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Anna D’errico – pianist
Alex Huddleston – assistant
This video was uploaded with permission from Alex Huddleston
The opening bars of the 1950 Sonate für Violine und Klavier by Bernd Alois Zimmermann act as a launching pad for an invigorating first movement of Bartókian dimensions. The second movement, though filled with fluttering high notes, is a rather brooding affair and lays its patchwork carefully. The final movement is an exercise in urgent virtuosity, ending with a most unforgettable trill and flourish, as if signing an enormous document with a quill of sound.
Performed by Carolin Widmann (violin) and Simon Lepper (piano).
Bernd Aloïs Zimmermann‘s definitive statement was Requiem für einen jungen dichter (Requiem for a Young Poet, 1969-1969), a massive requiem scored for three choruses, soprano, and bass soloists with speaking parts assigned to actors and persons within the chorus, organ, electronic tapes, a jazz combo, and an orchestra of Straussian proportions. Working with a multiplicity of texts, Zimmermann originally had planned to limit the words used to those of young poets who had committed suicide, for example, the revolutionary Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Zimmermann ultimately found himself opening up to all kinds of verbal sources in multiple languages; political speeches, passages from the Latin Vulgate, the voices of Chairman Mao, Hitler, and even a snatch of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” What Zimmermann constructed in the end was a powerful requiem not just addressed to the ill-fated poets, but to the twentieth century as a whole and its crisis of media overload in what is now called “data smog.”
Although Requiem für einen jungen dichter was instantly hailed as a masterwork upon its premiere in 1969, and is referred to in literature about contemporary music as a major achievement, it has nevertheless long remained one masterpiece that nobody could hear. A limited edition LP of the premiere was pressed up and sold as a fundraising item for charities; a CD version of this performance was released at one time by Wergo, but for some reason seems impossible to obtain. Working with a consortium of Dutch institutions, including the Dutch Catholic Radio Broadcasting Organization, the Kunststiftung NRW, and others, Cybele Records has produced a stereo multichannel, surround sound super audio CD of the Requiem, drawing from a rare performance given in Haarlem in 2005 and led by conductor Bernhard Kontarsky.
One astounding aspect of Requiem für einen jungen dichter is that it isn’t in the least dated; it sounds like what an avant-garde composer might do in 2008 if he or she had access to such enormous resources and artistic ambition as Zimmermann. The surround sound is terrific in projecting the various voices in the tapes into all the directions Zimmermann intends; speaking voices from tape and live voices from the stage mesh together in a blend that is effective and terrifying in its dense web of controlled confusion. When the three choruses are all given to yelling at once, the very sound of it sends chills up one’s spine. All of the spoken material is included in the booklet, reproducing Zimmermann’s layout of paragraphs of multilingual text side by side and matched to time points in the performance, though this is rendered in print so tiny one may need a magnifying glass; several score pages are likewise reproduced, plus a diagram of the performance and numerous photographs. Cybele’s effort on behalf of Zimmermann is truly comprehensive and impressive and restores to twenty-first-century listeners this great, gigantic work that served as Bernd Zimmermann’s final testament.
[Dedicated to S.K.]
Water Music, for magnetic tape (1960)
A half-century ago in Japan, during the period in which the terms “mixed-media” and “interculturalism” were rarely used, the Japanese composer Tôru Takemitsu (1930-1996) and the outstanding Noh performer and theorist Hisao Kanze (1925-1978) undertook a collaborative project that aimed to create an original musical theater style by combining electroacoustic music and Noh choreography. This mixed-media and intercultural piece was Water Music (1960), the first electroacoustic composition for a Noh performance or, in other words, the first Noh-theatricalization of electroacoustic music.
Instead of using sounds recorded in a Noh performance, for Water Music Takemitsu utilized almost only recorded sounds of water droplets. Some sounds in the piece retain the identity of water drops, due to a lesser degree of modification, i.e. “raw” use of the recorded sounds. In contrast, other sounds with a greater degree of modification have distinct sonic characteristics similar to those of Tsuzumi, a traditional Japanese percussion instrument used in the Noh performance. The sound structure as a whole is immune to the idea of sound density; on the contrary, it creates an impression of a non- metrical, quasi-pointillist form. The irregular occurrences of silence with irregular durations along with the oscillation of Klangfarben between the concrete and the abstract sounds generate unique musical tensions. For this idiosyncratic soundscape Kanze composed original Noh choreography. Excluding the literariness and emotional elements that were typical for traditional Noh play, his performance at the 1960 premiere demonstrated a high degree of clearness and purity, which resulted from his thorough interpretation of the music.
The concurrent presentations of the placidity of the tape music and the various movements of the Noh choreography created a distinctive visual-sound space and the tension within. A further implication is that the musical-theatrical tension was derived also from the collision between different artistic disciplines as well as different cultural components. This particular collision, instead of the smooth integration, was the product of the aesthetic principle of Takemitsu and Kanze. This, however, also raises the question of what essentially the two artists’ aesthetic was and why the new approach to theatricalization of electroacoustic music was necessary. Bearing this question in mind, this paper contextualizes the aesthetic spring head of Water Music in interdisciplinary and intercultural terms, rather than compositional-theoretical. The study seeks to explore how electroacoustic music, as a specific realm of postwar new music, affected the composer’s and the Noh performer’s conception of cultural identity in the context of the massive mixture of traditional and imported cultures in Japan. –Makoto Mikawa
Art by Eric Zener
Metastasis or Metastaseis (“dialectic transformations”), is an orchestral work by Iannis Xenakis, a Greek composer-architect and a major figure in the postwar development of musical modernism worldwide. He is particularly remembered for the pioneering use of stochastic mathematical techniques in his compositions, including probability (Maxwell-Boltzmann kinetic theory of gases, aleatory distribution of points on a plane, minimal constraints, Gaussian distribution, Markov chains), game theory, group theory, Boolean algebra and Brownian motion.
Metastasis was inspired by Einstein’s view of time (a function of matter & energy) and structured on mathematical ideas by Xenakis’s colleague Le Corbusier. The 1st and 3rd movements don’t have a melodic theme to hold them together, but rather depend on the strength of this conceptualization of time. The 2nd movement does have some sort of melodic element. A fragment of a 12-tone row is used, with durations based on the Fibonacci sequence (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34…)
The preliminary sketch for Metastasis was in graphic notation looking more like a blueprint than a musical score, showing graphs of mass motion and glissandi like structural beams of the piece, with sound frequencies on one axis and time on the other. In this video I tried to display this by presenting the frequency spectrum (0-20.000Hz) of the piece and how Xenakis actually “drew” music.
SWF Symphony Orchestra
Hans Rosbaud, conductor