Saturday, November 30, 2019

assorted playlists of cycles of preludes and fugues where composers experimented with adding jazz elements

In his book Composing the Part Line: Music and Politics in Early Cold War Poland and Easter Germany David G. Tompkins mentioned something I hadn't heard or seen in writings about socialist realism in American writings.  He pointed out that the lifespan of officially socialist realist music wasn't especially long.  The prescriptive ideology began to fall out of favor in Poland and East Germany as early as the mid-1950s.  By the mid-1950s Polish intellectuals were urging that the nation's musicians and music programs be open to jazz. see page 44. Tompkins.  If socialist realism was not exactly repudiated there were attempts to finesse and expand its definition to be more inclusive.

The Tompkins book isn't exactly breezy or light reading but it's fascinating as a reference for musicians and Western readers whose understanding of how socialist realism worked (and didn't work) as an aesthetic/political philosophy played out differently in Poland and eastern Germany than it did in the Soviet Union proper.  It's so dry, personally, I'm still in the earlier chapters to be honest, but reading about how within just a couple of years of the death of Stalin there were Polish intellectuals and artists who began to call for openness to jazz might be a good thumbnail sketch reminder to Western readers that jazz was well-known in the mid-twentieth century in the Soviet bloc, if not necessarily officially approved.

Although Rodion Shchedrin experimented with adding jazz vocabulary into some of his piano concerti he didn't exactly add jazz harmonies or riffs into his preludes and fugues or polyphonic notebook to the extent that I could confidently include him in this little weekend playlist.

These are all cycles of preludes and fugues I eventually want to blog about some day but the thing about music is that if you can't hear the music there's only so much you can meaningfully say about the music that a reader could understand.  I'm planning on returning to blogging about the Koshkin preludes and fugues next month after I simmer in the sonic goodness of the forthcoming Asya Selyutina recording of the first half of the cycle due out on Naxos next month.  These are part of big list of to-get-to writing for Wenatchee The Hatchet.  If you haven't heard these cycles there are playlists via Youtube and all of these cycles are available in recorded form if you like one of them enough to listen.

Now the first is recorded, complete, by the composer himself and Kapustin is pretty formidable in keyboard technique.  This is, so far, my favorite of the cycles of preludes and fugues that aim to develop a synthesis of jazz vocabulary with fugal technique.  Kapustin has never identified himself as a jazz composer and also rejects the categories "fusion" and "third stream".  He's what we might have to call a "classical" composer who stays strictly in the "classical" lane but makes use of jazz vocabulary from Tatum and Petersen as the spark of inspiration for his approach to fugue.

Nikolai Kapustin
24 preludes and fugues, Op. 82

It has only been this year, it seems, that Alie Anne Yorgason has written a dissertation specifically on Op. 82 which I haven't had the opportunity to read.  Op. 82 dates back to 1997 so it's been around for 22 years by now but has not gotten much attention in the West.  It should.  I think it is probably the most successful cyclical work in "classical" music to draw inspiration from the vocabulary of jazz while staying in what people would call the "classical" wheelhouse.

That said, there have been other cycles.

Fugal Dreams, by Richard Bellak, is a cycle I listened to in the last year and it's not nearly as much my cup of tea but writing fugues at all calls for enough technique in instrumental and compositional terms it's at least worth giving a listen.  If Kapustin's style could be described as firmly and unabashedly indebted to a Tatum/Petersen or maybe even a Bud Powell sound Bellak's cycle might come across as more Brubeck/Evans and, this would be less complimentary for some jazz fans, more on the cool side than the swing or bebop eras.

I'm a bit more fond of Michelle Gorrell's set, which has not been recorded in total in a commercial way yet but that you can hear over yonder.

Michelle Gorrell
Well Tempered Licks and Grooves, Books 1 & 2

Boosey & Hawkes is still preparing the second half for publication in score form.  I've got the first half.  This is more explicitly ... I'm going to have to call it neo-Baroque.  The influence of jazz and ragtime and blues is front and center but Gorrell handles form and line in a more neo-Baroque way.  She's drawing inspiration from jazz and ragtime but isn't trying to create preludes and fugues that attempt to catch the "spirit" of them in the way American fans of jazz or blues might describe it.  There's a lot I like about this cycle and so far I would say that if Kapustin is the most effective at synthesizing jazz vocabulary with fugal technique in the "East" then Gorrell has written the cycle I've heard that does a good job of such a fusion in the "West".

Probably the most ambitious effort in the U.S., also dating from the late 1990s, seems to be Henry Martin's 24 preludes and fugues.  This is a formidably large cycle for solo piano and I'm a bit split on how I feel about it.  On the one hand, there are a lot of entries in the cycle that are spectacular but Martin draws on Debussy and a variety of non-jazz composers to such a degree that jazz-only fans would likely not recognize any jazz influence.  Martin might be thought of as making music that sounds too far away from any kind of jazz mainstream to be recognized as such.  That's not really what I feel on the fence about the Martin cycle, even though I like a lot about it and want to write about it some more.

I think it's more that, put simply, it's harder for me to remember specific preludes and specific fugues.  The sheer technique of contrapuntal writing is there in Martin but I'm not always sure he's got hooks.  By contrast, Kapustin's fugues might not be nearly as polished and he might cheat a bit in terms of contrapuntal textures here and there but he played enough jazz and studied it enough that even  if the fugues as fugues can get diffuse or sprawl they start off with solid, memorable hooks most of the time.

You, dear reader, might reach drastically different conclusions and that's partly why I want to share playlists so that you can hear the works for yourself, if you're so inclined.

Karen M Rice has done a dissertation on this cycle, University of North Carolina in Greensboro, 2009.

Henry Martin, 24 preludes and fugues,
first half,

Henry Martin Prelude & Fugue Nr 13 in G-Flat Major - A Slow Drag

second half

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