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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03 January 2009

Some more Schoenberg

Back at the blogging after nearly a month away. A Happy New Year to all.

Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte, op. 41 (1942) (voice, 2 violins, viola, violoncello, piano)
This work for reciter with piano qunitet seems to get a bad rap, primarily from those who see it as a tonal work where Schoenberg turned his back on his creation and returned to a more popular style. The Ode is a powerful work, uncompromising and adamant. Bristling moments abound - its striking opening - staccato chords in the piano with martial and regal rhythms in the strings creating an Ivesian bustle. Throughout Schoenebrg tailors his musical images to the text and sometimes is even funny - like the exagerated portamentos that accompany the talk of "Austria." This piece seems to be something timeless like the Byron poem it sets which looks at Napoleon fallen and desolate with little pity. Rich and engrossing.

Concerto, op. 42 (1942) (piano, orchestra)
Like the violin concerto, my memory of the piano concerto is of a work I found quite difficult to listen to, a work that was stodgy, full of those repeated rhythms and unpleasant. I recall feeling that it never got off its feet. That was ten years ago maybe, listening to it today, I hear it as a prototype of a number of angular pieces that I find attractive - I hear its repeated rhtyhms but just as often I'm surprised by a sudden shift of material, a new turn of phrase, a new rhythmic figure or a delightful object that appears and doesn't return, at least not in the same guise - like that lovely moment of high quartal-ish trills at 325 or the striking cadenza at 287 or the col legno battuto in the basses toward the end. This is chamber music with a lot of vibrato and massed sounds. But it has a romantic striving to it - it seems to be fighting against the walls. Harmonically it is twelve-tone but with a tonal core. Listening to it you can really hear how Schoenberg is using the twelve-tone language to justify the things he was writing about in the Harmonielehre here it is internalized - harmonies can go anywhere - and they need to be tamed. A bold, visionary work.

Theme and variations, op. 43a (1943) (band)
This, another example of Schoenberg having a go at neoclassicism, is a deep text. There are abundant cross references throughout its twelve-minutes that one could spend a good deal of time teasing out, but would it be worth it for the few minutes of genius? The theme itself is unmemorable, an oddly harmonized - though oddly only in the sense of the norm: Schoenberg is following the precepts he lays out in the Harmonielehre - melody that undergoes a number of transformations, a waltz, a fughetta, for instance, before apotheozing in the end into a broad expansive restatement, but still the melody is unmemorable. You see Schoenberg trying to get his point across, there is a new expression marking, joining the haupt and nebbenstimme, this is an arrow pointing forward at the beginning of a phrase and an arrow pointing backward at the end, to bring out the phrases in the dense polyphony of Variation V. Variation 5, like Variation 1 is quite nice. In Variation 1 the harmonic structure of the original is buried under triplet mud obscuring its contours. Otherwise an odd curiosity. Originally commissioned by the president of G. Schirmer, Carl Engel. According to Schoenberg: "It is the kind of piece one writes in order to enjoy one's own virtuosity."

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03 December 2008


Catching up on my Bartok notes. Many of the early works are not availble in score or recording and so I can only comment on the fragments presented in the Dille catalog.

Scherzo or Fantasie for Piano (Scherzo oder Fantasie für das Pianoforte), Op. 18, DD 50
A grand scherzo in ABA form. It sounds like Brahms, but with a regularity born of Strauss. Satisfying for the player and for the listener, though not particularly adventurous harmonically. Incidentally, a sketch appears in Bartok's Greek textbook of the Odyssey.

Sonata for Piano, Op. 19, DD 51
This is a big four movement sonata in the 19th century large scale format. Orchestral sonorities, almost like something MacDowell would do. It is firmly accomplished and would no doubt whet the appetities of many listeners. Demonstrates the Bartok is not coming out of nowhere, but is firmly within the tradition.

Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 20, DD 52
The whole thing apparently exists down to the individual parts. It's in four movements in a prevailing C minor tonality, though the Scherzo is Eb and the the Adagio also outside the key. Again Brahmsian with orchestral texture in the piano.

Three Piano Pieces (Drei Klavierstücke), Op. 21, DD 53 Adagio-Presto; (untitled); Adagio, sehr düster
#2 and 3 are published in "Der Junge Bartok" they are quite lovely, convential late Romantic works in the style of Brahms and Grieg. The Intermezzo has some elegant arch form, while the Adagio features a song-like feel and modal mixture.

Three Songs (Drei Lieder), DD 54
In Eb flat opens with a gentle melody - why did they make these people write these songs when Schumann had created such a masterpiece?

Scherzo in B Minor for Piano, DD 55
Nothing special scherzo and trio opens with a simple period. The trio is in nine eight with a pastoral opening.

String Quartet in F Major, DD 56
In four or five movements, the Adagio opens with fugal entries, the Trio also seems quite nice in F# minor.

Piano Quintet Fragments, DD B10 & B12
Very rich strong powerful fragments for piano quintet.

Tiefblaue Veilchen for Soprano and Orchestra, DD 57
A rich beginning in D minor.

Scherzo in Sonata Form for String Quartet, DD 58
A scherzo and trio seemingly it is in sonata form, the Trio seems like it might be more harmonically interesting.

Scherzo in B Flat Minor for Piano, DD 59
Very standard opening, again a scherzo and trio.

Six Dances, DD 60
Six, seemingly fun, dances for piano. One was published in facsimile in the Pressburger Zeitung on Christmas 1913. The first and second were orchestrated as DD 60b.

Valcer for Orchestra, DD 60b -- orchestrations of nos. 1 and 2 of DD 60
Orchestrations of numbers 1 and 2 of the above.

Drei gemischte Chore DD 61a
Three mixed choirs for four and then six and six voices. Can't get muxh sense from the opening, thogh there is nothing harmonically special about these brief snippets.

Was streift vorbei im Dammerlicht DD 61b
For men's choir, cannot tell much from this simple opening.

Liebeslieder, DD 62 -- Diese Rose pflück ich hier (I pluck this rose), Ich fühle deinen Odem (I feel your breath)
Tho of the six of these are published in Der Junge Bartok. The first is a dramatic and rangy song in Eb minor its works its way up and up and then throws in a high Bb for good measure, a little bit much in what is otherwise a folksy-ish setting, kind of Brahms mets Mahler. The second is again somewhat over the top with as many as three contrapuntal lines against an unsupported melody, which while retaining standard late Romantic accented dissonances just is a bit too sweet. The remainders are in a similar vein. There is a sort of reuse of materials throughout - for instance, number 5 a nature-love song full of horn calls is refreshed in number six.

Scherzo in B Flat Minor for Piano, DD 63
A quick and commonplace opening, the trio makes use of an interesting two against three beginning.

Variations on a Theme by F.F. (Változatok F.F. egy témája fölött) for Piano, DD 64
Published in "Der Junge Bartok" this is a massive set of variations on a theme. It is full, strong, accomplished in the style of late Romantic rhetoric. Fit for a strong full piano and texutred as an orchestra. It sounds somehwat like early Brahms. Demonstrates Bartok's consumater skill of construction and sense of the instrument. Perhaps a bit overlong.

Scherzo for Orchestra, DD 65
A two against three opening, the trio in the nasty F# Major.

Tempo di minuetto for Piano, DD 66
Very closely related to one of the six dances DD60, nearly the same beginning.

Four Songs, DD 67
These are four somewhat folksy sounding works, though there is tied up with them a good deal of late Romanticism. He seems caught in two worlds, but such a comment as that I just made is silly.

Symphony, DD 68
The scherzo is recorded in the Hungaraton complete edition. It is a well orchestrated quick scherzo in a Dvorak manner - it almost sounds like one of the Slavonic Dances. This was the only movement of the symphony orchestrated by Bartok.

Duo for Two Violins, DD 69
A small two voice contrapuntal study, short, only forty seconds in G major.

Albumblatt in A Major for Violin and Piano, DD 70
A rather lovely work in the late Romantic style for violin and piano. It has some curious modulations (almost from nowhere, but they work). The center is a strong development of the opening and it ends in quiet. Bartok really has worked a strong sense of hamronic motion in his music.

Four Piano Pieces (Négy zongoradarab), DD 71
These are four works for piano that are the sort of late romantic things that pass by on the radio and your mind wanders, you hear them but you don't listen and then they are over and you think, well that was fine, like Dvorak. Unobtrusive in a virtuosic way. Nothing special.

Andante in F Sharp Major for Violin and Piano, DD B14
What a lovely beginning, big rolled chords from which the violin emerges.

Violin Sonata in E Minor, DD 72
Three movements and published in Documenta Bartokiana volume 1. The first movement is a solidly accomplished sonata with a fugue in the development. The second is darker, a slow movement in variaiton style. It begins rhapsodic and then takes the players through various "gypsy" styles - must be incredibly rewarding, it takes some risks that pay off. The third movment (not published in the volume) is a several times interrupted rushing and angular national, perhaps Slavis, that A minor-y feeling sort of thing that emphasizes the tonic on strong beats. In the end I'm torn about this music, it's immensely accomplished and sounds great, it must be a joy to play (though the piano part, like many of Bartok's early works, is quite difficult). With the exception of the second movement, it doesn't seem like Bartok is really doing anything special, nothing beyond Dvorak, Tchaik, or late Strauss, themselves all excellent composers. It has nothing to distinguish itself beyond simply being good. That said, still worth a listen.

Est (Evening) for Voice and Piano -- lyrics by Kálmán Harsányi;
Published in Der Junge Bartok, this is a mass of augmented seconds and enharmonic spellings. It gets big in the center with quick chord arpeggiaitons in the piano and higher notes. It seems to want to be more than it is.

Est (Evening) for Male Chorus, DD 74 -- text identical to the above, music entirely different
Completely different than the melodramatic song for voice and piano on the same text. Here this is a gentle work for male choir, almost in the mold of the much later Janacek male choir works, there isn't a sense of hard-core late romanticism, but rather a simple folksiness, without naiveté.

Kossuth, Symphonic Poem in Ten Tableaux, DD 75a
A rather strong if studied tone poem. The overall sound world is like Richard Strauss and it has several strong moments, there is nothing really special in it, although the reused melody is solid and the orchestration is totally competant if in a seemingly studied way that may not be the best for the music. It tells the story of Lajos Kossuth a Hungarian revolutionary in the revolutionary year of 1848. The work was a big hit in Hungary in that it tied in with a sort of nationalist independence, which allowed the audience to look beyond things that we laughed at when it was premiered in England. Makes use of many Hungairan style figures as well. A rather important piece in understanding the development of Bartok.

Marcia Funèbre for Piano, DD 75b -- arrangement of two sections of Kossuth (DD 75a)
Rich and elegant this works very well as a piano piece, requires a strong but not prodigious technique with the need for good separation of the hands. Makes use of the ornamenting of important notes school of folksiness.(A - G#-E-F-D-E-F for instance toward the end) A Schenkerian's dream!

Four Songs, DD 76

Piano Quintet, DD 77
A massive, repeat massive orchestral work for Piano Quintet in four movements each played attacca. It is vibrant and large with a strong opening gesture that begins a journey - this opening figure will emerge triumphant at the end and perhaps is found throughout the piece. The scherzo is a brash hemiola of an affair with true joke rhythms while the slow movement is a meditation on the whole-tone scale, its opening gesture is F#-C-D-E which he works with in a lovely way eventually teasing some E minorness out of it. Finally the final movement is a bold Gypsy dance that culminates, after a fugetta that appears at about the golden section of the piece, in the return of the opening material. It is said that Bartok got very angry and wanted to distance himself from this music, when some people told him they liked this better than what he had done since, he threw the score into a corner. The piano part is shockingly virtuosic and the string parts no less challenging, the type of thing that warrants an enormous applause and lots of sweat raking. Scholars tend to see in this the late version of Bartok's searching for a folk idiom, he had, like Liszt and Brahms before him (two clear forebears in this music) thought that the gypsy bands of Vienna were the true folk music of Hungary; he would soon start an investigation into this in Transylvania.

Rhapsody for Piano, Op. 1, Sz 26
In the style of some of Bartok's other Hungarian works it begins with a rhapsodic improvisatory opening that evokes the violinist warming up the crowd and eventually erupts into a couple of bold dances before apotheosizing into a wooly pianistic rhapsody. This becomes pianisitc writing at its best with long lines, the full range of the instrument exploited and remarkably chordal figuration. It's a real crowd pleaser in a Lisztian sense. Once again, Bartok displays his powerful use of tonality and consumate mastery of late Romantic harmonic practice.

Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 1, Sz 27 -- arrangement of Sz 26
I'll admit I was never all that fond of this piece as a piano piece it is accomplished and the like, but it is also that sort of flashy thing that I find annoying. As a piano concerto it works better, the flashiness is more justified. Consequently, we have basically the framework of the earlier rhapsody, some things have simply been orchestrated (and I don't like what he's done to the tranquillo at page 16 of the score) other parts have added virtuoso flourishes within and between sections of the original. Nonetheless, I imagine it is still a crowd pleaser. I was unable to get a score and followed in the piano version.

Scherzo for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 2, Sz 28 ; also known as Burlesque
I couldn't see a score for this. It begins with a slow minor entrance and ventually moves into various somewhat programmatic sounding dances. If Bartok had continued along in this vein he would have become a pretty good Dvorak. For our sakes it is good that he didn't. A nice moment toward the end when the piano becomes introspective.

Hungarian Folksongs (Magyar népdalok), Sz 29 --
#1 is published in Der Junge Bartok

Székely Folksongs (Piros alma), Sz 30
Said to be the song that kicked off Bartok's passion for folk music when he heard a peasant singing it in the Slovakian countryside. Bartok sets the modal melody with a relatively staid Romantic-ish accompaniment. I don't have strong feelings about it.

Petits morceaux for Piano, (DD 67/1)
Published in Der Junge Bartok

Suite No. 1 for Orchestra, Op. 3, Sz 31
A long and very ambitious work for orchestra that shows the young Bartok trying to reach beyond a superficial folksiness. It is said that the folksiness of the early Bartok was the urban gypsy music that which he heard in the cafes, after hearing some non-urban folk he made his way to the coutnry to discover that the real was different than the urban. It's kind of like Chinese food, you can only - with rare exceptions - get the true Chinese food in China. This is definately a student work with great hopes - notice how he studiously combines the themes of the various movements in the finale. The themes are rough with a mix between gypsy improvisations - such as in the second movement and more off accented bits like in the third and fourth movement. Yet at the same time, there is still a good deal of Dvorak in the rhythms and Strauss in the overall sound and orchestration. As a whole it could be a crowd pleaser, but it remains rambunctious just a tad too much and could stand some editing - as noticed by the fact that in the revision of 1920 Bartok suggested eliminating certain portions.

To the Little 'Tot' (A kicsi 'tot'-nak), Five Songs for Voice and Piano, Sz 32
No information

Hungarian Folksongs (Magyar népdalok), Ten Songs for Voice and Piano, Sz 33 (BB 43/2?)
Bartok's first go at many of the Hungarian songs that he would return to several times over the course of his life. The settings of these ten are a big step from what he was doing before - it is almost like day and night. Wherea before, Bartok's harmonies tended toward the Straussian with a clear contrapuntal motion between chords, herehis harmonies are more blocky, there is less direct motion from one chord to the next. My guess is that the melodies of these chords could allow for multiple harmonizations, but tended to work best with simpler. Bartok tired of this, he was after all no longer writing the early works that he wrote while a young teenager, and sought new ways to bring out the modality of the meloies, the lack of leading tone, the gapped scales and the like. Also the rhythmic interest is there with the front accented rhythms. these would be very good recital fodder for a mezzo, and with an easy piano part.#4,5,6,8 are published in Der Junge Bartok. It is very difficult to determine which of these is Sz 33, which Sz 33a, which BB42 and which BB43 - suffice it to say these are the ones with the more full piano accompaniment.

Hungarian Folksongs Sz 33a, BB 42/3
There are ten of these of which only four were published, all ten are included in the Hugaraton Complete Edition. These ten songs are harmonized in a much simpler vein - there are no piano preludes or postludes and often the accompaniment simply mirrorsthe vocal line or else add simple harmonies to it. It seems in a way to be th epolar opposite - artistically that is - of the Sz33 songs. The songs are left mainly to fare for themselves.

Two Hungarian Folksongs for Voice and Piano, Sz 33b -- selection from Sz 33 made in 1906
Two small songs from the collection of Sz 33, perhaps? They are simpler in style but with a harmonic adventurousness, like those in Sz 33. #1 - Edesanyam Rozsafaja is published in Der Junge Bartok. #2 in Documenta Bartokiana 4 (1970)

Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra, Op. 4, Sz 34
This second suite of Bartok's is a curious bird. It was revised in the 1940s and I'm not entirely sure how much of a revision there was. If the first suite seemed to be a compilation of folksongs, this second suite seems to take the folk song as a realm of possibilities, its motives become a gamut from which Bartok can draw his musical language and we end up with this work which uses folksy fragments but freely moves about in pitch area. There is a fugue in the second movement, the first has a quirky rhythmic feel and the fourth reminds me a little of Mahler. That said, these ideas seem ill-fitted to the suits they are wearing, the developmental stratergies of the late nineteenth century, motivic transformations, a not entirely well-juxtaposed fugue. Beyond that, I got a real sense that this music is orchestrated although orchestrated beautifully. One notes the unison oboes and clarinets to yield a peasant flavor as well as the long bass clarinet solo in the third movement. Ultimately, it seems a step toward something else - this is something I appreciate about Bartok, he is flailing, flailing beautifully, but not entirely certain where he is going.

Three Hungarian Folksongs from the Csik District (Három Csik megyei népdal) for Piano, Sz 35a
Fascinating little piece, three actualy, said to be trnscribed from a Sixty-year-old flute player of the Csik district. The idea being that this is the real-folk music. Bartok gives it a reliquary-like setting allowing it to shine with all its vagarities. The piano part is consistently in the upper registers and it is unlike anything Bartok had done before.

From Gyergyo for Reed Pipe and Piano, Sz 35 -- arrangement of Sz 35a made in 1907
I love this version for reed pipe and piano - essentially the exact same as Sz 35 with the right hand assigned to the reed pipe.

Four Slovak Folksongs for Voice and Piano, Sz 35b -- based on Sz 35, completed in 1916
Four settings of Slovak folksongs for mezzo and piano. Of the four the first is most effective. He treats the folksongs here quite dramatically and often provides long prologues and postludes. In the first, the postlude takes the form of a verse of the folksong missing the singer. Published in Der Junge Bartok.

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1, Sz 36 -- begun in 1907, completed in 1908
Bartok wrote this in his early years and it was performed, but only published and performed again after Bartok's death. It is a two movement work with some charms. The opening movement is long ruminative slow taut and polyphonic. Beginning with a triad plus leading-tone figure - D-F#-A-C# he brings in parts of the orchestra with this melody, moving to B minor before returning to D. It's a tonal tour-de-force with somehow this odd counterpoint working togethe rin new ways. the second movement is not as successful, too much activity for the sake of activity that seems to episodic.

Two Portraits (Két portré) for Orchestra, Op. 5, Sz 37
An oddly proportioned combination of two works that are found elsewhere. The first movement is the striking opening movement of the Violin Concerto Sz 36 while the second is the last of the Fourteen Bagatelles op. 6 orchestrated, which bears a certain resemblance to parts of one of the suite. While the firs tmovment is slow and stately and over ten minutes, the second is rustic and only two. What they share is the opening figure - an arpeggiated Dmaj7 chord.

Fourteen Bagatelles for Piano, Op. 6
I feel like these fourteen miniatures are in a way akin to Schoenberg's Sechs Kleine Klavierstucke - they are part of a genre of evocative miniatures that I'm not altogether fond of. It's almost as if here Bartok is calling into the question many of the standard notions of what consittutes musical discourse, including notation and genre. The opening work is bitonal, others features changing and accelerating metronome markings, clusters, ostinato; the more successful make use of folk songs. He also seems to have his own harmonic system at play - are they octatonic? There are Ivesisms - the off kilter carousel in #14 and the doppler shifted clanging in #5. I find them overall important and worthy of study but uneven.

Ten Easy Pieces for Piano, Sz 39 -- composed in 1908:
These ten works plus on ededication are much more fun to play than they are to listen to. Many have painfully slow tempos, likely because of the pedagogic need, and many are in the style of thebagatelles, that I'm not very fond of. Bartok again uses that Major-Seventh chord (D-F#-A-C#) opening as he does int he violin concerto, in the very beginning of the quite odd dedication.

Two Elegies (Két elégia) for Piano, Op. 8b, Sz 41 -- first version composed in 1908, completed in 1909
It is a shame that Suchoff's notes in the Dover edition are so right on because it makes my observations seem to be a rehash of his. First, Bartok as we've seen back in the piano accompaniments of even the earliest songs, tends to favoor the busy arpeggiated Romantic piano lines and in these works (which recieved a premiere nearly ten years after they wrre composed) Bartok returns to these roots, though mixed with the harmonic language he began exploring in depth only in the piano works of the previous few years. So there is a mix of Romantic technique and modernist language, which works here well. Second we have aother fixation on the Leitmotive from the violin concerto - what Suchoff calls the "Stefi Geyer" motive after the violin player with whom Bartok was in love. It with an added pitch becomes the chord of the second elegy - the chord that stays and returns as accompaniment tonic and activity - here A#-C#-E-G#-A. The remainder are long torridmelodies with lots of left hand: the left hand creates the activity that the right soars over.

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21 November 2008

Some more Schoenberg

Including some canons this time

Darf ich eintretern - Canon for Alban Berg (complete works XXIV) (9 february 1935)
An unending canon to signify the unending nature of the freindship of Berg and Schoenberg - short and chromatic and with a strange melancholy. Would work well for brass.

Man mag über Schönberg denken, wie man will (for Charlotte Dieterle) (Bärenreiter XXIII) (1935) (4 voices)
A hymn -like mirror canon with augmentation and an opening. It is somehwat odd harmonically but is a rich little exercise for a string quartet or viol consort. Not his finest canon. Makes use of a descending fifth (E-A) as a motive - this appears in octaves in the middle with the words "ach, ja" written above.

Kol nidre, op. 39 (1938) (voice, chorus, orchestra)
Schoenberg set this version of the Kol Nidre prayer for "Rabbi", chorus and orchestra for, I believe, synagogue use. It is a powerful and strong work, in a tonal system that is purely Schoenberg - we see actual use again here of the precepts that he lays out in the Harmonielehre. Also, frankly, the mannerisms that mar muc of his work are not a part of this. That said the counterpoint is dense, not Verklarte Nacht dense, but present dense. Choral parts are not too difficult. Effective, strong and enjoyable.

Double canon (Bärenreiter XXV) (1938) (4 voices)
An infinite double canon in which the canonic voice is proportionally related to the other rhythmically. It has the sound of something by Obrecht.

Mr. Saunders I owe you thanks (for Richard Drake Saunders) (Bärenreiter XXVI) (December 1939) (4 voices)
A sweet charming little canon, though also chromatic, written as a Christmas greeting in 1939 to a certain Mr. Saunders, who assisted the Schoenbergs in their transition to LA. Nice how it ends with a greeting to Mrs. Saunders as well - the words bear writing: "Mister Saunders, I owe you thanks for at least four years. Let me do it in four voices so that every one of the mcounts for one year. Merry Christmas four times, listen how they sing it! Also Merry Christmas to Mrs. Saunders." Reminds me of those Glenn Gould canons, which were no doubt influenced by these.

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19 November 2008

Catching up on Schoenberg

Here's some of my recent notes - continuing the chronicle of my dysfunctional relationship with Schoenberg:

Begleitmusik zu einer Lichtspielszene [Accompanying music to a film scene], op. 34 (1930) (orchestra)
Amazingly this seems to step away from many of the Schoenberg cliches to provide a potent, evocative work. The melodies are interesting, the tensions and climaxs are fresh in a nineteenth century way. Jokes circulate as to what Schoenberg's film music would be - apparently he asked for tons of money and way too much time.

6 Stücke [6 Pieces], op. 35 (1930) (male chorus)
Devasting, at least the fifth and sixth pieces. One to four sound overburdened by counterpoint, it becomes a texture. Five is split up between voices as drums and others in an almost narrative way enacting soldier life, it reminds me of Mahler's Revelge. Six is a beautiful D minor.

Quarter note = mm. 80 (Gesamtausgabe fragment 13) (February 1931) (piano)
A lot of activity but not overcrowded, almost always four-part texture. Large leaps.

Double Mirror Canon (Bärenreiter VIII) (April 1931) (4 voices)(complete works 6)
This is the Schoenberg of the Christmas Music, a lovely canon that would sound well for strings and with a charming and quirky ending. Recommended.

Sehr rasch; Adagio [Very fast; Slowly] (Gesamtausgabe fragment 14) (July 1931) (piano)
Not recorded on the Fragments CD. It is an alternation of whole step octave displaced octaves with some Adagio sections and then almost imitative sections. Feels like a cadenza of sorts.

Andante (Gesamtausgabe fragment 15) (10 October 1931) (piano)
Barely worked out, mainly a single melody with bare accompaniment at the beginning.

(Bärenreiter IX) (Dec 1931)(Complete Works 7) (4 voices)
Crowded, too busy, high in conception, but clumsy. Quirky ending. #7 in the complete works.

Concerto “after Monn’s Concerto in D major for harpsichord” (1932/33) (violoncello, orchestra)
Schoenberg seemed to have a blast with this concerto dedicated to Casals who, not surprisingly, never played it. The orchestration is elegant and the cello line fiendishly difficult. Often the cello is buried in the score, which has a feeling like Schumann's orchestra. I suppose this is Schoenbeg's attempt at neoclassicism.

Double Mirror Canon (Bärenreiter XII) (Dec 1932) (4 voices)(complete works 9)
Small, only seven measures, it has potential to be expressive.

Concerto “freely adapted from Handel’s Concerto grosso in B-flat major, op.6, no.7” (1933)
If the concerto for cello is one crazy instrument with the ensemble then this concerto "freely adapted" from Handel is four crazy instruments with ensemble. Triple stops, double stops, eight parts in the strings, fast. Either this is Schoenberg's sense of humor or perhaps at the same time, his way of outdoing all the neoclassical works that were out there at this time.

Jedem geht es so [No man can escape] (for Carl Engel) (Bärenreiter XIII) (April 1933; text 1943) (3 voices)
This and it companion (Mir auch ist es so ergangen) form a birthday greeting to Schoenberg's friend Carl Engel, lamenting on how people say that at sixty you cannot do what you did before, but that once you are sixty this is nonsense, and ending with the English: "Life begins at 60" It's a rather straightforward D minor mensuration canon that becomes major in the final section. Quite charming. Ends with the musical realization of their two names. Of the canons I have heard this is the most succesful.

Mir auch ist es so ergangen [I, too, was not better off] (for Carl Engel) (Bärenreiter XIV) (April 1933; text 1943) (3 voices)
See above

Perpetual canon, A minor (Bärenreiter XV) (1933) (4 voices) (complete works x)
This canon (#15 in the Barenreiter collection and #10 in the complete works) a highly chromatic work that is elegiac in nature.

Mirror canon, A minor (Bärenreiter XVI) (1933) (4 voices) (complete works xi)
Stodgy and not particularly artful.

Piece (Gesamtausgabe fragment 16) (after October 1933) (piano)
A tiny twelve-tone fragment with a melody in the tenor and accompaniment in the bass. 3 measures only.

Moderato (Gesamtausgabe fragment 17) (April 1934?) (piano)
Weak, begins almost like a canonic exercise with all of Schoenberg's cliched figures prominent - the dotted rhythms, the slurred descending leaps. Never gets off its feet.

Es ist zu dumm [It is too dumb] (for Rudolph Ganz) (Bärenreiter XXII) (September 1934) (4 voices)
Schoenberg wrote this jaunty little canon as a response to an invitation to Chicago. The words that leap out are schade and Chicago which both are assigned a seufzer. Interesting.

Suite, G major (1934) (string orchestra)
It has been some time since I heard a full Schoenberg work and not a canon or fragment. This is the Schoenberg of the folk songs, and the Schoenberg of the Weihnachtsmusik. Coming to this sort of Schoenberg fun piece I hear the things I like about Schoenberg and the things I don't. So for instance, let's reflect on the way that Schoenberg beats a rhythmic fragment into the ground, usually a dotted figure (which here makes its entrance in its original guise - as a French overture figure). The reason these things become so tiresome is found in their chiseledness. Schoenberg will choose a figure that has a very strong profile, rhymically and often in the shape of the melody. These are then often broken up into small fragments which themselves are repeated and varied lending an overall sameness to the music. So in the final - otherwise quite enjoyable especially with its polyrhythmic divison of the 12/8 meter - Gigue we have a fragmetn reminiscent of Three Blind Mice (they all go under the mulberry bush, etc) the dum-da-dum, dum-dum-dum figure which is short and catchy and repeats over and over - if Arnie could shake things up more melodically we could enjoy it much more. In this light, look at the B section of the Gavotte which plays with the divisions, or the A section of the same which puts the listener in a constant state of losing the meter. The opening is lovely with a full diatonic complement that reminds me of Pulcinella mixed with Purcell in its moving back and forth from Adagio to Fugue. In this opening we see the beauty of Schoenberg's harmonies and the techniques he talks about in the Harmonielehre at play in the way that he views any harmony as able to move potentially to any other harmony and this in the very first phrase with its modulation from G major to B minor - following exactly as he does in his textbook (this was a piece for a student orcestra, so why not teach them something about harmony). We see this also at 165-169 of the otherwise tedious Adagio with its play of harmonies moving one into the other - the narrative at the point is simply harmonic motion and harmonic motion in a new and interesting way. The minuet is like an old man's bad joke - you feel like you have to laugh along. The polyphony is superdense which makes it almost impossible to bring out the proper melodies espcialy in the bluesy Gavotte.

Concerto, op. 36 (1934/36) (violin, orchestra)
It strikes me that this is the sort of work that one has to grow into. When I first heard it nearly ten years ago in the old Krasner recording I found it ponderous and annoying, with its overreliance on harmonics and squeaky high notes that didn't really sound well in the instrument. Hearing it now with the benefit of much of Schoenberg's catalogue in my ears I have a different appreciation for it, though not entirely a full appreciation. I recognize the remarkabe virtuosity of the part with its preponderance of triple and quadruple stops as well as harmonics as coming out of the Schoenberg string concerto school - one needs only think of what he did to that Monn cello concerto or the Handel concerto to see these as Schoenberg's playing around with virtuosity. Second, it seems to me that one of the most understudied aspects of Schoenberg's work is his use of rhythm - perhaps this is a result of a Boulez bias stemming from the infamous article and the fact that in taking serialism to the next level rhythm was what was addressed among other things. But Schoenberg's rhythms here, while in many cases strongly influenced by martial rhythms retain a sense of flexibility - I was struck by how often the meter goes against the notated meter, whether it is the constant syncopation that makes the accentuation fall off the beat or the fact that a good deal of it is in 4/4 when the sounding surface doesn't match with that. It seems to me that much could be gained from a study of Schoenberg's music from that level - it's similar to counterpoint study in the unmeasured period, the smaller rhtyhms may parse well but on a larger scale we have a constant interplay of mismatched meters. We saw somthing like that in the Suite for String Orchestra as well. Otherwise, I recognize now some of the great tension builds that Schoenberg does, the obsessive return to Ab in the second movement, the refrain-type formal scheme in the third movement, but this is not a warm piece, not a piece that is welcoming. I could care less about its twelve-tone construction, you don't hear that in the piece. I wonder if this is a music that we are still simply not ready for, or else what will make us ready for it is still to be revealed, rather one needs to open up the rhythmic possibilities in it to really allow it to shine.

Quartet no. 4, op. 37 (1936) (2 violins, viola, violoncello)
The famous fourth quartet evokes the same disease in me as the third. One detects that Schoenberg is on top of his game, he is working with his system in a way that demonstrates that it is his being, it has the same unifying rhythms that have plagued the composer for decades and the same difficult to pull off conflicting metrics - an almost poetic conceit - that I've noted in the violin concerto and the G Major suite. Nonetheless, It is, beyond a few stray moments, not really a pleasure to listen to and while it points the way toward new directions of expression - metric modulation for instance (I wonder if one some level this wasn't a strong model for Carter's First Quartet) - I can't help but feel that it does't warrant its reputation from a narrative, listening point of view; it may very well warrant the reputation from a serial point of view - indeed, the segmentation of the row would become a major factor in later serialism. I've tried to wrestle with what it is about the work that bothers me. One thing is the use of the registral space - the first violin so often stands out from the rest in an unpleasant way, we'll have the two lower strings in the octave below middle C, the second violin in the octave above and then the first violin way above that. In line with this consider the solo and accompaniment effect of much of the work, not only its famous opening. As contrast, often the exact opposite problem is found with the cello. I detect also a lot of sameness in the sound and perhaps its a question of performance (I'm talking about the Vienna Quartet performance) but the rhythms are stiff - I think Schoenberg wants a more flexible rhythm to allow the tensions to grow. I'm stuck with this piece again.

Kammersymphonie [Chamber symphony] no. 2, op. 38 (1906/39)
It's hard not to think of Schoenberg historically - that is, living in history - when we listen to this piece. It is in two movements, the opening an Adagio written in 1906 and reorchestrated in 1939 and the second more lighthearted, almost Copland sounding, neoclassical which reverts to the Adagio of the opening, which when it returns sounds more impassioned and clearheaded than it did in the opening movement. You get the sense that the cheery bubbling of the second movement hasbeen a foil for the deep-seated unease of the Adagio. This is what commentators have said and what one certainly hears in the work. On the other hand, if we think about it pureply from the perspective of the composer - he's got this old work, he wants to add another movement to it and then needs something to tie it together, so why not bring back the material from the opening. Similarly the Adagio material brought back - the brought back amounts only to the gestures, the overscored polyphony of the opening does not return, is more profound in this sense, if only becuase it has been stripped of the overworking. Another work I'm ambivalent - the ending is good and the second movement breezes along, but the first just doesn't work for me.

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01 October 2008

Listening to Bruckner

I have begun the perhaps foolhardy task of listening to Bruckner’s music. Foolhardy because much of it has not been recorded and the enormous difficulty that underscores the various versions of his works is also in play. That said there is the new Bruckner Complete Works edition and I have a piano. I have decided to take the listing compiled by the Nevada Bruckner Society as a chronological starting point making a few alterations ere and there. Any leads on recordings would be quite helpful and any choirs wishing to perform these works will find a willing conductor in me.

1835 Pange lingua in C for mixed chorus (WAB 31)
Touching hymn by the then twelve year-old Bruckner which he held on to, perhaps as an emblem of innocence into his old age, "restoring" it (according to Novak) in 1891. It is a simple exercise in four part harmony almost entirely in half notes, gentle and peaceful.

1835 Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina (WAB 136)
It is a sketch of 20+ measures for soprano voice and thought to not be Bruckner's work. I can't find it.

1837 Prelude for Organ (WAB 127)
This prelude originally believed to be by the 14 year old Bruckner is actually by his teacher Berger. It is a standard affair, the sort of things the organists imporivse al the time - chords moving one to another modlating followed by scalar passages over a similar harmonic framework.

c.1837 4 Preludes in E flat for Organ (WAB 128)
These four little organ prelude correspond to passages in the work of, perhaps, JB weis - the critical report says they match almost note for note parts of a collection. The first is a good exercise in enharmonic motion, while the other three are simple charming preludes that would work suitably in a litrugical setting. Worth seeking out if only for that reason.

c. 1842 Mass in C for Alto, mixed chorus and 2 horns "Windhaager Mass" (WAB 25)
Let's talk about this little mass for alto solo, organ and two horns. It is a real workman's mass, equivalent to the many things I have had to play for various churches, and which are still composed by organists. The intention is nothing special, simple melodies that are easily performable. Bruckner does just that - these are sight readable melodies and accompaniments and better than the Marty Haugen Mass of Creation that is the staple of Catholic masses in America. Of note is thelovely Benedictus in Eb (which is foreshadowed with a strange Eb harmony in the opening Christe). There are a few harmonic niceties but all in all very simple. Perhaps a good teaching piece.

1843 Tafellied (WAB 86)
Bruckner returned to this work in his old age. It is a lovely charming setting for male choir of a text by Knauer to be sung before going to the table. Lovely and warm. Recommended.

c. 1843 Libera me Domine, in F, for chorus & organ (kronsdorf?) (WAB 21)
It is absolutely lovely, this setting of the Libera me domine, totally honest and without the fire we come to expect from a requiem setting.

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14 September 2008


I have been impressed with the music of Luigi Dallapiccola ever since I first heard the Concerto per la Notte di Natale many years back. I was further impressed by his rhythmic use when various pieces of his were used in an atonal ear training class I took during my Masters' degree. (Now that was one of the hardest classes I've ever taken). So, I decided to give his work the chronological looksee. What follows are notes on what I've heard so far:

Fiuri de tapo. Drei Melodien für Gesang und Klavier

Exists only in manuscript


Caligo für Gesang und Klavier

Exists only in manuscript


Due canzoni di Grado für kleinen Frauenchor, Mezzosopran und kleines Orchester

Exists only in manuscript


Dalla mia terra. Vier Gesänge für Mezzosopran, gemischten Chor und Orchester.

Not available. Apparently a version of the third song exists in the Italian magazine Agorà from Turin, August 1946


Due Laudi di Fra Jacopone da Todi für Sopran, Bariton, gemischten Chor und Orchester.

Exists only in manuscript

La canzone del Quarnero für Tenor, Männerchor und Orchester

Exists only in manuscript


Due Liriche del Kalevala für Tenor, Bariton, Kammerchor und vier Schlaginstrumente.

Apparently no1 is supplement to March/April 1938 Revue Internationale de Musique

It’s a shame that this is all we have of this piece what is there is a bit for chorus with some humming and an Italian bass over it all come recitativo. Modal, and attractive.

Partita für Orchester.

This appears to be the first work of Dallapiccola that I can get my hands on, it’s a large orchestral work, readily transparent, that is recorded only in a live recording from the 1960s on an old Stradivarius CD that is quite hard to get - the recording quality is poor. As for the piece: in four movements ending with a broadly lyrical soprano lullaby. It shows some sign of promise, with securely competent and confident writing throughout. The opening passacaglia is totally clasical in style beginning in quiet drumbeats working up to a fury and then returning. The second movement Burlesque is loud and angular melodically in a way that recalls Hindemith and other exercises in quartal harmony. The lullaby itself is quite lovely if overlong. Shows interest in neoclassical techniques and an almost Respighi-like neo-gregorianism. Dallapiccola must have been thinking laudi with the closing lullaby. Keen ear for harmony - trichordally derived.


Tre studi auf Texte aus dem Kalevala-Epos

Exists only in Manuscript

Estate für Männerchor a capella auf ein Fragment des Alkaios

For men's choir with big strong chords in an almost neo-gregorian modality that then expand into something far more chromatic. Has an almost sense of antiquity to it in a fascist manner.


Rapsodia. Studie zu La Morte del Conte Orlando für eine Singstimme und Kammerorchesterauf

No information


Sei Cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane - Malmaritate, Malammogliate

Two works for mixed choir on bawdy lyrics of Michelangelo the younger - the sculptor's nephew. The flavor of Istria is apparent in the repetition of the names of relatives and the household busybodiness. Musically thought they are quite tame in a style that is 1930s tonal, I don't know how else to phrase it. More modal than chromatic, with an occasional quartal flair. Not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination.


Divertimento in quattro esercizi für Sopran, Flöte, Oboe, Klarinette, Bratsche und Violoncello

Very nice in four movements for the interesting combination of flute, oboe, clarinet, viola, cello and soprano. Uses baroque dance forms - note the closing Siciliana and the third movement Bouree. Harmony is astringent, yet modal. Plays with division of the measure simultaneously as 3, 2, and 4.


Sei Cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane- Balconi dela Rosa, Papavero

This is the second series of Michelangelo choruses, here scored for Sopranos and Contraltos with instrumental ensemble. There is no recording. The score shows a work almost like a pastorale, filled with open fifths and slow changes of harmony. The second movement has some almost bell like sonorities and shepherd pipe type wind gestures. It is no doubt a lovely work still in the style of Resphigi.


Musica per tre pianoforti (Inni)

Conservative work for three pianos, though probably could be arranged to be played by two. Three movements, makes use of that easy mix of quartal harmonies and a pandiatonicism reminiscent of Pulcinella.


Sei Cori di Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane - Coro degli Zitti, Coro die Lanzi Briachi

If only there were a recording of this work for orchestra and chorus, my playing through of the score can only give a hint to what is a constantly forward-looking tonally directed success. The opening chorus moves over an alternating major third-minor third bass line that alternates with fugal passages and some quartal harmonies. The second is third oriented much in the way that "Inni's” opening is, however the harmonies are well thought out and the lines lyrical. One gets the sense of each section of the work moving toward a larger and higher goal.


Tre Laudi für hohe Stimme und Kammerorchester auf Texte aus dem Laudario die Battuti di Modena von 1266

It took my quite some time to sit down and actually play through this taut setting for soprano and orchestra - in a reduction for soprano and piano. It has some beautiful harmonies - the final chord is quite lovely. Two slower movements that surround a quicker movement in the staccato style of Inni. He is moving toward a more refined melody, with notes truly well chosen. I look forward to hearing a recording someday.

Volo di notte. Operneinakter nach dem Roman Vol de nuit von Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Based on the same story that would become the actually-quite-good American film "Only Angels Have Wings" this is the sort of opera that only a young idealistic composer could write. The story is ludicrous, the mail must be delivered in South America and we learn over the radio (which is a major character in this) that a pilot has disappeared. The muisc is consistently solid particularly in the set pieces - Dallapiccola, borrowing from Berg (a little too much at times) is able to unite the various scenes around musical forms: there is a chorale and variations, an invention on a rhythm, and others. These though work and give coherence to the overall. Other elements include a good deal of sprechstimme (notated as Berg does) and the twelve-tone row borrowed from the Tre Laudi, which is presented over a B major triad and which is intended to be symbolic of the heavens: it appears at the beginning and end of the work as well as at the moment we lose the pilot - thus twelve-tone writing becomes an emblem for something beyond human comprehension. Otherwise there is no systematic twelve-tone writing, it remains a lot of quartal harmonies. I'd be interested in hearing a recording as my struggles with the piano-vocal score are not always so successful.

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03 September 2008


A while ago, I had started looking into Bartok's works. After some difficulty I began with the works known only by their Dille numbers (after Denis Dille's catalog). Many of these came to me only in brief segments - the catalog provides only the incipits of the works. Some however have been published in the two collections "Der Junge Bartok" and in the "Documenta Bartokiana" series. Thus, here I begin my observations.

Walczer for Piano, Op. 1, DD 1

The beginning is found in a Photostat in Dille's survey. Straussian - alternating tonic and dominant.

Changing Piece (Változo darab) for Piano, Op. 2, DD 2

Beginning in Dille - tonic dominant alternation in duple time.

Mazurka for Piano, Op. 3, DD 3

Again tonic-dominant, again only opening in Dille, again like Strauss - Johann that is.

Budapest Athletic Competition (A Budapesti tornaverseny) for Piano, Op. 4, DD 4
Seems the whole thing exists though Dile lists only the opening in Allegro tempo a scalar passage followed by descending marcato thirds.

Sonatina No. 1 for Piano, Op. 5, DD 5

Two movements, first opens over an Alberti bass, with alternation of you guessed it, tonic and dominant seventh. Second features a touch of imitation. Bartok is really trying to learn in this his first year of composing.

Wallachian Piece (Oláh darab) for Piano, Op. 6, DD 6

About thirty seconds of this survives and begins like one of his folksong settings might, at least the easier ones.

Fast Polka (Gyorspolka) for Piano, Op. 7, DD 7
A quick polka begins with what seems like it will be a parallel period.

Béla' Polka for Piano, Op. 8, DD 8

Over an Alberti bass comes arpeggiations of tonic and dominant chords..

Katinka' Polka for Piano, Op. 9, DD 9

Simple accompaniment, tonic-dominant. Children's songs all of them.

Voices of Spring (Tavaszi hangok) for Piano, Op. 10, DD 10

This is a longer work - Dille lists it as being about five minutes, its opening is a Straussian melodic figure over a sustained D major harmony.

Jolán' Polka for Piano, Op. 11, DD 11

Opens with a scale in octaves in dotted rhythm. Dille doesn't provide anything more and it's impossible to guess what might come next.

Gabi' Polka for Piano, Op. 12, DD 12

Has an almost Venetian feel with its opening phrase in thirds.

Forget-me-not (Nefelejts) for Piano, Op. 13, DD 13

It's a more pianistic work, in three with an arpeggiated bass line and an expressive cantabile beginning. All these openings beg their second halves - they are very much a solid thought and very much in a particular style, But still the boy is in his early teens.

Ländler No. 1 for Piano, Op. 14, DD 14

There are five of them, they show some invention at least their beginnings. Number one scans with "Beautiful Dreamer"

Irma' Polka for Piano, Op. 15, DD 15

About one minute survives in B major.

Radegund Echo (Radegundi visszhang) for Piano, Op. 16, DD 16

Simple and sustained, it calls out for a contrasting section in the minor.

March (Indulo) for Piano, Op. 17, DD 17

A march for piano in 4, sounds like it could be Vive la Compagnie.

Ländler No. 2 for Piano, Op. 18, DD 18

16 measures with a little rhythmic interest. He has also by this point started using a predominant chord.

Circus Polka (Cirkusz polka) for Piano, Op. 19, DD 19

The opening four measures show a leap down of an octave.

The Course of the Danube (A Duna folyása) for Piano, Op. 20, DD 20

It is believed that Bartok performed this nearly 17-minute cycle in 1891. It seems like a set of variations but admittedly, it’s hard to make any judgment based on what I've seen. The beginnings look similar and the harmonies are as you might expect tonic and dominant, so if this were the measure of variation, then the entire corpus that he's composed to this point could be variation. The opening movement shows promise.

The Course of the Danube (A Duna folyása) for Violin and Piano, DD 20b -- arrangement of DD 20

An arrangement of number 20.

Sonatina No. 2 for Piano, Op. 21, DD 21

Two movements, the first fast the second Adagio with sustained triads in the left hand and a melody homorhythmic above.

Ländler No. 3 for Piano, Op. 22, DD 22


Spring Song (Tavaszi dal) for Piano, Op. 23, DD 23

Perhaps the first work here in the minor, the accompaniment is simply arpeggiated chords, but the melody makes use of the five and six scale degrees of the minor.

Szöllos Piece (Szöllosi darab) for Piano, Op. 24, DD 24


Margit' Polka for Piano, Op. 25, DD 25

The beginning of what must be a parallel period.

Ilona' Mazurka for Piano, Op. 26, DD 26

Amazing how much he does with tonic and dominant and all of it not particularly interesting. These would be good compositional exercises for a harmony class.

Loli' Mazurka for Piano, Op. 27, DD 27

Parallel period in I and V7 then adding embellishing 2 - its really close to Johann Strauss especially also with its leading-tones jumping to supertonics on the downbeat (F#-A-G-C#-E-D|B)

Lajos' Waltz ('Lajos' valczer) for Piano, Op. 28, DD 28

Good one for looking at appoggiaturas and their use. Very close to #28.

Elza' Polka for Piano, Op. 29, DD 29

Tonic dominant opening with a trio in scalar passages and using the secondary dominant.

Andante con variazioni for Piano, Op. 30, DD 30

A five minute set of variations with an exhortatory opening.

X.Y. for Piano, Op. 31, DD 31


Sonata No. 1 in G Minor for Piano, Op. 1, DD 32

It seems with this four-movement piece and judging just from the openings of the movements, that Bartok had got his hand on a collection of Beethoven's sonatas. The first references the Appassionata and the fourth the Tempest.

Scherzo in G Minor for Piano, DD 33

A scherzo with trio in the minor and then the major - the melody is actually put in the left hand.

Fantasie in A Minor for Piano, Op. 2, DD 34

Definitely made at the piano.

Sonata No. 2 in F Major for Piano, Op. 3, DD 35

A twenty-minute sonata that shows the influence of Mozart.

Capriccio in B Minor for Piano, Op. 4, DD 36

More Beethoven in this opening.

Sonata in C Minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 5, DD 37

A lot of promise in this multimovement piece. The first movement is a monument of diminished chords. It seems at this point that Bartok is consistently tuneful, consistently foursquare and shows major influence of Beethoven and Mozart - Beethoven for openings and slow movements and Mozart for Rondos and lighter elements.

Sonata No. 3 in C Major for Piano, Op. 6, DD 38


Pieces for Violin, Op. 7, DD 39


Two Fantasias for Violin, Ops. 8 and 9, DD 40 and DD 41


String Quartet No. 1 in B Major, Op. 10, DD 42


String Quartet No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 11, DD 43


Andante, Scherzo and Finale for Piano, Op. 12, DD 44


Three Piano Pieces (Drei Klavierstücke), Op. 12, DD 45 Spring Song (Tavaszi dal), Valse (Valcer), In Wallachian Style (Oláhos)

Only number one is fully printed - in Der junge Bartok, it's a little presto that's reminiscent of Elf-Mendelssohn and Grieg - without the harmonic fun. The other two I've seen only the opening, the third is an adagio in Abm.

Piano Quintet in C Major, Op. 14, DD 46


Two Pieces for Piano, Op. 15, DD 47


Great Fantasy for Piano, Op. 16, DD 48


Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 17, DD 49


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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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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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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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28 April 2007

Scelsi: Tre canti poplari

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

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27 April 2007

More Lutoslawski

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

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

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

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

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23 April 2007

More Scelsi

More comments on Scelsi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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17 April 2007

Copland: Various

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crumb: Star Child

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

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11 April 2007


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

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

Requiem fragments (1937) - sop, choir, orch

Lacrimosa (1937) - sop, organ -

Symphonic Variations (1938) - orch

Two Studies (1941) - pf

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

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

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

Drobnich utworów polifonicznych (1943-44) - wind instruments

Cwicze polofonicznych (1943-44)

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

Trio (1945) - oboe, clarinet, bassoon

Melodie Ludowe [Folk Melodies] (1945) - piano

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

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

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

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

Symphony No. 1 (1947) - orch

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

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

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

Overture for strings (1949) - string orch

Little Suite (1950) - ensemble

Little Suite (1950, r. 1951) - orch

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

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

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

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

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

Silesian Triptych (1951) - sop, orch

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

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

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

Towarzysz [Comrade] (1952) - voice, piano

Bucolics (1952) - pf

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

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

Miniature (1953) - 2 pf

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

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

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

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

Three Fragments (1953) - fl, hp

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

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

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

Concerto for Orchestra (1954)

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

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

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

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

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

Dance Preludes (1954) - cl, pf

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

Dance Preludes (1954, arr. 1959) - ens

Zas?yszana melodyjka (1957) - two pianos

Five Songs (1957) - sop, pf

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

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

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

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

Musique funebre (1958) - str orch - Excellent

Sechs polnische Weihnachtslieder (1959) - 3 recorders

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

Three Postludes (1960) - orch

Jeux vénitiens (1961) - ch orch

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

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

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

Symphony No. 2 (1967) - orch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scelsi: Various

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

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

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

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

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30 March 2007

Scelsi: Various

More from my ongoing listening and playing of the music of Scelsi.

Three Studies for Eb Clarinet (1954): Not a very impressive work for Eb Clarinet - basically it’s a trascription of Scelsi fooling around around certain particular pitches, twiddling nervously one might think, there is always though a sense of direction, ifnot of reason behind particular pitches. Again no rests, no respite from the constant note flux.

Divertimento No. 2 (for violin) (1954): I looked at this on the piano as there is no recording available. After playing through it, it becomes clear why this is the case. This is not an entirely satisfying piece, harmonically, melodically or idea-wise, and it seems to be quite challenging to actualy play. It ends with this very strange almost diatonic bit that sounds like a Venetian carnival song played at breakneck speed. The remainder of the four movement work is more in keeping witht he angular atonal Scelsi of the 4 Poems and before than the quasi-modal Scelsi whose image is put forth to represent the composer.

Yamaon (1954): For Bass voice and a handful of Bass instruments this is a striking, powerful evocation, using (like Varese) a Mayan text about a destruction of the city - O those Mayans! - however, it seems the vocal part is primarily phonetic. The ensemble is a fascinating one deep and dark. The liner notes of the Kairos recording speak - quoting Benjamin - of the instruments gradually appropriating the music of the soloists through mimesis, which I think is putting far too much thought onto this. More likely Scelsi is trying to evoke some sort of theosophically-influenced vision of the east through mimesis himself of what few recordings he was able to get his hands on.

Action Music (for piano) (1955): A new way of looking at the piano, though not particularly an interesting way nor one that Scelsi really does interesting things with and in fact not really so new - recall that Henry Cowell was doing such things almost twenty years prior. In many movements and burdened with a cumbersome notation this is almost entirely in clusters and intended to be played with the palms or the fists. The end result is a lot of baging and an over-reliance on pentatonics - resulting obviously from the clusters of black notes. Not worth the effort that would go into learning it.

Divertimento No. 3 (for violin) (1955): This is the only of these divertimentos that is recorded. Less single note-y than his other solo works, (Preghiera, Pwyll, etc.) But as with them without any seeming overwhelming structural focus. In four relatively brief movements dealing basically in different styles of articulation, II is legato-ish, another is more martellato, another more lyrical and neoclassical. None that interesting.

Divertimento No. 4 (for violin) (1955): Much more Scelsi-like and with the exception of the first movement much more interesting, not so much ramblings as Divertimento 2, instead the pitch-centered works that are the image of Scelsi - ends with a curious G minor bit. I'm surprised #3 is recorded but not this one. It seems these divertimentos in a way are to the violin what the Suites are to the piano - and these various other pieces are to various other instruments.

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29 March 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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15 March 2007

Shapey: Evocation II

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

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06 March 2007


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

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

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

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

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

1939: Sonata No. 2 (for piano)

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

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

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

1943: Ballata (for cello and piano): Unavailable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Copland: Music for a Great City

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

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05 March 2007

Xenakis: Kassandra

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

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Copland: Connotations

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

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04 March 2007

Xenakis: Waarg, Echange, Epicycle, Okho

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

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

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

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

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02 March 2007

Crumb: Dream Sequence

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

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24 February 2007

Xenakis: Taurhiphanie

Taurhiphanie (1987): Electronic work based on the bellowing of bulls, planned to accompany a live improvisation based on the movement of bulls and horses in a bullring. One hears a long opening and the bellowing sound, which must have been interesting to Xenakis because of their deep-glissandi effects. The transformations of the bull sounds bring to mind what is a major problem with much electronic music, everything can become through manipulation everything else, why bull sounds and should they retain any of their bullishness? Here they do, but they sound equally like other synthesized sounds, whether stings or complex sine-waves.

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Schutz: Symphoniae Sacrae III (V)

SWV 406: O Jesu süß, wer dein gedenkt super Lilia convallium Alexandri Grandis: Contrafactum of a work by Monteverdi's successor Alexander Grandi. Schutz underlaid words and made some minor revisions. It's hard to make a value judgment on such a work when we know that it is not Schutz's music, however a brief description should point out differences in styles. Grandi alternates verses for soloists with ritornellos which remain the same in each iteration. The harmonic touches are similar to something Schutz would do - repetition at the third, as are some of the double suspensions into cadences.

SWV 407: Lasset uns doch den Herren, unsern Gott, loben: A much longer work this time all Schutz. Various verses with the individual soloists culminating in the full complementum praising God. Some classic examples of the old-fashioned motet style here. The shifting soloists over continuo, one, two, then together, maybe a third, then all together and so forth. It's interestig if we look at the ensembles as they shift throughout the piece. Consider: V=Violins; SATB=SATB. V | T S | V | T A (TAS) | (BV) (SAB) | T A (SA) T (ST) | (BV) (TB) S | Tutti. We can see from this, the violins only sound with the Bass, there is a narrative to the two male voices joining - they only join at the end. I wonder if this would be a good place for inquiry in many of these motet-style pieces.

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Copland: Nonet

Nonet (1960): For the Dumbarton Oaks series, and dedicated to Boulanger. Seldom heard work for three each violins, violas and cellos. In typical Copland fast-slow-fast form with the final fast a varied reprise of the opening. Homophonic chorale like opening in quite beautiful nine-note harmony. Doesn't have the robustness of much of Copland's fast material, more lyrial and pastoral than barn-dancy. Doesn't strike me as if he is using twelve-tone techniques, but there is clearly an importance placed on intervallic relationships. Copland commented on the elegiac sound saying that the bottom heavy insturmentation lends itself to such sentiment.

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22 February 2007

Schutz: Symphoniae Sacrae III (IV)

SWV 404: Feget den altern Sauerteig aus: Strange setting of a strange section of Corinthians - in which there is talk about Christ as the leavened bread. The setting begins with a nother beautiful, if odd, symphonia, followed by essentially a constantly scored bit for all voices more or less all singing evenly, the liner notes refer to "motet-style" I think this is really a good example of a work in the old-style, but not a particularly interesting piece.

SWV 405: O süßer Jesu Christ, wer an dich recht gedenket: A setting of a verse of Bernard de Clairvaux in German translation. Alternation of a number of duos and trios speaking of various aspects of what it means to have Jesus in one's life concluding with the full complement amplifying the message. This is a textbook example of Schutz's art - competently competent, elegantly workman, yet beautiful and rewarding. No surprises. Lovely the way that he sets off the two duos throughout in an almost symbolic way.

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20 February 2007

Crumb: Makrokosmos III (Music for a Summer Evening)

I have been listening to the music of George Crumb chronologically. Back in college I was quite enamored by his music after hearing Ancient Voices of Children in the old Jan DeGaetani recording on Nonesuch. At a certain point I got to meet Crumb himself after a concert of the Kronos Quartet playing Black Angels at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I went up to him afterwards and shook his hand telling him how much of an influence his music was on me - I had just written my first larger piece a work for Soprano, String Quartet and Percussion called Gettysburg Hospital, which I'm still quite fond of. I still recall what he said to me that day, something on the order of: "Just be sure that you never use the sounds as sound effects." Recently, I decided to explore his works, primarily influenced I imagine by the complete series being put out on Bridge Records. What follows are my notes to his works.

Sonata for Solo Cello (1955): This is played a lot, but I don't particualrly like it. Very Bartok like which may account for its popularity - ooh look I'm playing modern music!

Variazioni for large orchestra (1959)
Five Pieces for piano (1962)
Night Music I for soprano, piano/celeste, and two percussionists (1963)
Four Nocturnes (Night Music II) for violin and piano (1964)
Madrigals, Books I-II (1965)

Eleven Echoes of Autumn (Echoes I) for violin, alto flute, clarinet, and piano (1966): All the techniques are here, the ghostly playing, the piano harmonics, whistling. Overlong piece full of special techniques, a little too whispery for me: it never seems to get where it is going. What is amazing though is the way that all these techniques that we take for granted were worked in this Crumb piece and developed with Crumb. He has to explain things that seem quite basic.

Echoes of Time and the River (Echoes II) for orchestra (1967): I did listen to this. It was relatively unmemorable.

Songs, Drones, and Refrains of Death (1968): Quite nice, the last especially with the droning major chord and the detuning double bass.

Madrigals, Books III-IV (1969): I found this to be more interesting than some other of Crumb's works. Though I note a lot of sound efects in the piece. Odd considering how Crumb suggested to not have sound effects when he spoke to me. The final piece is moving with the bass as bourdon. However, the screeching spoken soprano is not particualrly effective.

Night of the Four Moons for alto, alto flute/piccolo, banjo, electric cello, and percussion (1969): Crumb refers to this as an occasional piece; it was written during the Apollo landing. What surprises me is the felxibillity of the material, that is the way in which Crumb can cut and paste and write quickly if he wants to. It does seem a little token in its exoticism - the mbira, but also the ending with the Mahler tends to stick out too much; the Mahler is too beautiful in the context and it,not Crumb, becomes the memorable part.

Black Angels (Images I) for electric string quartet (1970): The earnest numerology of this is fascinating only insofar as it is hard to believe that someone could be so earnest in their obvioususe of it. Everything is 7 or 13, number of notes in a phrase, interval strcuture, measures in a section etc. Also still effectively lacking in development, tons of small fragments that collage together, but don't develop from each other. I'm finding this fragmentation to be problematic.

Ancient Voices of Children (1970): The classic Crumb - here is his version of the Kindertotenlieder. Some dull moments, particularly the "dances" - his "ghost music" is trite - but after the harmonica major chord drone collage we move into a new world. These are still fragments but Crumb is able to unite them much more clearly.

Lux Aeterna for soprano, bass flute/soprano recorder, sitar, and percussion (two players) (1971): Here is a gorgeous piece. Finally Crumb is taking something whole, not the aphoristic fragments that allows him to not develop. The use of the sitar is quite lovely and not at all contrived.

Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) for electric flute, electric cello, and amplified piano (1971): Some lovely movements, but tied up in this Druid mumbo-jumbo. The ending is lovely, but it does take a long time to get there and we have to sit through this seagull stuff and whistling. Trite if it weren't among the first.

Makrokosmos, Volume I for amplified piano (1972): A catalog of new piano technique tied up again in three layers of mumbo-jumbo: the titles, the zodiac, the dedicatees. If I ever hear a pianist who can pull off the speaking and singing I'll be amazing, much less the ghost moaning.

Makrokosmos, Volume II for amplified piano (1973): A further catalog of piano techniques. The comments above are the same here, where is development, it is merely presentation and the same scales, the same harmonies.

Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III) for two amplified pianos and percussion (two players) (1974): Extended (40 minute) work for two pianos and percussion. Similar use of the typical Crumb ideas - a fragment of Bach (in a long movement that seems like it should be profound), percussionists whistling a hymn (seems like it is again "Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown" as in the Makrokosmos - I don't recall which book), a faux "Hymn to the Star Child" done with held down notes and strumming and in a minor-modal sound, a solemn pentatonic ending that is to signify some sort of culmination of striving (as in Vox Balanae). Nonetheless, it is a pleasant listening experience as suceeds in what it aims for. I only wish that Crumb would start doing something different. I understand that a composer works with what works and this period is when Crumb is really cultivating his techniques. It remains to be seen where exactly he wil go with them in the next thirty years.

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19 February 2007

Xenakis: Ata, Rebonds

At this point the Xenakis survey is looking more and more difficult to do. I've done some searching and it appears that I will be unable to obtain any of the scores from the 1990s. While I do have recordings of most of these pieces, the lack of scores will make it more difficult for me to study them. Xenakis entries will continue, but they will likely be far more sporadic.

Ata (1987): No score available. Boisterous, loud for full orchestra. Mainly consisting of a lot of sawing in even rhythms, with the occasional varied accelerandos that Xenakis began creating in Persephassa. Stinging ending with the ensemble pooping out after spending ten minutes or so beating its collective chest in an orchestral matam. One feels this music directly in the organs, though the visceral impact of the live performane cannot be matched in the recording. I recall hearing this at Ostrava and being constantly amused and charged with each new loudness. Close in some ways to the ecstasy of Lichens. Ata, according to Harley: ancient Greek for "human folly that imprisons one inside oneself"

Rebonds (1987-1989): Solo percussion work in two interchangable sections. Mainly stays with drum sounds with five wood blocks added for effect in part B. A constant steady sixteenth motion that must make this rather enjoyable for the player, I had fun myself playing fake drums while following along. There doesn't seem to be much a place for this piece to go and the thoughts that crossed my mind were in a way related to minimalism, which I think has a strong inspiration on this piece, though probably minimalism as mediated by something like Ligeti's etudes. The "a" section features a little bit more of randomness thrown into a steady drum soup.

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17 February 2007

Schutz: Symphoniae Sacrae III (III)

SWV 403: Siehe, es erschein der Engel des Herrne Joseph im Traum: Setting of the story from Matthew of the Angel telling Joseph to flee to Egypt. Set in a manner reminscent of the Auferstehunghistorie, particularly in some aspects of the opening chorus depicting the words of the angel. Also of interest is the chromatic writing of the same portending the tortured crucifixion symbol of Bach later and earlier the opening of O Sußer, o Freundlicher from the Kleine Geistliche Konzert. Other points of interest is in the use of the chorus as amplification, through repetition of the words, of the angel and later of God. A clean satisfying setting well in line with his other Biblical narratives.

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Xenakis: Tracées

Tracées (1987): Five minute massive work for orchestra, which, surprisingly, sounds small likely because of the pitch saturation and the constant activity - the strings just don't have, for the most part, especially in the beginning, the time to really dig their bows into the strings. The bass drum has a particularly prominent role. Tracées = "traced" The ending is an almost frightening chorale at quarter = 7.5, and notated in small values, implying a very close look at the material. I recall being taken by the visceral experience, the first time I heard this music, but now, almost four years later I find it to be more tame. I should also note the odd piano solo which uses a low ostinato which Harley says is taken from Keqrops.

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Varese: Un Grand Sommeil Noir

This is the first entry in a series of listening notes on Varese's music. I have surveyed Varese a few times before - it's not too hard, there are only about 17 pieces, of which 16 are in circulation - most recently more than six years ago I suspect.

Un Grand Sommeil Noir (1906): Written while a student in Widor's composition class, this is said to be the only published piece of Varese's youth to have survived. It's an atmospheric song for soprano and piano that uses all the exoticisms one would suspect to describe a "grand sommeil noir": Eb minor, open fifths, chromatic progressions etc. Dark and gloomy, but listenable more as an artifact of a particular musical field at the time than as a premonition of Varese's skills.

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15 February 2007

Xenakis: àr.: (Hommage a Ravel)

àr (1987): Short - 2.5 minutes, piano piece seems like a throw off piece, something that Iannis sketched out in an afternoon. Chromatic lines in contrasting motions (I don't think the term arborescences is appropriate as they are usually one voice) with interjecdtions of chords in generally the upper register. The middle of the piano is not used particularly much. Challenging but not overly difficult compared to his other piano music.

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13 February 2007

Xenakis: XAS

Xas (1987): Xas, is surprise, surprise, Sax backwards. Adolphe Sax the inventor of the saxophone. The quartet though has some flaws as I see it, in some ways he treats the four saxophones like they are the same instrument instead of like a string quartet, whose ranges they effectively duplicate. There is much homophonic writing in the piece and a good number of parallel chords - some multiphonics (a new obession it seems at this point for Xenakis) but not used well. Almost as if he is unsure of what he can do, which is strange since Xenakis is always writing things that stretch or challenge accepted instrumental techniques. Harley claims the lack of glissandis must stem from a desire to avoid "blues-type" sounds, which I find dubious, Harley also suggests that Xenakis was quite busy at this time, which I think is a more likely idea. The piece seems to sound like it had been quickly written. There is also something very Andreissen in the sonority, the use of the pelog-like scale (evidently the same scale as from Serment) and in the combination of Lutoslawski-like heterophonic passages and clustery chords.

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12 February 2007

Xenakis: Jalons

Jalons (1986): This is an awful strange piece written for the Ensemble Intercontemporain - (one of everything ensemble + Bs. Cl, second violin and harp). It seems almost as if Xenakis is simply having fun writing for the ensemble, there little of the cohesiveness that ties together some of his other pieces, and the sections are not as clearly demarcated as in something like Empreintes. It is amazing also how thin the ensemble seems in Xenakis' orchestration. There are a few ideas that are worth recounting, the enveloping of the opening sonority - in that different pitches of the chord fade out as they would in an electronic setting. Also the sort of relentlessness of the sixteenth-note rhythm throughout - it is almost Baroque in a way. There's no percussion in this work. Nice moment toward the beginning with the high winds playing a glistening cluster around B as the strings have complex glissandi-melodies, which sound almost like talking especially with the entry of the low Bassoon. It almost seems as if Xenakis is really showing an awareness ofr hte acoustics and harmony here, which given his proclivity later in the piece and elsewhere for pan-scalar sonorities piques the ear, though this idea is not developed. Here is where I feel really left out of this piece, the sectional nature doesn't evidence, at least to my ear, development. Rather it is closer to moment form which is something I've never been all that compelled by. Jalons="signposts, landmarks" just like Horos - his last big commission, interesting, no?

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Copland: Orchestral Variations

Orchestral Variations (1957): A return to the Piano Variations can be read in any number of ways, which I'l get into in a moment. This is an orchestration of the modernist Piano Variations of 1930, one of the more proclamatory pieces of Copland filled with bell-like minor ninths throughout the writing. Where the piece really bothers me is not in its clangorous theme, or in the brilliant orchestration that Copland does here, but rather in the intensely sectional nature of the variaiton structure. There is little change of phrase length and the listener is constantly hearing always in the forefront this annoying little note progression, the regularity beomes, well, regular and one hears Copland and/or this melody trapped in this phrasal box. The return to it at this histirocal point is particularly interesting. This was always one of Copland's more note-sensitive scores and in the climate of rising serialism, we can see it as Copland wanting to jump on the bandwagon, which we'll see later with his other "serial"-type scores, or else by the commissioning agency, in this case, the Louisville orchestra, wanting to present a "serial"-type-sounding piece with the imprimatur of an established conservative name. From the political perspective, if we assume that Copland had the progressive views, and that they are reflectied in his "modernist" scores and that there was an important outlet for progressive art as opposed to socialist art - which Mark Carroll outlines well in his study we can see Copland renewing his political advocacy of progressivism in a return to this note-y work.

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11 February 2007

Xenakis: Lichens I

Lichens I (1983): Is there a Lichens 2? Exuberantly noisy orchestra work with some real showpieces for the percussion. Begins with a weird alternation of the strings and some violin solos and eventually explodes in a riot of brass essentially performing slow tremolo interjections in the manner of a Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments, but much faster.

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09 February 2007

Xenakis: Horos

Horos (1986): Monumental orchestra piece reknown in Xenakis theory circles as being the first extensive usage of cellular automata. According to Makis Solomos, the opening harmonies derive from self-developing algorithms taken directly from an issue of Scientific American and used on Xenakis' hand computer - the strange numbering at m. 10 (4200410) is an example of this. The work is massive as befits its title - horos = landmark - and its focus is with rare exception on harmony. I'm not sure again if it can be called harmony becuase for the most part the entire chromatic gamut is in play often in varying registrations - this is almsot an organ piece in its orchestration. So the strings play shifting colors of the chromatic complement over which the winds play the chromatic complement at a different speed with interjections from the brass - the entire pitch spectrum is so saturated that we don't hear it as such. Only when the winds come in with a high Lutoslawski-esque usage of a pelog-like scale do we get a reprieve before it happens again. By the end of the piece - a massive solid sonority with quicker interjections by various groups at quarter = 15 - we feel like we are hearing the whole spectrum when I don't believe we are. This is perhaps the most Messiaen-ic of the Xenakis works I've heard until now and seems to be pointing in a different direction - though its my belief that Xenakis didn't use the automata very much more owing to the difficulty of calculating out the pitches.

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07 February 2007

Xenais: A l'Ile de Goree

A L'Ile de Goree (1986): For Harpsichord and Ensemble ( 1.1.1 Named after the slave trading island off the coast of Dakar. Less dissonant work, begins with a beautiful and harmonically staic cluster with resonance that recurs modified at the end. Do I detect Bminor? F#, G, A, Bb, Cb, D, C#, E = B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A, A# = B harmonic minor + A. This gesture - like waves lapping on shore - lasts much too short, before a rather rhythmic rest of hte piece. Xenakis makes the first extensive use of (subtle) multiphonics since, was it, Akrata, and begins using ensemble vertical sonorities extensively, including a rather lazily notated unison spatial bit. A very strange nd beuatiful trumpet plus other brass melody at the end, but still these pitch sieves aren't really used as scales in a harmonic or contrapuntal sense, they are used as a compound sonority as if pandiatonicism is attached to different collections of pitches from the standard diatonic.

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06 February 2007

Schutz: Sinfonia Sacrae III (II)

Wo der Herr nicht das Haus bauet (SWV 400): Setting of Psalm 127. This is a strange piece, it took me two listenings to really get a hld of it. I think the enigma of the work lies mainly in the psalm which speaks of having the Lord as the foundation of a proper family using the metaphor of a night watchman for the husband - if the Lord isn't there, the night watchman will scan the skies in vain: the Lord gives sleep, the Lord gives children. He who has children is like the armed man with a quiver of arrows, he shall fear no enemy. So Schutz divides the setting basically into two parts, the first a gentle three with the singers in thirds, repeating a head motive on "Wo der Herr" the second part introduces the Bass voice and eventualy moves into a stile concitato ala Monteverdi to refer to the enemies at the gate. I think Schutz does a good job foreshadowing the nightwatchman/war motive with the pictoral use of the wathcman's call in the first half, which then returns in the vocal parts toward the end. Second, he has a good time painting out "sleep" and an interesting use of playing off "kinder" against "Siehe" mixing, in effect, the head motives of the two halfs - thus somehow uniting this disparate somewhat disparate Psalm.

Mein Sohn, warum hast du uns das getan? (SWV 401): Conflation of the story from Luke of Jesus at the temple combined with prasie from the 84th Psalm: How beautiful is thy dwelling place. Set in four parts: after a quiet, solemn symfonia the begins low and moves high there is first a "dialogue" of Mary and Joseph looking for Jesus slow and with a low tessitura, the second the child Jesus accompanied by the two violins, a much higher tessitura, a choir praise, more dialogue followed by an interaction of the soloists and the tutti. Tender work.

O Herr, hilf, o Herr, laß wohl gelingen (SWV 402): A small amalgam of two texts, apparently an expansion and filling out of a one of the Kleine Geistliche Konzerte, praising the Lord and asking for prosperity. In three parts with an introductory symphonia. Alternation of duple and triple meter - rhapsodic pleas in duple, triple meter for praise, ending with an almost hocketing between the vocalist and instrumentalists. Interesting the tonal movement of the final repetitions of praise - begun always with the tenor, first starting on D, then C, then Eb, then F. So there is an overall ascent to the larger melodic line, but with that jog downward which keeps it interesting. Otherwise, relatively unremarkable.

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Xenakis: Keqrops

Keqrops (1986): Another piano concerto, in some ways between than Synaphai, in other ways not. Premeired at, of all places, the NY Phil, with Roger Woodward. Sunning opening, with full orchestra pounding almong with low drums off the beat - powerful. However, at other ,oments it falls into a Palimpsest-like dullness of multiple layers of non-octaviating scales overlapping in slightly differnt tempos - these never work for me, they seem to be space-fillers. One beautiful moment sticks out in what I think was an otherwise relativdely lackluster piece, though lackluster is a strong term - a trio for piano and harp in highest registers in a free spatial-esque notation accompanied by clusters in the bass. The sound is really nice. Otherwise, I feel that the rest of the piece doesn't live up to the promise of the opening, the level of activity of tension of intensity is on par with Empreintes, but then it falls down, restored at moments, but only moments.

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03 February 2007

Xenakis: Naama

I wouldn't usually do such a thing, but, here to quote from the liner notes of the Ultima 2-CD set that features a recording of this work: "Naama (meaning 'flux') calls for 'periodic constructions thanks to a group of exahedric transformations and stochastic distributions'" Now, this is quite ridiculous. Stochastic is random, conjectural and refers to the process of generating pitches. "Exahedric" appears in only one internet citation - that relating to this quote and as best I can piece together, is either from exa- "10 to the 18th power" + hedric - from hedron faces on a geometric figure, or else from exo-, which becomes ex- =outside of as in "exoskeleton" + a- the Greek negation, thus meaning outside of the negation of the faces of a geometric figure. Whatever it means, is this supposed to tell us anything about the piece, or else allow to understand it better. Obviously not, it's put forth to make someone feel as if they should respect a piece and points to a lack in confidence in the sounding result of the work. That aside, this work for harpsichord is generally exciting, it makes full use of the capabilities of the instrument, brings out its colors, has rhythmic vitality and surprising moments. Uses a non-octaviating scale in an almost Sheppard tone sort of way, uses another scale in apedantic way - actually both scales are used pedantically. Its as if once we accept the pitch sieve we don't need to do anything with it.

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31 January 2007


It is with great joy that I am able to return to my listening of Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672), the greatest German composer prior to Bach. I remember finding a copy of the old recording of the Symphonia Sacrae III of Bernius and dubbing. Recently, I picked up the new recording by Junghanel with Cantus Colnn and have now been able to obtain scores and so am comparing the two recordings. So far, I find the new recording to be better performed and better sounding. I'll provide commentary as it happens. Again these are notes, not analysis.

Symphonia Sacrae III:
Der Herr ist mein Hirt (SWV 398): Gorgeous. Opening salvo retuns at the end, in a ot dull way. Schutz uses word-painting delicately when it is needed and in his own way breaks up the various phrases of the psalm with different sorts of similar, yet distinct melodic phrases and phrasing. Particularly lovely is the way that he sets the phrase "und werde bleiben des hausen der Herren" Also impressive is the way he shifts between duple and triple with the triple being used for the opening and other more lyrical passages. Amazing the color he gets from these ensembles.

Ich hebe meine Augen auf zu den Bergen (SWV 399): Satisfying setting of Pslam 121. It begins with an ornamented solo for the bass later joined by the tenor and violins before what would normally be an opening sinfonia. In this way I think we have a new opening, particularly because of the dotted rhythms in the sinfonia and with this we develop particular narrative symbolic characters for the different instrumental/vocal characters - the bass and tneor become the protagonists the violins take on a holy spirit role and the choir as some sort of resounding voice of God resounding in the valleys. We can see a similar effect in Saul, Saul wa verfolgst du mich. In this way the entrance of the choir serves to amplify - in this very pictoresque way the importat points of the piece - the Lord does not slumber, etc. It ends with a full choir Amen. Beautiful.

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Ruth Crawford Seeger

At a certain point last year, I decided to have a look at the music of Ruth Crawford Seeger in hopes of coming to better understand this music that has been torn apart by number crunching analysts - see Straus' book - and as a bellwether of a feminist modernist aesthetic (Hisama and Tick. I also was reminded of her work in copying John Luther Adams' new piece Dark Waves which uses contrasting dynamic shaes like Crawford's quartet. I have been using Tick's volume to fill me in on the biographical details, but have avoided looking into the analysis, as I thought it would be good for me to try and do much of that myself - the Diaphonic Suites are prime ground. What follows are my notes as of today. Again, they are basic notes, not analyses or commentary even. I have not included a number of the unpublished works from Jenny Lin's recording for which scores would be very difficult to obtain. I have been able to get recodings of just about everyting with the exception of the third and fourth Diaphonic Suites which I am in the process of creating (poor) midi files of: these will be posted when the time comes.

Kaleidoscopic Changes on an Original Theme Ending with a Fugue (1924): This was utterly too long.

5 Preludes for piano (1924-25): I find these preludes to be interesting in that they often are concerned with sound, but there is too much of that Scriabin melody that lacks tension. Not my favorite. It could be me.

Adventures of Tom Thumb (1925): This way cloying. Silly figures, akin to Merry Melodies from a cartoon, perhaps that would be a better venue for them. The
accompaniment isn't descriptive so much, indeed there's a lot of oom-pahs. Fluff.

Music for Small Orchestra (1926): Seeger has discovered something between Tom Thumb and this, and I wonder what it is. The opening movement is a mass of rhythmically unrelated ostinatos, while the second is also ostinato-laden but strives for a climax. I don't get the climax in this as arising from the tension mainly, I think, because of the continual use of ostinatos - harmonically we dont move forward though we get louder. I have to look at this at the piano.

Violin Sonata (1926): There are some nice moments in this piece and she has an ear for harmmony of the Ives/Ruggles sort, but too often she falls into ostinato which breaks the forward momentum of the harmonies. Also there is a very strong homophonic tendency in the music, which I find in a number of the american "ultramodernists" almost as if the listener is supposed to think, wow these harmonies are so cool, I don't care about counterpoint.

Suite No. 1 (1927): Piano and winds in three movements, andante, slow then faster. Still a love of ostinatos. The second movement begins with a long held horn tone that remains almost throughout the whole movement. Lacking the power of theopening of the violin sonata.

American Songbag, ed Sandburg - 4 arrangements (1927):
Those Gambler's Blues (p.228): Quite lovely arrangment a far cry from the other (generally awful) arrangements that fill Sandburg's volume
Lonsome Road (p. 322): Interesting harmonization.
There Was an Old Soldier (p. 432): Dull in its corniness.
Ten Thousand Miles Away from Home (p.456): Simple setting in Eb.

4 Preludes for piano (1927-1928):

Suite No. 2 (1929): Relevatory for her earlier works. Here is counterpoint! And good counterpoint at that. There are interesting gestures, romantic in an angular way. Passionate, but not overwhelming.

Five Songs (Sandburg) (1929): Not particularly good or memorable.

Three CHants (1930): These are interersting. She seems to have found a sound of sorts. Chords shifting, dissonant melodies. Still ostinatos and repetitions, but an interesting sound.

Study in Mixed Accents (1930): In octaves throughout with different groupings of the steady 16ths - this is what creates the mixed accents.

Three Songs (Carl Sandburg) (1930-1932): Here is Seeger at her strongest. Some excellent songs, with powerful motives and chiseled features. Not that lollygagging Tom Thumb bs. They consist of:
Rat Riddles (1930): Looking at the scores I get a real sense of the other works around this time as being studies for the materials in these songs for instance, consider the oboe line of the second song, I haven't deternmined its construction mainly owing to the near falling apart of the copy of the score I was able to obtain, but it sounds and looks a lot like the material I've seen in the diaphonic suites. Also the third song, and some of the second song, the melodic material is really related to the Study in Mixed Accents. The second song is perhas the most powerful with its oboe in 5/4 sixteenths, its piano in quintuplet eights divided by a quarter rest and the powerful pounding soprano who moves up in range starting on an anvil strike G#. The ostinato group adds a strange effect, one I'd like to reflect on again after hearing the piece a second time. A powerful memorable work, that should be more played.
In Tall Grass (1932):
Prayers of Steel (1933): Tick says the oboe has a seven pitch row in rotation and the wind ostinatos have 1 through 7 beats of rest increasing and decreasing. Tick also notes a seven note accent pattern in the oboe part

Two Ricercari (Sacco, Vanzetti; Chinaman, Laundryman) (1932): One of her last published works for some time, these are two setting of H.T. Tsang for voice and piano. Of the two, I think Chinaman, Laundryman is the better work. Both have an over-the-top 1930s leftist rhetoric, with Sacco, Vanzetti speaking of the death of our martyrs and the like. Sacco, Vanzetti makes use of chords against a more rallying vocal line, while Chinaman, Laundryman throughout does a complicated 3 against 4 in the accompaniment versus the vocal line. This polyrhythm does not stop Crawford Seeger from using intricate rhythms within it, quintuplets and the like make an appearance. I imagine the effect is to sort of free up the voice from singing, indeed the vocal lines are singable in a traditional sense and often cal for speaking, which she notates with small arrows in place of noteheads. The performance from Sachs' Naxos album is not very good, as the singer lacks some strength.

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Xenakis: Keren

Keren (1986): Solo trombone work. In the vein of many of Xenakis' other solo works, particualrly in its almost modal-character and later in the repeated note values of an almost Baroque type-solo. Like Kottos and like Embellie this too uses this device and again like these works seems to focus around the pitches B. It seems to ramble a bit. Xenakis has a nice use of a singing playing flutter noise that appears in the low register and peeks out as sort of a verse divider before flourishing and being developed at the end. Keren is from Hebrew for Horn. Interesting that Xenakis would turn to Hebrew titles. I think probably he is seeing some connection with the ritualistic-ness of the language in much the same way as ancient Greek. Consider, too, that Stravisnky's most ritualistic pieces used ancient languages - Oedipus, Threni in Latin and Abraham and Isaac in Hebrew.

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30 January 2007

Xenakis: Thallein

Thallein (1984): For Fourteen instruments. Again enigmatic - dull, thin beginning half, that then becomes a rather perky strange melody ala Varese with sme nice sort of planing of the ensemble - that is the various sections play off against each other, almost as if they were unaware of each other ending in string glissandos. It almost feels like Xenakis was fishing around for something to write and then came upon something. The title means "to sprout." I could be taken aback by the poor quality of the Neuma recording, I recall hearing a performance a long time ago with the Callithumpian Consort at NEC that was riveting. I am however still impressed with Xenakis' idiomatic, yet novel writing for percussion, the use of the toms, bongos and wood blocks are well gradiated and dramatically sensitive.

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29 January 2007

Copland Listening

At a certain point, I felt I would discover the music of Aaron Copland. I had known but a little of it, and knew him as a respected, and essentially enjoyable, composer - and had as one of my first CDs a recording of his Lincoln Portrait, Quiet City and Our Town Suite under Abravanel. I also found his music to be difficult to teach and wanted to see if through learning more about him, I would be able to better teach his music. I began listening, as per usual, to everything he wrote. As a companion, I used Neil Butterworth's Music of Aaron Copland an essentially descriptive catalog of the compositions laid out in roughly chronological order. I began taking notes on the music relatively recently. Again, the notes are simply impressions.

In the Beginning (1947): This is one of Copland's lesser works, though he doesn't have much for choir. It goes on too long, it seems forced, especially in the "fast" central section and it is a bit too obvious - note the pesante on the part where God makes man. It sounds very Disney and not in a good way.

Midsummer Nocturne (1947/1977): Relatively forgetable minor piano piece of Copland. Uses the two melodies in the piano stratification that is common in Copland piano music (I'm thinking of the arrangement of the theme of Our Town). Shame all of Copland's piano music is either portentious (the large scale pieces) or trite.

The Red Pony (incidental music) (1948): His music for the film really made the film come alive. Copland is in reality, it seems a very competent film composer. If we think his non-programmatic works seems academic or portentious while his ballets and film music is glorious. Also of note is the use of some folk songs that later show up in the Old American Songs - the Golden Willow Ballad for example. Also some things derivative of moments from Rodeo as well.

Preamble for a Solemn Occasion (1949): For the UN opening. Big chords, large leaps, setting up to the spoken preamble of the UN Charter, before settling in to more of the beginning. Lacking the charm of the tender Copland.

Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson (1949-1950): Spectacular settings of Dickinson. Its clear why this is a classic.

Old American Songs, Set 1 (1950): Lovely,of course, though I've always found the Boatman's dance and the I Bought me a Cat to be cloying. Copland is really embracing his Americana roots, I wonder the circumstances for this. The setting of Simple Gifts is quite different from the glorious ecstatic setting in Appalachian Spring. The recording I have with William Warfield is quite good.

Quartet for Piano and Strings (1950): A twelve-tone work by Copland, with a taut opening movement. He manages to be Copland with the technique, seems like he is trying to prove himself however as a "serious" composer.

Old American Songs, Set 2 (1952): Lovely arrangements. Less stiff than Set One, but this could be my familiarity.

The Tender Land (1952-1954): No doubt Copland failed with this opera, there is a lot going on that is unnecessary. He cuts it down seriously for the recording I have. Much of its problem is truly with the libretto, unnecessary extra storyline. Though there is much beuatiful music, particularly the Act One closer: "The Promise of Living" set to "The Praises of Zion" and which glorifies working - a communist work n o doubt.

Dirge in Woods (1954): A small and rather nice setting for high voice and piano that Copland wrote for the fiftieth anniversary of Boulanger's teaching - I was unable to get a recording. The piece alternates between astringent major-minor harmonies and a more pentatonic feel. Worth hearing.

Canticle of Freedom (1955): Large-scale choral work with orchestra. It has an enormous instrumental introduction before the choru enters singing the words of a 13th century Scots poet extolling the virtues of "freedom" It seems to be in the mass-song type style with unison lines and stirring sentiments. The orchestra constantly gives out this "Lombard" snap type rhythm in augmentation which later turns out to be the rhythm of the word "freedom" so in essence the whole work is saturated with this sentiment. Interesting to note that the same gesture is used often in the Lincoln Portrait. There are many similarities between the two - the long introduction as well. Also of note is what sort of freedom copland is refering to and here it is freedom from bondage to the land in the sense of serfdom. Not the most interesting of good piece - also some strange orchestrational choices particularly in some of the percussion use - the woodblocks, for instance as well as giving some lines to the flutes which are drowned out against the brass.

Piano Fantasy (1955-1957): Half-hour work for piano composed to the memory of the pianist William Kapell who died in a plane crash in 1953. Ruminative, serious, deeply-felt piece - I know that "Deeply-felt" is a ridiculous term, but the work sounds that way. Nevertheless one can hear clear structural sections and proportions, one gets the sense that Copland had planned out when things would happen and how they would happen. We know from the beginning that the opening chords and gestures will return at the end, it's inevitable and they do - twice. The second time they notes become signs of bells, funeral bells perhaps and the listener reflectively changes a conception of the work to an almost narrative celebration of Kapell. Which seems in a way fitting for this improvisatory in style accompaniment to a film that doesn't exist. In the more proclamatory style of Copland, and as such is informed by twelve-tone technique if not twelve-tone - Copland says he uses a ten-tone row with the remaining two tones functioning as a cadential axis. Captivating throughout. In a way one can see this in line with the modernist works of the 1930s the Piano Variations, for instance. Crist has shown that this progressive tendency ties in with an ideal of populism, though I don't recall if she speaks of the Variaitions or Fantasy specifically. However, if we consider, Copland's use of serialism, one could easily put it in league with taking these progressive techniques and allying them with a simpler language in order to help move a populist audience toward a "greater" modernism, allowing in a sense an Ivesian idea of using challenging techniques, harmonies, etc to allow music to fulfill its ethical function of uplifiting the people to new piritual heights.

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27 January 2007

Brahms Listening

I have been doing some listening to Brahms. Once again, these are simply notes, with a composer like Brahms one needs to devote a lot of time to study the devices used and wat makes the music work so well. These notes do not attempt in any way to do this. I have been using Botstein's volume "The Compleat Brahms" as a resouce on all the works. It is comprehensive, interesting and well done. My notes as of today follow:

Opus 28: Four Duets for Alto and Baritone with Piano (1863): Some of these were really quite nice. Particularly the first and the third. In the first it is an inexorable harmonic progression and drama that make the dull ballad form become exciting. In the third, I'm particularly pleased with the shifts between 4/4 and 6/4 that he pulls off so nicely: you can hear the stratching of the phrase. Quite beautiful.

Opus 27: The Thirteenth Psalm (1864): Relatively minor work for women's choir. The organ part flies by which makes me not feel the gravity of the psalm.

Opus 30: Geistliches Lied - Spiritual Song for Four-voice Chorus with Organ or Piano (1864): It seems to me that Brahms is trying to make too much out of these essentially liturgical motets. In short, the first begins with a chorale and then uses each phrase of the chorale as a fugue subject. It becomes a little pedantic. The second, a setting of "Create in me a clean heart" has several imitative passages after a homophonic opening. The first, is too eighth-notey and the tension isn't worked well in that there is little or no rhythmic differentiation between the layers. I feel like Brahms had just received a volume of the Bach edition and wanted to try some fugal stuff, or else was trying to train his choir to do bigger and better things.

Opus 31: Three Quartets for Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass and Piano (1864): In these pieces we can clearly see the dictum that Brahms' music is best understood through dance. All three are stylized dances (similar in some respects to the other vocal quartets- the Liebeslieder) The first particularly lovely with the interlocking of two minuets, graceful, stylized. Deserves to be more often heard.

WOO: Fugue in A Flat minor (1864): The fugue is clearly Brahms trying to out-Bach Bach. Who would think to write a fugue in Ab minor, such a nasty key, he modulates to B minor at some point, likely its enharmonic for the even nastier Cb minor third relation. The theme is a few sighing things. Eventually it becomes a chorale at the end. If I'm not mistaken it is the classic Christ lag in Todesbanded.

WOO: 14 German Folksongs for mixed Chorus (1864): All the old favories make another appearance.

Opus 33: Romanzen (Magalone-Lieder) - Romances (Magelone Songs) for Voice and Piano (1865/1869): This is said to be Brahms closest approximation to a song-cycle: various poems taken from a volume by Tieck that interrupt(?) a German medieval story about a man in love, captured by Moors, etc. There is some exceelent imagery and some quite nice songs - I'm thinking especally of the wave imagery and some of the later songs. Brahms has used the free ballad-style form in which he is able to switch imagery depending on the mood of the song. We also get a sene o the Schubertian plan of having the accompaniment fulfill the mood of the song. All in all, I don't think the work succeeds as a cycle - dramatically its rather weak. I also find that some of the songs are over-accompanied. #12, however is quite gorgeous.

Opus 37: Drei Geistliche Chöre - Three Spiritual Choruses for Women's Chorus a cappella (1865): Three quite lovely choruses for women's choir. The first, exquisite: O Bone Jesu, the second a glorious canonic Adoramus ending with a homophonic declaration on Domine, miserere nobis - similar in effect to Josquin's famous Ave Maria. The third, not my favorite, a Rgina Coeli with two solo voices and a choir interupting with Alleluia. Beller-Mckenna makes a very interesting point in his discussion about Brahms' use of historicist procedures, in thius case the canon. Brahms' desire to learn these was in now way Romantic - that is because of the trappings of sirituality that these would symbolize, instead his use of the techniques is purely to gain skill in craft, the early music works that he studied, it is said these were composed while Brahms was studying Palestrina, appear not as spiritual gems, but rather as homes of technique. In this method of study - the non-Romanticizing, Brahms becomes truly a modernist. I can agree with this completely - these works are truly honest, truly Brahmsian, though they use early-music contrapuntal devices.

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Xenakis: Khal Perr

Khal Perr (1983): For Brass Quintet (2 tr, tbn, hn, tuba) and percussion. An enigmatic piece only in that the tempo marings are remarkably slow for Xenakis. There are many times when we come on a very static harmony that we stay with for some time. In these sections we can really hear the way the tuba bass notes control the harmony - a change in pitch is signaled by a tattoo on the bongos. It also has a "traditional" Xenakis brass entry - single pitches like an announcement entry, compare Ais or A Colone for instance.

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26 January 2007

Xenakis: Pour la Paix

Pour la Paix (1981): A radiophonic piece for electronics, speakers, and eight-voice choir. The story, by Xenakis' wife tell sabout two soldiers in enemy camps who sneak off together to recall boyhood and hang out diving in a lake. This is an interesting piece particularly in the way that many of the Xenakis effects become contexualized by the narrative that surrounds them. So whereas we hear the frequency running that is so present in the beginning of Tetras, and here it has the sense of radios searching for a frequency. We hear the glissandi and it becomes waves and water. In effect, these sound abstractions are twisted in the listener to become more concrete ideas - perhpas this is the funciton of their abstraction. However, when we take them all as a whole the fact that they are so suited to war, makes me believe more that these light tracings, these glissandi sires, these radio fiddlings, these random percussive blasts are war sounds. I recall when Boornstein asks Xenakis about the influence o the war on his music, Xenakis ignores the question entirely. I think the piece works fine as a radio play, unlike Harley, though I might have liked a more contrapuntal treatment of the sounds and the narration. The choral moments are not among his most inspired but fit with the sense of the play for the most part.

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25 January 2007

Xenakis - Tetras

Tetras (1983): String Quartet. I have mixed feelings about Tetras. On the one hand it seems quite uneven with its cumulative glissandi in all instruments that sound like dull fiddling with an ondes martenot, and I kind of think that this sort of sound was desired. It becomes tiresome and pointless like fiddling with the dial. However, when the multiple glissandi are combined with rhythmic articulations as they are at the end of the work it becomes powerful and exciting. The Jonchaies non-octave replicating scale makes an appearance again, and again in a formulaic way, simply up and down articulations of the scale, whether quite quickly or more slowly. Again with this sort of scalar use there is no tension, no need for one note to follow the other. However, when he uses it harmonically, again mixed with a rhythm - as in the section of the work where all in struments are playing polyrhythmic double-stops, as is done in Dikhthas, it becomes a shimmering, well perhaps not shimmering, but alive surface. He utilizes several noise elements, not integrated so much, but appearing at the beginning and the end almost symmetrically in the structure as well as a section of the graphic notation - derived from Psappha and later used as it is here, in Mists. Once again, it doesn't free up the rhythm so much and the harmonic tension is lost. So ultimately I'm feeling a lack of direction in the piece, sound-wise, structurally and harmonically.

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24 January 2007

Xenakis Listening Notes

What follows are various listening notes for works by Xenakis. This takes the notes up to their current state. New notes will be added as necessary. I have listened to all the previous pieces, but have not taken notes. This may change.

Noomena (1974): I found this piece not particularly memorable save for a few moments. One feeling I felt with this and with a Nono piece I also listened to is that these composers are tending to write the same piece over and over. In this case it was a lot of scratching and glissandi in the winds and the strings but without any real sense of comprehensible form that can be found in some of the other works, I'm thinking of Synaphai with its great ending. One nice thing was the foghorn like effect about 5 minutes into the piece. I'd be interested to see how that comes about.

Erikhthon (1974):Erikhthon is a powerful massive work for piano and orchestra. Like glaciers crashing or worlds being moved. It is unstoppable, massive and calamatous. This is said to be the best example of the use of arborescences laid out in vaguely organ-like orchestration. Where these really work is in the larger scale glissandis and in this case some of the harmonies developed, where they don't work is in the chromatic scales that can whip across and seem so dull and devoid of tension. This piece is full of tension and it works magnificently.

Psappha (1975): Psappha for solo percussion. Xenakis eschews traditional notation for a Feldman-esque box. That doesn't stop him from being rhythmic - this is one of his most rhythmic pieces I've heard. One can hear some glorious polyrhythms - and no doubt Xenakis was aware of some traditional drumming. I'm also quite impressed by the use of sonorities and the way that he brings them in at specific moments. One could easily not do such a thing. Seems like a challenging work and would likely benfit from being taken out of the non-traditional notation and into traditional. I don't think it would lose very much.

N'Shima (1975):N'shima for two peasant style voices, horns and a cello. In regular strophes - a formal pattern that Xenakis likes with his "antique" pieces - consider the choral work "A Colone" The cello has an almost mystical esoteric function capping the ends of each section with a wide erase of the musical space. The voices keen around small notes and the horns also. Memorable moments include when we finally hear a solid harmony and the overall effect. Details don't remain from this piece rather the overall. we can also hear well the arborescences. Other moments the move toward machine gunning at the end. Xenakis likes to give something new near the end of the piece. This one is no exception.

Empreintes (1975): A striking, enigmatic and ultimately somewhat sad piece for orchestra. Essentially there are three ideas - the first unison treble G for nearly 5 minutes we can hear the delightful overtones as the ful complement of brass play it in the beginning. Overlaid on this at times are varied glissandos in the strings which eventuly take over the entire ensemble reminiscent of early Xenakis - e.g. Metastasis. This eventually splits into a more chaotic section until we end with a series of morse code like gestures from various choirs over clusters. The work ends with the sound of the low Bb on the Contrabassoon. I'm not sure how to react. Technically Xenakis has learned how to better handle glissandi on the brass which sound much les coarse when the are used to fill out certain points in the curve rather than all points in the curve. This also provides a harmonic gambit as well. I come out feeling like there has been a narrative and that the world was shattered and we are left with these tiny phrases trying to peek through. Xenakis himself talks of the imprints left after the setting of the sun - comparing the opening detuning of the G to the sunset.

Theraps (1975): Solo bass piece full of sliding around. Apparently a major step in the repertoire for solo bass, which honestly isn't saying much if you consider the competition. Bottesini anyone?

Khoai (1976): Work for solo harpsichord that makes the noisyness of the harpsichord particularly apparent. It also makes good use of octave particularly in the beginning. I have to say I don't think octave Fs have ever sounded so good as when Chojnaka plays them. Another piece in which the arborescences work. What is a real benefit about this piec eis the way that it completely reinvigorates the harpsichord in a way that perhaps would't happen again until Ligeti's Continuum. In both these works the harpsichord is viewed as an almost electronic instrument - consider also the way both composers view the organ - completely denatured of human expression (why did Stravisnky never write for the organ?) Xenakis was quite busy at this time. I'm convicned there was something in composing with arborescences that made it easy for him to be prolific.

Mikka "S" (1976): The second of Xenakis' double gliss pieces for solo violin and perhaps somewhat more effective. This one seems to have more contrary motion than Mikka. It seems a trifle, if perhaps an important trifle in developing this technique, which seems to me to be a way to make the glissandos work on a smaller scale. at this point glissandos have been scientificized once again into arborescences. Consider the small arborescence works against something large like Erikhtohon which is massive and moving - the same massiveness cannot be found in the smaller works and a new direction must be found.

Dmaathen (1976): Classic work for oboe and percussion. Can hear a real pitch centeredness that moves out and a real sense of the multiphonic possibilities of the oboe. What is strange is that no one has remarked on the similarity to Muay Thai music, the only traditional music I'm aware of that makes use of the combination. The opening is almost uncannily like the sound of Muay Thai and I have no doubt that the influence is there. Consider also in Nuits, the choral work, there is no mention of the almost near duplication of the famous Monkey dance from Bali which shows up notated in Xenakis. I don't believe that I can accept the notion that all these things are purely scientific, rather I'd suggest that the sounds that he was aware of become filtered through his scientific frame and his own language. I'm not aware of earlier instances (before Nuits) of the rat-a-tat style that would become more prominent - tough no doubt one could include machine gun fire in the influence pool.

Epei (1976): horn, english horn, clarinet, 2 trom, db. Strange strange ensemble, strange title - it means "since" and stranger piece. A keening Xenakis. It begins with this strange degraded version of a motive - could this be Xenakis referring to Grisey's classic use of the degraded harmonic series - I think these were written at the same time - that eventually alls into a keening of all the instruments that lasts quite some time an is in the end effective and memorable. though I have to say, I'm afraid I may be confusing it with Akanthos whose ensemble is similar.

Windungen (1976): I was only able to listen to the first minute of this and then continue by looking a the score of this work for 12 cellists. It appears to be a strong piece with some of the classic large cello nsemble gesture - cf Messagesquisse - of lots of cellos playing the same melody that gets brokn up. The idea is that the cellists are arranged in a circle which Xenakis takes full advantage of - a large portion of the work seems to involve motion of glissandi around the circle which would no doubt sound really good if one were in the middle of the circle. There is also a rather dramatic moment when we are left with just one cello playing low C#. I'd be interested to hear a performance.

Kottos (1977): Excellent work for solo cello. The proportions are right on this. Particular favorite moments are when the cello is in a constant use of all of its registers. The melodies - quasi-Greek sometimes are also sometimes Baroque though up in a completely crazy register - consider the end when there is the movement round an E center at the top of the treble staff. Also nice how Xenakis uses noise in the work having the noise of the bridge open up into melodies.

Legende d'Eer (1977): Electronics. A have a hard time with these large Xeankis electronic pieces as I tend to do with most electronic pieces, I'm never quite sure how to grasp them though I do hear larger sweeps I get lost in the details. This work seems to me to be more of a soundscape than something like Kraanerg or Persepolis which if memory serves me make more use of the repeating note idea. This also uses repeating notes but way up in the highest ranges at the beginning of the work. Ultimately, I hear this similar to something like Conrete PH with its burning sounds - it is full of seemingly natural sounds, whether like cicadas, or tectonics or an overall dinosaur type sound. This is a piece that creates another world and one that for the most part isn't entirely unpleasant. - I'd rather be here than in Kraanerg. I hear an overall descent in range then an ascent curve, but would need many repeated listenings to get details.

Akanthos (1977): Slightly larger ensemble - fl, cl, piano, soprano, string quintet. Needs a fabulous soprano who doesn't seem foolish sining nonsense phonemes. This, if I rememebr right was a work wose arborescences seemed forced, too much chromaticism.

A Helene (1977): For two part choir - can be transposed at will. A syllabic setting of some ancient Greek play - Harley says from Euripides' Helen of Troy. Set in almost constant eighth notes and homophonically. At the end a dramatic shift happens in the tonality. I think about the use of rhythm here and how, likely, at least from what I remember, ancient Greek theories of rhythm had a different sense of versification, though I could be confusing it with Latin verse. Also, I'm reminded of the almost arbitrariness of the note hoice, which seems in some ways fitting wth a stochastic idea. Not nearly as good as A Colone.

A Colone (1977): I'm very much enthused by this choral work in the ancient Greek modes, though in some senses itfeels like Xenakis moved toward the Syntonic diatonic of Ptolemy. One can see how he would be excited by the Aristoxenan genera and there is always the idea of authenticity - notice that the work is scored for men's voices in falsetto as ancient Greek drama was said to be sung. There are the strophe-antistophe pattern in structure. Also the instrumentation, trombone, horn and doublebass is spectacular and add an air of modernity and antiquty. The trombone part is quite high. Challenging, but I would not say too much so.

Jonchaies (1977): Large orchestra work, extremely violent. Up there I would say with Ameriques and the end of the Rite as some of the more overall intense primitive sounding scores. This is a war piece for me - conflict, perhaps is better put and is almost impressionistic, if it ould be used to describe such scenes, the sirens in the high winds, the keening of the brass, the incessant percussion and the machinistic rhythms of the full orchestra. The ending bomb blasts, reminiscent as well of the end of Terretekhtorh. It ends with the morse-code in the piccolos which are used also in the opening of the Legende and the ending of Empreintes. Commentators tend to focus on the new uses of sieves to a) make a scale that doesn't replicate at the octave, and b) to determine the rhythmic content. I find these far less interesting than the overall formal content which is continually powerful and constant. According to Harley: "jonchaies" = "rushes, reeds" I'm also reminded of the out-Lutoslawski-ing in the opening modal sieve moving from the highest registers down to the subbasement.Harley also dwells on the connection between the pitch sieve and the pelog scale of interlocking fourths (C-G, B-F#) detecting an Indonesian flavor in the work because of a similar lack of certian intervals in the Jonchaies sieve, to which I ask, is he listening to the same piece. There is nothing, repeat, nothing gamelan in this work. I think the idea of the sieve is not to create scales but rather in fact to pick out parts of a glissandi contour for harmonic purposes. Harley seems to be hearing what he wants in this piece. He speaks of Xenakis "emulating such a sonority" He also hears the winds rushing through the reeds, I think rather it i ironic, after all this torture of sound we are left with the desolation of the wind rushing through reeds - symbolized with the high piccolos.

Ikhoor (1978): String trio that seems to take all of the Xenakis ideas and put them in as if he is freely compsoing with them. In this way Xenakis is an experiementor - building up his bag of tricks and then with his language compsing. I think there is an effective use of the pelog scale with the Lutoslawski heterophony. But overall I don't think its all that compeling of a piece, though I imagine the physical act of seeing all these players sawing away would be rather interesting. "Ikhoor" is what runs through the veins of the Gods. Opening consists of a rite of spring-esque chord that quickly falls into challenging rhythmic strata. Unfortunately the melodic material doesn't really match with the tension generatred from the rhythms.

Dikhthas (1979): Violin and Piano - arborescences in both parts enlived at times with stochastic texture - there is a particularly memorable moment in th epiano part which is well nigh unplayable and that basically gives the sense of one throwing one's fingers around the keyboard. It is interesting to see how the various techniques are coming together in the pieces, in this case the specifically violin textures from Mikka and Mikka "S" along with the arborescences. I think sme of the most effective moments are when things stp completely and we have just a single note, in this case an open D that is sounded thoughout the piano and then violin - getting dirtier through the addition of surrounding tones, what is a simple thing for a composer to do when they are shot on ideas becomes a great idea when put in this context. The wave motion of the violin throughout its range can become a bit too much and one can see how it could be a hackneyed crutch.

Pleiades (1978): I listened to this over the course of two days. It seems to me that this is a piece that ayone writing or percussion ensemble needs to reckon with. Four sections each devoted to a specific sonority and each exploiting the characteristics of that sonority. In all the movements there seems to be a dichotomy between highly structured rhythms and "Clouds" of sound - the highly organized random sounds that evoke distant rumbles and explosions with the drums, an island of church bells with the metals (beautiful by the way) and so forth. The movement for pitched percussion (vibes, etc) seems at times to fall into the academic statemtn of arpeggios in the Jonchaies scale, but also fals into lovely clouds of sine-like pitches. I had the realization while looking at the extremely complex score, both of how one might go about learning the rhythms with its multiple tempo modulations happening at the same time and how those rhythms are in a way related completely to the gridlike scaffolding that controls scores of the new complexity period. In some ways Xenakis can take the characteristics and outward appearances of these schools of music and reflect them in a quasi-scientific way of thinking. So the rhythmic bonds of complexity become rhythmic sieves, a liking of African polyrhythm is similarly reinterpreted and, pelog scales become pitch sieves.

Palimpsest (1979): This is a work for larger ensemble: oboe, cl, bsn, hn, pno, perc, and string quintet. Mainly filled with arborescences, which sometimes seem to fall into Czerny style. For some time these are drawn upon one another - as I see the palimpsest of the title- and filtered through rhythmic sieves to create polyrhythms. The work ends with a spectacular passage in which tempered tones become untempered by their layout. see m.106 on. I wonder if this is a function of the recording - the otherwise abyssmal Ianissimo II album, I believe - or is actualy in the music itself. Nonetheless it is amazing, it seems almost that Xenakis is oneupping the spectralists.

Ais (1979): Ritualistic enactment of fragments from Homer and Sappho pertaining to death for baritone and orchestra. Striking work with its rich use of percussion in Xenakis style - the percussion is relatively regualr and provides an air of authenticity. Also "authentic" is the free use of the falsetto register for the baritone soloist. The opening is quite beautiful the brass on C above middle C in an antiphonal texture leading into the baritone's main gesture a tritone descent from soprano F to B on I-U-A-I with a Monteverdi trill coming as it does aftera long scatter of "Gu" This stylized horse-like wailing recurs continually throughout the piece especially at the end after the bones are ripped from the body and brought to Hades. The entire chromatic space is saturated the percussion goes wild and the stylized cry comes out. One can only think here of Xenakis the romantic as this is a particularly lovely and wellused but romantic gesture. Perhaps this is why this music speaks to me so much, There is a good deal of emotion and it seems to me that the emotional content becomes subsumed in the prevailing mathematical dialogue that was so important for composers at the time. Xenakis needed to couch his romanticism in math for him to be accepted. In this way he was good at marketing. He also is keen to play with our connections. Modal melodies are used at tender moments and these become couched in sieves. (Harley says the cry comes from a Corsican seabird)

Embellie (1981): Solo viola - "the calm in the storm" Said to be more freely composed - as if the other pieces aren't - one o his least satisfying solo works. Quasi-modal flavor which I think must be related to the "rustic"-ness of the viola. Falls into runs of the pelog sieve halfway thoghuout and then gestures reminiscent of Kottos. Ends with a harmonic gliss, perhaps its best moment. Disappointing. But then again, the other solo string works, with the exception of Kottos (Mikka, Mikka S, Theraps for instance) are also rather dull. Studies for larger works perhaps, or pointing toward limitations of the techniques when applied to solo instruments.

Mists (1981): Piano solo - rather disappointing. Here we have some random walks in arborescent fields coupled with some more random cloud-like structures, the "mists" of the title. These use a new technique for Xenakis - basically setting out a grid of sixteenth notes with the pitch rhythms spread out apart from the structure - this alows for a freer rhythmic sense and likely contributes to the effect Xenakis is looking for. I feel that this piece is an overall effect and the details are not quite well thought out - harmonically its dull. I almost get the feeling of a dull "Open Music" composed score that hasn't been adequately polsihed off.

Komboi (1981): Harpsichord and Percussion, Greek word for "knots" Formulaic (that's a word I would rarely use for Xenakis, but here it seems appropriate) piece it seems. There is some of the random note approach involved as well as some of the more rhythmic moments. There is also a much better integration of the scale (it sounds like the Jonchaies scale, but Harley says it is different) than in parts of Pleides - it is used harmonically. I find ever much that the use of harmony is so imprtnat for a work to not feel random and when it is eschewed it is becuase Xenais is trying to acheive the efect of randomness. Now, I'm torn as to whether or not random-ness is to be desired in a piece of music, and as to what the difference between something like randomness and somehting like arbitrariness is. I will think on this and save it for later.

Serment (1981): Choral work, written for of al tings, a cardio-vascular congress and setting parts of the Hippocratic Oath "Serment" = "oath" Begins with a setting out of a scale similar to the Jonchaies scale - which by now starts to sound more Javanese especially when presented melodically. Some formulaic use of the scale alternating with moments of brilliance - the piercing cries and use of Monteverdi trills. At the end of the work some heavy breathing alternating with glissandi, finally ending with what looks like Xenakis having some fun with Augenmusik - chords that build up and sustain with time intervals between pich entries at something like the thirty-second note. I remain deeply impressed with Xenakis' idiomatic, yet non-traditional use of the choir as ritual body perhaps. This likely developing from the notion of choir as in a Greek tragedy.

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19 January 2007

I’ll begin with a few words about this blog My intent is to use this to document several of my ongoing projects. First, the composition of my latest work, a piece for large ensemble to be played by the Columbia Sinfonietta under Jeff Milarsky on April 23rd at Merkin Concert Hall in New York. This piece will also be the focus of my dissertation and I thought it would be helpful if I were to write down some of my compositional decisions and the reasons behind them in preparation for writing them up in dissertation format.

Second, I will use this space to store my listening notes. I keep a rather strict listening regimen in which I sit with new pieces – recordings and scores – and listen to them each morning. I have been doing this for about ten years on and off. Originaly it was to acquaint myself with the major works of the Western tradition. Later, I began to get more comprehensive setting out to study particular composers in depth. In this regard, I found the best way to do this was to listen to everything they wrote in the chronological order that it was written. Now this becomes problematic when we reach works that have never been recorded. In this case, I am usually able to obtain a score and can have a look at the piece. To date, I have looked at the music of Schutz (ongoing – many works have been dfficult to obtain); Schumann, Berlioz, Messiaen, Ligeti, Carter (this ran into serious problems when I was unable to get scores and recordings of the music from much of the 90s onward) and Stravinsky. I have also been engaged currently with the music of Xenakis, Lutoslawski, Debussy, Schoenberg, Scelsi, Crawford Seeger, Copland, Brahms, Crumb, Vivier, Grisey, Ockeghem and Nono and to a lesser extent Ives, Britten, Ruggles, Ferneyhough, Boulez and Berg. I expanded the list exponentially when I got tired of listening to the same composers everyday. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of Xenakis for a variety of rather dull reasons. At a certain point, I realized that I would benefit more from this activity if I were to keep notes about the pieces I heard. These I will post here as well. I don’t claim that these notes are authoritative, nor that they are even interesting (I have my good moments and bad moments and some pieces provoke a better reaction), but perhaps someone might be interested. In many cases, I imagine they will be among the few things written about these pieces.

Third, I will use this to reflect on the process of getting an academic job in music composition, a daunting process to say the least, as well as discussing various other standard blog issues – performances, food and so forth. It will likely take some time for me to get the multimedia aspect of the whole thing down, so (if anyone is reading this) bear with me.

With that in mind….

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