102 Years Ago today: A young composer cut down by World War I, George Butterworth, “Fantasia for Orchestra”

Amidst the massive toll of lives lost in the First World War were many many writers, artists and composers. The War Poets, Franz Marc, Apollonaire … and so many unknown or barely know now.

One who has in recent years been recollected is the English composer George Butterworth, 1885-1916, who died 102 years ago today. Here is a bio from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library:

One of England’s most distinctive composers, George Butterworth was born on 12 July 1885 in London, the only child of Sir Alexander Kaye Butterworth (1854-1946), a solicitor and later general manager of the North Eastern Railway Company. George first attended school in Yorkshire before entering Eton College as a King’s scholar in 1899. His aptitude for music was nurtured there as well as with Christian Padel in York. From 1904 to 1908 he was in residence at Trinity College, Oxford, where he managed a third class in the honour school of literae humaniores and was active in musical circles, holding the presidency of the university musical club from October 1906 to March 1907.

Following Oxford he worked for a short while as a music critic for The Times and also contributed to the second edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1904-1910). Following a brief teaching post at Radley College he returned to London and from October 1910 to November 1911 was enrolled at the Royal College of Music, where he studied organ and piano, as well as theory and composition.

His involvement with English folk music and dance now began and his close friendship and collaboration with a leading figure in this burgeoning movement, Ralph Vaughan Williams, which had begun in his Oxford days, was central to this. Butterworth became a collector, noting down more than 450 items, including songs, dance tunes, and dances. In 1906 he joined the Folk-Song Society and later became a prominent figure in the English Folk Dance Society, of which he was one of the founders in 1911, as well as a member of its dance demonstration team. He collected and arranged an album of Sussex folk songs and, in collaboration with Cecil Sharp, published several books of country and morris dances.

Butterworth enlisted on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and was commissioned in the 13th Durham Light Infantry. He was three times recommended for, and was twice awarded, the Military Cross. The second decoration honoured conduct on the morning of his death, 5 August 1916; when he was killed at Pozieres during the first battle of the Somme. He was buried at the front line.

I came across Butterworth via Spotify’s Discover Weekly list – specifically Fantasia, a work of haunting, piercing yearning:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/2OqDMKFC7XBOPwow6abDZy

This Fantasia was completed by Kriss Russmann. This page discusses Butteworth and this version and one completed by Martin Yates:

 

Here is some footage of Butterworth Morris Dancing:

 

 

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Piano minimalism from 1880 – Liszt’s “Via Crucis”, Reinbert de Leeuw

Liszt’s piano setting of his late work Via Crucis (originally for  choir, soloists and organ) has many passages that sound extraordinarily like Satie or other much later exponents of minimalism. Wikipedia has this to say:

The work is a special case in the oeuvre of Liszt, especially because it is a work of great serenity. The work is also special because it reaches the limits of the till then prevailing tonality. The work combines unison songs (Stations I and XIV) with Lutheran chorales (Stations IV and XII), and chorales inspired by Bach‘s chorales (Station VI), whereas other stations consist of solo organ (or piano). Liszt self wanted to perform the work in the Colosseum, with accompaniment by harmonium.

Here is the Dutch conductor and pianist Reinbert de Leeuw:

Allmusic :

Known for its flashy virtuosity and high emotionalism, the keyboard music of Franz Liszt’s youth and early adulthood is easily recognized, though his somber, quasi-atonal late works have only gradually entered the piano repertoire. Instrumental in promoting the visionary compositions of Liszt’s last years is Reinbert de Leeuw, who has performed the Via Crucis regularly, and more generally has made the final works known to a growing audience. Via Crucis exists not only in the version for solo piano heard here, but also in arrangements for choir and organ, choir and harmonium, choir and piano, and piano duet. The work preoccupied Liszt for several years, and it was a breakthrough, insofar as Liszt had made a bold statement in his newly developed harmonic language, which had only been half-formed in his shorter pieces. De Leeuw immerses himself wholly in the music and maintains a nearly transcendental calm through its long passages of chant-like melodies and labored chromatic transitions. This work demands absolute concentration, which is evident in de Leeuw’s impeccable control and smooth gradations of timbres and dynamics.https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/4jzNkCw0kakdwKhcuA4oZ2

The lost world of Enno Aare

(edit 22nd August 2018 – readers may also be interested in the careers of Ana Olgica and Amity Cadet)

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/aoifenichorcorain/playlist/74KqlNzk7NMTChonWbOC75

Continuing from my profiles of the work of Amity Cadet and Ana Olgica , I thought I would focus on another artist, once legendary, now only known by a fraction of their life’s work.
Unlike Amity Cadet, there exist some non-Spotify online traces of Aare’s existence, an interview in which he refutes the absurd and insulting thesis that he does not exist, that he is some kind of “fake artist.” Aare articulates a purist approach to a musical career in the age of streaming playlists:

So the excess trappings of the music industry are social media, websites, CDs, records, and live performances? You take a hard line on this.

EA: I see some of these guys at the farmer’s market selling CDs out of their cars, and I’m like, pfff, this guy is a sellout, a complete fraud. I knew this one guy in college who made a tape and spent, I don’t know, an hour designing a cover for it? With a band photograph and a logo? And he listed his email address on the back? Like, ooh, I’m so important I think people should email me. Man, I just shake my head. What a waste of energy.

CP: And so the only appropriate venue for music is a Spotify playlist?

EA: Basically. Yeah, when you get down to it. Put me on a playlist, and that’s all I need. That’s music in its purest form. I never even considered putting my music online anywhere, but these Spotify curators are just relentless in their pursuit of creating the best playlists. I was so stupid I didn’t even know you could “curate” music – I thought that was like an art thing. But when they told me my four songs could exist in a free-floating, context-less, non-corporeal environment for the benefit of people falling asleep with their earbuds in, I couldn’t say no. I told them, “This is what I’ve been waiting for. This is my moment. Sign me up.”

Unlike Amity Cadet, however, Enno Aare is represeneted on Spotify by not one, but four works. On YouTube we find three:

In my previous posts I showed how Amity Cadet and Ana Olgica were both profound, emblematic artists, whose presence on playlists entitled “Classical Chillout” and such may mask their visionary artistrry. A hint to the importance of Eeno Aare comes in the interview linked to above – the phrase “for the benefit of people falling asleep with their earbuds in.” For Eeno Aare was a psychonaut, a surfer of the extreme waves of human consciousness, whose surfboard was a piano, and whose Jaws was that most secret, most  private act, sleep. 

Enno Aare, born in Estonia in 1960, emigrated from the Soviet Union to Israel with his parents in 1975 . They were in Israel only a few months before relocated to Rochester, New York. There Aare’s parents took up roles in The University of Rochester’s Medical School; his mother as a clinical lecturer in anaesthetics, his father as an associate professor in physiology. The Aares both had an academic interest in sleep. They associated themselves with the radical sleep researcher Pietro Corriola. Corriola is one of those figures ignored by the internet , who were highly influential in their day.

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Corriola, born in Ravenna, was based in the Northeast Ohio Medical University   Here he devoted himself to whole-hearted opposition to the work of William C Dement and his creation, The American Sleep Disorders Association. Corriola was implacably opposed to Dement’s focus on REM and classifying sleep stages with electroencephalography.  Corriola was not opposed to the physical investigation of sleep per se. Indeed, he proudly identified himself as one of the “Moruzzi school of physiology”. , having trained under the Italian neurophysiologist who connected sleep and wakefulness to the reticular activating system

 

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Despite this, for Corriola,sleep was to be considered metaphysiocally as much as physiologically. Sleep was not to be considered some kind of pathological deviation from normality, but an arena in which the mind floated free of the tyranny of wakefulness. Corriola was horrified by the reductionist approach to dreams and dreaming. For him, the prevalence of sleep disorders was a mass revolt against the medicalisation of sleep.

The Aares enthusiastically took up this cause. In a series of pamphlets, papers, monographs, letters to journals and book chapters they argued for a metaphysical science of sleep which would move beyond a merely neuroscientific paradigm. Corriola, following years of intellectual isolation in the USA (although his ideas had a warmer reception in Europe) was delighted with this sudden upsurge in interest. AS the 1980s dawned, and Corriola’s career entered its twilight, it seemed his legacy was secure. On a April 23rd 1980, this changed.

That day’s edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle revealed that the Aare parents were not in fact doctors of either medicine or physiology. It was implied that their credentials were Soviet forgeries, and the possibility of KGB infiltration was left hanging unspoken

This was officially discounted, although questions were also asked about the rapidity of the Aare’s move from Israel to the USA. In any case, their careers at Rochester were over. Suddenly, 21 year old Enno, freshly graduated Eastman School of Music, was the provider for his parents. He played piano in hotel bars, in wine bars, in cocktail bars, in piano bars, in leather bars, in singles bars, in racetrack bars. He played piano in what non-bar venues he could find work in. He did some work as a session musician. He played on jingles and on children’s TV shows. He played weddings, funerals, Bar Mitzvahs and any other ceremony in which a pianist could conceivably be required.

The 1980s wore on. Enno Aare played piano every day of every week, with no break. He began to despise the world of music, the so called “industry” but also the so called “art.” He began to despise the egotism, the narcissism, the celebration of the self. He recalled his parents’ lofty, idealistic work on sleep – the entry into a purer world, one without the stifling, corroding influence of the ego.

He despised the studio, despised the production of physical recorded music. He dreamt of a way his music could be untethered from the apparatus of the logistics of the industry he despised. He also began working with his parents on ways of using music to ease the passage into the blissful world of sleep. His parents were now spending 20 to 23 hours asleep a day, waking only for some nutrition, hydration, and relief of bodily functions. In a few snatched moments he would show them his music, written in a notation of the family’s own devising, for their approval.

When, years later, the MP3 file ruptured the link between a piece of music and a definite, physical object, Aare took note. This was not quite his dream, as there still was a physical infrastructure required for the file, to be “downloaded” and “shared”, words which captured the inherent physical nature of the file. But it was a start.

It could not be said that Spotify is the complete realisation of Aare’s dream of a pure music untethered by any physical reality, lulling the listener into the world of sleep. For one thing, a physical instrument is still required, and physical apparatus still required to stream the song. It was, however, a significant advance. And, sadly, the day Spotify was launched in Sweden – 23rd April 2006, the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle story which changed their lives for ever – Eeno Aare’s parents died in their sleep.

The lost world of Amity Cadet

The lost world of Amity Cadet

(edit 22nd August 2018 – readers may also be interested in the careers of Ana Olgica and Enno Aare)

The works of the Vietnam-born French composer and pianist Amity Cadet have all but vanished from public consciousness. Of her innovative and eclectic body of work from the mid 1970s to the early 1980s, only one song – “Romances” has made it into the era of YouTube:

and Spotify:

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Cadet was born in Saigon on the 7th of May 1954 – symbolically the day of the fall of Dien Bien Phu which would mark the end of the French presence in Indochina. Cadet’s father was a railway engineer working on the maintenance of the North-South Railway Line, her mother a teacher in the Lycée Chasseloup-Laubat:

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Amity Cadet’s destiny was to move from lost world to lost world; it is not clear when exactly the Cadets left Vietnam, but they next were in Algeria, just in time for the escalation in the Algerian War of Independence that followed the Philippeville Massacre. They stayed in Algeria somewhat longer, until the mid-1960s. After all the Cadets were not pieds-noirs, and it seems that Mr Cadet secured employment with the post-Independence. In 1964 the Cadets relocated to Quebec City. At that point, Quebec remained a highly traditionalist, Catholic province. This suited Mrs Cadet, who at this point had become intensely devoted to the Most Immaculate Heart of Mary, but in the familiar pattern Quebec too was about the change, if not as violently as Vietnam or Algeria just as decisively.

Cadet’s teens spanned the years 1967 to 1974, but contemporaries did not recall her seeming terribly affected by the supposedly epoch-making events of the time. “She was a calm, placid girl. She liked slightly cheesy music – Neil Diamond, John Denver, that kind of thing.” She had begun learning the piano in Algeria, and kept up her lessons with Madame Press, a legendary Quebec City music teacher of fearsome repute. Yet, uniquely among Press’ students, Cadet had a calming effect on the irascible, ancient woman who had been been brought to Canada by her parents fleeing an Odessa pogrom in the year 1881. “Things that, from anyone else, would bring forth a hail of Yiddish curses and blows from tiny fists, would be greeted with a benevolent smile if Amity did them,” recalled a contemporary from the Quebec City Conservatory.

It was in 1975, aged 21, that Amity Cadet began to release albums on the legendary Montreal label Les Enfants d’Esprit. The pioneering dronerock act Nul and the “extreme singer songwriter” Benoit de Boniface (whose ninety five minute strums on open chords had so divided opinion during the first Festival De La Sagesse held in 1972) were the best-known acts on this label. The Les Enfants d’Esprit archives, including the cover art for all records released on the label, were destroyed in a fire in 1983.

All known copies of Amity Cadet’s debut, Piano de l’Enfer were destroyed in the flames. Perhaps, somewhere in a mouldering jumble sale or in an attic, there remains a copy of this album described by Canadian music critic Doug Bundle as “at the same time terrifying and arousing, like the lovechild of Charles Manson and Richard Nixon” (to which Amity Cadet reportedly replied “What does that even mean?)

Whatever the merits of Bundle’s clotted prose, Amity Cadet’s debut was a milestone in the development of minimalist music. One contemporary said that the best way to imagine it is “Ligeti’s Musica Ricercerta II – played in hell by a pianist being slowly disembowelled by the lovechild of Charles Manson and Richard Nixo.n”

The years went on – Charles Manson and Richard Nixon became somewhat lesser cultural touchstones – and as the 1970s became dominated by punk (according to ageing music critics) and the Bay City Rollers (in reality), Amity Cadet found herself swimming against a musical tide of triviality, swimming against a cultural tide of cynical materialism, and swimming against a personal tide of repeated bad relationships. In 1979 a nightmare date with Donald Sutherland, followed by a nightmare date the following Saturday with Leonard Cohen, was immortalised in her minimalist piece “Threnody On Nightmare Dates with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Cohen on Two Successive Saturdays” She persuaded Les Enfants D’Esprit to release this fifteen hour work in a twenty-LP set, no small vote of confidence in a work that consisted of Cadet repeatedly pressing all 88 piano keys at the same time using a length of wood.

The album “Romances” appeared in 1981. It is from this that the one surviving Amity Cadet track that appears on Spotify and Youtube comes from. Along with Tubular Bells, it is regarded as the high water mark of New Age music. “Romances”, the song, is the paradigmatic piano relaxation song, one whose structure however contains hidden repetitions of note sequences that encode the opening verses of the Books of Revelations.

download

Later in the 1980s, Amity Cadet renounced music. The death of her mother in a train crash, for which her father, who had been unaware his wife was on the train, was later held criminally negligent for, deeply affected her. She used what royalties she had gained to buy up her records and destroy them, and to pulp entire runs of magazines that mentioned her career. She, like her mother before her, was to devote her life to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and music played by the lovechild of Charles Manson and Richard Nixon in hell did not quite fit this aspiration. Some tender impulse, however, led her to spare “Romances” from the memory hole, and to this day we can enjoy this epitome of piano relaxation.

From “The Poetry of Thought”, George Steiner

We do speak about music. The verbal analysis of a musical score can, to a certain extent, elucidate its formal structure, its technical components and instrumentation. But where it is not musicology in a strict sense, where it does not resort to a “meta-language” parasitic on music – “key”, “pitch”, “syncopation” – talk about  music, oral or written, is a suspect compromise. A narration, a critique of musical performance addresses itself less to the actual sound-world than it does to the executant and the reception by the audience. It is reportage by analogy. It can say little that is substantive of the composition. A handful of brave spirits, Boethius, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Proust and Adorno among them, have sought to transfer the matter of music and its significations into words. On occasion, they have found metaphoric “counterpoints”, modes of suggestion, simulacra of considerable evocative effect (Proust on Vinteuil’s sonata). Yet even at their most seductive their semiotic virtuosities are, in the proper sense of the idiom, “beside the point.” They are derivative.

Music For Another World. Ed. Mark Harding. SF Site review, 2011

This is a rather grumpy review. I found the writing in this anthology by and large ponderous and forced, too self-consciously “literary.” I think that is pretty clear from the review overall but I note in the penultimate paragraph I give a fair bit of praise. I barely recall any of the stories except “Blue Note Heaven” and the premise of Jim Steel’s. 

Music For Another World

“All art aspires to the condition of music.” Walter Pater’s famous axiom is directly invoked in one of the stories in this anthology of speculative fiction linked by the theme of music, and is one of the first quotes that springs to mind when considering the artistic challenge of capturing music in words.

Another well-known quote about music and writing is Frank Zappa’s — “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Like sex, like religion, like love, music is one of the more difficult things to write about. In a few bars, music can evoke emotions, passions, memories and desires. All of this can seem clod-hopping on the page. Writers about music either seek refuge in the technical vocabulary of the conservatory, or write not about the music but about the sociology, the fashion, the politics, the personalities, or the history related to it. Look at the music reviews (in any genre) in your local paper — how many of them fall back on clichés, on regurgitated press releases, and how few make you approach the piece in a different way?

What is a writer to do? My own sense is that (as with writing about sex) a direct approach will invariably fail. Sentences, paragraphs, pages will seem heavy-footed and all too literal, compared to the immediate access music grants to the senses. All the stories in Music For Another World are well crafted, readable, and in that most damning of phrases of faint praise, interesting. Few leave much of a lasting impression, however, and overall I was left with a sense of disappointment.

There are definite highlights. Cyril Simsa’s opening tale, “The Three Lillies,” is an atmospheric vignette set in a subtly altered Eastern Europe that is the closest any story in the collection comes to the condition of music. Jim Steel’s “The Shostakovich Ensemble” is a clever alt-history story in which Dmitri Shostakovich was purged in the Twenties, the USA never entered World War II and the Iron Curtain fell across the Atlantic, and the post-punk music of the late 70s and early 80s (like all music) is under the control of a centralised state agency. Chris Amies’s “Cow Lane” has something of the sweaty frenetic energy of punk, married to a delicious frisson of the supernatural. Vincent Lauzon’s “Festspeel” is an engaging epistolary piece which becomes a meditation on being maimed and encounters with the alien.

There is wit and imagination in abundance. There is literal space opera (Jackie Hawkins’ “Figaro”), there is an afterlife segregated between secular and devotional music (David H Hendrickson’s “Blue Note Heaven”), there are Bruckner-devoted Manicheans hurtling through deep space (Sean Martin’s “Deep Field”) These are all entertaining, diverting stories, in their own way.

I realised something when I came to consider why the stories, well-crafted etc. as they were, didn’t engage as much as they could have. Music features in all the stories, not only as a background or plot point, but as something integral. Indeed, it is the transcendent power of music that is key in almost all the stories. So all feature passages of prose bordering on purple describing the moment of transcendence. And here is where the authors hit the heavy-footed, all too literal (in every sense of literal) factor mentioned above. Simsa’s story, so brief it is more of a parable really, is the one that comes closest to the condition of music. Perhaps transcendence is best hinted at, approach from the side, than described literally.