Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bohuslav Martinů – Rhapsody-Concerto; Piano Sonata

   In autumn of one’s life the lack of inspiration may be cause of repeating some ideas and even autoplagiarism. Some composers in their last years finishing creative attempts and retire of active musical life. But sometimes the late creative period means the best quality of freely and innovative works. For Bohuslav Martinů, this was the time for more open and creative viewing of many achievements from various moments of the European tradition and his own history. His, so called „fantasia period” was the time for loosing neoclassical formal bounds and constructing his works in more natural way. In his late years, he composed a great quantity of works which in emotional shape were precisely following spiritual and intellectual temperature of its times.
   It’s important to keep in mind Martinů was already well known composer when he wrote two major works of his last years – Rhapsody-Concerto and Piano Sonata. The Rhapsody-Concerto for viola and orchestra has been composed in 1952 – the last year of composer’s residency in United States. This is not typical set of concerto cycle. After five years of following the neoclassic formulas, Martinů submitted work in form of the double-part construction with lyric Moderato and more concertante in style second part Molto adagio ended in elegiac mood. It was sudden turn out of both neoclassic stylistics and traditional concerto form. Viola’s parts are warmth and fervour – lyric than firm. And whole concerto is about to be the reverse of baroque form, with its sequence of slow and fast movements ended by slow episode. Also Sonata for piano is one of most popular works by Martinů. The work has been composed for Rudolf Serkin in 1954 when after return from America composer and his wife were staying in Nice, France.

Martinů – Viola Rhapsody-Concerto, Piano Sonata (1979)

   Sonata for piano is more radical in expression, harmonics and in musical style than Rhapsody-Concerto. Based on dynamic and texture contrasts Sonata can be seen as a some kind of a test for technical and musical maturity. In Panton five recording series of Bohuslav Martinů legacy under the head ŽIVOT, DÍLO, MYŠLENKY, the performer of Sonata is pianist František Malý. On the same record (Panton 8110 0024) in Rhapsody-Concerto one can hear viola player Lubomír Malý and Prague Symphony Orchestra conducted by Václav Smetáček. This recording was also published on the monographic album of viola player Lubomír Malý. The record cover exposes the portrait of Paganini painted by František Tichý.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Randy Newman's Little Criminals

Three years after a great success of the album Good Old Boys, in October 1977 Randy Newman decided to premiere his sixth album Little Criminals. Previous successes made him well known all over the word as a singing pianist, stage personality and eccentric songwriter. In new project he has continued with more courage the idea of concept album. And this time the whole issue was more a set of songs which are loosely bounded by the idea of general depravity, than a traditional cycle of songs. The leading idea is to expose the gallery of immoral characters – not the great malefactors, rather small crooks we meet in everyday life. And the Little Criminals became the highest-charting album by Randy Newman.
Despite this the conception of Little Criminals sometimes looks less clear than in previous recording. It may seem more hermetic because songs are changing it’s style and every next song differs not only in musical idea but also in style of lyrics and subject’s point of view. Perverse in sense of humor and in cultural context Little Criminals gave us a view to an American failures and mistakes but still made easy to identify with the heroes of the songs.

Randy Newman's Little Criminals

This time Randy Newman was set as a star of pop music, accompanied by very good sidemen and even by back vocals of musicians from the popular group Eagles. One song Baltimore was heavily quoted. Vision of dying city where “ain't nothin' for free”  and “ain't nowhere to run to” was in times of recession especially bearing. Covers of Baltimore have been recorded by Nina Simone, The Tamlins and Nils Lofgren. And more popularity means more unprepared listeners. In first song of the album Newman begun text with the phrase “short people got no reason to live” and it became immediately famous as an aim of many protests against alleged cruelty of song lyrics and its author. Of course such accusation can be only an effect of misunderstanding the idea of whole work. Anyway Little Criminals album close many sarcastic, than poetic moods. And even if from this perspective new songs sometimes are not enough clear or maybe sometimes contain some personal connotations, this album is still enough distanced and critical against social reality to be comprised in genre of satiric rock.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Krzysztof Penderecki – Jutrznia

Born in 1933, Krzysztof Penderecki was first composer in after war generation, who has emancipated from dictatorship of avant-gardism. In mid seventies his style evolved and reach the point close to post-romantic stylistic idiom. Seventies and than eighties were the decades many listeners became weary of conceptual and experimental music. And so did composers who were more and more isolated in close circle of contemporary festivals and workshops. Considerable group of composers was looking for the ways to reunite with the audience expectations. But still it was a kind of surprise when after period of short and formally simple compositions, Penderecki turned towards great cycle-forms leaning on polyphonic structures and traditional narrative ideas of musical construction.
In predominant majority of critical studies, this turn marks second period of Penderecki’s creative output, but from perspective of few next decades it looks like consistent process of creating his own and highly legible style. After St. Luke’s Passion (1965) and Dies irae (1967) he composed two part oratorio Orthros (sometimes called Matins but best know from original Polish Jutrznia or in Old Church Slavonic Утреня). Based on Orthodox canonical prayers of Great Saturday and Sunday oratorio consists of two parts – The Entombment of Christ and The Resurrection of Christ. Oratorio finished in 1971 together with composed five years earlier Passion according to St. Luke forms a Holy Week triptych. Composer was planning and preparing for this piece many years before. Looking for inspiration he studied rites of various Orthodox churches and sects as well the connection between them and religious works of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Especially Bulgarian spiritual heritage became significant experience in composer’s research.

Krzysztof Penderecki – Jutrznia

Oratorio Jutrznia or Утреня – the major work of Polish composer was also the great recording project in early ’70s. The Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrzej Markowski was good basis for National Philharmonic Choir and Polish Pioneer Choir. Vocal parts, especially massive choral entries are crucial factor in sonoristic structures of first oratorios written in ’60s by Krzysztof Penderecki. Narrative functions were carried mainly by soloists, so this made essential the presence of wide set of solo voices. In this performance took part sopranos Delfina Ambroziak and Stefania Woytowicz, mezzosoprano Krystyna Szczepańska, tenor Kazimierz Pustelak basses Włodzimierz Denysenko and Bernard Ładysz as well as bassi profondi Boris Carmeli and Peter Lagger.  The double album was published in 1971 (Muza - Polskie Nagrania SX 889-890) and become the cornerstone of composer’s international career. In next decades this recording was reedited for digital media, and widely cited.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Krzysztof Penderecki - Passio et mors domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam

   Krzysztof Penderecki became famous in his twenties. Shortly after completing studies in classes of great Polish composers Artur Malawski and Stanisław Wiechowicz, he gained recognition as a representative of the Polish post-war avant-garde. His debut came about time of breakthrough after 1956 and rejection of socialist realism esthetic standards – finished his studies in 1958, one year later he won three first prizes in competition of Polish Composers Union. Being one of youngest in the group of composers grown after the war, he was as radical as focused on exploring newest formal ideas and possibilities of new sonority. Primarily his creative output in Poland and in whole Europe was mainly judged as experimental. Limited role of the melodic and harmonics, as well as the subordination of other elements to an individual concept of organizing musical narration, determined his original, highly personal composing style, which quickly paved the way for success in whole world’s stage.
   The first period in the artistic work of Krzysztof Penderecki brought such works as Emanations (1958), Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960), Anaklasis (1960), Polymorphia (1961) and Psalmus “1961” for voice and tape (1961). The second period is marked by some more frequent references to traditional forms especially oratorios and opera, which allowed the composer to deepen his search on the basis of sonoristic technique. The first oratorio was Passio et mors domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Lucam (St. Luke’s Passion) which he composed in years 1963-1965, having been commissioned by the Westdeutsche Rundfunk for the 700th anniversary of Münster Cathedral. The same place in March 30, 1966 the mighty work of young Polish composer had its world premiere.

Krzysztof Penderecki - St. Luke's Passion (1966)

   Next performances took place in Kraków – in Philharmonic Hall and in the courtyard of Polish kings’ castle Wawel. This set of musicians was recorded and published on double album by company Muza – Polskie Nagrania (SX 0325-0326). Though this recording is highly underrated it still has a great impact in Polish artistic life. Soprano Stefania Woytowicz, baritone Andrzej Hiolski and bass Bernard Ładysz were most appreciated singers for decades. The list of solo voices feels out the profound reciting voice of actor Leszek Herdegen and featured as one mighty instrument boys and men groups of the Cracow Philharmonic Chorus prepared by Janusz Przybylski and Józef Suwara. Immense group of voices and Cracow Philharmonic Orchestra were conducted by Henryk Czyż, who was one of brightest Polish artists, conductor, writer, teacher  and popular TV personality.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bohuslav Martinů – Symphony No. 4, Sonata for Flute and Piano

Bohuslav Martinů is a composer of 6 symphonies, which he became to create in his fifties. Five of his six symphonies come into being in the time of composer’s exile during 2nd world war and in first years after the war – First in 1942 to Fifth in 1946. There is no doubt, this set is crowning of Martinů’s neoclassical period. Last symphony, Sixth, written 1953 and premiered in 1955, was titled Symfonické fantazie (Symphonic Fantasies) and its construction was rather free fantasy than typical symphonic form. The most  popular, clear in its idea and fresh in formal invention is Symphony No 4. This work is exceptional for its positive impact – Martinů completed his Fourth the 14th day of June, 1945.
This was most joyous time in whole history of his wartime exile. Nazi Germany were defeated, war was almost ended and his professional life was on the best way to success. Unsure how the future will look like, as many exiles, he was enthusiastic about upcoming months. This spirit predominate in the whole composition. Scherzo is the second part (Allegro vivo) and it is stormy hence intensive in emotional pressure. The dreamy trio makes impression of outward parts more catchy. Largo is masterpiece of dramatically marked stopping of narration. After the moment of reflection, final Poco allegro gives listener diverse communication content.
Next day after finishing his 4th Symphony, on June 15th 1945 Martinů begin to compose Sonata for flute and piano, one of most popular Sonatas in XX-century music. During spring of 1945 Bohuslav Martinů and his wife Charlotte were living in South Orleans on Cape Cod. One day they found in the garden injured bird. The bird appeared to be whippoorwill and after Martinů took care, cure, feed and thought him to fly, the bird stayed in the garden and was singing before the composers windows. This melody taken from the whippoorwill has been quoted by composer in his Flute Sonata.

Bohuslav Martinů – IV Symphony, Flute Sonata (1979)

These two compositions were recorded and published in 1979 (Panton 8110 0023) – Symphony No. 4 performed by Prague Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Jiři Bělohlávek and Sonata for Flute and Piano played by flutist Jiři Válek and pianist Josef Hála. On the cover editors used fragment of picturesque vision of The Desert painted by Alén Diviš who was close friends with Martinů when they were living in Paris before the war and later in New York. Friendship between artists is always important but that doesn’t mean their works are enough close to put them together. For two joyous and hopeful compositions set together on one record, probably any other picture would be more relevant than waste desert land. It's clear, this is a kind of cognitive counterpoint to show how deserted was the European continent in 1945. And there are indications some shadows of  this war will survive even our grief.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bohuslav Martinů - Double Concerto, Parables

Bohuslav Martinů was a prolific composer, an author of more than 400 works. And great amount of his opera were neoclassical in form and modern in content concerto pieces. His concertos became the field for searching the balance between expression and conceptual idea. One of supreme works among many Martinů’s concertos was Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani. This concerto is great closure of prewar period in composers life. He finished working on score of this three-part composition on September 29th 1938, the same day Germany, France, Britain and Italy signed the "Munich pact" permitting German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland and then whole country. This was the beginning moment of composer’s emigration, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Twenty years later in 1958 he wrote Paraboly (Parables), one of best works of his after war period. This poetic work focused on surrealistic connections of ideas, which makes it sounds more abstract than Double Concerto. Before the war Martinů was interested in jazz and in his compositions from this period jazz idioms were often the point of handling the creative work. After many years of teaching (his pupils were among many other composers Alan Hovhaness and Burt Bacharach) he was able to create his own, sometimes idiomatic, sometimes universal and generally polystylistic language. Paraboly is very universal in its firmly emotional an still abstractive narration. And it’s quite different than Double concerto. Both are three-part constructions but it’s hard to find more common form related issues. Despite of many differences both works correspond well on opposite sides of one record – both are dramatic and highly expressive.

Bohuslav Martinů - Double Concerto, Parables

In this recording (Panton 8110 0022) Double Concerto has been performed by Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under direction of Stanislav Macura and Paraboly was played by Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Prague conducted by Zdeněk Košler. Cover art featured painter František Muzika and his Requiem. Surrealistic connection was often mentioned in context of Paraboly and whole fantasy period of Martinů’s creative output. Painter František Muzika was one of Czech surrealists and author of scenography to 1938 setting of Julietta – one of Martinů’s great opera successes in Prague.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bohuslav Martinů - Kytice

Bohuslav Martinů was probably the greatest Czech composer of XX century. He was born in Polička in 1990 and died in Liestal, Switzerland in 1959.  His style evolved in opposite direction from neoclassical forms to post-romantic idiom. Before the war he was continuing the tradition of romantic national Czech music. Cantata cycle Kytice (Bouquet of Flowers), connected directly to homeland folklore, was one of his best works. In fact, it was more syncretic fusion of modern solutions and elements of folklore than continuation of the school founded by Antonin Dvořak or Bedřich Smetana.
In 1979 Panton Records active in capital of former Czechoslovakian Republic issued a series of records with best known Martinů’s works. Set of five records has been opened by cycle Kytice (Panton 8112 0021). This cycle of works, composed to folk texts for mixed and children choirs, soloists and small orchestra, has been written in 1937. Performed by musicians of Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Prague Philharmonic Choir and soloists – four singers, two pianists and one harmonium player under baton of Libor Pešek, these recordings became great opening of the series.

Bohuslav Martinů - Kytice
The record cover features Jan Zrzavý’s picture Krucemburk.  Jan Zrzavý was a famous Czech artist and a close friend of composer. This is why Martinů dedicated the whole cycle Kytice to Zrzavý. Vision of the town Krucemburk, where time slowly flows by and past meets the future in sleepy small marketplace, could be just an ideal background for creation of Martinů's work. The same way he is joining tradition and modernity.  Martinů made his cantata neoclassical in construction and its strong rhythms are close to the one used in Les Noces (The Wedding) by Igor Stravinsky. This connection is confirmed by using piano as a part of accompanying orchestra, which is characteristic not only for this cycle. In comparison to Stravinsky’s Les Noces, Martinů’s work is much more complex in using various sets of voices and instruments. In Kytice folk lyrics are the basis for creating simply and modern, strong and expressive picture of human joy and destiny.