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Thread: 1980-2000 Listening Group

  1. #46
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    I wrote this little blurb on TC a few months ago about the piece, so I'll just copy and paste it here. My overall impression of Palimpsests is similar to 20centrfuge's: I think the first movement is more successful at sustaining my attention than the second, and I think, instead of composing a whole new piece after the premiere of Palimpsest I, Benjamin should've just expanded the first movement into a longer piece. But I'll take another listen to it sometime this week and offer up a fresh perspective (I'm familiar with the second recording recommended by Enthusiast, so I'll take a crack at the first).

    Benjamin's Palimpsests is, as the name implies, based on the concept of a palimpsest, a manuscript on which the original text is overwritten with one or more later texts such that traces of the original remain discernible, even if not understandable (such a practice was apparently common in medieval music). This informs us of the structure of the piece: musical ideas and textures are successively layered on top of one another, resulting in a piece of increasing complexity as time moves forward while retaining glimpses of the original layer offered at the beginning. Benjamin, of course, also puts a twist on this structure by having the original layer itself changes in time in light of those layers superimposed on it.

    The two movements have different takes on the concept of palimpsest. The first movement opens with the original layer, a gentle song in the three clarinets before getting obscured by a staccato rhythm in the brass, short tremolos in the xylophones, quick strikes in the high strings, etc. Each of these textures, including the original, returns off and on throughout the movement, often expanded and fleshed out; it should be stressed, however, that every layer is restricted to the family of instruments in which it was introduced (or conversely, no instrumental family is ever cross-pollinated with a foreign texture). The result is that each layer possesses a clearly distinct and memorable timbre, preventing the music from ever getting too muddled. It should also be said that there are far more layers than families, meaning each family will be the source of multiple layers. From what I can tell in the score, the families are: piano, harp, xylophone/vibraphone, other percussion, brass, clarinets, flute, piccolo (however, the flute and piccolo textures are remarkably similar), high strings, and low strings (specifically, double bass; cellos are absent, probably to ensure that high and low strings are sharply differentiated).

    The second movement starts anew with a new process of layering, but occasionally, layers from the first movement will resurface, especially the gentle song in the three clarinets. And each time this song emerges, new layers will proliferate until the climax is reached where everything seems to resurface at once, causing a lot of friction and conflict. Personally, I think this is a weakness of the second movement: there are almost too many layers to keep track of, and they appear and disappear too quickly. The first movement, in my opinion, is much better at conveying the notion of palimpsest. But that's just me.

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  3. #47
    Senior Member Trout's Avatar
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    Overall, I quite like the Benjamin. It might not be very surprising if you knew that Messiaen is a personal top-3 composer, as I agree with others' comments on some of their similarities. In particular, I find their writing for brass to be comparable: brash, colorful, monolithic, and powerful. But, in this piece, Benjamin's music has a layer of haze that Messiaen's lacks, as if obscuring the monster that lies beneath. And I quite like the overlap of and interplay between the powerful and the mysterious, especially in the first Palimpsest. Yet, while I find them well-written, the pieces did strike me as a bit forgettable, even after a third listen. Perhaps some of its complexities interfered with its musical cohesion, or perhaps I (unfairly) could not get the Messiaen comparison out of my head while listening.

    Still, all things considered, this did make me interested in exploring more Benjamin. Upon hearing his acclaimed opera Written on Skin recently, I was in awe of the power and intensity he managed to draw out of the orchestra, even right from the opening bars. I would love to attend a performance of this whenever it is programmed next. But aside from that, I am unfamiliar with the rest of his work. I plan to check out more of the pieces on this short list I compiled, but any other recommendations (especially from Enthusiast) are welcome!
    Last edited by Trout; Mar-12-2020 at 08:03.

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  5. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trout View Post
    Still, all things considered, this did make me interested in exploring more Benjamin. Upon hearing his acclaimed opera Written on Skin recently, I was in awe of the power and intensity he managed to draw out of the orchestra, even right from the opening bars. I would love to attend a performance of this whenever it is programmed next. But aside from that, I am unfamiliar with the rest of his work. I plan to check out more of the pieces on this short list I compiled, but any other recommendations (especially from Enthusiast) are welcome!
    Your list is a good one. I came to Benjamin through Written on Skin, which was broadcast of TV by BBC. I had to buy the CDs! This led to my getting this

    mindofwinterantara.jpg

    earlier works but all at least interesting and attractive. Antara is the stand out piece for me on that CD.

    Later, I also got this

    suddentime.jpg

    again finding much to enjoy. Sudden Time was the stand out piece for me on that disc.

    Early, interesting works of contemporary composers - usually British - are a constant fascination for me. Some mature into amazing composers, others perhaps don't go so far. Benjamin has, I think.

    More recently, Benjamin has continued to demonstrate that operas are central to his work. The BBC broadcast this

    lessonsinlove.jpg

    and it is another powerful work (and another tour de force for Barbara Hannigan!). I've watched it on TV a couple of times but the discs are still on my wish list.

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    Senior Member Trout's Avatar
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    Thanks, Enthusiast! I gave some of those works a listen. I really liked his beautiful early work Antara. It felt very atmospheric and quite unlike some of his more recent, more heavy-handed orchestral pieces.

    But that opera Lessons in Love and Violence really blew me away. I only listened to the CD so I cannot comment on the plot or any of the visual aspects. But the music was extraordinary, similar to and just as good as Written on Skin, in my opinion. I think it, unfortunately, may be overshadowed by its older brother in the long run, given the positive but not as astounding reception (possibly just for coming second). Still, I hope it has a good life in opera houses and on disc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 20centrfuge View Post
    Other thoughts I had: I kept thinking about the Rite of Spring for some reason. I was thinking about how the Rite of Spring always seems to feel spontaneous, like it had been written quickly by a creative madman of sorts. That is why I love it so much. This piece, and I don't necessarily view this as a negative, felt like the opposite. It felt like it had been crafted very slowly and carefully by a cunning person. A different type of experience. It does make me want to check out more of Benjamin's works, especially the opera: Written on Skin.
    I was thinking exactly the same. The harmonies made me think of Rite of Spring in some way I don't really know how to explain. The brass in the middle part of movement one sound very influenced by Messiaen's Turangalila. The ending was, as noted earlier, very good. I loved the strange form of melodicness throughout the movement. All in all i found the first movement very enjoyable, although I didn't really care for the explosive dynamics, which made it hard to find a decent listening volume (headphones).

    I didn't care much for the second movement. I percieved it to be riddled with "jump scares" - so many that I got annoyed and constantly had to adjust the volume. Maybe the works as a whole works much better on speakers?

    I will check out the other recommendations of Benjamin's works. Having never heard about the composer before, I found that the first movement had great promise.

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  10. #51
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    I have been wondering about how some of us are hearing the 2nd Palimpsest. I hadn't registered before that it was weaker and I am not sure it is. It is darker and perhaps more ambitious but it works well for me and adds a bit of weight to the 1st.

    Meanwhile, I'm glad many of us enjoyed this piece and getting to know Benjamin a bit better. He is more and more becoming an opera composer.

  11. #52
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    There's also a recording with video of Palimpsests on Berlin Philharmonics digital concert hall (which at the time offers a free trial month). Included is also a highly interesting interview with the composer.

    https://www.digitalconcerthall.com/en/concert/51892
    Last edited by Ravn; Mar-14-2020 at 21:04.

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    As I was getting into this music, I decided to read up on George Benjamin, the composer. If anyone is interested, I really enjoyed this article in the New Yorker. It gave me some insight into his life, his compositional process and how he views music.

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2...ound-his-voice
    Last edited by 20centrfuge; Mar-14-2020 at 21:52.

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    I'm having a bit of trouble hearing any resemblance to Messiaen or Stravinsky's Rite, especially Messiaen. In his larger pieces, one thing I notice in Messiaen is that he really likes to engage the entirety of the orchestra to play a single chord, and the word "monolithic", used by Trout, is really apt here. But for Palimpsests, I instead hear orchestral groups come and go, preventing chords from ever really taking place (you hear them at times in the brass, but not in the whole orchestra).

    However, I'm getting some serious Julian Anderson vibes from the work. Anderson, like Benjamin, studied with Messiaen. Here's Anderson's Symphony, written just two years after Palimpsests:


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    Nono: "Hay que caminar" soñando (1989)
    submitted by Portamento




    (The following week will be Dhomont)
    Last edited by 20centrfuge; Mar-15-2020 at 05:39.

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    From The Guardian: A Guide to Luigi Nono's Music

    "Here's what I'm talking about: this music of shimmering spaces, disturbed silences, sharp-edged fragments and dream-like unpredictability, his very last work, "Hay que caminar" Soñando for two violins, which Irvine Arditti and David Alberman premiered in 1989. It's music in which you participate almost as much as the performers, acting out your own dream-journey of moving through a landscape that's at once still and violent. It's one of a handful of pieces that Nono wrote at the end of his life inspired by a motto he discovered on the walls of a monastery in Toledo in Spain: "Caminante no hay caminos hay que caminar", one of the great aphorisms that's roughly but inelegantly translatable as "traveller, there is no way to travel, only travelling". It's a motto that encapsulates the search through unmarked musical territories on which Nono's late music embarks – and symbolises how far he and his music had come from any sense of artistic or cultural certainties. Nono isn't telling you how to listen in Hay que caminar, only offering a soundscape for your ears to navigate along with the progress of the two violinists."

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    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    I don't know whether this is a recommended version (Gidon Kremer & Tatiana Gindenko), but it was the only one I could find:

    Part 1
    Part 2
    I treat my music like I treat my pets. It’s something to own, care about and curate with attention to detail. From a blog by hjr.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Art Rock View Post
    I don't know whether this is a recommended version (Gidon Kremer & Tatiana Gindenko), but it was the only one I could find:

    Part 1
    Part 2
    Kremer and Gindenko were the dedicatees of the work, so there's that. At the same time, there's this 1994 recording (below) by Irvine Arditti and David Alberman, who gave the world premiere in 1989 and were probably in close contact with Nono, so their interpretation might be more authentic.







    And then there's this recording by Arditti and Graeme Jennings, which is the one I own and which I'm satisfied with.

    Last edited by calvinpv; Mar-15-2020 at 22:05.

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    In some ways, I have struggled with this piece. Struggled to understand it and come to terms with it. I am sure I will struggle to explain my experience with it. It doesn't seem right to say whether or not I liked it. I don't think Nono would have cared one way or the other. And frankly I don't think I could say whether I liked it or not. I can say that I experienced it. And I can say that I am glad I did.

    This piece is more about a state of mind or state of being than about music - in the traditional sense. I guess I would say it is a meditation of sorts. The violins are usually playing quietly and in such a way that the very sounds they are making border on not quite being produced. Like whispers. Very fragile. As a listener, you don't dare breathe. It feels bleak. sparse. You become more aware of yourself and you can't help but retreat emotionally.

    I know I am waxing poetical with all this, but that's what this piece is about, I believe.

    I will also say that I think music like this is better experienced in person. I understand that the two violinists are to change positions in the room as the piece progresses. This gives the listener a different sonic perspective that is not experienced the same on a sound system.

    I understand that Nono was very political and I am sure his view of the world shaped the piece. It was his last published work. I wonder if he knew it would be his last work when he was writing it. I looked it up and he died of complications relating to a liver disease. This probably did not come on suddenly. I would imagine he saw the writing on the walls, so to speak. In that sense, I imagine it occupies a place for him equivalent to Shostakovich's 14th symphony for Shostakovich or perhaps Wintereisse for Schubert.

    I am going to listen to Nono's "No Hay Caminos, Hay Que Caminar" and see what relation that work has to THIS work.
    Last edited by 20centrfuge; Mar-16-2020 at 02:01.

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    I'm just now making a conscious effort to get into Nono's late style, and this was the first work I ended up hearing. I haven't heard the rest of the "Hay que caminar" trilogy yet, so take my words with a grain of salt.

    Quote Originally Posted by 20centrfuge View Post
    In some ways, I have struggled with this piece. Struggled to understand it and come to terms with it. I am sure I will struggle to explain my experience with it. It doesn't seem right to say whether or not I liked it. I don't think Nono would have cared one way or the other. And frankly I don't think I could say whether I liked it or not. I can say that I experienced it. And I can say that I am glad I did.
    These are my sentiments exactly. There's that itch to evaluate the work. With a Beethoven symphony, you can easily express how memorable you thought the melodies were or how gut-wrenching that key change was; with Nono, however, you're left stranded. It's one of those situations where you ask yourself: "Was the composer successful at achieving what they set out to do?" I think so.

    As far as the "experience" is concerned, I enjoyed it very much. I agree that hearing it live would be very different (and, given how infrequent Nono performances are, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!).
    Last edited by Portamento; Mar-16-2020 at 07:25.

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