About this Recording
8.559776 - ROCHBERG, G.: Flute Music (Complete), Vol. 1 (C. Jennings, Johnson, J. Han)

George Rochberg (1918–2005)
Complete Flute Music • 1


George Rochberg’s music was the soundtrack of my childhood. I absorbed his distinctive vocabulary from stirring performances of his string quartets in my own home. My father, Andrew Jennings, was the second violinist of the Concord String Quartet, for whom Rochberg wrote his String Quartet No. 3, as well as his Concord Quartets Nos. 4-6.

Composing in an astonishing diversity of voices, Rochberg was one of the unique American minds of the last century. His compositional style, while always personal, was at first firmly rooted in the atonal and serial movements. Later it shifted towards the neo-Baroque and highly Romantic. This move towards tonality was precipitated, in 1964, by the death of his teenage son. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Rochberg completely reevaluated his music. The culmination of this process was his 1971 String Quartet No. 3, a landmark work that featured a dominant use of tonality.

Although Rochberg wrote only a handful of pieces for flute, his writing for the instrument is bold—using the entire range in any dynamic or setting. His two Ukiyo-e pieces are among his most beautiful and haunting works. With the help of my dear musical collaborators, it is a joy for me to share my interpretation of these masterpieces, which I regard as old friends.

Flutists have a long tradition of borrowing from the violin repertoire; and the 24 Caprices by Paganini have been transcribed by countless flutists from John Wummer to Claire Chase. Based entirely on the theme of Niccolò Paganini’s 24th Caprice, Rochberg’s Caprice Variations were originally written in 1970 for solo violin. The recording here is from my Galaxy transcription of the original 1970 collection, which has long fascinated me. These masterful pieces demonstrate the stylistic compositional variety for which Rochberg is known. They also perfectly embody one of Rochberg’s most basic philosophies: “All human gestures are available to all human beings at any time.” We hear clear homages to Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, Brahms, Bartók, and Schoenberg.

This transcription includes 20 of the original 51 Caprices. I chose to include those best suited to the flute while representing the enormous stylistic range of Rochberg’s entire set. My goal in the transcriptions was to use the flute to its fullest capacity, challenging the player with dynamic, technical, and stylistic extremes.

The other two works included on this recording grew out of Rochberg’s solo harp piece, Ukiyo-e (Pictures of the Floating World). Ukiyo-e refers to the iconic style of Japanese woodblock prints of the same name, which flourished in the 17th century.

In explaining the title Between Two Worlds (Ukiyo-e III): Five Images for Flute and Piano, Mr. Rochberg observes that “Between Two Worlds suggests not only the realms of nature and culture between which we find ourselves tenuously situated but also the strong feelings that I experienced while living briefly in the strife-torn Middle East.” The five images display great contrast of mood, tempo, articulation, and register. Full of powerful gesture and soulful song, the piece ends with a rapid chromatic passage that is repeated with a slow diminuendo until niente. At Rochberg’s urging, I play this passage while spinning around, ending with my back to audience as the music fades. This passage, incidentally, is quite similar to the penultimate Caprice from the Variations.

Slow Fires of Autumn (Ukiyo-e II) for Flute and Harp was commissioned by the Naumburg Society for Carol Wincenc, who premièred the work with Nancy Allen in 1979 at Alice Tully Hall. “The main title of my work is a way of suggesting the purely subjective sources of the music, at the same time suggesting the more impersonal world of nature in which we move, observe and share in the cosmic process of the fires of autumn slowly, inexorably burning themselves out to make new life after the long sleep of winter.” While writing the piece Rochberg was inspired by a passage from D.H. Lawrence’s novel Apocalypse that beautifully echoes both the mood and structure of the duo: “To appreciate the pagan manner of thought, we have to drop our own manner of on-and-on-and-on, from a start to a finish, and allow the mind to move in cycles, or to flit here and there over a cluster of images.”

This large-scale work moves, in its form, from world to world. Episodes of great expanse and stillness contrast with raucous outbursts and mingle with beautiful Japanese shakuhachi-inspired melodies. The Japanese influence in this Ukiyo-e piece is obvious in both the modality and colour. Like the Caprice Variations, which concludes with the theme, Slow Fires ends with a deconstructed technique: a simple Japanese folk song repeated several times in the harp, each time in a slower and softer presentation.

Christina Jennings

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