One day during my short stint at Juilliard, the composer Milton Babbitt came to guest lecture one of my composition classes.
Mr. Babbitt gave us all a nice lecture on 20th century music and how serial music (12-tone) was here to stay and it shouldn't be "our" problem if people don't enjoy it or "understand" how to react to it...
I recall that my friends and I were horrified at such elitism. Although I had learned a great deal of serial technique my senior year in high school at IAA, my own personal inclination led me to reason that music should always sound interesting and should completely engage an audience. Certainly, we all toyed around with trying to write "interesting" 12-tone music.
And then one day ...
I heard this piece. Actually, Berio was one of my professors, but alas, I had only one session with him and he barely spoke three words to me (he was still working on the Fifth Movement, which not completed at the premiere). I was only at Juilliard for 14 days before I was nearly killed by a drunk driver ... the premiere with the just-completed Fifth Movement was premiered eight days before my accident.
If you have been reading my previous posts, you will recall that I had the honor of performing Mahler's Second Symphony at IAA. So naturally, this piece had an extra added meaning for me:
Allen B. Ruch has written such a wonderful description of this piece ~ I could not do better. I hope you will read it.
Because the oversized score is so huge, it will not fit nicely into my scanner, I can only provide the first page (above).
Take a look at what the Swingle Swingers are singing! Just varied vowel-sounds -- pppp -- which quickly morphs into a frenetic text by the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss from Le cru et le cuit ("The Raw and the Cooked").
By the way, Berio (may he rest in peace) could be a real asshole:
"[Y]ou know that Berio used The Raw and the Cooked in his Sinfonia. A part of the text is recited, accompanied by the music. I admit that I did not grasp the reason for this choice. During an interview a musicologist asked me about it, and I answered that the book had just come out and the composer had probably used it because it was at hand. Now, a few months ago Berio, whom I don't know, sent me a very disgrunted letter. He had read the interview, several years after the fact, and assured me that the movement of this symphony offered the musical counterpart of the mythical transformation I was revealing. He included a book by a musicologist ... who had demonstrated the fact. I apologized for the misunderstanding, which was, I said, the result of my lack of musical training, but I'm still baffled." (Wikipedia article)
The Second Movement's text is simply a name, broken down into its tiniest components of vowel/consonant-sounds: MARTIN LUTHER KING.
The Third Movement is perhaps the reason why this piece achieved such universal acclaim. Berio did something so unique and interesting that it would be impossible not to simply sit back and admire it:
He re-orchestrates the Third Movement of the Mahler in his own style -- although it is clearly distinguishable amidst the sometimes cacophonous explosion of sound and fury which is layered in and around the Mahler quote.
In addition to the Mahler symphony, Berio has inserted "quotes" (reorchestrated and carefully and cleverly inserted into the flow):
- Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, fourth movement (violent opening scale played by the brass)
- A brief quotation of Mahler's Symphony No. 4 (Mahler) just before.....
- Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, third movement (the only quotation that is ongoing)
- Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, flute solo from the Pantomime
- Berlioz's idée fixe from the Symphonie Fantastique (played by the clarinets)
- Ravel's La Valse (orchestra plays octave motif with piccolo playing a chromatic scale)
- Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps (the "Dance of the Earth" sequence at the end of the first tableux)
- Stravinsky's Agon (upper oboe part from the "Double pas de quatre")
- Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier (one of the waltzes composed for the opera)
- a chorale by Johann Sebastian Bach
- Alban Berg's Wozzeck (the drowning scene late in the third act)
- Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony, second movement (melody stated with the clarinets)
- (Schoenberg segment quoted again)
- Debussy's La Mer, second movement "Jeux de vagues"
- Boulez's Pli Selon Pli, very first chord of the entire piece from the first movement ("Don")
- Karlheinz Stockhausen's Gruppen for three orchestras (during the introductions of the vocalists near the end)
The eight vocalists are not soloists! They are meant to be integrated into the mix as Berio says: "a vocal group among instrumental groups" (score).
The Fourth (and later Fifth) are meant to be sort of codas to the earlier movements. They quote previous material, including bits of the First Movement and the whole-tone feel of the Second Movement.
I am completely baffled as to why there is not a CD of the premiere recording, with Berio conducting the NY Phil. It is still available on vinyl (used).
I own every CD available of this piece. None compare to Berio's premiere, which I consider to be a major artistic tragedy. These two are pretty good, although I am astonished that Boulez failed to follow Berio's instructions regarding microphones and mixing. Much of the textual (and occasionally musical) details are either buried deep in this mix, barely audible, or missing entirely.
I actually attended a performance by this orchestra with Boulez conducting in Paris in 1972. It suffered from the same type of problems.
Eötvös, on the other hand, gives a unique interp which is unusually intimate. Quite different from the Berio, but much more thoughtful than the Boulez...
Thank you, David Lehman, for giving me the opportunity to share these musical passions of mine. I enjoyed sharing my ideas and I hope some of you enjoyed some part of it.
Thank you and I wish it would rain already.