Passion has always been the sine qua non of my music. While it is true that I am unable to compose without a simple, germinal concept on which to build, my expressive goal is always to convey emotion. This goal is tempered by the awareness that a musical shape and the emotional response to it can vary considerably. As Susanne Langer says in Philosophy in a New Key, "what music can actually reflect is only the morphology of feeling; . . . If it reveals the rationale of feelings, the rhythm and pattern of their rise and decline and intertwining, to our minds, then it is a force in our mental life, our awareness and understanding, and not only our affective experience." The shapes of music and the shapes of emotion are similar as they develop in time.
The recordings on this disc are part of a project that was conceived in the mid 1980s. The works were composed over a time span from 1968 to 1992 and with the exception of Contours appear in reverse chronological order. For a composer like myself, writing program notes involves navigating a perilous narrow passage between the two sirens of advertorial puffery and compositional techno-babble. But here goes.
Like all of the works appearing here, the Two Isorhythms use the chromatic scale freely and are conceived as highly chromatic extensions of tonal music. The name of this 1982 composition is derived from the adjective "isorhythmic," which describes a repeating rhythmic motive scheme that was applied to the tenor and upper parts of 14th century motets. This ancient liturgical technique has been adapted to the more modern calling of an intense lyricism. Each Isorhythm has its own unique motive that permeates the figuration, phrases, and sections of the piece by means of rhythmic diminution, augmentation, and macro augmentation. The overriding musical concern in these pieces is the creation of simple expressive links between the details, middle ground, and large form of each work. The goals of motion and expressive trajectory of the different levels are similar. The overall shape can be heard in the manner of assembling a Russian doll: from the smallest inside piece to the largest outside shell. The work was premiered at a 1983 Guild of Composers concert in New York with myself as pianist.
The Octet, completed in 1980, was composed with the hope of having it conducted by my mentor, Jacques-Louis Monod. The premiere and this recording took place in February of 1987 with Mr. Monod conducting the Guild of Composers Chamber Ensemble. Each of the three movements in this composition has a predominant tempo: I--slow, II--fast, and III--moderate; similarly, each has its own theme, texture, and developmental structure. The first movement, marked cantabile, begins with a stately chorale-like presentation of the theme and while maintaining a melody plus accompaniment texture gradually builds in activity and volume to a forceful ending.
Counterpoint is the reigning texture of the second movement, which begins with a statement of the nine note theme by the first cello. The theme becomes more and more erratic as it is broken into smaller and smaller segments and tossed from instrument to instrument. A little past the halfway point the process reverses itself; the theme reassembles and calms down to lead to a quiet, relaxed ending.
The third movement bursts into life with a homophonic statement of its theme and immediately becomes a raucous chase of paired instruments. Various alliances of pairs test the theme by canonic imitation, fragmentation, stretto, augmentation, diminution, even retrograde until everyone comes to a triple forte consensus at the end.
Contours can be described as an expressionistic neoromantic composition; it received its world premiere in 1995 with pianist Margaret Kampmeier. Using a technique similar to the Two Isorhythms, this 1992 work is based upon a single rhythmic phrase and builds the goals of motion of the entire piece around this phrase. Chordal points in the polyphony form local as well as section level statements of the rhythm and its expressive trajectory. Melodic presentation of the same motive is organized in a three part scheme of growth, disintegration, and regrowth that is indicated on the CD by ID numbers 6, 7, and 8. Starting from a fortissimo, pointillistic anarchy of two and three note fragments, an eleven note lyrical theme is gradually assembled in two note increments (ID numbers 6 to 7) only to continue towards anarchy again (ID number 8) and rebuild the theme for its clearest, most intensely lyrical presentation at the end.
Three poems by different 20th century American poets are the foundation of the Three Portraits for baritone voice and piano, completed in 1969. A different personality type is vividly and powerfully drawn in each of these poems. The music is designed to be the servant of the words, which are sung as they appear in the poems without modification of the text. The music of the voice part was composed first after a careful study of the poetic structure; then the piano part was derived from the vocal material. The premiere by Gerald Lindahl with pianist Bennett Lerner took place in 1972.
Originally conceived as a brass sextet with electronically manipulated piano sounds on tape, the Concerto for Three Groups grew into a large chamber work where Groups II and III take the place of left and right stereo speakers. With high winds to the left and low brass plus celeste to the right, Groups II and III are assigned a distinction of range and color in addition to the spacial separation. The orchestration moves the music in space, at times suddenly and explosively as in the opening of the piece or smoothly and slowly as at the start of the fourth movement. The two pianos and percussion play a dominant role in the third movement.
The four movements are played continuously with the exception of the pause between the first and second. Metronome marks are used to indicate tempo, but the movements follow a general pattern of I--allegro moderato, II--andante, III--vivace, and IV--andante con moto.
A technique of motivic collage is used throughout the piece. As motives from the first and second movements reappear in the third and fourth movements they are gradually modified to be more alike and unified. Dating from 1969 this intensely contrapuntal and expressionistic piece shows the impetuousness of youth as well as the spirit of rebellion that was so prevalent at that time.
Pianist Margaret Kampmeier is active as a soloist, chamber musician, orchestral player, and teacher. She has performed extensively in the United States and abroad. Her appearances in New York City have included many concert venues and radio. She has played with Speculum Musicae, The New Music Consort, and the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble, and has recorded for Centaur, CRI, Koch, and Bridge records. Ms. Kampmeier is a founding member of the New Millennium Ensemble, a mixed chamber group that made its New York debut in February 1994 and won the 1995 Naumburg Chamber Music Award. Ms. Kampmeier studied with pianist Gilbert Kalish at SUNY Stony Brook, where she earned her Master's and Doctoral Degrees. She has participated in the Aspen, Tanglewood, Scotia, and Ravinia Festivals, and has won prizes in the OIga Koussevitsky and Frinna Awerbuch competitions. A native of Rochester, New York, Ms. Kampmeier currently resides in New York City.
As a conductor Jacques-Louis Monod has championed a large portion of the significant chamber music of the 20th century. During his seven years as the conductor for the BBC Third Program, he presented a live concert broadcast of new music every Tuesday throughout the concert season. Each program was different and was broadcast internationally to a wide listening audience. Mr. Monod was born in Paris in 1927 and studied both at the Conservatoire National de Musique and privately with René Leibowitz. He has conducted major orchestras and chamber ensembles in Europe, Scandinavia, and North and Central America. His conducting of world premieres and first recordings includes works by Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Stravinsky, Schnabel, Babbitt, and Carter, as well as first performances of music by Weill, Varèse, Krenek, Wolpe, Milhaud, Dallapiccola, and others. Mr. Monod is also active as a composer, and in 1956 he received the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award in composition. His Cantus Contra Cantum I and III have been recorded on the CRI label.
Bass-baritone Jan Opalach is highly regarded for his performances of many roles on the international opera stage as well as his singing in solo, chamber, and orchestral works. Mr. Opalach is a master of both the standard repertoire and difficult contemporary works. He has won first prize in the Naumburg Vocal Competition, Metropolitan Opera National Auditions, and the prestigious international vocal competition of s'Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. He has appeared with major opera companies throughout the world and has recently recorded works by Stravinsky, Carter, Kernis, Wolpe, and Beaser.
Conductor José Maria Florêncio was born in Brazil in 1962 and studied viola and conducting at the Universidade de Minas Gerais, the Juilliard School of Music, and the Warsaw Musical Academy, where he was a student of Henryk Czyz. A resident of Poland since 1985, he is the permanent conductor of the Grand Opera Theater in Warsaw and for several years was Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra and Choir of Krakow.
Notes by Bruce Hobson