The Modern mixtape #004

Notes about update #004 of The Modern mixtape.

Polymorphia by Krzysztof Penderecki is a modernist classic from 1961. It is scored for 48 strings and Penderecki uses a lot graphical notation to build clusters of sounds. The result is brutal and harsh. The ending C major chord is quite surreal. It was used in the soundtrack of both The Exorcist and The Shining.

Another modern classic is Gruppen by Stockhausen. It is scored for three orchestras and each orchestra is conducted by a separate conductor. The idea is that Stockhausen had is that you have groups of notes that have characteristics in common. It can be the timbre or if all notes have high pitch. In Gruppen each group also share the same tempi. Thats why there are three orchestras with individual conductors. Another reason is the spatial possibilities that you can explore when you place the orchestras at different places. Stockhausen made a lecture serie in England 1972 where he among other things explains the theories around groups and point. It is available on youtube here.

The flutist Clair Chase is one the great champions for contemporary music. Both as a solist and as the founders of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).

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The Modern mixtape update #003

Notes about update #003 of The Modern mixtape.

Fragments of a circle is an orchestral piece by the Swedish composer Pär Lindgren that just recently have been available for streaming. A fascinating orchestral piece inspired by Leonardo da Vinci drawings.

Unsuk Chin is a composer with unique language of her own. In pieces like Xi for ensemble and electronics and the Double Concerto for piano, percussion and ensemble she is demonstrating a energetic type of music with it’s very own timbre and sound.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard is part of recent album where he is performing Tristan Murail’s monumental piano concerto Le Désenchantement du monde. He is a true champion for contemporary music. He is, for instance, famous for his interpretations of Messiaen and Ligeti. Both the album with Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus and Ligeti’s Études is very good.

Another recent monumental recording is Un’immagine di Arpocrate for piano, choir and orchestra by Salvatore Sciarrino. I associate two types of music with Sciarrino. One is these long ambient pieces pieces like Un’immagine di Arpocrate and Sui Poemi Concentrici. I really like how he stretch and hold particular mood for long periods of time, much like Brian Eno has done in his ambient music like the recently released Reflection. He has also written a lot of operas and have for many have worked with how to write music for the human voice. That has also been the inspiration for his late string quartets, for instance the seventh one.

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The Modern mixtape update #001

Notes on update #001 of The Modern mixtape.

The label Divine Arts have released two fantastic albums with music with the Russian composer Vyacheslav Artyomov. One with On the Threshold of a Radiant World and one with Gentle Emanation. Both are part of the tetralogy Symphony of the Way. Russian, powerful and beautiful.

New South American Discoveries is a really good album with new South American music. Miguel Harth-bedoya conducts The Norwegian Radio Orchestra. I especially like Mecánica by Sebastián Vergara.

Group 180 was a Hungarian minimalist ensemble formed in 1978 behind the iron curtain. One of the founders was the composer Tibor Szemző. The music is more European and harsh then it’s American counterparts. A bit like Louis Andriessen.

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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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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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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).

Minimalism: Julius Eastman

Minimalism is a Spotify playlist with minimalist music.

Julius Eastman was an African-American composer, pianist, vocalist and dancer that lived from 1940 to 1990 in New York. As a singer he is most remembered for his recording of Eight Songs for a Mad King.

Unfortunately most of his work is lost. Toward the end of his life he had an escalating drug problem that got him evicted from his apartment and that’s when most of his scores got lost.

As a composer he wrote mostly minimalism music, often with provoking titles. His most famous works are three pieces for four pianos. Evil Nigger, Crazy Nigger and Gay Guerilla.

Mary Jane Leach performed a research for a total of seven years where she tried to find recordings and scores for Eastman’s work. She have described it on her website, here. One outcome of the research is a triple CD called Julius Eastman: Unjust Malaise.

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


Contemporary: Saariaho and Lindberg

Modern Ensemble is a Spotify playlist that present contemporary music composed after 1945.

Kaija Saariaho is a Finnish composer born in 1952. She have studied in Finland at the Sibelius Academy, in Freiburg and at IRCAM in Paris. She had both Brian Ferneyhough and Gerard Grisey as teachers. In 2013 she won the Polar music prize.

Her musical style can be described as a less formal and more freely variant of spectral music. Of her early work Lichtbogen, Io and Stilleben is perhaps the most famous. She often work with computers when composing, both in generating/analyzing musical material for instrumental music and in electroacoustic music. She often have electronic parts in her instrumental music. In later years she have been also started writing operas. From L’Amour de loin written in 2000 to the latest, Émilie, from 2010.

Two works that are closely related is Du cristal and …a la fumee… from 1989 and 1990, They are composed as separate pieces but are constructed so that they can be played together. Du cristal ends with a cello sul ponticello thrill fading away and …a la fumee… starts with the same tremolo. Both pieces are large scale orchestral pieces with electronic elements.

Magnus Lindberg is a Finnish composer born in 1958. After studying in the Sibelius Academy he studied both with Brian Ferneyhough and Gerard Grisey. He has been composer-in-residence both for the New York Philharmonic’s and London Philharmonic Orchestra.

When he was in Berlin he was exposed to it’s punk scene with bands like Einstürzende Neubauten. This was one of the inspirations when he wrote his monumental orchestral piece Kraft for orchestra and a group of soloists. Other early pieces is the ensemble piece UR, and the trio of pieces Kinetics, Marea and Joy. He often use computers to guide him when he write music. One example is the computer generated counterpoint in Engine from 1996. Over the years his music has become less Avant-garde and his perhaps most popular work, the Clarinet Concerto from 2002, almost has a folk tone. Other later pieces is Graffiti for orchestra and choir and the orchestra piece Seht die Sonne

Related Rocks is a piece for two pianos, two percussionists and electronics from 1997. It is a virtuosic and playful piece, both for the pianists and percussionists.

Enjoy! (click here to open the playlist in spotify).