Mention music and chance and John Cage comes to mind. But there are some other interesting examples of music and chance. If, like me, you arrange your CDs (or LPs even) in alphabetical order you will have experienced another example of music and chance. Why do so many composers' surnames begin with the letter B? Only last week my heart sunk when I ordered a CD by another composer involved with music and chance, Gavin Bryars' Oi Me Lasso. How would I find space on the shelf for the CD when it arrived?
This week brings yet another example of music and chance. Why do so many composer anniversaries fall within a few days? Tomorrow, November 22, is the big one. But yesterday I marked the death of Wilhelm Stenhammar, and today, among other anniversaries, we note the deaths of Henry Purcell (1695), Frank Martin (1974) and Robert Simpson ( 1997).
Henry Purcell should need no introduction; although the anniversary of his death falling the day before Benjamin Britten's birthday is another fascinating example of music and chance. Perhaps chance also dictated that Robert Simpson was born at the wrong time? The last of his eleven symphonies was composed in 1990, and takes the soundworld of his beloved Nielsen and Bruckner into the late-twentieth century. His music found little favour with BBC programmers of the time. Some may have judged his music to be written too late, but time has shown his thinking was well ahead of its time. Robert Simpson resigned from the BBC in 1980 because, and I quote, he could 'no longer work for an institution whose views he no longer respected'. More on an under-rated composer and thinker here.
Chance dictated that Frank Martin was born in Switzerland in 1890. Frank Martin's musical language, like the culture of Switzerland, steers a middle course. He assimilated elements of serialism into his own unique musical language, but retained firm links with tonality. Martin is remembered today mainly as a choral composer, and his magnificent Mass for double choir is probably his most enduring work. But there is also fine orchestral music, including a Violin Concerto and Passacaglia for String Orchestra. A recommended budget priced Decca double CD contains five of his orchestral works plus the oratorio In terra pax.
For some reason chance has meant that a late masterpiece by Frank Martin remains unknown. His Requiem for choir, soloists, organ, harpsichord and oboe d'amore was completed in 1972. It sets the Latin Mass using a finely honed and mature version of his unique musical language. Although concert performances are rarer than the proverbial hen's teeth there is a CD available. It is on the Musikszene Schwieitz label, and is difficult to get hold of. But if you find a copy you will realise that chance is a fine thing.
More chance when the audience composes the music.
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