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|Karel Husa, Quintet of the Americas, Oei|
Karel Husa?s (b. 1921) pliant style builds on and extends the traditional classical forms, assimilating elements of serialism, microtonality, and aleatoric techniques. Although the composition dates of these four works for... more »
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Karel Husa?s (b. 1921) pliant style builds on and extends the traditional classical forms, assimilating elements of serialism, microtonality, and aleatoric techniques. Although the composition dates of these four works for wind quintet span three decades, the pieces bear striking similarities. All purposefully set out to stretch the traditional range of wind sonorities, and often leave rhythms and pitches loosely notated. Yet while all four works explore atonality, at root the tonal structure is easy to identify. All four works are emotional and virtuosic, challenging to play and sophisticated enough to reward repeated listenings. The composer notes that, as with many of his works, in Deux Preludes (1966) he set out to explore unorthodox sonorities. The Five Poems (1994) are actually musical characterizations of birds, although Husa avoids imitating bird song directly. "I wrote Five Poems to express my admiration for birds, these wonderful creatures that embellish our lives so magically," he says. "If Messiaen hadn?t already directly imitated bird song, I might have. I have done notation of bird songs in the past, which is difficult because they never exactly repeat themselves. And that was the effect I tried for in Five Poems?subtle varieties among the patterns." The six movements of Recollections (1982) (wind quintet and piano) explore unusual sonorities and demand virtuosic technique. A sheet of paper under the pedal dampers of the low strings prepares the piano in some sections. Of the title, Husa notes that "recollections are vivid, but not exactly precise. The way we remember things is a mix of accuracy and fancy ? There is so much to memory that it is impossible to describe it all. There are memories that are distant, some that are joyous, tragic, and melancholic. To accomplish all this, I wanted the composition to develop from simple tones and to return to them, all the while researching new combinations and sonorities in the quintet." Serenade (1963), for wind quintet, xylophone, harp, and strings, is a reworking of his Évocations de Slovaquie. It explores Slavic folk music, adding abrupt and irregular rhythms. Husa?s determination to explore new sonorities, to upset rhythmic regularity, and to challenge accepted notions of how wind instruments should interact, combine to create a bold and unmistakably identifiable personal signature.
Not the best introduction to the music of Karel Husa, but a
Discophage | France | 02/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The woes of the world are sometimes the opportunities of the individuals. Had the Nazis not invaded Czechoslovakia and closed down the engineering schools, Karel Husa might never have become a composer, out of the mere necessity to pursue studies in order to avoid deportation. Had the Communists not seized power in Prague in the early months of 1948 while the then 28 years-old musician was studying composition and conducting in Paris, he might have returned to his home country and remained, as he once remarked himself, a much more traditional composer, as he would not have been exposed to the turmoil of new compositional ideas and experiences that agitated Europe and the United States in the 50s and 60s. And finally, had the armies of the Soviet block not invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Husa would not have had the incentive to compose his Music for Prague 1968, which became one of the most often played piece of the contemporary music repertoire.
One more decisive change in Husa's life and compositional perspectives was of course the decision of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to invite him in 1954 to become composition professor. This is how Husa became yet another embodiment of the genuine American composer - one rooted in Old Europe, but whose establishment in the New World prods him to develop an original voice by devising his own, personal combination of the old and the new.
Indeed, one of the characteristic traits of Husa's compositional attitude is his constant striving to take on the newest ideas, techniques and playing modes, especially as pertains to the exploration of new sonorities, while never relinquishing his Czech roots and the search for expressivity and drama. If perhaps less cutting edge than composers like Lutoslawski (with whom he shares the use of aleatoric processes and sensuous orchestrations) or Ligeti (exploration of new sonorities and untraditional playing modes), he is less "abstract" than them (Husa doesn't shun programmatic music, and Five Poems in particular are musical characterization of birds, although they do not imitate bird songs directly) but by the same token more expressive in a quasi cinematographic way.
The works contained on this disc are all written for the instruments that make up the traditional Wind Quintet (the two Preludes are limited to flute, clarinet and bassoon, the others add oboe and horn), with the addition of the piano in the "Recollections", and String orchestra, harp and xylophone in the Serenade. They were composed between 1963 (Serenade) and 1994 (Five Poems). Beyond their common instrumentation, the works are diverse in overall mood and sonic outlook. Though in that period Husa was engaged into post-webernian, Darmstadt-inspired serialist music (witness his 1961 Mosaïques that could be found on a CRI CD which included another, composer conducted version of the same Serenade - see my review), the Serenade is the most traditionally oriented, harking back to Janacek, and to my ears the less personal. The two Preludes from 1966 are stark and almost forbidding. In the two next compositions more echoes can be heard of Janacek's compositions for the same kind of instrumental ensemble, like the "Youth" Sextet or Capriccio for piano and winds (the conjugation of high-pitched, nasal oboe and low-toned, gruff-sounding horn, the snappy rhythms, the whip-cracking piano chords) and sometimes of Bartok's Contrasts (the association of clarinet, piano and angular rhythms). The Five Poems are the most evocative and sensuous, and the six movements from Recollections the most advanced and fascinating in their exploration of new sonorities, extremes of dynamics, quarter-tone slides, aleatoric devices and unusual playing modes, with the piano using techniques that one associates with George Crumb, like placing a sheet of paper under the pedal dampers, producing an eerie metallic rattle.
This is rarely easy listening music (though often sensuous in the mysterious sound world it conjures), but it is rich in content and invention, engaging and rewarding. I wouldn't recommend it as a first introduction to the music of its composer (try the Marco Polo release with Fresque, Symphony No. 2 and Music for Prague instead - see my review) and this is why I have rated it only 4 stars, but anyone with a serious interest in Husa - he deserves it - can safely buy it.