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This is Gunther Schuller for the last two weeks in contemporary music and evolution. We have been dealing with music composed in 1913. And we continue with more music from that year. Three works composed by Russian composers two pianists an artist by screen and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring which many people feel is still the masterpiece of our century. And I must say that I'm inclined to agree. Let us take the sonatas by Alexander screen first and leave the masterpiece for the close of the program. In 1913 school had been finished three pianists and I was his eighth ninth and 10th the ninth having been already sketched out three years earlier on a visit to Lake Geneva. In these works we hear the scream has been who has broken through the bounds of conventional diatonic thinking and of conventional rhythmic and metric organisation. While these works are not yet at tonal they operate within the outer most chromatic regions of tonality shifting constantly in avoidance of any particular tone center vertically.
The harmonies avoid definite tone centers to many of his chords being an 8 or 9 note pileup of notes in which the root is not represented or hidden in the middle of the chord. It was therefore only logical that screen had been abandoned. The key signature from here on he was free to roam unfettered by a form dominating the center. This fact however immediately confronted screen with a new problem namely that of how to organize the new language into meaningful forms. Once the tunnel formed defining relationships were gone. What formal controls could be substituted instead. Well screen never did solve that problem. Instead he fell into the trap of endless repetition. This is especially true of the eighth Sonata which is about twice the length of its material warrants. On the other hand screw up and solve the problem of how to organize the new material in terms of thematic relationships.
In all his late piano music that I say from Opus 62. Every horizontal and vertical event is the ride from the opening theme. In fact sometimes from one single chord which then spawns the entire Sonata. The melodic lines are stretched out horizontal versions of the basic chord or vice versa. A chord is simply a vertical aggregate of a melodic line. In all this screaming was an important precursor of the type of organization evolved by Schoenberg in the so-called 12 tone approach where all pitch relationships are vertical or horizontal are derived from a tone row. Take for example the Eights sonata of scree a big screen was fond of composing first a prologue from which the Sonata proper would evolve. But even the prologue itself is derives entirely from the opening series of chords. It. Just
says it. It's. It's with it's. With. With it it's. The sinew is theme in the third bar. Is nothing more than the chords of the second bar in a horizontal position. These three nodes come from the first chord. The next three tones. From the second chord.
And the final three notes. Again from the first chord. Incidentally I have purposely left out the left hand to make this clearer to the lay listener. Similarly this fragment for. Us. Is an elongation horizontally of the first chord of the piece. For this. This comprises the entire thematic material of the Sonata derived as we have seen from one initial statement. In this respect that is of dealing with musical tones as sounds acoustical phenomena which can be heard in a variety of relationships. I've been divorced himself completely from his 19th century roots and became a truly 20th century creator. In terms of rhythmic organization there is an interesting parallel between scree Evans
harmonies and the rhythms in which they are couched. His eighth Sonata gives us a particularly clear picture of this because in this work there is occasionally still a certain stylistic holdover from his diatonic middle period. Whenever these passages which hark back to an earlier style appear the rhythms are quite conventional and homophonic Lee organized. On the other hand when scrubbing gets into the more advanced chromatic passages we notice that the rhythmic organization becomes more complex and contrapuntal with bars divided into simultaneous rhythmic relationships of two over five over six followed by a bar of three against four. Just as an example. So that you get a rhythmic pattern developed from three or
four independent lines all going at different speeds with the result that except for the first note in each bar very few of the other nodes will coincide vertically. It gives these passages a kind of loose almost improv as the Tory character. I should like to play now for you. Excerpts from the a sonata by Alexander Men on an old 10 inch 78 Parikh lead label played in this case by the pianist Yolanda Barlow TIENE for. It is. It's. Is. It's. It's is it.
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It. Is all that I have said about the 8 Sonata applies to the tenth as well. The tense and I describe in his last work in this form delves even further into the liberating aspects of rhythm a complex city playing semantical formations against symmetrical ones metrically to their unusual measures of seven
sixteenths for example which in themselves have subdivisions into groups of fives. Not so far after all from the world of misyar Stockhausen's piano pieces. But then Sonata by screen had been as played by me as Shane. Why.
Know you have heard scribblings eighth and tenth piano sonatas and I guess that should be enough description for a while. Now Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. I have said that this work is so far probably the masterpiece of our time. Some listeners might be asking why is it such a masterpiece. What makes it so great and so important. Well it would take more time than I have to fully answer such questions but I believe I can point to some of the reasons for such a high evaluation and evaluation incidentally shared even by people not otherwise well disposed to Stravinsky's work. The first thing that one can say about the Soka is that it is that rare work of art which combines evolution with revolution at the same time perfecting in one
single outpouring. The very essence of that revolution. It is as if a man were to discover the principles by which a new machine could be developed and then followed up by perfecting that machine in his very first attempt. Whether we address ourselves to the melodic aspects of the Soka the rhythmic and metric elements the harmonic element the orchestration the instrumental sonorities the form or what have you. Each aspect is perfectly conceived and realized. And in view of Stravinsky's revolutionary use of all these elements it is perhaps most amazing that the work discloses such a remarkable compositional unity. All aspects of the work are in perfect relationship to each other. None lank behind the others as was for instance the case to some extent with many of Schoenberg's works. For years critics and writers have emphasized or rather over emphasized the rhythmic aspects of the Soka. When in
fact all the other elements are handled with equal daring and mastery. Indeed one can say that all the musical elements are renewed in such a way as to be quite inseparable from each other except perhaps for analytical purposes. Since I cannot possibly say in the allotted time all the things I should like to say about this great work. We should be here all evening if I did. I will concentrate on those two aspects which seem to me to be most often neglected in discussions of the Soka both points have to do with the form of the work. The one in the sense of the organization of its musical materials into a meaningful communicative order the other in terms of the larger overall formal aspects of the work. Many people feel that the soccer defies the kind of thematic and structural analysis musicologists apply with such relish to a backfield Gore a movement of a Mozart symphony.
Such people seem to think that the Soka is one of those rare emanations of genius which sprang full blown from the composer's head. Well in a sense of course it did. But at the same time such thinking is a gross oversimplification. It would be much more accurate to say that in the sack or as in a few other lasting masterpieces of art inspiration entered into the picture after a great deal of mental preparation. Conscious and subconscious had laid the groundwork. Inspiration cannot take wings until a body of organized thought has prepared for the takeoff as it were. And so also in the Soka where we see at work a mind which was able to organize new sounds new sonorities new relationships into such logical patterns that they seem to have been born out of pure non intellectual inspiration. Let me illustrate with a few musical examples. If we look at the melodic lines of the first part of the Soka we notice a
curious fact that all the themes move within the in the valid scope of a fifth and most of them even within a fourth. And when we look closer we see that all the themes are nothing more than variants and permutations of the opening statement in the bassoon with its curious melancholy pentatonic mellows. From this melodic nucleus in itself assembled from smaller Internet like cells the whole introduction is evolved and abstractions thereof determine the rest of the first part of the work. All the ensuing thematic or harmonic accompany mental material issues from this one phrase in
continuous permutations a little like looking at immobile from a dozen different angles or a diamond. In all of its facets. And what is new in this unfolding process is that it is not conceived in terms of a development starting with a simple statement and passing through various stages of increasing complexity as innocent as a movement for instance. But in terms of simply linking together linearly various views of the same subject. That is simply a chain of self-contained musical events not necessarily rising and falling in symmetrical formations. But back to our theme. The accompanying forts in the low clarinets and bass clarinet. You are actually a sort of distillation of the theme into
its single most dominant component. The interval of the fourth. As the forts continue now into bassoons proposes a variant of the opening scene. A few bars later the E-flat clarinet States a theme which is a transposition in extended form of the last two measures of the opening bassoon passage. I play first the bassoon and then the related E-flat clarinet melody. To to. A subsequent Three Bar oboe phrase is taken from the following three notes
in the opening bassoon line. The oboe phrase is simply a transposition of those pitches and then altered in typically start in fashion in minor and major versions. Listen to the oboe. Who else. A restatement of the English variant leads to a fascinating passage for three flutes and English horn which again is a distillation of all that has occurred so far. The top flute line is a simplified version of the original bassoon phrase. The English horn with its characteristic grace notes familiar to us already in two previous forms. And the two flutes moving in parallel fourths as the clarinet had done earlier. The next section accumulates still other facets of the same material.
The bassoon part at this point switches over to the alto flute. I hope you can hear it in this rather thick contrapuntal texture. And finally emerges in a fully embellished and filled out version serving as an underlying link to the next section. Listen to it. Gradually emerge. In this new section the themes in the oboe E-flat clarinet and then later in the
Trumpet are all variants of the opening pentatonic bassoon material. This time they're in developed range somewhat extended a. Now Steve Inskeep takes most of the thematic in the coming the mental material thus far stated and one by one super imposes all of it together. That's reaching a small climax of a wondrously delicate complexity. This is abruptly broken off to allow a restatement of the plaintive
bassoon melody. The subsequent pizzicato notes in the violins are. You are not only a simplification of part of that bassoon line but also a link to the next main section of the work. The famous dance of the youths. Perhaps you noticed that until now has kept all of the introduction in a kind of amorphous undefinable tonality or non tonality. When the stomping dance of the youth starts we see why the combined effect of regular stomping rhythms with a well-defined albeit by tonal tonality has a powerful almost shock effect. I should also point out that in the entire subsequent section this ostinato figure.
Becomes an ever present binding element. A brilliant instance of Stravinsky's ostinato technique of course coming from the Italian word obstinate. It may come as a shock to some of you that even this passage of such elemental and primeval power was constructed perhaps subconsciously but constructed Nevertheless according to specific rhythmic patterns as was discovered by messi on Boulez upon close scrutiny and analysis. I mention this because it should prove once and for all to any doubting Thomases that strict almost mathematical construction and deeply generated inspiration are not necessarily incompatible. Here is the perfect example. In fact the whole soccer epitomizes that idea as do the first movement of the Eroica and the number of Bach masterpieces the Brahms symphonies and
even the prelude to Tristan. Unfortunately it is this so-called music appreciation approach to music in our country which has led to this absurd falsification of the compositional process as it really occurs. A falsification which implies that composers sort of vaguely dream up these things and that the intellectual process is eliminated by definition from the creative act. Before I play the entire saga I want to make one more point. A point I have so far not heard stated by anyone else but one which seems to me to be of extreme importance to those of us concerned with problems of musical form in our time. Stravinsky in the Sakha presented us with one of the simplest and most modern solutions yet strangely enough one which no one seems to have realized and acted upon so far. And that is the simple expedient of abruptly interrupting a given section of a work
only to juxtapose it just as abruptly with another totally different formal entity almost as if Stravinsky had simply turn a page in his manuscript lengthwise thereby automatically stopping the music at that point. There are almost a dozen such places in the saga and to this day I know of no conductor who has realized this. They all approach these breaks with some sense of climax or finality when in fact they are mere interruptions leaving the music suspended not ended. And this whole radical approach to form became possible only once the structural organization was no longer of the one directional developmental kind but instead was simply a linking together of continually new aspects of the same basic material. At this point musical composition became formally liberated. Finally breaking the yoke of the preordained directionality of form. I think it is most important to bear this in mind while listening to the Soka as it facilitates
a closer understanding of the real essence of the work. We hear the sack of the plant perform now in a near perfect recording by the Boston Symphony conducted by a month. Who or
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Governor who. You just heard the performance of The Rite of Spring as Sec of the Pantheon by Igor Stravinsky performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by the amount a man by two to join me again next week for another in the series of contemporary music in evolution. It has been Gunther Schiller.
Contemporary Music in Evolution
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Contemporary Music in Evolution is a radio program hosted by Gunther Schuller, which traces the evolution of Western classical music from 1899 to 1961. Each episode focuses on a specific year and chronicles some of the significant works, schools, and composers of the time. Schuller introduces several performance recordings in each episode, and gives commentary and analysis that also touch on previous episodes.
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Host: Schuller, Gunther
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Chicago: “Contemporary Music in Evolution; 8; 1913,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
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APA: Contemporary Music in Evolution; 8; 1913. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from