Friday, October 1, 2010
Monday, January 5, 2009
John Cage had more ideas at breakfast than I have in a year.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 6:17 PM
Pieces Froides by Erik Satie: wandering, noodling, but interesting in an irritating way. I love a man who composed in a space so small he called it The Closet. He made his living accompanying singers which must have driven him crazy. He drank a lot. "Music by Satie lacks form." (Debussy) Duh... Le Piccadilly: Debussy stole this idea for his Golliwog's Cakewalk. Poudre d'or: catchy tune. Reverie du pauvre: long held chords, simple, goes nowhere (Is that the point?). Petite ouverture a danser: Gottshalk! "It's not a question of Satie's relevance. He's indispensable." (John Cage). For me, Erik Satie is like a pimple you just want to pick: irritating, not particularly pretty or well turned out but somehow memorable. Why? The father of minimalism. All Hail the genius Erik Satie!
I had originally applied to Juilliard because I heard Luciano Berio was teaching there (He left before I entered and I ended up with Roger Sessions and Elliott Carter, but that's another story). I've been a great Berio fan for years. Points on the curve to find is Berio's answer to the piano concerto. The piano has constant tremolos and fast figurations, unrelenting presto. Laborintus II is presto, jazz drumming, screaming text, sounds a little like La Dolce Vita, ends quietly, stops and starts and stops. Yet Serenata I is well written international dodecaphony I wouldn't want to hear more than once. Sequenza IV, a classic, as are all his Sequenzas. O King, classic, seminal work which still works. Sequenza for clarinet: less manic than Scelsi, more lyrical, wider range, chromatic scale up and down pp, very beautiful and very different from Carter and Babbitt's take on the instrument. Surprisingly, I don't think he uses multiphonics here. Who could not love the Folk Songs? I heard this in a chamber version, live. It was beautiful. Now, in the revised full orchestra version, it sounds heavy, almost too much for Berberian's voice. The tempos seem faster too. Still, Berio's a great orchestrator. Sequenza for violin solo: a beautiful piece, microtonality reminiscent to me of Scelsi. Corale: He dresses up Sequenza VIII. Labrintus, "composed on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of Dante's birth": eurotrash throws a party, everything but the kitchen sink yet well done, vintage Berio, very Italian. Rendering finishes Schubert well. Final comment: He creates a world.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 5:33 PM
Therese Raquin: I don't understand how Tobias Picker can set such mundane words. The characters kvetch and kvetch and kvetch, consumed with unattractive guilt. You don't get that in Italian opera.
Variations and Toccata by Anthony Newman. "I have attempted to write in a modern contrapuntal style." His Quintet is conservative, well written, occasionally brilliant, stylistically disunited, some beautiful complex chords, sometimes Ivesian, sometimes Messiaen. He taught a class on Bach which I attended at Juillliard which influenced me tremendously. He's a great, great organist.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 5:15 PM
The Wound Dresser: Whitman straight up. Great VC opening. Sanford Sylan has good diction. The orchestra sounds like background music from The English Patient. The Elliot Carter Syndrome: I know John Adams is an important composer and I really should like his music but I don't. Is it envy of his success? I must be missing something. Grand Pianola Music: Immensely popular glitsy Steve Reich take-off that works. Usual three sopranos providing "wordless harmony." I can't stop humming the theme from 32 Variations. He gave an interview on TV. I disagreed with everything he said even though what he said sounded so right and fashionable. I'm hopeless. He's successful. Time to work.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 5:04 PM
Bright Sheng's The Song of Majnun: great libretto, simple straightforward music that's perfect for the words. Reminiscent (in scale) of Lou Harrison's micro operas.
Dust, music and libretto by Robert Ashley: an array of soliloquies with a beat. Haunting. Atlanta, in English and Italian, same soliloquies over a steady beat but more singing (Italian pop). I like his libretto driven operas because I like his words.
Salvatore Martirano's O,O,O,O That Shakespearian Rag still holds up, I think. Written in 1959. I love his reference to the snoring in Wozzeck. I found fascinating his "last classically noted piece" the Octet. The Mass for a capella choir is attractively atonal, not dissonant, free atonality mostly.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 4:44 PM
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I've been listening to Bruckner's Fifth. I'm impressed by his use of strict repetition to achieve huge climaxes. He uses roving major chord harmonies like what I'm doing now. I don't know any composer who uses silence the way Bruckner does.
I listen to Webern. He, like Feldman, neutralizes the stress of dissonance by generally keeping to quiet sounds.
Weill's Seven Deadly Sins has the greatest cake walk ever: muted trumpets and strings. If more people wrote cake walks life would be much happier, I think.
And then there's Louis Andriessen: The Letters to Vermeer, The Death of a Composer. I remember the first time I heard these works. They struck me as a mighty wind. I had never heard such aggressive saxes, such sudden, unapologetic dead-silence. Singers sing ee on very high notes and they sound all right.
You learn all sorts of stupid things the more you write: practical things like how to get through a bad time when nothing comes, when to write and when not to write, etc. The main thing is just to keep going. Don't let the day get to you.
You need really big chunks of time every day otherwise it's really hard, at least for me, to see the work through to the end.
When I go to museums I think, "They did it. I can do it too." Seeing good art and listening to good music makes me feel less alone. I think, "I can go on."
I don't make art that's purposefully difficult. It's just that the expression of what I feel is often difficult to perform. I try to keep everything as simple as possible. The problem is that I can't make my expressions any simpler without denying their integrity. I think it was Einstein who said that everything should be as simple as possible but no simpler.
In the end, we can't alter who we are. We can't write someone else's music. We have to write the music we must write, for the good and the bad of it, and call it our own.
I think we live in a golden age of music. There's an embarrassment of great composers out there and hundreds of really good ones. There's so much beautiful music in the world, so many drunken sounds.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 11:42 PM
Hans Hofmann is right. Keep your eye on the practical things; do everything step by logical step. Then the big picture will naturally emerge.
If I like what I write then nothing else matters. Everyone can say they hate it and I don't care. But if I don't like what I write everybody can say they love it and I just throw it away. As it is, by the time anyone hears what I've written my view of the thing no longer matters. It's become an independent thing, something in the past. I say, “Let the piece seek its own audience.”
My palette's become much more consonant. The way I see it, life is stressful enough.
I agree with Wuorinen: Feldman does have a sensitive ear and an elegant harmonic sense. His beautiful sound environments slay me. I rate him very high. He goes into "dangerous territory" when he "lets things go." Every piece gradually unfolds each in its different way. He's all permutation and repetition. Each piece is a world. Vast stretches of pure color clean out my ears, set my internal musical compass aright. His economy challenges me to take out the inessentials in my own work.
He creates his forms by way of repetition, like a mosaic. Silence frames his marvelous array of color. Sometimes the silence is very long. I timed 2 minutes of room tone in For Philip Guston. That's either daring or stupid---I'm not sure which. The Second Quartet is transparent: often just one player at a time. In terms of orchestration, he's a master of making a lot out of a little, like Janecek. He strings chords together so it sounds like breathing or a heartbeat or a mantra. It all seems so simple but it's hard to get it right.
He uses the piano like a vibraphone and the vibe like a glock: high, pure sounds. That's why he likes the flute and the non vibrato soprano voice.
He was influenced by
The minor second is the pivotal Feldman interval--but at pp it appears to be a consonant: stress free.
"Up to an hour you think about form, but after an hour and a half it's scale. Form is easy---just the division of things into parts. But scale is another matter... Before, my pieces were like objects; now they're like evolving things." MF
If time were space Richard Serra could have said that--or Calder.
He died at 61. He wrote all his big orchestra stuff the last 5 years of his life.
"What is imminent...is neither the past nor the future but simply---the next ten minutes....We can go no further than that, and we need go no further." MF
But is that really true? And, if so, then what does it mean to create a large-form piece?
I have a new respect for Riegger. According to Babbitt's article On Having Been and Still Being an American Composer, Wallingford Riegger wouldn't shake Stravinsky's hand because he felt Stravinsky had been accorded unwarranted, undeserved publicity. He said that if it weren't for this "my friend John Jay Becker would be recognized as the great 20th century neo-classic composer." I’m inclined to agree. Even in the supposedly rarefied "serious music world" spin is everything.
I think that our perceptions of a work of art are really shaped by what we know about the artist. The same goes for performances.
I did listen to a little bit of Pauline Oliveros: Lear, Suiren and Ione. Her drone work is not only aurally rich but interesting. The through composed drone continually changes because it’s organic ie. it takes natural acoustic instruments to create the drone (in this case accordion, voice and/or a brass instrument) so the drone is constantly evolving. I rarely hear such complexity of timbre from a DJ just turning knobs. This is why I think that you can always tell natural sound no matter how neat the patch.
She also likes to work in cavernous spaces, which makes the master very wet. In this recording she works in a "cistern space" with a reputedly 45 second reverb, no slap echoes. Often the reverb exceeds direct sound (a "phase wash"). She calls the big hole a "unifying presence."
After going to a hundreds of hours of contemporary music concerts, after listening to hundreds of hours of music written today, after playing hours and hours and hours of new music schlock and some good stuff, in the end, the music I really like, the music that sticks in my mind with greatest pleasure, is the music I myself can hum. It's the Philip Glass pieces, the Steve Reich Pieces, the Berg Piano Sonata, all of Brahms, the Britten operas, Thomas Ades--this music I can hum; this music I can love.
I remember the "hooks" in Feldman’s works: the dramatic and poignant solo for boy soprano in Rothko Chapel; the descending glockenspiel line in Crippled Symmetry; the repeating melodies in the string quartets--these are the things I sing to myself when I'm riding my bicycle over the Williamsburg Bridge on a sunny morning.
But I'm tired, so tired, of music just being good. I want music that affects my heart. And I would like my own music to be thought of that way—and, perhaps, the best of what I’ve written is.
What amazes me about Brahms’ work is that you can sing any piece from beginning to end. That’s not an easy thing to do.
Really, what’s easier than to write a well constructed, unoriginal piece--ingenious mathematics, please! If it could all be done by a computer, why bother?
Just because a piece is written by means of some complex algorithm does not make it a complex piece. Just because the notation looks difficult, all full of impossible signs, doesn't make it a musically complex piece or even a musical one or even a piece that’s particularly difficult to play.
Look at Gregorian chant. Can you get any simpler? One line, flowing rhythm. Yet this treasure of monody is a marvel of complexity. If you think it’s easy to do, try writing it. To write a good cantus firmus is a hard, hard thing.
"Damien Hirst's 15 minutes of fame is officially ended." Found posted to the stairway of PS1. When I saw it I just had to smile. Wallingford Riegger would have approved.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 11:40 PM
The thing for me about microtonal music is this: when they play my music it's hard enough getting the instrumentalists to play in tune with only twelve notes to an octave. I don't see how my performers can manage any more than that many divisions.
Still, listening to The Delusion of the Fury once again, I am struck by his absolutely original vision. I saw it at the Japan House and was mesmerized by the beauty of it.
Harry Partch the man I deeply admire. What a life he had, on the edge! He went his own way. Now that's really hard.
When I first heard Scelsi I was struck: I had never heard music like this before. The way he winds his way with one line, the subtlety and variety within classic means!
Now I have to make a confession. I don't really like Elliott Carter's music.
I know I should and I feel tremendously guilty about it. I know that he is cultured, respected, held in awe, the grand old man of music, my very own teacher, the highly regarded composer of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, probably the greatest composer of his generation, respected by all---and yet, I'm ashamed to say, I get no pleasure from listening to him. I find his harmonic vocabulary dull, all the same. Yes, I know that's the point. I know his music is tasteful and erudite (I've studied the scores) but...what can I say? I'm a peasant.
I don't like the Minotaur. I don't like the Piano Sonata. I don't like his songs and I don't like his late stuff either, which I listen to with a great deal of respect, with tremendous admiration for his technique and compositional virtuosity....but also with angst and compunction. His new harmony book bores me, though I read it from cover to cover. His Flawed Words and Stubborn Sounds---please! though I've used all his techniques at one point or another in my life! Isn't that ungrateful? Oh, the guilt, guilt, guilt!
Posted by Andrew Violette at 11:37 PM
It is time to reassess Henry Cowell.
He used Arabian and Persian music long before Britten discovered the East.
He was the first to use strumming on the piano strings. (What young pianist hasn't played The Aeolian Harp?)
And he invented the tone cluster. (When Bartok heard the Sonata for Cello and Piano he asked H.C. for permission to use it.)
He was the first American composer to visit communist
He features rice bowls (predating Tan Dun) in his Varese-inspired complex of cross accents and its delicate xylophone solos in Ostinato Pianissimo.
There are multiple levels of simultaneous events throughout Polyphonica (1928! Are you listening Stockhausen--ites?).
I never realized how much early Carter owes to Cowell until I listened to the Quartet Romantica (1915!). Every voice has its own defining rhythm. ("Maintain the integrity of the line," says Elliott Carter). The counterpoint is Schoenbergian dissonant.
Is he the first American to do twelve tone? (see the epigrammatic Quartet Euphometric of 1916). His First String Quartet (1916) though, sounds to my ears like a more pedantic Alban Berg.
Webern conducted his music in 1932.
He developed the rhythmicon with Leon Theremin in 1931. Madame Longy would have gone wild with the polyrhythms.
In the 30s H.C was experimenting with music played in any order (Mosaic Quartet) long before it dawned on the well financed war-torn Europeans. He called it "a crazy quilt of patterns." His 26 Simultaneous Mosaics (1963) -- no full score, just a series of instrumental parts, played stop-and-start as each player is pleased to play, each player chooses the order of the movements as they please, each player is on his own-- with its shifting drones, tone clusters, atonal moto perpetuo -- is the direct ancestor of all Elliott Carter's music (though E.C. leaves nothing to chance) as well as my own Six Performances.
On the other hand, Suite for Wood Wind Quintet (1934) sounds to me like Virgil Thompson.
Likewise, the Movement for String Quartet (1928) comes right out of Carl Ruggles and Ruth Crawford Seeger.
In his percussion piece Return (1939) he's got delicate, ritualistic gongs (once again Tan Dun) and a human wail reminiscent of sirens used by
And yet, during the height of academic serialism in the early 1960s, he dared to be tonal in the Quartet for flute, oboe, cello and harp---years before Del Tredici. He was a pariah then and a laughingstock for having spent years in prison on a trumped-up charge that was cleared in 1941.
Persian Set (1959) is during his Lawrence of Arabia period. It uses a tax (a sort of Iranian mandaline).
His Hymn to a Fuguing Tune (1944) sounds like early Copland: beautiful modal
He predates the current rage of "eclecticism" in American Melting Pot (1940): Lutheran chorales, an African-American "air" that sounds like "Oklahoma" and reminiscent of William Grant Still, a funny take off on "An American in Paris" complete with wood block and jazz trumpet, a campy oriental riff on Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherazade, a Shostakovitch take off called Slavic Dance, a fast Latin with an added eighth note time signature like a Jamaican Rumba on Ecstasy.
His Adagio for string orchestra is not a lush remake of Samuel Barber but a single expressionistic line that curls along.
His songs are lovely. He wrote over 180 of them. The early ones are functionally tonal and beautiful. The ones in the 1930s are full of delicious tone clusters and piano strumming. They all have great texts: Maxwell Anderson, Ezra Pound, Shelly, Irish mythology, G.K. Chesterton, Edna St Vincent Millay, Mother Goose, Robert Frost---those were the pre-copyright-law days.
Alas! they languish. Paul Allen Levi, a colleague, premiered 3 Poems of Padraic Column in 1983---almost 30 years after they were written. They're all beautiful---the songs are a whole lot better than the Menotti sound-alikes that make the headlines.
"I want to live in the whole world of music," he said---and he did.
All hail to Henry Cowell---the American Father of us all.
Lou Harrison's Music for Violin with Various Instruments, European, Asian and African influenced both Terry Riley and Steve Reich. Part one features a great violin solo, an ersatz folk song over a sustained triad. Part three's two marimbas on a long pedal which almost reminds me of Steve Reich's Drumming.
Jahla (1972) has a strange Indian-Alberti bass in mixolydian mode. The idea of a drone played between notes of the melody was later stolen by Roberto Sierra.
Lou Harrison's Avalokiteshrara uses a Korean scale I'd like to use sometime (Eb F G Bb C, with F as the final). The mode is called "the delightful" and it is. The piece is a great combination of harp and tuned cymbal.
Music for Bill and Me (1967) is a long modal aria, an appealing folk tune.
I don't know what to say about Labyrinth #3. He uses every percussion on earth. It's a very funny piece.
Songs in the
His Serenade (1978) has a lovely 8 note mode I'd like to use (C C# E F# G A B). Turkish music with finger cymbals, etc in a funny sort of round. The last movement's like a strange Scarlatti sonata.
In Praise of Johnny Appleseed (1942)--love the wooden-flute chords. Henry Cowell thought the bamboo flute, pipe claves almost sounded like Harry Partch. I agree.
Aria in g minor (1942) is simplicity itself: flute and drone. Indian based, interesting.
He wrote a strange opera that's only50 minutes long but in six acts. Rapunzel uses a very small ensemble (violin, cello, piano, flute, percussion) and only 3 singers. It's got interesting recitative and is almost all a capella. It's serial but very melodic (
I would have liked to have seen his concerts with John Cage. His
George Antheil--now I really like his Parisian first string quartet and wish it was played more often. He was "the first American to be taken seriously" (Ezra Pound--it was the 20s). He studied with a pupil of Liszt as well as a young Ernst Bloch. Antheil claims the quartet sounds like a third rate Budapest String Orchestra but with its bi-polar, bi-tonal ostinati it's really a wow piece, viewed now, I think. In his neoclassic second string quartet chromatic melodies hover above non-functional triads (what I do now but he did it in 1927). It shows the Stravinskian roots of
Paul Creston's Symphony #3 is a lovely work, which shows his love of Bach and Chopin, lyrical and richly scored. He was a dance class pianist like me. His wife was a dancer. I can see him at Martha Graham banging
out the beat. Sensibly, he hated Mahler. Sadly, he was considered outdated during the 12 tone craze of the 50s and 60s.
His Partita for flute, violin and strings is lovely as is his Out of the Cradle and Invocation and Dance , with their great orchestral colors.
Of the Roy Harris, William Schuman, Howard Hanson, Walter Piston crowd, Paul Creston, I think, was probably the most original.
I very much like Copland's Piano Variations. There's a good Easley Blackwood performanace of it, though the the studio piano is dreadfully out of tune. His Old America Songs inspired me to write my own American Songs for woodwinds. There's a great banjo melody in Boatman's Dance by the man who wrote
Praises and Prayers, by Virgil Thompson, is a simple, soft, perfect rendition.
I do love his operas. If you want to study American English prosody you could do worse than look to Virgil Thompson. He always said that if you set the text correctly the meaning will take care of itself. Much of his writing consists entirely of arpeggios and scales (Phillip Glass). Who writes songs like Virgil Thompson? There's the pounding piano of Tiger!Tiger! and the Satie-derived songs as well as the German-lied period songs, the parlor songs and the ones on operatic recitatives. Beautiful stuff.
And, of course, he was a great critic. "When a first rate work of art becomes a classic because it is accepted the only thing that is important from then on to the majority of the acceptors...is that it is so wonderfully beautiful." VT
I find Michael Colgrass very appealing. In his Fantasy Variations (1961) he treats the percussion in an exceptionally lyric way. I heard an electronic piece of his when I was a student which still haunts me. He should be better known.
And then there's Robert Helps. He invited me to his house in
Sessions needs a revival. When He was writing the cantata he could be seen walking the hallways of Juilliard with a copy of Verdi's Falstaff under his arm. He was a student's age when he thought about Lilacs, then studying with Horatio Parker or maybe Ernst Bloch. I remember the first performance of When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd. "But for the opera I could never have written Leaves of Grass," wrote Walt Whitman. So it makes sense that Session had opera on his mind when he wrote the music.
John Harbison said that early Sessions is like Stravinsky but without the ironic distance. It's richer in texture, stockier. Sessions had tons of students and he was extremely influential that way. He always taught the long line and the dense, active texture which is still with me today.
His latest works are very compressed with sometimes of brilliant orchestral color. There's a birdsong in the third movement of Lilacs, a hermit thrush (flute,piccolo and xylophone), but it doesn't sound anything like Messiaen.
Helps recorded the Sessions piano sonatas masterfully.
Nearly half of his work (the best, I think) was done after he retired from teaching.
Conlin Nancarrow influenced me tremendously as a student. His first string quartet is an elegant pre-player-piano work reminiscent of early Carter (They were good friends. Carter spoke to me about Nancarrow on several occasions, but who influenced whom?) The last movement of the string quartet is a killer: lots of fortissimo pizzicatti and a great presto of huge tessitura.
Of course everybody's heard his player piano work: vintage, very clean. There's a live version out by Joanna MacGregor playing the 11th study. There had to have been major splicing but the effect is magical. I like Thomas Ades' Nancarrow and, of course, Ursula Oppens is the prototype. He covered the market in canons long before Gloria Coates.
Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium is the prototype for all the modern American operas of the verisimo school, a little bit of Puccini, a little bit of Britten. He sets English well enough to study. He makes the most of
a small ensemble (17 in the Medium). His libretti are great. I love the ending of the Medium. Amahl has some glorious set pieces too. In The Telephone solo strings do the work of an orchestra---which is truly tricky to write. The Ricercare and Tocatta for piano sounds like a Busoni transcription of Bach. The Canti della Contananza are quite beautiful, lyrical, well crafted.
Menotti doesn't aim for the heights: he keeps it small but perfect. I can't do this. Like Puccini he doesn't push the limits of the voice. He's very careful in his approach to the text. No wonder singers love his work. So many have imitated him---never as well.
Charles Ives's songs are well known. Ramey sings them with great feeling. You've got to love somebody who writes a quodlibet of 25 melodies. Awesome! His piano sonatas and symphonies influenced my writing. I wish I could have met him. He would have given me good advice. His Study 20 in ragtime is hilarious. And, yes, he finally got the Pulitzer, but only after he changed it to make it nice.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 11:35 PM
The Howard Hanson First Symphony, which is Americanized Sibelius; the Romantic Second Symphony; and the Dvorakian Third are all, to these ears, soporific. By the time he wrote the Sixth Symphony he was already considered something of an anachronism. That doesn't matter. Richard Strauss was considered an anachronism by the press when he wrote his later work. What does matter though is Howard Hanson was not very good at his anachronistic writing.
Insert: old fashioned and good, not a bad thing to try for. See J S Bach.
Roy Harris' When Johnny Comes Marching Home is a funny potboiler, an American Wellington's Victory, much more fun than the staid, boring Epilogue for JFK, which has I-Am-An-Official-Composer written all over it.
Walter Piston's only claim to fame is his his Orchestration book, now dated but still beloved, and the fact that he's a link to Paul Dukas. My favorite quote of his, "The major problem for the composer must be to preserve and develop his individuality."
Wallingford Riegger's Concerto for Piano and Woodwind Quintet almost reminds me of Russian Constructivist music. The bright orchestration, jazzy 12 tone tangos can't hide that Henry Cowell did it years back and better. Still, he was one of the first Americans to write 12 tone. Like Creston, he was a Martha Graham fan and did his time in dance classes (as did we all!). His 3 Canons for Woodwinds (1930) leads directly to Wuorinen. The New and Old (1947), 12 short piano pieces, are a link to Ligeti's piano work. He wrote various duos which, I think, deserve a second hearing.
I like her songs, dissonant, Ivesian, text by Carl Sandburg, but otherwise Ruth Crawford Seeger bores me to tears. Babbitt stole from her Piano Study when he wrote his more-or-less Minute Waltz. Her husband was both her teacher and Henry Cowell's. She was the original folky: her stepson was the great Pete Seeger and, without him, we'd have no Bob Dylan.
It's hard to believe Edmund Rubbra wrote the Advent Cantata, the spitting image of Elgar, in 1968. And where would Part be without Song of the Soul, a Skriabin-esque extravaganza with
I happen to like Belshezar's Feast, having played it in high school, but Wiliam Walton's Variations on a theme by Hindemith does go on and on.
Ernst Bacon wrote over 250 art songs and some of them are quite good. His great influence was Schubert.
Ernst Bloch, my teacher's teacher, may not be as intellectual as Carter, nor as uncompromising as Sessions but Sessions took Bloch's long line and his rhythmic fluidy and made something of it--more echt.
Anyone who writes F***Y**! on a grant application automatically gets my vote. Ralph Shapey liked Sessions, Carter, Boulez, Perle and writes like them but with an interesting twist. I like the way he uses timpani as a cantus firmus. His sometimes brutal dodecaphony reminds me sometimes of
Douglas Moore's Ballad of Baby Joe : "Ever Yours" is a beautiful aria. His is a combination of lyrical Copland, Broadway and homespun Virgil Thompson. Tobias Picker's Emmerline owes everything to Douglas Moore.
Lastly, Ben Johnston's 3 Chinese Lyrics: Partch used the Ezra Pound translation but he left three poems not put to music and they are the ones
Posted by Andrew Violette at 11:33 PM
Miguel del Aguila's Pacific Serenade: at its best it's a quiet, delicate, sensuous clarinet tango which reminds me of the clarinet solo in Verdi's Forza. His blues is beautiful functionally tonal writing.
Jehan Alain wrote the Ballade of the Hanged Man early in life but he died in WWII at the age of 29. He might have become something because the Ballade is interesting.
La Citta by Alfonso Belfiore is continuous but interesting white noise (the best part of the piece) over which is a pointillistic improv of acoustics (including an intriguing conchshell).
Karl Birgen Blondahl wrote a Pastoralsvif for string orchestra with a natural melodic line like Menotti. He was the leader of the Monday Group (
Paul Bowles was music critic for the Herald Tribune as well as a novelist. He was friends with everyone. He wrote music for silent films as well as Welles' Mercury Theatre. His Scenes D'Anabase is very precious and very French. His 2 Pianos, winds and percussion concerto is pure Bernstein's Candide: rumba ostinati, chinoiserie, jazz. He wrote a nice Night Waltz that would make a good encore piece on a piano recital. If only he had spent less time socializing and more time writing...
Theodore Chanler's 8 Epigrams is understated, naturalistic and economical. Bloch was his teacher. Sanford Sylvan sings these lovely songs.
I don't know what to make of Barney Childs. His Take 5 is an early chance piece. The score is a set of cards with instruction: "pause" "change timbre" "fluttertongue" etc. A Music that it Might Be for clarinet and pre-recorded clarinet predates Steve Reich's counterpoint series. At one point the two lines are tuned an intriguing quarter tone apart in an isorhythmic canon. Grande Fantasie de Concert is a parody on atonal clarinet solo pieces (Carter? Babbitt?). London Rice Wine must be a take off on Yoko Ono. Written for any instrument, the score is "Play a pitch. Bend it a little...then let it come back. Stop it harshly" etc. Pastoral is a clarinet modal improv. Instant Winners is a solo clarinet piece with various squeaks, speaking, multiphonics, etc. to be played in any order. Changes for 3 Oboes is just that" ringing changes for oboes. Quartet for Bassoons: how could it not be pure Hitchcock with that combo? The Golden Bubble is the only piece for solo Eb contrabass sarusaphone I know of. He wrote voluminously on new music. He studied with Carter and Copland. I admire his wealth of ideas--although I'm not sure if they're musical ones or merely novelty ideas.
Bernard Herrman's Etudes is his Elgar Enigma Variations. If he sounds like background music to Vertigo it could be because he really did write (very successfully) Vertigo and others like it for
Hugo Distler is one of the "degenerate composers" under the Nazi regime. They destroyed his manuscripts and killed him at 34. I was expecting something dissonant and angst ridden. Actually, Orgel Partita is quite a like-able piece: no barlines, modal.
Peter Eotvos' 2 Monologues is lyrical, atonal. Harawakiri is very Kabuki, bent tones, drum claps out of silence, intriguing.
Cantos Vivos by Milton Estevez is Bartokian night sounds, a nice maraca solo, delicate, refined, great chords for massed flutes.
Domenick Argneto's 6 Elizabethan Songs recalls Purcell and Byrd, is often quite beautiful and vocally sensitive.
George Benjamin: Messiaen loved him. Antara sounds like Boulez, proper music samples, some beautiful moments. I'd like to hear more.
Lawrence Fritts's Minute Variations: uses voice in a percussive way to accompany another voice used properly as a voice.
H.K. Gruber's Frankenstein is described as a pandemonium but it sounds like out-takes to Three Penny Opera with a touch of Cabaret. Gruber as the "singer" takes Lotte Lenya's place excellently. His Violin Concerto for all its literary pop allusions is a nice, middle of the road violin concerto. Three Mob Pieces, scored for seven interchangeable instruments and percussion, has the pop singer’s matter-of-factness Reich made famous in his work. 3 Songs from Gomora is Weill again but I want to hear more.
Scott Gresham-Lancaster studied with Gene Tyranny and Robert Ashley so he has the credentials. Whackers is a "large sound sculpture." By this he means that he uses a percussion section of large suspended sheets of steel with brass rods, a piano harp, suspended automobile fuel tanks, circular sheets of suspended balloons. It sounds like a nice, middle of the road percussion piece. I want to hear more of him, however he names his work.
Annie Gosfield's The Manufacture of Tangled Ivory features de-tuned piano sounds, very Russian Constructivist, lots of ostinati and timbre changes, slow kabuki theatre lines, folk melodies and driving rhythms.
Heinz Holliger's Come and Go is an opera for female voices, flutes, clarinets, violas. The libretto is by Samuel Beckett. I found intriguing that the play is repeated three times—like kabuki. The instrumentalists participate in the action---like Partch.. The voices are spoken, sung, everything in between---like Berio. There’s extreme economy of gestures and movements in a closed universe---like Beckett. Still, after you get past all this--Stockhausen did it better. In What Where, with another Sam Beckett text, I discover that trombones really can blend well with the voice if treated correctly.
Alexander Rugajev's Petite Suite Parisienne is a Milhaud inspired jaunt with a fun French baroque overture finale.
Chant des Rochers by Gerald Levinson is a homage to Messiaen and sounds like him. There’s a little Tibetan ritual music thrown in (I love bass chanting, big horns and percussion) and lovely woodwind chords.
One improv group I do like is the Hub: the first microcomputer network band. They pass messages between one another on their laptops which store common memory. In Hot Pig Chris Brown plays gazamba. It’s a soup-ed-up prepared electric piano which sounds way cool. Phil Stone plays an axe-thing, which he says is like a guitar which processes and plays back sampled sound. Finally Tim Perkins plays the mouse guitar, another soup-ed-up synth controller. Their Dove Tail improv’s not bad either. Borrowing and Stealing by Phil Stone is just melodies all sent to the Hub's shared memory and improv-ed.
Am I the only one who thinks Brian Ferneyhough is a bit of a put-on? I mean, have you seen the scores? There’s nothing easier than writing impossible-to-execute notation. I wrote reams of it as a student until I realized that the goal of notation is not to make things more difficult for the performer but to make things as simple as possible. Besides, big-time notation has already been done to death (see Stockhausen’s early Klavierstuck for big-deal notation that actually makes sense). Anyway, Ferneyhough’s Adagissimo throughout has pointillistic high notes over long held chords. If you like angst-ridden European dodecaphony he’s your man.
I’ve played Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata but I’ve never recorded it. Every pianist on disc plays it like a respectful funeral march. I mean, just because it happens to be a glorious example of German expressionism doesn’t mean it can’t swing.
I’m impressed with Jonathan Harvey’s work. His Song Offerings has some beautiful moments: microtonal fluctuation in harmonics evocative with unique harmonic underpinning; nice contrasts of dark harmonies and light voice; a sweet color of bells, whistles and crotales: transparent high sounds like much more than the nine instruments its scored for; the crotales are played with the piano’s upper range; sprechsung usually dated but here it works; some beautiful harmonies that remind me of Messiaen. The Sufi Dance is for microtonal guitar: you wouldn’t think it does but it works.
A little distraught God’s Breath by Beatriz Ferreyra is a little gem.
Navai by Susan Deihim: the Andrew Sisters in Persian, what I mean is close female western harmonies to Persian melodies. She works with Elliott Sharp.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 11:31 PM
I recently heard Ronald Stevenson’s Passacaglia on DSCH. There’s some beautiful moments but the contrapuntal ending: I saw it coming a mile away. The bass repeats throughout the name of Dmitri Shostakovitch (D Eb C B) – which I happen to like because it’s the retrograde of my own Death of the Hired Man motif. The whole thing is a throwback to Busoni: harmonies unconventionally triadic which somewhat reminds me of Sorabji. There’s a nice timed tremolo/sustained chords over fingered staccato passage then octaves in both hands. There are some nice Rachmaninoff like flourishes in octaves and big chords all over the piano. In its own funny way this is a minimal piece: same bass repeating inexorably throughout.
Jim Hall and Bill Evans playing together in a recording called Undercurrents: great rhythmic variety between the two instruments, very subtle melodic lines, beautiful jazz chords, clear phrasing (often unexpected) in both parts. In 1975 at
Nicolson Alasair wrote a jazz/Bartok arrangement of
I am impressed with the work of Glennie Evelyn’s percussion improv CD Behind the Iron Sun. I’ve never heard such superb and beautiful sounds: japanese cup bells (bright almost tonal swirls of sound); an exhaust pipe played with a triangle beater; bird samples; chinese gongs played on the floor; a thunder sheet bent to the extreme to get a glissando; garbage cymbals struck and bowed; plastic tubing tuned in two octaves; a water-phone played with a violin bow and triangle sticks; old, cracked marimba bars slammed against a water tank; children’s toy sounds; reverse sounds synthesized; half dozen music boxes all over the recording studio; and udu drum played barehanded; a chant sample in reverse.
Valentin Silvestrov’s Metamusick: long neo-romantic lines, big gestures almost Mahler-esque, piano cadenzas, ostinati development, pockets of functional tonality, great masses of chords in 5ths and 4ths. After a half hour there are chords like Chopin’s last piano prelude, undulating every few beats—slow, pulsing that almost remind me of Feldman but more new-age-y.
Red Shift by Lois Vierk: a piece made up entirely of glissandi on all the instruments: nice idea: a gliss Adagio: slowly unfolding melodies, graceful cresc/dim.
Isang Yuu: Interludium A: Massive chordal opening, an A-note section which reminds me of a Berio Sequenza.
Xtopia by Elliott Sharp uses SQ with a
The only piece I’ve heard of Rodion Shchedrin is The Sealed Angel, which comes out of the Russian Liturgy, for choir and flute. It’s a tonal, restful piece with more than 100 singers. Great sound.
Another composer I want to hear more of is Roberto Sierra. His Messiaen and Debussy influenced Trio Tropical is a good piece, I think. It’s got an insistent note-C which doesn’t let up till the end.
I do like the sounds in Dean Drummond’s Dance of the Seven Veils. His teacher was Harry Partch and it shows. I just love that 43 notes to the octave intonation.
SQ 4 by Michael Nyman: He wrote a violin part which he uses as a cantus firmus for his SQ: 12 movements share various motifs: Scottish tunes, Roumanian folk music: old style minimalism. As a critic he claims to be the first to use the word “minimal” as he applied it to Cornelius Cardew (who I wouldn’t call minimal at all, aleatoric, yes, with a dash of Wittgenstein). His 3 Quartets has a good sound, well crafted, not process like Steve Reich, he just goes from ostinato to ostinato. There are strains of Veni Creator Spiritus. In the center of the piece is a sax chorale.
And finally, A Streetcar Named Desire by Andre Previn: lyrical Menotti-Bernstein with a few good highly effective arias, well orchestrated, Blanche’s “Magic” aria is beautiful: a guilty pleasure.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 11:29 PM
Every so often I re-listen to Earl Brown. He studied the Schillinger techniques of composition, Patchen’s visual poetry, everything Boulez and Stockhausen was doing in the 50s, statistics with Xenakis. He used electric guitar in a Calder mobile—in 1954! EB would say, “I want to get the time of composing closer to the time of performing.” The Octet for 8 Loudspeakers (great idea) is an early musique concrete (out-takes from old pieces).
Can I confess? I don’t like Stephan Wolpe—and I know he’s important because he’s MF’s teacher. I find his Two Chinese Epitaphs wholly conventional. His pieces for two pianos are just excruciating for me—long, dissonant sameness.
Eric Whitacre’s vocal music is really quite beautiful. Water Night: Avo Part a-minor stuff, unchanging harmonies, Part does it more systematically but, so what? Well sung. Three Songs of Faith: sop/alto lines remind me of Steve Reich harmonies, harmony changes with little counterpoint, nice solo sop line. Sonata for Chorus: no text but vowels, chorus treated instrumentally. Cloud Burst: lovely stacc effect (a long held chord over which is a steady st st st), reminds me of what Tsontakis does when he improvs; great masses of chords cresc then dim; a solo out of Carmina Burana, wind chimes, bells, cymbals, clapping, bass drum cresc then dim—all very Jacob Druckman but lovely because done well; the sound of water dripping is out of Dun. Sleep is a predictable dim al fine. There’s a great coda on “my song” that’s influenced by DDT (his teacher). Leonardo: nice opening cadence hearkens back to classic motets, careful resolutions of appogiaturae, smooth and skillful, nice tenor solo. Three Flower Songs: Ernst Toch. David Heard: Nice ascending line throughout, SATB giving way to massive chords, then a tenor solo eventually with B/A accomp; phrases separated by silence, disjointed phrases. He’s a good craftsman who does a good job.
Disparate Stairway by Lucia Dlugoszersky, is a SQ written for Erick Hawkins. It begins with a unison arco, goes to tapping the instruments with thimbles on the strings and the tail pieces, then to various glissandi, comes to a sudden and effective halt, then more gliss with plenty of pizz, then the arco again, then combs across the strings of all the instruments (a great sound), then glass slides to produce a koto like tone, then back to percussive taps and gentle glissandi, and finally ricochet bowing. Some cool sounds but what does it add up to? Duende Quidditas has some good bass trombone effects: mute changes, complicated rhythms, a "timbre piano." There's an incredible pp presto low tessitura bass trombone passage that's thrilling. In Tender Theatre Flight Nageire solo percussion opens and closes the piece. There's five contrasting continuous parts. It's "celebrations of high energy and of extreme speed." I find Harry Partch more interesting in terms of form, tuning and theatre. Exacerbated Subtlety Concert: prepared piano (paper, hairpins, combs, rubber wedges, thimbles, baby food jars, tuning folks, flexatones—all stuck in the strings).Besides the piano she also uses “at hand” stuff: pots and pans, bouncing balls, pouring water. There are some sections of timbre piano that literally pain me. Cage’s prepared piano stuff predate her by 20 years—and his sounds are beautiful. He used the piano percussively, she says that she uses it more as an extended string section---though I don’t hear this.
In the 50s she designed over 100 percussion instruments: ladder harps, closed rattles, unsheltered rattles, quarter-tone gongs. She knew everybody: Frank O Hara, John Ashberry, Robert Motherwell, Calder, Schaeffer. She did the Living Theatre. She reminds me in a way of Scelsi when she says that she is “committed to a pure radical empirical immediacy…to make music sound.” Very Varese, Morton Feldman of her. I’m all for sound as “suchness,” please, I’m not trying to be an enemy of “musical immediacy.” All I’m saying is that the danger in relating the form by means of the sound (as in Crumb, Scelsi, Druckman,
But in the end, I still find her fascinating. She's a major figure.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 11:14 PM
I'm enormously conflicted about microtonality. To my own ear it always sounds merely out of tune. This is how I hear Harry Partch and other microtonalists. It's not because I don't hear the intervals microtonally but because I have a natural tendency to place those intervals within a functionally tonal system. Can it be that we as a species naturally gravitate toward the lower partials of the harmonic spectrum? Is that why, after thousands of hours of listening to atonal music I still dream tonally?
Not only that but it would seem to be a nightmare to get players to accurately play the microtonal intervals that I would put on the page. In my experience it is extremely difficult to get players to play just plain in tune--no matter now good they are. Microtonal minimalism would be horrendously difficult to rehearse and perform. It's easy to smudge a piece of Elliott Carter intonation-wise (who hears it? I do, but that's another story)but try playing Steve Reich with anything but perfect intonation and it sounds awful.
For these reasons I don't think microtonality will ever be accepted as the norm, but I'm so glad Harry Partch and others don't agree with me.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 11:14 PM
Saturday, December 22, 2007
By ANNA KISSELGOFF
New York Times
Published: May 20, 1982
WHEN a choreographer appears to change his style in a highly radical manner, his dances pose all sorts of questions. What is responsible for this drastic shift? What epiphany, what turmoil, what extension into another aspect of the artistic personality occasioned the turn in the road?
These ruminations came to mind during the first two premieres by Paul Sanasardo at the opening last night of the Paul Sanasardo Dance Company, which will be at the The Space of the City Center on 55th Street through Saturday night. After his company's last New York season in New York in 1977, Mr. Sanasardo went to Israel to direct the Batsheva Dance Company. He has now re-formed a new troupe here with only himself and Janet Panetta from his former group.
So identifiably a dance poet of angst and drama in the past, Mr. Sanasardo threw his audience a real curve with the first two of his latest premieres, both plotless, lyrical-lined pieces. One was ''The Blue Window'' to the Bach Partitas, played by the pianist-composer, Andrew Violette, and the second was ''Miniatures'' to some Beethoven Bagatelles, also played by Mr. Violette.
Just when one could have thought Mr. Sanasardo was going soft on us, he offered a third premiere, the violent, emotion-pulverizing ''The Abiding Void.'' It is this work that seizes the imagination, even the gut. Mr. Sanasardo is still at his best when he is exorcising his demons. He has always composed excellent unpleasant dances - reaching into areas of confessional suffering common to literature and painting, even drama. Those who like their dances pretty might recoil from the shocker that is ''The Abiding Void.''
Yet this is not merely the old Sanasardo but again a new one - Sanasardo with the volume turned up full blast. Part I, ''The Past,'' is relatively conventional. Mary Ward is surrounded by hooded froglike figures whom she fights off as inner fears and obsessions. Part II, ''The Present,'' however, is an exceedingly powerful piece with a superbly powerful performance by Mr. Sanasardo and Miss Panetta.
Each sits on a chair, but the thunder of Mr. Violette's original score presages the violence ahead. Miss Panetta is slumped, Mr. Sanasardo is tight with tension. As they rise and attempt several encounters, the mood suggests the making of murder. Indeed, Mr. Sanasardo does attack Miss Panetta with unusual choreographed brutality - but brutality nonetheless. And yet these assaults are metaphors for emotional deaths - for the capacity of people to kill each other every day. Miss Panetta revives but not before an ensemble of couples also becomes combative, their amplification of the main duel becoming symbolic of a society and not just a private domestic dispute.
Drama, however, seems largely absent in the first two works and Mr. Sanasardo's invention is not always up to the dimension or length of the music he has chosen. Yet even here there are interesting touches. ''The Blue Window,'' in Martha Yoshida's blue-dyed chiffon capes and skirts has an odd sisterhood feel below its abstraction. Tom Geyer, James Isbell and John Passafiume are the men with Megan Axeman, Lynn Barr, Robert Caplan and Miss Ward in ''Miniatures,'' and here the unexpected moment comes when the women paste on flowers on the men's calf muscles.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 10:00 AM
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Robert Calder, writing in Pop Matters says
"The later nineteenth century produced huge concert halls and symphony orchestras and pianos big enough to fill them with sound on the scale of big romantic music like Rakhmaninov’s. Andrew Violette’s Rave is not foreign to the sound world which brought into being. While the first of the twenty-six sections of Rave names “Messaien and the Sitar” and the basic musical forces here are a massive piano and one electric and one acoustic violin—doubled and echoed with electronics—the acoustic-centred music maintains an intelligible continuity with pre-1914 symphonic musical language.
Violette performs here as a pianist in the grand manner. As a composer he has plainly learned from twentieth-century musical theory, without sharing many the theoretician’s often puritanical disdain of big romantic music.
Rave is an ext-rave-rt work, quite possibly danceable, but not with the same moves current on most big dancefloors in 2007. Sources of root material are indicated by terms like tarantella and such section titles as “The Lost Puccini Aria”; “Didgeridoo”. Dueling Chopin Etudes; “Country/Martial Music”, all translated into an adventurous extension of the basic big music language.
Listeners with little interest in the lengthy and detailed analysis of Rave included on the CD a .pdf file can find this music valid.
It’s not rebarbative or ugly or preoccupied with anything less than emotional expression for the non-specialist serious listener. It’s not tame or shallow either."
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
by Frank J. Oteri
I first became acquainted with the music of Andrew Violette when Innova issued his massive three-hour long Piano Sonata No. 7, which blew my mind.
Violette's seamless balancing of the seemingly contradictory aesthetic impulses of minimalism and maximalism in the same work shouldn't work, but resoundingly does.
Of course, once I knew about Sonata No. 7, which was paired on innova's 3-CD (Innova 587) set with his spare, almost Webernian, merely fifteen-minute-long Sonata No. 1, I had to hear 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (Innova 641). I also had to track down the score, a meticulously handwritten (in these days!) knuckle-buster that ultimately put me as much in awe of Violette the pianist as Violette the composer.
But there's a long history of amazing keyboardist-composers: from Sweelinck, Buxtehude, and the Bachs (mostly J.S. and C.P.E.); to Domenico Scarlatti, Seixas, and Soler; to Chopin, Liszt, and Gottschalk; to Amy Beach, Busoni, Godowsky, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Medtner, and Samuil Feinberg; to Blind Tom Bethune, Scott Joplin, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, and Elmo Hope; and to Cecil Taylor, Terry Riley, Charlemagne Palestine, Blue "Gene" Tyranny, and Frederic Rzewski in our own place and time. Many were well-rounded composers for whom the keyboard provided an outlet for their most personal utterances. But others were so keyboard centric their other music, if any, somehow lacked the same drive.
So it was with great trepidation that I first approached Andrew Violette's latest composition, Rave, a multi-movement yet continuous 75-minute chamber work which blends acoustic and electronic instruments. But Violette ups the ante and then some here.
Equal parts Messiaen and prog rock, if you can imagine such a co-mingling, Violette's new sound world is simultaneously restless and strangely comforting. Indeed the piano is a major player here, but so are the other instruments: everyone is a virtuoso. Indeed, perhaps this is indeed the real departure point for a new romanticism: music that is as new as it is romantic.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 11:02 PM
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Friday, August 17, 2007
Here's the link to the post and the text of the review by Jay Batzner:
I have been listening to this CD a lot over the past weeks. The music, a constant barrage of keyboard textures and soaring violin melodies, is dense and thick without much downtime through the 75 minutes. The twenty-two sections fall upon you like waves at the beach during a hurricane. At times, the sensation is glorious and enlightening. At other times, you just want to stop and catch your breath for a few minutes. But Mr. Violette is in charge here and he doesn’t want to stop Rave for anything. This isn’t music that gets stuck in your head, it is music that gets stuck in your mind.
The comparisons that you read about Mr. Violette’s music being a fusion of Messaien and prog rock are spot on. The emotions are big, the sonic walls that he places around you are enormous, and he is thoroughly committed to making this experience happen. He does not rave lightly.
As the onslaught of music went on, certain moments really stood out. Track 7, “Hollywood” takes all the textural and hectic noodling to an utterly gorgeous Romantic climax. It comes out of almost nowhere but, once it starts, you realize that everything you have been listening to has been inexorably leading to this moment. It is glorious.
After this moment, the next palpable shift is during tracks 12 and 13, where fragments of Beethoven’s 5th arrive in the violin. This quote does not feel as musically justified as the lush Romanticism of track 7, but I think that is part of the point (please note that if you put the CD into your computer you can read the 23 page thesis that describes each section in gruesome detail. I scanned through this but did not read the whole document. Yet.). Once the Beethoven motive enters, the tone of Rave changes. It is hard to put your ears directly on what or why this change has occurred because the texture remains constant throughout. And yet, there is a change. The rest of the work seems darker and more ominous. There is no further drive to another emotional peak like in tracks 1 - 7. Rave seems to dance madly onward but in a more disturbed manner.
Due to heavy amounts of overdubbing, there is a constant virtuosic piano scramble in the background. After a while the piano becomes this grey backdrop for the violins and almost ceases to have its own life anymore. I found it slightly disturbing that SO MUCH was going on in those pianos and yet taking it all in would have lead to my madness. On the one hand, this texture is brilliant because it is never-ending and never flinches, as you would expect from a rave’s energy. On the other, sometimes I wanted the pianos to shut the heck up for a minute and let me digest it all. I think that is the desired effect.
The performances on Rave are high caliber. Not too many people can put together such a solid 75 minutes of virtuosity. This piece will drive some mad and drive others to Nirvana (the place, not the band…although some might want to hear some Nirvana after hearing all of Rave…). I’m not sure where I am with it yet. It is almost too much to take in. The experience certainly hangs in my brain and haunts me at night. I think that Rave is an artistic success on many levels and, like a David Lynch film, everyone is going to walk away from the experience with something different. Rave is not for the squeamish, but those who take it on will be entranced.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 7:04 AM
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
"A seamless collage of obsessive virtuosity running no less than 75 minutes without a pause" is how the Innova press release describes Rave (rather well), before comparing Andrew Violette (b.1953 in NYC) to Buxtehude, Scarlatti (which one, I wonder?), Chopin, Liszt, Skryabin, Cecil Taylor and Fred Rzewski (you might add Charles Valentin Alkan too, since he's also apparently penned seven of the longest piano sonatas in history).
It's unashamedly diatonic, full of crashing octaves and daring trills but it's hard to figure out where it's heading to, if anywhere at all.
Violette thickens the plot by covering his late Romantic Hamburg Steinway CD147 with several layers of humid electronic moss, courtesy a Yamaha S90ES – played, as is the piano, by the composer himself – and electric and acoustic violin.
Track titles like "Intro, Messiaen and the Sitar", "The Lost Puccini Aria", and "Dueling Chopin Etudes" give you some idea of what to expect. The end result is like your favourite albums by Rachmaninov, Liszt, John Adams (thinking Grand Pianola Music), Conlon Nancarrow, Liberace, early Vangelis and maybe even Astor Piazzolla, all played at the same time.
That title is perhaps significant: raves are secret pilgrimages to obscure locations best appreciated when you are, in the words of the bard, "sorted for E's and wizz".
Or just 20,000 people standing in a field.
And I don't quite understand just what this feeling is.
But that's okay 'cause we're all sorted out for E's and wizz.
And tell me when the spaceship lands
'cause all this has just got to mean something.
In the middle of the night, it feels alright, but then tomorrow morning.
Oh then you come down.
Monday, August 6, 2007
Andrew Violette's Sonata No. 7 may at first glance appear to be one of that species mighty monoliths in the piano repertoire that seek to compass the universe.
Such works include the old and familiar -- Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and Hammerklavier Sonata -- and the recent and esoteric -- Ronald Stevenson's 1962 Passacaglia and Kaikhosru Sorabji's 1930 Opus Clavicembalisticum.
But Violette's aims and achievement are entirely his own.
His three-hour magnum opus asks: Are depth and magnitude in music conveyable only through the syllogistic syntax of sonata form and the accumulative momentum of variation form? Or are there alternate paradigms? Chinese boxes? Chains of fractals? Musical echolalia? Are ultimate depths plumbed in music by dissonance or by consonance? And what basic principles organize musical perception? Can one expand one's sense of time and space by defeating the expression of time, and even the expression of development?
As with his other compositions, the music of Violette's Sonata No. 7 seems to emanate from a deep, deep innerness. Even where the sonata's materials are sweetly pandiatonic and white-note simplistic, there is no casualness, no cheap prettiness.
Every note feels like a statement of ontology. The music of Sonata 7 speaks a language of prevailing serenity yet also mystery, as if serenity were the penultimate emotion before one glimpses the core of things, whether defined as God or as the ineffable mystery of life.
In this work the composer seems to make a paradoxical discovery of maximalism in minimalism, or perhaps suggests that both terms are two sides of the same coin.
The Sonata's hyper-prolix repetitions of melodic material assume the form neither of World Music's florid monophony, nor of jazz improvisation, nor of minimalism in the Glass-Reich vein. Rather its endless chains of melody make it seem as if the listener is reexperiencing the reticular network of a mind's neural connections to the universe.
The Sonata asks the listener to experience it as a musical stream of consciousness, felt in "real time" rather than in the convention of time compression traditional to classical music architecture.
The 26 sections comprise a kind of attempted circumambulation of human consciousness in music, perhaps like Joyce's Ulysses or Finnegans Wake.
Without contradicting its mystic seriousness, part of the appeal of Violette's Sonata No. 7 is sensual: it swims in space in a language of attractive, consonant, occasionally ravishing sounds. The composer seems to find endless new colors in kaleidoscopically changing keyboard registers with each succeeding section of the Sonata.
Yet somehow for all the kaleidoscopic variety of the writing, the piano of Sonata 7 remains a piano, not a giant orchestra like the piano of his previous works Quare or Songs for a Dead Hero -- but here a piano that is like a solo singing voice of infinite pliancy and expressive capacity.
Perhaps Violette's Sonata is psychedelic in the original sense of the word. Perhaps it has a kinship with Berlioz's concept of the idée fixe, but raised to the nth power, carried to the brink of infinity.
A remarkable tour de force, Sonata No. 7 is the brave musical autobiography of a soul voyager in psychic space. -- Mark N. Grant
Mark N. Grant is a composer and the author of
The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical (Northeastern University Press: 2004) and
Maestros of the Pen: A History of Classical Music Criticism in America (Northeastern: 1998)
both of which won the ASCAP Deems Taylor award.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 7:08 PM
Sunday, August 5, 2007
Which is a more important consideration: musical style or musical substance? Can you stand the relentlessly eclectic, if all of its disparate elements are treated with equal care? Listening to composer/pianist Andrew Violette's gargantuan Seventh Piano Sonata raises these issues.
A sprawling work, nearly three hours long, it recalls (in scope if not in formal design) such mammoth pieces as Beethoven's Diabelli variations, Messiaen's Vingt Regards, and, most especially, Jean Barraque's imposing piano sonata.
The liner notes, by Violette and some of his musicologist colleagues, claim that this work "is minimalist in terms of structure but lives in a sound world that can be characterized as neo-romantic." However, the stylistic touchstones are far more varied than that; there are snatches of everything from Rachmaninov to Scriabin to Glass to Berlioz to Cowell to Stravinsky to ... well, you get the general idea. Violette is versatile and omnivorous, and like all good poly-stylistic composers (Schnittke, Berio, John Wolf Brennan), he is never overwhelmed by the materials that he appropriates. As Stravinsky was known to say, "A good composer never borrows —- he steals," meaning that the composer must make other music his own through the force of his compositional personality and aesthetic.
Witness the work's second movement -- a sprightly, pandiatonic, neoclassical dance worthy of old Igor himself. This contrasts nicely with the first and third movements, glacially paced Adagios that wring all of the juice out of deliciously dissonant, but quasi-tonal, chorales.
My favorite piece is the twenty-minute Chaconne, a substantial work in its own right, which finds Violette at his most fleet-fingered and technically impressive. Portions of it are quite in league with the minimal and post-minimal music of such composers as Glass and Adams; you may even detect a dash of Michael Torke.
After such an impressive and exhausting tour de force as the Seventh Sonata, disc three's First Sonata might seem like an afterthought. However, this is an attractive piece as well, and it's a nice bonus to hear a more concise and edited Violette work.
Make sure to take a powder room break and pour yourself a beverage before you load the changer and dim the lights; you are in for a long, but exciting and rewarding, musical adventure.
Posted by Andrew Violette at 8:51 PM
Saturday, August 4, 2007
Andrew Violette's "The Death of the Hired Man" (innova 608), which also includes "The Love Duet: A Walt Whitman Montage," is long, pointless and boring, as Violette hammers at the piano in writing that substitutes minimalist tendencies for inspiration, and soprano Sherry Zannoth is required to perform various unattractive vocal gymnastics while being miked much too closely. The estimable tenor Brad Cresswell does not fare much better when added to the mix, but at least he doesn't have as much to sing.
“Andrew Violette ended the evening with another blow in the face of staid tradition by placing seven musicians around the room for ''Six Performances'' and setting each of them off on a different difficult musical line. The experience was akin to sitting in the middle of a tuning orchestra, partly marvelous and partly headache-inducing, but new and bold, we'll certainly grant him.”
Posted by Andrew Violette at 12:33 PM
Friday, August 3, 2007
Continuing the pattern Andrew Violette established with his first recording for this the label of the American Composers Forum (supported by the McKnight Foundation) – his Piano Sonatas 1 and 7, evaluated in these pages by this writer and selected by Boston Globe reviewer Richard Dyer as one of the three best "New Music" CDs of 2003 – the composer takes standard musical forms and inherited compositional traditions and turns them on their head in compelling and satisfying ways.
The genre in this instance is the art song, and this CD offers two of them. At first "song" seems not to be the proper term in this instance, due to the works' more cantata-like length, but unlike cantatas, they do not offer both recitatives and arias, so song it seems to have to be.
The first, the titular 166-line poem by Robert Frost, second in his second collection, the 1914 North of Boston, runs for nearly 53 minutes, and is like a single declamatory recitative. The second, "The Love duet: [A] Walt Whitman Montage," is, at about 22.5 minutes, less than half as long and presents a 92-line compilation of Whitman lines (including some of his most famous ones) selected by the composer, arranged in the manner of an opera libretto, and executed as a single rapturous duet.
At the same time, both present content that is more cantata- than art-song-like. The Frost poem is a narrative with five characters (two present and three mentioned), telling a tale with a beginning and an end. The Whitman collage has two individuals present and engaging in dialogue that evokes and celebrates the actions of lovemaking.
The percussive piano accompaniment is very much in the minimalist tradition. In many ways, it calls to mind the film score genre because it also performs a supportive, evocative, and mood-setting role. Melody lines are varied with the story's characters and the textual content. Rhythms are often relentless and incessant, like those backing up on-screen chases, for example. The piano score's notes are not, however, of much help to the singer, whose vocal line often seems totally independent of if not diametrically opposed to them. Execution of these pieces must be an incredible challenge because of this and because of the sheer endurance factor, and these performances really hit the mark. Diction is excellent and generally exceptionally clear; interpretative skills are likewise outstanding.
Like the music, the accompanying tri-fold booklet is minimalist though nonetheless attractive. It presents only the texts of the poems (for which we are thankful, of course) and mini-capsule bios of the two singers, with a few brief analytical and laudatory quotes concerning the composer and the works, an eight-word quote by him, and a comment that he is working on an opera based on Milton's Paradise Lost and entitled "Adam and Eve in Heaven." We look forward to hearing it. Violette is photographed dressed as a quintessential 1920s or '30-ish "hired hand" on the booklet cover and the outside of the tray liner.
From this writer's perspective, the sole shortcoming of the works themselves is the dramatic monologue-like handling of the Frost. The unrelieved length of the single-voice presentation is to this mind (and these ears) less effective than would have been a dialogued execution, with one male and one female voice, so very effective in the Whitman piece, which respects the actual presentation of the poem. Admittedly, a creative way would have been needed to handle the fairly frequent "he said[s]"/"she said[s]" scattered throughout, but that would have been preferable, notwithstanding the suggestion of the relentless progress of life towards death that the present version evokes. Perhaps they could have been set to be spoken (as is the poem's last line, actually divided between the two characters) rather than sung, and executed by the other singer of the pair?
A possible weakness of the recording itself is the inexplicable sound imbalance between the vocal line and the piano score, especially in the Frost piece, with the latter often seeming to be in the foreground and the former in the distant background, even if it was never drowned out, rather than the anticipated reverse. Curiously, the balance seemed better on my inexpensive computer sound system than on my fancier stereo system.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
In case anyone's been wondering, writing a three-hour piano sonata is one way to get my attention. I may have the longest attention span in the business. If I'm enjoying a novel I get disappointed if it ends before page 800, and when I first heard La Monte Young play his six-hour-long The Well-Tuned Piano, I lifted my head as the last tones died away and asked, "Is that all?" If I like something, I want it to go on for a long, long time. So the three-disc length of Andrew Violette's Piano Sonata No. 7, which appeared recently on the Innova label with the composer performing, was already by itself something of a commendation.
Full text of the article is here
Posted by Andrew Violette at 7:22 PM
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
On Piano Sonata No. 7 pianist Andrew Violette is fully equal to the demands placed on him by composer Andrew Violette
Pianist-composer Andrew Violette's Piano Sonata No. 7, just issued on CD with the composer performing (Innova, 3 CDs) is a feat of endurance as well as a demonstration of spectacular musicianship.
It nearly fills the three discs, taking close to three hours to perform. It is arranged not in movements like traditional piano sonatas, but in sections (26 of them) ranging in length from 43 seconds to nearly 27 minutes. This should get it into "The Guinness Book of World Records," but more important to the composer is whether it will find a secure place in the history of 21st-Century music.
It should. It has a magic combination of innovation and comfortable familiarity that should endear it to adventurous listeners. Through its enormous length, it never becomes boringly repetitious, though repetition (with variations) is a basic part of its structure, the primary element that knits it together.
If you don't care for the style in its slow-moving, mystical and sparsely minimalist first section, you can wait a few minutes and a new style will emerge (the pensive adagio is followed by a fast, richly harmonized dance). The sonata is not only minimalist (with debts to Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Gregorian Chant); it is, in turn, dissonant and sweetly melodious, tonal and atonal, classical and jazzy (with some impressive stride piano sections), even briefly Baroque (there is a 20-minute chaconne), and above all neo-Romantic.
In some ways, there is a sharp contrast between Sonata 7 and Sonata 1, which fills out the set. Sonata 1 is just under 16 minutes in length and cast in traditional classical forms, though with ultra-modern harmonies. Violette has come a long way since the earlier work, but he has moved in essentially the same direction.
Pianist Violette is fully equal to the demands placed on him by composer Violette. I have not heard anything else quite like this recording, and I expect to spend a long, long time fully exploring its intricacies.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Andrew Violette is an unsung maverick among New York composers. Prone to indulge in lush, Lisztian harmonies, he also makes use of blistering dissonance and trancelike repetition; the resulting cyclone of sound often resembles a minimalist update of Messiaen's mystical keyboard pieces, expect that Violette has a feverish (and at times, fatiguing) voice of his own.
Andrew Violette is an extraordinary composer as well as a first class pianist. His music is breathtakingly bold, completely original. He combines dazzling compositional virtuosity with a full and fiery heart. He is unique. It is a mystery to me that he is not acclaimed as one of America's finest composers.
Andrew Violette, a composer and pianist, has assembled a large portfolio of works since the early 1970's, when he was a student of Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions at the Juilliard School, and in recent months he has presented several retrospectives...
Mr. Violette is a Romantic with Minimalist leanings, although his language does not easily fit into either category. His Romanticism, in other words, is evident in his penchant for monumental chord blocks and swirling filigree, but there is also a hefty measure of more contemporary dissonance and angularity.
He has adopted the Minimalists' techniques of repetition and gradual expansion, but since his music is somewhat spikier and less consonant than typical Minimalism, one doesn't hear it as being of the Minimalist school.
That said, there were fleeting allusions to traditional Romantic harmony, and allusions to the music of both Steve Reich and Philip Glass, as well as a section that drew on the rhythms and harmonies of stride piano. Yet this was not simply a compendium of musical styles.
Although one might question calling this sprawling work a sonata, Mr. Violette has imposed a structure of sorts on its 23 movements through a series of refrains. There were times when the work was easier to respect than to enjoy fully, but it had its appealing and entertaining stretches as well. It demands a lot of a pianist.
Even its lengthy Adagios require considerable muscle. Mr. Violette, a composer-pianist in the tradition of Busoni and Sorabji, had sufficient energy and virtuosity for this marathon.
What Scriabin, Busoni and Sorabji began, Andrew Violette is doing his best to continue…
Mr. Violette composes hour-long piano sonatas marked by a rather wonderfully anachronistic, over heated Romanticism.
He played the first performances of two of these sonatas (each was about 65 minutes, actually), No 3 (1979) and No. 5 (1984).
Mr. Violette used to be a Serialist; since 1981 he has worked in a modal style on a "tri-tonal" system of his own. The two sonatas differed in that the earlier, Serial score sounded murkier and more overtly late Romantic; the later one, more tightly organized and more forceful in expression, and especially its 27-minute Adagio.
But both shared a similar, extravagant theatricality, which the composer attributes to his extensive work with dance companies. They are interesting scores, if, like his models, open to the charge of self-aggrandizing pretension.
Still, Mr. Violette has a gift and a personality, which not all young composer can boast, and he played this overtly virtuosic music with fierce authority.
Nothing is normal now. Friday's concert by the Friends and Enemies of New Music -- one of the first concerts to take place in New York City since the events of Tuesday morning -- went on somberly.
The audience at CAMI Hall, across the street from Carnegie Hall, was subdued. Those present who had arrived on foot, whether through the streets or across the park, would have passed groups of people gathered in the darkening light with candles: standing outside firehouses, on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum or seated around the Bethesda Fountain.
Some of these groups were silent, others were singing patriotic songs, not with gusto as on other occasions, but with quiet fervor, making those songs into prayers. The sight would have been impressive even without the collectively murmured tunes and the candles, for this is a city of people moving through the streets singly and in twos and threes.
A cluster, still and composed, is an anomaly. Just by being together, people were saying something new and unusual. Inside the hall it was hard not "hear" candles and prayers in some of the performances.
Andrew Violette played his Piano Sonata #1 with hard edged-brilliance and attack, as if shocked into defiance. These were messages from earlier times.
Mr. Violette's piece was a youthful composition from more than 20 years ago, perhaps fired by an admiration for the music Pierre Boulez and Olivier Messiaen were writing 30 years before that, but more symmetrically phrased, with its own harmonic character and also with its own daring, not least in landing unashamedly at the very end on a tonal chord.
A bold, bravura piece, written very much "for" the piano, its sense of formal drama seems almost visual; the opening allegro, for instance, virtually shows you structures being built up, patiently, then quite impulsively being shattered.
The command of rhetoric is easy, knowing, culture-steeped. The minuetto allegretto balances a kind of slyly spiky, creeping motion against open, even bell-evoking regularities : one can say that it works in that contrasting A-B-A way that old-fashioned minuets are supposed to work."
What I do not like is your brutalizing the piano. Fortissimo is one thing, brutality is another. All good pianists play fortissimo, but they do not destroy the instrument.
Pistis Sophia for solo voice (1970)
Three Pieces for piano (1970)
Fugamericana for piano (1970)
Fantasy for piano (1970)
Little Lullaby for guitar (1970)
Piano Piece 1 (1972)
Piano Piece 2 (1974)
Sonatina for harp and piano (1973-4)
In Memoriam for 2 trumpets, 2 horns, marimba (1974)
Black Tea for soprano, contrabass, harp and percussion (1976)
Amor Dammi Quel Fazzolettino for piano-4 hands (1976)
Fast/Short for two keyboards (1977)
Intermezzo for piano (1977)
Three Pieces in F for piano (1978)
*Piano Sonata 1 (1978)
*Piano Sonata 2 (1979)
*Piano Sonata 3 (1979)
Last Dance for 2 pianos and percussion (1979)
Dance for organ (1981)
Worldes Blis for 3 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 trombones, 4 timpani (1982)
A Margarita Debayle for soprano and piano (1982)
*Piano Sonata 4 (1982)
Black Tea for harp, soprano, double bass and percussion (1982)
Quintet for flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello, piano (1983)
Pastorale for bass trombone and organ (1983)
Three Choral Preludes for organ (1983)
American Songs for oboe, clarinet, bassoon (1984)
Chaconne for violin, marimba and tubular bells (1984)
Trio for horn, bass trombone and piano (1984)
*Piano Sonata 5 (1985)
String Quartet 1 (1985)
String Quartet 2 (1986)
String Quartet 3 (1986)
*Piano Sonata 6 (1986)
Little Boy Blue/Danny Boy for tenor and piano (1986)
Borges Songs for baritone and piano (1986)
Libera Me for organ (1986)
La Mejor Tinta for baritone and piano (1987)
Three Madrigals for SATB, violoncello and piano (1983-1987)
String Quartet 4 (1987)
String Quartet 5 (1988)
Sonata #1 for Two Pianos (1976, rev 1989)
String Quartet 6 (1989)
Five Sonatinas for piano (1994-5)
Song Set for soprano/tenor and piano (1993-97)
*Death of the Hired Hand for soprano and piano (1996)
*The Love Duet for soprano, tenor and piano (1996)
Neruda Songs for tenor and piano (1997)
The Adulterous Woman voice, piano (1997)
Whitman for sop, mezzo-sop, baritone, two pianos and percussion (2000)
Symphony in Six Parts for large orchestra (2000)
*Piano Sonata 7 (2001)
6 Performances for violin, violoncello, synthesizer, piano, horn, clarinet, flute (2001)
A Very Valentine soprano, piano (2002)
*Rave for 2 pianos, 2 synthesizers, electric violin and violin (2001-3)
Love Alone for voice, piano (2003)
Paradise Lost Part One: The Voices of God
The four voices (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone),
4 synthesizers, electric String Quartet, percussion (2004)
Paradise Lost Part Two: Adam and Eve in Heaven
The four voices (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone),
Adam (tenor), Eve (soprano), God in the Garden (boy soprano),
flute, oboe, 3 synthesizers, violin, violoncello, percussion (2005)
Two Sax Sextets (2006)
Jazz for synthesizer (2006)
Songs and Dances for solo cello (2006)
*Sonata for unaccompanied violin (2006)
Sonata for guitar (2007)
*Available on innova