Meriläinen: Metamorfora per 7

performed by the Lahti Chamber Ensemble

(cover image by Hao Wang)

Today’s piece, also without a YouTube video, dates from 1969, just a few years after the first string quartet, in 1965, which ended Meriläinen’s early “Dodecaphonic” period. In that article, I quoted Jean Christensen’s New Music of the Nordic Countries. Christensen mentions that Meriläinen is “reflecting the increased interest in the poetry of small gestures,” during this time when chamber music became a central part of his output, and we hear the transparent, almost pointillist nature of this piece.

The work, as noted by Hillila and Hong in their Historical Dictionary of the Music and Musicians of Finland, is for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, percussion, violin and double bass, the same forces as Stravinsky’s A Soldier’s Tale, and perhaps we can hear some Stravinsky in the work.

Hillila and Hong continue to say:

Contrasting instrumental tone qualities are also important, giving the effect of individuals in conversation.

In a discussion of Meriläinen’s earlier output, like in his piano sonatas (the second, I believe), they mention his focus on “characters,” seemingly in the sense of characters as people or figures, as well as in characteristics. They mention:

…melodic intervalic patterns, single tones or points repeated, rhythmic motives, or clusters, all independent of definite rhythmic or intervallic structure, which then form the basis for the whole work in a tightly structured organic matter.

Now we’re speaking my language. Perhaps Meriläinen got a bit away from this more rigid Dodecaphonic approach (I’m capitalizing that because Christensen does throughout), but we hear some of the rhythmic freedom and independence of which Hillila and Hong also speak in their book (all on p. 260). A guest reviewer on Gramophone describes it as “more relaxed than usual but none the less [sic] full of his characteristic quirky invention.” I’m curious who this writer is, talking about Meriläinen’s “characteristic” or “usual” anything.

The piece comes in at about nine minutes in length. I couldn’t find anything regarding the term ‘metamorfora’ aside from a different piece (for different performers) by the same name from the pen of a composer who we will be seeing next week. That aside, there’s the obvious association with the word ‘metamorphosis’ or something similar to it, but the word appears not to be Italian as the ‘per 7’ would suggest. (The Finnish word appears to be ‘metamorfoosi’, and the use of the consonant f means it’s probably a relatively recent loanword, as that letter isn’t found in native Finnish words. You might find this odd as the English word ‘Finnish’ itself has an F in it, but it doesn’t in Finnish!)

What can we say about this work?

Well, for sure, after some of that description above, I’d love to be able to talk about some motif or other, the development of intervals or certain figures, but I really can’t. It was hard enough to find this piece in general, much less find a score, but it seems to fall into a few sections, with a more subdued middle passage. The seven refers to people, not instruments, as the percussionist is clearly quite busy. He/she affords quite a lot of color and personality to this short piece, as the bass or snare drum do very much recall the texture of Stravinsky’s small stage work, not to mention the violin solos.

There’s comedy and color in this quirky piece, and while it might not strike your fancy, at the very least, there’s a certain attractive use of this nonstandard ensemble, which at times sounds both big and orchestral, and at others small and intimate, but always transparent.

This will end up being one of the shortest articles I’ve written in some time, but if nothing else, it’s an interesting contrast to the stringent string quartet of last weekend. This work is full of color and humor, but still a clearly modern idiom. The end, especially, I find to be subtly surprising. What an odd piece to choose to write about, huh?

That being said, Meriläinen is a composer whose slightly earlier works (and maybe later; I’m not sure yet) interest me very much, so we’ll be seeing more of him eventually. But that’s going to be all for now. If either of his pieces here have caught your attention, go find him on iTunes or Spotify or something and see what else is there. That is, after all, one of the greatest joys of music, that of discovery.

And we have a bit more Finnish discovering left to do this year before the series is out, so do stay tuned for just a few more pieces before we go in an entirely different direction in 2018. Thank you so much for reading.

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