A Cunning Blog

Long words. Short words. Words that say something.


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Oh no! Nono!

Cross posted from my Unbound Page, where there are details of the book I’m researching on Dartington International Summer School of Music.

A letter from William Glock to John Amis, dated July 1962

Dear Johnny

The worst has happened. I’ve been trying desperately to get in touch with you.

Nono has finished his piece.

I think he stayed away from Darmstadt (‘ill’) in order to finish it, and anyway I feel we must do our best to put it on.

But… It’s for soprano, viola, cello, d.b., celesta, keyboards, 1 tam-tam, 12 crotales covering all 12 semitones – but the exact pitch I don’t know; are you an authority on crotales? If Gigi’s letter (sent apparently 5 days ago) reaches me tomorrow morning I’ll let you know.

‘Gigi’ is Luigi Nono, Italian avant-garde composer, disciple of Schoenberg and Webern, central figure of the notorious ‘Darmstadt School’, (a term which he coined in a 1958 lecture).

Nono’s only published work for 1962 is Canti di vita e d’amore: sul ponte di Hiroshima. It’s not clear what work that Glock was referring to and, in the end, the ‘new work’ listed in the program didn’t happen. But the soprano mentioned below, Dorothy Devow, was at Dartington that year at the same time as Nono, and gave the premiere of Canti at the Edinburgh Festival at the end of August, with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Performers: (1) D. Devow – cd she be asked to come down earlier, to learn her part? L. N. will bring the material with him on Friday.

(2) Nono will conduct

(3) students can play the cymbals, tam-tam, crotales (6 players). Also the celeste – but this presumably has to be hired. Cd it be put on the Steinway truck?

Sorry to spring this all on you; the news came at 11.55pm last night.

Menuhin: $200. It seems reasonable.

Much love,

W

Re:- the crotales. There are cr. graves and aigues, if no more; so we better wait. I’ll phone.

Did Nono and Devow rehearse at Dartington? Did the students work out the crotales? And who were these students? It was quite a class: Peter Maxwell-Davies, Richard Rodney Bennett, Harrison Birtwistle, Hugh Wood, Robert Saxton, Brian Elias, Alexander Goehr, Cornelius Cardew, Nick Maw and Susan Bradshaw among them. Nono taught in Italian, with Max as interpretor. He was an iconoclast, an ardent communist and hard taskmaster. His other claim to fame, at Dartington at least, was his refusal to shake hands with Benjamin Britten, on artistic grounds.

Can anyone out there enlighten me on what work William was talking about? And do you think it’s reasonable to pay Yehudi Menuhin $200?

I’m off to have another rummage… And you can too if you chip in to my book project. It’s now funding at Unbound. Let’s make this thing happen!

 


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The Madness of King George

When I go mad, I want to go mad like King George. Specifically, like Peter Maxwell Davies’ King George. More specifically, like Simon Lobelson’s Peter Maxwell Davies’ King George. I want to find the music in the howls, the poetry in the pain. I want to smash violins.

madgeorgeOh alright, maybe not that last bit, but it is good to see how shocking it still is to watch someone whack a violin into the stage so hard that it cracks and splinters into pieces. It’s the culmination of Eight Songs for a Mad King, the moment where the King kills a bird, kills a song, kills part of himself. I knew it was coming, but it was still a shock. My neighbour had no idea, and hearing her sharp intake of breath, momentary disbelief, then horror, was everything you could wish for. This is not a gratuitous gesture. It is a key moment for the audience, the players and the central figure, a moment where art and artistry completely loses it. A glimpse into the abyss.

Simon Lobelson is a magnificent King George in this fine performance by the Verbrugghen Ensemble. He makes the role his own (as, indeed, everyone who attempts this crazy work must) with an endlessly inventive repertoire of noises. What I found most impressive, and most affecting, was the way his performance seemed so organic, so frighteningly natural, whether he was matching his voice with birdsong or bowdlerizing Handel or howling. And how the ensemble was gradually lured into being an extension of the king’s byzantine mind, brilliant and brutal and beautiful at the same time. It was deeply moving.

Before that, some sybaritic Villa-Lobos —  seamless lines from flute, saxophone and oboe, over gritty textures from harp and guitar — and a world premiere, Matthew Hindson‘s This Year’s Apocalypse. Cue sirens.

In his program note, Hindson hopes that the effect will be ‘suitably terrifying’, and it is. He opens with relentless barrage which reminds me not so much of the abyss as of that feeling of lost panic when your alarm clock goes off in the middle of a deep, deep sleep. You know why it’s there, you get what it’s doing, but you still want it to go away. It’s loud and, I suspect, a little more rhythmically chaotic than intended in this first performance. The horn solo, however, magnificently played by David Thompson, cuts through the chaos with virtuosic eloquence, a voice of reason in a messy world. And from this, threads of sense start to shine dimly through the hectic texture of the closing bars. A good performance of a promising work from this terrific ensemble. Can’t wait to hear what they’ve put together for next year.