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ARIA no 1 (1976)
electronic music with video, fixed media
percussion solo - vibraphone, etc.
ESSAY IN IDLENESS (2013)
electronic music with video, fixed media
INTO THE CLEFTS OF STREETS (1996)
CLARINET/BASS CLARINET, 'CELLO, MARIMBA, PIANO
O MENSCH GIB ACHT (2011)
violin or viola
solo viola (improvisation)
Add Nameless review
GREENBAUM Venerable Canons 1. Wild Rose, Lily, Dry Vanilla 2. Chaconne by Attrition 3. Nameless 4 1Tara Helen O’Connor (fl), Calvin Wiersma (vn); 2 Re’ut Ben-Ze’ev (s), Cygnus Ens; 3 Miranda Cuckson (vn); 4 Elizabeth Farnum, Julie Bishop, Priscilla Smith Herreid (s), Cygnus Ens, Momenta SQ FURIOUS ARTISANS (51:55)
Matthew Greenbaum (b.1950) is committed to a language less in favor today: intense, highly chromatic, packed with detail, brimming with ideas. But this is not the setup for the sort of facile dismissal that usually follows such a description. One of the fringe benefits of the stylistic tidal shift that has occurred over the past couple of decades is that those composers who have kept the faith with the postwar modernist language really do have the faith: they refuse to bow to fashion, they’re in it from genuine commitment…and Greenbaum is one of them.
Guitarist (and Cygnus Ensemble director) William Anderson’s notes point out that Greenbaum is the sole living student of both Stefan Wolpe and Mario Davidovsky. Influence of both is audible in Greenbaum’s music, but the former is far more significant. Wolpe remains one of the most important yet undersung composers of the concert music tradition in the second half of the 20th century. His music is strict, fiercely uncompromising, and sonically gripping. He developed a technique tangentially related to “classic” serialism, but far more flexible: as a result one hears motivic shapes and harmonic forces of cohesion and dissolution far more evidently than in comparable music.
Greenbaum’s work shares elements not only with Wolpe but Webern (strict forms such as canon) and late Stravinsky (a highly idiomatic, concise, sectional approach to a piece’s structure, along with a brilliant, shimmering, and transparent sound). This collection has two instrumental and two vocal works, and one is a magnum opus.
Both instrumental works are for small forces but pack a lot of information. Venerable Canons (2007) are four quicksilver movements for flute and violin, in which one can clearly hear the canonic structure. It’s a tribute to Greenbaum’s imaginative manipulation of material and context that they feel so different to one another. Chaconne By Attrition (2006) for solo violin uses a similarly strict form, and once again one hears over its ten minutes a constant flow of imaginative variation. And somehow amongst the prolix information, one senses the common ground from which it all emerges and returns.
Wild Rose, Lily, Dry Vanilla (2004) is a setting for soprano and instrumental sextet of a poem by Emerson, evoking the sacred language of flowers. It’s the one piece on the program I don’t warm to. I suppose that’s because it’s written in a language that is far more breathless and recitativo than traditionally lyric/romantic. This has been the default mode of “uptown” vocal music for decades, and Greenbaum’s essay is fine within that model (indeed one hears the actual phrase rhythm of the poem more strongly than in many similar works). But I still don’t take much away from it.
On the other hand, Nameless (2008-09) is remarkable. This is a tribute to the great medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who posited that the unnameability of a supreme being is the ultimate proof of its existence. The instrumentation is striking--string quartet; instrumental sextet of flute, oboe, violin, cello, mandolin and guitar; and three female voices, all in vocalise. The result, almost a half hour, is an austere and ritualistic, but mysterious in that one never knows just what it’s actually evoking (a sign that the composer’s spiritual and aesthetic intentions are being met). I was reminded of many of Stravinksy’s late works, such as Agon, Threni, and Sermon, Narrative and Prayer, and this comparison is a high compliment indeed. The tone ranges from prayerful to playful to scorching. It’s a work know I can listen to repeatedly, finding both sustenance and fresh insights.
Performances are uniformly excellent. For the record Cygnus is: Tara Helen O’Connor flute,; Robert Ingliss, oboe; Calvin Wiersma, violin; Susannah Chapman, ‘cello; William Anderson, tenor banjo (Wild Rose…) and mandolin (Nameless); and Oren Fader, guitar. The Momenta String Quartet is Erik Carlson and Emilie-Anne Gendron, violins; Stephanie Griffin, viola; and Joanne Lin, ‘cello. I have to cite Cuckson for the extraordinarily clear polyphony she coaxes from her violin. Robert Carl
SOLOS, DUOS, TRIOS
CHACONNE BY ATTRITION for solo violin (2006) 10:00
Miranda Cuckson/Furious Artisans
LISTEN: Chaconne by Attrition
MUTE DANCE for solo guitar (2000) 7:00
William Anderson/Furious Artisans
TO PURCHASE: http://composers.com/composition/mute-dance
UNTIMELY OBSERVATIONS for viola and piano (2002) 14:00
LISTEN: “The Music of Matthew Greenbaum”
CLICK TO SEE MORE
Dance Moments for flute/violin and piano (2000)
Nod Quiet Ox for oboe and piano (1994)
On the river the shadowy group for baritone sax and piano (1993)
for flute and violin (2007) 8:00
CLICK TO SEE MORE
Enharmonicon for clarinet trumpet and violin (1994)
left a deep impression. The combination of clarinet, trumpet and violin
gives off a natural, vivid color combination. The contrapuntal exchange of
short phrases and single strokes, along with a use of silence, has both
reticence and eloquence. There is a quiet confidence here requiring no
Bernard Holland The New York Times
HOW THE AXE ESCAPED THE WOODSMAN (1999-2008) 5:00
BALLATE (2005) 7:00
Blair McMillen/Furious Artisans
ELEGY (1998) 5:00
David Holzman/Centaur Records 2789
AMULET (1990) 14:00
“Amulet* is an intense, demanding piece that alternates
passages of time-stands-still cluster tones (like Morton Feldman's) with
jittery outbursts of atonal, keyboard-sprawling frenzy, as if Schoenberg meets
McCoy Tyner." Anthony Tommasini, The Boston
“A work of mystery and poetry in its delicately interweaving strands.” The American Record Guide
CASTELNAU for string quartet (2002) 14:00
TO LISTEN: “The Music of Matthew Greenbaum” Centaur
TO PURCHASE: http://www.trillmusic.com/ordering/
More Venerable Canons
LARGE CHAMBER ENSEMBLES
Divan (2010) for soprano and 2 guitars.
(2009) for three soprani, alto flute, English horn, violin, cello guitar and
mandolin and string quartet
: Elizabeth Farnum, Julie Bishop and Priscilla Smith, sopranos
the Cygnus Ensemble and the Momenta Quartet
Commissioned by the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust
NAMELESS is a 25-minute long wordless psalm. It is not descriptive; rather, it is a series of images of reflection, ecstasy, reverence, pastoral and dance--expressed through brief fugues, choruses, dialogues and arias. These are signposts that are meant to point outward to musical expressions of the ineffable in every culture and time.
Nameless bears an inscription from the single greatest work of Jewish philosophy, The Guide to the Perplexed of Moses Maimonides (1120-1190).
The Guide to the Perplexed, written in dialogue with Muslim theologians, argued the existence of Deity by negation: Whatever is Deity can’t be described; what can be described is not Deity. Hence, its title:
The negative attributes have this in common with the positive, that they necessarily circumscribe the object to some extent, although such circumscription consists only in the exclusion of what otherwise would not be excluded. In the following point, however, the negative attributes are distinguished from the positive. The positive attributes, although not peculiar to one thing, describe a portion of what we desire to know, either some part of its essence or some of its accidents; the negative attributes, on the other hand, do not, as regards the essence of the thing which we desire to know, in any way tell us what it is, except it be indirectly ....
Guide to the Perplexed LVIII
ES IST ZUM LACHEN (2008) for oboe, trombone, violin, cello, percussion
A FLOATING ISLAND (2000) chamber opera 25:00
Cyndie Bellen-Bethézene, Network for New Music (excerpts)
PSALTER for mezzo, alto flute, English horn, string trio harp and piano
(1992) 14:00 CLICK TO SEE MORE
THE JIG IS UP
(2009) for oboe and string orchestra
CLICK HERE TO SEE SAMPLE PAGE
TO PURCHASE: iIN PROGRESS
SPHERICAL MUSIC (1995) for piano and chamber orchestra
CLICK HERE TO SEE SAMPLE PAGE
TO PURCHASE: http://composers.com/composition/spherical-music
“[In} Spherical Music* the pianist
moved between the big-shouldered attacks and aphoristic bursts of the
movement's Monk recollection, and gently lyrical, transparent songs. Those
arias, often with oboes, had appealing simplicity and flow."
Daniel Webster, The Philadelphia Inquirer
VISUAL CHAMBER MUSIC
LEVIATHAN for trombone and video (video alone)
EFFACEMENT (Blair McMillen, piano)
BITS AND PIECES for tenor sax and video (Nicholas McNamara, sax)
I SAW THE PROCESSION OF THE EMPRESS ON FIRST AVENUE (animation alone)
ROPE AND CHASM is an evening-length work for mezzo-soprano and video, based on Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra It consists of a series of episodes in which the performer sings and speaks with a recorded musical score and reacts to the video characters who themselves speak.
Zarathustra was the most radical literary experiment of its time: an autobiography, a contra-Bible and a frontal attack on conventional morality. Those who read past its faux-biblical oratory will find a series of surrealist characters: Zarathustra the wanderer meets a tightrope walker, a leech specialist, a half/mole, half dwarf “spirit of gravity,” an “inverted cripple” who has “too little of everything and too much of one thing” (This gigantic ear poised on a tiny body is a parody of Nietzsche's ex-mentor Richard Wagner.)
ROPE & CHASMwill be performed by Israeli-American Re'ut Ben Ze'ev as Zarathustra, whose character will take on fresh lyrical meanings through the medium of the female voice. This gender reversal will also compel reflection about the mask-like relation of Nietzsche to his alter ego Zarathustra. A female Zarathustra troubles the male loneliness of this curious work of Nietzsche's, which contains not a single female character and yet lies at the core of modern art and philosophy. The theatrical characters of this masterwork beg for realization as an intimate stage work with animation that captures its macabre irony.
The score is composed and constructed from a variety of materials: modified sampled instruments, pure electronic sound and reworked fragments of other music. The video is made from 3d and morphing animation and found footage. The work is in the original German, with subtitles, since the musical poetry of the original German loses its musical force in translation.
VENERABLE CANONS for flute and violin
NAMELESS for three soprani and two chamber ensembles
CASTELNAU for string quartet
HOW THE AXE ESCAPED THE WOODSMAN for piano
LINK TO AMAZON/NAMELESS
LINK TO FANFARE REVIEW