The Art of Song of Giacinto Scelsi
Marianne Schuppe, voice
Songs and settings of works by Giacinto Scelsi, one of the most individual voices in the history of music. His music stands outside the schools that responded to world events and exists as a monument to itself – utterly honest and almost indescribable, reminiscent of a stature in Rome but in his case it is a statue of the imagination.
'Songs without lachrymose, sentimental lyricisms, being instead "phonetic gestures", cries, screams, exhalations; pantings, whisperings, cascades of syllables, a carpet of ornaments in sound; lines curling round each other and repeating each other in circles, similar to each other, but not the same; that is why this music is nature-like, why it moves us and moves itself'. Shortly after the death of Giacinto Scelsi in 1988, Jürg Wyttenbach recorded these impressions—impressions that he had received at a performance of Taiagarù and other works by the singer Michiko Hirayama in 1976 (see dissonanz / dissonance No. 18, November 1988, p. 12). Wyttenbach's description includes a word that is astonishing, for Scelsi's hagiographers would like best of all to see it banned from discussion of his work: 'Lieder' ('Songs'). The West German discovery of Scelsi in the 1980s was an event of Messianic character that was welcomed in a choice of vocabulary that was correspondingly devoid of inhibitions. He was celebrated as a manifestation that was far removed from the framework of Eurocentric descriptions of music history, in order to be used as a figure of identification by the adherents of a numinous poetics. The ennoblement of Scelsi's technique as 'incommensurable composing' (Heinz-Klaus Metzger) remains the measuring rod used by many today. His music is still regarded as 'impossible to analyse' (see, for example, the article on him in the dictionary Komponisten der Gegenwart — Contemporary Composers), which opinion has received dubious confirmation in a furore of ever-growing numbers of musicological investigations of his work—not least as a defence against campaigns waged by certain of his transcribers in an effort to trivialize him.
In this atmosphere, a word such as that used by Wyttenbach has a cathartic effect. Neither Scelsi nor his music came down to us from heaven. Of course, these pieces for voice are not 'songs' after the manner of the Western systematisation of different genres, nor are they beholden in any manifest way to any song tradition. But there are characteristics that can support Wyttenbach's sacrilegious definition, whether it be the unity of the musical character of many of the solo vocal works, their 'songlike', often diatonic or pentatonic vocabulary (many of the pieces unfold out of the circling around a simple, 'analysable' intervallic core, as for example Hô II or Taiagar IV), the virulence of figuration-like topoi, or the latent presence of simple song forms. It must also be considered, however, that Wyttenbach was perhaps not even thinking primarily of the 'art-song' in his remarks, but possibly rather of the 'chanson' or other 'simple' musical forms of expression.
This does not mean that there is nothing unusual about these songs. Oddly enough, their unusual qualities lie in their instrumental aspect. If one believes the legends (probably true, as it happens), then they are transcriptions of improvised instrumental music (Giacinto Scelsi, Count of Ayala Valve, played, taped what he played, and then had it 'transcribed') — though the concept of 'transcription' should perhaps be termed more precisely 'transcomposition', to use a word coined by the composer Christoph Delz (1950-1993). In a recently published article ('The Amateur and the Professionals — Giacinto Scelsi, Vieri Tosatti & Co.' in MusikTexte No. 104, February 2005, p. 27ff.), Friedrich Jaecker argues quite convincingly that the 'transcribers' of Scelsi's tapes did not just have to listen to and notate the undoubtedly 'musical' layers (i.e. not just the 'normal' instrumental sounds), but also — quite specifically — the unintentional sounds on the recording (the crackling of the magnetic tape, the noises of turning on and off, doors slamming, car horns in the background, and other everyday sonic emissions). This is a convincing indication that it was not just a matter of transcribing tape recordings as faithfully as possible (in which case one could have just left the music as recorded on the tapes), but rather of treating the transformation of the recorded improvisation into another medium itself as an aesthetic process (for which reason I draw the somewhat daring comparison with Christoph Delz, who 'transcomposed' into music concrete sounds such as the noise of building sites and the jungle).
This observation is more than a mere matter of musicological nitpicking. For it shows the compositional product in the light of a process of production that one can without doubt describe as an interpretation of sound events — and this is, not least, an observation that can be valuable to the performers of the score. Marianne Schuppe's singing corresponds thoroughly to the idea of an 'interpretative transcomposition' of what is notated, and she was expressly encouraged in this by Michiko Hirayama, with whom Scelsi himself worked closely. As Hirayama has said, Scelsi made clear to his interpreters that a high degree of fidelity to the text was not the most important thing, regarding the manner of phonetizising his music, as developed by him and Hirayama together, as not the one and only valid solution, but rather just one of many possibilities of making his music 'speak'.
Some of the pieces on this CD are revisions — interpretations — of concrete instrumental solo pieces. The first song of Hô, for example, is a new version of the fourth of the Four Pieces for Trumpet (1956), while the fourth song of Taiagarù (1962) is a vocal version of the third of the Four Pieces for Horn (1956). A piece such as that for trumpet mentioned above is an excellent example of Scelsi's manner of realizing complexly articulated music on the basis of only a few notes (his famous 'one-note style'). In other words, the music is not articulated by constant changes of pitch, but in the multifarious changes of articulation itself, and the smallest possible fluctuations of pitch, as for example by often using a mute ('usare sordina variabile').
In his subtle differentiation of solo wind notes, Scelsi came upon certain technical hurdles at the close of the 1950s. He soon profited from the possibilities of articulation offered by the human voice, which allows for a fundamentally greater differentiation in the production of sounds. In Hô I, Scelsi, however, does not just succeed in achieving a technical differentiation from an instrumental sound. More fundamental is the shift into the realm of language, in which the chains of sounds cannot simply be reduced to their purely articulatory function. A vocal vibrato possesses a different emotional impact from that of a trumpet, while vowels and consonants and composed-out phonetic structures are not just a matter of tone colour, but have a semantic import. Hô I is the compositional expression of the origin of linguistic sounds and sound connections (an early cantata by Scelsi in fact bears the title The birth of the word). It is an expression of 'shifting movements of the organs of articulation' (thus Hans Rudolf Zeller) that is the basis — though in very different ways — of all the pieces gathered on this CD. The eloquent character of these processes does not lie simply 'hidden' on the micro-level of the music, but is also brought to expression in the most varied ways — the emotional, affective spectrum ranges from the most intimate, introverted sounds to wild, extrovert gestures, and it is a spectrum that is used to the full in Taiagarù.
Sauh presents a reduction of the figurative riches of the earlier cycles. The two Sauh 'liturgies' here are given with solo voice and tape. This is the first time that they have been recorded in two- and four-part versions; using third relationships, the characteristics of a single voice are here given in a stretto with themselves (by means of duplication on tape). This is a matter of the composing-out of many changes of articulation that itself multiplies the possibilities of a specific voice (with its own individual sound profile). This is thus by no means 'choral music', but the expansion of a solo voice into a whole band of sound. The possibilities that Scelsi found he could create with a simple solo voice are here simultaneously expanded, are made more flexible. The result is a polyphony, not of the voices, but of their means of articulation and the changes thereof. It is not a dialogue, but an immense differentiation and unfolding of sound transformations that can be perceived intensely, thanks to the reduced scope of the tonal space involved.
Genre descriptions such as 'liturgy' or 'evocations' betray the fact that Scelsi did not regard his songs just as an instrumentally motivated microscope in sound, but accords to them a real 'function'. Although he eschews 'comprehensible' words, he nevertheless — in his songs as in his instrumental music — wants to give linguistic expression to something. Peter Niklas Wilson is quite right when he describes Scelsi as an 'Expressionist', as a 'conversationalist' in sound, whose rhetoric begins with the very character of sound itself — these remarks being made specifically with regard to the Four Pieces for Orchestra (1959). The 'inner' sound that is so often and so extensively conjured up is not celebrated ominously, but relinquished. In her interpretations here, Marianne Schuppe is careful to express the 'direct speech' of Scelsi's music — and this succeeds clearly, for example, in the parlando passages of Taiagarù. The introspective, meditative side of Scelsi's music is clearly overestimated. It is this thoroughly hedonistic speech-character, which defies popular desubjectivization rituals, that finds a real 'voice' in Scelsi's music.
(English translation Chris Walton)
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Violin Concerto Trilogy
with Third Angle New Music Ensemble, Ron Blessinger, Denise Huizenga, Pacific Rim Gamelan
"...a trilogy of concerti...on the nature of..."
This recording presents a trilogy of violin concerti with titles beginning, "On the Nature of..." The concerti explore the archetypal themes of love (No. 1), harmony (No. 2), and peace (No. 3). In each work, the violin soloist is an adventurer who sets out on a journey of discovery that is filled with challenges and surprises. The music of each concerto is a spiritual landscape that encompasses an array of thoughts and feelings ranging from the lyricism of the reflective music in the first concerto, to the boisterous energy of the finale of the second, to the balance of musical elements at the end of the third.
Violin Concerto No. 1—On the Nature of Love (1996)
Thirteen variations on What Wond'rous Love is This for violin and string orchestra
The thirteen variations of this concerto are transformations on the hymn tune, What Wond'rous Love is This, from the sacred harp (shape note) tradition of the American South. The hymn tunes of this tradition are harmonized with "perfect" intervals of fourths and fifths, resulting in an austere, stark sound that contrasts with the European practice of harmonization using consonant thirds and sixths. At the beginning of the concerto, the bold statement of the theme is played by the string orchestra in a transcription of the standard harmonization printed in The Sacred Harp hymnal. The title—On the Nature of Love—refers to the hymn, and to the nature of love itself, which is viewed in the hymn text as divine:
What wond'rous love is this, O my soul! O my soul!
Ye winged seraphs, fly! Bear the news! Bear the news!
Fill vast eternity with the news, with the news!
In my concerto, however, the focus is on human love and the variations are grouped into four arcs of music that correspond to four phases of a relationship:
Part I. Attraction [Theme & Variations I-IV]
After the soloist introduces the hymn tune, it is played by the string orchestra in an arrangement of the original version from The Sacred Harp hymnal. A series of virtuosic variations culminates in a lyrical and expressive statement that ends with a variant of the tune played in harmonics over the lowest open string of the basses.
Part II. Courtship [Variations V-VI]
The second part features two extended variations of contrasting character. A playful dance of courtship leads to blissful and enraptured music.
Part III. Uniting [Variations VII-VIII]
A series of contrapuntal variations symbolize "uniting"—a fugue with intervening canonic episodes unwinds into spiraling, two-part canons.
Part IV. Celebrating [Variations IX-XIII]
The final group of variations is energetic and celebratory, each one becoming more ecstatic than the former, until finally the hymn tune returns in a richly harmonized, transformed version.
Violin Concerto No. 2—On the Nature of Harmony (1999)
Transformations for violin, Balinese gamelan, and chamber orchestra
On the Nature of Harmony is composed for an ensemble consisting of instruments from diverse cultures, which I call a world orchestra. For the concerto, I have brought together solo violin, an unorthodox group of Western instruments, and a Balinese gamelan. The Euro-American orchestral instruments are: flute/alto flute, oboe/English horn, clarinet/bass clarinet, two vibraphones, marimba and assorted percussion, piano, celesta, harp, string quartet, and contrabass. The Balinese gamelan is a gong kebyar-style ensemble of metallophones, gongs, and a reyong (twelve nipple gongs mounted on a wooden rack).
In regard to tuning, the two musical forces of this concerto—Eastern and Western—behave like polar opposites. Recent Western performance practice requires "match pitch," that is tuning in absolute unisons to the tones of the well-tempered scale. Balinese gamelan is an ensemble of instrumental pairs that are de-tuned so that there is no unison or "match pitch" between any like keys within the ensemble. The tones beat against each other, creating a shimmering effect that is a unique characteristic of Balinese music. The paradoxical relationship between Eastern and Western forces raises many questions- "How can these forces co-exist in the same work if they do not share certain fundamental principles of tuning?" And , "What is the nature of harmony that results from the interaction of forces that are so radically different?"
The work is in three movements, each consisting of a set of variations of the spacious violin theme that begins each piece. Throughout the concerto, the soloist takes the role of an individual, exploring "the world" and "the nature of harmony" through the global ensemble of instruments. The first set of variations (Chaconne Variations/Double Variations) alternates and juxtaposes the Western instruments and Balinese Gamelan. Variations of the same tune are played in extremely different styles. In the second set of variations (Canonic Variations), the musical forces begin to merge in a lyrical and expansive music that is contrasted with a quicker, scherzo-like music featuring the woodwinds. In the final set of variations (Dance Variations), the Western instruments and gamelan are synthesized in a propulsive, rhythmic music that continually bursts forth in unbounded joy.
Harmony, meant as "the process of creating right relations between disparate musical elements," is in this work, a celebration of diversity, difference and unity. Here, the spectrum of sound is no longer defined according to a finite group of pitches in a single tuning system. Rather, all tunings are part of one unbounded sonic continuum. While the difference between the tunings is demonstrated through alternation and juxtaposition in the first movement, in the second and third, the sounds of radically different instruments are synthesized to create a new harmonic world. In this sense, "the nature of harmony" is the merging and fusion of opposites through which a new unity is created from diversity.
Violin Concerto No. 3—On the Nature of Peace (2002)
For violin and chamber orchestra
Of the three concerti, the expressive range of the third is the most extreme and dramatic. The first movement, Conflict, begins with a torrent of sound. Three musical ideas emerge from this that are explored in depth: a running figure in the violin solo; an impassioned lyrical theme; and a chain of bold assertions, initiated by the soloist and imitated by the orchestra. As the movement unfolds, these musical materials combine with each other and transform until the music intensifies then literally bursts open as the soloist and two percussionists diverge in tempo and rhythm from the rest of the orchestra. Ultimately the divergent paths of the percussionists heighten the conflict to a breaking point—ending with a crashing halt of urgent ferocity.
The theme of harmonic elegy draws from the progression of chords introduced in the first movement. The second movement, Elegy Variations, is a response to the musical conflict of the first. The mourner, played by the soloist, laments the conflict displayed during the first movement and seeks reconciliation. Resolution is sought in musical terms, through the transmutation of melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and sound-colors.
With hopeful bell-like sounds, the second movement transforms into the third, Reconciliation, without hesitation. Once again, the soloist takes up the primary themes of the first movement, here transmuted melodically and harmonically. Finally, the choral themes resound with a new spirit of bright energy, the outcome of a musical reconciliation process.
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Scratchy Monsters and Laughing Ghosts
with Michael J. Schumacher
SCRATCHY MONSTERS ARE THE BAD DREAMS. LAUGHING GHOSTS ARE THE GOOD ONES - according to my daughter, Georgia.
I've never been sure if I hear sounds in my dreams. I'm glad to know that she does. This is a record that I've wished to make for a long time. It seemed less likely as my own interests have moved away from guitar and more towards field recordings and site-specific sound installations. Meanwhile, my friend Mr. Tronzo has stayed as true to the electric guitar and slide as ever. That said, he is a guitar player who sounds like no other and I am more than honored by the collaboration. These tracks were assembled through dual improvisations, followed by files, loops and mixes mailed back and forth. Somewhere in the middle, we invited Michael J. Schumacher to come in and add piano tracks. Michael's improvised tracks now feel as crucial as any of the other elements. As much as this may be an experiment, we hope it is one that you will enjoy as much as we enjoyed making it.
Available here: iTunes
Pondok (2001) is Indonesian for a cottage, such as the tiny bamboo hut I lived in during my first stay in Bali in 1981. I arrived unprepared for the cultural and sensory overload I encountered. I would sit on my porch, transcribing music, smoking clove cigarettes, listening to the shortwave, and trying to make sense of it all. Twenty years later, this piece imagines a different level of repose. Each movement is based on a particular aspect of Balinese music, taken in its own direction to the point of no resemblance. "Fragrant Forest" borrows an attitude toward pacing and phrasing from the first scene of the shadow play; "Tree Trunk" builds on a rhythm buried in the texture of beleganjur marching music; "Ginoman" abstracts from the immobility of the introductions to classical lelambatan; "Gebyog (Husk)" combines the intense rhythms of west Balinese female rice pounding music with the serene postures of its performers. The piece is dedicated to Sarah Cahill.
Piano Trio - Typical Music (2000) was written for the Arden Trio. Before this piece I generally wrote for unusual combinations of instruments, and I wasn't sure what to do with this archetypically classical combination. As I was writing it, I saw Burmese master drummer Kyaw Kyaw Naing perform at a Unitarian Church in Brookline, Massachusetts. Most of his playing that day accompanied song or dance, until finally the well-meaning hostess announced that Kyaw Kyaw would play a solo, no singer and no dance, "just a piece of typical music." The piece is dedicated to Martin Bresnick, my teacher and friend, whose own piano trio serves as a lofty pinnacle of pure music.
Ngaben (for Sari Club) (2003) is for full Balinese gamelan and western orchestra and was written in response to the Bali terrorist bombing of October 12, 2002. I had just begun working on a very different type of piece for gamelan and orchestra, but the printed images of Balinese women crying and praying at the blast site overwhelmed me. Suddenly, musical cross-culturalism meant something far different than it had.
The ngaben cremation is the last and most important life ritual in Balinese Hinduism. Like a traditional New Orleans funeral, it covers a wide range, not all mournful. Loss is acknowledged but subsumed by the far more important task of releasing the soul from the body. The procession itself is serious, chaotic and circuitous: the raised, highly ornamented sarcophagus is spun violently at all intersections so as to confuse evil spirits. The subsequent burning frees the soul to await its next incarnation.
This Ngaben follows the same course, with these two sections fused together by a central kebyar, the highly charged, ametric-but-synchronous tutti which characterizes modern Balinese music. As with Balinese temple rituals, the musicians fill the room—the strings envelop the gamelan on the stage, while the winds are arrayed across the balcony, behind the audience. Kebyar is often translated as a blossoming or lightning flash, but it also means 'explosion.' It arose in response to the bloody Dutch takeover of Bali at the dawn of the 20th century; that tragedy sparked a renaissance of art and cross-cultural exchange on the island which has lasted until this day. This piece, a response to the violence which starts this century, is a small offering in the hope that the east-west exchange will continue undaunted.
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with David Abel, Joel Davel, Paul Dresher, Julie Steinberg, Yuri Mershevsky, and The Electro Acoustic Band: Craig Fry, Philip Aaberg, Paul Hanson, Amy Knoles, Gene Reffkin, and Paul Dresher
These chamber works from 1994 to 2002 include many of my favorite concert works, and represent a cross section of approaches I've taken and musical media I've utilized in concert music recently. By the end of 1993, I had spent the better part of 12 years focusing on composing for opera/music theater and for modern dance, involving live music with other performing disciplines. The success of many of these projects led to more and more similar commissions. However, the kind of problems encountered in creating music for opera, music theater, or for dance are often not of a purely musical nature, but are rather more the result of the collaborative process and aesthetic goals that are not specifically musical. I felt, at the end of this period, that my own musical vocabulary was in some sense stagnating, and felt a need to devote the next period of work to creating works exclusively for the concert stage. This coincided as well with a desire to return, as I had done regularly throughout the 1970's, to performing works by other composers. To meet both this and the goal to compose primarily for the concert stage, I decided to form the Electro-Acoustic Band, a new chamber ensemble that would offer to composers (including me) a group of virtuoso musicians able to use the extraordinary advances in music technology of the past 15 years and who possessed the ability to genuinely perform music possessing roots in very diverse traditions including contemporary classical, rock and roll, jazz and various world musics.
Most of the works on this CD were premiered by or on concerts performed by the Electro-Acoustic Band.
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Fragmentos del Posado
with Robert Black, Cuarteto Latinamericano, Daniel Kientzy, Jaime Marquez, Reina Portuondo, Orquesta Sinfonica Simón Bolívar, Alfredo Rugeles, Conductor
This collection of new classical Latin American work by the Cuban born, Miami based composer is a series of pieces that invoke an abstract expressionist sensibility set against a time free present. Repetition and slow evolution of materials result in a temporal stasis which is similar in effect to some Asian and Latin American musics—the perception of the moment is of great importance. Explorations of the counterpoint between register, density, timbre and pacing are the aesthetic basis. Extreme care is given to the nuances of entrances and exists, to the points where silence begins and sound ends. At times the music feels far away, set in a vast distance—like a night sky or memory; and at other times it is strongly present, full of current and emotion, with deep colors and powerful gestures.
Through some one hundred works composed for a wide range of performance genres, Orlando Jacinto García has established himself as an important voice in the new music world. The distinctive character of his music has been described as "time suspended—haunting sonic explorations" with "a certain tightness and rigor infrequently found in music of this type"—qualities he developed from his studies with Morton Feldman among others. Born in Havana, Cuba in 1954, García emigrated to the United States in 1961. In demand as a guest composer and lecturer at national and international festivals, he is the recipient of numerous honors and awards from a variety of organizations and cultural institutions, most recently including the Nuevas Resonancias, American Composers Forum Sonic Circuits, and Salvador Martirano awards, a State of Florida Composers Fellowship, several Rockefeller and Fulbright residencies, as well as fellowships from the Dutka and Cintas Foundations. With performances in most of the major capitols of the world by numerous distinguished soloists, ensembles, and orchestras, his works are recorded on O.O. Discs, CRI (Emergency Music and eXchange labels), Albany, North/South, CRS, Rugginenti, Capstone and Opus One Records and are available from Kallisti Music Press, the American Composers Alliance, BHE and North/South Editions. The founder and director of several international festivals including the New Music Miami Festival and the Music of the Americas Festival, he is Professor of Music and director of the Composition Program as well as Graduate Studies for the School of Music at Florida International University.
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with David Tanenbaum, Joel Davel, Scott Evans, Gyan Riley, William Winant
In the last conversation I had with him, a few weeks before he passed away, Lou had just heard the edited version of this recording. He said, "I love every minute of it! But I'm late, I have to go. Goodbye!" I write this just days after his death, not only filled with sadness but also gratitude for his life and work and the privilege to have known him.
The guitar works of Lou Harrison span fifty years. The earliest piece on this recording, Serenado por Gitaro (a title in Esperanto), was included in a letter to Frank Wigglesworth dated February 12, 1952. For many years the piece remained unpublished, and guitarists circulated photocopies of the piece in Harrison's beautiful calligraphy. The music reflects Indian and other Asian influences, and represents a rejection of the densely textured modernism prevalent on the east coast at that time. "I don't think increasing complexity is the answer to anything," Lou has said. "I don't think significance is opposed to beauty."
Twenty-five years later the composer set out to write five suites for guitar, each in a different intonation. But the only completed work from that time was another Serenade (1978) in five movements with optional percussion, written in an eight-tone mode with a flatted second and raised fourth.
From that period also come the Plaint and Variations on Walter Von der Wogelweide's "Song of Palestine" (1978), remnants of an unfinished guitar suite which ultimately became the first two movements of Harrison's String Quartet Set. Harrison characterized the variations as being in a European-style quintal counterpoint of medieval origin.
Although often approached by guitarists for more music, almost twenty-five more years went by before Lou was again ready to write for the instrument. It turned out that one of his hesitations about the guitar over the years had been the relative lack of sustain of the classical guitar. After I made several trips to his house with trunkloads of guitars, he immediately recognized in the National Steel guitar the sound he yearned for. For the program notes of the premiere, Lou wrote:
While mother played an afternoon of Mah Jong with friends, we children listened to records or the radio. We heard a lot of Hawaiian music and I can remember the sliding and waving guitar tones over a gap of almost eighty years. The wonderful sculpture and architecture of Nek Chand, near Chandigarh (India) set me to composing three small pieces in admiration. My friend Dave Scully very kindly lent his richly-toned steel guitar for me to explore for composing. National Reso-Phonic Guitars of San Luis Obispo loaned an instrument to the consummate artist David Tanenbaum for the premiere performance. Unlike the classical guitar, the National Steel has a cone resonator inside the body that acts as a kind of amplifier. Invented in the late 1920s for players to be heard with jazz bands, the genre has been revived and there now is an exotic array of these wonderful instruments. The score, commissioned by Other Minds, is dedicated to Charles Amirkhanian & Carol Law, with thanks for many kindnesses, and to David Tanenbaum, who was willing to play it.
I played the premiere of Scenes from Nek Chand (2001-2) on March 7, 2002, on a borrowed instrument in equal temperament. Soon after, the factory made me the instrument used on this recording, with the well-tempered modified fret-board for the tuning that Lou preferred. A few days before his death, Lou had agreed to write another piece for the National Steel with ensemble.
The harp music of Lou Harrison transfers to the guitar very comfortably without the need to alter any notes, just as the little Serenado can also be played on harp or harpsichord. Each of these pieces has a little story.
Avalokiteshvara (December 12, 1964) is the Buddha of compassion who vowed to save all beings. The piece is in the Korean mode called "The Delightful."
Threnody to the Memory of Oliver Daniel was written in Aptos on New Year's Eve, 1990.
The transcription of Sonata in Ishartum, which is originally for two Troubadour harps, lowers the pitch by a fifth. The "Ishartum" mode is the "white key" mode on E. It was first found on a tuning tablet from the 18th century BC, with the name "Ishartum" written in Old Babylonian cuneiform.
Beverly's Troubadour Piece was written at a party one night in 1967 when several of Lou's friends in Aptos composed pieces for Beverly Bellows to play on a new troubadour harp.
Music for Bill and Me (1966-67) is for the composer's longtime companion and fellow instrument maker William Colvig, who died in 2000.
The transcription Jahla in the form of a Ductia - to pleasure Leopold Stokowski on his ninetieth birthday (March 28, 1972) moves the key from C to D, but, as in the other transcriptions, changes no notes. The Ductia is a medieval form. (My earlier recording of this work, which was heard and endorsed by the composer before the recording, was in mixolydian mode. Here the piece is heard in its original Ionian mode.)
In 1997 I directed an 80th birthday festival for Lou Harrison at the San Francisco Conservatory and transcribed Tandy's Tango (1992), a piano piece for Lou's dancer/friend Tandy Beal. Tandy had never before choreographed her piece, so we premiered the transcription and dance at the festival. I later made this version for two guitars.
At the time of composing the Waltz, Harrison wrote, "A Waltz for Evelyn Hinrichsen (written for C.F. Peters' 'The Waltz Project' in 1977) takes the form of an homage to a remarkable woman and friend who used to help me as music librarian when we were both young at Mills College and who is now the thoughtful, generous and endearing matriarch of the publishing house of C.F. Peters Edition."
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19 [solo] Compositions, 1988
for solo alto saxophone
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Drums Along the Pacific
with David Abel, Dennis Russell Davies, Leta Miller, Geraldine Walther, William Winant, Jennifer Cass, Joel Davel, Scott Evans, Carla Fabrizio, David Johnson, Daniel Kennedy, Todd Manley, Sam Ospovat, David Rosenthal, Gordon Smith, Julie Steinberg, Robert Strizich
"During the last two years an extraordinary interest in percussion music has developed on the Pacific coast," wrote Henry Cowell in "Drums Along the Pacific" (1940). "In Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles, orchestras have been formed to play music for percussion instruments alone... directed chiefly by two young Western composers, John Cage and Lou Harrison, who have concocted innumerable creations... and have induced others... to write for them." What Cowell omitted from this account was his own influence: his writings and teachings provided the impetus for the percussion works of both composers.
The story of Harrison and Cage's meeting and subsequent collaboration is inextricably linked to the history of percussion music. In 1938 Cage came to San Francisco to meet Harrison, on Cowell's advice. Within minutes, the two composers had discovered common interests in percussion and dance. Harrison soon began to introduce Cage to his circle of friends, among them dancer Bonnie Bird, who had offered Harrison a position in Seattle accompanying her classes at the Cornish School. But Harrison was happily ensconced at Mills College, playing piano and percussion for dancer Tina Flade. Instead he recommended Cage, who moved to Seattle, attracted by Bird's tales about a closet full of percussion instruments. During his two years there, Cage solicited works from composers around the country, including Harrison, who wrote Fifth Simfony and Counterdance in the Spring for the Seattle ensemble.
Harrison (1917-2003) had grown up on the West Coast. In 1926 his family moved from Portland, Oregon, to Northern California, where they lived in nine different cities during the next eight years. After graduating from Burlingame High School in December 1934, Harrison enrolled at San Francisco State College (now University), but studied there only two years until he was enticed into other endeavors, including the job at Mills.
In Spring 1935, Harrison enrolled in Cowell's course, "Music of the Peoples of the World," at the University of California Extension in San Francisco. Cowell taught that most of the world's music consisted of a melodic line with rhythmic accompaniment, noting that Western composers had neglected the possibilities of rhythm and melody to worship instead at the altar of harmony. Harrison was fascinated. In Fall 1935 he approached Cowell for private composition lessons. Cowell taught him to work with small germinal cells -- both melodic and rhythmic -- interweaving them in complex patterns. He also urged Harrison to explore new instrumental resources. "Henry encouraged us to forage through junkyards," Harrison recalls.
In the same year, Harrison wrote his first percussion piece for dancer Carol Beals. Her overtly political Waterfront--1934 memorialized a bitter labor dispute between the Longshoreman's Union and the shipping industry that resulted in a crippling West Coast port strike followed by a confrontation with police and a three-day general strike in San Francisco. Harrison wrote the score for a single percussionist (himself). The premiere took place in the boxing ring of the Longshoreman's Union headquarters, Harrison sitting on the floor surrounded by his instruments while the dancers swung out against the ropes above him.
During his San Francisco years (1935-42), Harrison composed works for percussion alone (such as those for Cage's ensemble) as well as for solo instrument accompanied by percussion. His First Concerto (for flute and two percussionists) was written in 1939 and premiered in Vermont with Henry Cowell playing one of the percussion parts. A concerto for violin and percussion --now one of Harrison's most frequently performed works -- took its initial form in 1940 and was completed 19 years later.
In 1940 Cage moved back to San Francisco and the two composers began active collaboration. Together they staged percussion concerts in Oakland and San Francisco, which Harrison continued after Cage moved to Chicago in 1942. They even jointly composed a percussion quartet, called Double Music. Four works on the present recording were written for these 1941-42 concerts: Song of Quetzalcóatl, Simfony #13, Canticle #3, and Fugue.
Harrison completed Song of Quetzalcóatl on Feb. 6, 1941; it was premiered on his twenty-fourth birthday (May 14, 1941) at a concert he and Cage presented at the California Club in San Francisco. Like many of Harrison's works, the inspiration for this piece was visual, in this case, "a small book of reproductions from Mexican codices." Among the images that caught Harrison's attention was the Feathered Serpent, an Aztec deity of learning which he honored with this vibrant quartet. The six-and-a-half-minute piece traverses three broad sections: a quiet opening, an energetic central portion, and an altered recapitulation. After a unison forte entrance, Harrison introduces a gentle opening theme played in counterpoint by sets of five glasses and five suspended brake drums (which have a dulcet quality resembling mellow chimes). The center section begins with a four-note syncopated motive followed by a flurry of sixteenth- and eighth-notes, played on five muted brake drums. The various themes interact and eventually evolve into a series of simultaneous ostinatos. The central section concludes with a dramatic contrapuntal climax, ushering in a recapitulation in which Harrison added a dry guiro (scraped gourd) to the ensemble. Song of Quetzalcóatl ends as the opening section concluded: the first motive (progressively more spread out in time) supported by metric markers in the windglass, tam-tam, triangle, and gong.
Unlike Cage, Harrison was committed to melody as an expressive device, and his works for percussion typically have recognizable themes. The titles themselves ("Song," "Canticle") highlight their lyric content. Harrison typically includes some tuned metallophones and he carefully balances high and low, resonant and dry instruments. He often calls for families of instruments such as brake drums and metal pipes so that he can create recognizable motives even when the pitches are approximate. These characteristics are immediately apparent in his Simfony #13, premiered on the same concert as Song of Quetzalcóatl. The work is scored for variously pitched wood blocks, water buffalo bells, cowbells, temple blocks, suspended and muted brake drums, and tom-toms, along with an elephant bell, triangle, suspended cymbal, gong, tam tam, and bass drum. Simfony #13 is unified by motivic development: themes are forefronted and then manipulated or transformed, for instance by the use of two- and four-part canons. The overall effect is lyric, despite the lack of a melodic solo instrument.
At the end of the May 14, 1941 performance, the audience was told that the ensemble had money to record one piece; they were asked to vote for their choice. Simfony #13 was selected and recorded shortly thereafter. It was issued as Harrison's first commercial recording. For many years, the score was lost. As I carried out research for my book, Lou Harrison: Composing a World, in 1996 I came across a copy of the score in the Paul Price archives at the University of Illinois. The piece has now been published and made widely available.
Canticle #3, premiered at the Holloway Playhouse in the Fairmont Hotel on May 7, 1942, includes a melodic wind instrument that acts as soloist in the manner of Harrison's concerti for flute or violin and percussion. In this case, however, the wind instrument is an ocarina -- a terra cotta flute in a torpedo shape used by the Aztecs. Harrison, who had studied recorder at San Francisco State, played the ocarina part at the premiere. The five percussionists perform on a wide array of instruments; one even doubles on guitar, strumming a series of bar chords. Like Song of Quetzalcóatl, Canticle #3 is in a tripartite form, but in this case vastly extended. The work opens with a lively pentatonic melody in the ocarina which blossoms into a boisterous and dramatic percussion section. The middle portion provides a striking contrast, exposing a haunting ocarina melody characterized by expansive legato phrases. For this recording, Harrison revised his 1942 score, adding a plethora of grace-note ornaments. After an extended build-up, rising to a series of irregularly spaced fortissimo crashes, the ocarina returns with its opening theme in an abbreviated recapitulation. The coda gradually decreases both in volume and tempo, finally fading into nothingness, leaving only a subdued heartbeat in the bass drum.
Although Harrison composed his percussion Fugue in the same year as Canticle #3, the work was so difficult that it was not performed in concert until the 1960s. (A scheduled 1951 premiere at Columbia University was cancelled so late that the Fugue still appeared on the printed program after Canticle #3 had been substituted.) In this piece Harrison follows principles of baroque counterpoint, but translates melodic intervals into corresponding rhythmic proportions. For example, the first and second entries of a traditional fugue subject are related by fifth, an interval that vibrates in a 3:2 proportion. Harrison thus related the first two entries of his fugue theme by a 3:2 rhythmic proportion. The opening theme, played by a metallophone, is answered by meditation bells in note values a third longer. The third entry in a traditional fugue is played at the octave (2:1) in relation to the opening statement; in Harrison's fugue it appears in note values twice as long. The fourth entry uses values double those of the second.
In 1942 Harrison left San Francisco for Los Angeles, where he spent a year teaching music history and form to dancers at UCLA and studying with Arnold Schönberg. The following year he moved to New York. There Cowell introduced him to Virgil Thomson, who hired Harrison as a reviewer for the New York Herald Tribune. Harrison wrote more than 300 reviews for the paper from 1944-47. But he found it difficult to cope with the tensions of New York life and in 1947 was hospitalized for several months due to a stress-related illness. Harrison emerged from this crisis strengthened and began to re-evaluate his compositional style, turning more decisively toward melody, diatonicism, and pentatonicism. He also embarked on a more intensive exploration of non-Western musical cultures, creating hybrid works that unite disparate influences. In 1951 he was hired by Black Mountain College in rural North Carolina, where he spent two idyllic years completing numerous compositions, including his first opera Rapunzel. In 1953 he returned to the West Coast and the following year settled in Aptos, just south of Santa Cruz, where he has lived ever since.
The Music for Violin with Various Instruments - European, Asian and African (1967, revised 1969) clearly illustrates Harrison's cross-cultural syntheses. He had been fascinated by the medium of the violin concerto since his San Francisco years, and even wrote an article about the genre during his time in New York. Though he composed several concertos for violin, none uses a traditional orchestra. Harrison completed his concerto for violin and (five) percussionists in 1959, then wrote the Concerto in Slendro (1961), in which the violin plays in an Indonesian pentatonic mode along with two tack-pianos, celesta, and percussion. The Music for Violin with Various Instruments continues this trajectory: here the solo violin is set against an ensemble of reed organ, percussion, psaltery, and African mbiras (thumb pianos). Harrison specifies that the organ be tuned in Pythagorean intonation: all fifths but one are pure (in 3:2 proportion), resulting in wide major thirds. The psaltery, designed and built by Harrison and his partner William Colvig, is modeled on the Chinese cheng and is tuned to match the organ. The four mbiras appear only in the finale. The first player doubles the violin melody while tapping on the body of the instrument with his fingers and stomping his feet on the floor, an African technique that creates the effect of a one-man percussion ensemble. The mbiras used on this recording were built for Harrison by Daniel Munyi of Kenya in 1966.
Harrison's interest in gamelan an Indonesian percussion ensemble composed of knobbed gongs (some hanging, others laid horizontally on rope supports) and keyed metallophones with trough or tubular resonators also dates back to his San Francisco years. He heard recordings of the ensemble in Cowell's course and saw a Balinese gamelan perform at the Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939. But his gamelan work truly blossomed in the 1970s. Harrison and Colvig's interest in pure tuning systems led them to build a set of metallophones tuned in just intonation for Harrison's second opera Young Caesar (1971). Using an oscilloscope, they tuned their instruments with precision, according to historic or newly invented systems. Among the instruments they built were sets of tubes and slabs (some with tin-can resonators) that they called "An American Gamelan." The Solo to Anthony Cirone (a percussionist with the San Francisco Symphony and on the faculty of San Jose State University) was written soon after they completed this new instrument set. The work uses a set of tenor bells tuned in a just D-major scale.
In 1975 Harrison met the renowned Javanese gamelan composer and teacher K. R. T. Wasitodiningrat (known as Pak Cokro) at the Center for World Music in Berkeley. The following year the University of California, Santa Cruz, hired Undang Sumarna, an expert in the gamelan music of Sunda. Harrison studied with both men and began composing for traditional instruments after Pak Cokro invited him to do so in 1976. He was soon using the gamelan as a back-up orchestra for western solo instruments much as he had accompanied flute and violin with the percussion ensemble. Among the earliest pieces to call for this type of cross-cultural mixture was the Threnody for Carlos Chávez for viola and Sundanese gamelan, written in 1978. Harrison's gamelan compositions always bear a personal stamp. In this case, he applied a metric system characteristic of medieval Western music to a Javanese form, the ketawang. Traditional gamelan music is always in duple meter, characteristically featuring several layers with various degrees of elaboration over a basic melody called the balungan. In the Threnody for Carlos Chávez, however, Harrison drew on his knowledge of medieval music to explore multiple layers of triple meter. Medieval theorists postulated three levels, which they called perfect modus, tempus, and prolation. Harrison extended their theories further: Threnody includes eight layers, all triple.
This recording, though entirely focused on percussion, aptly demonstrates most of the essential characteristics of Harrison's music over a forty-year period: his concern with melody, supported by intricate rhythmic interplay; his attention to instrumental color; and most importantly, his commitment to cross-cultural interaction. Music, for Harrison, provides the opportunity for "transethnic" explorations. He is committed to a single "world music" in which disparate subcultures are brought into harmony.
—Leta Miller, University of California, Santa Cruz
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Joan Jeanrenaud, cello
Solo debut recital by the cellist formely of the Kronos Quartet, featuring works by Steve Mackey, Hamza El Din, Karen Tanaka, Philip Glass, Mark Grey and Jeanrenaud herself.
In 1999, after twenty years as cellist of the Kronos Quartet, I chose to leave the group and began a metamorphosis of sorts in my musical development as a solo artist. During residencies in Hawaii and San Francisco, I was able to freely explore the directions my interests were leading me at this pivotal point in my career. During this time I continued working with composers. I began to improvise, arrange and compose music myself, as well as research, produce and present muti-media and performance arts. I became interested in not only the visual and conceptual presentation of music but also the sound world my instrument could inhabit. Increasingly I became fascinated with the layering of sound and the versatility of the cello in this exploration. 'Metamorphosis' is much of the music that resulted from this phase, being the soundtrack to the staged musical theatrical production of the same name.
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New Albion Records, Inc.