Earle Brown

The New York School

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Featuring Eberhard Blum, flutes, Frances-Marie Uitti, violincello, and Nils Vigeland, piano, this landmark recording of the four composers who made up the musical component of the New York School is an excellent look at the early works of artists who influenced -- directly or indirectly -- the manner in which we not only listen to music today, but approach sound itself. Besides its obvious importance in bringing to light some little-known works in these composers' catalogs -- particularly in the case of Feldman and Brown -- it goes to great lengths to reveal that, although these men were all working to "destabilize" music from its architectural frameworks (such as rhythm, meter, pitch, harmony, melody, interval, etc.), each man approached the task differently. In his early works such as "Folio" (1952/1953), where some pieces are as short as 14 seconds, Brown nonetheless revels how deeply influenced he was by the Second Viennese School. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his "Music for Cello and Piano" (1954). Serialism is laid waste here, it is true, but not before having its elemental structure invoked and, in a sense, paid homage to. In the three Cage works featured, the ten-minute "Variations I" is perhaps the most familiar, from 1958. This is Cage already at work with his chance operations, influenced by Duchamp on one side, his love of silence on another, and Zen on still another. It's haunting hyperactivity, all done in a register that later became rare for Cage -- one where dynamic range ceased to matter and the piano and other percussion shape an unknown sound world, giving it a face as it enters ours. So long are the extensions of line and space here, that it now resembles something more closely akin to Brian Eno's work -- though Eno never had this much unself-conscious class. His "Solo for Flute, Alto Flute and Piccolo" is simply a territory laid out, without direction, for these three instruments to express their non-territoriality. Feldman's work, which was based on graphic notation at the time -- and changed radically near the end of his life -- was looking to liberate the musician from the score, and the various graphs were merely suggestions of both his 1950 work "Projection 1" for cello and his "Duration 2" for piano and cello from ten years later. Long lines are played at different tensions and tempo ceases to exists; the score is simply played out, rather than played. The instruments are sound carriers with specific ranges of expressions and places in space, not modes of artistic expression. And finally, Wolff's early experiments with prepared piano are far more radical than Cage's more well-known ones. The piano is heard as such, but prepared to be played not for sonority, but for dynamics. Elements of surprise are written directly into the score. Above all, the first volume in Hat's New York School compilation showcases major works in a manner that suggests just how minor they were at the time, and how prophetic they turned out to be in each composer's life.

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