A Musical Thanksgiving

Tributes, Tombeaus, Homages, Reflections and Elegies

« previous episode | next episode »

Monday, November 29, 2010

Igor Stravinsky once said "Good composers don't imitate, they steal." They emulate formal structures (compare Schumann's Third Symphony to Brahms's Third Symphony), they steal melodic lines (that trumpet lick at the beginning of Bartok's Second Piano Concerto was pretty clearly ganked from Firebird), and sometimes, in more overt expressions of indebtedness, they say "thank you." This week on Hammered! - Q2's hour-long showcase of contemporary piano music - we highlight tributes, tombeaus, homages and other musical thank you cards.

This week begins, however, with a more universal homage, one celebrating Henyrk Gorecki, the esteemed Polish composer who died on November 12 at age 76. Gorecki was one of Poland's most revered contemporary composers, and along with Kzysztof Penderecki and Witold Lutoslawski formed the indefatigable core of Poland's musical avant-garde.

Though Gorecki's early works were dense serial scores, his style evolved to utilize more approachable elements, including minimalist techniques, folk songs and vast, meditative musical landscapes. Monday's program includes two of Gorecki's precious few piano solo works, the Piano Sonata No. 1, and Four Preludes. The program is filled out with works by Lutoslawski, Karol Szymanowski and Frederic Chopin.

The rest of the week consists of works that in one way or another give thanks to another composer or piece. Tuesday's program is a good example: first you'll hear Lutoslawski's hell-bent set of Paganini Variations for two pianos, two homages to Maurice Ravel by Robert Helps and Iannis Xenakis, Thomas Adès's haunting Darknesse Visible, which pays hommage to John Dowland's In Darknesse Let Me Dwell, and then Olivier Messiaen's Preludes, itself an homage to Claude Debussy's Preludes and an inspiration to spectralist Tristan Murail's Cloches d'adieu, et un sourire...

Other highlights include Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin and Gyorgy Ligeti's Musica Ricercata, a collection of eleven meticulously composed pieces that among other things give thanks to composers as disparate as Bartok and Frescobaldi. 

A special program also closes the week, a sort of meditative afterthought to Gorecki's Monday tribute. We'll hear Ann Southam's beautifully restrained Simple Lines of Inquiry, a work constructed entirely out of slowly evolving collections of twelve pitches whose linearization and spaciousness provides an inviting sonic space for thanksgiving contemplation.

The WQXR e-newsletter. Show highlights, links to music news, on-demand concerts, events from The Greene Space and more.

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.