Time and Space
|Saturday, May 16, 2015 - 8:00 PM||Done|
Presentation of the concert
Gabrieli, Sacrae symphoniae for brass quintet, “Canzon septimi toni”
Gabrieli, Sacrae symphoniae for brass quintet, “Canzon noni toni”
Holst, The Planets, op. 32, “I. Mars, the Bringer of War” (arr. P. Sykes)
Alain, Variations sur un thème de Clément Janequin, JA118
Holst, The Planets, op. 32, “V. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age” (arr. P. Sykes)
Widor, Symphony no. 9 for solo organ, “Symphonie gothique”, op. 70, “II. Andante sostenuto”
Holst, The Planets, op. 32, “VI. Uranus, the Magician” (arr. P. Sykes)
Byrd, A Voluntarie: for my Ladye Nevell
Tod Machover, Of Experience
World premiere for narrator, organ and electronics
This work is made possible thanks to the collaboration of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Whether due to the invention of printing or to the way in which man saw the world around him, the Renaissance was characterized by tremendous intellectual and cultural ferment. Music too was affected, including the development of the organ. A program inspired by the riches of this period, including a multidisciplinary premiere by Tod Machover based on the essays of Montaigne.
7:00 p.m. at Foyer Allegro.Host: Matthieu Dugal.
guests: Jean-Willy Kunz, OSM organist in residence, and Tod Machover, composer
The Renaissance was an age of great cultural, artistic and scientific ferment. Not unlike our current era, great advances in technology made the vast world seem like a much smaller place. The field of astronomy made actual fact of erstwhile celestial fiction, while back on earth, advances in transportation and the spread of the printing press facilitated a kind of cosmopolitanism previously unknown in the western world. Great pipe organs were built in cathedrals across Europe, while musical notation and composition came to know their first golden age. This concert celebrates those early composers who embraced the experimental spirit of the Renaissance. It also looks beyond the 16th century, to later composers who found their inspiration in that era, whether through the architecture of a Gothic abbey in Rouen, or with an ode to the planets of our solar system. Finally, a commissioned work by Tod Machover brings us full circle, using ancient techniques and materials in a fully contemporary musical language. Machover is widely recognized as one of the world’s most significant and innovative composers, and is also celebrated for inventing new technology for music.
One of the great musical experimenters of the Renaissance was the Italian Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/57-1612), who held the post of principal organist and composer at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice from 1585 until his death. His achievements were such that composers from all over Europe traveled to study with him, leading to the development of the first truly cosmopolitan style in European music. In the “Canzon septimi toni” and “Canzon noni toni” from Gabrieli’s monumental Sacrae symphoniae of 1597, the parts are often played by brass instruments separated in groups throughout the performance space so as to highlight the conversational, or echoing aspect of the music. This effect would have produced an all-encompassing sonic experience under the great dome of St. Mark’s, and would eventually become known as the Venetian polychoral style.
Many years later in another striking example of music inspired by the place of its performance, Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) would dedicate his Ninth Symphony for solo organ, the “Symphonie gothique,” to the church of St. Ouen in Rouen. Written and premiered in 1895, the work was both a celebration of the magnificent new Cavaillé-Coll organ installed in 1890, described by Widor as “à la Michel-Ange,” and a tribute to the equally magnificent 15th century gothic church, built in the so-called “flamboyant” style. The Andante sostenuto features a striking shift between major and minor modes in the very first measures, recalling the fluidity of Renaissance harmonic conventions.
In the same year as Widor’s death, a younger but no less prodigious French organist also found his muse in a Renaissance subject. Jehan Alain’s (1911-1940) 1937 Variations sur un thème de Clément Janequin reaches back through time to explore a 16th century Parisian chanson by one of the most prolific early composers of that genre. Clément Janequin’s fame was spurred by the development of printed music, allowing his work to spread quickly throughout Europe. In Alain’s variations the original theme is developed through different registers of the organ, making use of florid ornamentation and complex harmonies.
In Renaissance England William Byrd (c. 1539/40-1623) synthesised the British and continental styles in his 42 compositions for keyboard included in his 1591 collection My Ladye Nevells Booke. A Voluntarie: for my Ladye Nevell is a sort of keyboard fantasy most likely to be played on a virginal (a portable harpsichord-like instrument) but equally at home on the organ. Featuring extensive ornamentation, Byrd’s style prefigured the later Italian toccatas.
Alongside advances in music and culture, the Renaissance also witnessed a flourishing of scientific thought. In the field of astronomy, the work of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo allowed for a humbling understanding of the earth’s place in the universe, while also engendering a general fascination with the different planets that make up the solar system. Gustav Holst (1874-1934) tapped into this enduring fascination when he wrote his seven-movement orchestral suite The Planets in 1914-1916. First publicly performed in its entirety in 1920, it quickly became Holst’s most popular work. “Mars, the Bringer of War” is well suited to the dark and resonant qualities of the organ in this arrangement by Peter Sykes: a menacing ostinato pattern creates a military allusion, while crashing dissonances express the terror of battle. In “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age” a slow pulsating rhythm takes on the character of a funeral march, increasing with great intensity before lifting off and vanishing altogether. “Uranus, the Magician” is changeable, by turns playful and wild.
If contemporary composition hinges on explorations of improvisation, instrumentation, form, subject and technology, then our current musical era may have more in common with the Renaissance than any other period. These topics are brought into current relevance in American composer Tod Machover’s (born in 1953) Of Experience, a work for narrator, organ and electronics. Professor at the MIT Media Lab and director of the Opera of the Future Group, Machover is also visiting professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He studied with Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions at The Juilliard School and was the first director of musical research at the IRCAM in Paris. Commissioned by the OSM, Of Experience is made possible thanks to the collaboration of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. Conceived as an equal partnership between three disparate forces, the work combines rhetorical, musical and electronic elements over the course of eight interconnected movements, all inspired by the words of Michel de Montaigne’s 16th century Essais.
The work itself mirrors the flow and intensity of Montaigne’s text, zooming from the intensely personal to the universal, and often hovering somewhere in between. In Of Experience, Montaigne’s exploration of the self seems only a microcosm of his larger questions of mortality and passage of time, man’s ultimate desire for knowledge, or the inadequacy of the human body to contain the greatness of the mind.
Interpretation also lies in the uneasy territory between determinate and improvised. An indication in the first movement asks the organist to accommodate his rhythm to the natural speech patterns of the narrator, and in the second movement the narrator is instructed to “play off the music, like counterpoint,” while the organist must “adjust rhythm to fit with/between words, like commentary.” Elsewhere, the organist takes inspiration from the electronics, dialoguing in improvisation, or is encouraged to embellish and roll chords freely. The narrator, who mostly performs in an unpitched speaking voice, ends the work in a singing tone, invoking a short prayer in English by the poet Horace: “Apollo grant in health I may That I’ve got, and with sound mind I pray; Nor that I may with shame spend my old years, Nor wanting music to delight my ears.”
Like Montaigne’s essay, the idiosyncrasies of the narrator’s speech patterns and the particularities of the organ part seem hopelessly bound up in their larger historical context, variously echoing passages from William Byrd and Johann Sebastian Bach, but also suggesting future paths for musical development through the intertwining of harmony, melody and timbre. The electronics, developed at the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with McGill University’s CIRMMT institute, play an essential role in recontextualising and spatialising the organ’s sound. At times leading, following or enhancing the acoustic properties of the organ, Machover states that the electronics “allow the organ’s presence to envelope the hall, prolonging and transforming resonances while allowing acoustic and electronic sound to merge and cross-fertilize in unexpected and provocative ways.”
© Marc Wieser
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