Articulate Silences

Tacet / Tacet / Tacet

Recitativo oscuro, Salvatore Sciarrino

Kandinsky Composition VIII

The music of Salvatore Sciarrino doesn’t just interrogate our strictly musical expectations, it probes the very boundaries of aural and temporal perception. Conjuring cavernous voids punctuated sparingly by fleeting outbursts of instrumental colour, the Italian composer confronts the listener with stretches of inactivity so vast that the sheer absence of event begins to imbue a near-excruciating sense of tension and urgency to his music. Such prominent use of silence is intended, in Sciarrino’s own words, to “put pressure on the ear”, ushering us into an almost meditative state of awareness in which all sounds, even those of our bodies, take on a revelatory significance. And this acute attunement to the corporeal is mirrored in the textures of the music: often centred around a heartbeat-like throb of a bass drum, Sciarrino’s sound-world seems as tied to the natural and the physical as it is to the ethereal.

Completed in 1999, Recitativo oscuro traverses the shadowy soundscapes common to the composer’s orchestral work: the music remains veiled and elusive throughout, rarely rising above a hesitant pianissimo. Yet, the piece is perhaps one of his least esoteric; a piano concerto of sorts, Recitativo oscuro avoids complete abstraction by virtue of the focal point provided by the instrument which sits in the foreground of the musical texture. The accompanying orchestra is largely used to create a sonic context for the piano’s music, cloaking its angular motifs in an intoxicating, translucent gauze of sound; as such, the piano serves to signpost the journey through Sciarrino’s amorphous sound-world, transforming the hushed textures of the orchestra into something remarkably approachable.

Recitativo oscuro is bestowed with further drama in live performance; the spectacle of such a large orchestra exuding only the most tentative, muted sonorities provides a fitting visual counterpoint to the music. Constantly threatening a climactic resolution that remains tantalisingly unrealised, this piece is haunted by ominous absences, defined as much by that which goes unheard – the spaces between and around its clusters of sound – as by the sounds themselves. Recitativo oscuro courses with colossal yet dormant power: a static and expansive piece that seems perpetually to point beyond itself – to other sounds, to other ways of listening.

Below is a recording of Recitativo oscuro accompanied by a brief listening guide.

Recitativo oscuro is cast in a single, slowly unfolding movement; however, for the purposes of this brief guide, it will be helpful to break the piece down into three sub-sections. The first passage (until 2:37) is dominated by the piano with tentative interjections from the orchestra. The piano’s music in this section, whilst erratic, is centred around the two chord motif heard at the opening of the piece. At 2:37 a low, rumbling beat enters – a bass drum skirted by the tapping of the keys of woodwind instruments – which forms the basis of the second section (2:37-11:41). This passage has a simple construction: howling woodwinds rise and fall atop the continual beat with the piano appearing only fleetingly, seemingly disconnected from the orchestral backdrop. A particularly striking moment comes when an outburst from the piano and brass (10:44) leaves the beat distorted, almost frayed (first heard at 10:50). The final passage begins as 11:41, following another eruption from the piano. In this section, the bass drum is stripped of its adorning woodwinds, receding to the edge of audibility, whilst the piano becomes increasingly agitated. The piece closes with a passage of call and response between piano and orchestra (beginning 14:45), perhaps the only instance of sustained interaction between the two, culminating at 15:45 with the orchestra’s insistent repetition of a single chord as the piano plays frantic, circling figures.

The fine recording above is performed by the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI, conducted by Tito Ceccherini and with Daniele Pollini at the piano. The performance is available on the Kairos label as part of a comprehensive 3 CD set of Sciarrino’s orchestral works.

To delve further into Sciarrino’s shadowy sound-world, the early orchestral work Variazioni (1974) and the flute concerto Frammento e Adagio (1991) are both highly recommended. A more expressive side to the composer’s music is revealed by Macbeth (2002), an operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy. The music of German composer Helmut Lachenmann is similar to Sciarrino’s in its sparse textures; the skeletal Mouvement (– vor der Erstarrung) (1982) is a fascinating, if somewhat unforgiving, listen.

Artwork: Composition VIII, Wassily Kandinsky

by Thomas May

Asyla, Thomas Adès

kush, sunrise

It would be easy to forgive the critics who patriotically claimed Thomas Adès as the next Benjamin Britten, despite the composer’s squeamishness at the honour. By the age of 26, having rebelled against many of high modernism’s inflexible, academic ways of composing, Adès had already forged a highly individual end-of-century mainstream, full of postmodern wit and historical irony. Perhaps Britain’s historical lack of musical genius has provided him with a (not undeserved) fame usually reserved for dead composers. Asyla (1997) encompasses echoes of intoxicating late-Romanticism, a compelling, breathless narrative amid violent contrasts, and a grotesque orchestral reimagining of dance music, all while pursuing a single, elemental figure. The typically Adèsian wordplay of the title (implying places both of rest and for the mentally unstable) neatly captures the subversive tone of the piece.

An almost universal reaction to Asyla and to Adès’ oeuvre in general is his uncanny ability to make something simple sound strange and elusive – a basic interval or chord becomes a mass of possibilities, each pursued to its logical extremes. His music is characterised by the extreme organicism of his approach to development, the magnetic attraction he finds between two notes; notably when the chaconne-like harmonisation of the principal melody of the first movement begins to take on a life of its own, creating a complex, spiralling structure with the theme, or the bass oboe tune in the second movement which reframes the same intervals in an endlessly fascinating harmonic kaleidoscope.

The orchestra itself is here reimagined as a universe of colouristic extremes. Adès’ textural hallmark is being able to “compose in” an acoustic to the fabric of the music itself; the electrical energy of a city seems hard-wired into the potent orchestration of Asyla, just as his string quartet Arcadiana is acoustically infused with the simplicity of another age, making the quartet seem as though they are playing outdoors in an Arcadian country landscape.

There has always been a touch of the anti-establishment about Adès; an ability to be subversive in very public places. His eloquent critique of cliché and suspicion of generic formulae has long been a feature of his work; indeed he often cites his aversion to Wagner and Brahms for these reasons (see his witty “anti-homage” Brahms). He admits that “reality is always going to leak into the work to some extent” – questioning the basic premises of music, exposing the latent absurdity and surrealism of the art form (well suited to the idea of exploring these musical ‘madhouses’) is a key component of his musical mind. In terms of both form and content, the music perceptibly strikes a careful balance between extra-musical, cyclical, worldly experience, and a fantasia-like exploration of the subjective, musical ‘world of extension’. The work’s formal ambiguities and ceaseless musical argument raise many more questions than answers, leaving the listener enraptured by Adès’ unique and visionary world.

Below is a recording of Asyla, accompanied by a brief listening guide.

An ethereal introduction scored for cowbells and a piano tuned a quarter-tone flat prefigures the entry of the spectral, distant theme in muted horns at 0:45. Several intertwining melodic lines fight for attention before a fusion of the introduction and first theme at 2:38, with strands of leftover melody in the piccolo. An apotheosis of the omnipresent theme appears at 4:44, after parallel developments of the opening harmonic sequence supposedly based on Couperin.

The enigmatic second movement opens with a theme that Adès describes as “a knight’s move away from how a melody might normally work”, seductively scored for bass oboe (0:32). These hypnotic, descending two-note cells grow into passage for full orchestra before a magical moment of stasis at 2:43, where memories of the first movement’s emotional language of dissonance intrude. 4:37 looks both forwards and backwards, with an outburst prefiguring the third movement, just as the ‘knight’s move’ theme has lulled itself into the background, before we are left with thematic and harmonic debris to close the movement.

Adès wanted the third movement to “evoke the atmosphere of a massive nightclub with people dancing and taking drugs”, hence the double meaning of its title Ecstasio. Characterised by manic repetition, fragments of techno parody eventually cohere at 1:55. It is not hard to imagine the journey through the club, which is advanced very cinematically at moments such as 2:50 (and in all its glory at 4:20) leading to a climax quoting from the end of Act II of Parsifal. The atmosphere is all the more compelling because it crosses the threshold from the abstract “asyla” of the first two movements into the real (or surreal) world.

The finale is an aerial view of the whole piece, beginning with several frozen tableaux (an expressively dissonant wind duet at 1:11, and a ghostly, veiled piano solo at 1:42). In the footsteps of his hero Janáček, the movement is built on nothing more than a variant of standard ternary form, but richly patterned to form something very personal. 3:37 leads to a final, tempestuous search for the meaning of the opening figure, suggesting a circular resolution – a haven even – but one tinged with harmonic instability, neatly encapsulating the dichotomy at the heart of the work.

This fine recording is a product of the long-standing partnership of Adès and Simon Rattle, here conducting the CBSO. Rattle’s releases of his later music with the Berlin Philharmonic are similarly immaculate.

Adès has so far been influenced by an eclectic range of musics in his relatively short career. Tevot, written a decade after Asyla, is another creative summing-up of his formal inventiveness and ear for orchestral colour, and his Violin Concerto Concentric Paths is a thrilling exploration of the nature of musical form. The work of Julian Anderson, also at the forefront of young British composers, is similarly evocative and open-minded.

Artwork: Sunrise by the Ocean, Vladimir Kush

by Joel Sandelson

Coro, Luciano Berio

gottlieb Ochre and Black [cropped]

Italian composer Luciano Berio is perhaps best known for his large-scale 1969 piece Sinfonia. Scored for orchestra and voices, the work’s third movement is a post-modern melting pot of disparate musical and literary references; centred around a quote from Gustav Mahler’s second symphony, the movement flourishes into an intricate, and often humorous, collage of musical “samples” that, to the modern listener, eerily foreshadows the dense bricolage of late 1980s hip hop production. Completed in 1977, Berio’s longest concert work, Coro, likewise comprises an intertextual web of references, yet this later piece is an altogether sterner prospect, devoid of the irreverent playfulness that characterised Sinfonia.

Coro is scored for a large ensemble — consisting of forty-four instrumentalists and forty singers — and its libretto comprises a variety of texts, mostly taken from the folk traditions of a range of different cultures. Yet, rather than pursuing the amusing juxtapositions of Sinfonia, Berio integrates this diverse array of source material into a mosaic of abstracted human expression; displaying his fascination with the theories of French anthropologist Lévi-Strauss, Berio constructs, as John Fallas has called it, “a structuralist matrix of words and themes” (“woman, red, dance, song, death…”) which take on increasingly nuanced meanings as the piece progresses. Based as it is around such brief snippets of text, Coro proceeds as a series of miniatures (thirty-one all told) which collide in an erratic and volatile stream of consciousness. Yet, despite the absence of an obvious overarching structure, there are a number of elements deployed to prevent the music from spinning off into incomprehensibility; the piano is often foregrounded, acting as a guide through the work’s labyrinthine design, and a recurring text (“venid a ver la sangre por las calles”, or “come and see the blood in the streets”, taken from the poetry of Pablo Neruda) is used to signpost key moments in the piece. Certainly, Coro is overwhelming and disorienting but never excessively so: there is a communicative thrust lurking beneath its chaotic multiplicity.

In live performances of the work, each of Coro’s forty singers is situated next to an instrumentalist, integrating the traditionally segregated entities of orchestra and choir. As the piece progresses, this blurring of boundaries takes on a symbolic function, a visual representation of Coro’s erosion of the binary categories that frame musical perception. Through the sophisticated interplay of the voices and instruments, intertwined as a single body, Coro glides seamlessly between the intimate and the expansive. At the opening of the piece, an elegant duet for soprano and piano is gradually enveloped in a mesh of competing melodic voices; the once imminent sounds receding into the distance, obscured behind a dense fog of urgent expression. Indeed, throughout the entirety of Coro, singular melodic lines bleed together to form vast harmonic blocks, accumulating into colossal, static clouds of sound as individual voices become subsumed completely, inseparable from the resultant outpouring. As such, this is a piece exploring the viability of intense individual expression within the bewildering chaos and noise of the modern world: a theme that finds little resolution in the midst of Coro’s ambiguous and heady swirl of sound.

Below is a recording of Coro accompanied by a brief listening guide.

Coro is segmented into thirty-one distinct passages, although these miniatures can be heard to combine into three larger sections.

The first section (until 18:43) opens with a stately duet for soprano and piano, gradually joined by other vocalists. A sudden orchestral outburst at 4:34 introduces the Pablo Neruda text to which the piece will return on a number of occasions. Only a snippet is heard at this point, but the full text is stated later at 8:40, following another orchestral tutti: “venid a ver la sangre por las calles”, or “come and see the blood in the streets”. The section closes with a hypnotic, rhythmically vitalised section beginning at 14:50, interrupted midway (15:54-16:18) by another statement of the Neruda text.

The second section (18:43-41:13) begins with another statement of “venid a ver la sangre” before opening out into an intimate duet between tenor and cello at 19:07. A melancholic alto, joined by piano and woodwinds (21:35-22:22), introduces another rhythmic section which expands ever outwards from the insistent piano figure at its foundation. Listen out for the eccentric vocal flourishes beginning at 25:20 and the metronomic percussion that anchors the expressive, meandering melodic lines at both 34:46-36:00 and 38:15-39:18.

The final section (from 41:13) closes Coro in enigmatic fashion, allowing the piece to recede into ambiguity rather than providing any sense of closure. Opening with an elegant a cappella passage, the section draws to a close as the almost drunken expressions in the brass (52:00-52:50) melt away into the muted sigh of the Coro’s final moments.

The recording above is available on the Brilliant Classics label, conducted by Berio himself and performed by the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Another fine recording is conducted by Leif Segerstam, released on Orfeo D’Or label.

If Coro presents something of an uncompromising introduction to this seminal composer, Berio’s numerous concertos provide more forgiving entry-points into his sound-world; the piano concerto Points on a curve to find (1974) and the violin concerto Corale (1981) both come highly recommended. For another work exploring the simultaneously intimate and expansive potential of different vocal groupings, try György Ligeti’s Requiem (1965).

Artwork: Ochre and Black, Adolph Gottlieb

by Thomas May

Quartet for the End of Time, Olivier Messiaen

Kline Mahoning 1956 [cropped]

The story of the Quatuor pour la fin du temps (1941)’s genesis is widely known, oft repeated, but what is often ignored in the telling is the remarkable nature of what was produced, given what one would have expected in the circumstances. Born in the midst of war, death, frost and famine, the Quartet, though explicitly apocalyptic, is not a fiery Requiem, striving to translate divine wrath, but rather an intensely devotional, transcendent composition, that reaches a realm in which such worldly troubles matter little, or not at all.

Imprisoned in the Stalag VIIIA German prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz in the winter of 1941, the young and brilliant French composer Olivier Messiaen, then in his thirties but already of considerable reputation, had the good fortune to encounter a guard who lent him paper and pencils and a secluded place to work. Three other musicians – a cellist, a clarinetist, and a violinist, were also imprisoned, and Messiaen thus composed a quartet for those instruments and a piano for him: an unusual combination, but not unheard of. It was the Quartet for the End of Time, where ‘Time’ playfully referred both to the world’s end, but also the end of time as meter: indeed the Quartet does away with strict rhythmic meter almost entirely, drifting as it does in a cosmic stillness.

Messiaen was inspired by a dream of his, drawn from the King James version’s Book of Revelation, which he transcribed in the score’s preface: “And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire… and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth… And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever… that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished.”

Played in the chilly night for the prisoners and the German guards, Messiaen’s meditative chamber suite was received with rapt silence: “Never have I been heard with as much attention and understanding,” he later recalled. So impressed was his guard patron that Messiaen was smuggled back to Paris to continue his work. It is little surprise, for the Quartet is one of the most remarkable compositions of the twentieth century. A deeply committed Catholic, Messiaen composed not a lament of war or death, or a bitter strike at oppression, but instead a paean to the world beyond (and above) of transcendence, redemption, and even, of joy.

Messiaen composed eight movements for the Quartet, seven for the days of creation, with an eighth for the eternity after. The eternal is a leitmotif of the piece: we catch glimpses of its gentle stillness in the first movement (the ‘Liturgy of Crystal’), and the cello and violin solos of movements five and eighth strive for it as a soul might in its ascension. The Quartet cannot but be understood in religious terms, nor would Messiaen have wished it to be interpreted otherwise. And indeed, I doubt even the most worldly of us can endure the haunting sublimity of the final movement (‘Praise to the immortality of Jesus’) without feeling momentarily detached from all that is concrete.

Below is a recording of the Quartet for the End of Time, followed by a brief listening guide.

I. Liturgie de cristal: The ‘liturgy of crystal’, which introduces the full quartet, is intended to evoke both the early morning strains of birdsong (the blackbird of the clarinet at 0:00, and nightingale of the violin at 0:10), as well as a brief glimpse into the sounds of paradise. Notice immediately the rhythm-less suspension of the movement’s sinewy melodies. The cello, meanwhile, plays circular, five-note melody, eternally repeating.

II. Vocalise, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps: The second movement introduces the angel who announces the end of Time. Here, the cascading piano chords of the angel’s presence (at 0:00 and 5:20), brackets the eternal stillness of heaven (0:47).

III. Abîme des oiseaux: At a funereal pace, the clarinet alone here depicts the melancholy abyss of time (0:00), until (at 2:21) the birds are announced, whose playful, jubilant warbles entirely negate the previous mood. Extremely minimalist for its time, much of the beauty here is in the texture of the clarinet’s voicing.

IV. Intermède: For violin, cello and clarinet, the short scherzo interlude is recalls some melodies of the second movement before (0:35) shifting into a rather playful, melodic chamber tune (though not for long). Again, the birdsong in the clarinet part is evident.

V. Louange à l’éternité de Jésus: The first of the two haunting louanges (‘prayers’), the sixth movement reflects on the eternal Word of Jesus, played by the duet cello and piano. The cello’s reverent melodic phrase (0:00) – whose tempo is literally marked as ‘infinitely slow’ – is answered by gentle, reassuring piano chords (0:22). Messiaen wrote that the melody “stretches majestically into a kind of gentle, regal distance.” The cello’s final, fading notes ends with a sense of infinite yearning (7:11).

VI. Danse de la fureur, pour les sept trompettes: Sidestepping harmony entirely, and with jagging rhythms, the full quartet here plays a ‘dance of fury’ in striking unison, recalling the seven trumpets that announce the apocalypse. Messiaen wrote of a “Music of stone, formidable granite sound; irresistible movement of steel, huge blocks of purple rage, icy drunkenness.” Note the growing wrath, culminating in the explosive restatement (at 5:09 and again briefly at 6:03).

VII. Fouillis d’arcs-en-ciel, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps: A ‘tangle of rainbows’ announces the reappearance of the Angel, cloaked in clouds, in the seventh movement, recalling the second. The early leading melody is the cello’s, with the swirling cloud wisps of the piano (both at 0:00), though this is interrupted by cascading piano chords and violent string/clarinet interjections at 1:40. The thud of the piano (7:06) ends the movement (and Time?) abruptly.

VIII. Louange à l’immortalité de Jésus: The second louange, this one to Jesus as man and flesh, replaces the cello’s line in the fifth movement with the more delicate violin. Of the melody, Messiaen wrote that its “slow ascent to the acutely extreme is the ascent of man to his god, the child of God to his Father, the being made divine towards Paradise.” Words fail in describing its power, though it might well be the most arresting lines ever composed. The yearning height of the fifth movement is reached in the violin’s ascent at 6:56… and then, at 7:41, transcended into the eternal.

The recording above is superb, arguably peerless RCA edition, recorded in 1989 – another end to another time – by the Tashi Quartet’s Peter Serkin (Piano), Ida Kavafian (Violin), Fred Sherry (Cello), and Richard Stoltzman (Clarinet), which is still widely available. There are some twenty recordings available, another highlight of which is the EMI Classics edition presided by none other than Messiaen’s wife and creative partner Yvonne Loriod.

Messiaen was immensely prolific composer, and any recommended selections cannot be possibly be taken to be representative, but most and justifiably celebrated alongside the quartet is Theme and Variations (1931) for violin and piano. The decidedly more bombastic Turangalîla Symphony (1946-8) provides another side of his work altogether. For a sense of history, another vibrant and near-contemporaneous take on the chamber quartet, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Second String Quartet (1944), is of interest.

Artwork: Mahoning, Franz Kline

by Simon Torracinta

Tranquil Abiding, Jonathan Harvey

Xu Bing - Tianshu [cropped]

An obsession with the human voice was a central project in the music of British composer Jonathan Harvey, who sadly passed away this week. It was a preoccupation present right from his first explorations of acoustic and electronic borders at the Paris music research institute IRCAM – the brainchild of Pierre Boulez. Harvey’s 1980 tape piece Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco (I lament the dead, I call the living) delved into the particular sonorities of Winchester Cathedral’s Great Bell and his chorister son’s voice – a soundworld where spiritual boundaries met submerged acoustics via groundbreaking digital synthesis. Nearly two decades later, emerging from a period of intense research at Stanford University’s Centre for Composition Research into Music and Acoustics, Harvey’s ecstatic approach to aural shape-shifting elevated the voice to orchestral grandeur.

The voluminous power of sound crosses from instrumental expression towards the voice at its most primal in Harvey’s pulsating 1998 essay, Tranquil Abiding, written for chamber orchestra and extended percussion. Organic symbolism is given physical life as a backdrop of oscillating chordal movement – inhalation and exhalation blown up to universal proportions – while timbral life flickers across the surface. Fractured melody is streaked through this perpetual breath, before drifting into cathartic resonance. The title, described by Harvey as “a state of single-pointed concentration”, is typical of how eastern philosophy infuses his music.

The seminal influences of Stockhausen’s musical mysticism and the electronic soundscapes that Harvey encountered while at Princeton during the 1970s, combined with a personal and intensified spiritual shift to the East, pushed his music out of the confines of the British canon towards a state of “Gregorian Paradise” – a strange meeting of plainchant and Tibetan ritual. Within Harvey’s interest in rendering emotional issues strange by digital technology was a great paradox. Here the electronic world had become a way of discarding the obsession with suffering inherent to 19th century music, reaching for a pure land beyond.

And yet despite its evocation of transcendent realms, the articulation of chant and intense radiance, Harvey’s music has always been a far cry from New Age escapism or the minimalist oases of Arvo Pärt’s “new simplicity”. Writing tonal music “fills me with dread”, the composer once said. Tranquil Abiding’s elongation of soundscapes and unravelling of facades inhabits a complex environment. Buddhist conceptions make a perfect fit for Harvey’s spectralism, where sound is exposed in all its minutiae: “the materiality of the sound itself…the ‘suchness’ – to use a Buddhist term – the ‘thing in itself’: the grain, the richness, the quality of sound”.

Below is a recording of Tranquil Abiding accompanied by a brief listening guide.

Over the course of its 15 minutes, Tranquil Abiding sustains a continuous inhale/exhale structure of held crescendos and lowered decrescendos. The cavernous string motif emerges (0:00), around which the texture increasingly fills (0:46). The breathing grows in climactic force as the orchestra literally works in organic unison. Across this, independent woodwind (1:20) orbit, come loose and expand into rhythmic flourishes (2:50). Fragmentation over textural passivity builds into sharp frenzied song (3:08). By 4:20, the extended percussion of Harvey’s orchestration, complete with oriental bells and gongs, breaks through. This language of symbolic oscillation and sharp expression is stretched out, in a masterclass of orchestral colour, peaking at 11:55 and closing in radiant catharsis at 13:30 with the sound of plucked strings and rustling bamboo.

The above recording for the NMC label comes from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ilan Volkov, on a Buddhist ritual-infused set that also features the song cycle White as Jasmine and Body Mandala’s exploration of the sound of Tibetan low horns.

Harvey’s opera, Wagner Dream, premiered in 2007, is a work of totemic significance. Its dual inspirations – Wagner and Buddhist philosophy – blur the boundaries of geography and thought, in a spectral drama filled with Harvey’s most oppositional music.

Artwork: Tianshu, Xu Bing

by En Liang Khong

Lichtbogen, Kaija Saariaho

Lichtbogen opens with the smallest of musical gestures; the flow of air moving across a mouthpiece, a tentative exhalation of breath producing the faintest hint of a tone. From this trembling nucleus of sound, the flute note steadily gains in weight and force, establishing itself within the aural space as its articulation becomes ever more assured. Yet, as soon as the tone appears to have settled into equilibrium it is transformed; its pastel colouration is imbued with a metallic shimmer as bowed strings furtively rise from the periphery, fusing to the flute’s timbre whilst simultaneously altering it. Next, a stuttering piano enters and what was once a pure, unified sound is gradually frayed as the string bowing becomes increasingly erratic, punctuated by the shiver of pitched percussion. Beginning with the intimate, barely audible sound of a breath, this elegant morphing of musical textures serves as a microcosm for the intoxicating soundscapes of the piece to come.

Composed in 1986, Lichtbogen is one of Kaija Saariaho’s earliest successes, scored for a small chamber orchestra including live electronics. Although she would later explore even more mysterious sound-worlds in her larger scale orchestral works, Lichtbogen conjures a stunning array of iridescent, tactile textures with a relatively limited sound palette. The seductive mystique common to all of Saariaho’s music is ever-present throughout Lichtbogen: this music is dream-like and ephemeral, a spectral web of sound that is as evocative as it is elusive. The piece hovers in an elegant stasis, hanging motionless in time and space even as its surface is texturally animated and vibrantly coloured; as such, Lichtbogen is at once welcoming yet subtly nuanced, revealing its vast multidimensionality under increased scrutiny.

As opposed to the pungent, occasionally claustrophobic, atmospheres of some of Saariaho’s orchestral music, Lichtbogen’s modest means affords generous space to the soundscape: this music is transparent and airy without ever becoming anaemic or insubstantial. As in the striking opening of the piece, Saariaho’s orchestration, as well as her subtle use of live electronics, perpetually blurs the lines between the individual instruments of the ensemble until they appear to melt into a single entity; independent voices are subsumed into the unified musical texture, coalescing into a sparkling cloud of sound. Lichtbogen’s abstract nature is balanced by its graceful luminosity: this piece is neither reticent nor austere, only reserved and refined, indulging in the sensuality of musical sound whilst simultaneously retaining a delicate poise.

Below is a recording of Lichtbogen accompanied by a brief listening guide.

Lichtbogen does not demand attentive listening, although it does greatly reward it; its subtlety is belied by its façade of simplicity. Following the majestic opening section described above, a gently lilting texture enters at 1:35 as arpeggios on piano and percussion rustle beneath an amorphous fog of strings and flute. This passage gradually disintegrates and at 4:09 a graceful flute melody rises above the mist. A particularly striking passage begins at around 7:10 as fragments of falling melodies are traced atop a contorting mass of strings, steadily becoming more insistent and culminating at 7:28 when a melody is passed between strings, piano and flute. Having passed through a variety of musical textures, Lichtbogen culminates in a stunning closing section (beginning at around 14:13) as a low throb of sound enters the soundscape. The live electronics are particularly prominent in this section, blurring aural perspectives as exasperated gestures on the flute are cloaked in a shimmer of pitched percussion and electronically manipulated sound.

The above recording is played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen; it is available on the Ondine label, as part of a comprehensive set of Saariaho’s orchestral works.

To delve further into Saariaho’s orchestral sound-world both Graal Théâtre (1997) and D’Om Le Vrai Sens (2010), a violin concerto and a clarinet concerto respectively, are highly recommended. Saariaho’s works for solo cello, in particular Sept Papillons (2000), maintain the same mystique even with a vastly diminished sound palette. Saariaho’s works are occasionally reminiscent of György Ligeti‘s orchestral pieces of the 60s and 70s, in particular the luminous Lontano (1967) and Clocks and Clouds (1972).

Artwork: Hero and Leandro, Cy Twombly

by Thomas May

Eraserhead Original Soundtrack, David Lynch & Alan Splet

Film soundtracks are often deemed unworthy of serious musical attention. This can be attributed, at least in part, to the belief that sound is subordinate to image in film; within the Hollywood tradition it has been the prevailing view that music should merely enhance the emotional and narrative content of the image without playing any significant role in the construction of a film’s meaning. In contrast to this pervasive ideology, American director David Lynch has consistently afforded an unusually prominent role to the soundtrack, beginning with his enigmatic debut feature film Eraserhead (1977). Working alongside the film’s sound designer Alan Splet, Lynch sculpted an ominous sound-world of industrial noise using the techniques of musique concrète, a form of electro-acoustic composition pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer.

Throughout the soundtrack, Lynch and Splet blur the boundaries between music and noise, the physical and the abstract. On occasion, a haunting glimpse of a jazz-inflected organ, obscured in a cloud of reverb, rises from the claustrophobic fog of noise, hovering for an instant before becoming subsumed again within the surrounding soundscape. The juxtaposition of the fragility, as well as the emotional naïvety, of the organs with the suffocating industrial sound-world serves to deepen the soundtrack’s mystique; in this setting, the fleeting moments of beauty are instilled with a darkly sinister edge. With Eraserhead‘s soundtrack, Lynch and Splet have constructed a foreboding, nihilistic sound-world haunted by vague, half-remembered snippets of music, hinting at a simplicity and innocence that will remain perpetually out of reach.

As such, the Eraserhead soundtrack shivers with a distinct sense of the uncanny: this music is at once alien whilst simultaneously nostalgic, imbued with an elegant melancholy. This effect is only augmented when the soundtrack is heard within the context of the film. The sounds are situated in an ambiguous, liminal space; it is never made clear whether the music is emanating from within the film-world or from some external source. The actors’ voices are intertwined with the soundtrack, punctuating the formless layers of noise with mysteriously musical, fragmentary utterances. Swelling organs disperse into the violent hiss of a radiator and pure, glassy tones appear to radiate directly from the seductive figure of the film’s femme fatale. The elusive positioning of the soundtrack in relation to the images conjures an atmosphere of the surreal, skirting the fantastical boundaries between reality and fantasy.

Therein lies the problematic nature of considering a film score purely as a piece of music. Abstracted from its position in an intricate audio-visual relationship, a soundtrack’s raison d’être is somewhat undermined. As such, the soundtrack to Eraserhead proves that music in film can be as challenging, ambiguous and strikingly creative as any other form of composition whilst simultaneously emphasising the importance of the dialogue between sound and image: perhaps the only way to fully appreciate this remarkable piece of music is in conjunction with Lynch’s equally unsettling, often shocking, images. Yet, this fact does little to diminish Lynch and Splet’s achievements with this score: Eraserhead‘s soundtrack is at once texturally vibrant, disquieting and intensely immersive.

Below is a recording of Eraserhead accompanied by a brief listening guide.

Eraserhead‘s soundtrack moves through a variety of aural environments, whilst remaining remarkably uniform in its brooding atmosphere. Following a claustrophobic opening, the soundtrack unfolds at 4:07 into a more spacious passage scattered with organs playing beneath the grainy surface and the distant sound of a siren. At 6:42, a brief passage of dialogue from the film is included, anchoring the ephemeral soundscape with musical voices. Having twisted through further labyrinthine passages of noise, music and dialogue, the baby’s cry is first heard at 14:12, a sound that will come to torment the film’s characters; in this section the baby’s voice is juxtaposed against a playful organ. Further points to notice throughout the soundtrack include; the blaring organ which melts into the low rumble of a radiator at 20:11-21:23, the strikingly beautiful passage of luminous tones accompanying the seductive, lilting dialogue at 23:05-24:27, and the quivering vulnerability of the song (sung by a woman living behind a radiator) at 24:44-26:14.

The Eraserhead soundtrack was restored and released on CD by Absurda in 2009. A vinyl issue was released earlier this year by Sacred Bones, including some previously unheard material.

Toro Takemitsu’s musique concrète soundtrack for Masaki Kobayashi’s 1964 film Kwaidan also blurs the boundaries between sound that is internal and external to the world of the film, creating a similarly unsettling sound-world. The orchestral film scores of Bernard Herrmann also reach beyond traditional notions of the soundtrack, assimilating a range of styles from late-Romanticism to serialism; his famous scores for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Vertigo (1958) are particularly recommended.

Artwork: Untitled (from the Black Series), Frank Stella

by Thomas May

Studies for Player Piano, Conlon Nancarrow

Studies for Player Piano is a fascinating, albeit utterly uncompromising, testament to the power of one man’s imagination. Indeed, it can be difficult to believe that all of its complexity, vitality and ingenuity is the work of a single musician. Written over a lengthy period from 1948 to 1992, this sprawling collection of pieces represents the lifetime obsession of American-born composer Conlon Nancarrow. Having emigrated to Mexico in 1940 in order to escape potential persecution as a communist sympathiser, Nancarrow lived the majority of his life cut off from the musical community, pursuing his idiosyncratic vision in virtual isolation.

Excited by the potential of mechanical music to achieve levels of speed and rhythmic complexity hitherto unimagined, Nancarrow decided to invest in a player piano in 1947. The instrument had always been dismissed as little more than a novelty, used for light entertainment but untouched by serious musicians; yet, something about the contraption attracted Nancarrow, appealing to his desire for scientific exploration as well as his acute sense of the absurd. In modifying its mechanism, Nancarrow was able to push his instrument’s speed to the absolute limit, almost surpassing the threshold of the human perceptual ability to distinguish between successive sounds.

Nancarrow’s sound-world exists in a state of hypersensuality and erratic hyperactivity: this music launches an assault on the senses with a relentless effusion of sound. Yet, whilst the adoption of the player piano certainly unlocked a wealth of new possibilities to Nancarrow in his explorations of rhythm and tempo, the medium imposed a stringent set of restrictions of its own. Indeed, despite its exaggerated sonic character, Studies for Player Piano can be viewed as a highly disciplined work. The self-imposed limitations of the player piano served to catalyse the composer to come up with ingenious solutions to the unique dilemmas posed by the instrument; Nancarrow incorporates the mechanistic, inhuman quality of the piano as a defining aspect of his music, invigorating its thin, lifeless timbre by constructing dense contrapuntal textures punctuated with jarring glissandi.

As such, there is a seductive tension lying at the core of Studies for Player Piano, a perpetual push and pull between man and machine, the expanse of the imagination and the limits of technology. It might be remarkable that Nancarrow was able to create such a rich and nuanced work isolated as he was from the artistic community, yet perhaps this is precisely the sort of music that can only be made in strict solitude. This work conforms to a logic of its own creation; its gaze is turned perpetually inwards, situated in an entirely distinct dimension. Despite its eccentricity, the music is never esoteric, instead Studies for Player Piano is shot through with Nancarrow’s infectious humour and wit: these pieces are sometimes bizarre, often baffling, yet always endearing and ultimately enthralling.

Below is a recording of the first volume of Studies for Player Piano accompanied by a brief listening guide.

In characteristically enigmatic fashion, Nancarrow organised his Studies for Player Piano into four volumes, each consisting of a seemingly random selection of pieces. To discuss the entirety of this work would be unrealistic in these pages, so the discussion below is limited to the first volume of studies, comprised of Studies No. 3, 20, 44 and 41.

Segmented into five sections and subtitled “Boogie-Woogie Suite”, ‘Study No. 3’ exemplifies Nancarrow’s early fascination with jazz and ragtime, creating vastly distorted versions of well-known forms. Whilst the study might not be as revolutionary as some of Nancarrow’s later pieces, it is certainly one of his most immediately rewarding.

Opening with only two voices in the texture, 3a initially seems like a conventional boogie-woogie, albeit sped up to an searingly fast tempo. However, the music soon leaves the realms of (relative) reality; additional layers are added in as the piece continues, culminating in an ecstatic, hyperactive swirl as a multitude of separate voices vie for primacy.

3b is more subdued with a coalescence of melodic lines winding around a walking bass line.

Like the previous movement, 3c is formed from a web of melodic lines layered atop a consistent bass presence. This music is somewhat more tentative and enigmatic than 3b however; listen for the thinning of the accumulating texture at 0:53 and 1:42.

This bluesy movement is considerably sparser than the preceding music, offering a fleeting point of respite amidst the formidable complexity elsewhere.

The study comes full-circle as 3d recalls the manic boogie-woogie of the opening movement, again increasing in density as it speeds to its conclusion.

‘Study No. 20’ is one of Nancarrow’s more austere pieces, layering successive blocks of single repeating notes to form a gradually shifting cloud of sound.

Subtitled “Aleatory Canon”, this study grew out of Nancarrow’s increasing frustration with his attempts to compose for two player pianos, finding it almost impossible to synchronise the machines satisfactorily. ‘Study No. 44’ is thus composed for two player pianos with the separate parts carefully calculated so that “everything, at any time, or any speed, would go together”. The piece opens with only one piano, joined at 0:54 by the second playing in a higher register.

‘Study No. 41’ is cast in three parts.

41a and 41b are both highly complex cannons for multiple voices; their skeletal constructions are punctuated with Nancarrow’s tradmark glissandi. Both build to frantic climaxes: 41a at around 5:00-6:00 and 41b at 3:45-4:30.

41c employs two player pianos, playing 41a and 41b simultaneously. The study opens with a sole piano playing 41a before the second enters at 1:24. The combination of the two furious climactic sections of the two previous movements (around 5:00-6:00) forms a thrillingly chaotic collision of sound.

The recordings above are available as part of a complete set of Nancarrow’s studies released by Wergo.

With his beguiling set of Piano Études (1985-2001), Hungarian composer György Ligeti displayed his deeply felt reverence for Nancarrow’s music, constructing a similarly labyrinthine network of gleefully playful pieces.

Artwork: Collection, Robert Rauschenberg

by Thomas May

Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Béla Bartók

Bartók’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle ushered in a new period of psychological realism, darkness, and economy of material in his music. Premiered in 1937, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was an incredibly compelling step forward in transferring these forces into the abstract realm. An Expressionist engagement with the drama of oppositions meets with a feeling of black comedy to create a highly visceral experience, married with masterful technical achievement.

This extraordinary work adds to Bartók’s assimilation of folk traditions of his native Hungary a sophisticated dialectic between ancient and modern. The movements each caricature a different form whilst adapting them to the precise, shadowy vision of the music. He does not fully embrace these archaic forms but chooses certain features from a distance, with the result of creating 20th century metaphors for the fugue, sonata and concerto, rather than wholeheartedly continuing their tradition.

Bartók’s worldview derived from a deep love of nature, and to an extent, a suspicion of man. This is prevalent in the poignantly restrained third movement, one of his finest examples of “night music”, marked by the interruption of “human” emotionalism of the opening viola theme into music otherwise expressive of purely natural beauty. The rustic Hungarian song and dance of the finale, heightened by Bartók’s exuberant tonal language, feels like the swansong of an old Eastern Europe before it was to be buried two years later.

The two antiphonal string orchestras on either side of the stage echo the Baroque concerto grosso, creating a spatially fascinating interplay of sonorities which Bartók exploits to great effect, employing dense contrapuntal writing. This represents a natural continuation of his blocky, clearly delineated scoring in his earlier orchestral music. The string choirs lie at the emotional centre of the piece, but his addition of the percussion is a perfect example of his use of orchestral colour to shade in the depth of the music at certain moments.

The interval of a tritone (such as C – F sharp) represented the “devil in music” in the Baroque and dark, elemental powers in late Romantic music. Bartók takes advantage of the associations of this interval (like everything else in the piece, derived from the opening motivic cell) but without a hint of cliché or irony; it is woven into its richly evocative yet totally unpretentious fabric. In the same way, the piece represents the culmination of Bartók’s tonally centric writing (certain individual notes act as “pitch centres”) but it is never in a key, so that the structural tension of long-range tonality is present like a shadow throughout without restricting itself to any sort of triad-based harmony. Disparate approaches are made harmonious in this most tightly unified of all works.

Stanley Kubrick’s famous use of the piece in The Shining is a testament to its strange power to enrapture coupled with an unsettling feeling of déjà vu. What makes it remarkable is its totally abstract, universal passion expressed through a rigorously intellectual concentration of thought.

Below is a recording of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta accompanied by a brief listening guide.

The first movement is an enormous fugue, consisting of a completely unbroken stream of notes producing a compelling, hypnotic power, seemingly infinite in its potential to expand and yet governed by a highly logical system. Starting around the pitch A, it reaches its ensnaring climax at 5:22 (at E flat, a tritone away). The fugue subject proves so powerful that it overflows into every corner of the rest of the piece. The breathless return of the opening is transformed by the cold glitter of the celesta at 7:25. However homogeneous it may be, the movement sets the tone for the whole work, embodying an intense engagement with its own material qualified by a frightened sense of distance.

The second, a boisterous dance movement, is cast in an expanded sonata form, with the opening flourishes oddly contradicted by a hushed, mathematical development at 3:15. The return to the movement’s opening at 5:21 is made the victim of a crude metrical shift enforced by timpani.

The deeply felt yet icy third movement is at the heart of the work. The xylophone’s accelerating then slowing pulse at the opening is a microcosm for the whole movement – it is itself a palindrome, summarizing the ABCDCBA arch-like structure of the movement, as well as being the musical noise of a cricket, introducing the theme of nature which Bartók proceeds to explore. 4:00 is coldly expressive of this natural world, not depending solely on pitch for its effect, and 5:52 presents an uneasy synthesis of the invading, narrative-driven theme and the mystical, nocturnal world of the rest of the movement.

The finale seems to resolve the human problems of its antecedent, embodied in part by a more consonant reworking of the opening motto at 3:22. The movement gathers up the melodic threads of the work and gives them a new depth of meaning with its unbrookable onward flow. Moments such as 5:45 cast doubt on the overriding tone of the movement, but the riotous ending makes it seem like a totally natural outcome of the darkness that it follows.

This clean, precise recording comes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine. Considering its dependence on three-dimensional perception for its spatial impact, live performance will always be preferable. However, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s reading with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, available on Sony, is particularly fine.

For an insight into Bartók’s incredible sense of proportion, the Fourth String Quartet is a particularly astonishing example, while the grandeur of the Concerto for Orchestra shows his exploration of scoring techniques adumbrated in Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Many works of the surprisingly contemporaneous Ralph Vaughan Williams provide a damper, more English perspective on folk music.

Artwork: Fighting Forms, Franz Marc

by Joel Sandelson

Einstein on the Beach, Philip Glass

Marc Jacobs’ Spring/Summer 2013 collection for Louis Vuitton was unveiled at Paris Fashion Week earlier this month. Models descended escalators in pairs onto a yellow and white floor, tiled in the company’s trademark Damier check. The clothing camouflaged with this staging, and projected the same values: retro/nostalgia, luxury, excess, kitsch, cleanness of line, “minimalism”. Background and foreground, scenery and actor, became part of the same network. Playing over the speakers for the duration of the show was ‘Knee Play 5’, the final movement of Einstein on the Beach (1975-76) by Philip Glass. The runway show could well have been a radical new staging of the opera in this, the year of the composer’s 75th birthday.

Glass composed the music for Einstein to a series of storyboards by director Robert Wilson, and set texts by Samuel M Johnson, Lucinda Childs and Christopher Knowles, an autistic poet just seventeen at the time. It is non-narrative in tone, instead outlining a metaphorical “portrait” of Albert Einstein. The work is five hours long with no interval. Instead, the audience is permitted to enter and exit as they please. Glass himself claims never to have seen the whole work in one sitting.

It was premièred in July, 1976, at Avignon, before touring Europe. Back in New York, Glass hired the Metropolitan Opera House in downtime with private money and, despite playing to two sell-out audiences, ended up heavily in debt, doing odd jobs to reimburse his backers. Glass worked a plumbing job at the SoHo home of art critic Robert Hughes in the immediate aftermath of Einstein’s US debut: “My God, you’re Philip Glass…What are you doing here?” “I’m installing your dishwasher.” “But you’re an artist.” “I’m an artist, but sometimes I am a plumber as well.”

Wags would have it that Glass remains a plumber – plumbing the depths of bad taste – but I disagree. Einstein in particular is a masterpiece, despite, or perhaps because of, its obvious rootedness to time and place (see South Park for a satire of Glass’ New York urbanity and the hip, non-narrative forms of his “portrait operas”).

Einstein can be read as part of a process of “becoming” in a career distinguished by continuity and flux in equal measures, rather than discrete periods or phases. The centrality of the violin (Albert Einstein was himself an amateur violinist) also recalls Strung Out (1967-68), a radically minimalist work of Glass’ youth. The focus on rhythm, repetition, and amplified sound (all hallmarks of minimalist music) does not prevent a lyrical, melodic quality shining through. Comprised of  electric keyboards, woodwind (including saxophones), and wordless voices, the Philip Glass Ensemble plays music ranging from ominous, slow-motion drones, to fierce, propulsive arpeggios, but the group always moves as one: more direct and less contrapuntally layered than the music of Glass’ contemporary Steve Reich. Einstein on the Beach, like Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians which emerged from the same cultural milieu, is a defining work of “minimalism”, but its ambitious scope and emotional range perhaps indicate the laziness of the term.

Below are clips (both audio and visual) from Einstein on the Beach, accompanied by a brief listening guide.

Einstein becomes something else when separated from its visuals, but that “something” remains important in the context of Glass’s oeuvre, interesting in its own right.

Act 1

Knee Play 1: This emerges, rather than “starts”, two figures on stage reciting fragments of text. An organ soon joins. After just a minute (in this recording), a famous game of Numberwang begins in earnest.

Train 1: Rapid-fire number-chanting and a fierce synth/sax ostinato in additive meters. The tempo has picked up, but the rate of change remains impossibly slow. A cut-out steam train entering from the side of the stage visually represents this. My favourite Glass moment is at 6:30, when the harmony is violently tossed away from and back towards its centre.

Trial 1: In three parts. ‘Entrance’, ‘Mr Bojangles’, ‘All Men are Equal’. ‘Entrance’ is austere, sang as a court scene is set. In ‘Mr Bojangles’, an abstract Christopher Knowles text naming pop culture figures is recited over a violin figure (played on stage by “Einstein”), and a two-note male chorus motif. ‘All Men are Equal’ is a surreal feminist tale about a women’s meeting in Kalamazoo.

Knee Play 2: Violin feature for “Einstein”. Joined by two women speaking over each other. Striking phrases include “these are the days, my friends”, “we get some wind for the sail boat” and “it could be very fresh and clean”.

Act 2

Dance 1: Motorik organ, wordless vocals, ballet dancing.

Night Train: A lovers’ duet, with solfège and numbers for lyrics. The lovers aboard a train are at times part of the ensemble, at others soaring atop it.

Knee Play 3: A capella number-chanting. Starts furiously and grows more stately.

Act 3

Trial 2 (Prison): Another courtroom scene, again in three parts: ‘Prematurely Air-Conditioned Supermarket’, ‘Ensemble’ (no clip above), ‘I Feel the Earth Move’.

After 1:55 of ‘Entrance’-reprising scene setting, a female voice enters with the most famous speech of the opera:

I was in this prematurely air-conditioned super market / and there were all these aisles / and there were all these bathing caps that you could buy / that had these kind of Fourth of July plumes on them. / They were red and yellow and blue. / I wasn’t tempted to buy one / but I was reminded of the fact that I had been avoiding the beach.

Repeats incessantly, before a ferocious riff suddenly takes over (12:06) and carries on into the Ensemble section. ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ is hushed text over a plaintive saxophone melody and organ drone.

Dance 2: Oscillates between two meters. Violin, keyboard, wordless vocals, ballet dancers.

Knee Play 4: Ascending ‘Do-re-mi-fa-so’ from the male chorus, with ‘Einstein’ at the violin. Changes from furious to melancholic at 1:28. The violin introduces one of the most striking motifs of the entire work at 1:51; the melody is ornamented and performed rubato in total contrast to almost everything that surrounds it.

Act 4

(from 8:20) Building: A freely improvised sax solo, not present on any recording, but there more often than not in performance, dominates the scene. This, more than anything else, ensures Einstein remains divisive, even transgressive, despite much of its content and style otherwise being accepted and assimilated into the mainstream.

Bed: Aria for soprano voice and organ.

Spaceship: My favourite Glass motif explored for an entire movement. The piece explodes into life at 1:11 and the bass takes on a life of its own at 2:14. The unison cadenza at 4:31 is ridiculous and sounds like nothing else by Glass. The ensemble reenters at 8:32 and the bassline goes into hyperdrive at 10:43, interstellar space at 11:57.

Knee Play 5: The numbers from Knee 1 reprised, a violin feature at 3:57, and a slightly inane Samuel M Johnson text about two lovers on a park bench. This functions, as the narrator says, as a “soothing story to banish the disturbing thoughts of the day, to set at rest our troubled minds, and put at ease our ruffled spirits.” Very possibly a joke after five hours of abstract (but highly affective) opera.

The two best recordings of Einstein are on Nonesuch (2012) and Sony (2012). Both are performed by the Philip Glass Ensemble, under Michael Riesman. No audio-visual recording is available, nor ever will be unless Glass/Wilson drop their opposition.

Knowledge of the music of Glass’s contemporaries (Steve Reich), his predecessors (Terry Riley, La Monte Young), and his successors (the Bang on a Can collective, and Nico Muhly) can only add to an appreciation of Glass’s own work.

Artwork: ‘Les Deux Plateaux’/‘Les colonnes de Buren’, Daniel Buren

by Thom Hosken