About this Recording
FECD-0009 - HUSA: Music for Prague 1968 / Apotheosis of this Earth
English 

Karel Husa

Karel Husa

 

Listening to Karel Husa’s Apotheosis of this Earth (1970) and Music for Prague 1968 (1969) slightly more than 30 years after they were first recorded by the Louisville Orchestra, I am amazed at how prophetic these two monumental works are for our own extremely complex times. Nowadays as composers are attempting to grapple with sorrow, fear, and uncertainty, trying to remain hopeful without being overly jingoistic or maudlin, there is no better model than these two emotional roller-coasters which travel through despair, anger, defiance and ultimately triumph. This music is unabashedly direct and easy to understand, but it is by no means easy listening!

 

While Husa’s vocabulary incorporates numerous mid-20th century avant-garde signatures such as dodecaphony, indeterminacy, extended techniques and quartertones, his music never sounds like an experiment or a gimmick. His ability of infuse these new ideas, which incidentally still sound new 30 years later, with an impact akin to the greatest works of the orchestral literature is irrefutable proof that composers do not need to ignore the musical advances of the 20th century in order to create meaningful and engaging musical statements.

 

Apotheosis begins quietly with a haunting quartertone clarinet melody that gradually spreads through the other winds and then the rest of the orchestra growing in volume and intensity. The second movement, a throbbing anti-Bacchanale, is a relentless aural assault that seems to transform the orchestra into an arsenal of “weapons of mass destruction” making all death-metal headbanging music sound puny by comparison. The final movement returns to serenity opening with plaintive unisons terraced through the strings leading toward the chorus’ repeated utterance “this beautiful earth” which ultimately dissolves into birdsong-like melodic fragments in the flute, piccolo and xylophone.

 

Music for Prague 1968, on the other hand, opens with timpani softly beating the drums for war, building slowly into a brass fanfare. In the second movement “Aria” the strings introduce a twelve-tone melody of great conviction and compassion showing off the full expressive range of a tonal condition in which all pitches have equal weight and where harmonic tensions can never be resolved. The brief third movement, scored exclusively for the fivemember percussion section, is oddly enough the least martial-sounding, but is rather quiet and contemplative. The concluding “Toccata and Chorale” is a relentless gigue starting as a full orchestral unison, cascading into rich orchestral counterpoint and eventually morphing into a direct quotation of a 15th century Hussite song. It is a testimony of triumph over adversity. Taken as a whole, the four movements serve as a potent reminder that our greatest strength is our humanity, a lesson that needs to be heard now more than ever before.

 

Though both works were originally composed for concert band and were hailed as being amongst the greatest music ever composed for that idiom, the versions presented here are Husa’s subsequent orchestral reworking of the two compositions in 1970 (Prague) and 1973 (Apotheosis-for orchestra and chorus). And it is through the forces of a complete symphony orchestra that both of these works attain their fullest majesty, mystery, and universality. Husa’s extraordinarily deft and idiomatic writing for winds and percussion sounds even more powerful when combined with his mastery of string sonorities, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 for his nearly contemporaneous Third String Quartet.

 

Of course Karel Husa is still very much with us, actively composing music that continues to be recognized for its emotional vitality-in the past decade he was awarded the Grawemeyer for his 1993 Cello Concerto and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Two years ago, his 80th birthday was celebrated in concert retrospectives around the world. But, perhaps the greatest cause for celebration of all is the re-entry into the recording catalog of these two extremely important and moving works.

 

- Frank J. Oteri

 

Frank J. Oteri is a New York-based composer and the Editor of NewMusicBox, the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award-winning Web magazine from the American Music Center (www.newmusicbox.org).

 

 

Music for Prague 1968

 

The following commentary is reprinted from the original First Editions LP release:

 

Three main ideas bind the composition together. The first and most important is an old Hussite war song from the 15th century, Ye Warriors of God and his Law, a symbol of resistance and hope for hundreds of years, whenever fate lay heavy on the Czech nation. It has been utilized also by many Czech composers, including Smetana in My Fatherland. The beginning of this religious song is announced very softly in the first movement and concludes in a strong unison (Chorale). The song is never used in its entirety.

 

The second idea is the sound of bells throughout; Prague, named also the city of ‘Hundreds of Towers,’ has used its magnificently sounding church bells as calls of distress as well of victory.

 

The last idea is a motif of three chords first appearing very softly under the piccolo solo at the beginning of the piece, in flutes, clarinets, and horns. Later it appears at extremely strong dynamic levels; for example in the middle of the Aria.

 

Different techniques of composing as well as orchestrating have been used in Music for Prague 1968 and some new sounds explored, such as the percussion section in the Interlude, the ending of the work, etc.

 

Much symbolism also appears; in addition to the distress calls in the first movement (Fanfares), the unbroken hope of the Hussite song, the sound of bells, or the tragedy (Aria), there is also the bird calls (piccolo solo), symbol of the Liberty which the city of Prague has seen only for moments during its thousand years of existence.

 

- Karel Husa

 

 

Apotheosis of this Earth

 

The composition of Apotheosis of this Earth was motivated by the present desperate stage of mankind and its immense problems with everyday killings, war, hunger, extermination of fauna, huge forest fires, and critical contamination of the whole environment.

 

Man’s brutal possession and misuse of nature’s beauty-if continued at today’s reckless speed- can only lead to catastrophy. The composer hopes that the destruction of this beautiful earth can be stopped, so that the tragedy of destruction-musically projected here in the second movement-and the desolation of its aftermath (the “Postscript” of its third movement) can exist only as fantasy, never to become reality.

 

In the opening movement, “Apotheosis,” the Earth first appears as a point of light in the universe. Our memory and imagination approach it in perhaps the same way as it appeared to the astronauts returning from the moon. The Earth grows larger and larger and we can even remember some of its tragic moments (as struck by the xylophone near the end of the second movement).

 

The second movement, “Tragedy of Destruction,” deals with the actual brutalities of man against nature, leading to the destruction of our planet, perhaps by radioactive explosion. The Earth dies as a savagely, mortally wounded creature.

 

The last movement is a “Postscript,” full of the realization that so little is left to be said: The Earth has been pulverized into the universe, the voices scattered into space. Toward the end, these voices - at first computer-like and mechanical - unite into the words this beautiful Earth, simply said, warm and filled with regret…and one of so many questions comes to our minds: “Why have we let it happen?”

 

- Karel Husa


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