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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    Per ACB:

    Petersen - Here's the nice happy medium we've been looking for - nicely phrased but unafraid to bring out the tougher, thornier aspects as well. Christine Schäfer doesn't have the kind of vocal timbre I usually like - it is very peculiar - but I think she matches the Freudian, dream-like, "voice from the ether" that this music needs, and coupled with the Petersens' rapt, vibrato-less playing and her natural miking in the mix it's a memorable experience that gets under the skin.
    It's been raining here for three days so I've had plenty of time to listen to more recordings. So glad you mentioned this one! I'd forgotten about the Petersen's even though I'd been listening to their Krenek quartet recordings on Capriccio a few years ago. I'd hoped for a complete cycle which never materialized. Anyway, their Schoenberg No.2 blew me away! It's beautifully recorded and they're phrasing, poetry, attack, drama, and committed playing really knocked me out! As did Christine Shafer's vocal performance. A very exciting account that exudes great confidence and good taste!
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    As I think I mentioned before, Ferneyhough’s 4th quartet is modeled on Schoenberg’s 2nd, including the soprano

    Is there any other relation to the Schoenberg, I mean other than that there’s a soprano in there? And that it’s got a string quartet?
    Last edited by Mandryka; Aug-19-2021 at 17:57.

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Is there any other relation to the Schoenberg, I mean other than that there’s a soprano in there? And that it’s got a string quartet?
    I think thats basically it - no quotations that I am aware of

    https://www.allmusic.com/composition...o-mc0002435268

    Fourth String Quartet (1989-90) contains within it a reaction to and consideration of an existing musical work. The work in question is again by Schoenberg, his String Quartet No. 2, Opus 10. Like Schoenberg's piece, Ferneyhough's Fourth includes two movements with soprano; the text is part of Ezra Pound's Canto LXXII and Jackson McLow's gloss on the same Canto. Like Schoenberg, Pound, and McLow, Ferneyhough's concern is with the nature of language and the use of (practical) language as an experiment in expressive purpose, and the possibility of the "mutual illumination" of the music and text. The dialog between different movements or between the quartet and the voice seems to be a discussion between the archetypal-traditional and the philosophical-speculative. That is, relative straightforward motivic presentation and development using distinct gestures in the first movement contrasts with sections of virtually static and hermetic music, like a kind of chorale, in the second, in which the voice is grafted onto a pre-existing form. The third movement (for strings alone) is again lively and involved, the four instruments examining in turn or together a melodically constrained, skittering, scale-based gesture; in some ways the movement seems to be a struggle for primacy among the parts. The fourth movement begins with similarly active material, which is taken up and transformed but which remains aggressive. The soprano in this movement is virtually independent; the voice and quartet parts overlap only by some thirty seconds before the soprano continues alone, developing eventually three levels of virtual counterpoint with quick shifts in linguistic stance, vocal register, and articulation. The strings return only for the very end of the movement.

  5. #3949
    Member Burbage's Avatar
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    It’s Friday, and I’m back.

    I’ve not been entirely away, to be honest, and found time to listen to both the Ferneyhough and Beethoven, but not enough to find anything of interest in the former or do justice to the latter and when you’ve nothing to say, it’s best to say nothing. Though that, as some of the subjects of this thread inventively remind us from time to time, that’s far from a universally-acknowledged truth.

    Schoenberg is a different kettle of fish. At least, this Schoenberg is. Naxos’ notewriter for their release, Robert Craft, strongly suggests that Schoenberg’s approach was tantamount to chaotic. He started well, with a first movement (still the first movement) in March 1907, and then gave up. Then, in the summer of 1908, he churned out a movement for soprano quintet, quickly invented a scherzo for string quartet, and then continued, for another six weeks, to write a second quintet movement to act as the fourth for the quartet.

    The reason for this discombobulated approach (and Schoenberg’s forgetting to revise the title) seems to have been that Schoenberg’s wife had taken up with a neighbouring painter who, realising he’d painted himself into a corner, painted himself out of the picture in presumable remorse for, in Robert Craft’s words, “his flagitious* act”. All of which seems to have happened between the first and third movements, and therefore preceded the second, before Webern, apparently, found the time (presumably not difficult, given his pieces hardly take any) to mediate an affectionate resolution. So, rather than spend very long scouring the musicological libraries of old Vienna, where my German would be no better than it ought, I’ll hazard a guess that Schoenberg set the Litanei with the old first movement in mind, intending to create a four-movement work that might be seen as a token of forgiveness to his wife, to which it was later dedicated. Whether that was how it was intended, rather than was intended to be received, is a different matter. The poems of Stefan George are doubtless monumental, but it’s a monumentalism of a very specific sort. The words writhe with the heroic self-pity that Wagner gifts his heroes, the sort that we now associate with the artists formerly known as legal counsel to the President, which, though powerful, appeals to an audience that could only be described as niche.

    In Schoenberg’s case, that niche seems to have been Schoenberg. Later, that would (IMO obvs) be his downfall but here, it’s absolutely fine. This is a very personal work, done in a personal way. It’s not a theoretical sermon or a conscious attempt to impose a new musicological order on colleagues and audiences. Instead it’s exactly what music is for; it tells us something about the person who wrote it; it tells us what they feel and how they feel it. And the way it’s done is the way of genius. I could listen to this all day.

    That, as seems obvious to me, if not to everyone, is the genius of Wagner (excepting that Wagner takes all day to listen to) and, in this case, Schoenberg is doing a bit of a Wagner. He’s being atonal, but not by ditching tonality so much as, to borrow another phrase, ‘emancipating dissonance’ by extending the chromaticisms of Franck and Liszt and, of course, Wagner. And, by doing that, he’s communicating with audiences in a language that they understand, albeit in a strange dialect. To forge an analogy, he’s not (yet) trying to fork composition, like the cryptocurrency grifters currently ‘reinventing’ finance but, when he did get round to it, his motives were, at least, honest.

    And so with the fourth movement, which reaches for the extraterrestrial as readily as Bartok. And, more groundedly, that second, mordant, D minor scherzo which, though Craft doesn’t mention it, includes a self-deprecating allusion to a tale of one who, plunged into a literal pit of despair, is rescued by his own music. The story, for those unfamiliar with it, is of Augustin, a popular Viennese bagpiper, who got drunk enough to fall asleep in a gutter. The next morning he finds that the municipal scavengers have mistaken him for a plague victim and chucked him into a burial pit from which he cannot escape. Not being dead, however, he sets to taking his bagpipes which, for reasons lost in the mists of time, cause passers-by to rally round and rescue him**.

    It’s that carefully-crafted gap in Schoenberg’s armour that elevates this work above the merely Wagnerian, or even the Schoenbergian. Craft is doubtless right to point out that Schoenberg was capable of what he calls “acrobatic psychological processes” when it came to “the impregnability of his ego”, and there’s certainly something unsettlingly authoritarian about his later work. But this? This is a man.

    And so, despite my general aversion to supernumerary sopranos, I am delighted to have revisited this piece. As with the the Beethoven and the Schubert and the Martinu, and countless others that we’ve not got round to, this is exactly why I keep listening and, if I’m honest, writing. It’s reminded me that what makes a masterpiece isn’t the medium or technique or the subject. It’s not even the artist, so much as what the artist is willing to reveal of themselves. Great art isn’t about universal truths - it’s not done for an audience of gods, physical constants, interstellar aliens or those cheerless algorithmicists who weigh up grant applications. It’s about people communicating with people in ways they can understand. That was Schoenberg’s making, and later his frustration. But nobody’s perfect.

    * Robert Craft is American, I gather, and the word may still be in use on that side of the pond. In Britainland, however, “flagitious” hasn’t been used since 1854, when the Marquess of Westmeath reached for it in a complaint about murders on the floor of the House of Lords. By which I mean he complained in the House of Lords; the murders happened in Ireland. I also doubt that, in the Europe of the time, borrowing a neighbour’s willing half was deemed more flagitious than wilfully uncoiling one’s own mortality, but I’m willing to concede that point, given the Special Relationship needs all the help it can get right now.

    ** A popular bagpiper might seem, in our philistine times, somewhat oxymoronic, but we can safely assume that any arrangement of this tale for accordion would be somewhat shorter.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Great to see you back, Burbage - you always get a "like" from me for your polemical thoughts.
    Every time I read one of your posts, I can't help but think that you need to record them as mini-podcast episodes or lectures.

    Our next two scheduled nominators have not been around in a while. Calvinpv and/or newyorkconversation, you still tracking along? If they don't show up (I'm sending PMs to them), would Malx be willing to step in by Sunday? Thanks!

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    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; Aug-20-2021 at 14:58.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I have always liked this work whenever I listened to it, but this week has given me the chance to get to know it more and appreciate what a masterpiece it is. I had a similar experience with Verklarte Nacht recently. I think I had been tending to accept rather than properly imbibe the earlier Schoenberg, perhaps dismissing it as merely early works of a composer who came into his own a little later. But in these works – especially this quartet, Verklarte Nacht, the first chamber symphony and Gurrelieder – we find a deeply inspired composer on the cusp of creating a new music that would become a major force and the language of countless great works of the 20th century. You can hear the world changing seismically. It can sound as if Schoenberg himself is not entirely sure where he is going but is still surefooted in giving us works that are coherent - what hard work that must have been! - and filled with alternately delightful and powerful ideas.

    I haven’t heard many of the recordings that others have focused on. Of those I have heard I am perhaps more interested in what each approach tells me about the work than in comparing them to find a favourite. Still, I did find myself preferring some to others – although these are just “current preferences” rather than considered ingrained choices.

    I don’t necessarily feel that the Romantic side to this music needs to be toned down but I am open to less overtly romantic approaches, too. I suppose the piece is so transitional that it needs both. Anyway, I am happy with the LaSalle recording and, indeed, the Borodin Quartet (which I may have preferred if the sound was a little better – not that it is unacceptable). I also have no issue with a singer suddenly appearing in a string quartet (although I get that there are only supposed to be four performers in a quartet), especially give the quality of the music and its response to the text that she can work with. The presence of a singer does mean that we need the right singer (for our tastes). And both the LaSalle (with the great Margaret Price) and the Borodins (with Lyudmila Belobragina) have singers who seem perfect … although again I might just give the edge to Belobragina, who perhaps responds to the text a little more strongly on a few occasions.

    The Arditti are less Romantic. But I wonder: without the lushness of the LaSalle but without going a little further away from that approach, I wonder if they are not a little bland. I find it easier to imagine the LaSalle shocking the first audiences than the Arditti. But all this is just a matter of degrees and the Arditti recording is still a fine account of the work. But their singer, Dawn Upshaw, also seems to me to fail in delivering something that might have shocked. I think her voice is perhaps too gentle and smooth for the texts or the music. It’s a shame as the Arditti’s playing is especially persuasive in the last two movements.

    The Diotima Quartet are much more extreme in avoiding any high Romantic sound. They are a little more sleek and deliver a performance that is quite strikingly modern sounding. The later Schoenberg is recognisable here but they find many delightful moments. Their singer is Sandrine Piau, a soprano with lots of experience in Classical and Baroque music as well as with the French so-called impressionists. Her voice fits very well with the Diotima’s approach and, although the result is less passionate than others, it is very satisfying.

    Today I listened to the Juilliard (1950-2) recording for the first time. I liked it a lot, I liked the Juilliards flexibility - their tendency to change gear and to interpret moments perhaps more meaningfully than the others without sacrificing coherence (coherence which is after all partly associated with wandering, exploring and even seeming a little lost). Their use of the “Ach, du lieber Augustin” moment in the Sehr rasch (2nd) movement makes more of it than merely putting something rather facile into a rather lost world: they make it dreamy. Their singer, Uta Graf, is recessed a little and doesn’t at first sound like the equal of most of the others. But her singing becomes visceral in places and is very effective.

    Usually by this stage I am ready for a rest from the work in question but I don't think I am quite finished with this one. There is so much in the music that I am not ready to move on.
    Last edited by Enthusiast; Aug-20-2021 at 16:09.

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  11. #3952
    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    Great to see you back, Burbage - you always get a "like" from me for your polemical thoughts.
    Every time I read one of your posts, I can't help but think that you need to record them as mini-podcast episodes or lectures.

    Our next two scheduled nominators have not been around in a while. Calvinpv and/or newyorkconversation, you still tracking along? If they don't show up (I'm sending PMs to them), would Malx be willing to step in by Sunday? Thanks!
    Such short notice and I've nothing looked out to wear
    Joking aside if required I have a few I was considering so will be able to fill the breach.

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    Senior Member Kjetil Heggelund's Avatar
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    I was happy with the Gringolts quartet on BIS the one time I heard it this week. I often can't say much about a performance right away, especially something other than classical guitar Maybe not entirely true, just right now...All the early pieces by Schoenberg are wonderful, but I often overlook him in the musical universe...

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    I have received news that calvinpv is forthcoming, so Malx, no need to sweat it this week

    P.S. Unrelated, but last night I got the chance to attend a small but wonderful recital at my college that featured some excellent Lieder singing and an absolutely superb performance (worthy of a recording) of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10. Seeing live music (especially chamber music) is such a special communicative experience, and I forgot just how lovely it could be
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; Aug-21-2021 at 15:48.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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    Senior Member Carmina Banana's Avatar
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    I am late to the party, as usual. I haven't had a chance to listen to many renditions of this piece, but I would like offer my thanks for bringing this quartet to my attention.
    It is good to be reminded that AS was just a romantic guy full of yearnings and angst and he just happened to be the one who outgrew tonality. I am listening to some of his actual 12-tone stuff and trying to make that connection. It is making more sense to me.
    As someone who has always loved vocal music, a singer with a string quartet is an added treat. Kind of like getting baseball cards AND bubble gum. What could be better?

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    Apologies for being absent the last few months -- I've been taking a break from TC and haven't listened to much music at all, in fact. I'm going to use this week as a springboard to get back into the swing of things.

    So my choice for this next week is:

    Helmut Lachenmann: Reigen seliger Geister (Round Dance of the Blessed Spirits)

    Although Reigen seliger Geister is perhaps the most well known of the three Lachenmann SQ's, for me it's probably been one of Lachenmann's most enigmatic works to get a handle on, which is partly why I'm presenting it, so that I can come to a better understanding. It lacks the direct, quasi-Romantic, expressivity of the third quartet Grido, and it's certainly not the raw industrial wasteland that is Gran Torso, with its incredibly dense counterpoint of incongruent sound types -- itself a sort of Romanic expressionism. But there's something rather classical about Reigen seliger Geister with its sharp oppositions between certain aspects of noise; some examples (among others):

    1. opposition between pizzicatos with their natural decay and what the video below calls "backward sounds" with their increasing resonance
    2. opposition between artificially sustained noises and noises which have a natural course of development, the latter called "cadence sounds" [Kadenzklang] by Lachenmann because their sound envelopes have a built in cadential function towards resolution
    3. opposition in the directionality of a playing technique from lower to higher pitch or vice versa (sometimes, you hear these opposites back-to-back)

    On top of these oppositions, Reigen seliger Geister even has what you might call thematic elements. I haven't gone through the entirety of Lachenmann's article on the quartet (posted below), but it's made clear that the first half of the piece is predominated by a "flautato" technique from which all other techniques derive. I'm interpreting "flautato" as a more general category of wispy, rustling flute-like sounds rather than the particular flautando over the fingerboard. But Lachenmann says the most basic form of it is a light bowing on the strings while the left hand holds down the strings in a "muting grip". And from this, a multitude of variations can be derived according to bow pressure, bowing direction, contact point, speed, dynamics, periodicity (what Lachenmann calls "trill-variants"), and the presence or absence of pitch.** The second half of the piece is, I would imagine, thematized around the pizzicato, although given how simple plucking a string is, Lachenmann's range of possible expression is probably more limited here. I personally prefer the first half of the piece a lot more.

    But I think the strangest thing about Reigen seliger Geister is its overall attitude to the string quartet ensemble as a whole. I don't know if it's just me, but whenever I hear a string quartet composition, I always imagine it as having an inferiority complex, if we were to personify it with human character traits. The string quartet, knowing it lacks the raw muscle of a string ensemble or orchestra, has to make up for its deficiency with virtuosity in each of the four instruments, whether through performance technique or through an abundance of musical formalities, and this overcompensation gives the quartet a larger than life bravado that dares the listener to take it as seriously as a symphony. However, Reigen seliger Geister seems to be testing the waters as to how far you can push this overcompensating bravado into the background without it disappearing altogether. Gran Torso and Grido don't have this problem: I can hear four instruments undergoing tremendous exertion and stress with much dialogic interplay, even if I can't always articulate what that dialogue is about. But here, the listening ear is pushed to its limits, especially when all the flautato variants become so indistinct from one another.

    **Never having played a string instrument before in my life (I learned the piano when I was younger), I would be very interested to hear from those who do how some of the gestures in the piece relate in their performative aspects. Meaning: do you hear patterns in the way bowing direction changes from one gesture to the next? Or patterns in bow pressure (I know that there's not a 1-1 relationship between pressure and dynamics, meaning a loud sound can have light pressure and a quiet sound can have strong pressure)? Or patterns in contact points? etc. Because I know next to nothing about string instruments, it's very hard for me to imagine potential contrapuntal relationships happening in this dimension. But I believe they exist.



    Below is a video by the composer Samuel Andreyev giving a broad overview of the work with an emphasis on the different sound categories involved:




    And, if you're interested, here are all of Lachenmann's writings that have been translated into English. I've only read two of these in full, but it's clear that Lachenmann not only has a very firm grounding in broad aesthetic issues but also possesses an unwavering attitude about the purpose of art and music in society -- an attitude that may be very controversial to some:

    Sound Types of New Music (1966, revised 1993)
    The Beautiful in Music Today (1980)
    Hearing is Defenseless without Listening: On Possibilities and Difficulties (1985)
    Composing in the Shadow of Darmstadt (1987)
    On Structuralism (1989)
    Four Questions Regarding New Music Today (1992)
    On my Second String Quartet (1994-1995)
    Open Letter to Hans Werner Henze (1997)
    Touched by Nono (1999)
    Interview with Helmut Lachenmann (2015)
    Last edited by calvinpv; Aug-22-2021 at 05:50.

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    Here are four recordings. This is a very, very quiet work. I would recommend whatever means you have of amplifying the sound so that all the nuances and subtleties in the different noises come through.







    Last edited by calvinpv; Aug-21-2021 at 22:18.

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    Member Clloydster's Avatar
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    Looks like an excellent week to listen to more Beethoven.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Clloydster View Post
    Looks like an excellent week to listen to more Beethoven.

    One thing which Lachenmann and Beethoven have in common is their view of what a composer is supposed to be and do. Lachenmann and Beethoven write down musical works for piano players, string quartets and symphony orchestras, which are basically a set of rails for the performers to follow. For me, that’s a weakness of the two of them in fact, though I can hardly blame Beethoven!


    I like Reigen seliger geister, the dance of happy spirits, for its fluidity and coherence, the music seems to move along in a very natural way. I have to say that I find it a bit long sometimes, after 15 minutes I’ve had enough, but I’m like that with all music - Mozart and Haydn as much as Lachenmann and Sciarrino. I like Arditti most. There’s a recording which hasn’t been mentioned by Diotima, if anyone wants it they can PM me.

    Interesting reading Lachenmann’s paper on Darmstadt, because so much of the music which excites me comes from 1980s Germany - for example Walter Zimmermann and the Stockhausen of this period.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Aug-22-2021 at 10:13.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    One thing which Lachenmann and Beethoven have in common is their view of what a composer is supposed to be and do. Lachenmann and Beethoven write down musical works for piano players, string quartets and symphony orchestras, which are basically a set of rails for the performers to follow. For me, that’s a weakness of the two of them in fact, though I can hardly blame Beethoven!


    I like Reigen seliger geister, the dance of happy spirits, for its fluidity and coherence, the music seems to move along in a very natural way. I have to say that I find it a bit long sometimes, after 15 minutes I’ve had enough, but I’m like that with all music - Mozart and Haydn as much as Lachenmann and Sciarrino. I like Arditti most. There’s a recording which hasn’t been mentioned by Diotima, if anyone wants it they can PM me.

    Interesting reading Lachenmann’s paper on Darmstadt, because so much of the music which excites me comes from 1980s Germany - for example Walter Zimmermann and the Stockhausen of this period.
    I've read somewhere recently that music from the 1980's onwards can be seen as a sort of "second modernism" (I think made popular by the composer Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf), where notions of experimentation, constructivism, cohesion/unity, historical necessity, renewal, and structure over affect (although affect doesn't disappear entirely, probably one of the few lasting features of postmodernism) return with a vengeance. I think there's something to this thesis, though I'm not sure I endorse it entirely. The eighties saw the first generation of computer-based electronic music. I'd say the eighties was the first decade where personal styles began to diverge wildly, each possessing their own internal consistency and rigor. And then with some of the stalwarts like Boulez, Stockhausen, Ligeti, Nono but also Rihm and Lachenmann and even someone like John Adams, you hear a revival of a sort of sleek, elegant, cosmopolitan, fast-paced modernistic style that wasn't entirely present in the seventies (yes, I'd say there something more modern-sounding in Nono's eighties works than in the crisis-ridden political works of the seventies, even while despair and hopelessness plagues his music from both decades).

    I just found this short article by Mahnkopf on this idea. Might be worth checking out:
    http://www.claussteffenmahnkopf.de/w...-Modernity.pdf
    Last edited by calvinpv; Aug-22-2021 at 16:47.

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