Sunday, 30 September 2012

August 2012 - Classical Music

Bach, J.S. - Ich hatter viel Bekümmernis (I had many afflictions) - 1720 version
Bach, J.S. - Der Himmel lacht, die Erde jubilieret (The heavens laugh, the earth rejoices)
Bach? - Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele II (Praise the Lord, O my soul, No.2)
Beethoven - String Quintet
Beethoven - Piano Sonatas 16 to 18
Heller - 25 Melodic Etudes, Op.45
Holmboe - Violin Sonata No.1
Holmboe - Sinfonias 1 to 4
Liszt - Venezia e Napoli

This list includes the vanguard of what has since become an avalanche of new classical music.  I still haven't finished that collection of Bach cantatas I bought back in March, and yet I decided to burden myself with a wealth of new Holmboe and Faure, along with a dash of Heller.  Well, alright, not really 'burden'.

One of the first purchases was Holmboe's Kairos.  No, you won't find it on the listening list above.  But in fact you will.

Kairos is a fairly rare construction of 4-pieces-in-1.  Or perhaps 4-into-1, as there's good reason to suppose that at least the first 3 were conceived as separate pieces first.  Each of these Sinfonias for strings is a single-movement work, perfectly listenable to on its own.  Which is how I listened to them during August.

A few years later, though, Holmboe wrote a fourth Sinfonia which is multi-movement, and a little bit different in character to the others.  I also listened to this on its own... but split it up and wrap it around the other three, and hey presto, you've got a single work: Kairos.

As I understand it, the concept derives from the difference betwen 'psychological' time, or the right moment (kairos in Greek) and 'chronological' time (chronos in Greek). It seems to me that Holmboe is deliberately illustrating the effect that music sounds different depending on what you've heard before it.  Which thrills me no end, because it's something I've been hammering on about for years (not least on Tori Amos forums - my apologies to anyone who's heard this broken record too many times).

The human brain really isn't terribly good at judging absolute values.  It's difficult for us to correctly judge speed, temperature, decibels, or pitch.  Whereas we're extremely good at measuring relative values.  Faster/slower, hotter/colder, louder/softer, higher/lower.

So take a block of music and put it in a different context, and it will mean something slightly different.  If the opening of a piece becomes the opening of the 4th movement, it won't come across in quite the same way.  If there's 15 minutes of music in between two movements that used to be next each other, the lead-in to the second of those movements has become completely different and will affect how it's heard.

Of course, none of this makes a huge difference to the quality of the music, but on listening to the Sinfonias as separate pieces they've got all the characteristics of Holmboe that make me so enthusiastic, particularly the sense of a line carrying right through a piece - although that's less true of the 4th, which is broken up and considerably more quirky.  Given that this is all string music, it's important that he keeps the interest up rather than having a generalised mass of sound. Each piece has changes of pace and of texture that kept me interested.

So, I like them on their own.  It remains to be seen what I'll think of them together.

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