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A way into serialism

Discussion in 'classical' started by Alex S, May 22, 2023.

  1. herb

    herb brain's right hemisphere

    Another Schoenberg favourite is his ode to Napolean

  2. herb

    herb brain's right hemisphere

    I have his complete works box too and not paid much attention to it as well. In the main the interpretations in his Shoenberg box are too French, without the necessary drama. I think he did a lot of damage to serial music. IMO of course.
  3. mandryka

    mandryka pfm Member

    Re Boulez, Boulez himself may not have been the best conductor of his own music, at least after the Domaine Musicale recordings.

    I very much like the Matthias Pintscher's 2015 Paris performance of Pli selon Pli, at least some of which seems to be on youtube now. But if you don't want music for voice and orchestra, then I like David Fray's piano performance of Boulez, which is also on youtube.

    Another name to look out for is Daniel Kawka -- Marteau, Memoriale and Derives.

    The very late piece Explosante Fixe usually goes down well, though it's never grabbed me. Certainly worth a shot. As is Michael Gielen's recording of the orchestration of Notations.

    A lot of the other stuff is too spacialised for home listening IMO (Rituel for example) - but other people seem to enjoy them. Or too abstract for me (the 3rd piano sonata for example -- even the much lauded Constellation-Miroir)

    Boulez's own Domaine Musicale recordings are available streaming, and they're certainly worth checking (e.g. the Webern cantatas)

    You may well enjoy the rather jazzy recording of Domaines with Michael Portal, Diego Masson directing the Ensemble Musique Vivante. It's in that box and on youtube I think.
  4. mandryka

    mandryka pfm Member

    Having just dissed the third piano sonata, let me just make up for it with this amazing recording of Boulez talking about and playing Constelations Mirroirs. If you don't understand French, learn!

    Pierre Boulez pédagogue de son travail | INA

    Nobody I've heard makes the music half as interesting as the composer in this video.

    The Mallarme poem is another extraordinary thing to think about. I mean, what's it about?!

    Alex S likes this.
  5. herb

    herb brain's right hemisphere

    At least SOME dynamics. I refer you to my post above using Byron poem used by Schoenberg's Napolean.

    Glenn Gould's Napolean is dynamically much harder and a real earworm.

    Have you ever been at a Stockhausen lecture? He held a young audience enthralled for 2 hours in Edinburgh. Magic.

  6. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I have. Twice. I got his autograph too like a total fanboi!

    PS Barbican Centre, 2000 or thereabouts. I went to Hymnen and the other electronic night and booked for the talk before both times.
    paulfromcamden and herb like this.
  7. mandryka

    mandryka pfm Member

    I’ve only seen Stockhausen lecture once, after a performance of Donnerstag aus Licht. But what I really wanted to say is that there’s an excellent English language lecture on YouTube about Mantra, from the 1970s, with a performance of quite a bit of the music (I remember Roger Woodward was playing, can’t remember the other pianist.) This may well be the best thing for someone - @Alex S ? - to hear if they want to understand something about total serialism in practice - and Mantra is a fabulous piece of music anyway IMO.

    Ah - now that’s amusing. I now see that the Mantra lecture I was thinking of is the one @herb linked! Great minds think alike!

    The lecture from the same series on Telemusik is really moving, he basically talks in a very sweet and authentic way about his trip to Japan - you get the impression of a real poet and thinker, intelligent and sensitive and aesthetically courageous.
  8. Tantris

    Tantris pfm Member

    I’ll give it a go …

    … there stands the poet, at the edge of a precipice (or by his friend’s grave, or on the deck of his whaler), contemplating eternity, and unsure if he can influence his fate with a throw of the dice in his hands. And at the very moment of the excerpt you have quoted, the wind and storm howling around him abate to a profound silence, and he asks himself if this is God playing a sarcastic trick …

    The pagination of the poem attempts to introduce space and silence, so that the words have the necessary gravity and resonance for a reader - no wonder Boulez found Mallarmé such an inspiration, as he anticipated many of the questions Boulez was facing, some 55 years earlier, with the very structure of his poetry giving ideas for composition of music.

    That awful silence is perhaps given its fullest expression in serial music through Jean Barraqué’s piano sonata of the early 1950s, its austerity cut through at times with searing rawness, and moments when the wind that blew around Mallarmé drops to nothing;

    There is a closely related serial piece, Bill Hopkins’ Etudes en série, which was inspired by Barraqué’s sonata - I’ve never had a chance to hear it in performance, so rely on Nicolas Hodge’s recording;

    Barraqué’s sonata has had numerous recordings - perhaps 7 or 8? - but he remains an elusive and obscure figure, albeit much better known than Bill Hopkins. I hope that there is at some time a reassessment of Hopkins - his legacy is small (he died at the age of 37), but what there is is of enduring interest.
    Last edited: May 25, 2023
    mandryka likes this.
  9. mandryka

    mandryka pfm Member


    (Sorry -- no accents)

    I need to think about what you said, and maybe over the summer I'll go back to reading Mallarme. It's interesting how the look of the 3rd sonata on the page resembles the look of Un Coup de Des . . .

    I once said to Richard Barrett that the Barraque sonata contains silent sections, and he laid into me - maybe knit-picking, maybe I chose my words badly

    "Have you looked at the score? The longest notated rest (on page 41) is four beats in length and almost all the others are much shorter. Towards the end there are quite a few pause marks over bar lines (either marked "court" or unmarked). I see no trace of "silent sections"."

    The discussion became rather interesting, because we started to think about the difference between silence in the sonata and in Cage -- here's what he said

    Barraqué's use of silence in his Sonata is all about the music finding it impossible to continue, in a way not entirely dissimilar to much of Beckett's writing, and eventually its sounds are reduced to the bare 12-note series with which it ends. Silence for Barraqué is the death of music; for Cage it's the converse: an opening towards a different kind of hearing - something he began in earnest to explore in the second movement of the Concerto, realising at a certain point (encouraged by his experience of Rauschenberg's paintings) that this idea would be best served by removing all intentional sounds from the music. But the idea resonates through most of the rest of his work in one way or another. 4'33" is a point through which the evolution of Cage's work passed, and it's entirely consistent with what he did beforehand and afterwards.
    Tantris likes this.
  10. Tantris

    Tantris pfm Member

    Thanks - that’s very interesting. I’m sure there is an interesting discussion to have on this kind of topic; some of the notes to Herbert Henck’s ECM recording look to me like a reliable source, for example, and I suspect that we are talking about interpretive nuances, rather than fundamental differences.

    The interaction between Stockhausen and Goeyvaerts that I mentioned earlier came out of a discussion between two devout Catholics, and how to embed Christian numerology into their compositions, against the crushing background of the catastrophe of WW2 and the Holocaust, reverberating loudly across Europe at that time and shaking the faith and values of most people. In other words, the storm that Mallarmé was describing had arrived. Composers made different choices in response; Messiaen (who had been a prisoner at Stalag VIII-A) relied on his deep Christian faith to imagine transcendence, judgement and redemption, whereas Barraqué saw a black hole, a singularity, from which escape might be impossible except for the most heroic. Stockhausen found the Book of Urantia, a source which he used to imagine an immanent spiritual world which underpins much of Licht. The choices and response were naturally different for American composers, such as Cage and Carter and the minimalists that followed (and also for Japanese composers - but that’s another discussion, probably). I find this very interesting to follow, and to link to the literature and poetry of the twentieth century, and of course the political and economic backdrop.
  11. mandryka

    mandryka pfm Member

    Here’s my (rough, rapidly done) translation of part of an interview with Jean Barraqué, Claude Helffer and Florence Mothe, 30 April 1969.

    FM: Jean Barraqué , because Claud Helffer is with us, I would like to ask you the following question: Do you need an interpreter?

    JB: Of course. A composer always needs an interpreter the same as an interpreter needs a composer, if he is living, to reveal certain secrets of his thoughts.

    FM: Just now I saw you make corrections in the run through of your sonata. Do you think that Claude Helffer adds something to your point of view, goes beyond your own idea?

    JB: On the one hand you're talking to me about mistakes which were materiel mistakes, in the Bruzzichelli edition. On the other hand, Claude Helffer noticed, at a technical level, some mistakes which he made me aware of. I think he was absolutely right. Having said that Claude Helffer proposes a personal interpretation which I esteem and admire a lot.

    FM: Claude Helffer, what special things to you find when you create a contemporary work, specifically in this sonata by Jean Barraqué?

    CH: What is interesting when you create a contemporary work, is to approach a new style, and this sonata by Jean Barraqué is very personal so it's enthralling to look deeply into it.

    FM: I believe it's not really a sonata

    CH: Better ask that question to the composer who gave the title sonata to the piece. I think it's a sonata because oppositions are in it, which are always present in the idea of a sonata, between two opposing forces , in this case between very rapid action [mouvement] and a slow action, which manage to interpenetrate.

    FM: Does the composer have the same idea about the work?

    JB: Yes. The notion of a sonata [La sonate] does indeed imply a structural duality. Let's take, for example, classical sonatas (first theme, second theme with the bridge.) In my sonata there is a duality of two structures, rapid action and slow action, which are developped in a divergent way all the way through the piece. This is why I kept the term "sonata", and for its anonymous aspect.

    FM: Does the title also come from a certain way of treating the piano?

    JB: Yes. In the sonata I'd wanted to adopt the grand style of pianism perhaps we knew a century ago. A very luxuriant style of pianism.

    FM: This duality, do you also find it at the level of energy [au niveau de la dynamique]?

    JB: Yes. The sonata opposes two styles.: on the one hand a free style and on the other a rigorous style. In the free style, the greatest part is achieved by dynamics [dynamique] and by a rhythmic momentum [elan] which opposes some very striking contrasts. In the rigorous style the writing is very contrapuntal, the cells of the base structure are developed by a process of variation which I call " in closed-open circuit." All the variations on rhythmic schemes are superposed sometimes two at a time, even up to four or five voices, and call above all on the integration of silence which, progressively, impregnates the work and the emptiness of its contrapuntal and structural contents [imprègne l'oeuvre et la vide se son contenu contrapuntique et structurel] -- it's music which has slipped away and silences which are of the greatest importance.

    FM: Claude Helffer . . .

    CH: Listen, I've got nothing to add to what the composer has just said, except that the pianistic style doesn't make it easy. It linear aspect, which is more important than its vertical aspect, makes approaching it difficult. But, when you delve into it, you can really get to the heart of the matter -- this is as true for the performer as it is for the listener.
  12. ciderglider

    ciderglider pfm Member

    I was aware of Barraque, but always thought he died very young, and so hadn't written much, hence why I never heard anything by him on Radio 3. But it seems he lived on to 45, so no Mendelssohn or Schubert. Is his relative obscurity due to him not having written much in his 45 years, or because his music is just too 'eavy?
  13. mandryka

    mandryka pfm Member

    You won't hear much Barraque on Classic FM or Radio 3 or such like. It's too hardcore. I think the most accessible music by him is not the piano sonata, but the concerto, and Chant apres chant.

    However, @ciderglider 's post did make me check, and Barraque did figure "by mention" on R3 10 years ago, and Nick Hodges is a good guy. You can still download the podcast
    ciderglider likes this.
  14. ciderglider

    ciderglider pfm Member

    I have just turned 60, so I am old enough to have experienced Radio 3 when it played contemporary music. I remember hearing Stockhausen and Boulez, but no Barraque.
  15. Tantris

    Tantris pfm Member

    I'm still reeling from an amazing performance of Wozzeck at the ROH this evening - unrelentingly harsh, and genuinely quite scary at times (when the red moon rose, and the orchestra was at full fortissimo), but also moving and powerful as a study of mental illness and brutality towards the vulnerable. I have the impression now that Wozzeck is more an expressionist drama with extraordinary music, than an opera per se. I'm not sure how many performances of this production remain in the calendar, but I would recommend it if you are able to go.
    Alex S likes this.
  16. Tantris

    Tantris pfm Member

    I've just noticed that BR-Klassik's excellent Horizonte programme has an episode dedicated to Karel Goeyvaerts later this week, including a version of the Sonata of Two Pianos, that I mentioned earlier, played by none other than Goeyvaerts and Stockhausen - I didn't know that there was a recording of that performance, so will be listening with interest.

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