or Crumb's old hymn: Will There be any Stars in My Crown? Particularly lovely moment in the Pythagorean "Cosmic Canon" when the page-turner is called on to join in making it piano 6 hands, it's almost as if Crumb is composing out the theater as well. Interestingly, said page-turner gets the last word.

A Little Suite for Christmas, A.D. 1979 for piano (1980): Crumb has found a good analogue for his romantic fragments in the panels of Giotto's fresco cycle. This set for piano of short pieces based on particular paintings presents tiny fragments of sound - bits of "Will There Be any Stars in My Crown?" Major-seventh bells, quasi-Persian muted strings for the Magi and so forth. Its evocative, gentle and, it seems, deeply felt, which makes its naiveity all the more endearing. More a curiostiy than a great work, and a good introduction.

Gnomic Variations for piano (1981): I hope these aren't the gnomes of myth, but rather related to gnomon - a stone of importance. A monolithic theme is varied too many times. Variation form very suited to thte aphoristic, but whereas the best variations- Brahms for instance build on each other and move forward these don't so much climax, rather the texture is old-fashioned homophonic in most cases and lacking either interesting melodies or else real pianistic virtuosity, it becomes a dull succession of somewhat interesting sounds and not too interesting gestures. The ending reprise of the theme however is really quite lovely - the piano sounds are otherworldly.

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Scelsi again

Lilitu (female voice) (1962): Is a short and quite rangy one movement work for female voice in the style of the Canti del Capricorno more the one note pieces. There is some repetition of figures - particularly a tritone figure in the highest range and some focus around E. This is expanded up to the G# and then down (though the pitch is higher) to C. So the ambitus is the third around E with the bottom half above.

String Quartet No. 4 (1964): One movement of extreme tension - this to me does not seem to be caused by timbre alone though no doubt timbre and dirtying of the sound is part of it. Rather the tension develops from the harmonies, the striving upward by quarter-tones that takes its time and moves back so we have the sense of continual ascent through important tones, not all tones. The tension builds continually and then it seems Scelsi doesn't know what to do perhaps - this is among his longest sustained arches - he changes course dramatically and rather effectively in the last few measures for an apotheosis of sorts. All instruments are at scordatura and the resulting sounds of the particular timbres on particular pitches give it a great timbral richness. I don't htink though that this is necessarily in the original conception. It sounds to me as if he is working with the pitches and ideas and then translating them to the instrument's bodies to the best of his ability, rather than writing through the instruments. In this way the timbral quality almost becomes a by-product of the linear nature of the sounds - obviously very influenced by electronic muisc - rather than a narrative aspect of the piece. This doesn't put down the sonic result which is stunning, it's just a question of what is primary.

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