Schoenberg’s Serenade, Tanzscene

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Fifth installment, Tanzscene, from Schoenberg’s “Serenade” performed by students and faculty of the University of Illinois, Bill DeFotis, conductor:

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I am sure many have noticed this before but I noticed it while I was making the mp3. When I heard the final three chords I distinctly heard the ghost of Petrushka:

final-chords-of-tanzscene

The first chord at measure 199 is a “Petrushka” chord (Db +11) voiced in a cluster, followed by a mutated “Petrushka” chord, that is, rather than two major chords a tritone apart (Db major and G major) it is two minor chords a tritone apart (Eb minor and A minor). The final chord is the first chord but voiced differently. For theory geeks, the two chords are complimentary hexachords.

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Schoenberg’s Serenade, Sonett #217 von Petrarca

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Listen to the fourth movement, Sonett #217 von Petrarca.

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Schoenberg’s Serenade, Variationen

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Listen to installment #3, Variationen.
Bill DeFotis, conductor; Gary Grossman, clarinet; Mark Gustavson, bass clarinet; Larry Polansky, mandolin; Arun Chandra, guitar; John Garvey, violin; Nancy Thomas, viola; and Sarah Wiseman, cello.

This May, 1981 recording session at University of Illinois involved a single take of each movement.

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Schoenberg’s Serenade, Menuett

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Installment number two, Menuett:

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Schoenberg’s Serenade, op. 24

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In May of 1981 a group of musicians from the University of Illinois led by the late Bill DeFotis recorded Arnold Schoenberg’s Serenade, op.24 after performing it on a number of occasions. After 32 years I have a copy of the recording.

In addition to Bill’s great understanding of the music this recording also has the legendary John Garvey, former violist of the Walden Quartet, playing the violin part (with a pipe in his mouth at most rehearsals). The ensemble was rounded off with Gary Grossman, clarinet; myself on bass clarinet; Nancy Thomas, viola; Sarah Wiseman, cello; Arun Chandra, guitar; Larry Polansky, mandolin; and unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the singer.

Eventually, I will post all seven movements. Here is the opening movement, Marsch:

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Hymn to the Vanished for clarinet and piano Premieres Tonight

I will give the first performance of my Hymn to the Vanished for clarinet and piano with Jad Bernardo at Adelphi University tonight:

Adelphi Distinguished Faculty in Concert

The original Hymn to the Vanished is for string orchestra.

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Another Review of Dissolving Images

This review is from the current January/February, 2014 issue of American Record Guide:

GUSTAVSON: Chamber Music
Theresa Fream, Esther Noh, Sharon Polifrone,
Cyrus Stevens, v; Keith Conant, va; Christopher
Finckel, John Popham, Kim Scholes, vc; Margaret
Lancaster, Keith Underwood, fl; Edward Gilmore,
Vasko Dukovski, Alan Kay, cl; James Rogers, trb;
Lisa Moore, Stephen Gosling, Christopher Oldfather, pno;
Richard Carrick, Anthony Korf , cond;
Albany 1424—78 minutes

Brooklyn-born clarinetist-composer Mark
Gustavson offers a collection of his chamber
music from the late 1980s through the late
1990s, recorded here with three different New
York groups over a span of 20 years. Inspired
by the improvisation aesthetic in jazz and
Southeast Asian music, Gustavson strives for
an atmosphere of seemingly spontaneous
sound and rhythm even in very strict notation.
The program includes Dissolving Images
(1986) for solo piano; Jag (1991) for a sextet of
violin, cello, flute, clarinet, trombone, and
piano; a full-length four-movement 
Quintet (1993); Trickster (1997) for unaccompanied
clarinet; and A Fool’s Journey (1999), a
two-movement quasi-programmatic sextet for
violin, cello, flute, clarinet, piano, and percussion.

New York City clarinetist and sound engineer
Edward Gilmore leads string quartet Con-
Tempo in the clarinet Quintet and stands
alone in Trickster. Australian-born avant-garde
pianist Lisa Moore opens the recital with Dissolving
Images. The group Either/Or performs
Jag, and the musicians of Parnassus play their
own commission, A Fool’s Journey.

Gustavson’s music fuses modernist gestures
with an Expressionist aesthetic. Each
score simmers with emotional vigor, from nervous
quiet murmurs to sudden violent outbursts.
The often abstract harmonic language,
though, requires a high level of professionalism
to transcend. While all the performers
bring enthusiasm and commitment, the level
of sonic refinement varies greatly. Some players
have complete control of their craft, others
not so much, and so appreciation of Gustavson’s
efforts can be difficult.

Clarinetists interested in the quintet and
the unaccompanied Trickster, for example, will
welcome Gilmore’s expressive vision but may
be turned off by his much too free-blowing
set-up and his persistently spread tone. At the
same time, though, pianists who check out
Dissolving Images will be impressed by
Moore’s exquisite touch, riveting musicianship,
and thorough command of the keyboard.
Patrick Hanudel

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Dissolving Images is listed in “Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire”

Dissolving Images has an entry in the “Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire, Fourth Edition”, Indiana University Press:

Mark Gustavson (1959- ) USA
Dissolving Images 1986 (CFP 67187 1988) 21pp. 15 min. Multisectional one-movement essay with descriptive titles of intense magnitude requiring a thorough imagination for convincing realization. Difficult to read, the music navigates between swells and releases in a variety of rhythmic patterns. Concludes softly following a succession of trills and short motivic flourishes.

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Quintet

This is the second post about the pieces on “Dissolving Images.”

QUINTET for clarinet, two violins, viola & cello (1993)

In 1992 I applied to the Fromm Foundation to commission a clarinet quintet. The application requires an ensemble to commit to premiering the piece so I asked an old friend from school who was the violist in a quickly emerging string quartet if his quartet along with me as clarinetist would premiere the piece. He enthusiastically liked the idea, so I sent the forms to him to sign and we applied and received the commission in 1993.

I was living in Brooklyn at the time I received the commission and soon after the news I decided to take a walk to the Promenade where I would contemplate what this piece was going to be. The first thought that came to me, and I stuck with it, was a work that addressed rhythm and its different functions and I would address each function in the four movements of the piece.

The first movement would be a ten minute accelerando; the second movement uses two or three meters simultaneously within a double variation. The third movement would be a rhythmic canon in the strings with a floating, disembodied as it were, clarinet line. At the time I hadn’t come up with a final movement.

That night I was at a friend’s apartment in Manhattan having dinner where I connected with my future wife. For whatever the reason, we had spent time for the past year hanging out at my friend’s apartment but on this occasion something connected us. There after we began to date. Why do I bring up this private moment? Synchronicity. My connection with Pam happened the day I started Quintet but not only that. Pam, who was a dancer at one time was taking belly dancing classes and had a collection of Middle Eastern tapes that I listened to. The music wasn’t new to me (hearing it often on Atlantic Avenue, where I was living at the time, with its halal butchers, Sahadi’s, hookahs, and Muslim morning prayer) but I found dombek rhythms refreshing—a different approach compared to jazz , West African or Indian drumming. Perhaps it appealed to me because it was what I was looking for. In any event, the fourth movement is rhythm as a groove: the pizzicato cello interprets the dombek rhythms from the Chiftetelli, a slow Turkish dance.  The clarinet’s highly embellished lines were the result of my improvising clarinet lines and then working out the material.

The main influence on Quintet comes from Brahm’s “Clarinet Quintet.” As a clarinetist when you play the Brahms you feel as though you are immersed in the textures of the ensemble. As a listener I find that each movement on the surface sound so very different from one another and each movement has its own strong character. I set out to capture both of these experiences in my piece.

I won’t name names because I am an honorable person but the ensemble that signed the Fromm contract reneged but I was fortunate that Ralph Shapey called and asked to premiere the piece at University of Chicago with his great group of players who then went into the CRC recording studios the next night and made the recording that is on the album.

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Dissolving Images for piano

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I am going to write a series of posts, each one dedicated to a piece from my new album “Dissolving Images.”

DISSOLVING IMAGES for piano (1986)

I started composing this 15-minute solo in Amsterdam while I was studying at the Conservatory of Amsterdam with Ton DeLeeuw on a Fulbright Fellowship. I finished the piece in New York. The title of this piece comes from the third line in Pablo Neruda’s poem “Thinking, Tangling Shadows”:

Thinking, tangling shadows in the deep solitude.
You are far away too, oh farther than anyone.
Thinking, freeing birds, dissolving images,
burying lamps.

Belfry of fogs, how far away, up there!
Stifling laments, milling shadowy hopes,
taciturn miller,
night falls on you face downward, far from the city.

Your presence is foreign, as strange to me as a thing.
I think, I explore great tracts of my life before you.
My life before anyone, my harsh life.
The shout facing the sea, among the rocks,
running free, mad, in the sea-spray.
The sad rage, the shout, the solitude of the sea.
Headlong, violent, stretched towards the sky.

You, woman, what were you there, what ray, what vane
of that immense fan? You were as far as you are now.
Fire in the forest! Burn in blue crosses.
Burn, burn, flame up, sparkle in trees of light.

It collapses, crackling. Fire. Fire.
And my soul dances, seared with curls of fire.
Who calls? What silence peopled with echoes?
Hour of nostalgia, hour of happiness, hour of solitude.
Hour that is mine from among them all!
Megaphone in which the wind passes singing.
Such a passion of weeping tied to my body.

Shaking of all the roots,
attack of all the waves!
My soul wandered, happy, sad, unending.

Thinking, burying lamps in the deep solitude.

Who are you, who are you?

Translated by W. S. Merwin

The piano piece explores the same idea Neruda explores in his poem, the nature of thinking. In the poem Neruda is thinking about a woman he is in love with (perhaps his first love because he was 18 when he wrote the poem) or the idea of her. I replace the “idea of her” with the minor third (G-Bb) to the rhythm of a quarter-note pick up to a half-note:

The entire piece grows out of the opening interval/motive and reveals its nature throughout as a metaphor for thinking; the developing variations are the revelations of the thought as it unfolds — or dissolves.

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