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Monday, July 16, 2012

The Obscure Composer: Everything So Far

The past two years, starting in the Summer of 2010, have been very productive. In the genre of art songs alone I've written over a hundred new pieces. So it seemed like an update of my works list was long overdue.

It was an interesting exercise. For instance, I've written three song cycles this year with "bells" in the title; I guess that's what happens when Japanese poets and Zen poets provide a lot of my texts. And now everything's in nice folders, organized by genre; as part of that effort, I discovered that one of the songs in my Japanese Dedications cycle isn't filed where it should be, so tomorrow I'll be rummaging around looking for it.

Here it is, the list of all my completed pieces (not counting mere school assignments).

Instrumental works

Satori: Trio for piano, cello or bassoon, violin or flute [1982-83/1985-87]
1. The Bell
2. Haiku
3. Tanka
4. Koan
5. Sugar or Salt?
6. The Orderly Garden
7. Prelude and Fugue
8. WWHH²
9. mu
10. Mud Under a Brick
11. Tanka
12. Haiku
13. When the Pebble Hits the Stick
14. Satori

Bystander soundtrack [2006]
1. Opening
2. Eichmann
3. Head Wound
4. My Lai
5. Rwanda
6. End

Enigmatic Preludes [2010]

Pastorale for solo piano [2011]

Seasons: Haiku for solo piano [2011]
1. Summer grass/Where warriors dream (Basho/trans. Rexroth)
2. Against far off snow mountains/Two crows are flying. (Murakami Kijo/trans. Rexroth)
3. Frozen in the ice/A maple leaf. Masaoka Shiki/trans. Rexroth)
4. A blind child/Guided by his mother,/Admires the cherry blossoms (Kikaku/trans. Rexroth)

Snowy Morning [2012]
1. Snow on wooden fence
2. Falling lace
3. Grey and white morning

Reflections – Duo for B-flat clarinet and cello [2012]

Gymnopedie #4 for solo piano [2012]

Choral – SATB except as specified

Chorale: The Pink Church (William Carlos Williams) [1983] – SSAA

The Revelation Concerning Babylon [1984]
1. The Declaration of the Angel (Revelation 18:2-8)
2. The Lamentation of Kings and Merchants (Revelation 18:10-20)
3a. The Judgment of the Angel (Revelation 18:21-24)
3b. The Approval of the Multitude in Heaven (Revelation 19:1-3)

O magnum mysterium (liturgical) [1985]

Mass (liturgical) [1985] – text is the same as in Bach's B minor Mass, and thus in some minor points does not match the current text of the Roman Catholic Mass

Three Favors (Holtje) [1986]
1. Clouds of cold will
2. Slowly, warily
3. Particles of camphor

David's Lamentation (II Samuel I:19-27, English version) – countertenor, SATB, oboe, 3 trombones [1986]
David's Lamentation (Hebrew version)

Song cycles - soprano and piano except as indicated

Poems (Steve Holtje)
1. Permanence [1982]
2. Song for Grace [1983]
3. Turn of Events [1983]
4. We Know [1984]
5. Teleological Universe [1984]

Eight Poems of William Carlos Williams
1. To a Solitary Disciple [1983]
2. Quietness [1983/2011]
3. Two Plums (This Is Just to Say/To a Poor Old Woman) [1983]
4. The Locust Tree in Flower [1983]
5. Between Walls [2012]
6. To Be Recited to Flossie on Her Birthday [1983]
7. The Descent [2011]
[discarded: At the Ballgame (one verse recycled for Quietness)]
[in progress, though may be separate: Asphodel, That Greeny Flower]

Orpheus Sonnets (Rainer Maria Rilke, in German)
Book I
1. Da steig ein Baum [1984/2011]
2. Un fast ein Mädchen wars [1984/2011]
3. Ein Gott vermags [1985]
4. O ihr Zärtlichen, tretet zuweilen [1984]
5. Errichtet keinen Denkstein [1985]
6. Ist er ein Hiesiger
7. Rühmen, das ists
8. Nur im Raum der Rühmung [1984-5]
9. Nur wer die Leier schon hob [1984]
10. Euch, die ihr nie mein Gefühl verliesst [2001/2010-11]
11. Sieh den Himmel [1984]
12. Heil dem Geist [1984]
13. Voller Apfel, Birne und Banane [2001/2011]
14. Wir gehen um mit Blume [2001/2011]
15. Wartet…, das schmeckt [2001/2011]
16. Du, mein Freund [2001/2011]
17. Zu unterst der Alte [1984]
18. Hörst du das Neue [1984]
19. Wandelt sich rasch auch die Welt [1985]
20. Dir aber, Herr [2001/2011]
21. Frühling is wiedergekommen [1984]
22. Wir sind die Treibenden [1984]
23. Oerst dann [1985]
24. Sollen wir unsere uralte Freundschaft
25. Dich aber will ich nun [1984]
26. Du aber, Göttlicher

Book II (in progress)
1. Atmen du unsichtbares Gedicht [1996/2011]
2. So wie dem Meister [1982/2010]
3. Spiegel noch nie hat man wissend beschrieben [1982/2010-11]
4. O dieses is das Tier [1982/2010]
5. Blumenmuskel [2010-11]
9. Rühmt euch, ihr Richtenden [2010]
27. Gibt es wirklich die zeit [1996/2011]
28. O komm und geh [1996 or 2001/2010]
29. Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen [1996 or 2001/2010-11]

from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Ludwig Wittgenstein)
1. The world is everything that is the case
2. Whereof one cannot speak

Japanese Dedications [2010-11]
1. I should not have waited (Lady Akazome Emon/trans. Kenneth Rexroth)
2. Do not smile to yourself (Sakanoe/trans. Rexroth)
3. Amidst the notes (Yosano Akiko/trans. Rexroth)
4. Left on the beach (Yosano Akiko/trans. Rexroth)
5. Like tiny golden (Yosano Akiko/trans. Rexroth)
6. Once, far over the breakers (Yosano Akiko/trans. Rexroth)
7. To love somebody (Lady Kasa Yakamochi/trans. Rexroth)
8. When spring escapes (Princess Nukada/trans. Kenneth Rexroth & Ikuko Atsumi)
9. The stars pass (Empress Jito/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
10. This life of yours would not cause you sorrow (Murasaki Shikibu/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
11. From the North send a message (Murasaki Shikibu/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
12. The troubled waters & The memories of long love (Murasaki Shikibu/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
13. I can no longer tell dream from reality (Lady Akazome Emon/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
14. The leaves of the bush clover rustle (Kenrei Mon-in Ukyo no Daibu/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
15. Grasshoppers (Kawai Chigetsu-Ni/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
16. Cats making love in the temple (Kawai Chigetsu-Ni/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
17. Be careful! (Ome Shushiki/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
18. The fireflies' light (Chine-Jo/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
19. Everyone is asleep (Enomoto Seifu-Jo/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
20. How beautiful the Buddhist statues (Imaizumi Sogetsu-Ni/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
21. There is nothing like the cool (Tagami Kikusha-Ni/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
22. A bird comes (Yosano Akiko/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
23. I have the delusion (Yosano Akiko/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
24. Is it because you always hope (Yosano Akiko/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
25. My heart is like the sun (Yosano Akiko/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
26. Sweet and sad (Yosano Akiko/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
27. All day long having (Okamoto Kanoko/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
28. Scattered petals gather on the road (Hatsui Shizue/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
29. Silently / time passes. (Hatsui Shizue/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
30. In the autumn when words sound (Baba Akiko/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
31. O brightness (Hoshino Tatsuko/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
32. You and me - Anonymous geisha song/trans. Rexroth & Atsumi)
33. Tokiwa Mountain's/pine trees.... (Ono no Komachi/trans. Jane Hirshfeld w/Mariko Aratani)
34. Seeing the moonlight (Ono no Komachi/trans. Hirshfeld w/Aratani)
35. If, in an autumn field (Ono no Komachi/trans. Hirshfeld w/Aratani)
36. See! The gleam (Fukuda Chiyo-ni/trans. Hirshfeld w/Aratani)
37. I think I will not go out again (Izumi Shikibu/trans. Hirshfeld w/Aratani)
38. I cannot say (Izumi Shikibu/trans. Hirshfeld w/Aratani)
39. Come quickly (Izumi Shikibu/trans. Hirshfeld w/Aratani)
40. As I dig for wild orchids (Izumi Shikibu/trans. Hirshfeld w/Aratani)
41. Although I try (Izumi Shikibu/trans. Hirshfeld w/Aratani)
42. Listen, listen (Izumi Shikibu/trans. Hirshfeld w/Aratani)
43. Beloved Buddha (Yosano Akiko/trans. Sanford Goldstein & Seishi Shinoda)
44. Lovely,/the tiny feet of a child (Yosano Akiko/trans. Goldstein & Shinoda)
45. Yet I remember once (Yosano Akiko/trans. Goldstein & Shinoda)
46. Spring is short! (Yosano Akiko/trans. Goldstein & Shinoda)
47. To punish (Yosano Akiko/trans. Goldstein & Shinoda)
48. Hide and Seek Piece (Yoko Ono)
49. Actor (Yuko Otomo)
50. Sheep (Kazuko Shiraishi)

5 Pomes Penyeach (James Joyce) [2011] baritone or mezzo with cello
1. Alone
2. She Weeps over Rahoon
3. Nightpiece
4. Watching the Needleboats at San Saba
5. Bahnhofstrasse

Songs of Death (Fumiko Nakajo, in Japanese) [2011]
1. shi ni chikaki
2. yo no kaze ni
3. no wo kesh'te

Songs of Mortality (Fumiko Nakajo, trans. Hatsue Kawamura & Jane Reichhold) [2011]
1. a lighthouse
2. ice patterns on the sea
3. unseen things
4. shining scissors
5. after death
6. as I tried to touch
7. without comfort
8. a day of budding
9. Live as long as you can
10. close to death
11. lost under the cover of the night wind
12. with the light off
(10-12 are translations/adaptations of Songs of Death)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (Wallace Stevens) [2012]

Of the Surface of Things (Wallace Stevens) [2012]
1. In my room
2. From my balcony
3. The gold tree is blue

For Jeff & Brooke (Anon. Japanese/trans. Rexroth) [2012]
1. Like the tides' flood
2. We are, you and me

Bells [2012]
1. As I approach (Noin/trans. Rexroth]
2. Clear full moon (Anon. Japanese/trans. Rexroth)
3. Does the bell ring? (Anon. Japanese/trans. Rexroth)

A Shimmering Bell: Poems of Gary Snyder [2012]
1. Issa's Haiku
2. An autumn morning in Shokoku-ji/December at Yase
3. Lying in Bed on a Late Morning
4. from Little Songs for Gaia
5. from Regarding Wave

The Sound of a Bell: Six Poems of Yuko Otomo [2012]
1. Cornell Box #5: Celestial Navigation by Birds
2. Shoes
3. A Rose Is a Rose #4
4. Wind and clouds
5. Moonlit night
6. Coming full circle

Individual songs – soprano and piano except as indicated

You (Holtje) [1987-89]
Later (Holtje) – solo vocal
From the Book of Ice (Steve Dalachinsky) - soprano and double bass [2006]
Naga Uta "Utsusemito omoishi" (Hitomaro) baritone & piano [2010]
Eternity (William Blake) [2011]
Elegy for Eiji (wordless) [2011]
from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (T.S. Eliot) [2012]

Yes, I know that anyone who sets passages of Wittgenstein to music is probably not right in the head.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau 1925-2012

The headline on this interview for was "Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Living Legend." As of today, sad to say, that is no longer true. The baritone who did more to promote art song than any other recording artist passed away ten days before what would have been his 87th birthday. This article was written in conjunction with the celebrations and reissues the year of his 75th birthday.
Date Ran: July 28, 2000

The importance of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to the world of singing, and to music as a whole, is symbolized by the fact that Deutsche Grammophon's 21-disc Fischer-Dieskau Edition, wonderful as it is, represents only a small fraction of his many estimable recordings. Though he modestly demures when it is suggested that he has done more to popularize the art of lieder singing outside Germany than any other singer, certainly it's beyond debate that nobody else has committed so much lieder repertoire to record -- much of it known only to cognoscenti before he took up its cause. He had an equally distinguished opera career, most notably in Mozart, Wagner, and Berg, but as in all aspects of his career more wide-ranging than often is realized. Having retired from singing in 1992, he has continued to conduct, and also paints.

The Fischer-Dieskau Edition covers, of course, the expected lieder territory, with four discs of Schubert (including a previously unreleased 1968 recording of Die schöne Müllerin with Jörg Demus), two of Schumann, and one each devoted to Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler, Liszt, Wolf, and Richard Strauss. There are also two discs of opera arias, another two of sacred music, and one of folk-song settings. But there are also surprises. The disc Songs by Great Artist-Composers, for instance, includes two striking songs by Enrico Mainardi, written for Fischer-Dieskau in the '60s, four songs of Wilhelm Kempff on which the composer is also the pianist, and compositions by Adolf Busch and Bruno Walter, among others. A disc is devoted to songs by Debussy, Ravel, and Ives. The lieder of Othmar Schoeck, who without Fischer-Dieskau's persuasive advocacy would be unjustly forgotten, fill a 78-minute CD, while Reger and Pfitzner split another disc. This box is a true cornucopia of expressive, finely pointed singing.

Fischer-Dieskau spoke with me by phone from his home in Berlin about the box set and more general matters.

How involved were you in choosing the material for Deutsche Grammophon's Fischer-Dieskau Edition?

I was not. I had sent them once a list of the published LPs, and so they had a list from me, but they have chosen different choices and left out some things, like my Meyerbeer songs, which I would have liked to have in the collection. And others too. There are still things not published on CD.

The Edition contains two discs of sacred music. Does singing Bach require a different psychological approach than lieder or opera?

Why should it? No, I wouldn't say so. For me it's first music, and also for the composer the first thing is the music, and then of course you have religious feelings, something independent of that, in a way. It's the same thing as, you sing Don Giovanni, but you don't have to be Don Giovanni to sing it on stage.

Your first professional performance was Brahms's German Requiem, and you recorded it with Kempe, Karajan, Klemperer, and Barenboim.

Yes, professional performance; it depends on what you call that. I had sung Der Winterreise in '42 for the first time in front of a little audience, about 300 people in a suburb of Berlin. Even earlier than that. Also I conducted the Brahms, with my wife and Thomas Hampson, not long ago in Hamburg with the Singakademie and the State Orchestra.

Does it have special significance for you?

Oh yes, of course. That is a typical product of a man who was not a dogmatic Christian. I think he never went to church, in spite of the fact that he ended his life by composing an incredible organ chorale. And the texts he chose are far away from a usual requiem. It was an ingenious way of choosing texts and the sequence there. It's also fascinating how he combines his own creativity with the experiences he had with the music of Mendelssohn. -- above all, this music owes to Mendelssohn very much -- and of course Bach. These two are important in the German Requiem.

Did establishing yourself as a conductor make it easier for you to retire from singing?

No, I don't think so. But working, of course, is necessary for me. To retire from singing is a natural process, but it is always hard for a singer to stop, even if he has sung almost 50 years, but still. My conducting is not the same, it's quite a different musical occupation, I would say [chuckles].

Your most recent CD as a conductor is a Richard Strauss disc with your wife, Julia Varady. What is it like to find yourself with the tables turned, so to speak, accompanying a singer?

I think if you can't accompany then you are not a musician. Furtwängler always said that. I am the conductor and I want the people the sing as I would like to have them, but if you are not able to accompany then you have to stop making music at all.

On the Strauss disc you conduct, you sing, and you paint. It is a pleasant surprise that you sing again, in the brief role of the Haushofmeister. Did the philosophical point of Capriccio, which of course lies at the heart of singing, make it special to you and influence your decision to sing on it?

No. The decision to sing on it was simply to make things easier, because we didn't have to engage another baritone for that. And I just did it during conducting; it was not synchronized afterwards, I sang it during the direction. This piece, of course, is the unanswered question, will always be: whether the music or text or words are of the first importance. Very difficult. Sometimes it is on the side of the word -- think of Hugo Wolf, who is often declamating and making music with the declamation -- or think of Schubert, where you have first melody and then everything else.

In a way the fact that Strauss never answers the question --

Nobody could, I think. It's not possible to have a decision like that.

It's as though he's saying that there isn't a dichotomy and they're combined to complete something different that can't be separated.

Yes, separate they are not. But of course, the results are so different from each other whether the composer is theatrical first of all and then makes music with that, or whether he is a musician first and then tries to give justice to the word.

Why do you think some critics insist on calling your singing intellectual, as though intellect is all there is to it?

[Sighs] There's so much prejudice and so much misunderstanding in that, that I couldn't speak about it. Because it's not true. For me music is always the first. And intellectual, what does that mean? I'm no intellectual at all, you see it in my English [laughs]. Also I have no ambition whatsoever to be an intellectual. I'm just maybe not quite stupid, but that's a pre-condition. Or else you could stand as a tenor at a ramp and shout your notes, but I think that's not singing, that's not a fulfilling action.

It does seem as if there can be something of a paradox in lieder and some operas. Think of Wozzeck, where there's the composer -- who was obviously a genius -- and then a conductor and the singer all have to be so very aware of the nuances while they're singing about a character who's unaware. It is a paradox, isn't it?

It's not a paradox, it's just the ability of the creative person to insinuate somehow such a person, and to put himself into it, as a good actor does. I mean, no actor of the Wozzeck of Büchner is of the character of Wozzeck. On stage he must be, but otherwise he is not. He may be very intelligent or [not], but not a murderer anyway.

Aside from staging, obviously, what do you think are the differences between lieder and singing opera?

I wouldn't make much difference, because there are in lied so many dramatic elements, very often further than opera, even in Schubert, but also if you start with Zelter or Reichardt. And Schumann, take the ballads after Heine or Chamisso. There are so many highly dramatic moments where you have to have all abilities of the operatic voice in yourself. And on the other side, in the opera, there is so much lyrical stuff. Think of "O du, mein holder Abendstern" in Tannhäuser. It is very lyrical and soft, you have to be very flexible and able to reflect all movements, all inner feelings, like this.

What characteristics especially distinguish some of the pianists you've worked with?

I think as exponents of different styles I would name first Gerald Moore, who is the softest and most legato-playing pianist I have ever met. And then on the other hand you have Sviatoslav Richter, who was able to be a wild lion in tone. There has just come out a record of a concert we gave together in Munich with only Hugo Wolf Goethe songs. There you see his special qualities, a wonderful, archaic way, I would call it, to stick to one sound plane, some prescripted piano, pianissimo, triple piano, or on the other hand fortes up to four fortes, he holds them through as nobody else has. Alfred Brendel is very flexible on the rhythm side very often. And there are so many other things one could say; difficult to do it in short.

Sony just reissued the studio disc you made with Leonard Bernstein on piano. What was it like working with him as a pianist?

He was very choosy at the piano, we had six grand pianos in the studio around in a circle, because he never was happy; each song, new piano. He was never happy with the tone or with the intonation, with the machinery, so. But he was like a volcano, something like an explosion sometimes, and was fitting wonderfully into the Mahler expression. That exactly is called for there.

Deutsche Grammophon is reissuing Reimann's Lear, which is a work you suggested to him. It must be very satisfying to see that reappear.

Yes, that was a piece of work for me, because I worked very hard that it came out. Already when the LP was coming out, there were financial problems and the opera house was against it; it was very difficult to get it on record. But then, we managed it somehow. Everybody sacrificed a little bit of his money, so it came out. But it was also difficult because all the record firms are in difficult situations nowadays, so they didn't want to make a big fuss about a piece which is purely modern, so it was hard to bring them to that.

Many classical music listeners might be surprised at how much 20th-century music you have sung.

Quite a lot, yes. I think an artist is somehow indebted to this, because we don't have to be guardians of the museum of the past only, we want to give some of our own time too. It's a wonderful way of adventure and surprise. You never know whether a piece is arriving well for the audience or not, whether it's a flop or a success. And I am a rather curious person and I enjoy this very much, all the time. Of course you have to find composers who really promise to give something, to have something to say. Aribert Reimann is one of the few composers who are able to write for a certain voice in a certain style. He had my voice in his head during writing. So somehow these are very, very well done for me.

Classic Fischer-Dieskau Recordings:
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin; Die Winterreise; Schwanengesang
w/Gerald Moore: Schubert: Lieder, vol. 1
w/Gerald Moore: Schubert: Lieder, vol. 2
w/Murray Dickie/Philharmonia Orchestra/Paul Kletzki: Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
w/Leonard Bernstein: Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; 4 Rückertlieder; 11 songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
w/Berlin Philharmonic/Karl Forster: J.S. Bach: Cantatas BWV 158, 203; excerpts from Cantatas BWV 13, 157, 159, 73, 8, 123
w/Sviatoslav Richter: Hugo Wolf: Goethe Lieder & Ballads
w/Helga Dernesch, Julia Varady, etc./Bavarian State Orchestra/Gerd Albrecht: Aribert Reimann: Lear
w/Julia Varady/Bamberg Symphony Orchestra: Richard Strauss: excerpts from Salome, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Liebe der Danae, Capricco

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Obscure Composer, Part 1: 5 Pomes Penyeach recording is finished!

It's amazing how much work it can be to turn the visual lines and dots into a permanent sonic record. The gestation period for these five short songs, totalling less than six minutes, was over eleven months.

They were written quickly in late-night sessions, four of them in a five-day period (April 29 through May 2), then one more a couple of weeks later (5/14 [and revised a month after that]). I started rehearsing them soon after that with my good friend Kate Leahy, a soprano I know from my days in New Amsterdam Singers. I played the cello part on piano, and that's how it was performed at its premiere during a salon on July 9.

On August 15, Marc McCarron recorded Suzanne Mueller playing the cello parts in their home studio on Long Island. Kate overdubbed her vocal parts on January 5 at Kevin Keller's home studio in Inwood. And this past Monday (4/2) I returned to Kevin's place, where over the course of a challenging five-and-a-half hour session he edited, mixed, and mastered the tracks.

And now you can listen to them on my Soundcloud!

There's more to come: a new electronica artist, Black Crystal Fuck Wolf, is creating remixes of these songs.