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CD-16256 -
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 Contemporary music for recorder


The recorder is rooted in traditional folk music on all continents, it is, however, seldom used in classical art music. Until the beginning of the 20th century this instrument of the Renaissance and Baroc period remained almost entirely forgotten. Rediscovered by the composers of the closing century it imparts—as well as the percussion—an original timbre to the contemporary music. The chosen pieces give an impression of the attracting relationship arising from the application of the archaical playing of recorder and percussion in the sphere of modern art music with its artificial character.

“Each time I look at a fine landscape, I have a sense of meeting a loved friend: I raise my voice and recite a stanza of poetry and marvel as though a God had crossed my path.” The Mexican composer Mario Lavista (*1943), a student of Pousseur and Stockhausen, places this fragment of a poem by Bai Juyi (772–846) before his work Ofrenda (dedication). The solo piece for tenor recorder was created in 1986 in commemoration of a deceased friend. Ofrenda has a very sensual character which is expressed through melodious phrases. The entire range of the tenor recorder is employed: lamenting melodies in highest registers, darkly coloured low sequences, ‘chords’ and dynamically varying tone repetitions follow one another. Lavista continually returns to the use of fifths and fourths—the “purest” intervals—, which always symbolized in the music of the baroc period something fundamental, stable and divine. The end of the work is entitled Organum whereby Lavista refers to the medieval vocal church music for several voices. While playing the soloist sings simultaneously the second voice and picks up the fifth-melodics of the beginning. Grief, rebellion, fear and loneliness—all feelings the piece inspires, finally lead to an atmosphere of complete tranquillity.

La faulx de l’été (The Sickle of Summer) is a piece in five movements for recorder and percussion. The instruments used are: conga, bongos, tom-toms, woodblock, cow-bells, temple blocks, tam-tam and tubular bells. Like her model Anton Webern the composer Annette Schlünz, born in Dessau in 1964 and now living in Strasbourg, works with numerical symbols. But tempers, impressions and sensations play a more significant role in her music.

Annette Schlünz wrote La faulx de l’été in 1991 for the “Konvergenzen” exhibition (convergences) by Heike Ponwitz and Angela Hampel in the Festspielgalerie in Berlin. Angela Hampel, in whose œuvre sickles appear again and again, cites in the exhibition catalogue the folk song “Ich hört’ ein Sichlein rauschen” (I heard the swishing of a sickle). Annette Schlünz picks up this folk song and establishes a connection between it and the two poems “Invitation” and “Mon amour est triste” (My love is sad) by the French poet René Char in which the sickle appears as a symbol of death:

I am set into another time, strange, never heard sounds reach my ears. “The evening air permeated with white inaction”, the incessant wind who confuses the senses and evokes tones within myself. Let swish, love, let swish. A great, all embracing sadness spreads—and yet is calmness and beauty, and yearning as well. “Happiness is sad.” The calling dies away in the wind without being heard. And the love?—“Crushed with fatigue and pursued by the sickle of summer” (Annette Schlünz)

In each of the five movements of the piece a different recorder is used. The movements consist of little gestures interrupted by pauses. The character of the gestures in the voice of the recorder changes repeatedly in dynamics, tone and rhythmics, and they are mostly played in a percussive way. The percussion instruments sometimes are only touched fleetingly, sometimes carefully tapped on with finger tips or knuckles or sometimes powerfully hit with the drum sticks as well.

In movements I and II for the bass and tenor recorder the percussive quality of the voice for the recorder is intensified by an audible beating on the finger-holes, a particular embouchure producing special noises and very short and scanty melodic phrases. In movement II some fragments of the sickle-song reappear played with a particularly soft tone and dynamics. In movement III the composer alludes to the poem “Invitation” and creates by the nature of the interplay of soprano recorder (or descant recorder) and temple blocks a serene, yet playful atmosphere in which the melancholic character of the composition is still preserved. A solo of the alto recorder (or treble recorder) dominates movement IV—the soloist makes the instrument scream, lament, express resignation interrupted by pauses like sighs: loneliness and sad love reach their climax. In the short movement V the piece returns to a more tranquil mood; as in the first movement a percussive bass recorder and gently played drums complement one another.

“A composer preludes like an animal burrows in the earth. Both do it because of an urge to seek. What impels the composer to this? A rule he puts on his shoulders like a penitent? No: he is looking for his well-being. He is looking for a satisfaction he knows that he can’t find it without the preceding effort. One does not force oneself to love, but a precondition for love is to know, and to get to know something, you have to summon up all your strengths” (Igor Stravinsky).

Stravinsky, born in 1882 near St. Petersburg and deceased in New York in 1971, composed in 1918 the Pieces for Clarinet Solo. They belong to the “Russian period” of his œuvre. The Pieces are short compositions without fixed form. Their title has no particular significance: Pieces to be “preluded” or “played”, pieces that are looking for something.

Points of Contact was written by the Dutch composer Joep Straesser (*1934) for tenor recorder, marimba and percussion. The two melody instruments first walk side by side in high rhythmical complexity. Later the two parts start to resemble each other by the mutual imitation of little motifs and then by the same structural notes within the phrases. The melodies clasp one another, they miss points of contact to finally reach them all the same. During this the piece passes through different stages of classic musical forms; this sequence of parts each with different features resembles of a concert, a symphony. The rhythmically complex introduction is followed by animated interludes, lyrical modifications of the theme and passionate passages. A cadence of the recorder, accompanied only by the beating of the Chinese gong, is followed by a pause. For a moment the music seems to get lost in single notes, but it leads to a vehement finale: recorder and marimba suddenly lose one another and dash hectically, breathlessly apart. Abruptly they end far from any contact and return to the isolation of the beginning.

The composer Calliope Tsoupaki, born in Athens in 1963, lives and works in Amsterdam. In her music the influences of her teachers Andriessen, Boulez and Messiaen are easily recognised: in the solopiece Charavgi (1995) the rough, unrefined sound of the renaissance recorder wakes associations of mythology and traditional Greek shepherd music. “Charavgi” means the very beginning of the dawn, a holy time of the day in antiquity. Tsoupaki depicts the ambience and iridescence of the newborn day by melodious motifs. She arbitrarily picks up an interval, by isolating and insistently repeating it she imparts a particular significance to it and, by transforming it, creates a new, playful melody that is interrupted abruptly to be replaced by a new motif; thus she continues until the piece reaches its climax. “In Charavgi I did not only want to give a simple feeling of dawn in a romantic sense, but I tried to deal with a material that undergoes a transformation and ends exactly at the point of its full flourishing, just as the dawn ends at the moment of sunrise.” (Calliope Tsoupaki).

© Katja Reiser & Patrick Hahn, 1999
Translation: Friedemann Hellwig, Alex Mackinnon, Will Sleath

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