Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Music and chance

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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2 comments:

Keith said...

Another B composer, York Bowen.

On Sunday 18th Nov, I got up early and went to the newly re-furbished
Birmingham Town Hall complete with lighting gantry with perspex sound
diffusers and a restored organ.

I heard the Trio Chausson, a French trio, performing Haydn, Brahms and a
trio by York Bowen. The piano player in the trio, Boris De Larochelambert,
had seen some of Bowen's music, and had researched and found the
manuscript of the Piano Trio in E minor, Op118 in an archive in London. He
has produced a performing score, and we heard it played during this
morning concert.

I'm not musically trained, and what I heard that morning left a strong
feeling of expressive music with a wide dynamic range, with the piano
leading and the violin and cello floating above and often playing against
each other. There were plenty of rhythmic changes, light and shade, but I
can't recall any strong tunes as such - it was music about feeling, dark
skies with streaks of sun, and not for whistling. I think it sounded 20th
century - certainly not classical - but there was no trace of 12 tone or
atonal sound, which chimes with the biography below.

Lyndon Jenkins did express surprise that such music remained unpublished
and unrecorded - perhaps one for Naxos?

The concert formed part of the ECHO rising stars series, and I could get
used to an hour and a quarter or so of music at 11 am on a Sunday. The
main floor of the hall was about 60 to 70% full, so I am not alone. Alas,
most of us were on the mature side of 40.

http://www.triochausson.com/en/trio.htm

http://www.yorkbowen.co.uk/life.htm

http://www.thsh.co.uk/view/sunday-morning-coffee-concert-nov

"Following his death in 1961, Bowen's music is now largely out of print,
very few works appear in concert programmes and his chamber music is
hardly played. However, there is a revival underway and thanks to recent
recordings and Monica Watson's book "York Bowen - A Centenary Tribute"
(1984), (Thames Publishing), listeners and performers are becoming aware
of a wonderful musician and some truly extraordinary music."

And to increase your chances of finding paths, how about re-activating your e-mail account?

Pliable said...

Keith, thanks for that.

The email account wasn't deactivated. When I rearranged the sidebar a couple of weeks back I mistyped it!

You are the first person to point out my error - appreciated.