Improvisation 2....


For the phenomenom of music is nothing other than a phenomenom of speculatiuon. There is nothing in this expression that should frighten you. It simply presupposes that the basis of musical creation is a preliminary feeling out, a will moving firt in an abstract realm with the objet of giving shape to something concrete. The elements at which thi spoeculationnecessarily aims are those of sound and time. Music is inconceivable apart from these two elements.

Igor Stravinsky - The Poetics of Music

The Overgrown Path to Gesualdo led me on to Dufay's Missa L'Homme Arme in the performance on CD by the Oxford Camerata conducted by Jeremy Summerly (Naxos' Early Music series isn't just ridiculously cheap, it is also ridiculously good).

An Internet search on Dufay led me to a recording which I had heard a lot about, but had ignored due to its cult popularity in the 90's.

I was quite wrong to ignore Officium, the Hilliard Ensemble's inspirational collabaration with saxophonist Jan Garbareck. Although it is sacrilege to say it 75 minutes of continuous medieval polyphony can be too bland a dish for some tastes. Garbareck's saxophone adds the spice to the Hilliard's main course. And yes, I would say I sometimes wish the sax took more of a back seat, but that only sharpened my appetite for polyphony without the spice, and there is a lot of that on my shelves. (The correct dosage of chant or polyphony is an interesting point. I grew up playing my music on LP's, and because selecting tracks in mid-record was a hazardous task I have the ingrained habit carried over to CD of playing the whole CD, or nothing. Only recently have I found that shorter periods of listening to medieval choral music in between other works acts as a very effective 'sorbet' which noticeably sharpens up my musical perception and appreciation. It is a technique I strongly recommend).


Is Officium improvisation? In the excellent sleeve notes John Potter of the Hilliard Ensemble writes, "What is this music? We don't have a name for it: It is simply what happens when a saxophonist, a vocal quartet, and a record producer met to make music."

One of the very few highlights TV highlights in a very bleak year here in the UK was Channel 4's wonderful documentary about Keith Jarrett 'The art of improvisation', which got me listening to Spheres and The Book of Ways again, and even the Koln Concert. One of the many things that this beautifully produced 90 minute documentary (with mercifully few commercial breaks) brought home was that if Jarrold is a genius, Manfred Eicher founder of ECM Records and creator and producer of Officium, all Jarrett's recordings, and much more, is a double genius.

There is a real role for new approaches like Officium, not the least in opening up new audiences. I recently received an email from a reader which said "I have to say that I am really enjoying your weblog. The boy sculpture looks absolutely amazing. Have also listened to the samples from the Santiago a Cappella CD which sound sublime. Although a secular household we have recently started buying a fair bit of sacred music so I shall put this one on the Christmas list!" If Santiago a Cappella. pushed a button try Officium. Despite its popularity it is challenging, and like everything challenging it is ultimately very rewarding.


Officium has taken me down some new Overgrown Paths. The Hilliard's CD of works by Perotin (one of the earliest known composers, with dates of around 1180-1210 this is Early Music with a capital E!) awaits at the world's best independent classical music store, Prelude Records in Norwich. And Christobal de Morales (the composer of the Hilliard's title track on Officium), Manuel Cardoso,, and John Dunstable, and others beckon, while I have been getting enormous rewards from Brilliant Classics wonderful O Magnus Mysterium 4cd box set...

The Monastery of St Gerold, recording venue for Officium



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