Author Topic: Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)  (Read 1806 times)

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Offline Guido

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Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)
« on: April 23, 2009, 03:42:26 PM »
I just pulled my CDs of her music off the shelf again and what a fantastic composer she has turned out to be! An American modernist - I guess part of the 'ultra-modernist' movement of the 20s and 30s (though I'm not sure if she was in the 'Cowell gang') - her music is often dissonant and thorny, but always is wonderfully imaginative, with an extraordinary ear for sonority, pithy and concise and even very beautiful.

The early Music for Small Orchestra is the closest thing to Ives by another composer that I have ever heard. This is a very good thing. As it was written in 1926 it is highly unlikely that she would have heard any of Ives' music, especially not his orchestral scores, but the similarity is uncanny, though the tone might also be likened to Ruggles (the style sits directly between the two). Wonderful ideas abound, subtle colourings, nostalgic and pensive tone in the first half, and driving, wild second half.

Her later works are very much in her own style and all of her small oeuvre is worth hearing (and thankfully I think it is all recorded). Though much of her music is masterful, the clear masterpiece is the String Quartet (1931) which I cannot recommend highly enough (it's been recorded several times). The Andante movement was also arranged by her for string orchestra and like Barber's Adagio the larger forces give it an extra weight and pathos. Her vocal writing is also extraordiary. Expect more musings on her works from me in the future!

I love this gal!
Geologist.

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Offline Guido

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Re: Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2009, 03:49:30 PM »
This is excerpted from the liner notes of the brilliant Knussen/Schoenberg Ensemble CD:

Quote
Ruth Crawford Seeger's music grows in stature the more one gets to know it. At first it is the astonishing prescience of her musical ideas that commands attention-virtually every movement of every piece embodies an utterly original conception; often anticipating comparable discoveries elsewhere by decades.

This sums up my reaction to her too.
Geologist.

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away

Offline Brewski

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Re: Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)
« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2009, 08:08:31 AM »
I think the sole piece I've heard is her String Quartet--which is just great.  The Arditti recording is excellent, and I've heard several groups here do it live.  Thanks to Guido for starting this thread, and would be interested in others' impressions of her music as well.

--Bruce

"Do you realize that we're meteorites; almost as soon as we're born, we have to disappear?"

~Iannis Xenakis

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

Offline Guido

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Re: Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)
« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2009, 11:11:30 AM »
Glad you liked it - is it fair to say that it's the finest American string quartet between Ives' Second (1915) and Carter's First (1951)? I can't think of any better... Much though I adore every note that Barber wrote, I think the string quartet, taken as a whole is one of his weakest works (though individually the movements are great). Sessions no.1? Piston? Shapero? Not sure they match up...

The four Diaphonic Suites all composed in 1930 for various combinations of solo or duo instruments are great little pieces most clearly and simply showing her technique of "dissonant counterpoint". Spiky, but with very clear lyrical lines too, again brimming with ideas, they never outstay their welcome.

There's a fantastic little piece called "John Hardy" which sounds like it derives material from cowboy music or similar, but it's just brilliant - another early one in the Ivesian vein - comical and plucky, but with enough rhythmic interest and unexpected minor turns to keep it interesting - such a joy to hear!

Geologist.

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away

Offline Brewski

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Re: Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)
« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2009, 11:16:30 AM »
You might be right about the quartet, given the time period.  (I'd have to see a list of others, but can't think of any offhand that really compare to hers.)  PS, do you like the Arditti recording the best, or do you prefer another version? 

--Bruce

"Do you realize that we're meteorites; almost as soon as we're born, we have to disappear?"

~Iannis Xenakis

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

Offline Guido

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Re: Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953)
« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2009, 01:13:36 PM »
I don't actually have that one! I have Marijke van Kooten, Heleen Hulst, Karin Dolman, Hans Woudenberg from the Schoenberg ensemble on this CD:


and Ensemble Adventure on this one:


I like both very much.
Geologist.

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away