Saturday, July 11, 2015

Chamber Music of Arnold Rosner Volume III - Sextet for Strings, "Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland" - Besos sin Cuento (for Low Voice, Flute, Viola and Harp) - Sonata for Trombone and Piano - Albany Records 2003

I did not expect to find myself teary-eyed today; after all it's a bright (albeit too warm and humid) no-plans-or-responsibities Saturday, and although depression sometimes imprisons me even on the best of days, whether working or free to roam, happily this isn't one of them. I have been thinking about Arnold quite a lot (and realize that I stopped posting his music for quite sometime-an unconscious decision to self-protect from "feeling" if ever there was one!), needless to say his passing has left a painful chasm in my heart and soul, and although time is passing the loss is forever, as are the emotions that come with it. Every one of you, dear visitors, undoubtedly have grieved and experienced such losses in life. That is life. Mine are but a microscopic cluster, among over 7 billion others-buoyant in cerebrospinal fluid. Further description or ramblings on my personal feelings are clearly not needed! Volume three of Rosner's Chamber music is a fascinating and important issue indeed. His String Sextet is one of his finest (recorded or sitting in archives) compositions, and I confess to finding it touched by brilliance. I listen to it, and like most Rosner works the music takes over entirely, everything else is blackened out-not unlike observing the Polaris (or traveling close to it's fiery plasma), with intense clarity from an isolated observatory.

This photo was taken near Sea Gate, Brooklyn on a humid summer day with a temp. of  94 degrees. It's hard to tell, but Rosner felt as if he would faint-he couldn't wait to "get the hell out of there!", understandably.

Rosner always admired Schoenberg's sextet "Verklarte Nacht", and not surprisingly I suppose, had hoped to see his sextet sharing a recording with the Schoenberg. We talked about pitching the idea to Naxos, whose American Classics series was still rather new at the time; thus something of an obstacle to wait out I felt. This recording is near perfection though-that is if one is fortunate enough to discover it. "Besos sin Cuento" is an exotic and sensual cycle inspired by Sephardic music as well as poetry and stories-specifically as told in the ancient Ladino. I have a cassette recording of Besos sin Cuento that Arnold gave to me around the year 2000, which excited and whet my appetite beyond belief for a proper recorded release-much to my delight three years later Albany made this possible. I hope the day comes when it is performed; Arnold had specific instructions (as related to me anyhow) concerning the performers authentic Sephardic appearance/dress for the performance, as well as quite the seductive, subtle movements of the vocalist, who should sonically bring to life the tambourine (track 6, "En Jaén") by 'playing' it against her side...I for one would be quite keen to see this display.

The Trombone Sonata is a further example of Rosner's ability to make a big-boned, potent musical argument from the most minimal of chamber forces. Somewhat Hindemithian in style, the sonata has much of the driving, motoric energy as found in large works such as the knock-out "Concerto for Two Trumpets, Strings, and Timpani" which I have already posted here.

Rosner's notes on the works:

String Sextet "Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland," Op. 47

Attracted I guess to the Dvorak Sextet, Op. 48, and the two Brahms Sextets, Opp. 18 and 36, I ventured in 1970 to write a Sextet of my own. From the outset, I wanted the added symphonic richness afforded by six parts, but with each of the players having plenty of developmental and contrapuntal linear activity, as befits well-written chamber music. Somehow I decided on two equal movements, the one (variations) to be the darker, more instrumental in attitude and closer to classical-period forms, and the other (motet) the brighter, more vocal, and akin to Renaissance attitude. The Lutheran hymn Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland stimulated me, much more in the mid-Baroque setting by Praetorius than in the fully-tonal (and thus predictable if better-known) J. S. Bach version. I decided to make this tune the crown of the Sextet, barely—and devilishly—hinted at in the first movement, more comfortably beneath the surface in the second, and finally sung forth in all its glory near the end, replete with ribbons of contrapuntal decoration and enhancement.

All manner of other invention occurred to me, various stretti, augmentations, quasi recitativos and the like, including a high point to the first movement in which a fugato in six parts and 9/8 meter would develop into a 9-against-4 climax. For a quarter-century the piece was never performed, as befits anything so ambitious, I suppose. In the early 90s, I made the acquaintance of Paul Vanderwerf, violinist, then a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University. When he and ensembles among his colleagues performed and recorded my string chamber music it was clear to me that new opportunities were available for the Sextet. I took a "long hard look" at it and decided all the structure and pretense were rock-solid, but that much of the connective material was mechanical or pedestrian. So, in 1996, I revised the work, and dedicated it to Paul and his wife Sarah. It was performed at Northwestern in February, 1998, and recorded by that ensemble for this compact disc.

Besos sin Cuento (Kisses Without Number)

Six Spanish Songs, Op. 86

1. La Belle Ines

2. Y Dulce Olvido

3. Al Amor

4. En Jaen

5. Duermes, Licisca

6. Glosa de las Vacas

My Spanish Songs Besos sin Cuento resulted from two motivations, and it should be admitted from the outset that I have absolutely no knowledge of the Spanish language other than certain culinary terminology. For some time, I was drawn to the remarkable songs in the Sephardic tradition more than 500 years old, in the Judaeo-Spanish language Ladino. Performances and recordings of this literature are abundant and my motivation was to find some poetry of this heritage that had not yet been musically set. My search, however, revealed that most of the secular texts had indeed survived specifically because there were musical settings; all that seemed to remain were religious meditations, and for once I wanted to write a piece with no references either to religion, or mortality, for that matter. I decided to split my motivation towards two different works. I planned (and ultimately wrote) A Sephardic Rhapsody for orchestra, and proceded to research Renaissance Spanish poetry, the result of which is Besos sin Cuento.

The second motivation is more grandiose, very simply summarized, and probably something I will not come near to achieving. Languages, at which my skills are exceedingly minimal, all sound so different, all express meaning in subtly different ways, all impact upon melody so profoundly, that I feel a composer with good lyrical and rhythmic sense should be able to write settings in all of them! This, of course, is ridiculous, and the non-phonetic and highly inflected languages, such as Swahili or Mandarin, will clearly confound any Westerner. A somewhat more modest drive is to compose settings in all the European languages, and I think it is no accident that shortly after the Spanish songs I wrote three settings in Finnish, Songs of Lightness and Angels.

For Besos sin Cuento, I chose the "broken consort" but very sensuous combination of low female voice, flute, viola and harp. The six-movement design attempts a certain symmetry; the medium-fast outer movements are the more complex and set somewhat humorous amorous texts. No. 1 is in 5/8 meter and no. 6 is something of a rondo, where the “A” occurs on different tonics each time; movements 2 and 5 are the more pensive slow movements, no. 2 has a coda in 11/8 meter; no. 5 uses a drone; the middle movements are the true scherzi; no. 3 is a duet for voice and flute; no. 4 adds the tambourine.

Sonata in Bb for Trombone and Pianoforte, Op. 106

As I have felt driven to compose songs in as many languages as possible, I have also wanted to write sonatas or concertos for all the standard orchestral instruments. We know that Carl Nielsen intended to cover the instruments of the Woodwind Quintet in that way, and got as far as Concerti for Flute and for Clarinet before his death, and Paul Hindemith's prodigious list of sonatas is incomparable. For my part, over many long years, I realized I had come fairly close, and decided in the mid 90s to fill in the gaps, at that time clarinet, bassoon, trombone and double bass. (My A Plaintive Harmony for unaccompanied horn is also playable, one octave lower, by tuba.) As of this writing only bassoon and double bass remain.

The power and nobility of the trombone cannot and should not be denied, and my sonata, therefore, is rather “big-boned.” The pianist is a true equal partner, requiring strong playing and an open instrument. (I generally like nothing less than a piano with its lid closed.)

In terms of structure, the sonata is fairly conservative despite its aggressiveness of sound. The first movement is largely in three-strand counterpoint, and may suggest the quality of ars antiqua or even organum counterpoint; many of the harmonies are fifths, and there are some noticeable on-the-beat dissonances. The second is in something of a three-part “song” design but is in 7/8 meter throughout. The third movement is the most difficult to play, and has its share of gritty complexity, but is in fact the most traditional example of classical sonata form I have ever used, replete with a clear contrast between the two main themes, and all the “correct” tonal-center relationships.

Notes by Arnold Rosner

Track listing:

Sextet for Strings, "Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland" Opus 47 (1970, revised 1997)

1) Variations (13:59)
2) Motet (10:54)

*Sestetto Agosto (Paul Vanderwerf & David Katz, Violins - Terri Van Valkinburgh & Claudia Lasareff-Mironoff, Violas - Peter Szczepanek & Julie Zumsteg, Cellos

"Besos sin Cuento",  Six Spanish Songs, Opus 86 for  Low Voice, Flute, Viola and Harp

3) La Bella Inés (2:56)
4) Y Dulce Olvido (3:43)
5) Al Amor (1:53)
6) En Jaén (1:58)
7) Duermes, Licisca (5:26)
8) Glosa de las Vacas (4:54)

*Pinotage (Julia Bentley, Voice - Janice MacDonald, Flute - Claudia Lasareff-Mironoff, Viola
 Allison Attar, Harp)

"Sonata in B flat for Trombone and Piano", Opus 106

9) Maestoso (5:05)
10) Adagio (5:43)
11) Allegro (6:20)

*Gregory Erickson, Trombone - Angelina Tallaj, Piano

Enjoy, and as always - please tell me what you think!


Toon van Dijk said...

Many thanks and regards from The Netherlands.
Veel dank en groeten uit Nederland.

Marcelo Lasta said...

Fabuloso´´Besos sin cuento¨(por fortuna no existe la aritmética para los intercambios de fluidos incluso bacterias de cavidad bucal en los besos!!),un Master Rosner,amigo de nuestro querido Hovhaness,¿podrá ser algun día,tal vez para regalo de Navidad algun Piano concerto o violinconcerto de G.Lloyd,Master Tzadik? Zimrá,Zimrá,Zimrá (y más Musik,yeeeeees!) Tapirman

Tzadik said...

Toon you are welcome-I'm especially happy to spread awareness of Rosner and his superb, brilliant music


Tzadik said...

Hey Marcello L / Dr, T .... muy feliz de escuchar que te gusta este post Rosner! Es increíble (mi opinión, por supuesto) como todo lo que ha escrito. Sé bien que mi
amigo !! -TZ

Jaime said...

Just gorgeous. Although I'm very sorry to learn of your pain. Thank you for such a special
post Tzadik

Tzadik said...

Thank you for your words. I am so very happy to get Rosner's music heard by a pair of 'new' ears :)