Contemporary music in evolution; 15; 1934
Continuing this chronological series on contemporary music with a second program devoted to music of 1934 we hear first one of the most crucial works in the development of serial technique vagrants concerto for nine instruments. His opus 24. I have used the word crucial advisedly because although it is a composition which states the underlying principles of a bronze late works more succinctly than any other. I am not convinced that its effect on the post-paid Brownian evolution of music has been altogether salutary. For this is one of those pieces which has been analyzed so often and so thoroughly that it has almost stopped being a living piece of music but as theoretical blueprint instead. This situation is aggravated by the twin facts that a concerto is so sparse in its texture and contains so little actual note material that it is one of the most easily analyzed pieces in all music history and be performances of this work precisely
because of the extraordinary sparseness of the score because everything is completely exposed even more than in a Mozart piece for example. Performances of this work almost always inadequate. So that the concerto has in my experience never come off in actual performance. The only way in which I can fully appreciate that piece is to read the score and in the reading of it mentally hear the ideal performance. Perhaps unrealizable performance and of course that doesn't help anybody else. Certainly the problems in performing the concerto are enormous as is so often the case in 12 tone Baber in the row is divided into four segments of three notes each combining this pitch grouping with Schoenberg's Klang 5 in melody concept pushed to a radical but logical extreme. We find in this piece that each instrumentalist with the exception of the piano has no more than three notes to play at any given
time. The particular three notes segment of the row which is next in order. For those of you who don't play instruments the difficulty there in lies in the fact that it is basically easier to play 100 notes than it is to play just three. In the 100 notes one flaw is hardly noticed. But among three notes it looms like a gigantic era. Moreover everything in the piece depends on the establishment of a continuity between each player's three notes. Like a thread holding together a line of beads or pearls. If this continuity is not achieved or is broken along the line the work's essence is destroyed and all that is left is a series of funny sounding isolated notes which is I'm afraid the way most people hear this music. I have not yet heard that ultimate performance which solves these problems. And we may yet wait many years before musicians can become sufficiently skilled
in this kind of instrumental tightrope walking to give this concerto its due. But I know it can be done. As for the other point I made that is that it is such an over analyzed work. I have heard too many infant Teil and naive imitations of the concertos compositional technique to be able to just ignore the point. Its particular use of 12 tone technique is in its superficial aspects so simple that it has lent itself to extensive copying anybody with half a mind can emulate the external aspects of the controls technique. Needless to say almost none of the imitations have captured the extra technical dimension that vagrants work has. However even allowing for this I am convinced that this work and others like it is on the highest creative level. A little limited. To me the extreme
concentration and economy of means finally led. They ran into such a narrowly confined area that I question its ultimate greatness. It represents a particular psychological compositional attitude perhaps one could call it a masochistic one. And it represents a particular technical approach borne of this attitude. And within these limits may have been created a masterful work. But my point is that the limits are too confining per say. The resultant polyphonic rigidity the overly linear character of the work the rhythmic stiffness and the oversimplified use of clunky melody gives the whole work a blueprint like stilted ness which we can admire in its formal discipline but which we can love only with a part of ourselves. All of the vexing problems posed by this concerto can perhaps not yet be answered fully although I know there are some young composers who are quite sure they
have the answers. Be that as it may be problems are certainly not solved or even understood by those who made the only available recording contained in the complete works of vagrants that conducted by Robert Craft. Aside from the appalling fact that the first bar of the concerto never makes its appearance at all. Having been snipped off by some razor happy Columbia engineer. The performance is routine and pedantic underscoring rather than attempting to ameliorate the work's technical rigidity. One of the ways provided by Weber's to give some flexibility to the work are the numerous retards and tempo changes. Unfortunately Mr. Kraft either couldn't or wouldn't add here to these markings and the performance suffers accordingly. Anyhow for better or for worse here is the Kraft recording of Brown's concerto for nine instruments. Oh.
You just heard a performance of the nine instruments performed by an ensemble under the direction of Robert Craft. One. Thing.
I wonder how many of you guessed who wrote that piece of music. If you
guessed that it was by John Cage you're either a connoisseur of the music of cage or else simply psychic. It was a work called Six short inventions for seven instruments composed in one thousand thirty four when Cage was twenty two. And is the earliest work recorded by him. To my knowledge at any rate. It is contained in Georgia backing and beautifully produced retrospective album of the music of John Cage was Works covering a period of twenty four years with superb annotations by the composer. These six inventions were not originally conceived as you just heard them. Originally they were part of a trio and titled solo with obbligato accompaniment of two voices in canon which is about as factual a way of stating what a piece as the scoring was done 24 years later in 1958 especially for the concert from which the recordings stem this go going calling for one violin to Viola
as one cello an alto flute trumpet and clarinet cage ingeniously fashions a number of trios with these seven instruments constantly changing the combinations very much like in Schoenberg's people in their first invention for example is for to Viola's and trumpet the second for tubulars and clarinet. Later the out of flute joins with the trumpet and clarinet. Then violin flute and viola and so on until 7 6 different combinations have been used. The inventions are peripherally related to 12 tone technique although I hasten to emphasize they are not strictly speaking 12 tone works. They do subscribe to a similar non-tonal principle and in their use of canonic devices are close to early 12 tone practices. Paula Needless to say canonic devices were certainly not exclusive with 12 tone composers in any case John Cage's inventions are based on a series of 25 notes set in
a two octave range. All 25 notes had to appear in any given voice before it before one of the 25 tones could be repeated. Since there were three voices all limited to a two octave span that is in all some twenty four pitches. The interesting compositional problem was to keep repetitions of the 25 individual tones as far apart as possible. The length of the pieces as in certain present day serial music was preordained and that each invention except the last contains 50 tones in each voice and each part the last invention is extended including Finally a coda in which the twenty five tones I scramble arbitrarily among the three voices. I should also point out that the canons were controlled so as to respect rhythmic durations and general contours but not necessarily the pitch relationships. And in this
essential point of course there is a different difference between ages approach and the Orthodox 12 tone approach. Let us listen again to John Cage's 6 inventions performed under the composer's direction. Nothing.
You just heard a performance of six inventions for seven instruments
by the American composer John Cage when John Cage showed these pieces you just heard to Henry cowl. The latter suggested that he study with Arnold Schoenberg who had recently arrived in the USA and was living in Los Angeles and recall born in San Francisco. And at this time in 1934 still very much the mentor of a small group of Iconoclast composers in the northern California area was himself a tireless searcher and experimenter with new sounds and extending the range of instrumental techniques. His various administrations of the piano his use of tone clusters playing the piano upon its insides and so on. All these have by now become legendary. In the early and middle 30s they were beginning to have considerable influence on a new generation of American composers of which John Cage was certainly a member.
90 in 1934 composed a piece for a percussionist called ostinato pianissimo. Again a very unromantic but factual title. The formal procedure involved in this work is a very simple one. All the parts are repeated over and over again but since they are all of different lengths that is each phrases of different lengths. Their vertical disposition varies considerably throughout the performance of the piece and its overall mood and continuity it is a piece obviously and viewed with a spirit and temper of Oriental music. You just heard a performance of Henry Karl's pianissimo in a performance
by an ensemble of percussionists led by Paul price. We turn now to another 1934 work a part of alleviate miss Young's last song on the Ascension specifically the section called Cleo decreased in 1934. Yes you know it was still a twenty six year old youngster. But even in this early work we can hear certain important aspects of the most recent compositional developments in their embryonic form. I'll explain in a minute. In this work we shall hear which we shall hear in its organ version. We hear a harmonic procedure which harks back to Debbie C.. But at the same time looks forward to the present. Specifically through messy Owen's influence on the young French composer Pierre Boulez I am referring to MSU known as use of chains of virtually
unresolved dissonances mild or comparative dissonance as to be sure but what is important here is not the degree of harmonic dissonance but the fact that Messi avoids almost completely the traditional function of the cadence. The resolution as well as the treasured traditional formal concept of climax and resolution. Notice how the end of the piece rises only to be left suspended on an unresolved and inverted seventh chord. Now such an harmonic usage is in itself not so remarkable. But we find this coupled with the use of a very slow tempo so that simultaneously as we listen our usual concept of time is also undermined. Time like the harmonies in this piece is the suspended in a strangely hypnotic state a vacuum. This disengagement of time of motion a little like putting a car into neutral. Had the revolutionary effect of elevating each chord each musical event
to a new kind of significance and autonomy. The same kind of rhythmic neutralisation was achieved in many of the piano works of sakti although on a less creatively musical level from sakti MSE also inherited his anti developmental repetitive approach to form. It is most significant that the one French composer missy on who was able to break out of the trap French music found itself in the 20s and 30s should do so by continuing where the two composers who were most misunderstood had left off their b.s. and sakti and perhaps this will explain in retrospect why I have devoted so much time to these composers on earlier programs. With Messi on the development of the true French tradition is taken up again and has come full circle so to speak. Not withstanding
having stayed clear of the cuteness and rhythmic cliches of French Neo classism and having placed rhythm and duration in a pure neutralize state as I have explained. He was then free to develop a new concept of rhythm as the predominant factor in the structure of music taking taking its this role away from harmony. This then led in the late 40s to rhythmic serialization all of this can be heard. Admittedly it was a good deal of hindsight in this early excerpt from Messi played by the organist Clarence Watters. Yes.
Yeah. You just heard a performance of the section called Cleo decreased from
the ascension by Olivia Messi on the phone by the organist Clarence Watters. The final work on this program will be the suite from the film score. Lieutenant Keiji by Sergey Prokofiev. This is a well known work by now performed constantly by our orchestras and therefore does not require much comment. In it pre-coffee s anticipates to a considerable degree the simplicity and charm of perhaps his most popular work Peter and the wolf composed two years later. The work of course also glances back occasionally to the classical symphony. The film Lieutenant Kedia dealt with a hypothetical Lieutenant created by an inadvertent error on the part of one of the Russian XYZ his subordinates not wishing to point out the mistake then go about
creating the fictitious soldier hero Prokofiev who had spent the last 15 years in Europe and America returned one hears rumors under threats that his family could no longer his family safety could no longer be guaranteed to return to Russia to become a Soviet citizen. His first task was the composing of this film score perfect for coffee with his flair for satire and giving him a chance to apply it to Russian pre-Soviet royalty. Not only satirizing the XYZ royal typographical error but the pomp of the Saint Pete Seeger's Petersburg caught pre-coffee subtly or perhaps not so subtly expressed as this in the overly bombastic and slightly distorted wedding music of T.J. the troika and the romantic love scenes of Ki-Jana in which the hero's passion is poured out accompanied by such romantic lovers and the orchestra as the double bass the tuba and the
saxophone in the final section. His burial Prokofiev does some clever combining of thematic material from the three middle movements all appearing simultaneously. We hear the lieutenant played now in a performance by The New York Philharmonic conducted by the late Dimitri metropolis. Right.
Thank you. Thank. You. Good thing.
With. With. With. With. With. With.
book. Correct. Kurt. Thanks. Thank.
You. We just heard of performance of the lieutenant KIDU sweet face at a game pro coffeehouse
in a performance by The New York Philharmonic conducted by Dimitri metropolis. And there were as we come to the end of this program and I invite you to join me again for another in this continuing series of contemporary music and evolution. This has been done to show that.
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