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ClassicsOnline Home » COLEMAN, D.R.: Starry Night / Zwiegespräch / Ibergang / Fanfare and Palimpsest / 3 Character Pieces (F. Schwartz, Begelman, Wendeberg, D.R. Coleman)
David Robert Coleman’s intensely expressive music owes some of its virtuoso magic to artistic ancestors such as Alban Berg. Zwiegespräch has the solo viola perform an imaginary interior conversation, while the impressionistic Ibergang takes a klezmer-like melodic snatch on a multi-layered journey. The widely performed Starry Night is a set of chorale variations; Fanfare and Palimpsest is Coleman’s reply to Ives’s Unanswered Question, and the Three Character Pieces sum up an aesthetic which alights on myriad moments, never resting for long on its laurels of beauty and subtle vehemence.
David Robert Coleman (b. 1969)
Zwiegespräch • Ibergang • Starry Night • Fanfare and Palimpsest • Three Character Pieces
David Robert Coleman was born into a German-English family in London in 1969. He studied piano and conducting at the Royal College of Music in London as well as reading music at King’s College, Cambridge. Further private studies in composition ensued with George Benjamin in London and later Wolfgang Rihm in Karlsruhe. The British composer Julian Anderson is an important friend and influence.
Coleman’s style is a synthesis of various European postand pre-serialist strands. His approach is non-dogmatic and informed by his practical experiences as a conductor. An immersion in the music of Alban Berg, Boulez and the teachings of Messiaen are central to a personal search for musical expression, form and colour.
The works on this recording represent a cross-section of Coleman’s writing over the last decade. Zwiegespräch (Dialogue) is an imaginary, interior conversation enacted by a solo-viola. There are two tempo sections that contrast and eventually intermingle. It is as if one instrument speaks with two voices to itself. The piece was written in Moscow in 2010 and is dedicated to Felix Schwartz, a principal viola of the Berlin Staatskapelle.
Ibergang, a rhapsody for clarinet and orchestra, was commissioned by the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and given its première in 2008 under the composer’s direction. The title Ibergang is a Yiddish alteration of the German word Übergang meaning ‘transition’ and refers to the constant metamorphosing of a klezmer-like melodic snatch throughout the piece. The piece is an involved and multi-layered journey for clarinet and orchestra leading to a wistful, cantabile epilogue. The work is mindful of Debussy’s clarinet and orchestra rhapsody, especially in its subtle harmonies and orchestral colours. Contemporary French writing by composers such as Dutilleux or Manoury are certainly an influence. Underneath the refined textures, however, there is an attempt at emotional immediacy and Mahlerian poignancy.
The next piece, Starry Night, for piano, piccolo and ten instruments was given its première in 1999 by members of the Southwest German Radio Orchestra. Since then it has been played by many European ensembles, for example Ensemble Modern Frankfurt. The piece is a set of chorale variations starting with a nocturnal chorale for solo piano in the low register. This is offset by brilliant piccolo writing in combination with harp, vibraphone and low strings plus trombone. Harmonically the music works with ringmodulation models, a kind of musique spectrale, as well as an underlying sense of harmony inspired by the non-tonal works of Liszt and Scriabin. The virtuosic piano-writing make this a concerto-like piece in a small setting.
Fanfare and Palimpsest for trumpet and seven instruments was written in 2009 for the young musicians‘ academy of the Berlin State Orchestra. The piece plays with the spatial separation of the solo trumpet from the other instruments. The music hovers on the edge of a hidden fanfare in pianissimo shadings. At one point the ‘cat is let out of the bag’ and a reminiscence of a motif from Balakirev’s Islamey played forte by the solo trumpet is heard.
This collection ends with Three Character Pieces for viola and piano, composed in 2012. They were written for Julia Deyneka, an acclaimed young Russian violist who is a principal viola of the Berlin State Orchestra. The first piece, Elegie’, is an introduction in which simple legato lines are woven between the piano and viola. The second, a Scherzo, is a brilliant toccata that exploits the alternation of pizzicato (plucked) playing and fast, bowed playing. The last piece, Notturno interrotto (Interrupted Nocturne) opens with a long, dream-like melody for the viola over a soft, throbbing accompaniment in the piano. A contrasting section suggests eery, fleeting shadows and the noises of nocturnal insects. The piece ends with a long, ‘painfully’ sustained note for the viola. There is a sudden awakening and the unsettling dream is broken apart.
David Robert Coleman – In different languages. Or music as a totally different art of transition.
English translation of an essay by Dr Wolfgang Hofer
It appears as though this music dreams its dream with open eyes. Its own specific utopia is inspired by the idea of a continual glissando that is nothing more than an ostinato of permanently expanding metamorphoses.
‘Who is playing the piano so beautifully outside?’—this question appears in Arthur Schnitzler’s revolutionary monologue/play Fräulein Else (the composer Beat Furrer in using Schnitzler’s play for his opera Fama fails to answer the question and says nothing of Schumann’s Kinderszenen). Nevertheless, we could imagine a small scene today in which Fräulein Else, situated in a Munich belle époque villa surrounded by those paintings of Lenbach and von Stuck, dreams of her freedom and outside there is someone like David Coleman sitting at the piano. The pianist plays little Moments musicaux from Starry Night or from other character pieces by memory. One hears a clear answer to the musical possibility of the ‘unanswered question’. Composing is always the ‘unanswered question’ and Coleman engenders this question with his exact musical imagination. In the terra incognita of New Music he finds his new musical shapes and sounds.
Let us consider the subject more closely. In Zwiegespräch (Dialogue) for a solo viola a slow-moving, constantly more secret melancholy is subtly evoked. It is a music of shadows emanating from life’s reflections in a constantly shifting light. The inherent or the other in the artist speaks through the voice of the viola out of imagined otherness: ‘Dialogue de l’ombre double’ (Dialogue of the shadow’s double), to quote the title of a piece by Boulez, or, to put it simply, Der Dichter spricht (The Poet speaks), the title of one of Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen. Is it that echoes of the ‘other’ are articulated in this finely-wrought, fictive dialogue, a different ‘viola in my life’ to mention the title of Morton Feldman’s piece? It is as if this piece is a prelude to Starry Night whilst simultaneously being a postlude to Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night. But that is a different train of aesthetic enquiry.
The sound labyrinths of Ibergang are presented in a different, more opulent conception. There is a high degree of variation between between solistic, chamber-music-like passages and orchestral tutti. The piece is a continual metamorphosis of Klangfarbenphantasmagorie (a term Adorno used to describe Wagner’s use of orchestral colour). It is a dialogue between soloist and orchestra of different proportions: solistic intermezzi are wide-awake questions. Here the orchestra is a sonic discourse of collaged and interjected sections that expand in ostinato sequences as an antidote to isolation. The artist objects to the ‘leaden times’ of today as if they were equal to Hölderlin’s times. The influence of Ravel or Satie may even crop up, but unlike Ravel these impressions lead to a quality of musical irony, as if we had Woody Allen himself playing the clarinet. This piece could also be called ‘chiaroscuro’ and this title would complement another musico-theatrical scene: Starry Night. Here we have successive and simultaneous musical pictures of a nightmare for piano, piccolo and ensemble.
This is how I imagine the music of Starry Night: Prospero unexpectedly wakes up after returning home to Milan from his exile. It is midnight and Ariel and the other spirits that he conjured up have disappeared. In a state of panic he sits at the piano and tries to banish the imagined ghosts. He picks up the flute and descends the stairs, like Hölderlin from his tower, to go down into the midnight air of the town that is starting to bustle… ‘starry night’.
All the musical figurations and gestures in this wonderful musical world point intensely to something beyond themselves. Virtuosic etudes on the edge of desperation. The world behind and underneath becomes an abyss. Meanwhile musical fanfares resound unfettered against a strange wall of sadness and lament. But somewhere there must exist a wall of happiness and joy!
Following this premise we find the Fanfare for trumpet and ensemble. The music is opaque and polyvalent whilst being a clear answer to Ives‘s Unanswered Question. Again a piece for soloist and ensemble. Again a dialogue. A dialogue with the composer himself as the artist? To find one’s way into this subtle sound world and then to vanish into open space only to re-emerge in search of the ‘other’, or the ‘other sound’ in the ‘other’, this is where the music takes us. Again the association is ‘the viola in my life’.
Let us return to the piano.
David Coleman, himself an accomplished pianist, acts here, in the words of the French composer René Leibowitz, as le compositeur et son double (the composer and his double or advocate). The three pieces are called character pieces. The last of these, entitled Notturno interrotto evokes a dream-like search of unuttered desire. Nothing describes Coleman’s aesthetic better than this piece in that something is touched on that begins to sing, something that is not able to be put into words. In this sense these innovative sound worlds go beyond being a ‘dialogue’ and unfold through their multifaceted articulation new, unsuspected and magical possibilities.
English version by David Robert Coleman
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COLEMAN, D.R.: Starry Night / Zwiegespräch / Iberg...