1.02.2011

Obscurities made Bright



It is part of my personal, artistic, and professional credo to discover, explore, and enjoy the music of obscure composers. The unfamiliar is a dangerous and beautiful adventure. Here are some of my random and recent discoveries:
PictureJoseph Jongen

1873-1953
Here's a remarkable guy who got into the Belgian Liège Conservatory when he was seven, claiming prizes in fugue, piano, and organ. I think when I was seven I was playing Skunny Kart at Jonathon's house and almost taking the second grade twice (I couldn't remember if I'd taken it already or not). He won the coveted Prix de Rome and toured Europe (though by now he wasn't seven) and enjoyed the different musics of Debussy, D'Indy, Brahms, and Franck. During WWI he fled with his family to England where he spread the love of music with a piano quartet that he created. He died in Belgium after teaching fugue for years to eager youngsters.
Check out his Two Pieces Op. 33. Clair de lune is expansive and lush and a little impressionistic. A repeated F-sharp keeps us out of Debussian mists and on solid ground. Soleil á midi is a great contrast and not one the impressionists seem to enjoy putting to music. I think the disjunct main melody could grow on you after repeated hearings. Danse lente pour flute et harpe, Op. 56bis is wonderful. Written while in exile in England it really expresses the pain of separation and war. I never knew those two instruments could fill the soundscape with such intensity! Lastly I gave his famous Symphonie Concertante, Op. 81 a whirl. It is this piece for orchestra and organ which keeps him on the map for the AGO peeps. It's wicked hard and has some wonderful orchestration, especially the woodwinds in the slow third section. Knocks socks off, though there are times that the organ feels like a mining drill searching for nuggets in my forehead.
PictureValentin Silvestrov

1837-
Yes, he's still alive! Kind of rare for me. :) Silvestrov hearkens from bright and sunny Kiev. After my own heart he began his musical life at the insanely late age of fifteen. Very self motivated. He became a leading member of the Kiev avant-garde scene and consequently was shut down by Soviet realists. To survive the political-artistic climate he got another job and continued to compose privately. In the 1970s he changed his aesthetic outlook and created something he calls metamusic or metaphorical music. In this style the focus is on the employment of a universal musical language, a limitless lexicon of nondogmatic understandabilityness! Very post-modern in philosophical outlook.
For a taste of the Kiev avant-garde listen to his Trio for xylophone, flute, and trumpet. Deserves several listenings. Quite melodic. Love the fluttertongue in the first movement. Symphony No. 4 is fantastic. One movement of sinuous, snaky strings, blocks of sound and nasty trumpets. This metaphorical music style is very digestible and enjoyable. I find snippets of Goresky and Glass, but it's all decidedly Silvestrov. I think that comes of the speed of thematic development, not too fast or too slow. Lastly listen to any of his piano compositions such as Nostalghia, Benedictus, or Sanctus. It's minimalistic and songful and sparse and subjective. I would love to look at the sheet music and see all those slow moving whole notes passing like distant mountains. Jessica liked it so much she demanded that we buy the CD. Sleepy time goodness.

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