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ClassicsOnline Home » Piano Music (20th Century) - BOUCOURECHLIEV, A. / CASTIGLIONI, N. / BROUWER, L. / MIMAROGLU, I. (New Line Piano) (Biret Archive Edition, Vol. 3)
“Session (1975) by İlhan Mimaroğlu, for piano, electronic tape and speaking voices, is an intensely dramatic piece of agitprop music in the mode of Luigi Nono…Leo Brouwer’s Sonata Pian e Forte (1970) uses musical quotations, including that from Gabrieli which gives the piece its title…In André Boucourechliev’s Archipel IV (ca. 1970), the entire piece is constructed by the performer from the composer’s elements, which themselves are open to modification. Castiglioni’s Cangianti (1959) showcase Idil Biret’s skill at handling certain facets of modern piano idioms.” LOS ANGELES TIMES – USA 1978
“For much of the music on this disc I’ll let either the composer or the annotators speak…Idil Biret is sensational and Finnadar’s processing is first rate.” NEW RECORDS – USA 1978
“Four excellent contemporary classical piano pieces. Session was written specifically for Biret by İlhan Mimaroğlu. It involves not only piano but also considerable electronics and several voices…Leo Brouwer’s Sonata Pian e Forte uses prerecorded tapes in which the piano quotes from other works. Niccolò Castiglioni’s Cangianti and André Boucourechliev’s Archipel IV are straight piano pieces of a turbulent sort…Biret’s performances are spirited and her technical command is superb.” CONTEMPORARY KEYBOARD – USA 1978
The FINNADAR RECORDINGS of IDIL BIRET
Idil Biret started recording for the Finnadar in 1972, following a proposal from Ilhan Mimaroglu. At the time Mimaroglu, a composer of electronic music, was working as a producer for Atlantic Records in New York, mostly with its co-founder Nasuhi Ertegün. Finnadar label was founded as a subsidiary of Atlantic, one of the few imprints within the major-label corporate structure devoted wholly to contemporary music (1). In a rare interview he gave in 2001, Ilhan Mimaroglu described his goal for founding Finnadar records:
It was in the early seventies that I started Finnadar Records with an LP of my electronic music and continued throughout the years, primarily with recordings of contemporary compositions, with a view to also offer to the public performers who should be better known, among which Turkish pianists Idil Biret and Meral Güneyman.(2)
During an association with Idil Biret that lasted over ten years nine LPs were issued by Finnadar with recordings of many contemporary works including those by Boulez, Berg, Webern, Miaskovsky, Boucourechliev as well as some classical works by Beethoven, Chopin and others (see discography below). The recordings received great critical acclaim in the US and Europe and the Boulez Sonata no.2 was selected as the “Record of the Month” by Stereo Review magazine. Biret later recorded all three Boulez Piano Sonatas for Naxos which received a Diapason d’Or of the year 1995 in France and sold 30.000 copies within six months of its release. The recording of the Berlioz/Liszt Symphonie Fantastique received special attention on both sides of the Atlantic as it was one of the first forays into recording and performing piano transcriptions—a widely practiced art in 19th century that had fallen out of favour in the 20th century. Idil Biret performed the Berlioz/Liszt work at recitals all over the world including New York, London, Paris, Munich, Milan and helped establish respect for the performance of piano transcriptions once again. On the base of these performances and the Finnadar recording she then went on to record for EMI the complete symphonies of Beethoven in the piano transcriptions by Liszt and performed all the nine symphonies in four recitals at the Montpellier Festival (broadcast live by Radio France Musique) during the Liszt Centennial in 1986.
Sadly, the adventurous label Finnadar did not last long and was folded up in the early 1980s. In a brief note, the ex-RCA executive Jack M. Einhorn explains some of the reasons for the early demise of Finnadar:
I first became aware of Idil Biret from her outstanding recordings for Ilhan Mimaroglu’s Finnadar label - an imprint that went ill-distributed by the powers-that-be at then-Warner Distribution (Finnadar was affiliated with Atlantic Records in the Warner-Elektra-Atlantic triumvirate). Her recordings of piano works by Boucourechliev, Miaskovsky, and Berlioz (by way of Liszt) made a strong impression, one that has not faded from this listener’s memory. Warner Distribution’s bread and butter in the late 1970s and 1980s was rock and pop and the Warner sales force had a genuinely bad attitude toward classical music, jazz and world music. The salespeople were somewhat surprised that Nonesuch was selling so strongly (could it have been the fact that it was a budget label with a broad but genuinely interesting repertoire base and a great promotional team at Elektra?), and used the false comparison between Nonesuch (budget) and Finnadar (a bargain at full price in my less-than-humble opinion) to marginalize the latter label, which only found a foothold in Tower, a few chain stores, and indy stores with big Classical selections - that is, if the pop-brained salesperson even bothered to call the releases to the attention of the Classics buyer.
Thank God for Klaus Heymann who has given terrific artists like Idil Biret the exposure that they truly merit. (3)
Ahmet Ertegün gave the copyrights of all her Finnadar LPs (then owned by Warner/Atlantic) to Idil Biret shortly before he passed away. Idil Biret would like to express her gratitude to the Ertegün family and to Ilhan and Güngör Mimaroglu for making possible the release of her early Finnadar recordings on the Idil Biret Archive label.
Şefik B. Yüksel
(1) Dave Lewis, All Music Guide
(2) Interview with Mehmet Dede in New York, 2001
(3) From a letter to Sefik B. Yüksel by Jack M. Einhorn, 27 May 2000
DISCOGRAPHY of IDIL BIRET / FINNADAR (ATLANTIC RECORDS)
SR9004 Boulez- Sonata no.2; Webern – Variations op.27 (1973)
SR9008 Berg- Sonata op.1 (1975)
SR9013 Ravel- Serenade Grotesque, Gaspard de la Nuit; Strawinsky- The Five Fingers, A Waltz
for Children, Petrouchka Three Scenes (1976)
SR125 Prokofiev—Sonata no.2; Chopin Two Mazurkas; Scriabin Sonata no.10
(1977) Direct to Disc in a single take without edits (Limited Edition of 5500 copies)
SR9021 Mimaroglu- Session; Castiglioni- Cangianti; Boucourechliev-Archipel IV;
Brouwer- Sonata “Pian e Forte” (1978)
SR9023 Berlioz- Symphonie Fantastique, piano transcription by Liszt (1979)
SR9029 Rachmaninov- Prelude C sharp minor; Miaskovsky- Sonatas no.2 and 3;
Scriabin- 5 Preludes op.74 (1980)
SR9035 Mahler – Piano Quartet; Franck- Piano Quintet (1982) with the London String Quartet
(Carl Pini, Violin - Benedict Cruft, Violin - Rusen Günes, Viola - Roger Smith, Cello)
SR90460 Beethoven- Sonata no.8 “Pathetique”; Sonata no.29 “Hammerklavier” (1986)
André BOUCOURECHLIEV (1925–1997): Archipel IV
Niccolò CASTIGLIONI (1932–1996): Cangianti
Leo BROUWER (1939): Sonata Pian e Forte
İlhan MİMAROĞLU (1926): Session
Choice or chance. This is not the question. Not here. Some would have you believe otherwise; that whenever creative decisions are shared by the composer and the performer, chance is involved. ”Aleatory” is the catchword. “Alea” meaning dice, and “aleatory” of or pertaining to games of chance. It came to signify (i) music where creative decisions are left to the performer’s discretion; and (ii) music composed by chance operations and indeterminate of its performance. If we regard the former, and not only the latter, as chance music, then all traditionally composed music ought to be defined as chance music, and that by virtue of the un-specifiable elements left to the performer’s discretion. What, after all, are the specifiable quantities of a crescendo? Even timbre has to be prescribed in terms of highly generalized categories. How does one quantify a flute? The raising of such questions was bound to upset the traditional set of priorities assigned to the elements of music, and when elements of high priority, pitch and duration, together with the structures they engender, were also left to the performer’s discretion, nothing really changed: from the composer’s standpoint, music became no more and no less a conceptual art than it had always been and as always subject to chance in matters of performance.
Electronic music excepted, of course, where conceptualization is not more a relevant (and helpless) end in itself; where all the abstractions are concretized in sound by the composer; where nothing is left to chance even when chance methods are put to use; where nothing is left to the performer’s irreversible discretion even when a performer is employed with all of his/her discretions. In the end, all is choice—the composer’s.
Session (1975)* is a case in point. It is a work of total fixity. That it is not written for the piano, but for a specific pianist, explains only part of its
essence. Regardless of whether or not it is practicable in “live” performance, not only no other pianist is permitted to play it, but Idil Biret too, for whom it is written (it would be more proper to say “from whom it is composed”), will not be required to play it again, in concert or for another recording, as she has performed her part under the direction of the composer for the sole purpose of a concretized composition heard on this disc. Hence it is fixity. It cannot change from one performance to another. In concert performances, same as any other piece of true electronic music, a recording will be played—as it has been when Session was first heard publicly at the Electronic Music Festival of Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, January 1977, and later the same year in the May Day concert of Musicians Action Collective, at the Kitchen, in New York.
The piece should communicate its message by its own unconcealed means, although there are a few things to be said about its subtler aspects. Mention could be made of the musical quotations: the one from Chopin’s ‘Revolutionary’ Etude, fort instance, and how it relates to what is said about past and present revolutions; or the Tristan quotations, one of which, when heard backwards, representing the reversal of values prompted by money; and the Internationale dramatically plotted as a determined state of consciousness; and also that most of the music in the piano as well as the “accompaniment” parts consists of metamorphoses of these motivically employed quotations. The listener may perceive all these and more, or may not. If he does, so much the better. If he does not, then when the piece communicates musically (not necessarily to a musically probing audience) and verbally (but necessarily to an English speaking audience) ought to be sufficient to establish its point and purpose.
Cangianti (1959)—The Italian word denotes the unsettled, iridescent character of the piece as well as its changing relations) is a conventionally structured (closed-form) composition where both the precisions imposed upon and the liberties given to the performer are of a traditional order. Yet the experience acquired in the electronic music studio is manifested both by the precisions and the liberties. On the one hand, there is a discernment for controlled durations that measured tape-cutting provides, hence such rhythms consisting, for example, of eighth-note quintuplets with one eighth-note missing (simplistic traditionalists would call them irrational), and on the other rests of “approximately” so many seconds, or a blank space between two notated staves, demanding from the performer the kind of instinctive actions best cultivated in an electronic music studio.
Among the determinants of Castiglioni’s creative profile, alongside the electronic experience, is the career of a concert pianist. Born in Milan (1932), he acquired very early in his development as a composer the new techniques which laid down the foundation of a style definable as an expansion of post-serialism, one which is marked by a refinement and aural immediacy rarely encountered in the music of that era. He composed several orchestral and vocal works which distinguished him, alongside Berio, Nono and the late Maderna, as an outstanding protagonist of the new Italian school.
The electronic experience also nurtured André Boucourechliev’s style. Renowned as a music critic and musicologist too (he is the author of two highly regarded books on Schumann), Boucourechliev, born in Sofia (1925) was trained in the conservatory of that city before completing his studies at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. He first gained and applied the electronic techniques at the Studio di Fonologia in Milan and also composed in the studios of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales in Paris. His highly refined conception of sound displayed in his instrumental works is a manifestation of sensibilities developed in the electronic environment.
On the matter of choice and chance, Boucourechliev is unequivocal. Here is how he comments on Archipel IV (ca. 1970): “Like all my works that bear this name, Archipel IV is a mobile work, changing from one interpretation to another. Its elements are placed on a large sheet of paper, all of which are offered to the free choice of the pianist who may vary to the infinite their succession and duration. But, aside from the order, the context and the time of occurrence of these elements, their internal structure too is modified each time: pitches, rhythms, intensities, masses, densities are all variable and subject to certain rules and gestural limitations and operated instantaneously by the performer. There is no question here of chance actions; the freedom given to the pianist is a freedom of choice, hence the responsibility. It is those lucid and instinctive choices that determine the trajectory of the work—a solitary navigation which, although unplotted, must at each instant be guided by the interpreter’s powers and must possess its own profound logic and unity in its diversity, imagination and dreamlike quality.”
Brouwer’s Sonata Pian e Forte (1970) is somewhat similar in its overall design, with the difference that a restricted itinerary is imposed upon the performer who has to start and finish the performance with definite structural elements (which Brouwer calls “formants,” a term obviously borrowed from Stockhausen). On the score, the starting elements are placed. The ones closer to the circle are to be played first and interpolated with the one in the circle. One of the elements calls for improvisation, some of the others consist of graphic notation by virtue of which a good amount of improvisation is also required. One element is a quotation from Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata. Three of them are quotations from (i) a Scriabin sonata (Brouwer does not specify which, so we choose a fragment from the Tenth Sonata); (ii) from Szymanowski, either from the opera King Roger or from one of the violin concerti; (iii) Gabrieli’s Sonata Pian e Forte. These three quotations are to be pre-recorded on tape and played back during the pianist’s “live” performance; or the other elements can be put on tape and the quotations performed “live”; or the tape recorder can be dispensed with altogether and the pianist will play the quotations as interpolations. We opted for the first alternative. The order of the quotations on tape guides the forms that the piece will take in each performance. Even if the sequence of the quotations is kept unchanged, an infinite number of versions is possible in performance. The results suggested to us (although we do not know whether this was the composer’s intention) the playing of two pianists at a certain proximity of each other, one unaware of and interfering with the other; or, in pictorial terms, a painting that serves as canvas for another, and we cultivated our recorded sound with such suggestions in mind. Leo Brouwer was born in Havana in 1939 and trained primarily as a guitarist at the conservatory of that city. In the earlier stages of his formation he oriented himself to musical composition, pursued his studies at the Juilliard School in New York and developed into one of the most talented musical explorers of our day.
*Session is a composition of agitprop music for electromagnetic tape featuring Idil Biret, pianist and the speaking voices of Arthur Levy (The Attorney), Steve Goldstein (The Accountant), John David Kalodner (The Publicist), Idil Biret (The Artist). Text by İlhan Mimaroğlu partially based on paraphrased quotations from Karl Marx. Realized in the studios of Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, New York.
(Music notes are from the original LP Finnadar SR 9021)
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