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Avant Garde Music for Solo Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass.

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This is a big area, there’s a lot of it, and much of it is good, so I thought I’d start a thread, if only to collect it all together.

I’ll kick it off with something I’ve been listening to this morning, a lyrical, gruff assemblage of cello pieces by Ralph Shapey called Krosnick Soli, played on this CD by Scott Kluksdahl. Written in 1983.  I think it uses some sort of scordatura, and the result is a really striking contrast between the lower registers and the higher ones, as if the lower string is an intruder in the party. Each of the Krosnick soli has a distinctive emotional flavour, but the piece manages to work as a whole, unified in some way by its harmonies I guess.

It’s been a while since I listened to Shapey and in truth I’d forgotten what an interesting, spiritual, composer he is. There’s a lot of his music on record now  - quartets, piano etc.

Lachenmann’s Toccatina for solo violin  uses extreme instrumental techniques - for example, you pluck the strings with the metal nut at the end of the bow, the thing normally used to tighten the horse hair. It makes a lovely sound.

How can a plink and a pizzz be turned into music? Are these random sounds or is there some sort of plan? You never know with this sort of thing whether the interest is from the novelty or the poetry.  I think the latter - I think this is gentle, refined music. Full of air, ethereal. This is what angels sound like.

But I’m not sure.

There are lots of recordings,  the one in the pic was chosen pretty well at random.


Luciano Berio wrote Sequenza Vi for Walter Trampler in 1967, who recorded it above. The composer described it as follows

--- Quote ---Sequenza VI for viola, written for a modern soloist in the widest and most responsible sense of the term, is a piece of great virtuosity (a very indirect homage to Paganini’s Capricci) where the same basic harmonic sequence is continuously repeated, developed and transformed. It is a formal study on repetition, on the relationship between often repeated modules and modules appearing only once.

--- End quote ---

Listening to it today I was struck that much the same could be said of Franco Donatoni's Ciglio (1989) for violin, which as far as I know has never been commercially recorded (if someone has a recording, please say) Fortunately there is this youtube from a concert by Lorenzo Gorli

There's more to the Donatoni than repetition. With Donatoni you are swept along a road and suddenly, you've had enough, it becomes boring and there's a transition -- those transitions are what make the thing special of course. And this is very much what Bernhard Lang is interested in, in the series of pieces called Monadologie. There are none that I've heard for solo string instrument, but here's one for flute (2012)


Very valuable study of Boulez’s Anthèmes 1 here

And I take the opportunity to mention this Irvine Arditti 2017 release, which I’ve only just discovered, and it is exceptional.


I'm going to make a single note about two pieces, Isan Yun's Glissées (1970)  for solo cello and Richard Barrett's Ne songe plus a fuire (1985) for amplified cello, not because of a shared style or sonority (but they do both have a sense of exploring the sound possibilities of the instrument quite fully, but they're not the same instrument), but more because of the extreme darkness of the mood they elicit in me.  This expressiveness was certainly part of Barrett's design, he was inspired by Roberto Matta's sequences of canvases with the same name, an example of one will give you the flavour

The Barrett seems to me to be a major masterpiece.


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