to Simeon ten Holtís music, you must be patient. It is slow;
not in tempo, but in melodic progression. In Canto Ostinato,
perhaps his best known work, at just shy of three hours,
little happens, but getting there is quite enjoyable.
for one or more keyboard instruments, this recording features
a group of four pianists. The work begins with a simple phrase
which is repeated over and over. The first real tonal change
doesn't come for more than four minutes; subsequent changes
occur slowly. As the rhythm of the piece is relatively snappy,
this makes for a stark contrast between rhythm and melody.
work, based on these short segments that are repeated, is
like a cross between Terry Rileyís In C and Steve
Reichís Six Pianos. The performers play each section
as many times as they want - as in the Riley work - creating
a tapestry of sound that varies slightly from bar to bar,
as each instrument moves on along the road. The sound is
very much like the Reich work, with the pianos playing almost
in unison, and the changes being heard gradually. This work,
like all of ten Holtís later music, is essentially tonal;
some rare dissonances are heard, but the music is closer
to romantic than modern.
might be sacrilegious to suggest this, but I find that ten
Holtís music is ideal for listening when doing something:
reading, working, thinking. It is not the kind of music you
can focus on for a long time, because of its repetitions.
But as you listen more distractedly, you will notice, occasionally,
how the changes arise and move on.
recording of this work is available, more recently recorded
and available in a box set of ten Holtís music published
by Brilliant Classics. Performed by Piano Ensemble, that
recording sounds drier, almost harsh in comparison to the
soft sounds of this version. The current recording - which
is actually older, being a reissue of a 1988 release - has
a bit more reverb, but that makes the pianos blend together
more and sound almost as one. Interestingly, the Piano Ensemble
recording is played at a slightly faster tempo, yet is about
30 minutes shorter; this shows just how flexible ten Holtís
works are, and how much the performers create the pieces
recording, over three CDs, presents a problem, however. It
fades out at the end of each disc, and fades in at the beginning
of the following disc. It is designed for listening on a
CD player, whereas the piece is a continuous performance,
and changing CDs breaks it up. With the Piano Ensemble version,
you can import the music onto a computer and listen to it
from a computer or portable music player; you will then get
the continuous sound that is so essential to the tension
that the work builds up over time. But with this version,
you get the slightly jarring effect of having the music fade
out and fade in again.
Ostinato is a demanding work,
because of its length, but is very rewarding. If you like
minimalism and are unfamiliar with ten Holtís music, this
could be your introduction to a unique style of minimalism
that, alas, remains little known. The music of ten Holt
is refreshing, attractive, enjoyable; it is not daunting
- aside from its length - presenting no complex tonalities
or dissonances. It is, most times, simply beautiful music.
Editor's note: If you are curious about this work (as I was), you
can hear a short
this recording on the composer's website (in streaming Real Player
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