Various Artists \ A Young Person's Guide to the Avant-Garde [LTMCD 2569]
A Young Person's Guide to the Avant-Garde is an accessible, comprehensive primer that surveys modernism and music in the 20th century, offering Futurist noise, dreamy Surrealism, Dada tone poetry, serialism, prepared pianos, musique concrète and early electronic composition.
With a generous playing time of 145 minutes, this deluxe double CD set is presented in a handsome 6 panel digipack, containing an illustrated booklet with detailed historical notes.
1. Erik Satie Vexations (1893)
2. Leo Ornstein Suicide in an Airplane (1913)
3. Luigi Russolo Risveglio di una città (1913)
4. Balilla Pratella L'Aviatore Dro (1915)
5. Antonio Russolo Corale (1924)
6. F.T. Marinetti La Battaglia di Adrianopoli (1924)
7. Franco Casavola Dance of the Monkeys (1925)
8. George Antheil Mechanisms (1923)
9. Marcel Duchamp Musical Erratum (1913)
10. Francis Poulenc Mouvements perpétuels (1918)
11. Ribemont-Dessaignes Pas de la chicorée frisée (1920)
12. Francis Picabia La nourrice américaine (1920)
13. Jean Cocteau La Toison d'Or (1929)
14. Kurt Schwitters Die Sonata in Urlauten (1932)
15. Robert Desnos Description of a Dream (1938)
1. Charles Ives The Unanswered Question (1906)
2. Arnold Schoenberg Sechs kleine klavierstücke (1911)
3. Igor Stravinsky The Rite of Spring (extract) (1913)
4. Josef Matthias Hauer Tanz Op. 10 (1915)
5. Arthur Honegger Pacific 231 (1923)
6. Alexander Mosolov Iron Foundry (1927)
7. Henry Cowell The Aeolian Harp (1923)
8. John Cage 4'33" (1952)
9. Karlheinz Stockhausen Gesang der Jünglinge (1956)
10. Edgard Varèse Poème électronique (1958)
11. György Ligeti Atmosphères (1961)
"Opening up with a three minute encounter with Satie's Vexations and concluding with Ligeti's Atmosphères, this primer has the daunting task of evoking the shock of the new to an audience for whom inexorable tritones and the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey are anything but. Given the breadth of the subject matter, even on a 145 minute double CD, some omissions are inevitable. Still, plenty of ground is covered. Electronic music is given a cursory nod by way of Stockhausen's still startling Gesang der Jünglinge and Varèse's Poème électronique, while the fierce urgency of The Rite of Spring is effectively conveyed in an extract, leaving room for both Schoenberg's austere Sechs kleine klavierstücke and a performance of Cage's 4'33" punctuated by polite coughing."
"Between such milestones, much of the rest traces a route through the Futurists and Surrealists. Clear, highly readable sleevenotes draw out a narrative from one composer to the next: the tantalisingly brief appearances of Luigi Russolo's noise-generating intonarumori, both alone and on a 1924 recording of his brother Antonio's Corale, are given greater significance through stories of public bemusement and hostile Dadaists. The innovations of Russian-born Leo Ornstein's Suicide in an Airplane are spelled out at a time when tone clusters were as novel as air transport, and the proto-metal machine music of Alexander Mosolov's Iron Foundry is presented in the Soviet context. Most sensibly, allowing space for spoken word recordings - such as Marinetti's forceful La Battaglia di Adrianopoli and Robert Desnos' Description of a Dream - places composers firmly within their broader creative circles" (The Wire, 07/2013)
"Everything you wanted to ask about Erik Satie but were too afraid to ask. LTM's 26 track compilation offers a whistlestop tour of 20th century art music, blistering through Modernism, Futurism and Dadaism along the way: Schwitters, Duchamp, Ligeti and Cocteau all feature. Very much one for the greenhorns, but, as CGP-style primers go, it's a about as good a selection as we've encountered (even an hour spent reading the website blurbs will leave you much improved)" (Fact Magazine, 06/2013)
"LTM present an excellent primer on the often foreboding and distant world of 20th Century Avant Garde music. Across two CDs and the illuminating booklet of notes, the label gives context to a broad stroke of early, influential ideas ranging from the radical minimalism of Erik Satie to the sound-poetry of Kurt Schwitters, from the historic sounds of Luigi Russolo's intonarumori and Edgard Varese's 'Poeme Electronique' to Karlheinz Stockhausen's scintillating experiments in the potential possibilities of electronic music composition and John Cage's momentous gesture, '4'33"'. Recommended!" (Boomkat, 07/2013)
1. Erik Satie Vexations [detail] 3.09
Visionary French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925) is today regarded as a keynote modernist composer. As well as influencing contemporaries such as Debussy and Ravel, his tendency towards simplicity and repetition continue to inform modern avant-garde genres such as minimalism and ambient. Satie was, according to Surrealist photographer Man Ray, 'the only musician who had eyes.' Written in 1893, the extraordinary score for Vexations is just three lines long, yet a complete performance (840 repetitions) may last for anything between 14 and 28 hours. The composer's typically eccentric instruction ('To play this motif 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities') affords the piece legendary status in the annals of experimental music. Three decades later Satie would flirt with Paris Dada, but broke with the emerging Surrealist cabal, this despite the fact that Vexations prefigures certain dreamlike Surrealist ideas. The work was rediscovered by John Cage in 1949. This version is performed by Alan Marks.
2. Leo Ornstein Suicide in an Airplane 3.44
Born in 1893 in Kremenchuk, a large town in the Ukraine, as a child Ornstein studied at Petrograd Conservatory before emigrating to the United States. Two years after making his New York debut performing standard repertory, in 1913 Ornstein wrote his first modernist compositions, Dwarf Suite and Danse sauvage. This was followed by European tours in 1913 and 1914, where his first major performance of 'Futurist' music took place at the Steinway Hall in London on 27 March 1914. Most reviews were hostile. 'The audience remained to the end, hypnotised as a rabbit by a snake,' wrote the Daily Telegraph. 'In Three Moods an appalling noise was made by a method which was quite new. It was produced by putting the fingers close together, stiffening the hands and striking alternately down on the keyboard perpendicularly in ramrod fashion as hard as possible, with the loud pedal down. Another startling effect was produced by slapping the upper notes - it did not matter which - in the bass. Mr Ornstein greatly favoured this slapping process, and the second of the Notre Dame Impressions succeeded in suggesting a battle royal of cats and tiles.'
Written circa 1913, Suicide in an Airplane is one of Ornstein's most distinctive works, involving trademark tone clusters. The score calls for a fast bass ostinato pattern, intended to simulate the sound of engines and capture the sensation of flight; this piece in particular served as an inspiration for Airplane Sonata (1923) by George Antheil. Neglected for several decades, Ornstein would be rediscovered in the 1970s, though much of his output remains unknown. He died in Green Bay, Wisconsin in February 2002, aged 108. Performed by Daniele Lombardi.
3. Luigi Russolo Risveglio di una città 0.31
The principle exponent of Futurist musical theory was Luigi Russolo (1885-1947), a painter whose vast canvas Music painted in 1911-12 depicted its subject as a swirl of keyboard crescendos assailing the player's head. In March 1913 Russolo published The Art of Noises (L'arte dei rumori), now seen as the true manifesto of Futurist music, and far closer to Marinetti's radical conception of free words (parole in liberta) than the fuzzy theorising of Francesco Balilla Pratella. In The Art of Noises Russolo flaunted his anti-qualifications with pride: 'I am not a musician by profession, and therefore I have no acoustical prejudices, nor any works to defend. I am a Futurist painter who projects beyond himself, into an art much-loved and studied, his desire to renew everything. Thus, bolder than a professional musician, unconcerned by my apparent incompetence, and convinced that my audacity opens up all rights and all possibilities, I am able to divine the great renewal of music by means of the Art of Noises.'
Russolo set about constructing so-called noise generators (intonarumori), essentially crude synthesisers intended to mimic a variety of modern noises, and able to regulate their harmony, pitch and rhythm. The first public demonstration came in June 1913 at the Teatro Storchi in Modena, when Russolo unveiled an exploder (scoppiatore) which aimed to reproduce the sound of an internal combustion engine. By the spring of 1914 Russolo and Piatti had constructed four intonarumori - the exploder, crackler (crepitatori), buzzer (ronzatori) and scraper (stropicciatori) - and published scores for two 'noise networks' titled Risveglio di una città (Awakening of a City) and Convegno d'aeroplani e d'automobili (The Meeting of Automobiles and Aeroplanes).
The first massed performance took place at the Teatro dal Verme in Milan on 21 April 1914, although following a rehearsal during the afternoon the show was banned by the police on the grounds that it was likely to trigger a public disturbance. After two local politicians intervened on the side of the Futurists the show went ahead, with predictable results. Russolo recalled that 'the immense crowd were already in uproar half an hour before the performance'. Missiles were thrown throughout, the abuse supposedly led by a group of 'pastist' music professors from the Royal Conservatory of Milan. The noise of the brawl drowned out the radical new music, and Marinetti would later describe the experience of demonstrating the intonarumori to an incredulous public as 'like showing the first steam engine to a heard of cows.'
The outbreak of the First World War curtailed Futurist activity outside Italy, and in July 1914 Marinetti and other Futurists enlisted in the Lombard Volunteer Cyclist Battalion, apparently the speediest unit in King Victor Emmanuel's army. But Italy's war was conducted in a haphazard and incompetent fashion, and cost the Futurists dear. According to Marinetti, 13 of their number were killed, and 41 wounded. Russolo himself suffered a serious head wound at Monte Grappa in 1917 which required cranial surgery and a year of recuperation. It seems likely that this injury caused him to reconsider his earlier appraisal of modern war as a 'marvellous and grand and tragic symphony.' Performed by Daniele Lombardi.
4. Francesco Balilla Pratella Sogni, intermezzo da L'Aviatore Dro 11.36
In his founding Manifesto of February 1909, Futurist leader Filippo Tommaso Marinetti offered radical new ideologies which would include sound and noise in the armoury of the war against traditionalism. However the first Manifesto of Futurist Composers would not appear for two years. Published in January 1911 by Francesco Balilla Pratella (1880-1955), and tweaked by Marinetti, the text was hurled like a grenade into the midst of the prevailing culture. Condemning existing musical forms as anti-progressive, Pratella exhorted 'young composers' to abandon the old order (eg opera and bel canto) and adopt 'free study' as the sole means of regeneration.
Two months later Pratella published his Technical Manifesto of Futurist Music, followed in July 1912 by The Destruction of Quadrature. Both promoted free or irregular rhythms, enharmonic music, atonality, polyphony and micro-tones. Pratella later collected all three texts in a single volume, which also contained a piano score for his own composition, Futurist Music for Orchestra. Although it bore little trace of atonality, the piece still caused a stir when first performed at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 21 February 1913, where, amidst predictable uproar from the audience, Pratella rushed from the stage in panic. The composer followed Futurist Music with L'Aviatore Dro, an opera written in 1915 and first performed in 1920. However, despite some provocative captioning, and the use of noisy intonarumori built by Russolo as the hero's aircraft crashed into the ground, the piece was essentially conventional.
5. Antonio Russolo Corale 1.58
In June 1921 Luigi Russolo and his younger brother Antonio (1877-1942) staged a performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, from which a hostile Dada faction lead by Tristan Tzara were forcibly ejected. 'The Italian bruitistes, led by Marinetti, were giving a performance of works written for their new instruments,' recalled Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes. 'These works were pale, insipid and melodious in spite of Russolo's noise-music, and the Dadaists who attended did not fail to express their feelings - and very loudly. Marinetti asked indulgence for Russolo, who had been wounded in the war and had undergone a serious operation on his skull. This moved the Dadaists to demonstrate violently how little impressed they were by a reference to the war.'
In Paris Russolo attempted to demonstrate how intonarumori might work as part of a conventional orchestra, and may have performed the Corale and Serenata subsequently recorded by his brother in 1924 for the HMV label. Later innovations included a noise harmonium (rumorarmonio) and an enharmonic bow, while Russolo also provided live soundtracks to several avant-garde films at Studio 28. Unfortunately the advent of talking pictures closed this avenue, and Russolo performed in public for the last time in 1929. Tasting poverty and disappointment, he abandoned Futurism in favour of mysticism and the occult, publishing a book titled Beyond the Material World in 1938 and passing away on 4 February 1947.
6. F.T. Marinetti La Battaglia di Adrianopoli 3.01
As chief theorist of the speed-loving, machine-celebrating Italian Futurists, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti declared war 'the sole hygiene of the world' in his founding manifesto of 1909, then trucked around various small Balkan conflicts as a tourist, and found himself imprisoned in 1914 for agitating in favour of Italy's early entry into the First World War. The 'finest and wildest' of his free-verse creations, The Battle of Adrianopolis offered a vivid description of Turkish wounded returning home in a train attacked by Bulgarian cavalry. The poem first appeared in his publication Zang Tumb Tumb, and this audio recording made by the poet in 1924 evidences a poem intended to be performed rather than merely read.
In an article published in the Evening News in January 1914, Henry Nevinson described an animated performance by Marinetti at the Dore Gallery in London thus: 'Listen to Marinetti's recitations of one of his battle scenes - a train of wounded stopped by the enemy, or the destruction of a bridge under fire. I may very well have witnessed both the events he describes for he was with us in the Bulgarian Second Army a year ago. But I have never conceived such descriptions as these, nor heard such recitations. The noise, the confusion, the surprise of death, the terror and courage, the grandeur and the appalling littleness, the doom and chance, the shouting, curses, blood and agony - all were recalled by that amazing succession of words, performed or enacted by the poet with such passion of abandonment that no-one could escape the spell of listening.'
7. Franco Casavola La Danza della Scimmie 2.45
In October 1922 Marinetti wrote to inform composer Franco Casavola that: 'I've listened to Tankas, Quatrain, Gioielleria Notturna, Leila and Muoio di sete on the piano. They reveal to me a strong and original musical genius. We Futurists would be pleased if you would join our fight against obsolete ideas.' Casavola (who had studied music at the Rome Conservatory) thereafter began to compose new pieces under the influence of early Manifestos penned by Marinetti, Balilla Pratella and Russolo. These included productions such as Ranocchi al Chiaro di Luna (Frogs in the Moonlight) by A.G. Bragaglia, and La Danza della Scimmie (Dance of the Monkeys) for the Teatro della Sorpresa. In 1927 Casavola revised his views and elected to break decisively from the Futurist movement, though subsequent claims that he destroyed his Futurist scores were not entirely true. Performed by Daniele Lombardi.
8. George Antheil Mechanisms 12.35
The son of Lutheran immigrants from Germany, George Antheil was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in July 1900. After giving his first European recital at the Wigmore Hall in London in June 1922, Antheil settled in Berlin, there meeting Stravinsky and further developed a cold, anti-romantic, rhythmically propulsive piano style, typified by compositions such as Airplane Sonata (1921), Mechanisms (1922/23), Sonata Sauvage (1922/23), Death of Machines (1923) and Jazz Sonata (1922/23), and well as the celebrated Ballet méchanique, written between 1923 and 1925 for eight pianos, percussion, airplane propellers and effects.
In a somewhat fanciful memoir published in 1947, Bad Boy of Music, Antheil claimed that early performances in Berlin, Budapest and Paris provoked extreme reactions. 'I bought a small .32 automatic, and when I arrived in Berlin I went to a tailor with a sketch for a silken holster which was to fit neatly under my arm. I had read about Chicago gangsters wearing their guns in this fashion. From then on, my .32 automatic accompanied me everywhere, especially to concerts. Quite a number of observers have commented on my coolness during various riotous concerts which I performed at during those first tumultuous years of the armistice between World War 1 and World War 2. The reason is very simple: I was armed. Without a further word I placed my ugly little automatic on the front desk of my Steinway, and proceeded with my concert. Every note was heard...'
Unencumbered by modesty, Antheil gave an excited description of a performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris on 4 October 1923: 'My little group of piano pieces, the Mechanisms, the Airplane Sonata and the Sonata Sauvage were to go on as a prelude to the opening of the brilliant Ballets Suédois of Rolf de Mare. The theatre was crowded with the most famous personages of the day, among others Picasso, Stravinsky, Auric, Milhaud, James Joyce, Erik Satie, Man Ray, Diaghilev, Miro, Artur Rubinstein, Ford Madox Ford and unnumbered others. They had not come to see me, but the opening of the ballet. My piano was wheeled out on the front of the stage, before the huge Léger cubist curtain and I commenced playing. Rioting broke out almost immediately... I felt for the automatic under my arm and continued playing... I remember Man Ray punching somebody in the nose in the front row. Marcel Duchamp was arguing loudly with somebody else in the second row. In a box nearby Erik Satie was shouting, "What Precision! What precision!" and applauding. The spotlight was turned on the audience by some wag upstairs, hurting his sensitive eyes... In the gallery the police came in and arrested the Surrealists who, liking the music, were punching everybody who objected.'
By 1936 the impoverished enfant terrible had relocated to Hollywood to become a composer of comparatively tame film music, operas and ballets, as well as portmanteau work as a writer, inventor and lonely-hearts columnist. Antheil died in New York on 12 February 1959. A Futurist by inclination, if not cultural allegiance, Antheil confirmed in Bad Boy of Music: 'I called the Airplane Sonata that because, as a symbol, the airplane seemed most indicative of that future into which I wanted to escape.' Performed by Daniele Lombardi.
9. Marcel Duchamp La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même 10.06
Born near Blainville, France, in 1887, Marcel Duchamp may be numbered among the leading artists and theorists of the 20th Century. After early experiments with traditional styles and Cubism, Duchamp abandoned orthodox forms and techniques, and in 1915 relocated to New York. There he worked on provocative 'readymade' artworks such as Fountain (1917), a porcelain urinal signed as R. Mutt, and promoted bold avant-gardism and Dada together with Francis Picabia and Man Ray.
While not a composer in any conventional sense, Duchamp conceived two pieces of music. Both are titled Erratum Musical (or Musical Erratum), and both appear to have been written in 1913. The first was a short vocal piece, to be sung by Duchamp and his sisters, and composed par hasard. The second, sub-titled La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, is a far more complex and open-ended work. In fact in his marginal notes Duchamp variously describes the piece as 'inachevable' (unachievable/impossible to finish), and the component sections 'interchangeable'. Furthermore the artist discouraged any attempt at virtuoso performance, suggesting instead that the piece might be played on a mechanical piano or organ, or some other type of novel instrument. In closing, Duchamp noted of his work, 'execution is rather pointless, in any event.'
No definitive score exists. One of Duchamp's novel suggestions for performance constitutes an exercise in composition by pure chance, using a vase (or funnel) and a toy train set: "An apparatus for the automatic recording of fragmented musical periods. Vase containing the 89 notes (or more: 1/4 tone), numbers written on each ball. Opening A allows the balls to drop into a series of small wagons B, C, D, E, F etc. Wagons moving at variable speed, each one receiving one or more balls. When the vase is empty, the period of 89 notes (in so many) wagons is written and may be performed by the designated instrument."
The version included here is performed by Mats Persson and Kristine Scholz using a modified piano, on which the ordinary action with a small electric motor with a rotary disc, which moves against the strings to produce the tones heard. In this respect the performance reflects something of the form of Duchamp's Precision Optics and spiral Rotoreliefs, created between 1920 and 1935.
10. Francis Poulenc Mouvements perpétuels 5.40
Both Erik Satie and cultural polymath Jean Cocteau fostered creative alliances with younger composers, Cocteau having issued a general appeal to 'young musicians' as early as February 1915. Under the patronage of Satie, Georges Auric, Louis Durey and Swiss-born Arthur Honegger came together as Les Nouveaux Jeunes (The New Youth) in June 1917, while the following year Cocteau produced his propagandist pamphlet Le Coq et l'Arlequin (Cockerel and Harlequin). Like The Art of Noises by Luigi Russolo in 1913, Le Coq was a collection of non-conformist opinions about music put forward by a non-musician. Le Coq came to be regarded as a quasi-manifesto for the new musical grouping, which swelled to six with the addition of Germaine Tailleferre, Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc. The group was first labelled 'Les Six' on 16 January 1920 by the arts journal Comoedia.
Early salon performances by Les Six were small, with several staged in an artists' studio on Rue Huyghens. A fashionable in-crowd flocked to hear the trend-setting new sounds, and before long these happenings also began to attract a highbrow society set. 'In the Montparnasse studio, under the title Lyre et palette, we became associated with the artists Picasso, Braque, Modigliani and Juan Gris, who exhibited there,' recalled Poulenc later. Born in Paris, Poulenc (1988-1963) claimed to have been rejected by the Conservatoire on account of his admiration for Stravinsky and Satie. Trois mouvements perpétuels is one of his best-known pieces for piano, written in Paris in 1918 while the composer worked as a typist at the Ministry of Aviation. This cycle of three 'ultra-easy' miniatures combined flippant Parisian urbanity with provincial simplicity, and was popularized by Ricardo Vines.
The piece was also performed by Nelly (Petro) van Doesburg, wife of De Stijl founder Theo van Doesburg. During the 1920s the couple lived in Holland, Weimar (where Theo was associated with the influential Bauhaus school) and Paris. A Conservatory-trained pianist, Nelly accompanied her husband's lectures with selected modernist piano pieces, and also performed at Dada soirees organised by Theo with Kurt Schwitters in Holland and Germany in 1922/23. Her repertoire also included pieces by Satie, Hauer, Schoenberg, Honegger, Ribemont-Dessaignes and Jacob van Domselaer. This recording features pianist Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen.
11. George Ribemont-Dessaignes Pas de la chicorée frisée 4.04
Although better known as a writer and artist, Montpellier-born Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes (1884-1975) also experimented with music, and his compositions Le Nombril interlope and Danse frontière were both performed at the Festival Dada staged at the Salle Gaveau, Paris, in May 1920. A friend of both Duchamp and Picabia, Ribemont-Dessaignes produced broadly similar 'mechanomorphic' artworks, as well as contributing to 391, and composing music scores based on chance. The creation of his first musical piece, Pas de la chicorée frisée was influenced by conversations with Duchamp, and described thus by Ribemont-Dessaignes: 'Somewhat later on, I was led to make a sort of pocket roulette wheel that had a dial on which notes, semitone by semitone, were written instead of numbers. By noting the results of the spins of the wheel, I had my melody and the necessary duration. It could have gone on forever. So much for the horizontal direction. For the vertical, the very same method determined the choice of the chords.'
Pas de la chicorée frisée (the title can be read either as No Curly Chicory or March of the Curly Chicory) was performed for the first time on 27 March 1920 at the Manifestation Dada staged at the Théâtre de l'Oeuvre, with Margueritte Buffet at the piano. Ribemont-Dessaignes stood by as page-turner, and later recalled being "overwhelmed by the unprecedented din that was made up of this terribly dissonant music, and the restlessness, shouts and whistling of the audience, all of which united with a crash of broken glass to give a truly most curious effect."
After the collapse of Paris Dada in 1923 Ribemont-Dessaignes threw in with the Surrealists, but like so many others would eventually break with André Breton. That his music has not been heard since 1920 is regrettable indeed, since his method of composition was at least as interesting as his friend Duchamp, and certainly more advanced than Picabia. Performed by Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen.
12. Francis Picabia La Nourrice Américaine 3.08
Born in Paris, Francis Picabia (1879-1953) is another key figure in the development of abstract art and the avant-garde. Influenced first by Fauvism and Cubism, he met Marcel Duchamp and Guillaume Apollinaire in 1911, and between 1913 to 1915 made several visits to New York, where he was active in avant-garde circles and took part in the celebrated Armory Show. In 1917 Picabia published his first volume of poetry and founded the celebrated avant-garde periodical 391, which ran for 19 (irregular) issues until 1924. Other contributors to 391 would include Duchamp, Tzara, Max Ernst, Hans Arp, Robert Desnos, René Magritte, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, Edgard Varèse and Max Jacob.
Picabia continued his involvement in Dada through 1919 both in Zurich and Paris, producing numerous machine drawings as well as two issues of Cannibale (1920). So far as is known he composed just one piece of music, an antagonistic piece performed for the first - and last - time at the Festival Dada, the landmark event staged at the prestigious Salle Gaveau, Paris, on 26 May 1920. According to Picabia's then-partner Germaine Everling, his piece La Nourrice Américaine (The American Nurse) consisted simply of "three notes repeated to infinity". Probably the motif was probably played by pianist Marguerite Buffet for a few minutes only, since The American Nurse was not mentioned in any contemporary review of the event, despite the presence of numerous reporters.
Almost certainly, Picabia selected these three notes by chance, and may have been inspired by his friend and future collaborator, Erik Satie. Picabia was among the first to co-opt Satie into Dada, and may have been aware of Vexations. His playful influence also be inferred from the unsubtle subtitle Musique sodomiste ('sodomist music'), applied just a few weeks after Picabia praised Satie as the originator of Musique d'ameublement ('furniture music') in issue #3 of Der Dada, published in April 1920. Another likely inspiration was Duchamp, a friend of Picabia since 1911; inevitably, he must also have discussed music theory with Ribemont-Dessaignes, and perhaps another fellow French expatriate in New York, Edgard Varèse. Certainly The American Nurse was intended to provoke rather than to entertain, though whether Picabia's artistic intent was truly serious is more difficult to determine. He seems not to have referred to the piece in subsequent writings, and the suspicion remains that the piece was more in the nature of an ironic, nihilistic prank. Performed by Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen.
13. Jean Cocteau La Toison d'Or 2.54
Poet, artist, director and auteur, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) hailed from Maisons-Lafitte in France. Once established in Paris he became a figure of considerable influence in the avant-garde, mentoring the young composers of Les Six along with Erik Satie, though like him later rejected by the Surrealists. This charming, playful recording was made on 12 March 1929, with musical backing by the Dan Parrish Jazz Orchestra. The underlying music is Holidays, a Parrish original, while the text of La Toison d'Or (The Golden Fleece) is taken from Cocteau's verse book Opera.
14. Kurt Schwitters Die Sonata in Urlauten 3.27
Born in Hanover, Germany, Kurt Schwitters came to the Dada movement relatively late, meeting Raoul Hausmann and Hans Arp in Berlin only in 1918. Abandoning his previous Expressionist style, Schwitters adapted certain of Arp's collage and assemblage techniques to style his own unique variant, Merz. On hearing Hausmann's sound poem fmsbw in 1921 Schwitters also recognised the potential of this radical form of expression. The resulting phonetic poem Die Sonata in Urlauten (or Ursonate) grew in size and scope over the years, eventually being published in 1932 (in Merz #24) with typography by Jan Tschichold.
According to Dada historian Hans Richter: 'No one could perform poetry as Schwitters could. What Schwitters made of the poem, and the way he spoke it, were totally unlike Hausmann. Schwitters was a total free spirit. He was ruled by nature. No stored-up grudges, no repressed impulses. Everything came straight from the depths, without hesitation… Everything he said was coloured by his Hanover dialect, one notoriously ill-suited to poetical and gnomic utterances. But everything he said was so new that one ended up being ready to accept Hanoverian as the new world language. People laughed at him. They were right to laugh, but only if they understood why.'
This abridged recording of the Ursonate was made by Kurt Schwitters for Sud-deutschen Rundfunk radio on 5 May 1932 and appears courtesy of Ernst Schwitters and Cosmopress Geneva.
15. Robert Desnos Description of a Dream 3.19
Born in Paris, Robert Desnos (1900-1945) found himself at the vanguard of Surrealism, and was one of the first poets to experiment with automatic writing. His early poems appeared in Littérature, but Desnos was subsequently castigated by Breton for his journalism and orthodox talent, and expelled from the Surrealist circle in 1930. During the next decade Desnos undertook increasingly commercial assignments, including radio work, and in 1933 his poem La complainte de Fantomas was set to music by Kurt Weill. Relation d'un Rêve ('description of a dream') is a remarkable sound collage recorded in 1938 for Radio Luxembourg, and perhaps a prototype for La Clef des Songes. During the war years Desnos worked as an editor for the clandestine Les Editions du Minuit, but was arrested and deported to Buchenwald. In June 1945 he succumbed to typhus at Terezene (Theresienstadt) in Czechoslovakia, just a few days after the camp was liberated by the Allies. This restored recording appears courtesy of Jacques Frankael and INA, France.
1. Charles Ives The Unanswered Question 6.05
American composer Charles Ives (1874-1954) was among the first to engage in a systematic program of experimental music, including polytonality, tone clusters and micro-tones. The son of a Civil War army bandleader, Ives attended Yale before entering the insurance industry, pioneering the concept of estate planning and becoming a millionaire. While at Yale he had written church and choral music in conservative styles, but in 1906 composed what some consider to be the first radical musical work of the 20th century, Central Park in the Dark. The piece evokes an evening by contrasting sounds from nearby nightclubs in Manhattan (playing ragtime, the popular music of the day) with the mysterious dark and misty qualities of the Central Park woods, evoked by strings. The Unanswered Question was written two years later, utilizing the highly unusual combination of trumpet, four flutes, and string quartet (or orchestra). Located offstage, the strings play slow, chorale-like music throughout, while the trumpet (positioned behind the audience) occasionally plays a short motif which Ives himself described as 'the eternal question of existence.' Each time the trumpet is answered with increasingly shrill outbursts from the flutes, apart from the last - this being the titular unanswered question.
Neither Central Park in the Dark or The Unanswered Question appears to have been performed in public until 1946, and the millionaire seemed little concerned with performance. His later works included Three Places in New England, although in 1927 Ives ceased writing altogether. According to his wife, the composer came downstairs one morning with tears in his eyes, and announced that he could compose no more, since 'nothing sounds right.' Three years later Ives also retired from the insurance industry. He would subsequently revise several earlier works after this time, but no new music emerged. He died of a stroke in 1954 in New York City.
2. Arnold Schoenberg Sechs kleine Klavierstücke 5.56
Born in Vienna in 1874, Schoenberg is renowned as an innovator of serialism, and the twelve-tone (or dodecaphonic) method of composition, viewed by some as an enemy of tonality. This first three serial works (Op.23, Op.25 and Serenade) were written between 1920 and 1923. Schoenberg was also a painter, and on 27 October 1922 his influential Expressionistic song cycle Pierrot Lunaire was performed at a concert sponsored by the influential Bauhaus art school in Weimar. The composer was also a close friend of Wassily Kandinsky, to whom he wrote in July 1922 that "Personally, I haven't much taste for all these movements. Damn it all, I did my composing without any 'ism' in mind." The pair would collaborate on the operas Erwartung and Die Glückliche Hand (both 1924). In 1925 Schoenberg took charge of the composition masterclass at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, but being Jewish was dismissed in 1933 after the Nazis took power and forced into exile. He would go on to become an American citizen and a composer of profound influence, dying in 1951.
3. Igor Stravinsky The Rite of Spring (extract) 8.05
This celebrated ballet and concert work by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was written for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky and set design by Nicholas Roerich. When the Rite was first performed, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris on 29 May 1913, the radical nature of the music and choreography provoked uproar in the audience. Stravinsky wrote in his autobiography of his disgust at the derisive laughter which greeted the first bars of the Introduction, prompting him to leave the auditorium and watch the rest of the performance from the wings. The disturbance, he continued, grew into 'a terrific uproar', while conductor Pierre Monteux recalled that 'everything available was tossed in our direction, but we continued to play on.' Le Figaro slated the work (subtitled Scenes from Pagan Russia) as a 'laborious and puerile barbarity'. A short London run in July was also disparaged by the Times, whose correspondent found that the composer had sacrificed melody and harmony for rhythm: 'If M. Stravinsky had wished to be really primitive, he would have been wise to score his ballet for nothing but drums.' A century later, The Rite of Spring still sounds fearsomely noisy, and entirely fresh. Three of the 14 component parts feature in this excerpt: Introduction (3.28), The Augurs of Spring - Dance of the Young Girls (3.18), and Mock Abduction (1.17).
4. Josef Matthias Hauer Tanz Op. 10 4.59
Born in Wiener Neustadt in 1883, Austrian composer and theorist Josef Matthias Hauer pioneered a form of twelve-tone (zwölfton) composition independently of Schoenberg, though his reputation remains subordinate. In May 1919 Hauer met the Swiss painter and theoretician Johannes Itten, soon to become an influential Master at the Bauhaus. Both worked on synaesthetic theories and constructs by which tones were assigned to colours (Klangfarben und Farbklange): the pair also contemplated founding a music school in Weimar to complement the Bauhaus, although nothing came of this plan. Tanz Op.10 is an earlier piece, written in 1915, and formed part of the avant-garde repertoire compiled by Nelly van Doesburg. An interest in Eastern mysticism and the Mazdaznan sect brought Itten into conflict with Gropius, and he left the Bauhaus in 1923, a split which also ended Hauer's contact with the school. At about the same time Hauer's simmering rivalry with Schoenberg finally came to a head. Like Schoenberg, his career was stymied by the ascent of Nazism, under which his Modernist music was denounced as decadent, and his scores included in a touring exhibition of 'degenerate' art (Entartete Künst). Hauer died in Vienna in 1959, leaving a vast and often metaphysical oeuvre, much of which has never been published or performed. This recording is by Peter Beijersbergen van Henegouwen.
5. Arthur Honegger Pacific 231 6.05
As a child, Swiss-born composer Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) was fascinated by trains, and made a point of inspecting each steam locomotive before boarding. In 1923, Les Six having effectively disbanded, Honegger was inspired to compose Mouvement symphonique no. 1 'Pacific', being the large engine used by heavy express trains in Europe. 231 referred to the wheel ratio. The thunderous piece now commonly referred to as Pacific 231 was premiered in Paris in May 1924, and is sometimes described as Futurist in character. True, it served to inspire some of the later 'machine music' of Socialist Realism in the USSR. However Honegger arrived at the same destination by a very different route, for Pacific 231 was essentially architectural in character, and modelled on the chorales of Bach.
The composer wrote later that: 'What I have tried to depict in Pacific is not the imitation of the noise of a locomotive but the reproduction of a visual impression and a physical sensation through musical design. This reproduction stems from concrete observations: the quiet breathing of the machine standing still; the straining at the start; the gradual gathering of speed to lyrical steadiness culmination in the powerful exuberance of a 300 ton engine rushing at 120 kilometres per hour through the night... I wanted to give the feeling of a mathematical acceleration of rhythm, while the actual motion of the piece slowed down.'
6. Alexander Mosolov Iron Foundry 2.59
A genuine example of Socialist Realist 'machine music', written by Ukrainian composer Alexander Mosolov between 1926-27, and reproduced here in a rare recording from the 1930s. Also known as Factory (Zavod), Op 19, this dynamic, brutal piece was originally composed as the first movement of the ballet suite Steel (Stal), with scenario by Inna Chernetskaya, though regrettably the remaining movements are lost. Iron Foundry was premiered in Moscow on 4 December 1927 at a concert to mark the tenth anniversary of the Soviet Revolution; the first Western performance of this 'mighty hymn to machine work' appears to have been in Liege in 1930. At the Hollywood Bowl a year later Iron Foundry was used as the music to Adolph Bolm's ballet The Spirit of the Factory, also known also as Ballet mécanique, but not to be confused with the 1924 composition by George Antheil.
Born in Kiev in 1900, Mosolov studied at the Moscow Conservatory and was an early and leading light of the Association of Contemporary Music. However 1929 brought violent attacks on his reputation by Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians, with the result that his works were suppressed. In 1936 he was expelled from the Union of Soviet Composers for 'public drunkenness' and rude behavior in restaurants, and 1937 condemned to eight years in the Gulag. Owing to the intervention of his former teachers Mosolov was soon released and lived on in poor health, still composing and working with folk music, but largely denied a hearing by the authorities. After his death in 1973 his music began to be revived. This early recording of Iron Foundry by Orchestre Symphonique de Paris (conducted by Julius Ehrlich) was issued on a 78 rpm disc on the Columbia label in 1934 (titled Steel Foundry). The Paris orchestra was active between 1928 and 1939, and aimed to present less-known works of major composers as well as contemporary music. Most of the musicians were under 25 years of age.
7. Henry Cowell The Aeolian Harp 3.45
Composer, pianist and theorist Henry Cowell (1897-1965) was born near Palo Alto, California, to bohemian parents, and received little by way of formal education. After initial studies at Berkeley under musicologist Charles Seeger, Cowell moved to New York, where he received encouragement from Russian 'futurist' composer Leo Ornstein. In 1916 - while still a teenager - Cowell wrote the piano piece Dynamic Motion, his first important work to explore the possibilities of the tone cluster; 1919 also saw the publication of a book, New Musical Resources. During his first trip to Europe in 1923, Schoenberg invited Cowell to speak to his students in Berlin, while Béla Bartók sought permission to borrow his tone clusters. In a review of Cowell's recital at the Wigmore Hall in December the London Times reported that 'the wildest things were done with evident care, deliberation at the utmost seriousness.'
In pieces such as Aeolian Harp (written circa 1923), Cowell advanced another ultra-modern technique dubbed 'string piano'. Rather than using the keys to play, the pianist reaches inside the instrument and plucks, sweeps, and otherwise manipulates the strings directly. In 1931 Cowell performed at the Bauhaus, and his endeavors would serve as the primary inspiration for John Cage's later development of the prepared piano. Bisexual, in 1936 he was arrested and convicted on a 'morals' charge involving a 17-year old male. Sentenced to 15 years' incarceration, Cowell would spend the next four in San Quentin, but was later granted a pardon. His compositional output from 1940 until his death in 1965 encompassed a wide variety of styles and musics, but never again embodied the bold experimental tendencies of his early career. This performance, by Cowell himself, was recorded in 1963.
8. John Cage 4'33" 5.00
One of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde, composer and theorist John Cage (1912-1992) in known as a pioneer of chance and indeterminacy in music, as well as non-standard use of musical instruments, and is lauded as one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century. Having studied under both Schoenberg and Cowell, Cage was a pioneer of the prepared piano (a piano with its sound altered by objects placed between, or on, its strings or hammers), for which he wrote dance-related works and several concert pieces. The best known of these is Sonatas and Interludes, composed between 1946 and 1948; during this period he also wrote Music for Marcel Duchamp.
His most notorious work remains 4'33", a piece conceived in 1952 for any instrument, and performed in the absence of deliberate sound. Instead, the musicians do nothing aside from being present for the duration specified by the title. The content of the composition is not four minutes and 33 seconds of silence (as is sometimes assumed), but rather the sounds of the environment heard by the audience. 'Nothing is accomplished by writing, hearing or playing a piece of music,' Cage wrote in 1961. The challenge of 4'33" to assumed definitions about musicianship and musical experience have made it a popular and controversial topic both in musicology, and the broader aesthetics of art and performance.
4'33" was premiered by David Tudor in August 1952 at Woodstock, New York. The audience watched Tudor sit down at the piano, then close the keyboard lid. It would be opened briefly to mark the end of the first movement, a process repeated for the second and third. 'They missed the point,' Cage complained afterwards. 'There's no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn't know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.' The performance featured here lasts exactly 4'33", the remainder of the running time being pauses and applause.
9. Karlheinz Stockhausen Gesang der Jünglinge 13.03
Born in Modrath (Germany) in 1928, Stockhausen is widely acknowledged as one of the most important - if controversial - composers of modern times. From 1947 to 1951 he studied music at the University of Cologne, and afterwards in Paris with Olivier Messiaen and Darius Milhaud. In December 1952 Stockhausen composed a Konkrete Etüde, realized in Pierre Schaeffer's pioneering Paris musique concrète studio, before relocating to the technologically advanced NWDR radio studio in Cologne to develop purely electronic music. Two Elektronische Studien (composed in 1953 and 1954 respectively) used frequency generators only, together with magnetic tape, and stand as the first published electronic music scores. Both Studies served as precursors for Stockhausen's first acknowledged masterpiece, Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths, or Young Boy's Song). Composed in 1956, Gesang is routinely described as the first true masterwork of electronic music, demonstrating a complexity and drama which far surpassed anything the medium had yet produced. The text fragments are drawn from the Book of Daniel and sung by a boy soprano, with the whole recorded on magnetic tape and performed on five spatially arranged loudspeakers. Dramatic and otherworldly, Gesang offered a seamless integration of electronic sounds with the human voice by means of matching voice resonances with pitch, and marked a quantum leap beyond the concrète techniques practiced in Paris and elsewhere. The version featured here is performed by the composer.
10. Edgard Varèse Poème électronique 8.08
Also known as Edgar, Varèse was born in Paris in 1883, and after a short spell of war service emigrated to New York in 1916. There he founded the International Composers Guild as well as the Pan-American Association of Composers, but dreamed of a sound that was 'set free' and 'flowed like a river', and anticipated electronic music by working with the inventor Leon Theremin and the Western Electronic Company on primitive devices. In America Varèse also collaborated with Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. Multi-media work Poème électronique was commissioned by Dutch electronics company Philips for their extraordinary pavilion at the 1958 World Exposition in Brussels. Designed by Le Corbusier and his assistant Iannis Xenakis (also a composer of note), Poème électronique was broadcast over a bespoke sound system consisting of more than 400 speakers, spatially arranged according to Varèse's prescription. 'In the Poème,' he said, 'I heard my music literally in space for the first time.' The composer was by then aged 75, and the electronic poem would be his last completed work.
11. György Ligeti Atmosphères 9.04
Perceptions of space also colour Atmosphères by György Ligeti, largely because the piece was used by director Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The shifting, shimmering soundworld of Atmosphères was originally commissioned in 1961 by the Southwest German Radio, and is noted for discarding conventional melody and metre in favor of dense 'sound masses'. After Apparitions, it was the second piece Ligeti wrote to exploit what he termed 'micropolyphonic' texture. Born in Transylvania (Romania) in 1923, Ligeti lived in Hungary before emigrating and becoming an Austrian citizen. He studied with Stockhausen in Cologne and Darmstadt, but soon turned away from what he saw as overly dogmatic experimentalism. The composer died in Vienna in 2006.
Interestingly, that same year a performance of Atmosphères by the London Philharmonic Orchestra was segued into The Rite of Spring, described by critic Hugh Canning as a stroke of programming genius: 'Vladimir Jurowski preceded Stravinsky's Rite with Ligeti's static cloudscape, Atmosphères. Instead of presenting these seminal modernist works as separate items, Jurowski segued seamlessly from the nothingness of the Ligeti's close into the opening bassoon solo of the Stravinsky. The contrast between these two pieces - the Ligeti a study in motionlessness, the Stravinsky a convulsive eruption of movement - was only enhanced by Jurowski's device, making one listen with refreshed ears.' The version on this CD is performed by the North German Radio (NDR) Symphony Orchestra in 1963, conducted by Hermann Scherchen.