10 October 2009

Pärt 3

Returning to posting my listening notes, I send out an enormous batch of Part, from listenings sometime in early 2008.

Song to the Beloved
No information

Veealused (animated film)
No information

Concerto for violin, cello and orchestra
No information

Fur Alina - piano
Stunningly desolate miniature for piano. Diatonic minor melodies over chord tones from B minor - announced via two Bs two octaves distant. I don't know that it could go on like this long, but what there is is quite effective. Recommended.

Trivium - organ
No tempos provided - Moosman takes rather slow tempos on his recording. The second movement perhaps the most interesting - chordal tones alternate with clusters, the third, empty, doesn't seem to work so well on the organ, the bare intervals sound off, though registration could save this. Nonetheless this is powerful music - especially number 2 - to play. All three variations on the same theme in essence - three in one.

Pari Intervallo - organ or four recorder
Playing it on the organ is like entering into a beautiful and desolate and sad world. Chord tones enter in and the atmosphere is not broken until the end. We have an almost Feldman-like sense of place combined with minimalist processes. Melody in thirds accompanied by tones from Eb minor. Recommended.

To the Waters of Babel We Were Sitting and Crying
Very much process oriented - ah, ah-ah, ah-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah. Aiming very much to sound like the organum examples of the Musica Enchiriadis mixed with a Romatic flavor of what they represent. Ending on big open fifths that are a little bit too overloaded for my taste. Otherwise, otherworldly. The tintinnabulum style is at play here, scalewise melodies, with triad tone accompaniment. Amazing how he can get so much sound from so little.

Wenn Bach Bienen Gezuchtet Hatte - piano, string orch, wind quintet Rev. 1984, 2001
Based on the B-A-C-H motive and, it appears, the B minor prelude from Book 1 of the WTC, this is a work that really "sounds" in the ensemble. Over a swirling mass the piano pounds out chords, the strings sometimes move into arpeggiations and the winds ratchet tension with solid triads. The whole sounds like the "Ride of the Valkyries" In the end it all breaks into a slower moment that acts as a processional before cadencing in a Bachian way. Title translates to "If Bach had been a beekeeper": how apt. One of the early "tintinnabuli" works.

Arbos - chamber ensemble
Gloriously powerful work for brass built on a simple concept. Chordal tones and modal melody combined moving down the scale following various patterned permutations. Split into rhythmic layers: 4x3/4; 2x3/2; and 3/1 give a constant rhythmic drive to the work. A bold Timaeus treatment. Recommended.

Cantate Domino Canticum Novum
Has the sound of a sequence with the quick conjunct melodic lines - are they entirely scalar - against which there is an almost change-ringing sense in the organ (at least in the version I heard). Bright, cheery. Some processual ideas bandied about.

Fratres - chamber ens. (string quatet - wind quartet)
A turn figure expands through neighbor-note inserts. Returning several times transposed down a third. Dynamics are in arch form. Contemplative. Makes use of prolongation techniques like Lerdahl does in his String Quartet - unknown the relation between the two.

Missa Syllabica
Ferial mass of sorts, completely syllabic. For choir with organ in the version I heard. Each word is set as scalar fragments leading or descending to the focal pitch - thus "sanctam" might be G-A and "catholicam" E-F-G-A. Organ plays triad tones. Sets a mood quite well. Lays out on a smaller scale exactly what would happen in Passio.

Variations to the Recovery of Arinushka
Six variations, quite simple, for piano, really two sets of three: one "minor," one "major." The melody is triadic arpeggiations ending each on different melodic notes. The second variation adds above and below and the third adds a second line, so they blossom. Charming - good for an early piano student, but not much else.

Tabula Rasa
Two movements: Ludus and Silentium for two violins, prepared piano (made quite evocatively and effectively to sound like bells) and strings. The first an additive play in a baroque style with a Bachian cadenza (could the model be Brandenburg 5?) The second devastatingly simple and devastatingly elegant another additve game on a dorian scale ascending and descending into nothingness: D is likely chosen because ending would be ending in silence on a four string bass with no extension. The effect is of something receding into the distance and at the same time circling - Timaeus through the eyes of the big-bang. Lovely. Recommended.

Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten

Devastatingly simple - a mensuration canon downward from A on the white keys with a bell that rings mechanically every few measures. Together it works so well, it sounds so good on the instruments, we have narrative harmonies even though they are not treated that way. Recommended.

Summa - ten, bar., 6 ins.
A near constant alternation of duos and the full quartet in the words of the Credo in Latin. We hear a relatively dense sounding- owing probably to the syllabic setting of the words - polyphony of e minor tones and scalar melody. Pärt is a creating a mass. It moves quickly and for this, frankly, I don't understand why there are myriad arrangements. Not as interesting as other works.

Spiegel im Spiegel - vc (or vn) and piano
Lullaby for violin and piano. Violin almost entirely stepwise each note a dotted-whole, the piano chord arpeggiations with an occasional bass bell and tiny high range twinkles. Quite beautiful and reflective, easy for children to play if not exactly for them to sell.

Calix (Dies Irae)
Would become a part of Miserere 1989

Fratres - vn, pno
The version for violin and piano changes radically the way we hear this piece: the foreground now becomes the background to at times frantic at times virtuosic at times unnecessary figuration from the violin. We open in a trance with the violinist playing the melody in bariolage and I imagine we are to have that feel throughout but it doesn't really come across as such. I'd say not as successful as the original.

De Profundis
For men's voices with organ, bell, bass drum and tam-tam. Setting of the psalm, words are treated in much the same was as in the Missa Syllabica - one note per syllable ascending or descending to the triad tone over the course of the word. The voice usage is treated rather systematically, broken down into a variety of duos and trios culminating in the full quartet along with the dynamic climax and then becoming quieter again. The organ part is similar to Pari Intervallo. Quite lovely.

Annum per Annum - organ
Organ in several movements each headed by the first letter of a section of the Mass. Indebted to the "Variations to the Recovery of Arinushka" in that each movement is a variation on a cantus firmus, here in D, that appears several times in the minor before abruptly switching to the major somewhere in the "Credo" Some nice moments in the Sanctus, but otherwise not all that remarkable.

Arbos - seven rec., 3 triangles
No recording of this version.

It is quite an experience sitting for this calming Passion narrative for choir, organ, soloists and small chamber ensemble. Repetitive patterns become normative, the division of the parts becomes more and more clear based on the material used - especially in relation to the use of dissonant tones - Pilate sings at a strange tritone distance from his final, the turba similarly using a cross-relation between the melody and modal pitches. The chorus at the end - finally D major after all this A minor - is swelling and gorgeous. I have issues with the construciton and the use of the construction but I can't have issue with the result which for the most part is sasifying once one gives oneself over to it and expects nothing more than it gives. Recommended.

Fratres - 4 vc.
A lovely rendition of this processional piece. The cellos begin in their highest register and move downward. Solemn.

Fratres - 8 vc.
Not really a separate piece. The four cello version with 2 per part.

Fratres - 12 vc.
The four cello version with 3 per part.

Fratres - str. Orch, perc
The chords have been spread over the string orchestra. The sound is less solemn and more menacing.

Sarah was Ninety Years Old
In seven sections dramatising perhaps programmatically the visitation of a child on Abraham's 90 year old wife, Sarah. Very dull ritualized percussion alternating with vocal entrances - four elements get shifted around, 1-2-3-4; 2-1-3-4; 3-2-1-4 and so forth. Opens up with the entrance of the organ and soprano. As an idea, bold, in practice not so interesting.

To the Waters of Babel We Were Sitting and Crying - small ensem.
No recording of this version.

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14 May 2009


It strikes me, looking back through this postings, that I've never posted my impressions of Gyorgy Kurtag, the Hungarian composer, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, by being feted (as all composers are on high numbered birthdays) here in New York. I began to look at his music becuase so many had spoken so highly about it, and I came into the process knowing nothing at all about his style, influences or approaches. I have learned and am finding the journey to be alternately challenging and frustrating. One thing I have learned, afte working diligently to create a chronology, is that it is well nigh impossible to do such given the opus numbers and the years attached to certain pieces, not to mention revisions and withdrawals. A good example of this is the Four Capriccios, Opus 9: the dates listed are 1959-1970 with a revision in 1993 - so when do I listen to that? In the end I put together a list and have been trying my best to listen in an order. What follows are my current impressions.

Suite, pf, 1943, unpubd
Cannot find

Klárisok [Beads] (A. József), 1950
Elegant little chorus in shifting meters based on a poem of József Attila. Shows promise. Clear harmonies.

Suite, pf duet, 1950–51
It's a little neoclassical suite - there is no recording. In four movements, the second a slow movement in F minor, the third a minuet, and the fourth a presto chango with bell-like false octaves. Cheery little pieces that would be easy to put together, in the style of many pedagocial pieces for four hands. Some fun choreography as well.

Táncdal [Dance-Song] (S. Weöres), children's chorus, pf, 1952, withdrawn

Koreai kantáta [Korean Cant.] (K. Kotzián), B, mixed chorus, orch, 1952–3

Viola Concerto, 1953–4
One movement is still out there and recorded by Kim Kashkashian. It seems like a first movement, sounds considerably like Shostakovich. I get the sense of a sure handling of the orchestra, though not necessarily a sure handling of tension. Carla liked it, in that it is tuneful, sequential and so forth, but it doesn't do it for me. I'd much rather listen to Shostakovich.

Dalok Vasvári István verseire [Songs to Poems by István Vasvári], Bar, pf, 1955, unpubd, withdrawn

untitled piece, pf, 1958, unpubd, withdrawn
Published in the book by Beckles Willson "Gyorgy Kurtag: The Sayings of Peter Bornemitzsa"(p.34) It has the look of a serial work, but is filled with thirds and Webernian diminuendos and crescendos on held piano pitches.

String Quartet, op.1, 1959
This is not a particularly strong piece though presumably it betrays future tendencies. Six mini movements each a series of quasi-expressionistic gestures juxtaposed, often like a loud and not-as-subtle Webern. Sometimes he moves into a groove, as in the more successful fifth movement. The sixth begins with a touch of sorrowful melody, which he would have done well to continue exploring. Otherwise, I'm not impressed in the slightest.

Wind Quintet, op.2, 1959
This ranks up there with the stronger of the wind quintets that I have heard. In eight tiny aphoristic movements, each setting a mood rather than developing a theme or a mood. Of these #5 with its improvised form - each instrument repeats a phrase more or less independent of the others, which gives an overall bird-sound feel, is successful. I'm also fond of #7, Mesto a flute morse code against long lines in the bassoon and clarinet.

8 Pianoforte Pieces, op.3, 1960
These are eight tiny strange almost to the point of being mysterious piano visions. They run the gamut from Eonta-esque (before Xenakis did it) randomness to Cowell clusters to Schumann like enigmas. An interesting set. Doesn't really make a narrative in the overall.

8 Duos, op.4, vn, cimb, 1961
Again totally inscrutable, a series of tiny aphorisms - the whole thing lasts about 6 minutes - of a rather harsh character at least for the violin, the violin writing is quite good and gives the players a lot to work with (which may account for Kurtag's popularity). Number 7 is nice an expanding variation of sorts, as is number 4 which juxtaposes violin trills wih cimbalom strkies. It is almost as if the violin is playing the cimbalom at points with its tremolo figures, see number 5 and quick trills and col legnos.

Jelek [Signs], op.5, va, 1961, rev. 1992
Six, guess what, short fragmentary movements for viola solo. These were revised again in the 1990s. I'm not particularly moved by these, at best I find the moment up into number 5 where he calls for a scordatura and the tuning is heard to be most interesting. Though there are also nice moments in number three with is organic and gentle-almost use of the four strings as if the bow is exploring the four strings.

Cinque merrycate, op.6, gui, 1962; unpubd, withdrawn
No information

Jelek, op.5b, vc, 1961–99
Reviewed later

Bornemisza Péter mondásai [The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza], op.7, S, pf, 1963–8, rev. 1976
An almost forty-minute virtuosistic cycle in four movements, each, with the exception of the first, comprised of a number of smaller sections. On a first listen I'm struck by the piano writing which has a nervousness and agitation that never seems to go away. It is constantly inventive and seems to hold numerous mysteries, always providing some new material some interesting conception of the piano. Obviously influenced by Messaien's writing - especialliy in its additive rhythms and multiple canonic structures. Note also the way that he composes for the piano in complex overlapping rhyhtmic figures in one hand anticipating later developments. Notice also the soprano singing into the piano for the resonance. The best I think is the first movement which has a sharp nervousness that is sustained for its four minute duration - a long time for Kurtag.

Egy téli alkony emlékére [In Memory of a Winter Sunset] (P. Gulyás), op.8, S, vn, cimb, 1969
Cannot obtain

4 Capriccios (I. Bálint), op.9, S, chbr orch, 1959–70, rev. 1993

24 Antiphonae, op.10, orch, 1970–71, inc., unpubd, withdrawn
No information

Transcriptions from Machaut to J.S. Bach, pf duet, pf 6 hands, 2 pf, 1973–91
Regarding the Bach settings, which are exquisite loving recastings, orchestrations for the piano, a few comments. These are remarkably subtle from the notated crossed hands of the Sinfonia to Gottes Zeit which makes it balance the volume in a way that is so true for amateurs, to the toy-piano like acoustical weirdness that ensues with the melody harmonized at the steady octave plus a fifth of O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig. Others are similarly elegant: Aus Tiefer Not with its bells and almost mechanical unfolding of the keyboard, it is like a bell is tightened and the whole piano sounds this glorious Bach, the remarkable moment in Allein Gott with its too crossed hands and sparkling bells, the massive Durch Adam's Fall again the whole piano sounds, and Liebster Jesu with its unresolved harmonies and cimbalom grace notes. All are very special. Of the other works in the collection - the Machaut is a loving interplay of hands, I'm not as fond of the Lassus: Qui sequitur me or the Frescobaldi - a real favorite for the Hungarian set (consider Ligeti's Frescobaldi work). The Schutz (from the Seven Words and the Matthew Passion) are touching fragments. The Purcell is also nice - the Queen's Funeral March and the Fantasia. Lovingly done hausmusik.

Szálkák [Splinters], op.6c, cimb, 1973
I'm returning listening to Kurtag after a summer off with this set of four miniatures for cimbalom. There are some nice moments, the harmonic motion in the opening piece and the ending with its repeated low D overlaid with small fragments and isolated notes. I feel like I've heard a good deal of this before, not sure whether it was in the duos of Opus 4 or the piano pieces of opus 3 or was it something else. These pieces I'm not sure where to go with them and maybe that's their success, the second movement with its outbursts that stop in a cluster which is sustained - memorable.

Elő-Játékok [Pre-Games], pf, 1973–4
Cannot obtain

Játékok, pf, 1st ser., 1975–9
Cannot obtain

4 dal Pilinszky János verseire [4 Songs to Poems by János Pilinszky], op.11, B-Bar, chbr ens, 1975 [nos.1–3 arr. B-Bar, pf, as op.11a, 1986]
Four works for varied instruments with Bass voice. The first a drone on D with a monotone, the second with violin and bass stopping and starting, the third with trio isrambunctious and quick. Finally the fourth which brings in various other instruments is tiny - and sets up a looping repetition of a dreamlike gesture. The sort of thing you could only perform if you weren't paying the players.

In memoriam Zilcz György, 2 tpt, 2 trbn, tuba, 1975
Cannot obtain

Eszká emlékzaj [S.K. Remembrance Noise] (D. Tandori), op.12, S, vn, 1975
Seven small works for violin and soprano evoking memories of something lost - I'm fond of the evocation of the electric razor in the second song. There is also a token song that plays with words.

untitled pieces, op.15, gui, 1976–7, unpubd, withdrawn
Withdrawn. No information

Hommage à Mihály András (12 Microludes for Str Qt), op.13, 1977
12 Aphorisms for string quartet. I think what makes these so dificult to comment on is their breivity. This is obvious we never are given enough to really make much of a judgment on the particular piece and the quantity of them in a given setting makes it all the more difficult to retain anything from the experience. Let's say there were four even then it may be too much. Better to have each stand on its own, but then you're shuffling around for thirty seconds of music - so new solution, take a concert have a quartet on the side between each piece reacting with one of these microludes. Again a ridiculous concept - so we are left with works that are unplayable in that sense and moreso don't warrant that fact in the quantity we are given. Perhaps the Jatekok strategy is better: pick and choose.

A kis csáva [The Little Predicament], op.15b, pic, trbn, gui, 1978
Aparently this short absurdist piece was written for an art opening. It is in four movements and scored for the unlikely combination of piccolo, trombone and guitar, a combination which is nearly impossibe to balance even on a recording. This absurdity is played up in the opening - a solo for trombone, calling to mind Mussorgsky, and the second movement a chorale a la Stravinsky. The final movement a nachtstuck tries to work with glissandos in the piccolo and trombone over the guitar chords. It could work better with a slide whistle - in this way we'd evoke those Bartok night pieces, the slide whistle a stand in for birds the trombone growling in the low registers trying to be winds and the guitar an Aeolian harp - this I think is the idea, but it isn't conveyed on the otherwise excellent Starobin recording - I'm not sure if it could be conveyed at all. Interesting potential.

Szálkák [Splinters], op.6d, pf, 1978;
No information

Grabstein für Stephan, op.15c, gui, ens, 1978–9, rev. 1989

3 pezzi, op.14e, vn, pf, 1979
Oddly this tiny piece is not recorded. In three small movements, the first playing with the ambiguity of B as a tonic of a suspended tonality (I mean primarily a suspended chord like C#-F#-B which can have the B suspended in an F# chord or the C# wanting to go to the minor) and the open strings of the violin, which puts the B as a third, its lovely and not too difficult. The second movement works with the harmonic E and the final "Aus die Ferne" is a small moving around B - like very very slow mordents with both the naturals (C-B-A-B-C-B-A-B) and the sharps (C#-B-A#-B etc) with tones hung out to dry in the piano. It is moody and evocative and with few enough segments that it makes its point.

Poslaniya pokoynoy R.V. Trusovoy [Messages of the Late R.V. Troussova] (R. Dalos), op.17, S, ens, 1976–80
Not knowing about the late RV Troussova - frankly I don't think one should get gravitas from the circumstances of the portagonist, one should rather get it from the music - I find this a bit overlong and the multitude of small aphoristic pieces do the opposite of their intention by breaking things up far too much for the many ideas to coalesce into one piece. Kurtag's plan is certainly to have the world be put together in these various details, but there is never enough time to live in the rich worlds he builds. Some worlds are angry, others lyrical, the horn is put to good use and some worlds are Stravinskian - love the Les Noces ensemble sound. I think Kurtag's real skill is not as a melodist, or realy as a narrativist, but in orchestration and I know I've said this before, but again here there are stunning moments of orchestration - the clarinet, vibraphone and bells in the first of the third section is a particular standout.

Herdecker Eurythmie (E. Lösch), spkr, fl, vn, t lyre, op.14a–c, 1979
There appear to be three volumes of this work, 14a is scored for flute with chromatic tenor lyre. In four - surprise - enigmatic tiny movements, one of which is borrowed from the Sayings of Peter Bornemisza. The last Blumen die Menschen 2 is probably the most lovely. I don't know the other two parts, which were unavailable to me.

Omaggio a Luigi Nono (A. Akhmatova, R. Dalos), op.16, 1979, rev. 1985

Stsenï iz romana [Scenes from a Novel] (R. Dalos), op.19, S, vn, db, cimb, 1979–82
This series of fragments - an opera of sorts acts like an anti-Frau und Leben und Lieben or whatever the real title of the Schumann cycle is. Set for the odd and unlikely combination of soprano, violin, cimbalom and double bass, it works. Much stronger than many of the other Kurtag aphorism collections - this is tied together by the text which provides the sort of narrative dramatic framework that I find lacking in the smaller duos and the like. Kurtag's idea of narrative is very French New-Wave, we don't need the actual setting up shots, all we need are the events and the drama works from there. The music is really too short to comment on directly, but in line with the Truffault style he does present clear crisp musical images that don't need to be defined: the Hommage to Mahler, for instance with its rustic open fifths in sixteenth notes had me laughing in its quick characterisation just from a single gesture - yes that was Mahler, as with the Hommage to Schnittke which with its quirky waltz was like looking at the composers work with a loupe. Nice.

József Attila-töredékek [Attila József Fragments], op.20, S, 1981
I come into this knowing nothing about Josef Attila, I can only assume based on the setting, for soprano alone, that Attila was working in a mock-folk idiom and working alone. The settings, 20 fragments - setting is too strong a word, are presented in a style that seems to borrow more from unaccompanied folk lament, though there are few if any repetitions within the works. Instead we have 20 finely crafted melodies many of them moving around a pitch axis and filling in space. By way of example consider #17 "A Kerten" he sets up chromatic descending sixth and then finishes the pattern with three dyads that aren't a part: C#-C, C#-A, F-Ab the remainder of the line takes the space left open in these three and fills it in: E-D#-E#-F#-Ab-G-A-F#-Bb-F-E making it all but inevitable that the next pitch be B which it is the space in the wedge which hasn't been filled.

Look also at #20, which like the endings of many of these Kurtag pieces ends with an almost "white-note" fragment. Again the opening line is an expansion from a pitch wedge: C-B; add a new note E-C-B; and then the wedge expands in both directions: F-A-G. A new wedge then starts: E-G#-D#-D-F#-C#-C (this can be understood as three overlaid descending lines: E-D-C; G#-F#; D#-C#)we then return to the first wedge: G up high, Eb below. The empty space is then filled and the wedge extends lower: E-C-Ab-F and Db and so forth until the end.

As a whole it requires a lot of the singer to pull it together into a coherent unit. (I read now after writing this that Attila is considered one of the finest Hungarian poets of the 20th century, may have been schizophrenic, and committed suicide in 1937.)

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13 May 2009

Più Dallapiccola

Tre poemi für Singstimme und Kammerorchester nach Texten von James Joyce, Michelangelo und Manuel Machado (1949)
I listened to this in a dreadful recording of a piano-vocal reduction by Duo Alterno; I was unable to get a hold of a score. The two outer movements, bell-like, serene, bookend a processional dark central monologue by the dead. As a whole, the work is strong with the second movement the strongest. This is the first of Dallapiccola's works to use a single row throughout and based on sketches it seems that he associated this row with his daughter - it is inscribed on a letter sent to her for her fourth birthday. With this in mind and given the deep association these poems have with death, we can read a poetic meaning within: Dallapiccola did use his rows as signifiers - the iconic use throughout his compositions bear this out - thus we can perhaps place the following on Dallapiccola: the passing of generations through birth and family is a sufficient response to the passing of generations through death.

Tre Episodi dal Balletto ‘Marsia’ für Klavier (1949)
Three sections from the piano arrangement of Marsia. If you like Marsia, you'll like this.

Job. Eine Sacra Rappresentazione nach dem Buch Hiob (1950)
I was able to play through this from a vocal score - there is a recording but it is really difficult to get a hold of. The work builds up to the great monologue of God, which Dallapiccola sets for chorus with a rumbling accompaniment in between phrases - together with this is a slower canon that uses parts of a chant. Before this big scene we have the open reveal of the twelve-tone row to the phrase - don't be afraid of man, be afraid of God and lo! when he comes ere blooming one need be afraid. The harmonic control is tight and the work as a whole is quite strong and worthy of far more performances than it gets. There is a small clip on YouTube which shows even more how strong this work is.

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22 April 2009

Some more Dallapiccola

I realize its been several months since I've posted here last, and I hope to remedy that somewhat in the future. There's been a lot of changes recently, mainly my loss of library priveleges at my alma mater, but that was scheduled to happen. In the weeks leading up to the end date, I furiously set to scanning scores and such to help me continue my listening. I guess in the rush I actually wanted some time off, so since then, about a month now, I've actually not been listening to much. I'm slowly getting back into the game and listened this morning to some Dallapiccola. Attached here are some more of my tasting notes on Dallapiccola's music - my last entry on the composer got only so far as Volo di Notte - so continuing the chronology:

Critical Edition of Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition: Piano
No information on this

Piccolo Concerto per Muriel Couvreux für Klavier und Kammerorchester
In two movements and with a prominent role for the piano this piece seems to be a mishmosh of some ideas that Dallapiccola was working out but doesn't succeed for me. The first movement is a pentatonic hodgepodge and the second explores bell like sonorities in melodic thirds and harmonic fourths in a pandiatonicism. The influences are legion - I think - sort of gamelany (though this may be my imagination) also shows the influence of Monteverdi's string writing (particularly some of the interludes from the operas) also Stravinskian rhythms and the sort of notation where each part has their own meter that you see in the Webern Cantata 2 and some early music. I wasn't able to hear the recording.

Canti di prigionia
Dallapiccola worked on these exquisite settings for choir with 2 harps, 2 pianos and percussion in the beginning of what would be World War II. They are tied together by the use of the Dies Irae chant in various guises, though oh so often audible in the counterpoint. Its opening harmonization is touching as is the stately processional pace of the works reminiscent of the last movement of Stravinsky's contemporary Symphony of Psalms with its same resigned 4/2 meter. The harmonies are gorgeous and the flexibility of the rhythm striking - in the second movement the hyperrhythm is constatly shifting losing the listener in a wash of piano arpeggios, in the others the interplay of the dotted rhythms and the straight rhythms provides a sense of unease fitting for the pieces. We can hear all the points in his earlier music still at play - Dallapiccola is constantly working with what he knows and refining it, taking it a step further with each subsequent composition. According to Fearn, Dallapiccola had difficulty in finding texts to go along with Mary Stuart's, eventually choosing from Boethius' Consolation fo Philosophy and Savonarola's meditation on the Psalm "In te Domine speravi".

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno di Ulisse in patria: Transcription/revision
According to Fearn, he modernized, and revised the work - cutting section and preparing a wartime performance. I have not seen the score.

Studio sul "Capriccio No. 14" di Niccolo Paganini - piano
Became fourth movment of Sonatina canonica. Apparently written as part of a collection of Italian piano pieces published during the war. On seeing the publication and its 80+ contributors of varying quality Dallapiccola was enraged and decided to take this little bit and make it a part of its own work.

Marsia. Ballett in einem Akt
I played through the piano reduction of this work. One can see the clear conneciton to almost all of what has come before - he has clearly reached an impasse in his compositon, or else he had to compose this quite quickly. This is Dallapiccola contribution to the rise in ballets on Neoclassical themes of which Stravinsky's Orpheus and Apollon Musagette stand as highpoints. Here again is the use of the row as an emblem of aloofness and feeling, here again is the 3+3+2+2 that is the opening of Volo di Notte, here again are the pentatonics woven together that is the bread and butter of the Piccolo Concerto. Here again we have a syncopated exotic dance in various combinations of 3+2 eighths. All in all, it is totally well-heard if a pastiche of cliches of the 1940s and Dallapiccola's own writings. There is too the potential for great rhythmic subtlety and harmonic nuance, except that he is trapped in the exotic scales of the time. It is a frustrating work for Dallapiccola has so much potential for so much more - the kind of thing that would have his compositon teacher scratching his head in disbelief.

Frammenti sinfonici dal balletto Marsia für Orchester
This is taken from the ballet. It leaves out the interesting opening of the tryptich and begins with the Magic Dance which alternates with parts of the ostinato of the prologue. The orchestration is limp giving a pastoral sensation with smooth edges. Still not my favorite.

Cinque frammenti di Saffo
I never get the sense listening to Dallapiccola - and this work is no exception - that there is an extra note or an ill-thought out passage. In this introverted work for soprano with chamber orchestra, I again have this feeling: each pitch is thought out both for its twelve-tone resonance and its harmonic sense. The works move forward harmonically and there are elegant cadences. It is almost like a neoclassical twelve-tone writing. He has a glorious way, dating back to Volo di Notte, of having a strong triad or triads over which there is a meandering twelve-tone melody. It works, we hear each note for the interval that it wants to define and I think there lies the essence of the mysticism of the row for Dallapiccola. There is apparently a strong formal sense to this work with the use of canons and a pallindrome in the third song - not particularly audible and that's not a bad thing.

Sonatina canonica in Es-Dur über Capricen von Niccolò Paganini für Klavier
Four movements, which explore (often in the tinkly range of the piano) several canonic ideas. We can see this in the context of his nascent dodecaphony, particularly the third movement with its prime versus retrograde (helpfully pointed out with arrows) - this one might even be audible. Otherwise the first is an ABA a lovely lullaby with a fast section between. The second and fourth are sparky and bring out the qualities I find most anoying in any of these Paganini inspired works, whether Brahms or what have you. The quick runs in dazzling keys - the second is particularly annoying with its rushing switches between major and minor. Challenging.

Sex Carmina Alcaei
These miniatures dedicated to Webern are real contrapuntal gems. Again there is not a spare note and again the rhyhmic flexibility is lovely. I think this rhythmic flexibility results from the use of the row combined with Dallapiccola's natural lyrical/modal sense - he needs to find a way for the counterpoint to "work" legitimately and so stretches things here and there. What we have are a number of canonic elements. The first movement for soprano and piano lays out the fifth-based row in an elegant beautiful way. The other movements are masses of mixed meters, one instrument in 3/4 another in 4/2 to bring out the connection to Renaissance polyphony, as Webern does in the Second Cantata. These are indeed lovely and elegant works.

Due Liriche di Anacreonte
These two were composed last of the three Greek lyric sets and are intended to be played second so as to create a narrative of more and more twelve-tone and canonic writing over the course of the triptych. Two movements, the first is an exquisite work that remains poised on that moment just between things, between waking and sleeping, between tonality and twelve-tonality, between fast and slow, loud and soft. Somehow he manages to do this, with the suspended bell-like Ab octaves in the piano no doubt contributing greatly. The second is more violent, though not strident. Near its two-thirds point we hear the row that will become the opening of the third set of the triptych. Dallapiccola knew a good moment within the piece when he saw one and was wise to extract this for the next segment.

Ciaccona Intermezzo e Adagio per violincello solo
I've never been a big fan of works for solo instruments, though the Bach suites and partitas are the obvious exception. These three movements for solo cello fit my general prejudice with the exception of the lovely thrid movement Adagio with its theme of open fifths. What makes the Adagio work though is the sequence at about the midway point in three and four voice harmony, it is there that Dallapiccola suceeds in moving beyond merely stating melody and actually moving the work forward hamronically. In a twelve-tone context, a solo work is remarkably challening, if we unmoor our melody from tonal backing what's to make that melody cohere? becuase for the most part a twelve-tone framework doesn't provide a strong enough aural connection between individual pitches. The Intermezzo fails in this regard - its a typical 1940s fast section with meter changes and the like, here interrupted by a slow melody. In his monograph Fearn tries to draw connections to Berg, but I don't see this at all. The opening Ciaccona loses the harmonic framework for me - here the Chaconne theme is likely the row harmonized in the first eight measures. Again, though unlike in a Bach Chaconne we lose this harmonic framework over the course of the movement. Nonetheless, this is an important work of twentieth-century solo cello writing and this could, depending on one's point of view, point to the greatness of this work or else the paucity of competition.

Rencesvals. Drei Fragmente aus dem Rolandslied für Bariton und Klavier
Post-war Dallapiccola and this is essentially a scena for high baritone and piano - well worth seeking out; in three connected movements. There is a great drama in the vocal line with its angular leaps of minor ninths. The row used comes from the opening chords and the text describes a fateful battle in the Chanson de Roland. I think there is some great personal connection to this work that is hard to put into words.

Due studi für Violine und Klavier
Two very powerful movements for violin and piano. The first is labelled a sarabande, but I don't hear the rhythms, instead there is an astonishing sense of completeness to it, the row keeps recycling and it sounds more like a chaconne, with an ending that gives us the sense that we've returned from where we came from. The opening portends that it will take off and it doesn't instead it is a mysterious unease which opens into anger in the second. "Fanfare and fugue" an angular, swarthy and metrically free challenge for the players. Rough and powerful.

Due pezzi für Orchester (arr. Of Due studi)
An arrangement of the Due studi for violin and piano, this version is scored for orchestra. In the orchestral rendition I think a good deal is lost, the sarabande comes off as precious with an almost self-conscious use of klangfarben melodie. The fanfare and fugue becomes muddied, though the horns are used to good effect. Apparently a major scandal broke at the premiere brought on by a claque who were against twelve-tone writing.

Il Prigioniero
A one act opera telling the story of a prisoner who seeks escape is left with the door open and feels himself to be free, only realizing in his hope, that what he thought was a tender jailer who called him brother, turns out to be the Grand Inquisitor himself. The music is strong, though it takes some time for it to actually work itself up. The opening is powerful bold chords with the shouting of the mother, eventually breaking into a chorus at its climax. The second scene is not as strong, but the work picks up when Dallapiccola begins a series of polyphonic setpieces based on fragments of song - in this way he is able to transform the spoken sentiments - overtly political as they are - into music, first "Father, Guide my Steps" then "Brother." Twelve-tone fragments arrive in much the same way they do in Dallapiccola's earlier works as melodic moments over triads at especially important dramatic points. Rows are used as leitmotifs. Lyricism is everpresent and the final scene with a choral prayer underscoring the prisoner's suffering is reminiscent of The Godfather and Mafioso before it and its original forefather Tosca.

Incontri con Roma (music for film)

L'esperienza del cubismo (film music)

Quattro Liriche di Antonio Machado für Sopran und Klavier
Four tiny songs to poetry of Machado about the springtime. I'm not as ipressed by these works, which seem to have less of the rhythmic flexibility, I've come to appreciate in Dallapiccola and whose melody lines become more efflorescent than lyrical. This original version is for soprano and piano.

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21 February 2009

Composing: fragments from "The Wanderer" and my new piece for guitar and mandolin

I’ve begun and am now more than halfway done with a work for soprano and nine instruments based on fragments of the old English poem “The Wanderer.” I decided to use transcriptions (creative transcriptions) of wind sounds recorded at various places around the world – among them the ruins of Tughlaq’s palace in Delhi, the Turfan depression in China and others to develop chords and from there composed more or less freely. It is a very strong powerful work that I’m having a great time writing and am proud of. Shockingly it is among the more rhythmically simple of my pieces. I’ve taken little phrases and words here and there from the poem, so to say it is a setting of The Wanderer would be wrong – instead it is a setting of my feelings about the poem in general viewed at through the lens of memory. The text is an instrument, perhaps for the sentiments. One aspect of the poem that seems to be among the more salient is that of decay – the poem has a happy ending per se, but I’ve avoided that part. I’ve decided to enact that in a structure of changing instrumentation – different instruments will drop out with each section become “wanderers” if you will, joining with the voice or going off on their own. I’m quite pleased with it and hope to have it finished by mid-March. No performance scheduled or in the works – any takers?

After working diligently for several months, I decided to take a break from the guitar/mandolin piece in early January as things had reached a point of wrapping up. I was still unsatisfied with the piece and thought that some time away would allow me to return to it with a fresh perspective. Parts that I liked had begun to be changed beyond recognition, I had eliminated parts that I felt didn’t work in an effort to see if they were necessary and so forth. Ultimately, I think time away is the right idea.
I sat down yesterday and listened to what was there of the score and remained dissatisfied. Last night, I got up in the middle of the night with an I’d like to try out on it. First, create a version of the score that is simply the two parts and then two blank staves underneath – to make the composing over easier. Then consider the structure – making it more codified in a form of Introit, Sostenuto and Dance. Reinstate some of the introit figures which I always felt worked well as a beginning. Redo the middle section in order to create the thing that I felt I could never get from the ensemble – sustained pitches. Rewrite it so that it is a sustaining section in beautiful harmonies. The final dance section can be just that. Perhaps three movements instead of one? Or else divide the one movement into three movements with mock tuning and instrument arguments – in this way the performance becomes a part of the piece. Perhaps this will save the piece – the other option is to create a series of ephemeral moments – jumping in in the heat of action perhaps. I think I’ll try the first now and if that doesn’t work, try the second later.

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12 February 2009

It kind of warms the heart

of an old craggy modernist like myself to read some of John Adams' recent interview with Newsweek. After saying some not particularly interesting things about a proposal for a Secretary of the Arts and the like, he goes on to mention briefly about some of the young comnposers who are composing in a style that mixes "indy" music with classical. I quote:

" How should concert halls go about attracting new listeners? Does government play no role in this?
Well, the one and only way to interest people in classical music is to get them to play it as children. People who grow up not having learned an instrument or not having been exposed to playing Bach on the piano—or playing, as I did, clarinet in a concert band—they have no understanding and no exposure to it. When I was a kid, we all had music lessons as part of the school program.

Isn't that changing, to some degree? Aren't composers who cross streams with "indie" or experimental rock—people like Nico Muhly or Caleb Burhans—bringing non-instrumentalists into the concert hall?
But both of those guys, they're highly trained musicians

Yes, but their fans aren't, necessarily.
Possibly. But there's another side to that. Some of the music that these composers are producing is so simple that it's in danger of dumbing-down. Not necessarily Nico and Caleb. But there are a lot of young composers in their 20s and 30s who are very anxious to appeal to the same audience that would listen to indie rock. But they are creating a level of musical discourse that's just really bland. I don't think it will have a very long shelf life. The bottom line is art really can't be made easy and palatable without simply losing its meaning and importance. I had this conversation with the new executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. We all went out to dinner and this fellow said, "I think we should make concerts interactive." Here I am, someone who's always been the renegade. "Wait a minute," I said. "You can't listen to a really important piece of music and have people banging on their BlackBerrys."

Is there more to say? Well I would add that for me the problem really is is that these folks aren't doing anything interesting with this potentially fertile blend of genres. There is no translation - moving the essence of "indy-rock" (itself a misnomer given how many people listen to it) into a new music framework. Essentially what we get instead is no different than transcription or arrangement - there is no imperative for this music to be scored for the forces it calls for. An equivalent might be if I took David Allen Coe's "Hank Williams Junior Junior" and arranged it for pierrot ensemble, although that might be more interesting than some of these things I've heard.


03 February 2009

An Award and a Recollection

Last night, I received word that Haziri was awarded honorable mention in the Millennium Chamber Players of Chicago’s annual Composition Competition. Out of over 300 scores received Haziri was one of less than ten that received mention. It came as a nice surprise at the end of a long day and after a meal of not-so-good Mexican food at Mama Mexico on Broadway – a restaurant I had avoided for nine years for philosophical reasons, but that’s another story. The jury for the prize was Bernard Rands, Augusta Read Thomas, Kyung Mee Choi and George Flynn. It’s particularly heartening because as far as I know none of these composers know my work. One of the other honorable mentions was the composer and flautist Ned McGowan.

Seeing the jury and Ned’s name I was reminded of the wonderful summer I spent at the Aspen Music Festival in 1998 when I was a part of the Advanced Composition Master Class led at the time by Rands and John Harbison. It was one of the last, if not last times this seminar ran concurrently with the normal composition program at Aspen and there were tensions between the two groups.

When I drove cross-country, my car stuffed with belongings for the summer – I overpacked - I had just finished my undergraduate work and wasn’t quite sure what to do next. For the program we were asked to write a work for the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble – my contribution was the Septet - and I was floored by the virtuosity of the ensemble: I still remain in touch with some of those players, Michael Norsworthy who played clarinet for instance or Blair McMillan who was the pianist. The composer and percussionist Nathan Davis played marimba. My cohort in the seminar were equally brilliant and have all gone on in their careers: Ken Ueno, Keeril Makan, Suzanne Sorkin, Ben Sutherland, and a composer from the Midwest named Colin Anderson. We spent a few weeks discussing music, listening to music and having an all-around good time. John Adams visited and discussed his use of computer software to tweak Slonimsky scales in his new piece Slonimsky’s Earbox, Augusta Read Thomas gave a presentation about a new piece she had done for a Chicago fish exhibit. David Zinman gave a masterclass at which I played a midi realization of my then-unheard and now-never-really-played orchestra piece Ma Fin. I'll never forget Bernard Rands comment on hearing the very poorly realized midi on cassette. "Never play that for anyone again." The midi did no justice to what is actually a very beautiful piece. Zinman didn’t like that the horns played so high at the beginning. I was young, I didn’t know any better – at the reading later in the summer, Jeri Johnson conducted beautifully – I remember our meeting beforehand to discuss how to approach the mood of the piece.
At the end of the session we had a big party at Rands’ Aspen apartment. We all ate and drank a lot of beer and whiskey – surely there are pictures out there – and at a certain point John Harbison brought an enormous smoked salmon.

This appears to be my 100th blog post, what a happy coincidence.