The seemingly unlikely combination of violin and marimba emerged in the last 15 years of the twentieth century as one of the most intriguing of chamber formations. It was a pair of outstanding players, violinist Sharan Leventhal and marimbist Nancy Zeltsman, forming a permanent duo called Marimolin, who sparked the birth of this chamber medium; over 150 works were composed for them in the first seven years of their annual composition competition after the founding of the duo.
Steven L. Scher wrote Brechtstimme just three years after Marimolin's founding, in 1988. But his mastery of diverse chamber groups, which is obvious from the outstandingly idiomatic writing for both instruments and the fine way the music "sounds" itself to the ears of the audience, was nurtured by his own project, the NuClassix composers' consortium, which he founded in 1983. He has written for many sorts of ensembles, including jazz and rock groups.
The title of the work is a reference to German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. Scher puts forward a quotation from a critical commentary on Brecht by Thomas Hess to explain his aims, referring to the modern artist as "...surrounded by chaos, by social events over which he has no control...."
Despite the seeming hopelessness of this idea, Brechtstimme is in reality a bright and optimistic work. Although there are moments where the marimba sustains tones via its capability to let the player to "roll" the soft mallets on the instrument's sound blocks, mostly the work exploits the short decay time of its notes, generating crisp melodic-rhythmic cells. The violin cooperates, using short bow strokes and pizzicato, mostly, to create a blend with the mellow percussion instrument.
The music is tonal, dance-like, and attractive, in a beguiling five-minute work that will surprise those new to this form of instrumental duo with how well the two instruments blend.