This is an interesting and intelligently planned recital mixing
the unknown with the well known, by composers similarly covered.
is the leader of the Quartet and his work, which he started
in 1966 but only completed thirty years later, is written, according
to the notes, “in a non–derivative style”. To me it seems to
reek of Hindemith, but without that composer’s humour. It’s
well laid out for the instruments but I find little of substance
and interest in it.
other works are far superior examples of American quartet writing.
Company is an early manifestation, in quartet writing,
of the style which has made Glass famous. It’s more subdued
than much of his work, but it’s none the worse for that. Hypnotic
and quite beautiful, Company started life as music for
a theatrical presentation of the prose poem by Samuel Beckett.
Whereas Beckett’s language can be dense and, seemingly, impenetrable,
Glass’s music is clear and light. It’s one of his most easily
self-styled “bad boy of music”, George Antheil is a fascinating
character. His life story, which he told with great hilarity
in his autobiography, Bad Boy of Music, (Doubleday, New York (1945)) is both fascinating
and very entertaining. In his early career he lived in Paris, above Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and
Company premises - which printed the very first edition of Joyce’s
Ulysses in 1922. There he gave recitals of ultra-modern
piano works – with a loaded pistol resting on the audience side
of the instrument. This, he says, ensured a quiet - if not necessarily
attentive – audience. He achieved notoriety with his compositions
– Ballet Mécanique being the most scandalous. He returned to America in 1936 and, with this
move, his music became more relaxed and easy-going. He also
wrote many film scores alongside his concert works.
wasn’t just a composer in America. He was a reporter during
World War II, contributing columns on endocinology to Esquire
magazine, and advice to the love-lorn for the Chicago Sun Syndicate
– a kind of Dear Deirdre which appears in many tabloid
newspapers today. With actress Hedy Lamarr he patented a torpedo
guidance system and a broad-spectrum signal
transmission system which was called frequency skipping. He
also published two books - Death In the Dark, a crime
novel (1930), Everyman His Own Detective: A Study of Glandular
Criminology (Stackpole Sons, New York City (1937)) and a
pamphlet The Shape of the War to Come (1940) as well
as his autobiography.
Third Quartet is light-hearted and very pleasant.
The first movement always makes me think of cowboys and the
great outdoors. There is a folksy feel to the music and it’s
quite delightful. This is no bad boy of music, more a kindly
old-timer. Some people have, unkindly, stated that after his
return to America his music was never as interesting as his
early, avant-garde, works. This is nonsense for there is as
much thought and intelligence in this music as in any he wrote.
It’s just that his later works want to be audience-friendly
and he’s done his bit scaring the horses.
more than almost any other composer, Bernard Herrmann craved
success in the concert hall and felt that he had wasted his
time producing music for film. It is unfortunate that, for me,
the majority of his concert works – a Symphony and Cantata
based on Moby Dick included – simply don’t make it. Their
language and gestures are simply too earthbound and the ideas
never seem to take fire as did so much of his music for the
silver screen. For instance, if the Death Hunt from his
score for On Dangerous Ground (1951) was the scherzo
of the Symphony there would be the beginnings of a potentially
great work. There are a couple of concert works which do work
and which are well worthy of our attention – the exquisite orchestral
miniature For the Fallen (1943) and the quartet, Echoes,
which closes this disk.
Echoes was Herrmann’s first work for quartet. As it turned out, it was also
his last. Its origins lie in ballet - it was danced by the Royal
Ballet in 1971. There are ten movements, which play without
a break, and the music is colourful and exciting. It’s a cogent
and tersely argued work which will reward repeated listening.
performances of the Fine Arts Quartet are full-blooded and very
committed. The recorded sound is clear, if slightly lacking
in reverberation. Well worth having for the Herrmann and Antheil
scores which should be better known.
see also Review
by Rob Barnett