Composer Weekly: Henri Dutilleux

This weeks Composer Weekly is the French composer Henri Dutilleux that would have been 100 years last week.

One can say that he is the natural successor to Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. He won numerous prices for his works and his pieces are often performed.

One of his most performed pieces is Métaboles from 1965. It is a orchestra piece in 5 movements. In four movements he highlights different parts of the orchestra and then brings the different parts together in the fifth.

The cello concerto Tout un monde lointain from 1970 written for Mstislav Rostropovich is considered one of the most important cello concertos in the 20th century. The piece is inspired by the work of Baudelaire and each movement begins with a quote from his Les fleurs du mal.

Correspondances is a late piece, premiered in 2003. It is a song-cycle for soprano and orchestra. The texts is based on letters written different persons, for instance Vincent van Gogh and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Each part highlight a different family of instruments.

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Modernism 50: Spotify Picks is a Spotify playlist that depict Modernism music from the early 20th century.

One of the pieces is the opening movement of Bela Bartok’s fifth string quartet. Like some other of his pieces it has an arch form, where each section is repeated but in reverse order. Here, Bartok takes this concept further by not only have the sections in reverse order but, for instance, have the melodies in each section are inverted.

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Composer Weekly: Olivier Messiaen

This week’s composer weekly is the french composer Olivier Messian.

In some respects, Oliver Messiaen is one of the most important persons for contemporary music in the late 20th century. He taught composition in Paris for many years and among his students are some of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Both Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis studied for him.

The second world war had a huge impact on many of the composers that wrote music after 1945. Olivier Messiaen was no exception. He sat in concentration camp from 1940 to 1941 and it was there he wrote his most famous piece. Quatuor pour la fin du temps.

He was deeply religious and that influence a lot of his music, like Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus and Visions de l’Amen.

He was also an ornitolog and fascinated by bird song. He often composed pieces with interpretation of the birds that came from the same region. The most ambitious work must be the piano piece Catalogue d’oiseaux which consists of seven books where each book have birds from different regions. Also the Le réveil des oiseaux and Oiseaux exotiques, both for orchestra and piano, is based on bird song.

One important piece, by Olivier Messiaen, for the development of the post war 20th century music is a movement from the piano piece Quatre études de rythme called Mode de valeurs et d’intensités. It is said to be the first totally serial piece of music and had a large impact for many composers. Totally serial means that most of the musical parameters undergo the same rules as the composers in the Second Viennese School put on melodies in twelve tone music. E.g that you should not repeat a “note” before you have played the other notes in the serie. Messiean applied that rule not only to pitch but to other parameters such as rhythm and dynamics.


Messiaen in 1930


Enjoy! (Click here to open the playlist in Spotify).


Minimalism: Harold Budd

Minimalism is a Spotify playlist with minimalist, post-minimalist and ambient music.

Harold Budd is an American composer and pianist, born 1936. His music is characterized by slow and beautiful ambient music, often with piano. He has been an recording artist since the seventies.

He is most famous for a number of ambient recordings he has made with Brian Eno. Notably The Pearl and Ambient 2/The Plateaus Of Mirror.

In 1972 he made the groundbreaking album The Pavilion Of Dreams. Jazzy, Minimalistic and Ambient. It was his first album that was produced by Brian Eno.

Avalon Sutra from 2004 was supposed to be his last recording. He had trouble getting someone to release it but David Sylvian came to the rescue and released it on his label.

Lucky enough, he have done albums after Avalon Sutra. For instance, his collaboration with Jane Maru in Jane 1-11 and Jane 12-21.

An interview with Harold Budd in The Guardian can be read here, The most surprising thing is that he don’t own a piano and think that they are ugly. “Architecturally speaking, and in other ways. So to actually live with a piano? Well, that would really insult my aesthetic sense.”

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Haydn 50: Spotify Picks is a Spotify playlist with the best music by Haydn.

I really like Haydn more and more. The music is always well-balanced and often with a great sense of humor. Many have wondered how Haydn could learn how to write such beautiful music. He did not have a Haydn as a teacher like Mozart and Beethoven did.

Here are some highlights that I think is worth mention.

The first movement of symphony number 22. A slow constantly evolving dialog between horns, strings and english horn accompanied by a steady and subtle bass line.

Piano sonata number 62especially when performed by Anne Queffélec. It is by many considered his greatest piano sonata.

Adagio from the first cello concerto in C, just because it’s so beautiful.

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Composer Weekly: Pierre Boulez

This week’s composer weekly is in memory of Pierre Boulez. He was one of the most influential persons in classical music. Founder of Ensemble Intercontemporain and IRCAM. Conductor and Composer.

One fascinating aspect of Boulez as a composer is that he often reworked his works. He had many pieces that he considered to be unfinished.

One such piece is Notations, a piece he first wrote in 1945. Then it was 12 small piano pieces. Later, in 1980, he reworked and expanded the pieces to orchestra pieces. Compare the piano version of Hiératique and the version for orchestra.

Another example is Anthèmes where the first version was a solo violin piece written in 1991. Later in 1997 he expanded and turned it into a piece for solo violin and live electronics, realized at IRCAM.

Below is a interview that shows a very kind, intelligent and warm Pierre Boulez talking about his music.

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RIP Pierre Boulez

I just heard that Pierre Boulez had passed away. He was one of the most important persons for classical music, especially contemporary. Founder of Ensemble intercontemporain and IRCAM. Conductor and Composer.

When he turned 90 he was asked about his favorite pieces from the 20th century. That interview can be read here.

I have featured two pieces in the Avant-garde playlist. First it is the introduction to the piece Répons from 1981 performed by the Ensemble intercontemporain and secondly it is Edgar Varese piece Amériques conducted by Pierre Boulez.

Pierre Boulez (1968)

(Click here to open the playlist in spotify).

Avant-garde: John Cage – Ryoanji

Avant-garde 50 is a Spotify playlist that present avant-garde music composed after 1945.

Ryoanji is a piece by John Cage written between 1983 and 1985. It is named after a rock garden in Kyoto Japan. In the garden there are 15 stones placed in white sand. In the score, Cage drew the contour of the stones and directed that it should be played as glissandi. Other then that the piece has a unison played rhythm. The instrumentation both for the glissandi parts and the percussion parts is free.

Ryoan Ji, Kyoto zen garden

Because the score is very free in its directions the performance of the piece is very important. My favorite recording is the Hathut recording from 2011.