Jeffrey Mumford (b.1955)
two Elliott Carter tributes - II. a celebration of Elliott (2006)
This is the digital-only bonus track from the album Tempo e Tempi by Pina Napolitano.
"For some time, I have concentrated my concert and recording activity around modern and contemporary music and its connections with Classical and Romantic repertoire. The reasons for this choice are simple: the need to study in-depth the music of this and the last centuries comes from our inevitable immersion in the present, and the comforting observation that classical music is not dead, but is very much alive, growing and transforming just as much and together with the other arts and sciences.
Contemporary classical music is alive, and it is difficult: its complexity must be accepted by both listener and performer. It needs careful listening, sometimes toilsome and repeated – it is not ‘background’ music. But at the same time, it communicates in a direct language: that of beauty. There are various levels at which contemporary music, like all music, can be understood. In my opinion, the most important level is the most superficial one: that of expressiveness and imagination. This level does not require specific preparation, only open ears and minds, and confidence in the composer and the interpreter.
Historical perspective can help us: think of something familiar today, for example, the last sonatas of Beethoven, whose 250th anniversary we celebrate this year, and the reaction of his contemporaries, the shock of hearing a sonata end with the Arietta in Op. 111 or the recitatives alternating with fugues in Op. 110. Perhaps their reaction is comparable to that of today’s listeners to Carter’s Night Fantasies (although it is from 1980), the piece around which I programmed this album. Great art is always something new, something that shakes us and explores unknown territories. Night Fantasies, in Carter’s own words, wants to ‘describe’ the activity of the mind suspended between slumber and wakefulness: fragments of thoughts, memories, neuronal activity, firing connections and disconnections, REM states of sleep and dreams; all of this comes to mind listening to and playing Night Fantasies. And then the form, also Beethovenian: are not many of Beethoven’s sonatas fantasies?
Let us think of the heterogeneous materials of Op. 110, of the alternation of slow and fast sections, of the strange first movement, a sort of thoughtful introduction. Let us think of the declamatory style of many parts, where one might hear people who cry or argue, and let us think of the drama in Carter, in which the polyphony of rhythms and articulations seems to allude to a diversity of contrasting voices. Last but not least, let us think about rhythmic transformations, what Carter termed ‘metric modulations’, that constitutes the connective tissue of his music, whose origin has been traced directly to Beethoven.
Two Thoughts about the Piano, among Carter’s last compositions for the instrument, explore two territories in piano writing: the use of pauses, ‘interruptions’ of sound, and that of a long monodic line of rapid-fire notes. Do these two pieces not find a parallel in Beethoven’s explorations of the sonic possibilities (and impossibilities) of the piano in Op. 111?
It seemed to me that the best way to celebrate Beethoven’s anniversary was to show how the classics are always alive because they continuously generate, nourish, and produce the present. In turn, through the present, they are reinterpreted, reread, and recognised for their forward-looking greatness."