The Gamelan Influence

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A Javanese gamelan set from the Asian Civilisations Museum, Empress Place, Singapore.

In Paris in 1889, a young composer named Claude Debussy saw a performance by an Indonesian gamelan — a collection of metal percussion instruments that served as the royal orchestra in the regional courts of that country. Debussy was astounded by the interlocking rhythm patterns and the exotic, chiming sound. And he was inspired to write a piano work that evoked those sounds, it’s called “Pagodes.”

After Debussy came a veritable parade of Western composers who have also fallen under the spell of the gamelan. Some, like Colin McPhee in the 1930s, went and lived in Indonesia for a while. Others, like Lou Harrison, built their own gamelans in the US. And still others found inspiration in the music of other islands in the South Pacific. We get just a sampling of this musical variety on this edition of The Furthermore.

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Program playlist:

Trad. Bali/arr. Colin McPhee: Pemungkah, excerpt
Colin McPhee and Benjamin Britten, piano

Trad. Bali: Pemungkah, excerpt
Balinese gamelan from “Music For The Shadow Play”

Claude Debussy: Pagodes
Joyce Yang, piano

Trad. Bali/arr. Colin McPhee: Gamangan
Nico Muhly and Thomas Bartlett, piano

Lou Harrison: Main Bersama-sama (“Playing Together”)
Scott L. Hartman, French horn; Gamelan Sekar Kembar; Lou Harrison, suling (flute)

Annea Lockwood: Malolo
Santa Monica High School Women’s Chorus

Stewart Copeland: Ay Manu Wata Hai (from “Rapa Nui”)
Keali’I O Nalani Polynesian Choir; Stewart Copeland, conductor and percussion

Colin McPhee: Tabuh Tabuhan part one, "Ostinatos"
Eastman Rochester Orchestra; Howard Hanson, conductor

Steve Reich: Music For 18 Musicians, part three
Ensemble Signal; Brad Lubman, conductor

Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 21 in C, “Waldstein," third movement, excerpt
Charles Rosen, piano

Ingram Marshall: Woodstone, excerpt
Berkeley Gamelan; Daniel Schmidt, conductor

Daniel Schmidt: And The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn
Berkeley Gamelan; Daniel Schmidt, conductor and sampler