Monday, June 30, 2014

Angels in the Architecture

   As a gesture of justice, let's try to observe 20th century art of sound without excitation, just as one more century in the history of music. But it is not an easy task. No wonder, past century was highly irregular period of rapid changes and modifications. Social issues were significant too, and for sure economic changes had strong impact on functioning of the culture, but still it was technology improvements which had really changed our life. Electronic means of sound during the process of production and reproduction has exchanged music dramatically and at any level of its functioning. In a way this revolution was even bigger than famous improvement in printing technique developed by Johannes Guttenberg. Before the era of electronic revolution many parameters of sound and space were just randomly. Composers were trying to make structures proper for every kind of reproduction, for good and poor performers, for small and big halls and auditoriums. Their aim was to compose music which could be played in every shape, in every possible circumstance with almost the same effect.
   In 20th century electronic means revolve everything upside down. From early mechanical phonographic recordings, than modified by electronic and digital technology, the process was a new quality in musical culture. Earlier theoretical attitude was always focused on structures and means, constructive, harmonic, orchestral, supported by the descriptive reports on performance characteristics. And rapidly musicologists were able to compare different ideas and distant realities. Old school performances with all its faults gave way to perfect performances of generations learned from records. Learning from recordings resulted the experience impossible to acquire in traditional culture. Recorded in studio, or just collected and merge from many recorded fragments compositions were moved to listeners' homes as the sound product of perfect quality. This change has influenced all kinds of music, and cultural practices. 

Angels in the Architecture (1987)

   When musicians realize the common place for listening music became home and how related social behavior had changed, they started artistic search for adequate means of expression. In fact earlier changes also generate artistic revolutions, every social, economic, religious change has strong impact on culture, so there’s no surprise changes in 20th century had been changed a lot. In 1980’s, partly as a reaction on disco frenzy, partly to recognize new possibilities of creating artificial sounds and spaces, group of musicians started recording music for contemplative listening, composed more as static sound picture than narrative musical construction. Creators of this new way were recruiting mainly from progressive rock, electronic, alternative and session musicians. This part of music, strongly connected to electronic sound experiments and minimal music ideas has been called ambient music and in early 1990’s it was widely spread as alternative for rock, dance and popular music.
   One of labels specializing in ambient records was Editions E. G. which was continuation of famous in 1970’s E. G. Records. It has started in 1969 from artistic management of David Enthoven and John Gaydon who were managers of such giants as King Crimson, T. Rex, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Roxy Music. In next decade E. G. Records was still the label significant for the whole artistic movement developed from progressive rock. In 1987 label Editions E. G. (then marketed by Virgin) released sampler of ambient productions We have here classics of Harold Budd, Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Michael Brook, experimenters and intellectualists with great Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford, Patrick Moraz, Phil Manzanera and Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
   Thirteen compositions from albums signed by featured artists comprises both meditative and radical compositions and everything here is outside the mainstream. But now, when more than the quarter of the century has passed, former experiments sound nobly and honestly. It’s fascinating how time made them pure and clearly understandable, free of novelty and thus full of meanings. There’s one more chance to look behind the curtain of our memory. And what we can find in past, show us where we really are.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Johann Georg Albrechtsberger – Concertos for Jew’s Harp & Mandora

   Johann Georg Albrechtsberger was one of prominent composers in classical period Viennese school. He was only four years younger than his friend Joseph Haydn. Educated in philosophy and in music, he was skillful composer, using with competence almost all known techniques. Big part of his work is connected to his service as organist of Viennese court (from 1772) and Kapellmeister of St. Stephen Cathedral (from 1792). His numerous compositions for piano, organ, chamber ensembles, orchestral and vocal music was accompanied by theoretical works in subject of harmony and theory of music, treatise on composition and many others. He was also famous as a teacher of at least two generations of composers. His pupils were Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Anton Reicha, Ignaz Mosheles, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart and many more. But his best known student was Ludwig van Beethoven, who came with Haydn’s recommendation and found in Albrechtsberger competent and experienced master of composition.
   Although in perspective of popular history and its simplified facts Albrechtsberger is remembered mainly as Beethoven’s teacher, his theoretical, practical, personal and artistic impact on European culture is really difficult to overestimate. His ideas in theoretical studies and teaching directions were setting trends many years after he gone. Some of his compositions have experimental character even today, even if these pieces are now just a curiosity. Probably most famous are concerti for Jew’s harp (Maultrommel) and string orchestra. Jew’s harp is small instrument used in Europe from 14th century. It was very popular until 20th century and today in different types and names is circulating in world wide culture. Johann Georg Albrechtsberger was only famous composer of western music who wrote concerti for this folk instrument. He composed seven, but only half of them survived. Two were recorded June 29, 1981 in München.

J. G. Albrechtsberger – Concertos for Jew’s Harp & Mandora (1981)

   Survived in Hungarian National Library in Budapest, Concerti for Jew’s harp, Mandora and Orchestra E Major and F Major were composed between 1769 and 1771. Compositions written in early classical gallant style illustrate the moment of establishing classical form. Concerto E Major is constructed in traditional three part form, Concerto F Major is in four movements with Menuett as third movement, connecting this work to some construction ideas of symphonic form. Both concerti feature two small folk instruments: Jew’s harp and mandora, which is name for various instruments. From Albrechtsberger’s textbook on composition we know in 18th century it was small type of lute with 8 pairs of strings tuned according to the key of the composition. Soloists in 1981 recording were Fritz Mayr playing Jew’s harp and Dieter Kirsch playing mandora. Performances were directed by Hans Stadlmair leading Münchener Kammerorchester. The cover features painting by Dirck van Baburen, Youth Playing the Jew’s Harp (1621). This famous Utrecht painter left series of works showing young men playing various musical instruments, which are probably his self portraits.