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Posted on Sunday, November 26, 2006

Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf Noon -2:00PM Eastern Time: 061127: WJFF 90.5fm, Jeffersonville, NY
Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf
Monday, 27 November 2006

Today’s Selections:

1. Elliott Carter Night Fantasies 21’00
1a. Carter in conversation with Rosen (time permitting) 06’40
2. John Harbison November 19, 1828 16’38
3. Ned Rorem Piano Concerto in Six Movements 24’43
George Rochberg Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra 18’32
5. Veljo Tormis Kullervo’s Message 10’36
Total time: 91’29
(w/ 1a: 98’09)

Good Afternoon, Lovers of Fine Music, and welcome to Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf, where we will hear the best of 20th and 21st century classical music as well as interviews with occasional guests. Before we begin our program, let’s hear what Liberty Green has to tell us on her weekly Arts and Culture Calendar.
As always, Liberty, we all thank you for the time and effort you have put into producing the WJFF Arts and Culture calendar.

CD 1, Band 4: Elliott Carter (*1908, NYC) Night Fantasies (1980): Charles Rosen, pianist. Bridge Records 9090.

Pianist Charles Rosen has this to say in his liner notes regarding today’s Elliott Carter selection:
Night Fantasies [1980] is full of melody, even some long melodic lines, but it has no themes, and no motifs – no tune is ever played twice. Textures recur, however, and so do certain intervals and chords, each with a recognizable periodic interval of its own. The rhythms belong to two sequences, which are almost incompatible with each other: the basic ration is 24 to 25; we hear rhythms that begin together, draw gradually apart, and then return. This means that the rhythm of the bar lines can never be heard in this piece, and that gives the work its impression of improvisation and freedom. In its variety of moods and expression – lyric, satiric, brutal, dramatic, contemplative, and light-hearted – it is perhaps the most extraordinary large keyboard work written since the death of Ravel.

In my opinion, for what it is worth, the effect of Night Fantasies is a kind of musical cubism, is such a term be at all meaningful.

Following our broadcast of Night Fantasies, we will play a short, six minute conversation between Carter and Rosen which expands upon Rosen’s remarks.

Time: 4. Night Fantasies 21’00

CD 2, Bands 4-7: John Harbison (*1938, Orange, NJ): November 19, 1828: Hallucination in Four Episodes for Piano and String Trio (1988): Atlanta Chamber Players: Paula Peace, Artistic Director, piano; Christopher Pulgrum, violin; Paul Murphy, viola; David Hancock, ‘cello. Conversations – A Twentieth Anniversary Salute to American Composers / : CM 20038.

I had the great pleasure of being introduced to John Harbison a year or so ago after a concert by the Cantata Singers of Boston, who had performed one of his pieces. One of these days, I hope to interview him.

The Liner notes (4,5) explain that "[t]he date which forms the title of this evocative work is the death of Franz Schubert."

John Harbison explains the four movements of November 19, 1828: Hallucination in Four Episodes for Piano and String Trio as follows:

Introduction: Schubert Crosses Into the Next World. The trumpets of death are heard three times. Schubert begins his journey haunted by sounds which are not his music, but pertain to his music in disturbing ways.

Suite: Schubert Finds Himself in a Hall of Mirrors . . . In the hall of mirrors, music sounds in a manner previously unknown to Schubert: everything is played back immediately upside down.

Rondo: Schubert Recalls a Rondo Fragment From 1816. Emblematic of a storehouse of still-to-be explored ideas, needing centuries more, the short fragment which begins this rondo is the only one in this piece composed by Schubert in his first life.

Fugue: Schubert Continues the Fugue Subject (S-C-H-U-B-E-R-T) Which Sechter Assigned Him. Shortly before his death, Schubert went to the theorist [Simon] Sechter to work on a very specific problem pertaining to the tonal answer of the fugue subject, important to Schubert in the composition of his masses. Sechter, well aware that he was teaching the most extraordinary student who ever came for a lesson, concluded by assigning Schubert a fugue subject on his own name. Schubert was unable to undertake the task; he died about a week later, on November 19, 1828.

Time: 4. Intro 02’56
5. Suite 04’35
6. Rondo 04’31
7. Fugue 04’34
Total time: 16’38
Running time: 37’38

CD 3, Bands 2-7: Ned Rorem (*1923, Richmond, IN) Piano Concerto in Six Movements (1969): Jerome Lowenthal, piano; The Louisville Orchestra, Jorge Mester, conductor. First Edition Encores – Music of Ned Rorem: Albany Records/ Troy 047

Robert McMahan has this to say about Ned Rorem, whose Piano Concerto in Six Movements (1969) we will broadcast next:

"Almost alone among major talents of his generation, this gifted product of the Curtis Institute and Juilliard has never subscribed to the passing of the Romantic vision from the contemporary scene."

Rorem himself writes about his Piano Concerto in Six Movements (1969):

Each of the six movements of the concerto suggests either a kind of action or a kind of sound: Strands, Fives, Whispers, Sighs, Lava, Sparks . . . Beyond what may be evoked by these names, I am reticent to add much. Strands, a long, slow opener, is so-called because precisely it’s made up of strands: the piano plants a loud, hard seed from which orchestral tendrils emerge, one by one, until they form a Medusa’s knot which is never unraveled (as, say a fugue would normally be) but rather resolves itself through sheer exhaustion. In the entire first movement, the pianist uses only his right hand. The first movement is about six minutes long, during which the soloist’s fingers, weaving a long, long, stand, never leave the keyboard. Fives [the second movement] is loud and fast and various combinations of quintuple figures. Whispers [the third movement] is soft and fast and meant to sound like its title. Sighs [the fourth movement, is] long and slow, a theme with variations. [The penultimate movement] Lava, murky and slow, serves as an introduction to [the last movement,] Sparks which is, expectedly, a glittering finale. (Quoted by Robert McMahan in his Liner Notes)

You will, perhaps, forgive me if I detect a certain petulance – or, at least, impatience in Rorem’s tone of voice! He is certainly sui generis! I had the experience of interviewing him several years ago, and he certainly gave me a run for my money! More important, he is a brilliant composer, whose memoirs have certainly made him famous in ways that are not necessarily completely musical!


2. Strands 03’41
3. Fives 02’55
4. Whispers 03’36
5. Sighs 06’41
6. Lava 02’59
7. Sparks 04’42
Total time: 24’43
Running time: 62’21

CD 4, Band 1: George Rochberg (1918, Paterson, NJ – 2005, Bryn Mawr, PA): Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra (1983): Joseph Robinson, oboe; Zubin Mehta, conductor, New York Philharmonic. New World Records NW 335-2
George Rochberg was another extremely opinionated composer who began his career as a serialist, but famously rejected atonal music after the untimely death of his son, and who, in my experience, never missed an opportunity to denounce 12 tone music.
Michael Walsh provides this information about Rochberg’s brilliant Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra:

Although [the Concerto] contains no overt quotations from earlier music in its four continuous, thematically linked movements, there are, inevitably, recollections. The oboe’s sad, plangent musings in the first sections bring to mind the desolate lied of the English horn in Act III of Tristan, while the rolling-gaited march of the third part is reminiscent of Prokofiev. Elsewhere, the dense textures and sudden emotional outbursts invite comparison with the berg of the Three Pieces for Orchestra.
The solo writing is deliberately unvirtuosic, relying instead on the performer’s tone and command of musical line. Rochberg has said: ‘I have made no effort to exploit the extremes of the oboe because, as I see it, the main reason for writing a piece is to say something, not to concentrate on the purely technical characteristics of an instrument.’ The effect is elegiac, but restrained. The lumbering sardonic march, recalled near the concerto’s end; the indeterminacy of the closing measures; the overall sense of unease – these characteristics indicate a disquiet in the concerto’s soul, and for the oboe there can be no peace. (Liner Notes, 4-5)

Time: 1. Concerto 18’32

Running time: 80’53

CD 5, Band 16: Veljo Tormis (*1930, Harjumaa, Estonia) Kullervo’s Message (1994): The Hilliard Ensemble: David James, countertenor; Rogers Covery-Crump, tenor; John Potter, tenor; Gordon Jones, baritone. A Hilliard Songbook – New Music for Voices – ECM New Series 1614/15 – 78118-21614 –2
Somewhat surprisingly, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians lacks an entry for Veljo Tormis, a rather wonderful Estonian composer whose works go beyond his native land to the all the Finno-Ugrian cultures. I am grateful to the Hilliard Ensemble for introducing Tormis’s music to me in its 2-CD set called New Music for Voices.
Here’s what the composer, Veljo Tormis, has to say about our final selection for the day, Kullervo’s Message:

Kullervo’s Message is composed using an episode from the 36th canto of the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala *1835/49), translated into English by W. F. Kirby (1907). The music employs some motifs from Karelian folk tunes.

The Kalevala and the Baltic-Finnic epic songs in general reflect an ancient mythical perception of the world. They contain eternal patterns of human relationships, ethical concepts and archetypal characters. Kullervo’s name is associated with the most tragic events of the epic and symbolizes revenge and remorse.

Kullervo is born in the times of fierce fighting between the two hostile kinsfolk. He survives by a miracle, is sold into slavery, becomes a victim of violence. Defiance and hatred mount in him against the whole world. He kills his slave mistress in ignorance, disgraces his own sister, and, driven by guilt, takes his own life. But first he takes his revenge on the humiliators and offenders.

Our story depicts the episode in which Kullervo rides to fight them, blowing the buck-horn. On the way, he is reached, one by one, by messengers telling him about the death of his father, brother, and sister. Only the news of his mother’s death arouses his frozen compassion. His mother was the only one who had promised to lament for Kullervo and to forgive him everything.

Time: 16. Kullervo’s Message 10’36

Total running time: 91’29

(Total running time with Carter-Rosen conversation: 98’09

We have come to the end of another Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf. Today we have heard Elliott Carter’s Night Fantasies; John Harbison’s November 19, 1828; Ned Rorem’s Piano Concerto in Six Movements; George Rochberg’s Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra; and Veljo Tormis’s Kullervo’s Message. I sincerely hope that you have enjoyed these selections and that you will tune in next Monday for more great 20th and 21st century classical music. Until then, this is Gandalf thanking you for listening and wishing you all the joy of New Music!
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