About this Recording
8.573303 - HARMAN, C.P.: After JSB-RS (MeiYi Foo, Yoori Choi, Jin Hyung Lim, Toca Loca, McGill Percussion Ensemble, Aiyun Huang)
English  French 

Chris Paul Harman (b. 1970)
After JSB-RS: Works for Keyboards and Percussion


The five solo and chamber works collected here span a period of seven years, from 2006–2013, and illustrate the significance of keyboard and percussion instruments in my music throughout this period. The enigmatic reference to “JSB” (Johann Sebastian Bach) and “RS” (Robert Schumann) underlines the importance of pre-existent music or “source material” in most of my works since the mid-1990s, exemplified here by the music of these two great composers.

After Schumann (2008) originated as a miniature, requested by pianist Xenia Pestova. In anticipation of the bicentennial year of Robert Schumann’s birth, a short piece, Erster Verlust (First Loss), No. 16 from Schumann’s Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young), Op. 68, was selected as source material for a musical offering lasting less than one minute. Seven further miniatures, based in whole or in part on other movements from Schumann’s cycle were composed independently, and subsequently fashioned into a quasi-continuous multi-movement work lasting approximately ten minutes.

Each of the eight movements draws from a different piece in Schumann’s cycle. A variety of different techniques reconfigures the composer’s materials—pitch, rhythm, gesture—while retaining varying degrees of similarity or dissimilarity to their original counterparts. In spite of the uninterrupted performance of these movements, their specific ordering emphasizes strong contrasts in pitch language, gesture and motion.

After Schumann II (2012/2013) picks up, as it were, where After Schumann left off five years earlier. Like the former work, After Schumann II draws on movements, in whole or in part, from two solo-piano cycles by Robert Schumann, this time, from Kinderszenen, Op. 15, and Albumblätter, Op. 124. The musical flow is even more continuous than the earlier work, in spite of its greater duration (fifteen minutes versus ten minutes) and greater number of contrasting movements (fifteen versus eight). At times, strong affinities with Schumann’s music may be felt through the frequent assertion of tonal centres, and emphasis on a decidedly non-virtuosic approach to the keyboard writing.

Scored for two keyboardists and one percussionist, 371 (2006) was commissioned by the Toca Loca Ensemble (Toronto) through the Ontario Arts Council. The particular instruments assigned to the keyboard players (piano, prepared piano, celesta, toy piano) in combination with percussion instruments sharing timbral affinity (vibraphone and almglocken) render a very different sound world from what one might normally associate with such an ensemble (as in Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion). For most of the piece, the “natural” piano sound is almost always doubled with one or more “unconventional” sonorities (prepared piano, for example), coming into its own only in the work’s penultimate section when it saturates the twelve-note chromatic across its entire tessitura by means of descending chromatic lines and continuous use of the sustain pedal.

Melodic and rhythmic materials derive from each of the four parts (voices) in the last of J.S. Bach’s 371 Harmonized Chorales. The ritualistic character of Bach’s chorale finds a counterpart in the work’s first and last sections, while the intermediary movements pursue faster music with irregular, often disjunct rhythms and angular lines.

Concertino (2008) for two keyboard soloists and eight percussionists was composed for the McGill Percussion Ensemble. The première performance took place on April 3, 2008 by the McGill Percussion Ensemble with pianists Xenia Pestova and Julia den Boer, under the direction of Aiyun Huang. Each of the four short movements proposes a particular combination of keyboard instruments: 1) piano in equal temperament with imprecise microtonal inflections and celesta; 2) prepared piano and celesta; 3) piano in equal temperament, toy piano and celesta; 4) piano in equal temperament with imprecise microtonal inflections and piano in equal temperament.

The instruments in the percussion ensemble sparingly provide “light and shadow” to the keyboardists’ material: in movement I, tubular bells, almglocken and vibraphone punctuate only a few notes in a texture otherwise dominated by the non-equally tempered piano; two pulsating tuned gongs provide a steady rhythmic and timbral underpinning for the prepared piano solo in movement II; in movement III, tutti percussion chords (crotales, glockenspiel, vibraphone, tubular bells and almglocken) separate two frenetic episodes for equallytempered piano and toy piano; and in movement IV, short melodic fragments “swirl” amidst the ensemble’s instrumentation in a vertiginous Klangfarbenmelodie.

Much of the work’s musical texture is either monophonic or heterophonic, built around chromaticallyaltered lines from J.S. Bach’s Two Part Inventions. Further fragmentation of these lines creates a perceptual “meta-counterpoint” resulting from the juxtaposition or superposition of instruments with contrasting timbre.

Der Tag mit seinem Licht (2010/2011) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion and piano was commissioned by the Transmission Ensemble of Montreal. The work draws its title from a chorale melody of the same name from the 69 Chorale Melodies published together with J.S. Bach’s 371 Harmonized Chorales.

Of particular note in this work is the emphasis on tonal materials, recontextualized in a non-linear, nondiatonic framework; triads, diatonic scales and cadences abound in contexts where harmonic “colour” supersedes functional harmony. The original chorale melody is at times heard explicitly; at other times, it receives various types of alteration of pitch and rhythm, though its distinctive contour (near-perfect ascending and descending scalar lines in alternation) remains recognizable.

The orchestration is, for the most part, fragile. The vibraphone frequently contributes running lines or chords, providing a resonant backdrop for many of the work’s textures, while the sparer piano part articulates larger scale formal divisions. The violin emerges on several occasions with filigree work, almost always at a quiet dynamic and further restrained by the use of different mutes. Crippled sonorities emerge through rarified appearances of the celesta (emphasizing the low register), piccolo (likewise emphasizing the low register), toy piano and recorder.

Chris Paul Harman

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