Monday, November 14, 2005


Imaginary Landscape No. 4

Last night I listened to Sonatas and Interludes and was not very impressed.  I chose to hear a non-Berman version, but frankly I like Berman a lot because he gives a great deal og emphasis to the rhythm.  I forget the performer of the version I heard (I will look it up), but I found it very hard to follow any of the Sonatas (they all sounded about the same), and despite the enormous number of preparations, the gamut of sounds was exceedingly small.  I’ll have to review it again using Berman’s version.

I should add another note—yesterday I promised an unusual work, but then I discovered Dance/4 Orchestras was available from the net, so the person who sent it to me was not especially original.  Thus I went with a “big” work (Sonatas and Interludes) instead.  As usual, here’s the sketches tonight, I’ll fill in the holes later..

Oh, one final note!  Various errors in grammar/factual data/etc. have been pointed out to me (there’s some especially awful ones in my last post!).  Keep in mind that all I do is run over this writing with a spellcheck, and otherwise my thought flow freely with little editing.  I can take care of all that sort of thing when I write a “what I learned” essay in the future, and also take the contents of this blog and reformat it into a more readable webpage.

Seven Haiku
A chance determined piano work from 1951.  Each Haiku is devoted to various persons in Cage’s life.  The music is apparently related to Music of Changes.  I’ve heard a lot of sparse piano works so far, and each has a bit of a different flavor.  The seven haiku are spaceous, with frequent chords.  The attacks between different notes vary, sometimes fast and very sharp with no sustain, sometimes drawn out.  Most interesting are the strange melodic fragments that show up, beginning with those inthe third haiku.  The fourth begins with what sounds like the start of a melody, but it goes nowhere.  Such musical “slices” seem very common in the Haiku overall.  

Some music for clarinet here, plus flute and percussion from 1991.  The number five plays various roles in the music.  As I listened to the music, I was given the obvious impression of watching the sky.  As usual, the strong continuous music from the wind instruments bring to mind the sun, but in this work there’s some amazing percussion work that feels like wind and clouds moving across the sound field.  The effect overall is very beautiful, with a particular emphasis on the very low percussive sounds that I can’t quite identify.  They raise my blood pressure a bit!  I feel a high degree of tension in some parts of the music, whereas others (especially the wind combinations) are totally the opposite.  

Hymns and Variations
This work from 1979 is a choral piece for twelve voices, using subtraction techniques on hymns by William Billings.  It’s become clear to me that it’s simply impossible to make choral music in this style that doesn’t sound great; every possible combinations of tones by voices sounds good.  The music is sung in a fragmentary form, with subtraction techniques applied to each hymn, resulting in ten variations.  The singers also only sing vowel noises, but what is curious to me is that I can still detect a degree of the reverence that would have been a part of the original music and text, which was religious in nature.  

Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (March No. 2)
This is one of Cage’s most infamous of all his works, the music for twelve radios and 24 performers.  It was composed in 1948.  Back in high school, a friend and I enjoyed driving around downtown Birmingham in his car late at night, and we highlighted the experience by tuning the radio between stations on its AM setting.  Radio static is an inherently lonely and unnerving sound.  I also took a bit of pleasure in using a handheld radio to “listen” to my computer, monitors, hard drives, etc.  Light switches would make a satisfying click, whereas my PC’s CPU would created buzzes and beeps as it operated.

So naturally, I like Landscape No. 4 a great deal.  I have two versions, one by the Cikada Duo which I believe uses 24 radios, and one by Maelstrom.  Both renditions are excellent.  Listening to this music never fails to get me very nervous because the sounds are completely ghostly and haunting, in the same way that listening to extremely old wax cylinder recordings will freak me out, no matter what the contents.  There are two things you hear in the music for radio: solid spaces of sound, where the fequency is constant, and the distinct rushing, shifting sound as the station is changed.  The collage-like nature of the work brings to mind Williams Mix, except that in this case the contents are dynamic and change any time it is performed.  But even though it changes, the experience of listening to it will always be similar.  It’s one of the Cage works I love the most and which I was very excited to get a recorded copy of!

For M.C. and D.T.
An extremely brief 1952 work for piano, for Merce Cunningham and David Tudor, unless there are others associated with those initials.  It’s directly related to Seven Haiku above.   They sound quite similar, and the length (longer than any of the Haiku) obviously has a wider selection of sounds to hear.  Nevertheles, it still manages to have long silences.  The melodic almost-beginning fragments are common.  If the initials are indeed for Cunningham and Tudor, I guess the music’s length is directly related to the importance of a person to Cage.  In that case, I feel a bit sad for a few of the names from the Haiku, who only merited about 23 seconds of music!

MC could also be Mary Catherine Richards, poet, translator, and Mrs. Tudor. Not sure myself...

-Jeff Schwartz
have you heard the john tilbury recordings of sonatas and interludes? quite nice.

it is really amazing how different recordings of this piece can sound and feel.
No, I haven't heard that recording! The ones available on hand are Berman on Naxos, Pierce on Wergo, and Schleiermacher on MDG. The ones I heard the other night were by Pierce, who I think approached them in a manner better suited to some of the later nonexpressive music.

Incidentally, this review on Amazon caught my eye:

The idea of literally destroying a piano would have seemed blasphemous to the great classical composers

Does preparing a piano destroy it? I am fairly sure it doesn't, and this positive review thus seems about as confused as most of the negative reviews. :-/
preparing a piano does not destroy it, however it can mess up the strings (cause them to deteriorate and go out of tune) which can be expensive to replace and retune, most concert halls are very leary of people / composers preparing their nice bosendorfers or steinways or whatever.

i wrote a piece for prepared piano for stephen drury to play at NEC. and they made him play it down in the piano shop on an old broken piano. pretty ridiculous.

you should check out the tilbury S&I recording. its really nice. also his recordings of feldman's piano pieces are really great.
can I add u to my blog list?
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