Giacinto Scelsi – Aitsi for amplified piano (1974)

In 1974 Scelsi employed the piano for the last time when he created Aitsi for amplified piano and To the Master (two improvisations in collaboration with Victoria Parr) for cello and piano. Assuming a special position within Scelsi’s compositional output, his works for piano shed not only light on his outstanding pianistic talent and his abilities as an improviser, but they indicate major changes in his compositional development. Twelve-tone procedures in his early piano works reveal the influence of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. In his search of the “depth” of sound and its microtonal qualities, the piano with its half-tone step limitation could no longer correspond to his artistic ideas; and as a consequence he stopped composing for this instrument in 1956. However, Scelsi did not discard the piano, which had served as one of his imperative composing aids since the mid-forties. Instead, he employed the “ondiolina,” an electric keyboard instrument which made possible quarter-tone differentiation. Aitsi, Scelsi’s last work for amplified piano solo of 1974, in which the sustained pitches are distorted, incidentally originated due to a malfunction of his tape recorder. It was ultimately arranged for string quartet in 1985. [Source]

[via Thomas Bjørnseth on ATONALITY.NET]

Giacinto Scelsi – Trio for Strings (1951)

From the late 1970s, he met several leading interpreters who have promoted his music all over the world and gradually opened the gates to wider audiences, such as the Arditti String Quartet, the cellist Frances-Marie Uitti, the pianists Yvar Mikhashoff and Marianne Schroeder. Scelsi was a friend and a mentor to Alvin Curran and other expatriate American composers such as Frederic Rzewski who lived in Rome during the 1960s (Curran, 2003, in NewMusicBox). Scelsi also collaborated with other American composers including John Cage, Morton Feldman, and Earle Brown who visited him in Rome. Alvin Curran recalled that: “Scelsi … came to all my concerts in Rome even right up to the very last one I gave just a few days before he died. This was in the summer time, and he was such a nut about being outdoors. He was there in a fur coat and a fur hat. It was an outdoor concert. He waved from a distance, beautiful sparking eyes and smile that he always had, and that’s the last time I saw him” (Ross, 2005).

[via Lars Top-Galia]

George Crumb – Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) (1971)

Three masked players: electric flute, electric cello, and amplified piano.

First performed by the New York Camerata at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. – 17 March 1972.

Introduction text by George Crumb himself:

Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale), composed in 1971 for the New York Camerata, is scored for flute, cello and piano (all amplified in concert performance). The work was inspired by the singing of the humpback whale, a tape recording of which I had heard two or three years previously. Each of the three performers is required to wear a black half-mask (or visor-mask). The masks, by effacing the sense of human projection, are intended to represent, symbolically, the powerful impersonal forces of nature (i.e. nature dehumanized). I have also suggested that the work be performed under deep-blue stage lighting.

The form of Voice of the Whale is a simple three-part design, consisting of a prologue, a set of variations named after the geological eras, and an epilogue.

The opening Vocalise (marked in the score: “wildly fantastic, grotesque”) is a kind of cadenza for the flutist, who simultaneously plays his instrument and sings into it. This combination of instrumental and vocal sound produces an eerie, surreal timbre, not unlike the sounds of the humpback whale. The conclusion of the cadenza is announced by a parody of the opening measures of Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra.

The Sea-Theme (“solemn, with calm majesty”) is presented by the cello (in harmonics), accompanied by dark, fateful chords of strummed piano strings. The following sequence of variations begins with the haunting sea-gull cries of the Archezoic (“timeless, inchoate”) and, gradually increasing in intensity, reaches a strident climax in the Cenozoic (“dramatic, with a feeling of destiny”). The emergence of man in the Cenozoic era is symbolized by a partial restatement of the Zarathustra reference.

The concluding Sea-Nocturne (“serene, pure, transfigured”) is an elaboration of the Sea-Theme. The piece is couched in the “luminous” tonality of B major and there are shimmering sounds of antique cymbals (played alternately by the cellist and flutist). In composing the Sea-Nocturne I wanted to suggest “a larger rhythm of nature” and a sense of suspension in time. The concluding gesture of the work is a gradually dying series of repetitions of a 10-note figure. In concert performance, the last figure is to be played “in pantomime” (to suggest a diminuendo beyond the threshold of hearing!); for recorded performances, the figure is played as a “fade-out”. [Source]

Dolce Suono Trio – Mimi Stillman, flute, Yumi Kendall, cello, Charles Abramovic, piano – perfoms George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) at Haverford College, PA (October, 2007).

Claude Debussy – Syrinx for solo flute (1913)

Syrinx is a piece of music for solo flute which Claude Debussy wrote in 1913. It was the first significant piece for solo flute after the Sonata in A min composed by C. P. E. Bach exactly 150 years before (1763), and it is the first such solo composition for the modern Böhm flute, perfected in 1847. It is commonly considered to be an indispensable part of any flautist’s repertoire. Many musical historians believe that “Syrinx”, which gives the performer generous room for interpretation and emotion, played a pivotal role in the development of solo flute music in the early twentieth century. Some say “Syrinx” was originally written by Debussy without barlines or breath marks. The flautist Marcel Moyse may have later added these, and most publishers publish Moyse’s edition. “Syrinx” was written as incidental music to the uncompleted play Psyché by Gabriel Mourey. It was intended to be performed offstage during the play, and was originally called “Flûte de Pan”. Since one of Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis had already been given that title, however, it was given its final name in reference to the myth of the amorous pursuit of the nymph Syrinx by the god Pan.The piece is dedicated to the flautist Louis Fleury. Syrinx has also been transposed and performed on the saxophone. It quickly became a piece of standard literature for the saxophone, and has been recorded on both the alto and soprano saxophones.

György Ligeti – Requiem (1935)

By Jeffrey Bryant

Ligeti’s Requiem was made infamous by one man. Despite the success and the sales that this brought Ligeti, Stanley Kubrick was sued by his beneficiary. The reason for this is that in “2001 A Space Odyssey”, Stanley Kubrick had used Ligeti’s music as part of the soundtrack, but had neither asked the composer’s permission, nor did he later offer a royalty for its use until he was sued. Curiously, and despite its immense popularity at the time, this is a difficult piece to listen to at home. There are a couple of reasons for this, though I suggest a solution here.

Artistes : Barbara Hannigan (soprano), Virpi Räisänen-Midth (mezzo-soprano), Maîtrise de Radio France, Sofi Jeanin (direction maîtrise), Choeur de Radio France, Michel Tranchant (chef de choeur), Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Esa-Pekka Salonen (direction)

Samuel Barber – First Essay for Orchestra op. 12 (1937)

Of the handful of 20th century American composers rightly esteemed as genuine practitioners of Romantic compositional styles, Samuel Barber is quite possibly the prime exemplar. Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1910, Barber was the prototypical musical wunderkind, setting to work on his first opera at the age of nine. In 1924, he became one of the first students to enroll in the now-renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and a number of his most popular and enduring works, such as The School for Scandal Overture and Dover Beach for voice and string quartet, were written while Barber was still a student at the Curtis Institute.

Barber’s Essay for Orchestra (later re-titled First Essay for Orchestra following returns to the form in 1942 and 1978) was written in 1937, ostensibly at the behest of Arturo Toscanini, and given its premiere the following year, along with Barber’s Adagio for Strings. The Italian cellist-turned-conductor was an unusually keen champion of Barber’s music, which contributed significantly to the young composer’s early fame and international recognition. The attention and high praise of Artur Rodzinski and Ralph Vaughan Williams also helped to ensure Samuel Barber’s early place among the pantheon of distinguished American composers.

The musical “essay,” a form of Barber’s own rather clever invention and one with which he had some previous success over a decade earlier in his Three Essays for Piano, is a medium much like its more familiar literary counterpart. As with a written essay, the idea behind a musical essay is the development of a complex, well-reasoned, thoughtful work drawn from a single melodic thesis.

The Essay begins with divided violas and cellos gently stating the work’s main theme in a mournful, languid Andante sostenuto. This same theme is soon taken over by upper strings, while briefly joined by the horns, and is only partially developed by an iridescent brass choir. A short-lived animated section is heralded by oboes, clarinets, horns, and trumpets followed by a restatement of the first theme, this time by the full orchestra. The transition to the work’s frenzied middle section comes as lower strings offer counterpoint to the horn’s repetition of the earlier theme. This middle section contains some of the Essay’s more intricate and animated writing, with strings playing light, nimble rhythmic figures in triple meter evocative of a symphonic scherzo. Soon, woodwinds and piano mimic this pattern while strings accompany with pizzicato quarter notes before returning to the figure they first introduced. Much momentum builds as the piece rushes to an exasperated climax then quickly tapers off. The work ends with a highly unsettling “question” posited by a trio of trumpets and tentatively answered by hushed violins set against a backdrop of grumbling timpani. [Source]

– J. Anthony McAlister is a cellist and writer currently at work on a fictional account of the abdication of King Edward VIII.

Marcel Dupré – Symphonie-Passion (1924)

Marcel Dupré was born in Rouen (Normandy, France). Born into a musical family, he was a child prodigy. His father Albert Dupré was organist in Rouen and a friend of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, who built an organ in the family house when Marcel was 14 years old. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1904, where he studied with Louis Diémer and Lazare Lévy (piano), Alexandre Guilmant and Louis Vierne (organ), and Charles-Marie Widor (fugue and composition). In 1914, Dupré won the Grand Prix de Rome for his cantata, Psyché. In 1926, he was appointed professor of organ performance and improvisation at the Paris Conservatoire, a position he held until 1954. Dupré became famous for performing more than 2000 organ recitals throughout Australia, the United States, Canada and Europe, which included a recital series of 10 concerts of the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1920 (Paris Conservatoire) and 1921 (Palais du Trocadéro), both performed entirely from memory. The sponsorship of an American transcontinental tour by the John Wanamaker department store interests rocketed his name into international prominence. Dupré’s “Symphonie-Passion” began as an improvisation in a department store on Philadelphia’s Wanamaker Organ.

Anton Webern conducts Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (“To the Memory of an Angel”)

Alban Berg‘s Violin Concerto was written in 1935 (the score is dated August 11, 1935). It is probably Berg’s best-known and most frequently performed instrumental piece. The piece stemmed from a commission from the violinist Louis Krasner. When he first received the commission, Berg was working on his opera Lulu, and he did not begin work on the concerto for some months. The event that spurred him into writing was the death by polio of 18-year-old Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler (once Gustav Mahler’s wife) and Walter Gropius. Berg set Lulu to one side to write the concerto, which he dedicated “To the memory of an angel.” Berg worked on the piece very quickly, completing it within a few months; it is thought that his working on the concerto was largely responsible for his failing to complete Lulu before his death on December 24, 1935 (the violin concerto was the last work that Berg completed). The work was premiered after the composer’s death, with Krasner playing the solo part, on April 19, 1936, in Palau de la Música Catalana, Barcelona. British premiere: May 1, 1936, London, at an invitation-only concert. Krasner was again the soloist, and Anton Webern conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra. This performance was recorded on acetate discs, which survived in Krasner’s collection and were later released on CD:

[Dedicated to Jacob Grønlykke]

Berliner Philharmoniker broadcasting live to cinemas all over Europe

In the new season, you have as many as three opportunities to experience the Berliner Philharmoniker live in a cinema near you. Be there when the orchestra continues its Mahler cycle with the “Symphony of a Thousand” conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, when Christian Thielemann conducts Anton Bruckner’s “Romantic” Symphony, and when star soloists Magdalena Kožená and Albrecht Mayer make guest appearances at the Philharmonie. Tickets are available online and directly at the cinema. [Source]

Henryk Górecki – Symphony Nº3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) (1991)

The Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Polish: Symfonia pieśni żałosnych), is a symphony in three movements composed by Henryk Górecki in Katowice, Poland, between October and December 1976. The work is indicative of the transition between Górecki’s dissonant earlier manner and his more tonal later style. It was premièred on 4 April 1977, at the Royan International Festival, with Stefania Woytowicz as soprano and Ernest Bour as conductor. A solo soprano sings a different Polish text in each of the three movements. The first is a 15th-century Polish lament of Mary, mother of Jesus, the second a message written on the wall of a Gestapo cell during World War II, and the third a Silesian folk song of a mother searching for her son killed in the Silesian uprisings. The first and third movements are written from the perspective of a parent who has lost a child, and the second movement from that of a child separated from a parent. The dominant themes of the symphony are motherhood and separation through war. Until 1992, Górecki was known only to connoisseurs, primarily as one of several composers responsible for the postwar Polish music renaissance. That year, Elektra-Nonesuch released a recording of the 15-year-old symphony that topped the classical charts in Britain and the United States. To date, it has sold more than a million copies, vastly exceeding the expected lifetime sales of a typical symphonic recording by a 20th-century composer. This success, however, has failed to generate interest in Górecki’s other works.