Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Russia's first song-writer?

Who was Russia's first art song composer? Certainly not Glinka, who was merely Russia's first great art song composer! It seems to be one Grigory Nikolaevich Teplov (1711-1779), a murky statesman close to Catherine the Great. 

His songs, which appear to have been popular in 18th Century Russia, feature the singer (or singers) as a voice (or voices) within a trio sonata-style texture. They have a winning simplicity, sweetened by the pervasive use of parallel thirds and sixths. I have only two examples to offer you, When you will start, my dear, believing and Although my road to happiness is closed. Neither sounds particularly Russian and both (to my ears) belong very much of the Age of Pergolesi.

If Glinka is the known as the 'father' of Russian song and Teplov should be seen as the 'great-grandfather', then the 'grandfather' of Russian song is Nicolai Alexeyevich Titov (1800-1875). He worked within the French-inspired sentimental 'romance' tradition, as can be heard from songs like The Blue Scarf, Singer or To Morpheus. Simple, often suffused with melancholy, they provided a model many a Russian composer (including Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, even Shostakovich) was to follow. 

Mahler's Eleventh?

By a series of happy accidents I recently found myself listening to the Third Symphony by the Austrian-born Marcel Tyberg (1893-1944). It was a delightful revelation. 

The work opens with music that will come as a pleasant surprise to anyone who knows and loves Mahler's Seventh Symphony; indeed, it sounds like a wholesale re-imagining of the opening of that great work. The lyrical second subject of the first movement then carries us firmly into the world of Bruckner's symphonies. Mahler and Bruckner are unquestionably the guiding spirits of Tyberg's Third Symphony and you will probably find yourself hearing clear echoes of specific passages in symphonies by those composers, particularly Mahler's - always echoes, never quotations. Does that make it derivative? Yes. Does that make it a worthless listen? Certainly not. 

Tyberg's heroic first movement doesn't have the symphonic energy of Mahler nor has it got the visionary architecture of Bruckner, being more relaxed, lightweight and loose-limbed than either, but it should prove a treat for any of you who are lovers of late-Romanticism. Its ideas are immediately attractive and treated engagingly. Even more delightful is the scherzo, a Mahler scherzo minus Mahlerian angst. I rewound it and re-listened to it three times on first hearing, I enjoyed it so much. The slow movement adagio, the heart of the symphony, is warm, lush and glowing. The string and wind writing here is especially lovely and I've also re-listened to this movement many times over. The finale shares the cheerful spirit of the final movement of Mahler's Seventh, yet doesn't mark a falling-off in quality and fits in without incongruity with the rest of the symphony.

If this symphony, completed during the Second World War, inhabits a soundworld wholly belonging to the closing decades of the 19th Century, then the highly lyrical Piano Trio in F Major from 1935-36 is even more of a 'throw-back' - this time harking back a hundred years to Mendelssohn and Schumann. The best point of comparison here is the Piano Trio in F Major by Schumann. Does it matter that a work written in the mid 1930s sounds as if it could have been written in the 1840s? Looking back from 2012, surely not. If the music is well-written and enjoyable to hear, as this Piano Trio most assuredly is, then who cares? It's no skin off our noses if Tyberg was a composer out of his time. 

Tragically, Marcel Tyberg wasn't a human being out of his time. I wanted you to listen to and enjoy his music before telling you of the horrors that befell the composer. Due to his great-great-grandfather being Jewish, he was seized by the occupying Nazis in 1944 and murdered in the extermination camp at Auschwitz later that year. When you listen to his beautiful Piano Trio and the noble Symphony, both full of warmth and a love of music, the unbelievable cruelty and madness of such a fate hits you forcibly yet again.

Hopefully, more works of Tyberg will be recorded and audiences will come to know and love his delectable Third Symphony. We only have a few symphonies by Mahler and Bruckner, so why not have another one, courtesy of Marcel Tyberg?

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Alban Berg: The Second Viennese Romantic

Of the three members of the so-called Second Viennese School, Alban Berg (1885-1935) has proved to be most popular with the public. Why is that that? Well, his music tends to be far more immediately alluring. It is more conservative-sounding and the closest in spirit to most listeners' favourite kind of classical music - Romantic music. At heart a lyrical composer, Berg nearly always made sure that his music spoke straight from the heart - even when, as we now know it often was, he had constructed it with an astonishing degree of compositional rigour and an obsessive attention to detail. Moreover, his melodies - whether tonal, atonal or serial - stick in the memory more often and far more easily than those of Schoenberg and Webern and can carry you along as strongly as any wave of Romantic melody. His orchestration is also much more colourful, refined, lavish and sensuous. Furthermore, his tonal tendencies were by some margin the strongest of the three composers - paradoxically especially after he finally embraced serialism (in his own way). Finally, he is the Second Viennese composer whose music sounds most like Mahler - and who doesn't like Mahler? 

I bought a CD of the LSO and Claudio Abbado conducting the Lulu SuiteAltenberg Lieder and Three Pieces for Orchestra over twenty years ago and played it almost as obsessively as Berg measured out the sections of his pieces! It was glorious, passionate music that swept you up and made you dizzy - sometimes fierce and strange, often ravishingly beautiful. 

That Berg's roots were deeply lyrical can be heard from his early songs. Listening to his lovely early Heine setting Geliebte Schöne shows a composer already adept at writing songs. There's plenty of Brahms in it, plus a flavouring of Mahler. Schumann's influence shows up in the Theodor Storm setting Schliesse mir die Augen beide. Having (hopefully) enjoyed that particular Storm setting from around the start of the 20th Century, please next try the 1925 version of Schliesse mir die Augen beide. This was Berg's first fully serial piece and the shapes of its melody are angular, in the way of much twelve-tone melody. The phrasing, however, remains essentially lyrical and the piano accompaniment is rich and delicate in a way that is very different to either Schoenberg or Webern, being closer (in texture if not harmony) to Debussy than either. The harmony also has tonal elements (deliberately).

The best of the early songs (composed rather later than most of the others) were gathered together by Berg in 1928 as his Sieben frühe Lieder. This means that were get to hear seven of the composer's loveliest tonal songs orchestrated in the masterly and charismatic manner of his full maturity. In general terms, orchestral songs as a medium are often some of music's tastiest offerings - and these are very tasty specimens indeed. The songs are:

1. Nacht ('Night'), setting Hauptmann.
2. Schilflied ('Reed Song'), setting Lenau.
3. Die Nachtigall ('The Nightingale'), setting Storm.
4. Traumgekrönt ('Crowned with Dreams'), setting Rilke.
5. Im Zimmer ('In the Room'), setting Schlaf.
6. Liebesode ('Love's Ode'), setting Hartleben.
7. Sommertage ('Summer Days'), setting Hohenberg.

Many of the great Romantics can be heard as influences here - everyone from Schumann and Brahms to Wagner (does anyone else hear his Elsa in In Zimmer?) and Mahler. I also hear strong echoes of Richard Strauss. The loveliest passage in Schilflied (beginning at "Wenn sich dann der Busch...") shows that influence clearly, as does the superb surging phrase at "Rie Rosen aufgesprungen" in Die Nachtigall. (I suspect the apparent echo of the famous second subject of the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique symphony in Die Nachtigall might be a coincidence.) Nacht shows a chronologically closer influence, Debussy. The opening bars, depicting clouds and mists, use the whole-tone scale. There's a wonderful surge of tonality in this song at the phrase "Weites Wunderland ist aufgetan".

Of course, another influence was entering Berg's life as he was writing these songs - his teacher Schoenberg, whose First Chamber Symphony was to help shape the pupils first published work, the Piano Sonata, Op.1. The Schoenberg piece is a heady single-movement work notable for its chromatic extending of tonality, its teeming interweaving of themes, its use of sonata form and its hyper-Romantic gestures. It also makes thoroughgoing melodic and harmonic use of intervals of the fourth (perfect fourth, augmented fourth, diminished fourth). All of these features are also found in the Berg Sonata - though, as a Scriabin enthusiast, I would also note that such fourths-based writing was something which the famous Russian was also exploring in a thoroughgoing fashion at this time and that Berg's Sonata actually sounds as much like Scriabin as it does like Schoenberg.  There was something in the air. Both Berg and Scriabin certainly knew how to flood the keyboard with sonority. The opening melodic notes consist of a rising perfect fourth followed by a rising augmented fourth (tritone). This theme's companion features a falling tritone. There's an exposition, an exposition repeat, a development section, a recapitulation and a coda. There's a big climax in the development section but the work's harmonic conflict is only resolved in the coda, where the tritone turns into a perfect fifth. The work is sort-of in B minor, but the extended tonality is already beginning to extend itself beyond tonality. Berg was 21-years old when he wrote it.

In his Vier Lieder, op.2 inhabit a somewhat similar world of extended tonality. The final song is often said to mark the point where Berg crossed over into atonality. Even though it abandons key signatures (unlike its three companions), I have to say it doesn't sound any more or any less atonal than the other songs in the set. The songs (the first setting Friedrich Hebbel, the other three setting Alfred Mombert) are primarily focused on the idea of sleep ("Schlafen") - except for that final song.   The first, Schlafen, Schlafen, is particularly beautiful. It reminds me somewhat of Strauss's Ruhe, meine Seele! but is considerably more chromatic. Listen out for the superb setting of the words "keinen Traum". The second song, Schlaffend trägt man mich, is richly romantic but even more chromatic. Listen out here for the ending, where the closing line "in mein Heimatland" is particularly lovely. The voice holds the first syllable of "Heimatland" before falling, with the piano, over strange, chromatic harmonies. Nun ich der Riesen Stärksten, the short third song, breaks out of Strauss-Schoenberg-style chromaticisim for a passage of diatonic radiance at "an einer weissen Marchenhand". That 'atonal' final song, Warm die Lüfte, is more notable for its word-painting, with "the nightingale" and "the cold snow" that "melts and glitters" being directly evoked. It is the most dramatic song of the set, anticipating the opera composer to come.

Helene Berg

The real move into atonality came with the two-movement String Quartet, Op.3 (Mvt.2). Here the Schoenberg influence, including the score's complex thematic part-writing, is put at the service of heightened drama and there are some intensely involving passages that predict the composer of Wozzeck to come. According to the account of Helene Berg, the piece dates from a period before her marriage to Alban when they were forbidden to see each other. Alban's feelings of frustration, were, she said, channelled into this Quartet. That is easy to believe as the piece feels like an outpouring of intense feeling. I would say, however, that this piece is the one that those of you who struggle with the Second Viennese School's non-tonal music might find a difficult part of Berg's output to come to terms with. The tonal leanings of earlier and later Berg are least clear here. Still, it is a glorious score and becomes ever more fascinating with each listen. The first movement is in sonata form, while the second movement approximates to rondo form.  The scoring of the Quartet is masterly. Berg was, as ever, an expert colourist here.

Talking of colour, the next piece he composed, the Altenberg Lieder, Op.4, marks his first venture into writing for the orchestra. The songs, written for mezzo-soprano, set poems written on postcards by the Viennese poet Peter Altenberg and, though small-scale time-wise, they're large-scale in terms of scoring and expressive impact. The language is atonal but still manages to sound rather Mahlerian and, at times, like the Strauss of Elektra. The first song, Schneesturm ('Soul, how much more beautiful are you'), opens with a magical orchestral tone-poem (built from interlocking ostinati that blow here and there harmonically) depicting a snowstorm. A lovely rocking woodwind figure leads to the singer's entry - a beautiful phrase floated over rich harmonies. The second song, Gewitterregen ('Did you see the forest after the rainstorm'), is lovely. The singer enters unaccompanied, then gradually the orchestra joins her - a poetic passage of chamber music-like refinement that 'glitters and is quiet'. Note the wonderful melisma on "schöner" and the soft gong-stroke at its close. The third song, Über die Grenzen des All ('Beyond the boundaries of the universe'), is haunting and an Expressionist masterpiece. Over an abyss of dissonant cluster-harmonies the singer traces a slow, chromatic line, falling onto a low B. At the end the same line is traced but for the final note the singer leaps a tenth to land on a high C - a great moment to end a fine song, especially as the harmonic cluster beneath has been coloured by tiny gems of percussion. Nichts ist gekommen ('Nothing has come') is expressive of a depressive state of mind, with wan woodwinds, yearning strings and (for pleasure's sake) dainty flecks of percussion. Listen out for a harmonic shift of Mahlerian provenance. The final song, Hier ist Friede ('Here is Peace'), is the longest - and, in my opinion, the best, bringing out the most beautiful side of Berg's writing. The delicate orchestral prelude is particularly ravishing and moving and prepares us for the singer's - and the string section's - rich, emotive writing, looking on longingly towards the great operas and the late violin concerto. There's also an unforgettable moment, where a terrifying climax magically dissolves before our ears into a harp-blessed new world of harmony, and the singer's ecstatically high "Siehe" leads us into heavenly late-Romantic string writing before the delicacy of the opening returns for the haunting prelude. Gorgeous.

A set of atonal miniatures for clarinet and piano may sound more like the sort of thing Webern would have written but Berg's Four Pieces for clarinet and piano, Op.5 are typical Berg in their Romantic gestures and have, to my ears, a lyrical warmth to some of their passages that recalls the autumnal late miniatures of Brahms. The lyrical impulse, always so strong with this composer, is countered (kept in check) by the use of drier figures (ostinati) and by occasional passages of puckishness. After one such cheeky phrase, the opening piece unfurls a dreamy strain of clarinet melody against countermelodies in the piano, almost lifting off into a waltz at one stage before a whimsical, absent-minded-sounding ending. The wintry, introspective second piece features a sad melody for the clarinet over soft bell-like piano chords. The melody sinks down at the end into the instrument's lowest registers, as if giving up in dejection. There's more introspection in the central passage of the third piece but its mood is challenged by the capricious scherzo-like outer sections. The final piece returns to the spirit of the second piece and uses rather similar methods, setting a wintry clarinet melody over bell-like piano chords, but being a little more expansive it has time for an ascent into the higher registers, a dramatic outburst and a wistful coda. These are wonderful little pieces and should be better known. Schoenberg seems to have found them too lyrical, too song-like and told the composer off, provoking his obedient pupil to look to larger-scale writing. The result was the Three Orchestral Pieces and Wozzeck.

Critical accounts will tell you that the now legendary complexity of thought that underpins so much of mature Berg was already strongly at play in the Three Orchestral Pieces, Op.6 but, as so often, the listener is barely aware of that and is much more likely to be swept along on a rich wave of melody, ever-changing textures, exciting dramatic ebbs and flows, captivating orchestral colours and unpredictable but right-sounding harmony.

The first movement, Präludium, begins in a magical haze of unpitched percussion. Out of the haze winds emerge before being blown away by a gargantuan clenched first of brass. The movement's debt to Mahler is repaid in the following pages as a march-haunted stream of fine melody surges in, climaxing thrillingly (with percussion to the fore). Following this catastrophe the hidden march emerges - a great snatch of melody - but dies away into a mysterious passage that surely recalls the 'cowbells episode' from the opening movement of Mahler's Sixth Symphony. A short lament follows, sighing into the closing return of the unpitched percussion. The central movement, Reigen (the title of this section means 'Round dance'), begins with more echoes of the 'cowbells episode' before presenting us with an intricate skein of themes and colours which, despite its pastoral-sounding moments, has a haunted feel too, ending in a tense but deeply beautiful shiver. Schoenberg's way of weaving themes into a complex polyphony is at work but Berg is far too much his own man to make it sound like Schoenberg. You'll hear everything that matters without having to tax your ears. As well as that opening, I listen out each time for the lyrical violin solo, the arrival of waltzing rhythms, the extraordinary harmonies, the magical celesta (shades of Holst's The Planets), the harps, the ferocious brass attacks, the great terraced climaxes....So much to enjoy. The closing Marsch is the longest movement and even more Mahler-like than its companions, though it's orchestrated in ways that even Mahler might have gasped at. The movement is full of suffering and dark violence, with such a sense of dramatic pacing that a concealed programme might be suspected.

Suffering and dark violence pervade both of Berg's operas and the Marsch finale of the Three Orchestral Pieces in particular leads us neatly into the world of Wozzeck, Op.7. Berg himself encouraged interest in the opera by preparing a taster score, his Drei Bruchstücke aus "Wozzeck" - a highly successful gambit that led to the opera becoming very widely performed. If you do not know the opera you might also like to try the Three Fragments first (twenty minutes-worth of music drawing on a scene from the first act and two scenes from the third act (including the opera's closing scene) to get a sense of the rich world you are about to enter.

Wozzeck is scrupulously planned, with its three acts being hung on the following scaffolding:
Act 1: Suite, march, lullaby, passacaglia, rondo
Act 2 (Symphony): Sonata movement, fantasia & fugue, largo, scherzo, rondo
Act 3: Six 'Inventions'.
...which information, duly (and dutifully) imparted, will mean very little to you as you acquaint yourself with the continuously-flowing invention and emotional pull of Berg's tragedy (the synopsis of which you can read here). The technical underpinnings may be stupendously elaborate but the music that results sounds anything but dry or over-thought.

Instead of talking about leitmotifs and other such technical details, I'd like to select a few scenes from Wozzeck instead, beginning with Act 1/ii, where you can hear how naturally Berg uses Sprechsgesang (musically-inflected speech) alongside conventionally-sung melody (including a folksong). This scene ends with Wozzeck's haunted vision of the whole world being on fire (due to the setting sun turning the horizon read) and shows how Berg's orchestral writing is as vital as Wagner's in conjuring up the spirit of the drama. Act 1/iii introduces Marie to the music of a march, to whose strains she sings along happily, and features the indelible beauty of her lullaby - a lyrical passage that lingers long in the memory. The central confrontation of Act 2/iii is the slow movement of Berg's operatic 'symphony', while the following scene shows the composer's uncanny ability to use tonal music as an ingredient in his atonal score - of course for good dramatic reasons, but this knack was to recur in later works, most wonderfully in the Violin Concerto. Another especially haunting passage of the opera comes with the opening scene of Act 3, where Marie reads the story of Mary Magdalen in sprechsgesang then breaks into sung melody when then describing what she has read. A solo viola plays a memorable role here. Act 3/ii, the scene where Wozzeck murders Marie, is followed by a remarkable interlude featuring a long crescendo on a single note, rising from a quiet solo horn through the entire orchestra until, after some violent thuds, a second crescendo sweeps up the percussion section too. Suddenly an out-of-tune piano enters, banging out a polka and we are carried off to an inn. The interlude leading to the incredibly moving closing scene is a deeply beautiful lament for Wozzeck, recalling many of the earlier themes of the opera (those leitmotifs) in a manner that has its roots in Wagner. It is one of the most glorious things in music.

We are still not in the world of twelve-tone music. We are moving in that direction though and the Schoenberg-Berg-Webern triangle so closely associated with it was the subject of the next piece in Berg's output - the Kammerkonzert for violin, piano and winds. If you listen to its opening you will hear three themes presented one after the other. The one on piano  represents Schoenberg, the one on violin Webern and the one on horn Berg himself. (They were formed out of the musical letters of each composer's name, in the time-honoured tradition of BACH and DSCH).

The first movement is a set of variations for piano and orchestra, the second an Adagio for violin and orchestra and the third a Rondo (with introduction) featuring both piano and violin. Not wishing to put you off, but the Chamber Concerto has never been popular with Bergians and it's never been popular with me. The good cheer of its outer movements doesn't feel quite right with this composer, and it's the one time where the academic aspects of the Schoenberg School's project actualy come to the surface in Berg's music. The central movement, however, is a beautiful (if long) piece of music and is often performed alone. Please judge for yourselves though.

With the Lyric Suite for string quartet we return to the heights. Like Bartok, Berg had a highly developed sense of what string players could do and was not afraid to tax them with advanced playing techniques. Also like Bartok (but unlike certain other composers), this was done purely for expressive effect. The Lyric Suite (partly named because it quotes from Zemlimsky's Lyric Symphony, but also because it is unquestionably deeply lyrical) is full of fresh sounds as a result. We now know that, along with its intense structuring and obsessive attention to detail, the score also contains (Schumann-like) hidden codes through which the composer poured out his extra-marital love for another woman, Hanna Fuchs-Robettin (pictured below). So, we are dealing with a deeply personal piece of music here - albeit one with a strong musical backbone.

Following his first foray into twelve-tone serialism with the second setting of Schliesse mir die Augen beide (an experiment comparable to Wagner's preparatory studies - the Wesendonck Songs - for Tristan and Isolde), Berg used that song's tone-row as the starting point for his Lyric Suite. As Berg never took a doctrinaire approach to Schoenberg's Big Idea, he didn't stick to applying that row and only some of the Lyric Suite's movements bother to embrace it. Typically, the row itself contains tonal elements - two minor triads easily arise out of it, which on inversion become two major triads. That's Berg for you!

There are six movements (whose markings convey a good sense of their characters):
1. Allegretto gioviale
2. Andante amoroso
3. Allegro misterioso...Trio estatico
4. Adagio appassionato
5. Presto delirando...Tenebroso
6. Largo desolato
The odd-numbered ones are fast and get ever faster. The even-numbered ones are slow are get ever slower. Which ones are twelve-tone? Movements 1 and 6, plus the outer sections of Movement 3 and the Tenebroso of Movement 5. The others are atonal (in the Bergian sense of 'atonal'). The movements project an array of contrasting moods, often within themselves. The warmth of the extremely lyrical Andante amoroso, for example, speaks for itself and the Tenebroso whispers to us strangely, while the closing movement's "desolato" marking accurately conveys its depth of sadness.

Berg later took the second, third and fourth movements and arranged them for orchestra as his Drei Sätze aus der Lyrischen Suite. Though I'd stick with the string quartet version as the best medium for conveying the composer's vision, these orchestrations are a treat that might tempt in listeners who find the twelve-tone parts of the original a little too daunting on first hearing. (They aren't really very daunting at all).

A twelve-tone concert aria followed. Der Wein (concerning my favourite tipple, wine), based on translations of Baudelaire. 'The soul of wine', 'Lover's wine' and 'The solitary's wine' are its three linked sections. Does it sound any more twelve-tone than its simply 'atonal' predecessors? Not really; indeed, there are plenty of tonal touches arising from its row's strong gravitation towards D minor. Though it's not a favourite of mine, Der Wein's use of popular, tonal idioms mentioned in my description of Wozzeck reappear here and you will surely note the appearance of a saxophone - something to bear in mind for Lulu.

Ah yes, Lulu. Berg didn't complete it before he died. Acts I and II were complete. Small parts of Act III were fully sketched, some less than fully sketched. Act III has since been 'completed' (magnificently) by the Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha.

As I said earlier, I first got to know Lulu through the 5 Symphonische Stücke aus der Oper ‘Lulu’ (Lulu-Suite). I found that 'symphony' intoxicating. There are six movements (in certain versions, as many omit the Hymne): Rondo, Ostinato, Lied der Lulu, Hymne, Variations and Adagio. If you are unfamiliar with the opera, please give it a try first. The Rondo is a Mahlerian slow movement (with saxophone) with memorable melodies to die for. The exciting Ostinato is meant to evoke a silent film score. The Lied der Lulu is another of the highlights of the opera - Lulu's beautiful song-like self-defence. The closing Adagio (an arrangement of the opera's ending) also sets the orchestra singing.

Lulu is glorious, its lyrical pages (often associated with the Berg-like character of Alwa) among the composer's most beautiful music. The synopsis may make it sound tawdry, decadent even (as the Nazis might have put it), but Lulu is full of humanity, for good and for ill. The score can be vulgar-sounding (but far from vulgar in reality) and is frequently ultra-voluptuous, underpinned (yet again) by symmetries and formulas yet sounding as fresh, natural and complex as Lulu herself. If you have four hours to spare I would recommend you give them to Lulu.

Berg failed to complete Lulu because he broke off to write his Violin Concerto. It is, of course, a great shame that he failed to finish his opera but if he had we might have been without his final orchestral masterpiece - a violin concerto that I place as my second favourite of all time, behind the Brahms'.

The piece is twelve-tone, for sure; however, Berg's row, as before, brings tonality back by consisting of strings of major-and-minor-forming chains of thirds topped off with a Debussyan touch of the whole-tone scale. Webern and Schoenberg never countenanced such a tone-row, which is why their music sounds so much tougher than Berg's. This infusion of tonality allows the composer to import an Austrian folksong in the first of the work's two movements and to quote - and work variations on - the old choral Es ist genug in the second movement (a chorale whose first four notes are those of that whole-tone scale fragment from the tone-row. A Corinthian folksong, a famous chorale, the swing of a Viennese waltz and succulent tunes, what's not to like about Berg's Violin Concerto?

It was written "to the memory of an angel," namely Alma Mahler's young daughter Manon Gropius (pictured below). Manon died in her mid-teens. Tragically, Alban was to die a mere year later, albeit at the age of 50. Still far too young though.

The concerto begins dreamily with a play of fifths-based arpeggios drawn from the tone-row. They are then scrunched into harmonies, out of which the soloist ascends singing the whole series as if it were (because it is) a melody, complete with its inbuilt sigh. Then Berg inverts his theme in a moment of great beauty. The approach in this first movement is symphonic and it continues by developing this initial material. A scherzando section follows an abridged reprise and introduces a lighter-hearted theme plus its very Viennese-y waltzing companion. These row-derived delights are marvels of the imagination and Berg revels in them. A rustic-sounding theme of equal beauty joins them and, at the section's height, the Corinthian folktune is introduced (on brass) in counterpoint to fragments of the themes we've already heard - a magical passage. The coda follows, exuberantly and briefly. After this idyll comes the tragedy. The concerto's second movement opens to a vicious-sounding cry - a pile-up of the row's notes on brass and timpani, pursued by an accompanied cadenza. This is powerfully dramatic stuff. A brutalised waltz theme enters, but with it flows a sweet vein of Bergian lyricism too. Alas, sweet memories amidst horror. This magnificent section culminates in music powerfully evoking the tragic death of young Manon.Then enters Es ist genug ('It is enough'). Berg presents it as an alternation of phrases between violin and orchestra. The chorale variations that follow comprise a complex yet immediately affecting lament and culminate eventually in the beautifully-staged return of the Corinthian folksong. The coda turns ethereal and ends enchantingly, as if the girl has been sublimated. It is warm and touching...

...and fitting also to commemorate the early death of the composer of so many life-enhancing scores - Alban Berg.

Monday, 27 August 2012

On Brahms (1)

Brahms, long before the beard

Schumann announced Johannes Brahms to the world, saying he "sprang, like Minerva, fully-armed from the head of the son of Cronus." The composers who formed his youthful armour were primarily Beethoven and Bach (with Haydn and Mozart lurking in the background.) It was on Beethoven's example and forms - sonata, symphony and chamber music - that he built much of his early output.

His Op.1, the Sonata in C major, begins with a figure

that deliberately echoes the opening of Beethoven's most ambitious sonata, the Hammerklavier:

It was a declaration of intent, it seems: I will build my music on Beethoven.

Brahms was a very different composer to Beethoven. The latter was a maker of big, optimistic statements, a dramatic writer, a heroic figure, an experimenter, a radical re-thinker, a dare-devil composer. Brahms, on the other hand, was essentially a lyrical composer, much more pessimistic in nature, a musical conservative, far more cautious in temperament. Beethoven got wilder and more exuberant as he aged while Brahms mellowed from the passionate lion of his youth into a composer of works often characterised as 'autumnal'. When it came to counterpoint Beethoven struggled like Michelangelo chiselling fugues out of granite, while Brahms wrote contrapuntally with a masterly Raphael-like ease. 

This is not to say that Brahms didn't bring something new to the Classical forms he adopted in such a thoroughgoing fashion. He often transformed the work's scherzo into an intermezzo, even when that movement (as it frequently did) still retained the old scherzo label. His first intermezzo in a large-scale work came in the Piano Quartet in G minor, Op.25That movement is slower than any traditional scherzo would be and has a different character to the traditional scherzo whilst still retaining its ternary (ABA) structure complete with trio section. These less-driven scherzi recur again and again in his output, as (to pick at random) in the second movement of his Horn Trio, Op.40 or that of his Piano Quartet No.3, Op.60. Sometimes their trio sections are faster-moving than their main sections - another innovation! - as in the third movement of the Second Symphony or the third movement of the Clarinet Quinet, Op.115. Even when the scherzo does move quickly, its character can be far removed from that usually associated with such a movement - as in the quiet, edgy-sounding second movement of the Piano Trio No.3 in C minor, Op.101 Not that Brahms wouldn't write a more traditional, robust and dynamic scherzo if he felt like it - as with the third movement of the Fourth Symphony. To further enrich the form, in some works he would fuse the scherzo with the slow movement as in the central movement of the String Quintet No.1 in F major, Op.88 or the equivalent movement in the Violin Sonata No.2 in A major, Op.100.

Brahms's adored Clara Schumann

Brahms was the supreme contrapuntalist of his age and many of his works are strengthened through counterpoint. If you want to hear a pristine (and hardly ever heard) Brahms fugue, complete with inversion, augmentation and diminution, please try the excellent Fugue in A flat minor for organ - Brahms as the heir of Bach! Even if you know that piece, I suspect you may never had heard the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, the Prelude and Fugue in G minor, or the Chorale Prelude & Fugue on 'O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid' - pieces that again point back to Bach   and his immediate predecessors such as Bruhns and Buxtehude but also forward to Max Reger. These are all early works, but Brahms was to return to organ music at the very end of his life with the magnificent Chorale Preludes, Op.122. No other great Romantic composer wrote such pieces. 

The opening prelude, Mein Jesu, der du mich, displays the Baroque art of treating each line of the chorale melody fugally but, as with all of the set (and unlike the earlier works), Brahms's highly subtle and personal harmonic language sets the piece firmly in Brahms's world rather than Bach's - even when setting 'the Passion chorale' so closely associated with the St. Matthew Passion ('O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden'), as in the strongly chromatic four-part first setting of Herzlich tut mich verlangen - a remarkable act of re-imagining. The second take on Herzlich tut mich verlangen presents the chorale melody on the pedals and surrounds it with lovely figuration. I suspect you will also like Brahms's beautiful take on the Christmas chorale Est Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen (the tune in its most familiar form can be heard here and helps show how ingeniously the composer has transformed it). As so often Brahms was at his most touching when thinking about death, and his first setting of Heinrich Isaac's early-Renaissance Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen, O Welt, Ich Muss Dich Lassen (the switch from 'Innsbruck' to 'O Welt' ('O World') had been made centuries before Brahms) sounds particularly personal, and so does the later five-part O Welt, Ich Muss Dich Lassen with which the composer ends his collection, especially with its many lingering wistful echoes. I imagine that Bach would have been impressed with these rich tributes to his great spirit.

Brahms, as a young man

Counterpoint also runs through Brahms's choral output. Here the other main influence, Bach, makes its presence felt. The lovely Geistliches Lied, Op.30 is a double canon at the ninth. Listen to the tenors as they follow the sopranos at the distance of a bar and a ninth lower than the ladies. The basses follow the altos in the same fashion. The personal harmonies and the warmness of the accompanying figuration make this anything but an academic exercise. Another lovely and highly original use of canon can be heard in Einförmig is der Liebe Gram, the closing number from the composer's Op.113 - a six-part piece for female voices based on the lump-in-the-throat closing song from Schubert's Winterreise, The Hurdy-Gurdy Man. Brahms has the two altos provide the song's drone - in canon. From the opening of the motet Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz, Op.29/2 you will hear (or more likely see in the score) that the second basses sing an augmented canon with the sopranos (singing twice as slowly), and O Heiland reiß die Himmel auf, Op.74/2 ends with a short 'Amen' section that packs in two consecutive canons, both using inversion. Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, Op.29/1 opens with a chorale harmonisation, the tune of which is then set against a fugue based on the melody. 

Clara, as Brahms first knew her

Counterpoint can crop up anywhere in Brahms's music. The Schumann Variations, Op.9 are based on a theme from Robert Schumann's Bunte Blätter, but also incorporate a theme by Clara in Variation 10 - the melody of which is tenderly shadowed by the bass line in inversion. The fourteenth variation (another lovely one) sets the melody as a canon at the second two bars behind. 

Another set of piano variations, the towering Handel Variations, Op.24, ends with an exhilarating fugue - a fugue that sounds more like Bach than Handel. There's more inversion, plus augmentation and some double counterpoint too. 

My favourite piece of Brahms, the magical Haydn Variations, Op.56 (based on the St. Antoni Chorale, almost certainly not composed by Haydn), contains passage after passage where counterpoint plays a part, yet the piece is so cunningly crafted that you hardly notice - a classic case of art concealing art. There's double counterpoint in Variation 1 and double counterpoint and inversion in Variation 4. The contrapuntal prowess shown in Variation 8, however, is not concealed but instead put in the composer's shop window for all to see, admire and enjoy.  

Before leaving the influence of Bach on Brahms, the ground (with a slight tweak) of the closing passacaglia from the Fourth Symphony was drawn from a work by Bach - the cantata Nach dir Herr verlanget mich, BWV150, which is a strong candidate for being the composer's earliest cantata. So the opening movement of Bach's first cantata (possibly) provided the inspiration for the finale of Brahms's final symphony. 

For all Brahms's Classical and Baroque inspirations, he was still a Romantic composer. Who can have heard the magical introduction to the finale of the First Symphony without being delighted by the horn call over a shimmering tremolo, the woodbird-like flute response and the near-Brucknerian chorale which answers them both? The pacing and the key-changes of that section point to the influence of Schubert, whose music Brahms did so much to promote, but the ambiance has more of, say, the introduction of the Introduction and Allegro, Op.92, the Konzertstück, Op.86 or Beim Abschied zu singen by Robert Schumann. Brahms writes in this vein more often than you might think. The irresistible and masterly Fünf Gesänge, Op.104 contains a number called Nachtwache II which uses echoing calls across all six parts to evoke the horns of night watchmen and, in a simpler vein, the adorable Der Jäger from the Marienlieder, Op.22 also evokes horn calls (this time hunting horns.) The lovely Four Songs for Women's Choir, two Horns and Harp, Op.17 (Pt.2 here) are even closer to the spirit of that passage.

Schumann was certainly a key influence, leaving young Johannes much more than a friendly young widow. As a passionate devotee of Robert's music and an advocate of his late works, what surprised me most on getting to know them is just how much they seem to anticipate late Brahms. There is a more Classical, mellow quality to much of late Schumann that must have spoken straight to his friend's heart. If you are familiar with late Brahms already but unfamiliar with late Schumann, then please take a listen to the Fantasy Pieces, Op.73, the Three Romances, Op.94 and the Fantasiestücke, Op.111.

Still beardless
Harmony and counterpoint were certainly something Robert was fascinated by, counterpoint becoming of prime importance as he got older. Something of his way with harmony certainly rubbed off on Brahms, though his radically innovative forms and inspired flights of fancy were something Brahms chose not to try to emulate. The main exception came with the Four Ballades, Op.10, superb pieces full of early Schumannesque spirit. The first piece of the set is a very rare piece of Brahms that isn't abstract but instead inspired by a literary tale, namely a Scottish ballad about Edward (a tale of murder and curses). It has a central crescendo that truly merits the term 'exciting'. (Liszt, eat your heart out!) 

That supremely German Romantic interlude in the finale of the First Symphony and memories of the Marienlieder point up another aspect of Brahms's music and another influence - his love for his country's folk music. I don't think many people know about this aspect of his art, or that he arranged and published folk songs himself - the Vierzehn Volkslieder, WoO.34 and Zwölf deutsche Volkslieder, WoO.35 are excellent places to start exploring this very attractive  part of his output. 

Folk-like simplicity is not the first quality that springs to mind when thinking about the music of Brahms. It can, however - as the Marienlieder and Op.17 Songs demonstrate - be both artfully crafted yet direct and simple-sounding - especially when Brahms is wanting a piece to sound as fresh as folk song. The delicious carol-like Ave Maria, Op.12 is a case in point. He can also, however, write in an even more popular vein, pieces that sound as if they could be written for friends to sing at parties - pieces like the six-part-yet-remarkably-uncomplicated Tafellied, Op.93b and those loveable collections of part-songs with piano, the masterly and supremely tasty Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op.52 and their sequel, the Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op.65. Yes, Brahms can let his hair (including his beard) down, but without ever letting his standards down. Anyone who knows the Academic Festival Overture will already know that. 

Clara, in middle age

This romantic, lyrical, warm-hearted side of Brahms (which many feel to be his best side) is expressed most openly in the songs - strangely the least well-known area of his music despite including many absolute gems. Some, like Ständchen (from Op.106), Vor dem Fenster (from Op.14), Der Schmied (from Op.19) and Dort in den Weiden (from Op.96), seem to spring melodically from folk song. Others have a Schubert-like sense of drama (and genius for key shifts), such as the splendid Wehe, so willst du mich wieder (from Op.32), or a Schumann-like feel for setting dialogue, such as the no-less-splendid Liebestreu (from Op.3). Great depths of beauty and feeling are reached with songs like Feldeinsamkeit (from Op.86), Waldeseinsamkeit (from Op.85), Sapphische Ode (from Op.84) , the sorrow-filled O wüßt ich doch den Weg zurück (from Op.63) and, best of all, the towering Von ewiger Liebe (from Op.43). If you want a warm glow in your stomach then look no further than the 2 Gesänge, Op.91 (featuring viola), so tender, so lovely. The second of these songs is the much-loved Geistliches Wiegenlied - a lullaby with the warmth of a Christmas carol (indeed, does it not remind you of one in particular?) 

Here's the beard!

His greatest songs are his final ones - the Four Serious Songs, Op.121, songs written after the "greatest wealth" of his life, Clara, suffered a stroke and he became haunted at the prospect of her death. (She was to die in the year of their composition, 1896, one year before Johannes himself). Settings of Luther's Bible translations, mostly from Ecclesiastes - a book of the Bible that, like myself, Brahms felt spoke to him most - these songs stand apart from his other songs. Nothing in his previous song output anticipates them. 

Talking of Luther, from the other end of his life comes a setting of a Luther-inspired hymn text, Begräbnisgesang, Op.13 - a gripping piece for mixed choir, brass, woodwinds and timpani that harks back to Germany's Baroque greats, Schütz and Bach, but also looks forward to the German Requiem. The piece is a funeral march whose sombre character is enhanced by the scoring, keeping the brass to just tubas and trombones. Brahms balances this by providing moments of light where the higher voices are foregrounded and where woodwind provide arpeggiated accompaniments. There's a crescendo and a climax at the work's heart of the thrilling kind later found in the German Requiem's second movement where, again, the timpani pound like a giant's heart. Though rarely heard and early, this is one of the composer's most moving works. 

His greatest choral work (and one of his greatest works in toto) is the German Requiem itself. The outlook expressed in the Serious Songs is also found within the Requiem and the words are also Luther's. This was a requiem written to console the living. 'Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted' is the title of the first movement and the purpose of the whole piece.  With calm solemnity this opening section rises from the lowest depths of the strings towards the gentle elation of high woodwinds and harp in a mood that combines Beethoven-like grandeur, Brahmsian Romantisim and Lutheran chorale-like phrases. 

The second movement, 'For all flesh, it is as grass', is part-sarabande, part-funeral march and is both beautiful and thrilling. Its theme is a chorale and its initial entry on strings over muffled drum rhythms is haunting. The men's chorus get to sing its first bars before, magically, women's voices enter join in for the lovely second phrase. The main theme modulates thrillingly, the drums pound and there is a spine-tingling/spine-chilling full choral and orchestral reprise of the chorale theme. The central section is much sweeter, with major-key harmonies, happy woodwind counterpoint and a swaying triple-time rhythm. The dark-sounding funeral march then returns to send more thrills/shivers down the spine before a great flame of choral light brings a confident fugue that eases into chorale-like writing before a dramatic section (with last trumps and all) leads to a sustained climax and, in time, a consolatory close. I prefer all that precedes the fugue.

Clara, again

The third movement, 'Lord, teach me', again moves towards the light, culminating in a vigorous and optimistic fugue. My favourite part of the movement, however, again comes before that fugue. Here a baritone soloist leads off with what sounds like an aria with chorus; indeed, it would make for a great operatic scene where the doubts and fears of the protagonist spread into the attentive crowd. A melody, introduced immediately by the baritone, is thematically worked with much majesty and a second theme is derived from this same melody by inverting a motif from it. The music moves towards that resolutely major-key fugue by masterly means - a horn call, women's voices and a Romantic surge.                        

The fourth movement, 'How lovely are thy dwellings', is a short section of repose. Listen to the inviting woodwind phrase in the opening bars and the way the chorus comes in (high voices foregrounded) over a soft horn call. Then when the strings emerge into prominence (less than a minute in), the lilt and grace of the music instantly captivates. Brief passages of contrapuntal writing aside, all is lightness and loveliness.   

The fifth movement, 'You now have sadness', is a soprano-aria-with chorus and a gorgeous piece of music, more serious in tone than its predecessor. The vocal writing is sublime and the orchestral accompaniment is delicate - no 'mahogany' here. 

The sixth movement, 'For here we have no lasting place', is the dramatic climax of the Requiem, its Dies Irae. It is gripping, beginning quietly (the calm before the storm!) with more delicately-scored writing, before the baritone introduces the dramatic action (with moments of Brucknerian sonorities!) to fascinating scoring and wonderful modulations. The chorus erupts into full Dies Irae- style storminess, their fervour alternating with the baritone's gravely beautiful music. A grand (somewhat disappointing) fugue then begins.

The final movement, 'Blessed are the dead', has always been my least favourite movement. I feel that the first few minutes are are bit too staid and conventional. The chorale-like phrases introduced by the winds (some three minutes in) are a blessing and their reappearance always brings satisfaction (to me). 

No, it's not Karl Marx

It's worth remembering that A German Requiem came at the end of the composer's early maturity . It is a remarkable achievement.

Before moving onto those late works in the next post, I want to end this one by mentioning in passing an aspect of Brahms's music than Charles Rosen has also dwelt on - the composer's extraordinary way with rhythm. Brahms is no knee-jerk four-bar-phrase man. No, he uses all manner of phrase lengths, overlaps his phrases, combines phrases moving at contrasting speeds, employs unusual rhythms (etc). Brahms is the master of cross-rhythms. There are so many examples of this that it's pointless to single many out. The opening of the Cello Sonata No.1 in E minor, Op.38, setting a beautiful cello melody against a syncopated piano accompaniment provides a simple example. A classic instance of unusual rhythms is the slow movement of the Piano Trio in C minor, Op.101 - a movement with the very unusual feature of a double time signature - 3/4, 2/4. The way it works out it would now be called 7/4 time. This flexibility helps keep Brahms's music interesting. 

The late pieces are full of interest...

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Fantastic Symphonies

I am very fond of the six symphonies of the Czech Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959). They comprise the most consistently uplifting cycle of modern symphonies, being full of hope and warmth of feeling. The first five came at yearly intervals beginning in the darkest days of the Second World War (1941), just after the composer had emigrated to America, and all ache with longing for his Czech homeland. 

The whole cycle (which ended in 1953) does feel remarkably homogeneous. The symphonies may take many an unexpected harmonic turn and can, especially in the Third Symphony, venture far into chromaticism, but they remain strongly tonal in orientation and have a delightful habit of breaking into Bohemian/Moravian-style folk melody and/or into radiant lyricism. They tend to grow from small motifs (or cells) which are then evolved into broad symphonic paragraphs. They also share motifs associated with the Czech lands - phrases drawn from the St. Wenceslas Chorale and Dvorak's Requiem (the opening notes) and, most obviously, an 'Amen'-like cadence called the 'Moravian cadence' (a variant of the plagal cadence) which was invented by Janacek in his glorious Taras Bulba (you can hear a sequence of them in the great passage beginning at 5.04 in the linked video) but which Martinu very much made his own. The symphonies are full of the composer's trademark syncopated 'sprung' rhythms. These give the works a real spring in their step. They mix (in their own individual ways) tension and hope and the time-honoured symphonic struggle between darkness and light is fought (in their own individual ways) throughout all of the symphonies. The even-numbered symphonies are generally brighter in mood, with the odd-numbered ones pursuing more troubled paths towards resolution - though the Sixth seems to unite the best of them all. The works are all scored in a way that can only be described as luminous. Only the Sixth Symphony - excludes the use of a solo piano. 

I hope you will enjoy exploring these delightful symphonies.

Symphony No.1
Symphony No.2
Symphony No.3
Symphony No.4
Symphony No.5 (Mts.2,3,4) 
Symphony No.6 (Fantaisies Symphoniques)


Of all those big post-war avant-garde names who used to dominate the landscape - Boulez, Stockhausen, Berio, Cage, Nono, Ligeti - the one whose music I always got the greatest kick out of was the Greek Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001). You would often read about the complex mathematics behind his pieces (works based on set theory, statistical mechanics, Brownian motion, etc) and then, when you actually listened to them, almost invariably find this music sounded far more like a force of nature - and was exhilarating to hear.

I have an especial liking for those pieces where Xenakis's modernism fuses with an urge to create something which sounds as if it could have been written in Ancient Greece. A fabulous example of this is Medea, his scary-sounding yet hugely enjoyable 1967 piece for male chorus and five wind instruments (with the addition of natural rocks and maracas) - a work (setting Seneca) that seems to be imagining what an Ancient Greek performance of the play might have sounded like. It sounds to me harshly modern and harshly primitive at the sound time. The sound and the mood of Medea might well be described as Spartan. There are intriguing touches of Stravinsky (Les Noces, Renard (in the central dance), Oedipus Rex) at times but the freshness and ferocity of the music are pure Xenakis.

I'd second that piece with another of his pieces for chorus wind instruments, the delightful A Colone, a setting of Sophocles this time featuring female voices. Like Medea, it is a direct, modally-tinged work and, also like Medea, has the force of a war-cry. Again, it sounds as if it came straight from Ancient Greece.

The energy of Ancient Greece also seems to pulsate throughout some of the composer's solo pieces, such as the thrilling Rebonds B for solo percussionist (1988). And sounding like the sort of music the ancient Spartans might have written if they wrote ballets, another of Xenakis's wonderful solo percussion scores, Psappha (1875), uses a play of colours, short phrases and rhythms to gripping effect. If you like both of those pieces, please also try the four-movement Pléïades of 1978. Métaux uses a metallic instrument of his own devising to create a hallucinatory effect of bells, Claviers uses tuned percussion to create a complex play of folk-like melodies, Peaux uses drums (and the like) to beat out another of the composer's Spartan ballets and Mélanges combines all the instruments in an impression of organised chaos. I love Pléïades. 

The way Xenakis's music spurs the imagination is one of its most winning features. The short 1969 piano concerto Synaphaï seems to project the pianist as an Ancient Greek hero (human and Greek in his occasional zither-like imitations) battling not only against the possibility-defying demands placed on him by the composer but also against harpies, furies and sea-monsters. Again and again great swarms of tangled orchestral writing come to menace the soloist. Midway battle seems to erupt with brass crying out and the hint of a march. The piece has that sort of strange, archaic, epic to its ferocious modernity. It doesn't sound remotely abstract. 

Yes, there's so much more to Iannis Xenakis than the application of abstract mathematics. Even his ground-breaking Metastatis of 1954, applying mathematical concepts and Einsteinian physics to music, in part evokes the sound of machine-gun fire evoking the recent war and civil war in Greece. I'd rather you listen to it first without being laden with further pre-conceptions and see what you think before reading my outline of it - which runs as follows:

The first section is largely the preserve of the strings, all of whom play independent lines. From the opening unison on one note grows a huge glissando composed of these independent lines, flecked by intermittent pecks of percussion, climaxing on one vast cluster. This swarms, massively. Percussion tinkle, the swarming begins again and brass join in, causing a fearsome rumpus. Quieter glissandi slide over each other, from which a single chord crescendos. 
A few of the solo strings emerge in Webern-like counterpoint, though quickly newer and lighter swarms come to interact with this counterpoint - two types of counterpoint counterpointed! As a result things become far knottier. Drums start to fire at the base of the still-quiet texture.
Huge masses of sound emerge. Brass and percussion play a large part here. They move by each other like giant prehistoric creatures slouching through a barren landscape whose skies teem with insects.
A final glissando gathers strength then resolves onto a single buzzing note.

My last piece in this introductory survey of Xenakis's music is one of his greatest works - the astonishing Jonchaies of 1977. When he began to draw on folk-music his art grew very rich and when it was combined with a Rite of Spring-like fury it grew into the fabulous Jonchaies - a ravishing thriller of a piece. What energy it unleashes! It opens with an upwards-surging glissando then, after psychotic stabs from the strings, an amazingly beautiful thing happens - a folk-melody that sounds as ancient as Plato's beard enters and its composite sound-strands diverge into a delectable smear of myriad melodies. Drums rumble behind this archaic-sounding swarm and a line emerges above the crowd, singing. It is swiftly lost again among the other voices. Others emerge though. The drums return loudly, bringing this teeming chorus to a close. Then the pounding begins...Stravinsky's Rite is reborn, but even the youngish Stravinsky might have baulked at the sheer mercilessness of Xenakis's mass bombardment of the listener's senses, the unrelenting rhythms, the strident sonorities, the searing ambiance. The juggernaut does one huge gear-change but is soon back in the old gear again, pounding, pounding...The music begins to shriek and then to slash as it grows ever more nightmarish. Suddenly the pounding stops and brass consort in mid-air. Gongs splatter amid their agony. Things go quiet but slithering brass keep things sinister-sounding, shrieking breaks out again and drums batter their way to the front. Shivers run through the orchestra and a desperate cry seems to stretch out in all directions. It dies away leaving only a tinkle of percussion then piercing piccolos. 

Xenakis was a very prolific composer. There is so much more to discover.