Współczesna Muzyka Klasyczna / Avant-Garde
premiera polska: 1999-12-01
opakowanie: plastikowe etui
Cecilie Ore: The Codex Temporis Cycle.
From the mid-eighties, Cecilie Ore constantly talked about a ’scraped’, bare music, and indeed, ever since works like the wind quintet Helices (1984) or the orchestral piece Prophyre (1986), her music has reminded this listener, at least, of the view from the window of a plane flying over arctic tundra, say from Tokyo to Moscow. Looking down, one is fascinated (but also, almost shocked) by the huge expanses below, and by their remorseless, unornamented geographical trajectories. At one level, there is a labyrinth of peaks and valleys, of huge, incalculably ancient incisions into the rocky landscape. But at the same time, amidst all the violent details, there is a sense of stasis, because one loses one’s sense of scale (is a particular detail 20 kilometres long, or 200?), and also – if one can ignore the artificial calendar being generated innside the plane – one’s sense of time. One doesn’t remember what the view looked like an hour ago – one senses that it was the same, but also quite different. Nor ca none imagine with any confidence how it will look in an hour’s time: one’s attention is devoted to the changes visible at the present moment – usually gradual, but sometimes abrupt.
Maybe it was inevitable that at some stage, Cecilie Ore would write a ’time-cycle’. The titles of electronic works from the eighties such as Im-Mobile (1884) and Etapper (1988) point in this direction; by the end of 1987 virtually everything she was reading – whether it was H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy or Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften – had to do with some aspect of time. However, the present ’tetralogy’ was not planned in advance, and indeed the first piece Praesens Subitus had a difficult birth. A first attempt at the end of 1987 found the composer in a period of not accepting her own ideas, and the quartet was set a side for several months, only being completed in February 1989. It was only after this work was successfully completed that Ore sought to generalise its time-structure as a computer program from which other pieces – perhaps very many pieces – could be generated, the result being the ’tetralogy’ Codex Temporis, consisting of:
- Praesens Subitus (1988-89, for forsterket strykekvartett)
- Erat Erit Est (1991, for 15 instrumenter og forsterkning)
- Futurum Exactum (1992, for forsterket strykeensemble)
- Lex Temporis (1992, for forsterket strykekvartett)
Of these pieces, the composer writes: ”All the titles reflect a preoccupation with time. The ’now’ containing both past and future. The moment extended into a fluid present where a non-linear soundworld appears. And within this world there are sudden ’cuts’ into the substance of time, creating dramatic discontinuities in the overall continuous flow.” This music spins a narrative thread, but one which thanks partly to its sonic intensity, only has a present. The past is erased, the future a matter of speculation. As for Ore’s use of the computer, one could invoke both fluid and solid metaphors. On the one hand, the computer provides an ocean of complex temporal flows for the composer to navigate, on the other, one could think of it as making some initial, decisive cuts into a compositional block of marble: cuts which can be refined, but not undone.
Why the Latin titles? Presumably because the first famous Western discourses on time are St. Augustine’s in the Confessions: a continuing source of inspiration to many composers of the post-1945 era (Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Klaus Huber, among others). The composer’s preface to the score of Praesens Subitus (’sudden present’) interpolates certain crucial Latin words: ’momoria’, ’attentio’ and ’expectatio’. And Latin remains the most temporally elusive of languages: a ’dead’ language that obstinately remains part of our present consciousness, and may well continue to do so.
Still, it may be that the imaginative but by no means transcendentalist English noverlist H.G. Wells exercises a more direct influence, since as Ore writes, ”Technically speaking, the pieces may be described as time machines”, though she defines these not in terms of science fiction, but as ”polyphonic clockworks ticking relentlessly.” And she continues: ”All the pieces in Codex Temporis have the same underlying time machine. The machines are constructed to define matrices of timepoints, networks of time relations controlling and triggering the spatial dimentions of the pieces. Time and space appear as complementary dimensions. And complementarity is essential in the construction of the pieces, as a kind of counterpoint where the synchronised is contrasted with the unsynchronised, the linear with the non-linear, the symmetrical with the asymmetrical, the compressed with the expanded, the slow with the rapid, the soft with the strong and the absolute with the relative.”
The amplified string quartet which features in the first and last pieces is an ideal carrier of Ore’s ’scraped’ aesthetic. Years ago, when George Crumb wrote Black Angels, the first celebrated piece for amplified string quartet, everyone was startled by the degree to which amplification of the strings suddenly produced a rough intensity which one had scarcely associated with his previous music. Above all, amplification strips the quartet of its genteel ambience – instead of being a chamber ensemble, to be respectfully overheard, it aggressively thrusts sound into the auditorium.
The first work in Codex Temporis, the quartet Praesens Subitus, deploys three basic materials. The first consists of trilled semitone glissandi between micro-tonal turning points, sustained and essentially quiet, but with constant accents and dynamic ’hairpins’: this is the quartet’s prima materia, not just because it comes first, but because it is the most consistently present element. The second material comprises ’sul ponticello’ glissandi between semitonal pivots, always fortissimo, and frequently broken by silences (or in a concert hall, by after-echoes: an immediate application of ’memory’). Both of these are essentially continuous – in contrast, the third material consists of ’broken’ articulations: irregular repeated notes whose typical alternations between Bartók (’snap’) pizzicati and ’col legno battuto’ (i.e. notes struck with the wood of the bow) are further fragmented by silences, both in the individual parts, and (as with the second material) in the form of ’silent bars’.
In broad terms, the piece comprises four sections: the outer pair relatively long, the inner pair relatively short (the exact proportions are governed by the Golden Section, applied in terms of the Fibonacci series). Each has a clear register strategy: the first goes from a high range to the middle, the second forks out from the middle to high and low, the third returns from a more constricted high and low to the middle, while the fourth ascends to the topmost register (much higher than that of the opening). But these ’straight line’ strategies are merely those of the first material, and while they are fairly clear in the outer sections, they are interrupted, blurred and (in the third section) subverted by the other materials (whose placement is similarly Fibonacci-derived): one could compare this to a Shakespearian play in which the main plot is gradually overwhelmed by the sub-plot. So the piece sets out by proposing a simple, ’left to right’ way of listening, systematically destroys it, and then, having successfully done so, restores it.
The four string instruments of Praesens Subitus are carried across to Erat Erit Est (’it was, it shall be, it is’), but here they form just one family in a quartet of amplified ensembles: 4 woodwinds, 4 brass, 3 percussion and 4 strings, with the woodwinds (alto flute, cor anglais, bass clarinet and bassoon) being notably slanted towards a darker, lower register than usual. The time-scale too is greatly expanded: from the 8 minutes of the string quartet to well over 20 minutes. The conceptual scenario may be the same as in its predecessor, but the principal actors have much changed identities. Contrasts and oppositions of timbre now play a decisive role, and the contributions of the three percussionists introduce a quite new atmosphere, creating a music that is both ominous and explosive.
In addition, the change from four to fifteen instruments inevitably brings a reappraisal of the role of harmony. In Praesens Subitus one hardly thinks of harmony. It’s true that sometimes the four instruments bundle together into a cluster, or settle down in a more or less static harmonic field, but for the most part, it is a matter of individual lines – on could think of them as vectors – converging or drifting apart. In Erat Erit Est , leaving aside the percussionists, one has 12 pitched instruments – one for each note of the chromatic scale – and right from the opening bar (located squarely in the middle register, unlike the high beginning of Praesens Subitus), it’s clear that the ’total chromatic’ is going to be a key feature.
Similarly, though the basic formal ploys are still the same, the result in Erat Erit Est is considerably more dramatic. Even at the outset, the greater number of players immediately gives rise to a much more dense, dark but colourfully flickering tapestry of accents. And though the basic material of trilled glissandi remains essentially as in the string quartet, som of the other characters have changed. The occasional loud tremoli (’secondary material’) which punctuated the outer sections of Praesens Subitus are replaced by single and double accents for the whole ensemble. Above all, though, the close-packed chains of tremoli and silent bars in the earlier work have been ’supercharged1’ to form what Ore describes in her sketches as ’chaos’ (though it’s a very rigorously controlled chaos!): thundering outbursts from the three percussionists, with the essentially low-pitched ensemble pushing its upper limits – a sort of earthquake followed by repeated-note aftershocks.
Another important change is this: for the most part, the various interruptions to the basic continuum are drawn into the body of the main sections, instead of serving to divide them. At one level, this is necessary for a compositional ’program’ which is going to be used several times over without the listeners feeling that they are just hearing variants of the same piece. But it also means that the listener is likely to be much less aware of the underlying form than in Praesens Subitus: as with some of Stockhausen’s works (such as), the perceived form has more to do with the more or less dramatic ’inserts’ than with the underlying strategies. So in Erat Erit Est, for example, the percussion explosions occur in the middle of the first two sections: it’s only in the dramatic alternations of sound and silence that initiate the third section (and persist through it) that the formal framework comes to the foreground.
Futurum Exactum retains the chamber orchestra forces of Erat Erit Est, but goes back to the ’monochrome’ instrumentation of Praesens Subitus. In other words, there are still 12 pitched instruments, but they are all amplified strings. To compensate for this ’reduction’, the aggressive intent is sharply increased: for a start, the accented pianissimo trills which opened the preceding pieces have turned into fortissimo tremolos (actually, they are not quite tremolos, but rapid trils between neighbouring strings), and it is the secondary material that consists of soft glissandi trills. Almost from the start, though there is a mediating factor: the soft glissandi make crescendi, and at their peak turn into quasi tremolos. The single and double interjections of Erat Erit Est are retained (though one has to wait a lot longer for them!), butt he percussion ’chaos’ has been replaced by sustained unison tremolos for the whole ensemble.
Broadly speaking, one can distinguish three main sections. In the first, the register covered by the intstruments gradually expands from the centre to fill out the whole range (at the point where the first ’accents’ occur) and then polarises towards the extremes of high and low. In the middle section, the dynamic level of the tremolos drops to mezzo forte, and the result is quite uncanny: a classic instance of ’the same but not the same’. Suddenly, what one hears is not so much a matter of tension as of tone colour – with the lower strings in particular, one becomes aware of the ’grain’ of each instrument. The third part returns to the furioso manner of the first, though it ends with a brief recall of the central section.
Lex Temporis (’laws of time’) returns to the quartet medium, not so much in order to round off the cycle, but for anecdotal reasons: while working on Futurum Exactum, Ore received a commission from the Kronos Quartet (who at the time of writing – late 1995 – have yet to play it). In its first form, the work consisted of five sections, but in a revision from 1993, it was shorn of its outer panels, and now consists only of the three central parts. Curiously, far from disguising the relationship to Futurum Exactum, the revision seems to emphasise it. Once again, the music starts in the middle range, with furioso tremolo/ trills and softer tremolo glissandi, while the middle part of the work brings cycles of spiccato tremoli reminiscent of the wind parts that accompanied the ’explosions’ in Erat Erit Est. The work ends, like its predecessors, with an almost inaudible glissando drifting up into the acoustic stratosphere.
Cikada String Quartet:
Henrik Hannisdal - violin
Odd Hanisdal - violin
Marek Konstantynowicz - viola
Morten Hannisdal - violoncello
conductor - Christian Eggen
1. Praesens Subitus [8:50]
2. Futurum Exactum [17:39]
3. Erat Erit Est [21:46]
4. Lex Temporis [14:54]
more info: www.aurorarecords.no
more info2: www.cecilieore.no