Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lou Andriessen's "La Commedia", viewed just as a musical composition

On September 18, I reviewed the movie DVD of the video opera “La Commedia”, composed by Louis Andriessen, the film by Hal Harltey, on the movies blog.  But the Nonesuch CD set, packaged in cardboard now, came also with two music CD’s.  Probably not many consumers would have a CD player that doesn’t play DVD’s now, so the packaging is a bit of a mystery.  But a music CD set is the way a lot of us have experienced new operas since the mid 1980s.  It’s meaningful to talk about the music on its own merits.
The opera (based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy”, as explained in the movie review), is divided into five acts, which are more or less like cyclical“movements” in musical terms.  The opera actually starts with street noise (from Amsterdam) until it settles into a lively chamber experience, with lots of passage work in the strings and rather a Britten-like sound.  The choral voices sound mostly female or young, and the solo singing sounds episodic if you don’t have the movie to watch.  Occasionally there are lively passages for percussion and piano that do sound more or less dodecaphonic, but most of the music is tonal in a modal sense.  In the fourth section (corresponding to Purgatory) there is a build-up of a massive dissonance that recalls a similar moment in Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck”.  In the last movement, the opera seems to end quietly, as the audience is invited to respond, when there is a sudden final (apparently optional) rush to a fortissimo conclusion in the high voices and strings.  The effect resembles that of the optional ending to Prokofiev’s Seventh Symphony.  The set has detailed notes by composer-pianist Timo Andres, from Brooklyn, well known for some of his largest compositions.   Andriessen is now 75 (compared to Andres at 28), so there is a gap of two full generations here.  It indeed can take a long time to become a good composer. I’m 71.

Amazon’s purchase link is here

I have a couple other little items to share.  Last Sunday, at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, Kelly Curtin, soprano, performed “Sing God a Simple Song” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” (1971).  I do have a Columbia record set of the Mass somewhere, and I think a Sony CD set from the early 90s (the glory days of Tower Recrods), which would take me a while to find.  In the fall of 1971, during my one period of heterosexual dating, I took a young woman to the Kennedy Center to see the Mass, I think in the Opera House (not the Eisenhower Theater).  It’s an interesting recollection, that period of my life, to ponder.  Music can do that as you grow older. 
I also found a bizarre “Kefka Final Fantasy VI” for piano, a little over a minute, in C minor, that sounds like another “recomposition”, maybe of Mozart.  Does someone know what this is? (Youtube link ).  Actually, I think it sounds a bit like "The Hall of the Mountain King" from Grieg's "Peer Gynt", from my earliest days of music lessons.  If so, it it recomposing backwards, from romantic back to classic style.  

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