Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weird Music

The 20th century was known for its musical experimentation in every one of its genres.  Music involving the oboe was no exception.

Way back when I was in high school, my oboe teacher gave me a piece of music that he thought I might like to play. It was a trio for flute, oboe, and viola - or clarinet - called Terzetto, and it was composed by Gustav Holst of The Planets fame.  If you click on the word "Terzetto" in this paragraph, you will be able to see the score of this unusual work.

One of the most obvious quirks you will notice is that each instrument is to play in a different key.   

When I was a freshman in HS, I played half of a nice little Handel sonata for oboe for our SW Washington regional solo and ensemble contest. It went very well. The judge loved it, and I got a I-.  Okay, so when I was a sophomore, I tried the solo route again, but with disasterous results.  It was a very bad experience.

I decided that I would never play a solo again, and would participate only in small ensembles and large groups. Of course, I played solos again, but never standing up in front of a group, depending on my memory to get me through! 

In my junior year of HS I got a couple of friends to go in with me to play the Terzetto for contest. It went very well. The judge loved it and gave us a I - the highest rating.  Luckily, we actually ended up together in that performance, and the fact that there were a lot of dissonant notes  written into the parts was definitely in our favor.

When we got done, we went home.  My friend the violist had a date that night, so she wanted to get home ASAP.  Our orchestra director told us how great we had done, but he forgot to tell us one important thing. We had been selected to play for the evening concernt where the best performers played for all the music teachers and other musicians.  Unfortunately we were long gone before we found out.  We just wanted to play and get out of there as fast as we could, and home was 2 hours away!

Our director felt kind of bad that he forgot to tell us to stick around, so he arranged for us to perform our number in several different venues around our town.  This included playing for the school's Spring concert.

Well, it was one thing to play in front of a friendly judge and a few students hanging around.  It was another thing to play for an auditorium full of parents and peers.  The violist panicked and started playing before the curtain was all the way up.  Besides that, she could hardly get any sound out of her viola. 

I don't think that we were ever together through the whole number, but when each one is in a different key, maybe that part doesn't matter so much.  My rude oboe entrances heard over a whispering viola and a sweet flute drew more attention.

Oh, my!  Never again... until the next time... :-)

  We played again for the local Pro Musica group.  They were a really nice, but rather small, group of mostly older ladies who loved music. Some of them were or had been music teachers.  It went much better.  We didn't end together, but we were together for most of the piece.  I think that contest was the only time we actually ended when the music did.  It was always hard to tell on that number, and we were just kids after all.

The Pro Musica people must have liked it because the next year, they gave me a pretty nice scholarship.

One famous musician was part of that group - the Cuban song writer and concert pianist, Nilo Menendez.  Weird all around.

Oh, and the flute players hair piece fell off before we got up to play. Thereafter, she always referred to our performance at Pro Musica as a hair raising experience.

The violist graduated that year, so the next year we did a flute and oboe duet at contest - C.P.E. Bach, if I remember right.


RobinDesHautbois said...

Gustav Holst, I can usually take quite well. But so-called "contemporary music" from the 1950s to present characterized by harsh dissonance and aggressive instrumental techniques is best relegated to horror movies... again, there is good stuff and not so good stuff. It seems that many composers decided that it was more important to feign geometry and invent architectures for sound organization rather than explore how music vibrates in their soul.
Take Ravel as a counter-example: extraordinary innovator, very mindful and intellectual, yet everything he composed really speaks to deep emotions. THANKFULLY, much of the newest music explores new harmonic systems that are actually harmonious!

I was literally suckered-in to playing in McGill's "New-music Ensemble" whose repertoire simply made me sick! Still, the people were great and even the conductor (whose own compositions left me indifferent) was a really pleasant and generous man. I guess I made a good impression because I was subsequently asked to premiere works for oboe... (aye!) We actually won the Darius Milhaud competition and each musician was given a share of the prize... a little over a hundred dollars each.

I'm impressed by how professional musicians talk about their duty to current composition and how it's a way for them to connect to their own times..... many composers I knew could not really, when I knew them, be said to represent their own time... but that's another debate! In actuality, a professional is a paid worker who must accept contracts to further the career. Few have the luxury of completely choosing their repertoire. Some actually do enjoy performing - or at least exploring - the harsher stuff. Again, thank God, the newest stuff from all over the world is reverting back to seeking pleasant sounds.

Must amateurs do the same? I guess that depends on each one's aspirations and goals.

Mrs. Webfoot said...

Great observations, Robin. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

I like a lot of 20th century music, and I understand your point about how it vibrates in the soul. It can leave the soul with a craving for something more beautiful and satisfying.

Of course, artists during the 20th century were responding to the horrific wars and events of the 20th century. I think that we hear that in the music and plastic arts of the modern period.

Post modern art is much more whimsical, if not beautiful. Why should the artist feel compelled to reflect only the harsh realities of human suffering, as 20th century artists seemed compelled to do?

Artists need to create worlds of beauty, or to see beauty in a world that can be very ugly at times. God is still in His heaven after all, and we can see His handiwork all around us. Why not try to capture that message as well?

You've had some pretty awesome oboe experiences. I'm glad that you are writing about them.

I think that the Holst Terzetto was kind of an experiment for him; he had mixed feelings about it, evidently. It was a fun piece for us kids to play, and it gave us some good experinces.