Saturday, August 19, 2006

Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)

Written in a Nazi prison camp, Olivier Messiaen's Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps- "Quartet for the End of Time"- is a set of seven meditations on eternity and religion, ranging from deeply disturbing to exaltant. The piece premiered to fellow prisnoers of war in 1941. Messiaen scored the piece to suit himself and three fellow prisoners, who together played piano, violin, cello, and clarinet. Each instrument gets a time in the spotlight; the third movement belongs to the solo clarinet; the fifth sees the cello in the lead role; the seventh, the piano; the eighth, the violin. The movements range from unsettling atonality to an almost Shostakovichian harmonic language, especially in the fourth and fifth movements.
The Quartet for the End of Time, appropriately, is especially innovative in use of time; notes retain their values (quarter note, eighth notes, etc.) but in some movements the time signature is absent, leading to a lack of a pulse. In other movements, the tempos are so slow that notes seem to be held forever. The End of Time could have a double meaning- the Apocalypse, and the end of conventional musical time signatures.

Messiaen: Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps

Luben Yordanoff; Albert Tetard; Claude Desurmont; Daniel Barenboim

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Problems with Bartok- Solved!

Bela Bartok- sonata for two pianos and percussion

Look here for information on the piece and its preformers.

Many thanks to Bishop.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dmitri Shostakovich Part III

I've mainly focused on the Shostakovich string quartets to celebrate his 100th birthday, but for today we'll take a little detour into one of his best symphonies, number eight, named the "Stalingrad" symphony by Soviet leaders. Written in 1943, its tragic, disturbing nature led top Soviets to ban it and for fellow Russian composer Prokoviev to speak out against it.
The first movement is of Mahleresque proportions, almost half an hour long. My personal favorite movement of this symphony is the third, in which the "war machine" can be heard in a heavy, driving, staccato line that is passed among the instruments, growing more and more powerful, until the timpani receives it in one of the most intense moments in music. Following that is a quiet, bleak passacaglia that conjures for me the image of dead bodies on the battlefield after the fight.
Solo winds feature prominantly throughout the piece, especially at the end of the last movement, where instead of ending triumphantly, the symphony fades away in a quiet C major.

Shostakovich Symphony No. 8- Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink

Thursday, August 03, 2006

John Scofield: A Go Go

I'll be frank: I can’t stand modern jazz guitar. (Sorry, Pat Metheny fans…) Perhaps it’s something in the tone of the persistent, excessive reverb, or perhaps it’s the self indulgent, showy style. That being said, I love John Scofield’s “A Go Go,” and have ever since I was a child when my mother would play it on near-constant rotation throughout the day.

John Scofield is at his absolute best, which means that fans of Steve Vai should skip this one. His guitar playing never overpowers anything and, though technically and musically inspired, is far from showy. “A Go Go” is not jazz. If anything, it’s funk. Simmering, instrumental funk. The album cover would have you believe that sole credit goes to Mr. Scofield, but just as much – if not more – credit belongs with the other three players on this album: John Medeski on keyboards, Billy Martin on drums, and Chris Wood on bass. These three players comprise, of course, the well-known jazz trio “Medeski, Martin, & Wood,” a veritable pillar of brilliant, funky music. When coupled with John Scofield on “A Go Go,” his sparse playing helps keep the sometimes frenetic playing of MMW in check, and in turn Medeski, Martin, and Wood help to elevate Scofield’s album out of “guitar jazz” status. Enjoy!

John Scofield: A Go Go

PS: I'm back, too! This is what I saw when I looked out my tent flap: