Moisei Vainberg [Mieczyslaw Weinberg] (1919 - 1996)
Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp (1979)
- I. [4:19]
- II. [5:58]
- III. [3:15]
Henrik Wiese - flute; Nimrod Guez - viola; Uta Jungwirth - harp
The composer and pianist Moisei Vainberg (born Mieczyslaw Weinberg, in Warsaw, on 8 December 1919) died in Moscow on 26 February . He was one of the most able - and prolific - composers of the century, though the importance of his music has yet to be widely recognized.
Vainberg came from a musical family and was playing the piano in public by the time he was ten. When his entire family was killed after the Nazis’ invasion of Poland, he fled to Russia, sheltering first in Minsk and then, as the Germans followed him into Russia, to Tashkent, in Uzbekistan. It was from there, in 1943, that he sent the manuscript of his First Symphony to Shostakovich, who responded with an official invitation to travel to Moscow. He stayed there for the rest of his life. Ten years after his arrival in the capital, Vainberg found himself under direct threat from the anti-Semitic campaign of Stalin’s last murderous years in power. Vainberg’s father-in-law, the actor Solomon Mikhoels, had been assassinated in 1948, and in February 1953 Vainberg himself was arrested. The outlook was black, until Stalin’s death the next month removed the danger. Hardly surprisingly, Vainberg was never a Party member.
Vainberg and Shostakovich were kindred spirits. They often played four-handed piano together, not least when Shostakovich’s new works were run before the Composers’ Union and the Ministry of Culture; they also recorded a piano version of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. But it is the close identity of their creative instincts that probably explains their deep mutual esteem. Vainberg stated frankly that ‘I am a pupil of Shostakovich. Although I have never had lessons from him, I count myself as his pupil, his flesh and blood’. And Shostakovich described Vainberg as ‘one of the most outstanding composers of the present day’. Although with more exposure the individuality of Vainberg’s music would find it easier to come to the fore, there are indeed striking similarities of style, not least a feeling for the epic (Symphonies Nos. 17-19, for example, form a huge trilogy with the joint title ‘On the Threshold of War’), which coexisted alongside a taste for biting, satirical humour.
Vainberg’s output was staggering: 27 symphonies (the last finished in short score but not fully orchestrated), two sinfoniettas, seven concertos, 17 string quartets, 19 sonatas (for piano solo or with other instruments), over 150 songs, a Requiem, seven operas, three operettas, two ballets, and incidental music for an astonishing 65 films, plays, radio productions and circus performances. A trust has apparently been formed to promote this rich artistic legacy. Its success would draw attention to one of the most powerful compositional voices of the second half of the 20th Century.
- Vainberg’s obituary in Tempo by Martin Anderson.
Paul Hindemith (1895 - 1963)
Quartet for Clarinet, Violin, Cello and Piano (1938)
- I. Mäßig bewegt [6:58]
- II. Sehr langsam [9:28]
- III. Mäßig bewegt [11:11]
Ensemble Villa Musica
There is no doubt that listeners, performers, and composers alike can be profoundly moved by perceiving, performing, or imagining music, and consequently music must touch on something in their emotional life that brings them into this state of excitation. But if these mental reactions were feelings, they could not change as rapidly as they do, and they would not begin and end precisely with the musical stimulus that aroused them. If we experience a real feeling of grief, that is, grief not caused or released by music, it is not possible to replace it at a moment’s notice and without any plausible reason with the feeling of wild gaiety; and gaiety, in turn, cannot be replaced by complacency after a fraction of a second. Real feelings need a certain interval of time to develop, to reach a climax, and to fade out again; but reactions to music may change as fast as musical phrases do, they may spring up in full intensity at any given moment and disappear entirely when the musical pattern that provoked them ends or changes. Thus these reactions may within a few instants skip from the most profound degree of grief to utter hilarity and on to complacency without causing any discomfort to the mind experiencing them, which would be the case with a rapid succession of real feelings. ln fact, if it happened with real feelings, we could be sure that it could be only in the event of slight insanity. The reactions music evokes are not feelings, but they are the images, memories of feelings. We can compare these memories of feelings to the memories we have of a country in which we have traveled. The original journey may have taken several weeks or months, but in conjuring up in our memory the events of it, we may go through the entire adventure in a few seconds and still have the sensation of a very complete mental reconstruction of its course. It is the same trick dreams play on us. They, too, compress the reproductions of events that in reality would need long intervals of time for their development into fractions of a second, and yet they seem to the dreamer as real as adventures he has when he is wide awake. In some cases these dream-events may even be the “real” life of the individual, while the facts they reflect, distort, or rearrange are nothing but an inconsequential and sober succession of trifles.
Dreams, memories, musical reactions: all three are made of the same stuff. We cannot have musical reactions of any considerable intensity if we do not have dreams of some intensity, for musical reactions build up, like dreams, a phantasmagoric structure of feelings that hits us with the full impact of real feeling. Furthermore we cannot have any musical reactions of emotional significance, unless we have once had real feelings the memory of which is revived by the musical impression. Reactions of a grievous nature can be aroused by music only if a former experience of real grief was stored up in our memory and is now again portrayed in a dreamlike fashion. “Musical” gaiety can be felt only if a feeling of real gaiety is already known to us; “musical” complacency arises in our memory only if complacency felt before without musical prompting was already part of our experience. It is only with the memory of feelings in our mind that we can have any feelinglike reaction caused by music. This can be proved. If, for example, we assume that music is able to arouse a reaction, which in the mind of a mass murderer uncovers the memory of the satisfaction he felt after having slaughtered a row of twenty victims, that feeling cannot be reproduced in our own minds unless we do as he did murder twenty people and then listen to the adequate music. Certainly we can imagine what this fellow felt and we can direct our reactions to music so that in their dreamlike way they make us feel as if we had the mass murderer’s experience and the memories thereof, released by music. But these reactions can never be like the genuine ones of the mass murderer, as we do not have the actual experience that left its imprints in his mind; they can be nothing but reactions of a similar never identical nature; reactions based on the feeling of satisfaction we had after other cruelties we committed. These are now substituted by us for the lacking experience of greater cruelty, and are rather artificially brought into contact with a musical impression.
If music did not instigate us to supply memories out of our mental storage rooms, it would remain meaningless, it would merely have a certain tickling effect on our ears. We cannot keep music from uncovering the memory of former feelings and it is not in our power to avoid them, because the only way to “have” to possess music, is to connect it with those images, shadows, dreamy reproductions of actual feelings, no matter how realistic and crude or, on the contrary, how denatured, stylized, and sublimated they may be.
- Hindemith, A Composer’s World: Horizons and Limitations, 38-40.
Giacinto Scelsi (1905 - 1988)
for solo Viola
- I. [3:22]
- II. [3:32]
- III. [4:58]
According to a 1997 retrospective in The Village Voice, there are no known photographs of Giacinto Scelsi. “He didn’t want his body photographed.”
In Scelsi’s compositions, the instrumentalist or singer no longer merely ‘plays the notes’. A sonic entity, perceived as a single whole, is sometimes represented by many musical symbols; in an extreme case, the whole score represents a single sound. We have to learn how to read music again, learn to recognize how a seemingly indivisible sonic entity can really be constructed by a whole set of musical symbols—the different pitches, accompanied by dynamics markings, timbral instructions, and so on—representing only various moments within the evolution of that sound. Scelsi’s intuitive grasp of acoustics is remarkable. He exploits, probably unconsciously, acoustic phenomena such as transients, beats, the width of the critical band, etc.
In the pieces for solo strings, Scelsi frequently calls for a scordatura which makes it possible to play the same pitch (or pitches separated by very small intervals) on all four strings in the same position. This makes it possible to thicken the sound and to produce beats and micro-fluctuations that enrich the instrumental timbre. We can make a distinction between two types of detailed work with timbre. The first type acts directly on the sound source: the placement of the bow, the choice of string, the precise description of dynamics and graininess, mutes (conventional or newly invented), nasal vowels, etc. The second type is a kind of additive synthesis. I use this technical term intentionally, rather than speaking of ‘orchestration’, since here the synthesis of timbre is often the essential compositional act. The composer is primarily interested in creating new sounds, not in dressing up pre-existing material.
This obviously leads to new demands on instrumentalists: on one hand, the mastery of precise playing technique, with micro-variations of articulation (tremolos, measured tremolos, tremolos on several strings), of timbre, of dynamics and pitch (trills, rhythmic trills, quarter-tone oscillations, small glissandi), and often the combination of all these techniques…
His melodic fluctuations and use of quarter-tones are often related to incantatory techniques (frequent returns to the same pitch, the repetition and variation of short formulas), as are his rhythms, which are organized around a more or less hidden periodicity. Scelsi readily acknowledges his attraction to rhythmic incantation, to rhythms ‘surging with vital dynamism’. […] The music is not just evocative of ceremony, but a dreamed reenactment of ancient music. The ‘Elsewhere’ is not only geographic, but also temporal. Many of Scelsi’s titles seem to refer to a mythic, Greco-Egyptian antiquity [ed. or in this case perhaps, the 400-million-year species lifetime of the ‘living fossil’ Cœlacanthus, a Late Cretaceous age fish, presumed extinct until discovered off the coast of South Africa in 1938].
- Tristan Murail, ‘Scelsi, De-Composer’, Contemporary Music Review, 2005.
György Kurtág (1926 - )
Ligatura-Message to Frances-Marie (The Answered Unanswered Question) Version 1 (1989)
for Cello (played with Frances-Marie Uitti’s double-bow technique), two Violins and Celesta
Keller Quartett; György Kurtág
Since the central issue in this piece does consist in a questioning process generating a dialogue, the title ‘answers’, responds to the famous Unanswered Question, the orchestral piece composed by Charles Ives in 1908.
Kurtag’s ploy is quite clearly not an attempt to comprehend the transcendentalist philosophical temper of Ives’s piece: it tends to contemplate the musical expression for a suspended answer - the question may be both answered and unanswered…
We might well be dealing with a question to which there is no thoroughly suitable answer; there is no real answer because, from an ironic and multiple viewpoint, the answer clears out, runs away and ultimately edges away from any conclusive ending up.
In a similar way, Kurtag’s answer will not be satisfying: undermined by this constructive antithesis as it is, the answer can merely reach a certain degree of validity: it can by no means reach out to truth itself; the radical and astounding antinomy inherent in its title is the hallmark of the concomitant prevalence of the answer and the non-answer. The dialogic form is doomed to hesitancy, vacillation, unending open-endedness. Now, does an unanswered question retain its authenticity? Must it renounce its status as a question or on the contrary does it take on a superior quality, which establishes its critical and philosophical validity?
A work of art must ever be in search of the ‘invisible answer,’ in quest of the truth which rules artistic creation. Ceaseless searching, lack of answer condition the existence of a work of art which lives and expands in the open-ended area (of meaning) discovered by the questioning process; and this precedes the answer and ultimately the bestowal of meaning. The ruling principles of Kurtag’s work might be labelled: link, homage, dialogue, memory, recall. The former are immediately perceptible in title and subtitle; the latter crop up in the sound-world of a piece which connects both with Ives’s problematics of the ‘musical question’ and with Frances-Marie [Uitti] whose technique influenced Kurtig’s writing. All these items are thus present in Ligatura-Message either on the level of the conditions of its make-up or on the level of its metatextual links. In point of fact, the dialogue is portrayed within the piece where question, answer, silence, doubt, hesitancy are formulated; but outside the piece, the link between the various instrumental exchanges also wants to be a ‘ligatura’ between the composer and the instrumentalist. So the interpreter alone can weave the ‘ligatura,’ the mere link
into a truly meaningful message.
- Tosser, ‘Links and ligatures: György Kurtág’s “Ligatura-Message to Frances-Marie” (“The Answered Unanswered Question”)’, Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 2002 [excerpts].
Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992)
Pièce pour piano et quatuor à cordes (1991)
for Piano and String Quartet
Quator Rosamonde; Yvonne Loriod
One of my students asked me one day for whom did I compose music. This kind of question cannot be answered. One could just as well ask: why do you live in the city? Why do you prefer the mountains to the city, or the sea to the mountains? Why are you married? Why aren’t you? Why do you have enemies? Why are you alive and not dead? etc. I tried to respond to my student through successive elimination: I do not compose for the general public, neither do I compose for a few initiates. Then – said the student – you compose for a single listener who is yourself? There I found myself very embarrassed. I compose for the pleasure of internal hearing at the precise moment of composition. And I arrive thus at a new, completely abstract rhythmic order. There is the heard rhythm, transmitted by the interpreter of the sound. There is the notated rhythm, conceived and internally unfolded as one runs down a few lines of a theological or philosophical work. There is even the rhythm conceived by an individual in one unique moment, solely for the intellectual pleasure of the number, an absolutely personal rhythm, like prayer – and incommunicable.
One last word: the creator of rhythms has an incontestable superiority over the hearer and over the reader. Bergson says quite justly, “every number is one, but this unity is that of a sum… The idea of numbers implies the simple intuition of a multiplicity of parts or unities which are absolutely similar to each other.” (Données immédiates) To appreciate a duration, however long, the listener must be familiar with the unified value that can divide it into equal parts: this unified value is imposed by the author. If it is imposed before, all is easy. If it is imposed after, a considerable effort of memory is necessary on the part of the listener. For the reader, the possibility of going back, of repeating a passage at will, of consulting the preceding context and following it, suppresses a large part of the problem. The unity of value remains imposed upon it. The creator chooses the division at the same time as the sum, the parts and the same time as the unity: his pleasure depends on nothing but his own will. This is certainly the abstract and intellectual will of the Number; a unique ecstasy that surpasses the Quantitative Order to attain the grandest of all Rhythmic Orders; the distinct order of all times and of all rhythms that arranges itself around us; the distinct order of our physiological time, and even of the flow of our states of consciousness; an order absolutely independent of all sonorous phenomena that can be imposed upon us; a unique and singular order, without repetition and without recognition; a personal, intimate and incommunicable order that is a creation, a parturition, a ceaselessly renewed flower: The Order of Interior Rhythm.
- Messiaen, Treatise on Rhythm, Colour and Ornithology, 65-7.
Milton Babbitt (1916-2011)
Arie da Capo (1974)
for Flute, Clarinet (doubling Bass Clarinet), Violin, Cello and Piano
The Group for Contemporary Music; Harvey Sollberger
I have often heard musicians speak of Babbitt’s music as music composed of fragments. If one hears the music as fragmented, one will certainly produce fragmented sounds. Each sound could be compared to a bolt or screw or sprocket in a great machine, having no awareness beyond its immediate function. In complex music such as Babbitt’s, which is filled with an enormous amount of local detail, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. […] The work is a polyphonic web of independent lines, but the lines all work hand in hand to create a flowing and graceful piece of music.
- Scotto, ‘Preparing a perfomance of Babbitt’s Arie da Capo’, Perspectives of New Music, 1988.
It often has been remarked that only in politics and the “arts” does the layman regard himself as an expert, with the right to have his opinion heard. In the realm of politics he knows that this right, in the form of a vote, is guaranteed by fiat. Comparably, in the realm of public music, the concertgoer is secure in the knowledge that the amenities of concert going protect his firmly stated “I didn’t like it” from further scrutiny. Imagine, if you can, a layman chancing upon a lecture on “Pointwise Periodic Homeomorphisms.” At the conclusion, he announces: “I didn’t like it.” Social conventions being what they are in such circles, someone might dare inquire: “Why not?” Under duress, our layman discloses precise reasons for his failure to enjoy himself; he found the hall chilly, the lecturer’s voice unpleasant, and he was suffering the digestive aftermath of a poor dinner. His interlocutor understandably disqualifies these reasons as irrelevant to the content and value of the lecture, and the development of mathematics is left undisturbed. If the concertgoer is at all versed in the ways of musical lifesmanship, he also will offer reasons for his “I didn’t like it” - in the form of assertions that the work in question is “inexpressive,” “undramatic,” “lacking in poetry,” etc., etc., tapping that store of vacuous equivalents hallowed by time for: “I don’t like it, and I cannot or will not state why.” The concertgoer’s critical authority is established beyond the possibility of further inquiry. Certainly he is not responsible for the circumstance that musical discourse is a never-never land of semantic confusion, the last resting place of all those verbal and formal fallacies, those hoary dualisms that have been banished from rational discourse. Perhaps he has read, in a widely consulted and respected book on the history of music, the following: “to call him (Tchaikovsky) the ‘modern Russian Beethoven’ is footless, Beethoven being patently neither modern nor Russian…” Or, the following, by an eminent “nonanalytic” philosopher: “The music of Lourie’ is an ontological music … It is born in the singular roots of being, the nearest possible juncture of the soul and the spirit…” How unexceptionable the verbal peccadilloes of the average concertgoer appear beside these masterful models. Or, perhaps, in search of “real” authority, he has acquired his critical vocabulary from the pronouncements of officially “eminent” composers, whose eminence, in turn, is founded largely upon just such assertions as the concertgoer has learned to regurgitate. This cycle is of slight moment in a world where circularity is one of the norms of criticism. Composers (and performers), wittingly or unwittingly assuming the character of “talented children” and “inspired idiots” generally ascribed to them, are singularly adept at the conversion of personal tastes into general principles. Music they do not like is “not music,” composers whose music they do not like are “not composers.”
- Babbitt, ‘Who cares if you listen?’ in High Fidelity, 1958.
My title for the article [cited above] was ‘The Composer as Specialist,’ not thereby identifying that role of the composer in which he necessarily revelled, but in which, necessarily, he found himself. The editor, without my knowledge and - therefore - my consent or assent, replaced my title by the more “provocative” one: ‘Who Cares if You Listen?’ a title which reflects little of the letter and nothing of the spirit of the article. For all that the true source of that offensively vulgar title has been revealed many times, in many ways, even - eventually - by the offending journal itself, I still am far more likely to be known as the author of “Who Cares if You Listen?” than as the composer of music to which you may or may not care to listen.
- Babbitt, ‘A Life of Learning’, Charles Homer Haskins Lectures, 1991.
ed: Interestingly, Babbitt also admits to having met Albert Einstein on a number of occasions and having taught an analysis of the popular jazz standard All the Things You Are to a harmony class.