Jeff Myers : Requiem Aeternam


The music of Jeff Myers (b.1977) has been called “Striking…and harmonically rich” by the New York Times and “…brilliant and powerful…” by The Classical Voice of New England. Many of his works incorporate themes from Asian folk genres (kulintang and gamelan music), visual art (Escher), literature (Poe, Baudelaire, Rimbaud) and acoustic phenomena (overtone harmony and microtonality). Electronic sounds and instruments (Disklavier, amplified machines, drones) have been used in several of his works to achieve special or complex soundscapes. His recent large scale project Book of Islands involves a series of individual compositions that are based on characteristic islands or island themes, incorporating geographic, cultural, conceptual or linguistic features of various islands. The first set of pieces includes E—- (for loadbang ensemble), He mele no kane (for soprano Rachel Schutz and pianist Jon Korth) and a cello piece for Joshua Roman.

Myers’ The Angry Birds of Kauai was commissioned, premiered and recorded by Grammy award winning violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Cory Smythe (see ‘In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores’ album). Other notable collaborators/commissioners include New York City Opera (Maren of Vardø at VOX 2011), Beth Morrison Projects, Orchestre National de Lorraine (after Escher), Ann Arbor Symphony (LiberationRoaring Fork), University of Michigan Symphonic Band (Organum-Tambura), Transit (Makassar Strait), JACK Quartet (dopamine and Requiem Aeternam), PRISM Quartet (Tidtu), pianist Ralph van Raat (Three Sketches), violinist Yuki Numata (Metamorphosis, Six Sketchesand Kulintang Suite), pipa virtuoso Yang Jing (Turtle and Rat, from her ‘Elements’ album), hornist Laura Klock and tenor William Hite. He has collaborated with librettist Royce Vavrek on two operas (The Hunger Art and Maren of Vardø) and librettist Quincy Long on a one-act opera (Buried Alive) for American Lyric Theater (premiered at Fargo-Moorhead Opera in 2014).

Myers’ music has been played at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Library of Congress, Disney Concert Hall, Kimmel Center, Darmstadt, Het Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Bard College, Institute for Advanced Study, Le Poisson Rouge and many others at home and abroad. He has received awards from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, BMI, and ASCAP, as well as fellowships from the Yale Institute for Musical Theater, Aspen Festival, Tanglewood, Festival Acanthes, Atlantic Center for the Arts, and grants from the Jerome Foundation, American Music Center, NYSCA, MetLife, Con Edison, Ivar Mikashoff Foundation, Meir Rimon Foundation, Puffin Foundation and The Fromm Foundation. He served as composition faculty at the University of Hawai‘i in 2011-2012. He holds degrees from University of Michigan, the Eastman School, and San José State University. He currently resides New York as a freelance composer and music editor.

Jeff Myers’s “Requiem Aeternam,” performed by the JACK Quartet and mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway, revealed a gorgeously multi-colored composition set to Filipino, Italian, German and English texts from poets and the Christian mass for the dead. Myers’s use of pianissimo, breath and silence within the rich kaleidoscope of vocalism and subtle string writing produced a stunning work that deserves multiple hearings.

Myer’s describes the first section of Requiem Aeternam ~

The introduction to my Requiem Aeternam. Sustained strings play a microtonally contracted “Dies Irae”. The singer enters into this fog and pleads for mercy.

Rachel Calloway, mezzo soprano
JACK Quartet – Trinity Church, Wall Street, NYC, March 12, 2015

Arve Henriksen : The Nature of Connections


Arve Henriksen is a classically trained musician whose ethereal, Japanese-influenced trumpet playing has placed him in a league of his own. He was born in Stranda, Norway, and educated at the Trondheim Conservatory. It was during his time at the conservatory that a friend gave him a tape recording of the shakuhachi flute. Henriksen was hooked.

“I let the music ‘ring’ and develop in my head,” he said. “I was astonished by the sound of this flute.”

His interest in minimalist Japanese music went on to have a profound effect on his trumpet playing and his music career.

Born in 1968, Arve Henriksen studied at the Trondheim Conservatory from 1987-1991, and has worked as a freelance musician since 1989.

He has worked with many musicians familiar to ECM listeners, including  Jon Christensen, Marilyn Mazur, Arild Andersen, Jon Hassell, Laurie Anderson, Gavin Bryars, Imogen Heap, and many more.

He has played in many different contexts, bands and projects, ranging from working with koto player Satsuki Odamura, to the rock band Motorpsycho via numerous free improvising groups with Ernst Reisiger, Sten Sandell, Peter Friis-Nilsen, Lotte Anker, Terje Isungset, Marc Ducret ,Karl Seglem et cetera. Today he is working with Supersilent, and various settings including Jan Bang, Audun Kleive, Helge Norbakken, Stian Westerhus and Ingar Zach.

arve2An album with a title like The Nature of Connections has a special meaning for the increasingly in-demand but, more recently, career-focused Henriksen. While he has, over the past two decades, honed a most personal approach to his instrument that sings, at times, with the gentle breath of a shakuhachi and at other times the more assertive stance of an Alpine horn, the majority of his work has, in some way, shape or form, involved the use of electronics, whether it’s live sampling, use of preexisting samples and programs, or the application of effects to his already distinctive sound. The Nature of Connections dispenses with all that—an all-acoustic album where, other than a little bit of piano, he focuses solely on trumpet and piccolo trumpet.

The Nature Of Connections almost entirely features pieces composed by Arve’s collaborators. Recorded in the sparkling acoustic of Oslo’s legendary Rainbow Studio by Jan Erik Kongshaug, it’s an album with closer ties to Nordic folk and contemporary, minimalist chamber music than any of Arve’s previous releases. At the same time it features some of the most melodic and seductive music he has recorded. The trumpeter had planned to make an album with a string quartet for many years but never quite found the right formula. Finally, a special commissioned tour brought him together with violinists Nils Økland and Gjermund Larsen, cellist Svante Henryson and double bassist Mats Eilertsen, all of whom now appear as the central planks in “The Nature Of Connections”. Another welcome guest is drummer Audun Kleive, veteran of Norwegian jazz ensembles including Oslo 13, JøKleBa!, Generator X, Terje Rypdal and Jon Balke.

arve3Elements of Norwegian folk music imbue the ten relatively short pieces on his earlier recording, Places of Worship, as much as classical references, and an improvisational approach that uses Jon Hassell‘s Fourth World music as one of its many cornerstones. Organic sounds are both juxtaposed and combined with textures only possible through technology, while Henriksen’s performance—on trumpet, where embouchure and extended techniques result in still recognizable timbral breadth, and in his equally inimitable falsetto singing—remains steeped in lyricism of almost painful beauty, his melancholic melodies feeling somehow familiar while being completely and utterly his own.

Henriksen never separates himself from the environmental information provided by his natural Nordic landscape. The lush, wild, and open physical vistas of its geography provide an inner map for the trumpeter and vocalist that amounts to a deeply focused series of tone poems.  On “Lament,” Honoré’s backdrop samples frame the trumpeter’s falsetto singing voice in a hymn that evokes early orthodox Christianity and Norway’s Sami ritual prayers.

Though there are more players in the mix, it is less subsumed in ambient effects, and equates the music of North Africa with that of the Sephardim and a poignant flamenco. “Abandoned Cathedral” is the sound of an “interior” emptiness,” as a layered trumpet, unidentifiable sampled sounds, and Henriksen’s falsetto reflect the ghosts of previous inhabitants. The set closes with the Honoré -penned “Shelter from the Storm,” which features his own lead vocal and piano as well as the leader’s horn. It is the only departure from the tone poem structure of Places of Worship.

arve2Arve Henriksen: The Nature Of Connections

Track Listing: Blå Veg; Hambopolskavalsen; Budbringeren; Seclusive Song; Hymn; Aceh; Keen; Arco Akropolis; Salm.

Personnel: Arve Henriksen: trumpet, piccolo trumpet, piano; Nils Økland: violin, Hardanger fiddle, viola d;amore; Svante Henryson: cello; Gjermund Larsen: violin, Hardanger fiddle; Mats Eilertsen: double bass; Audun Kleive: drums.

Record Label: Rune Grammofon

arve3Arve Henriksen: Places Of Worship

Track Listing: Adhān; Saraswati; Le Cimetière Marin; The Sacristan; Lament; Portal; Alhambra; Bayon; Abandoned Cathedral; Shelter from the Storm.

Personnel: Arve Henriksen: trumpets, field recordings (1), voice (5, 9); Jan Bang: samples (1-4, 6, 8, 9), programming (6, 9), live sampling (7); Erik Honoré: samples (1, 2, 4, 5), synth bass (1, 4, 6, 8), synthesizers (2, 3, 4), drum programming (2, 3), live sampling (7), vocal (10), instruments (10); Lars Danielsson: double bass (3); Stahlquartett (Jan Heinke: violin; Alexander Fülle: violin; Michael Antoni: viola; Peter Andreas: cello): string quartet (3); Eivind Aarset: guitars (7, 8), sampled guitar (9); Jon Balke: piano (7), sampled piano (9); Ingar Zach: percussion (7); Christian Wallumrød: sampled piano (3); The Norwegian Wind Ensemble: sampled wind instruments (8); Peter Tornquist: sampled excerpts from “Alba” (8); Rolf Wallin: sampled crystal chord (9).

Record Label: Rune Grammofon

Bruno Martino’s “Estate” : Summer


Estate (Summer) is an Italian song written in 1960 by Bruno Martino (music) and Bruno Brighetti (lyrics).  It was a minor hit in Italy when released, but it eventually became a worldwide jazz standard, recorded by dozens of singers and jazz instrumentalists.  I first heard the song on the João Gilberto album AmorosoAmoroso, released in 1976, is an album that uses an orchestral arrangement to produce the Brazilian sound of bossa nova. The album features Gilberto on vocals and guitar, backed by a large, but not overpowering, orchestra and arrangements.

estate2The title refers to summer, and the lyrics describe a love lost during summer and the bitter memories that come with the season ever since. The song was originally titled (and the lyric sung) “Odio l’estate” (“I Hate the Summer”) but soon came to be known simply as Estate.

Bruno Martino was born 11th November 1925. His musical career started in 1944, when the young pianist entered the radio symphony orchestra of the Roman broadcasting station RAI. At the same time he already performed with local jazz bands.

After he had left Italy in 1947, he worked in several European night clubs, above all in Denmark. His orchestra played a mixture of jazz, Neapolitan folk-songs and his own compositions, ranking among the most distinguished ball-room orchestras of that time.

estate3After he had returned to Italy, he wrote songs for prominent singers like Caterina Valente, Renato Rascel and Wilma de Angelis. Until that time, he had actually never thought of singing himself, and it was a mere coincidence, that he had to substitute for a singer, who had left his orchestra at short notice.

Other notable recordings of the song are by Chet Baker, Toots Thielemans and two more favorites of mine by Bia and  Vinicio Capossela.

Here is João Gilberto from the album Amoroso – the best version, in my opinion, since it captures the bittersweet message of the song in an incomparable manner.  As Miles Davis said of him, “on guitar, he could read a newspaper and sound good.”

(Italian lyrics by Bruno Brighetti)

Sei calda come i baci che ho perduto
Sei piena di un amore che è passato
Che il cuore mio vorrebbe cancellare

Il sole che ogni giorno ci scaldava
Che splendidi tramonti dipingeva
Adesso brucia solo con furore

Tornerà un altro inverno
Cadranno mille pètali di rose
La neve coprirà tutte le cose
E forse un po’ di pace tornerà

Che ha dato il suo profumo ad ogni fiore
L’ estate che ha creato il nostro amore
Per farmi poi morire di dolore


(English translation)

You are as hot as the kisses, that I have lost
You are filled with a love, that is over
That my heart would like to erase

The sun, that warmed us every day
That painted beautiful sunsets
Now only burns with fury

There will come another winter
Thousands of rose petals will fall
The snow will cover all
And perhaps a little peace will return

That gave its perfume to every flower
The summer, that created our love
To let me now die of pain


Bernat Vivancos : a search for a spirituality


The musical personality of Bernat Vivancos (Barcelona, ​​1973) is marked by the impressions received during his school years at the Monastery of Montserrat, by some reckonings the oldest existing music conservatory in the Western world.  Singing, indispensable for all good musicians, has been of great importance in his career. Returning to Barcelona, Vivancos studied piano with Maria Canals and Raquel Millàs at the Ars Nova Music School, graduating with a first degree from the Conservatory of Barcelona.

After Barcelona, he moved to Paris for five years to study composition at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris -center for avant-garde European music-, with professors Guy Reibel, Frédéric Durieux, Marc-André Dalbavie, where he graduated in Composition, Orchestration and Analysis.

Vivancos2The year of 2000 became a turning point in his career, he discovered the music of Norwegian composer Lasse Thoresen, and moved to Oslo to broaden his studies there, in fact, this will mark his musical directions and future work. Thereafter Vivancos style incorporates elements that make his work a unique proposal: a music sound rich of color and textural, modal music converge on Western tradition and the search for a spirituality based on a Spectral harmonic inspiration. These two fundamental aspects represent the strong influence of the nature of Vivancos ‘s work: nature as root and soil, symbol of tradition, but also as a presence that manifests itself consistently in the physical properties of sound.

Vivancos3Since 2003 he is professor of Composition and Orchestration in the Catalonia College of Music (ESMUC) a post he combines with his research activities in the field composition, and the request to participate as member of the jury in international orchestration and composition competitions. From 2007 to 2014 he served as the music director of the Choir of Montserrat. During 2014-2015 he was Composer on Residence, shared with Arvo Pärt, in Palau de la Música Catalana (Barcelona).

He has published several CDs, among which stand out “Blanc” (2011) (doubly rewarded by critics as the best album of 2011), and “Requiem” (2015), both recorded by the famous Latvian Radio Choir conducted by Sigvard Klava (Neu Records).

Responsio : Peter-Anthony Togni meets Machaut


I posted an overview recently in this blog on Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame – but this recording/work reflects, comments, refutes, challenges and embellishes the medieval voice of Guillaume de Machaut and his medieval masterpiece.

RESPONSIO  by Peter-Anthony Togni
A contemporary response to Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame

Jeff Reilly – bass clarinet
Suzie Leblanc – soprano
Andrea Ludwig – mezzo soprano
Charles Daniels – tenor
John Potter – tenor

togni2RESPONSIO is Peter-Anthony Togni’s extensive musical commentary on Guillaume de Machaut’s medieval masterpiece the Messe de Nostre Dame. Juxtaposing the contemporary sound and performance practice of a bass clarinet against the timeless sonorities of a world class vocal quartet, Responsio brings Machaut’s beautiful 14th century creation into the heart of the 21st century.

Responsio is scored for solo bass clarinet and vocal quartet, and includes the entire Messe de Nostre Dame within the fabric of a 55 minute work. Juxtaposing bursts of bass clarinet improvisation against through composed choral material, Responsio casts the role of the bass clarinettist into that of a time traveller, bringing forward Machaut’s beautiful 14th creation into the heart of the 21st century.

tpgni3Along with the wide ranging creative expression of bass clarinetist Jeff Reilly, Responsio draws upon the full resources of 4 singers that are among the very best in the world. The British tenors John Potter (past member of the Hilliard ensemble, and one of the singers in the very successful Officium project on ECM records) and Charles Daniels (famous for his work with the Kings Consort and his extensive discography) along with Canadians Suzie LeBlanc (one of Canada’s most celebrated sopranos, equally at home in early and contemporary music) and Andrea Ludwig (a true rising star in opera and contemporary concert performance) gives this project a very special weight.

Edison Denisov : won world acclaim while he was denounced by Soviet authorities at home (#OnThisDay)


Edison Denisov, a composer whose avant-garde works won world acclaim while he was denounced by Soviet authorities at home, died on November 24, 1996 in a hospital in Paris. He was 67.  Mr. Denisov never recovered his health after a car accident near Moscow nearly two years previous.

”Denisov not only had a generous talent, but he was also one of the few who could look ahead and make new paths in music,” said Boris Pokrovsky, head of the Moscow Chamber Music Theater.

He was influenced by French music, the Second Viennese School, and the post-war avant-garde of Boulez and Stockhausen. In 1964 he wrote a stridently modernist chamber cantata The Sun of the Incas. There followed Three pieces for piano four hands (1967) and a String Trio (1969), but it was only in 1970, when Denisov wrote Peinture for orchestra, that he felt he had found his own musical language.

denisov2This led to a large number of scores, including a lyrical Flute Concerto (1975) for Aurèle Nicolet, a Violin Concerto (1977) for Gidon Kremer, a Concerto for Flute and Oboe (1979) for Nicolet and Heinz Holliger,Tod ist ein langer Schlaf for cello and strings(1982), and the Requiem (1980), which Denisov himself considered one of his most successful achievements.

The Requiem, scored for soprano, tenor, chorus, and orchestra, sets poems by Francisco Tanzer and liturgical texts, is in five movements.


Thomas Tallys : one of Englands’s greatest composers died #OnThisDay in 1585


Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 1585) was an English composer who occupies a primary place in anthologies of English choral music, and is considered one of England’s greatest composers.

No contemporary portrait of Tallis survives: that painted by Gerard Vandergucht (above), dates from 150 years after Tallis died, and there is no reason to suppose that it is a likeness. In a rare existing copy of his black letter signature, the composer spelled his last name “Tallys.”

The following is excerpted from Paul Doe and David Allinson. “Tallis, Thomas.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <Subscription needed>

Tallis’s compositional career spanned decades of unprecedented political and religious turbulence whose effect on English music was profound. Musical genres and styles declined, mutated or were invented afresh in response to the liturgical and doctrinal demands of the moment. From extended votive antiphons such as Salve intemerata to succinct Anglican service music, Tallis’s diverse output covers almost every musical genre used in the English church during the 16th century. However, style was not determined only by religious circumstances: it is likely that the profound differences between ostensibly early and late works of Tallis (for example, the reduction in melismatic writing and the corresponding growth in chordal homophony, and the tendency for imitation to become less decorative and more structural) may be attributed equally to the influence of continental musical developments on the native style. In this way, political and artistic imperatives converged to change Tallis’s style as well as that of many of his contemporaries.

The secret of Tallis’s success in surviving – not to say thriving – during such a period of turmoil lay in his combination of pragmatism and perfectionism. He was happy to turn good material to new purposes (as in his revision of Gaude gloriosa Dei mater from an English-texted anthem to a Latin-texted antiphon; or the conversion of instrumental fantasias into motets such as O sacrum convivium and Salvator mundi. His perfectionism is revealed by his habit of revising his compositions, sometimes at a level of mere detail but often on a large scale; these ‘second thoughts’ are revealed by disparities between manuscript sources, or between manuscript versions and those published in the Cantiones sacrae of 1575.

Tallis’s lack of complacency meant that even in his old age he continued to develop his musical language and to explore compositional problems, and not only in the obvious sense of meeting the logistical and technical challenges of writing for 40 voices in Spem in alium. Derelinquat impius and In jejunio et fletu – perhaps his last motets, written around his 70th year – are highly original essays in a harmonically conceived, chromatically inflected expressive style that reveal a startlingly fertile imagination.

Tallis3The two sets of Lamentations were probably composed in the mid- or late 1560s, when the practice of making musical settings of the Holy Week readings from the Book of Jeremiah enjoyed a brief and distinguished flowering in England (the practice had developed on the continent during the early 15th century). Tallis set the first two lessons for Maundy Thursday in the Sarum rite. His text contains slight, inconsequential variations from the known specified text; these have led scholars to describe these compositions as non-ritual, independent motets and to speculate that Tallis was writing in an allegorical, recusant spirit. While the likely expressive appeal of the texts to Tallis’s composing imagination and (in all probability) Catholic heart is obvious, it should not be assumed that these works were never used liturgically, nor should it be assumed that he ‘doctored’ the texts for affective reasons (as has been claimed similarly about Byrd’s setting).

Tallis included the customary opening and closing formulae and also follows the convention of setting the Hebrew letters that mark off the verses (Aleph, Ghimel, Heth etc.) in rich melisma. Tallis integrated every compositional resource at his disposal – imitation, expressive modulation, homophony, antiphony – to produce soulful settings that rank among his finest works.

Tallis4Tallis was clearly one of the first musicians to write for the new Anglican liturgy of 1547–53, and he again composed to English words in the reign of Elizabeth. Four pieces are found in sources dating from 1547–8: the anthems Hear the voice and prayer and If ye love me in the Wanley Partbooks, and Remember not and a setting of the Benedictus in the Lumley Books.  A further five anthems (the dubiously-ascribed Christ rising; A new commandment; Blessed are those; the fragmentary Teach me thy ways; and Verily, verily), three services and a Te Deum may be Edwardian but are found only in Elizabethan or even later sources. Internal evidence is a very unsafe guide, for there is some relatively elaborate music that must have been written under Edward VI, whereas certain Elizabethan music, such as Tallis’s psalm tunes, is in a simple chordal style.

The four works of Tallis that are known to be early do reflect, on the whole, the express wish of Cranmer and other reformers for clear syllabic word-setting. Remember not (which, like the Benedictus, uses a text from the King’s Primer, 1545) is a particularly ascetic piece, almost entirely chordal and in effect deeply penitential.  Hear the voice and prayer and If ye love me, however, represent in every way the prototype of the early Anglican anthem: they are cast in an ABB form, and mix homophony with rather formal imitation in a succinct and neatly turned manner, somewhat reminiscent of certain French chansons. The most extended of the four, the Benedictus, is possibly the earliest of all, but nevertheless has the greatest variety of texture and thematic resource. The Dorian Service, which is also probably Edwardian, is for the most part heavily chordal and incantatory, but does use limited imitation in its longer movements. It consists of the five morning and evening canticles, together with Gloria, Creed and Sanctus for the Communion; other items are probably later accretions.

Tallis2Thomas TALLIS (1505-1585)
The Complete Works
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93612 [10 CDs: 657:34]

The following is excerpted from the Music Web International review by Em Marshall.

The first disc, entitled Music for Henry VIII, features sacred music written between around 1530 and 1540, a time when church music was at an apex.

Disc two is Music at the Reformation. This was most likely all composed during the 1540s, a time of great change in religious practices in England, and the musical expression and accompaniment of the works reflect this.

The music on the third disc dates from the reign of Mary Tudor, during which the Latin rites were fully restored. The disc includes the substantial Mass Puer natus est nobis and the votive antiphon Gaude gloriosa.

Discs four and five are Music for the Divine Office – works composed for the Canonical Hours (eight daily services) – Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Tallis’s music for these services probably mostly dates from his time as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and includes a Magnificat, Alleluia, offertory, responsories, organ music, antiphons, and hymns that are delightfully innovative, despite being, at their most basic levels, settings of original plainchants.

Music for a Reformed Church is the title of the sixth disc, comprising works written for the reformed services laid out in The booke of the common prayer, after the 1549 Act for the Uniformity of Service.

Disc seven, featuring Latin motets, is entitled Music for Queen Elizabeth.

Lamentations and Contrafacta comprise disc eight, including two settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah and English versions of some of Tallis’s most celebrated Latin motets (including Sing and glorify heaven’s high majesty, an English rendition of Spem in alium).

The two final discs are recordings of the Instrumental Music and Songs.

The performances on these discs are of the very highest quality. Chapelle du Roi is a highly respected group that specializes in sacred music of the renaissance period, making them perfect exponents of Tallis’s music.

Krzysztof Penderecki : Poland’s greatest living composer born #OnThisDay


I have spent decades searching for and discovering new sounds. At the same time, I have closely studied the forms, styles and harmonies of past eras. I have continued to adhere to both principles … my current creative output is a synthesis.

Krzysztof Eugeniusz Penderecki is a Polish composer and conductor. The Guardian has called him Poland’s greatest living composer. Among his best known works are his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, St. Luke Passion, Polish Requiem, Anaklasis, four operas, eight symphonies and other orchestral pieces, a variety of instrumental concertos, choral settings of mainly religious texts, as well as chamber and instrumental works.

pendericki1Penderecki was given violin and piano lessons as a child. He studied art and literary history and philosophy at the local university while also attending the Kraków Conservatory. He privately studied composition before he entered the Kraków State Academy of Music in 1954. In 1959, three of his compositions, each submitted under pseudonyms, won first prizes in a competition sponsored by the Polish Composer’s Union. Fame rapidly followed. Both his Threnody and St. Luke Passion received worldwide performances in numbers rare for contemporary works, especially those written with such demanding techniques: glissandi, tonal clusters, unpitched sounds, spoken interjections, aleatoric effects, and shouting.

All I’m interested in is liberating sound beyond all tradition”, he said at the time.

Commissions came in quick succession, a corollary career as a lecturer developed, and in 1972, Penderecki began to conduct his own works. The first of Penderecki’s stage works, The Devils of Loudon, became a European sensation in 1969, receiving numerous performances and generating considerable controversy. A second opera, one of epic scale, was commissioned by the Chicago Lyric Opera. Paradise Lost (after Milton) was mounted in 1976 in an immensely expensive production seen in Chicago and Italy. Die schwarze Maske was premiered in 1986, followed in 1991 by the comic work Ubu Rex.

pendercki3Penderecki’s orchestral compositions include two concertos for violin, a viola concerto, two concertos for cello, five symphonies, sinfoniettas and his Flute Concerto makes characteristic use of the solo instrument in textures of great clarity.

My 1st Symphony – said Penderecki in 1995 – was written in 1973 when I was 40… I attempted to summarize my 20 years of experience – a time of avant-garde, radical searching. And yet, this symphony was a sum of what I, as an avant-garde artist, could have said by that time. Four symmetric parts: Arche I, Dynamis I, Dynamis II, Arche 11– reflected my will to reconstruct the world from the scratch. Great destruction – according to avant-garde logic – expressed a big need for a new cosmogony (K.Penderecki – “Labirynt czasu’, Warsaw 1997).

In his subsequent symphonies Penderecki distanced himself from the avant-garde language and ceased to experiment with sonorism. In Symphony no. 2 (subtitled Christmas Symphony, and containing a short quote from the Silent night carol); Symphony no. 3 was often compared to Antoniv Dvořák’s works; Symphony no. 4, called Adagio, is a great commentary on the idiom of a symphony. It seems that such a synopsis of his symphonies shows the direction of his later works.

It is not important to me how the Passion is described, whether as a traditional or as an avant-garde work. For me it is simply one that is genuine. And that is enough.

Jacob Obrecht : Netherlands Renaissance composer born #OnThisDay


Jacob Obrecht (1457-1505)) was a South Netherlandish composer known mainly for his substantial output of Mass Ordinary settings in the late 15th century, as well as for his motets and songs. Like his close contemporary Josquin des Prez, Obrecht was born and trained in the North, and led a peripatetic career involving positions and patrons both north and south of the Alps. Even as a young man in his twenties his talent and influence were celebrated: in the early 1480s the leading music theorist of the time, Johannes Tinctoris, ranked Obrecht among the masters “whose compositions, distributed throughout the whole world, fill God’s churches, the palaces of kings, and the houses of private individuals, with the utmost sweetness.”

obrecht2Obrecht wrote at least thirty mass cycles, of which two mentioned in contemporary sources are lost and one is missing two of its parts. Four other cycles have been attributed to him. Among these thirty-four, three are in three parts, while the remainder are in four parts, except for the Missa Sub tuum presidium (which progresses from three to seven parts). Unusually, Obrecht left no isolated Credos or other mass movements. He wrote approximately thirty motets and related sacred forms, in a variety of dispositions for from two to six voices. Obrecht’s work in the motet genre is his most varied, from simpler alternating settings to more abstract multi-texted pieces, many seemingly intended to serve differing purposes. While his stylistic breakthrough in the 1480s centered on the mass cycle, the motet became the subject of more intensive development toward the end of his life, with such works as Laudemus nunc Dominum (a 5) & Quis numerare queat (a 4). Also notable is the motet upon the death of his father (1488), Mille quingentis (a 4), which makes use of the Requiem chant. Obrecht left more than thirty secular songs, although some are only weakly attributed, or likely arrangements. The courtly song genre seems to have held little appeal for him, as the songs overwhelmingly survive without text, and most with light-hearted or folksy titles. Many, and perhaps most, seem to be explicitly instrumental and are of modest length.

obrecht4Despite working at the same period, Obrecht and Ockeghem (Obrecht’s senior by some 30 years) differ significantly in musical style. Obrecht does not share Ockeghem’s fanciful treatment of the cantus firmus but chooses to quote it verbatim. Whereas the phrases in Ockeghem’s music are ambiguously defined, those of Obrecht’s music can easily be distinguished, though both composers favor wide-arching melodic structure. Furthermore, Obrecht splices the cantus firmus melody with the intent of audibly reorganizing the motives; Ockeghem, on the other hand, does this far less.

obrecht5Obrecht’s procedures contrast sharply with the works of the next generation, who favored an increasing simplicity of approach (prefigured by some works of his contemporary Josquin). Although he was renowned in his time, Obrecht appears to have had little influence on subsequent composers; most probably, he simply went out of fashion along with the other contrapuntal masters of his generation.

Obrecht Discography