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  • Originally posted by Shere Khan View Post
    Maybe but it sounds like it was, "Hey, coming to see Brahms new thing"? "Too right; when"? "About 20 years time, and it probably won't be much cop, either"
    Anyone see the Boulez programme on BBC 4 a few days ago? Very good. The film of the crockery being smashed in the Ligeti piece at The Roundhouse was priceless. Old Pierre may have been committed to advancing the cause of modern music but he had no truck with modern hairstyles; he had a comb-over pretty much from day one until he died.
    Not sure it's entirely fair to tag Brahms with an MBV/Steely Dan/Kate Bush type unprolific reputation here, he did plenty of piano and quartet pieces (more of which later?), it's just that being 'the new Beethoven', people expected, nay demanded symphonies from him, so it's perhaps understandable he dragged his heels given that he didn't feel it to be his natural milieu.

    I haven't seen the Boulez programmes yet. I know very little about him, but I have some vinyl waiting in the wings that I want to give a listen to before I dig deeper. Following on from my experiments with Berg, this morning I gave an outing to this:



    'Edgar Varese' - 'De Reihe' Ensemble/Friedrich Cerha

    I'd heard a little about Varese's experiments with theremins/magnetic tapes/electronics and so picked up this 1971 Vox Candide release to investigate. It was a 25p charity shop find and I should say that despite appearing to be in reasonable condition, there's a lot of static and crackling throughout, particularly on side two.

    It concentrates on Varese's earlier works from the early 20's to the early 30's, so no electronic noodlings just yet, but a good example of a composer who along with contemporaries such as Berg, Hindemith and Schoenberg was busy throwing his toys out of the pram, although not necessarily in a bad way. Living as they did in revolutionary times, when 'theory' wasn't the dirty word it is today, Varese's generation were keen to tear up the musical rulebook, although to varying degrees, they were sometimes a bit too hasty to replace it with another of their own making.

    In Varese's case this meant that the prevalent 'diatonic' system and conventional notions of melody and harmony were left out for the binman, while in came a concern with 'pure' instrumentation and a striving for music based on 'rhythm and intensity'.The key casualties of this were string instruments (sorry, Alban...) as Varese was keen to avoid their tendency towards vibrato, whilst percussion was the main beneficiary.

    The 'Integrales' and 'Hyperprism' written for a small brass and woodwind outfit with lashings of percussion typify this approach. You could be picky and say that there's a bit too much atonalism here and the odd gratuitous crashing cymbal there, but by and large this is recognisable as 'modern' music. It leans heavily towards an air of tension, but it's music that soundtracks the passage of time from moment to moment very well. Certainly, anyone with an appreciation of film scores could surmise that this is a kind of music which at some point would have to be written by someone somewhere.

    Fortunately, Varese didn't appear to be an absolute stickler to his own theory either. The short 'Density' for solo flute is a pleasant (and not unmelodic) listen, and the flute joins it's woodwind brothers and a few brass instruments (including the notoriously 'impure' trombone) in 'Octandre'. Poems are set to a chamber orchestra and sung soprano in the slightly eerie 'Offrandes', but it's 'Ionisation' from 1931, composed for 13 percussion players (playing 37 instruments) that is the most modern and most experimental piece on the album, perhaps a pointer for where Varese would go in future years. It's that 'rhythm and intensity' in it's purest form and despite a few touches that hindsight might lead us to identify as a bit 'obvious' (chiefly use of a siren), it's a satisfying piece with just about the right amount of structure. It's probably worth taking a moment too to imagine how alien this must have sounded at the time, and the subsequent (and almost universal) critical mauling it received as a consequence.

    It's a pity that this copy is in such a poor state (I shall subject it to the giantchicken 'intensive' treatment) but I'll look out for a better one, which I suppose means that it passes the test, and look out for some of Varese's later works too. Here's a modern reading of 'Ionisation'...

    you can hear colours when they rhyme...

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    • thanks for that review. I've owned that for about 15 years and despite listening to it a few times, don't recall a single thing about it.

      I'll give it another spin and if it doesn't sink in this time you're welcome to it.

      Back in the world of more tuneful stuff, picked up Neville Marriner doing Handel's Concerti Grossi Op 3 on Argo the other day, and it's great. Now looking out for the Opus 6 set too, which also has good reviews.

      http://www.discogs.com/Handel-The-Ac...elease/3575890

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      • Originally posted by bongolia View Post
        thanks for that review. I've owned that for about 15 years and despite listening to it a few times, don't recall a single thing about it.

        I'll give it another spin and if it doesn't sink in this time you're welcome to it.
        Thanks for taking the time to read it Bongolia - remember though, I am just musing aloud as someone who is only dipping their toe in the water for the first time. Happy to take up your offer on the Varese if you find you don't get on with it. Postage on me of course or perhaps I can dig out a trade...

        Originally posted by bongolia View Post
        Back in the world of more tuneful stuff
        Haha, know what you mean...I've spent the whole of today immersing myself in 20th century composers (including watching the aforementioned Boulez documentary) and I haven't even picked up a single tune to hum on my way to bed! Getting to grips with classical music is proving a fascinating journey, but as with so many things it leaves more questions than answers...I shall be putting some of those questions out here in the not too distant, hopefully....
        you can hear colours when they rhyme...

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        • Muse on GC!

          If in doubt feel free to refer to my posts as a yardstick. I genuinely have little or no idea what I am talking about. I might be familiar with a name. I might have heard short extracts (e.g. the last couple of minutes of Messiaen’s QftEoT 30+ years ago). Other than that? I sit, listen carefully, and respond. Afterwards I usually have a quick look around to see what the web tells me. What I then say here is only authoritative in the sense that it reflects my responses. I imagine that other members by now have a fair idea of my take on things, and will use that as a backdrop for my comments.

          To begin with I was slightly surprised at how little there was that really grabbed me on classical LPs. But, on reflection, that is my reaction to most LPs. Why would it be any different?

          I suspect that you are putting more into it than I do. I imagine that I'll gain something from anything you have to say.

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          • Originally posted by giantchicken View Post
            'Edgar Varese' - 'De Reihe' Ensemble/Friedrich Cerha
            Nice to see a bit of Varese in this thread - this recording is probably the first modern classical thing I ever picked up, following in the footsteps of Zappa. He was a big fan of Varese and I think Ionisation made a big impact - lots of loud drums

            I do think he represents the start of 'modernism' in music, everything he did broke away from the established models - the use of percussion and intense rhythm, the use of electronics, the 'vertical' sounds in the massive dissonant chords, the weird previously-unknown timbres and textures, the quasi-mystic quasi-scientific inspiration (mathematical, engineering and outer space influences as reflected in the titles of the pieces). All massively influential. Takes some time to 'grok' but is basically a different world in sound.

            I've picked up a few LPs more along the way, and the interpretation can really make a difference to how these pieces come out. For my money it should usually be as 'in your face' and 'angular' as possible - there are some mushy recordings out there, but these ones I would strongly recommend:



            The Jean Martinon record only has Arcana on one side, but it is the most stunning version of it, can't imagine this being bettered. Just sounds amazing.

            The two Robert Craft sets are excellent, and you get the bonus of stern Varese imagery - magisterial eyebrows and all. The version of 'Deserts' is complete with the electronic interludes, and I think this is also the only place to get 'Poeme Electronique'.

            The Boulez set is also very good throughout, but he chose to record Deserts without the electronics - bad call. There's also a second Boulez disc with 'Ameriques' on which I unloaded during a house move and have regretted a lot.

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            • Ligeti – Requiem. Michael Gielen conducting. On the Wergo label.

              I knew little about Ligeti before I heard this. I had seen Egisto Macchi’s work compared to his. And what I have heard of EM has been hit-and-miss.

              The title didn’t lead me to expect jollity. This is a long way from jollity.

              The first four minutes or so is heavy on the low register choral sounds. The word ‘chanting’ doesn’t quite capture it, because the tones are quite drawn out. If you heard this in a film, the camera would be moving slowly towards the inner sanctum of evil.

              After a brief pause, low register orchestral sound begins to impose itself, though increasingly shot through with high register sounds. Difficult to tell at times whether the latter are generated by the orchestra, or by the soprano and mezzo singers, or by both. The tones are still long. There is little if anything in the way of clear phrasing. There is incremental change. You can’t identify the changes without careful listening. There is a slightly episodic character to it. The episodes convey mounting intensity. Around the 11 minute mark there are bouts of unison shrieking and howling – all sustained and controlled.

              What that conveys is that something is moving inexorably closer. The something is momentous; not anything positive, something equivocal at best. And whatever it is, it is going to envelope you. Smother you. Overwhelm you.

              At around 12 minutes 40 there is a pronounced change. The orchestra, the choirs and the mezzo and soprano break ranks and engage in what might be a conversation. The intensity remains, but there is inevitable relief after the looming dread of the previous section

              At around 16 minutes we get to a final section. This is more of a synthesis, as sustained tones are added to the conversation.

              At around 22 minutes it is a wrap.

              Only 4 listens so far, so it is probably a bit early to be commenting. Still. The first 12 minutes or so had me transfixed for my first two listens. I would have said that it was longer than 12 minutes. And that the remaining time was less than it is. I am now starting to be able to hear the components. Also the last two sections are starting to make sense. Which is a shame in a way, as the impact of that onslaught of sound was quite an experience. Hearing it done well live for a first listen would be quite a thing.

              I’ve read a bit about it now on-line, but I’ve tried to do no more than record my responses here.

              More on Ligeti in the not-too-distant-future, I imagine.

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              • Ligeti crossed the border from good into special when I heard his solo piano works.

                Stripped back there's no hiding, and what's there is beautiful. Miles away from the Kubrick entry point.

                Pierre-Laurent Aimard's Ligeti Edition 3 on Sony is so nice - There's some on Youtube and complete on Spotify



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                • When at University, in the 80's, I befriended a staff member on the University Mainframe Computer music forum (green text only, must be one of the earliest ever), and he taped loads of classical music for me including Varese, that first Robert Craft one.

                  I put it on my walkman one night in bed thinking it would be relaxing music to help me sleep, well it partly was, & my drifting in & out of consciousness, with this "weird" music was an experience I haven't forgotten (obv.). I'd buy a vinyl copy if I saw one in a charity shop or whatever, but despite looking for a cheap copy for 30 years, no joy. I note there are none in the UK on Discogs.

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                  • Saw "Pli Selon Pli" and "Domaines" by Boulez today. $2.50 apiece. Wasn't sure. Might be there tomorrow. Boulez vous, anyone?

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                    • Recoms on Elliott Carter also welcome. "Variations for Orchestra/ Double Concerto" CBS (1968)? There was also a Nonesuch LP - can't remember which.
                      Last edited by Grim Lounge Cowboy; 19-02-2016, 12:52 PM. Reason: Variations etc.

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                      • I dithered over Britten's "School Concert". There was lots of Britten, mostly gone now. Why the apparent Discogs demand for "School Concert"? Anyone?
                        Last edited by Grim Lounge Cowboy; 19-02-2016, 01:01 PM. Reason: detail

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                        • Ligeti – Continuum. The same LP as upthread.

                          Solo Cembalo. No twangy moodiness here, mind. It starts out at an improbably fast clip, and picks up pace. No pauses. About a third of the way in there is an appealing wave effect. Some stylus/deck problems there? No, some of the sound is being generated from the instrument casing, perhaps caused by the force of the playing.

                          Sprint to the finish using the higher registers.

                          Just over 4 minutes and we’re done. I find that it elicits nothing from me, beyond a rather chilly appreciation of it as a formal piece.

                          Modern art done well.
                          Last edited by Grim Lounge Cowboy; 23-02-2016, 01:11 PM. Reason: Pickiness

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                          • Ligeti – “Adventures” (1962) and “New Adventures” (1962-65). Bruno Maderna conducts. On the Wergo label.

                            In the middle ages in Hungary there was occasional entertainment from travelling players. A common performance style was to weave together extracts from folk stories, farces, tunes of the day, extemporised musical interludes, clowning, gags, dancing and so on. The better performers carried off a variety of tones throughout the evening. There had to be a good dose of the demotic to cater to the rural clod-hoppers. But there might be the occasional sophisticate or would-be sophisticate in the audience. And even if there wasn’t, it wouldn’t hurt to keep your skills honed for when you eventually swept into a reasonable-sized town.

                            Here Ligeti renders what the audience would have heard in such a performance.

                            Ligeti’s masterstroke lies in his realisation that all of that will be lost on the modern audience. All that we hear is a seemingly arbitrary stream of laughter, bursts of music, musical chatter and silence. It is a glimpse of the deepest of Jungian archetypes through the prism of the post-modern consciousness.

                            This is the sort of work that will forever change your perception of music as an art form. The irony being that you might never realise that that is what has happened.

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                              As you can see, I decided to forgive Ligeti his "Adventures". I do so like the sleeves on those Wergo releases.

                              Back to the sale today on a hunch. There had been some suggestion that stock was to some extent circulating. Which would explain why I missed a couple of those other LPs upthread.

                              Currently at $5 per LP again. A couple of these are double LPs.

                              Absence of Obi might shave a $ or 2 from the Takemitsu.
                              Last edited by Grim Lounge Cowboy; 23-02-2016, 01:24 PM. Reason: WIP

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                              • Originally posted by Funktionnaire View Post
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                                As you can see, I decided to forgive Ligeti his "Adventures". I do so like the sleeves on those Wergo releases.

                                Back to the sale today on a hunch. There had been some suggestion that stock was to some extent circulating. Which would explain why I missed a couple of those other LPs upthread.

                                Currently at $5 per LP again. A couple of these are double LPs.

                                Absence of Obi might shave a $ or 2 from the Takemitsu.
                                I admire your perseverance with Ligeti, I've really tried but he doesn't move me in any way. Aventures was particularly annoying. On the other hand, I've already got a Bartok and a Kagel on Wergo from the same series and I do like those covers...

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