Tera de Marez Oyens

Tera de Marez Oyens

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Tera de Marez Oyens is a composer from the Netherlands who, even in the age of recognizing the important contributions of women to 20th century musical composition, has remained almost a completely mystery outside of the Netherlands and Germany. This collection of her works -- from choral to sonatas to chamber and works for instruments and tape -- ranges from 1974-1991, and reveals a composer of wide-ranging ability and vision. The opening piece, a three-movement choir work titled "From Death to Birth," is based on the writings of her late husband, the dissident American philosopher M.S. Arnoni. The structure is not always verbally articulate, but there is an underlying dramatic element in the vocal patterns that keeps the semantic undercurrent moving and captivating. At other points the music is set against the semantic drama of the piece and challenging the authenticity of accepted choral forms, such as a section of Gregorian chant meeting a long passage inspired by Ligeti and sung in opposite harmonic pitch. It's not pretty but it is amazing. The composer herself makes an appearance on "Ballerina on a Cliff," from 1980, and intermezzo for piano. Recorded in 1981, de Marez Oyens uses ostinato figures to articulate a statement rather than a theme and breaks the statements down into phrases, then single cords, then notes, only to create new ostinato figures from these reductions. Her pianissimo is gorgeous and tightly controlled for half the work, as is her glissandi in the third section that becomes almost an adagio before returning to an almost static pace. The best pieces, however, are the works for bass clarinet, percussion, and tape from 1974 called "Trio," where the instrument is played against a blurred, spindled, and mutilated taped replica by way of edited sounds. The effect -- especially with the steadiness of the percussion -- is haunting. The other work here for tape, "Dreams of Madness," from 1991 for choir and electronic manipulation, uses the voices and percussion sounds as accent points in the poems sung by the choir. Single pitches are edited from the mass, placed on tape, and hung above the choired voices and blended to articulate the emotion of slipping, singly, alone, away from reality. The percussive sounds of a tabla are ruinous in their emotional density. The drum, as smattered and distorted as it is, becomes a whipping post of fear, anger, and grief. It's more than dramatic -- it's almost completely schizophrenic in its intensity. This is also what is so puzzling. With work as intense and driven as this, so completely consumed with passion and compositional control, it would seem natural for her to cause a stir with Americans who dig this sort of thing. So what gives? Thanks to BVHaast for issuing this wonderful volume.

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