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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #3976
    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    ^^^
    That piece doesn't do much for me as a listener and a guitar fan. It's all techniques with no music. The classical guitar has very little sustain so it's hard to make an interesting piece employing a bunch of percussive and sliding techniques. Electronics and amplification would make it possible to expand something like this in to more interesting sonic terrain but as it stands it fails to be an interesting piece of music for this listener. It's not going to compete very strongly for my listening time considering what's out there in the world of guitar music. I'm having about the same amount of success with the quartet but I think a string ensemble combining bowing and percussive techniques has greater potential to create something interesting in these contexts. I'll keep chipping away at it.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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    Member Burbage's Avatar
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    It’s nearly Friday, and I’ve done this. Enjoy*.

    When Lachenmann returned to the medium of the string quartet, after a space of almost two decades, as he readily acknowledges in his own writings on the piece**, it was with some reluctance. The string quartet, a traditionally-comprised sound apparatus, had, he claims, become almost forbidden by its very familiarity over centuries, including those from which Lachenmann had himself been excluded. Realising, however, that the forbidden is also the most tempting, he boldly proposed to excavate the landscape he’d created for his Gran Torso even more deeply and keenly, reconciling the temporarily obsolete by orienting concrete sounds into what he conceived as a “clearly botanized presentation”.

    This was not, I gather, as easy as it sounds, not that easy is how it sounds. Treating the quartet as a single instrument had become something of a cliche. So much so that generations of more superficial composers, from Mozart to Simpson, had lazily transcribed keyboard works for the configurated medium as if there were some sort of equivalence. These examplars of his predecessors , however, did not deter Lachenmann who determined to re-shape that perspective in a new way, realising that it was possible to treat the hidebound string quartet as both a sixteen-string “super-instrument” and a collection of four four-stringed instruments simultaneously.

    We do not know exactly what, in those nineteen years of thoughtful toil, drove Lachenmann towards this realisation, but he writes convincingly of the possibilities it opened up and we can see, or possibly hear, how he employed it. For the first time, perhaps, the players in a quartet might produce different sounds at the same time. Or at different times. Or, both alternately and alternatively, ‘hocket-like’***. But this blistering epiphany was not enough for Lachenmann, who saw this revelation as not merely a destination but also a springboard to a further revolution within the collaborative definition of music itself, a revolution in which the perceptions of players and audience alike, heightened to supernal levels, would result in work that was not merely hard to play, as exemplified by, for example, Ferneyhough’s essays in the medium, but that, bending with some irony into the exclusivity that, at the dawn of the nineties was becoming the hallmark of the mass market, were harder to listen to, too. Curiosity is a vital aspect of a composer’s craft, and communicating that curiosity to an audience, permits the questioning that is fundamental to the medium.****

    Inspiration for specific elements is, perhaps, easier to find. According to his own heartfelt testament, for example, it was listening to Schoenberg telling anecdotes backwards that inspired a novel technique, namely of ‘reverse pizzicato’, in which a suitably practiced player may encourage a string to boing before being plucked. This, though inventive enough to dramatically resculpt the contemporary quartet bathygraphy, for want of a better word, was just one of a whole range of bright new possibilities that Lachenmann conceived as starting points for the sonic exploration he presents in this work, this ‘ghostly’ imposition of a metaphysically horticultural rigour via the mammalian constraints of horsehair and catgut*****.

    Lachenmann audibly extends this metaphor throughout the piece, treating the fleshy fingers of the players as germinating tendrils that wind around their fingerboards with subtle indiscretion to produce a range of kaleidoscopic sussurations, In this way, he transfigures the vital movements of living, breathing musicians into a landscape of audible foliage, a veritable shrubbery of sound that both pre-echoes itself and bears witness to Babylon and Gethsemane alike, building a new botanical Babel for his time, while respecting the constraints that the contemptuously comical Kagel had contumed ******.

    This, likewise, is just one aspect of the work, which also includes, within Lachenmann’s typology of sound, a judiciously parsimonious intercalation of notes and, occasionally, tones, that hints at a holographic trace of a harmony, in clear homage to Beethoven, which, although it according to Lachenmann “plays no musical role”, forms a vital meta-melodic seed within the sound-structure framework and aids in the rhythmic interpenetration of the spiritual that emerges from the sensory experience, reducing the temporal net to a latent skeleton as the piece progresses, carefully avoiding destructive harmonic effects while permitting the fundamental tone row to present itself as a series of audibly distinct notes, the intervals between them increasing or decreasing or staying the same, recollecting the visceral beat of an apnoeiac dream.

    And surely that, though it makes for challenging listening, is worth ten minutes of anybody’s time.


    * Or not. For an alternative view see Nathaniel Gumbly (TBC), ”Who Cares if You Read?”, in “Unpublished Correspondence VII” [Anonymous Press, Delaware], DOA.

    ** Helmut Lachenmann (2004) “On My Second String Quartet ('Reigen seliger Geister')” , Contemporary Music Review, 23:3-4, 59-79, DOI: 10.1080/0749445042000285681

    *** Hocket, a technique of alternating notes between players, had, after a brief flowering in the middle ages, been broadly abandoned so that, beyond the early-music movement, the folk traditions of Asia, Africa, South America and Europe, a few thousand works for marching band and a handful of art-music pieces by obscure reactionaries (including Webern and Schoenberg (who, in his Harmonielehre, attempted to inelegantly vernacularise the concept as “klangfarbenmelodie”)), is now known only from Lachenmann’s work.

    **** Lachenmann deliberately prompts us, and himself, to interrogate both the nature and extent of music, reassuring audiences that to ask “what’s this?” is as valid and urgent a question as “when will it finish?”

    ***** Musicohistorically-informed listeners will doubtless be reminded of Percy Grainger’s Kangaroo Pouch Machine which transcendentally juxtaposed the mineral and the marsupial in a way that is philosophically similar, if practically distinct, but which, for reasons now lost to modern audiences, has been lost to modern audiences.

    ******See previous

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  5. #3978
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Jonathan Impett’s book on Nono suggests that Nono was working on a second quartet which maybe he hoped to premier with Reigen seliger geister in Avignon Festival 1989. Nothing came of it because of the illness which caused his death the year after. The first recording of The Diotima Quartet pairs the Nono quartet (Stille - an Diotima) with this one by Lachenmann - and I think it’s an illuminating pairing. The two composers are clearly birds of a feather.

    Lachenmann went on to write a third quartet, Grido, which he also transcribed into a piece for string orchestra, called Double. And listening to Reigen seliger geister this evening I wondered whether a transcription of this quartet would be interesting.

    Cage famously said that Beethoven sent music on the wrong path by making everyone focus on harmony, while it’s duration which matters more. And the Lachenmann quartet sounds like it’s duration music - I mean you have a bit of one texture for a while and then another and then another, a collage of textures. Is any more structure audible to anyone? Not to me!

    The Diotima Quartet recording divides the music into 12 tracks, maybe that is based on something in the score. I wonder whether I’d lose anything if I set playback to random.
    I think all three quartets raise issues of duration, perhaps Gran Torso does it the least. But with that quartet, with its hodgepodge of different sounds, you're left in awe as to how the musicians can fluidly move from one technique to the other and not break the narrative thread, raising issues of duration on the part of the musicians (in other words, how long or short do the musicians sustain each performative act). With the other two quartets, questions of duration are raised for the listener. Reigen seliger Geister really tests the ear as to when a flautato noise fades out into nothingness. Grido involves a lot of imitation between the instruments, testing the ear as to when an individual part starts and stops.

    About Reigen seliger Geister: when I was writing the long post above, I was listening to both Arditti and JACK, and in the opening bars alone, I heard striking differences in the onsets of a couple of the flautato noises, and I would imagine I could find more throughout the whole work if I wanted to. I don't know what to make of that. I don't get the impression Lachenmann is a big fan of improvisation (though I could be wrong), so I wonder if this quartet is particularly difficult for the musicians to communicate cues to each other or if it's difficult even for them to listen to each other in the middle of playing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    This is what he did in Gran Torso nearly 20 years before Reigen seliger geister. Has he really been stuck in the same groove for two decades? I hope not.
    Quote Originally Posted by Knorf View Post
    It's worth it, I think, although I go back and forth a bit on Lachenmann. Certainly I can say I'm rather less than fond of his numerous imitators.
    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    I get textural music, but find Lachemann less interesting than Ligeti or the spectralists.
    These three statements together are interesting. Not being in the music industry, do many other composers/performers/musicologists/critics, etc. see Lachenmann as sort of a one-off composer who cornered himself into a dead end? Because I'm trying to come up with potential pitfalls that are unique to his type of music, and the only one I can think of is his overly quick dismissal of electronics. I'm sure there are others, but they're not coming to mind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by calvinpv View Post
    These three statements together are interesting. Not being in the music industry, do many other composers/performers/musicologists/critics, etc. see Lachenmann as sort of a one-off composer who cornered himself into a dead end?
    I certainly don't think that he did corner himself like that, the piano concerto, Ausklang, for example, seems a different sort of beast from Gran Torso. But the question has come up before for me, for example, can anyone explain the essential difference between Got Lost and Tema

    And just thinking of the quartets, Grido is a very different quartet from Gran Torso.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Aug-26-2021 at 20:42.

  8. #3981
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Well, I found this more absorbing and listenable than the other Lachenmann piece chosen by calvinpv more than a year ago (Gran Torso) but ultimately it crosses that threshold of impenetrability for me and though I can appreciate the bevy of brilliant, innovative sounds he draws from the quartet, it's not for me. Does Lachenmann have a distinctive style through which experienced listeners could separate him from similar-sounding composers we've done (Kagel and Wollschleger come to mind)? I do have to say though, that listening to these contemporary pieces actually makes me more aware of the sounds of the natural world and how they may come together to form "music" of sorts. It really forces you to listen for action amidst silence, event amidst blankness, occurrence amidst non-being. Silence becomes an integral component of the composer's canvas; the blank spaces take on a character all their own as they conform to the drops of color around them.

    The AllMusic article on this is really superb, worth more than a glance. Unfortunately, per the new forum policy I cannot quote the entire thing on here, but have a look:

    The Quartet's subtitle, "Reigen seliger Geister" ("Dance of the Blessed Spirits," after Gluck), seems to suggest a process of heavenly descent to earth, of apparition or even transubstantiation. At the same time, this unworldly, continual resonance seems to provide a blank sonic table, a water-level through which occasionally protrudes the dorsal profile of some great creature: whatever the image, the notion remains of a massive force being held in check, revealing its scope with a painfully slow but inexorable inertia...https://play.primephonic.com/work/he...mann%20Geister (click on "more" under "about this work")

    newyorkconversation, are you out there? I haven't heard from him since sending him a PM about a week ago. Malx, you can be on tap

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  9. #3982
    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    I gave the Lachenmann a couple of listens earlier in the week and like Gran Torso I could hear patterns of something that had some element of interest for me - then I aggrevated a back problem I have and frankly I have lacked the necessary concentration to give this work serious attention.
    That then gave me cause to think - if the piece needs so much concentration and indeed detailed explanation (sorry guys I couldn't muster up the mental energy to fully read those posts) for me to understand it or get any enjoyment from, is it for me or it may just be beyond the boundaries of my abilities to appreciate.

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    Sorry to hear of your travails, Malx. Wishing you a speedy recovery. In the meantime I am not sure I would want to listen to Lachenmann while in pain - it would be very easy to interpret it as a musical type of pain!
    Last edited by Enthusiast; Aug-27-2021 at 13:42.

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  12. #3984
    Senior Member Carmina Banana's Avatar
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    Though I have only been lurking this week, I love this choice and the discussion. Though I enjoyed hearing the piece itself, I am reading more about Lachenmann and related topics than listening. With some composers from this era, what they say about their work almost constitutes a genre itself.
    It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend once. He told me couldn't stomach fiction anymore. I asked him what he was reading and he said, literary criticism.
    After digesting some of the stuff about Lachenmann, I will go back and experience more Lachenmann (I am also eager to listen to more Nono. Yes, yes, Nono).
    I will probably have something brilliant to say when Lachenmann is a distant memory and we are on to other topics. Let me just say that I appreciate all of the stimulating comments and suggestions--Calvinpv, my hat is off to you.
    At this point, I just have a couple comments:
    I found the analysis by Andreyev to have some excellent insights. One thing that stuck with me was the image of seeing a painting from the back--noticing the canvas, the nails that hold the frame together, etc. I guess you could say this is just describing Deconstruction, but I like that image.
    From reading an interview with the composer, I get the impression that his process is not encouraging the listener to hear things differently (something composers have probably always done to a degree) but forcing the listener to use their ears differently. Any thoughts on that?

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    I had a more productive listening session with the Stadler Quartett on NEOS which is an excellent recording. But I can't say I enjoyed the music all that much. Although it did give me a more heightened awareness of the art of listening so maybe that's what makes this a successful piece? The ultra quiet passages requires one to listen and concentrate more acutely.

    I looked up some old threads here and found suggestions for a few of his orchestral pieces. I'm listening to Gielen's recording of Fassade which is pretty cool! I hope you feel better soon, Malx. Back pain is a drag.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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    Senior Member StevehamNY's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Burbage View Post
    Lachenmann audibly extends this metaphor throughout the piece, treating the fleshy fingers of the players as germinating tendrils that wind around their fingerboards with subtle indiscretion to produce a range of kaleidoscopic sussurations, In this way, he transfigures the vital movements of living, breathing musicians into a landscape of audible foliage, a veritable shrubbery of sound that both pre-echoes itself and bears witness to Babylon and Gethsemane alike, building a new botanical Babel for his time, while respecting the constraints that the contemptuously comical Kagel had contumed ******.
    I mean... damn.

    (In other words, glad you're back, Burbage!)

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I've enjoyed listening a few times to the Lachenmann. It is not a work I have spent a lot of time with (I am more familiar with Grido and Gran Torso) and I tend to need a lot of time with music that is this unfamiliar (ideally time listening with long gaps between hearings). So, it is inevitable that what I have to say can only be a description of fairly initial encounters with the work.

    I hear it in much the same way as other music and it sounds like a deeply meaningful quartet … only it is as if the musical language is alien. Might this be how a Beethoven quartet would sound to a Martian? I find it full of incident and inspiration at least until halfway through. But does it then get bogged down? I don’t think it does, but I also cannot really detect the development of its musical ideas. It begins to sound a little like a catalogue of (un)musical effects. But, then, the last few minutes do seem to be some sort of climax, an attempt to resolve the piece.

    I listened to two recordings – those by the Stadler and the Arditti quartets – and didn’t find huge differences between them. But I think I got closer to the illusion of understanding the music with the Stadler Quartet’s recording which seemed more subtle. I am now well set up to get to know the piece.

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  20. #3988
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    Well, I found this more absorbing and listenable than the other Lachenmann piece chosen by calvinpv more than a year ago (Gran Torso) but ultimately it crosses that threshold of impenetrability for me and though I can appreciate the bevy of brilliant, innovative sounds he draws from the quartet, it's not for me. Does Lachenmann have a distinctive style through which experienced listeners could separate him from similar-sounding composers we've done (Kagel and Wollschleger come to mind)?
    If you know where to direct your ears, there's absolutely a distinctive style. Lachenmann is probably one of the most formalist of the noise composers. It may be hard to hear the use of similar sound types in Reigen seliger Geister but if you listen to Guero, which I talked about in one of my long posts above, there are only two basic sound types being used on the piano, and Lachenmann arranges their appearances in such a way so as to create build-ups and releases of tension. Lachenmann is a stereotypical "German" composer fixated on structure.

    Contrast that with one of Lachenmann's students Pierluigi Billone. There's also a sort of loose formalism in the piece below (a yin-and-yang opposition between bowing two note intervals and strumming like a guitar with the left hand). Yet, there something profoundly spiritual and meditative in this piece that you'll never hear in Lachenmann. Lachenmann's music is very dynamic in its formalism, but with Billone, there's something reminiscent of an Eastern spiritual mantra.



    I do have to say though, that listening to these contemporary pieces actually makes me more aware of the sounds of the natural world and how they may come together to form "music" of sorts. It really forces you to listen for action amidst silence, event amidst blankness, occurrence amidst non-being. Silence becomes an integral component of the composer's canvas; the blank spaces take on a character all their own as they conform to the drops of color around them.
    When I've talked about the philosophical underpinnings of SQ's I've presented in this group (Lachenmann, Rihm, Saariaho), it's because of what you describe here. What makes contemporary music so powerful and uplifting for me (yes, the rough hewn noises are very uplifting) is that it's teaching me about the world around me as well as my own capabilities of listening to it. The lessons one should take away from Lachenmann or any other contemporary composer should not be strictly musical ones but ones broader in scope about the need to listen to others, to see the inherent value and goodness in what we may first dismiss as ugly or bothersome, and to become grounded in our environment and in the present moment. You can interpret those in a spiritual, scientific, or political sense, it doesn't matter.

    Hence why my posts may come off as overly long or didactic. Because don't I think these lessons are immediately obvious; they certainly weren't for me at first. When I first started listening to contemporary music, I listened mostly for the vast array of unusual sounds. But the more I listened, the more I realized there's a deeper message being conveyed, and so I started to read and think about music as much as listening to it (to the extent that I could do so, of course). And then I realized that these extra-musical activities like reading and thinking were themselves integral to the process. I understand that a lot of people will disagree with me on this, but one can't fix their un-attuned ears ... using only their un-attuned ears. Supplementary activities, I think, are just as important.
    Last edited by calvinpv; Aug-28-2021 at 16:58.

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    I’m fairly conservative in that I want to hear predominantly well thought out pitched material, with indeterminate pitched effects playing a secondary role. I can get into indeterminately pitched stuff only with interesting rhythms. Would not try to argue my preferences are some objective standard of quality though

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    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    As it is now Sunday and it appears newyorkconversation has not made contact with ACB I will proceed with this weeks selection.

    My selection is a work from a Polish composer that hasn't featured on the thread so far, a female composer who was working under some similar, yet not as fierce, restrictions as the Soviet composers of the time.

    Grażyna Bacewicz - String Quartet No 4

    This piece was premiered in 1951 and in the same year won first prize at the inaugural 'International Competition for Composers of a String Quartet' in Liege played by the Quatuor Municipal(?). Below is a comment from the Belgian press at the time which may give you a flavour of the style of the quartet:

    "The language of the 'Quartet' is more classical than those of the other quartets performed during the same audition. Its melody is fuller and, one could say, more tradition-oriented. The elegiac introduction is followed by fantastic themes that soon mingle with other musical thoughts, and breathing becomes faster. The slow movement attains a level which one cannot notice in any other quartets. This quiet meditation and logically constructed fugato reveal extraordinary mental qualities and a truly musical temper. Again, it is Beethoven that comes to mind, this time from his last quartets, especially in Rondo, where a Polish folk dance intertwines with episodes of a reflexive nature" (Marcel Lamaire, "Le Monde du travail", 3rd October 1951).

    The piece is in three movements, lasting around twenty minutes.
    I am aware of nine recordings, not too many to locate, although some are buried in multicomposer discs so searching by quartet name may help:

    Lutosławski Quartet,
    Szymanowski Quartet,
    Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet,
    Diverso Quartet,
    Silesian Quartet,
    Amar Corde Quartet,
    Royal Quartet,
    Maggini Quartet (on ASV)
    Wister Quartet
    (I'm sure others will be found during the week).

    Those who aren't the greatest fans of 20th century composers please don't be put off, this work I believe to be easily accessible and well worth the effort.

    I hope you all enjoy this weeks selection.

    ETA

    I generally don't use YouTube for classical as the sound quality is basic but I have found a live performance by the Szymanowski Quartet from 2015 that may be of interest

    Note added at request of Malx: the performance in the originally linked video suffers from a poor acoustic combined with a poor recording quality and the occasional poor intonation.
    Last edited by Art Rock; Aug-30-2021 at 06:15. Reason: added comment at the request of Malx

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