I never had much use
for Deconstructionism, so Post-Deconstructionism
I welcomed as a breath of fresh air,
a return to sanity. But I lament in
this Post-Feminist age that there is
yet some unfinished work, namely that
in general women composers are still
not so well known nor so appreciated
as they should be. They languish in
specialist venues such as this one.
At any rate, the producer
of this disk knew exactly what she was
doing, as the first piece on the disk
is the weakest but the most colourful,
and the quality steps up piece by piece.
What we have in effect is the venerable
Elisabeth Maconchy presenting a work
of hers and one by her daughter, with
two other works as "warm-ups."
All of this music is set to poetry,
some very new, some very old, all of
it very melancholy.
We might have had pictures
of these composers, but some artsy designer
has cut up the pictures in pieces and
faded them out. We might have had information
about them, but instead we get some
early decision to branch into the freer
forms of contemporary music"….
"integrates the lyricism of chamber
works into larger forms and textures
of orchestral music…" A (woman)
friend of mine wrote a hilarious satire
of this use of unspecified comparatives,
and I wish I could print it here entire.
Errollyn Wallen is
a dancer as well as a composer and is
successful as an industrial musician,
hence there is in her music some of
the "sound bite" aesthetic
as well as some of the "wallpaper"
aesthetic. From listening it would seem
she is a great fan of Berg’s opera Wozzeck
and has heard a lot of music by Meredith
Monk and some by David Del Tredici.
But there is also beauty and intelligence
here, and I look forward to hearing
her music when she is confident enough
to essay to keep our attention without
feeling the constant need to borrow
and to startle. From the text she has
chosen we gather that she presently
loathes her parents; hopefully this
work will be the first step towards
the necessary forgiveness and understanding.
Or maybe she is just pandering to the
Eminem generation. The problem with
lack of discipline is that in the end
it leads to a sameness and banality
that is more tiring than imitation in
a traditionalist style. We get to see
the top of her head, her left eye and
just the corner of her nose and mouth.
Lindsay Cooper is represented
by a full ¾ profile on the cover and
is also a successful industrial musician.
She is not afraid to make use of some
of the things she learned in composition
class such as dramatic progression,
harmonic structure, textural gradation
and rhythmic design. Her text is well
chosen and presented with great effectiveness.
This is not great music, but it is competent,
effective music, and great music is
thus only a hairbreadth of inspiration
away. Keep working at it, Ms. Cooper,
you’re almost there.
Now with the warm-up
acts over we come to the meat and potatoes
of the evening. Elizabeth Maconchy is
a revered name in English music. Her
"picture" consists of what
might be an eye, a lip, and part of
a hand, although one can’t be too sure.
She saw her 1933 work Quintet for
Oboe and Strings recorded on 78
rpm disks, an astonishing accomplishment
for those times. That sad but charming
work, which has long been a favourite
of mine, is still lighter in mood that
the sombre lyric work recorded here,
My Dark Heart, which is a true
masterpiece that takes much listening
to appreciate because of its utterly
original and completely authentic aesthetic.
The prose text is J. M. Synge’s translation
of three Petrarch sonnets. The debt
to Schoenberg, especially Pierrot
Lunaire, is at once obvious, however
the debt is not a heavy one, for this
work is not an all atonal, although
its harmonic language is somewhat astringent.
There is no resemblance at all to Barber’s
Knoxville: Summer of 1915, even
though both use an unmetered text sung
to an accompaniment, for the Maconchy
work has no steady meter, the free rhythm
being shaped by the sung line.
Nicola Lefanu is the
daughter of Maconchy and her work, while
still very dark, is a slight relief
from the otherwise unrelieved dreariness
of mood on this disk. This is certainly
the most dramatic work on the disk,
with all due respect to her mother who
has nothing to prove in any case.
The poem is the reminiscence
of an woman who was once a courtesan
and is now an elderly nun on the threshold
of death, and in her thoughts of years
gone by there are occasional moments
of charm and lightness, but mostly the
music is either enigmatically percussive,
or unrelievedly distraught. The influences
of Varèse and Del Tredici are
at once evident. The soprano tends to
find an uncomfortable note high in her
range and sit there. Ms. Lefanu needs
to cool off a bit; the audience can’t
take quite this much skewering, and
nor can we enjoy being slapped so unexpectedly
so often. Drama is not just noise, nor
is it just surprise, or, as in this
case, shock. Drama has to do with our
anticipating a change in tension and
getting there rapidly but not necessarily
There is some very
interesting music on this disk, and
some moments of very beautiful music
as well. Most people will probably buy
it or not buy it for political reasons,
and that’s a shame because the artists
deserve more respect than that. They
deserve to be taken seriously and criticised
I feel I should explain
all the question marks in the parentheses
above: as proof that we now dwell in
Post-Feminism, you note that none of
the young ladies will tell us her age.
A gentleman, of course, would never
ask, but I’m still enough of a Feminist
not to be guilty of being a gentleman.