Posts Tagged ‘orchestra’

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Smart

July 22, 2012

English Horn

Smart

Earle was probably one of the finest orchestrators I have ever heard. One needs only to listen to pieces such as Available Forms I and Available Forms II and later works such as Cross Sections and Color Fields and Windsor Jambs: these are lush scores, rich in orchestral textures and bold, brilliant chords. After composing Trailing Vortices (1986), my Fromm commission, I visited New York City.

I showed it first to a composer of some renown – with a Pulitzer Prize, Academy Award and the Metropolitan Opera in his pedigree – and he correctly identified a problem in the work but only offered criticism (I am grateful that he pointed it out). A low oboe line that appeared throughout would not blend softly as desired, but would instead stick out like a sore thumb.

The part could not simply be bumped up an octave, as it was part of a unison chromatic pattern that was integrally staggered with the ensemble. I left the meeting with one thought, ‘How can I fix this part without wrecking the whole piece?’

The next day, I met with Earle at his home and showed him these problematic sections. He took one look at the score and said, ‘Oh, that’s no problem, just give those lines to the English horn!’ (The result was that it sounded great. Thank you, Earle!)

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

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Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Getting Lost

July 17, 2012

Luigi Nono conducting his music

After one of his concerts in San Francisco, I drove Earle and his wife Susan back to their hotel. As is not uncommon, I got lost and we ended up having a wonderful conversation (this was in the 1980s, before cell phones). He told me how he loved Luigi Nono, who had championed his works in Europe and brought Earle to the attention of the publisher Universal Edition. We talked about the absurdity and impracticality of my large divisi work for orchestra, yet he knew that someday it would prove to have been a worthwhile endeavour. It had already secured his respect: ‘Who writes such a piece when they’re 23?’ Thankfully, we eventually found his hotel…

Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

Tempo is the Only Constant

September 9, 2009
Excerpt from Susman's Pentateuch showing divisi polyphonic and polyrhythmic wind, brass, percussion and string sections with three choir groups of tenors and basses in 5ths below the soprano lead

Excerpt from Susman's Pentateuch showing divisi polyphonic and polyrhythmic wind, brass, percussion and string sections with three choir groups of tenors and basses in 5ths below the soprano lead

Thoughts on the Typology of Central African Music:

Melody in Central African music is determined by the tones of the language. As I mentioned in a previous blog Steve Reich uses this approach in his work Different Trains. Also the melodic line can be transposed allowing a wider range of intervals. Often the lines descend in the form of terraced movement resting on “successve levels”. (Arom, 19)

Tempo is the only constant. The speed of a piece of music never varies. Only melody, rhythm and instrumental patterns may change in a musical discourse.

There are different techniques of plurivocality or multi-part singing: Heterophony, overlapping and homophony. André Gide relates his impressions of a ‘tam-tam’ in 1928, “but imagine this tune yelled by a hundred persons not one of whom sings the exact note. It is like trying to make out the main line from a host of little strokes. The effect is prodigious and gives an impression of polyphony and of harmonic richness.”

Simha Arom aptly describes the features of this heterophony which I will delineate in a list:

  1. A melody whose outline is refracted by a kind of halo
  2. The voices are slightly unfocused
  3. Minute variants
  4. A coming and going of dissonances
  5. Overlapping between solo and chorus parts (Gide called this ‘brocading’)
  6. Often in the middle of this process a singer will sustain a single note thus creating an intermittent drone. (Arom, 21)

Homophony on the other hand is the most common form of multi-part singing. This form of plurivocality involves parallel movement of the voices. Typically they are in intervals of 4ths, 5ths and octaves. Often certain tribes are known for singing distinctly with these intervals as 8-5-4 tribes and some sing in 3rds. (Arom, 22)

In Pentateuch (1983) a grand divisi orchestra, choir and soprano work written when I was 23 (with influences from Ligeti and Xenakis) the three male choir groups sing for an extended period in 5ths. Each group takes its turn singing a phrase in 5ths while the soprano voice predominates above in a quasi call and response. My intent was to create a very raw, basic and forceful sound in the midst of a constellation of divisi polyphonic and polyrhythmic wind, brass, percussion and string sections.