Darmstadt 2016: A Review

Needless to repeat, but I shall, that none of my series are comprehensive; there’s no way they can be. The blog as an entire entity is not comprehensive. But I think in this challenging and intense month of listening and writing (the listening actually started months ago), I’ve learned and come to appreciate a lot, and feel rather proud of the content I’ve been able to produce, hopefully informative and accurate, but also intelligible and approachable. Like I said, much of the writing on works like these (what of it there is) either extols beauty that it does not identify or define, or else explains it in such detail that it is all but useless to the average reader. It’s also a very important part of the musical history of the 20th century that I felt needed to get a bit of attention around here.

We started with what I felt were the prerequisites for what happened at Darmstadt, going as far back as Debussy, a seemingly unrelated contributor, but an influence nonetheless. Then it was on to Messiaen and Leibowitz, the former a far more famous composer than the latter, but both men had a large impact, either positively or negative (and both, depending on the period), on the first official Darmstadt composer we discussed, Pierre Boulez.

I picked a few of his more famous early works, the Douze Notations  and the first piano sonata, and originally thought that adding Le Marteau to that would have been a bit too much, but did it anyway, as it’s arguably his most famous composition, and I was glad to have gotten to know all of them a little better. However, between the first piano sonata and Le Marteau are such works as the sonatine for flute and piano, a few choral works, Structures I, and perhaps most famously, the second piano sonata. Those are all works we shall eventually speak about, and I’m now quite excited to get around to the second sonata.

Berio, while not an ‘official’ member of the Darmstadt school, in the sense that he was not mentioned at the coining of the phrase back in 1958, is one of the more famous (and prolific) of the composers associated with Darmstadt, so I was a bit disappointed not to be able to include more of his work in this month’s series. His works from the ’40s alone make a long-ish list, and the first sequenza (for flute) was completed in 1958. We arguably discussed some of his least-known works, but I don’t think I could talk about music in the ’50s in Darmstadt and not give him a mention. Next time, Luci.

Next was Nono, and I feel like the two works we discussed are his two most famous, even if I couldn’t say a whole lot about them that was terribly insightful. Il Canto Sospeso might be a bit hard-hitting for some in 2016.

Maderna was another that should have gotten more focus than he did, and I feel bad about that… He has piano concertos and string quartets, fantasias, improvisations, all before the Quartetto we discussed. Next time.

Subsequently was Stockhausen, and I chose two of his more famous works, the earliest of the Klavierstücke, and then Gruppen, which was plenty for me… his oeuvre will be slow going, I feel. His Gesang der Jünglinge is another early work for which he is quite well-known, but I just couldn’t do it this time around.

So then… who did we completely leave out? First on my honorable mentions list would be Karel Goeyvaerts and his sonata for two pianos. In fact, Goeyvaerts is said to have been a large influence on Stockhausen, and is listed at this wonderful resource as a “core member” of the school, along with Henri Pousseur, of whom we also did not speak. Berio is not in that list, instead included in the  “associated composers in Europe” category, along with Hans Werner Henze, Maurice Kagel, Gottfried Michael Koenig, Ligeti, Xenakis, and Evangelisti. Babbitt and Carter get mentions as “associated composers in the U.S.”, but distinctly different from the “New York School.” Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Messiaen’s name is nowhere to be found. Someone else who comes to mind is another student of Messiaen, one Jean Barraqué, who wrote a pretty important piano sonata, displaying “an individual form of serialism.” All in good time.

In contrast to the reference above, Martin Iddon’s book, to which I referred multiple times, actually lists Cage along with Nono, Stockhausen, and Boulez in mentioning new music at Darmstadt… I considered ever so momentarily adding Cage’s 4’33 as an honorable mention, initially sort of as a joke, but we’ll get around to some of his stuff eventually, even if I’m not terribly thrilled about it.

I guess that’s the only real deficit in the big, important early works, is the Goeyvaerts sonata… Boulez’s second sonata was a much more famous work than his first, and I’d actually meant to include Stockhausen’s Zeitmaße this week, but just… not this time.

So what’s next?

I’d originally intended to do a month of Mozart and either Louis Spohr or Mendelssohn, but Mendelssohn was discussed too recently, and also… so much German music, so I scratched that. The idea was to go back to something a little more ‘mainstream’ for some contrast, but I decided to do something that I’m more excited about, so stay tuned for a distinctly different August agenda, beginning with the last post of July as a callback to the first post of the month, two quartets which nicely bookend July as the beginnings and ends to different things. Stay tuned.

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