Music by Peter Hatch (Texts by Gertrude Stein)
Performed by NUMUS. Catalog: ART-011
The story so far...
by Christopher Fox
For the last fifteen years Canadian Composer Peter Hatch has been steadily generating a remarkable body of work, remarkable not only because its good to listen to but also because it's capable of stimulating our intelligence as well as our ears. This is the first disc to be devoted exclusively to this music.
Two things become clear about Peter Hatch from this disc: one is his delight in the very stuff of music, the pleasure he finds, and wants us to share, in listening to sounds rubbing together, or stretching out, or bouncing off one another; the other is his fascination with the words and ideas of Gertrude Stein. Of the five works recorded here, three are specifically connected with Stein: in A Chopsticks Fantasy and Reflections on the Atomic Bomb, texts by Stein are spoken during the music (something Hatch does elsewhere in his When Do They is not the same as Why Do They , one of the most striking recent additions to the solo percussionist's repertoire); in And As He Stein's words are sung. And As He is the middle movement from Hatch's largest work to date, Mounting Picasso (1993), which projects Stein's "If I told him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso" into an evening-long piece of music-theatre.
It's hard to think of a composer (certainly not since John Cage in the 1940s) on whom the writing of Gertrude Stein has had such a profound influence. But Hatch's work was Stein-ish even before it began to make specific reference to her; indeed if Gertrude Stein hadn't existed Peter Hatch would probably have had to invent her eventually.
Blunt Music is an example of Hatch's pre-Stein Stein-ish-ness. In the north of England (my home), the expression 'to put it bluntly' is not so much an apology for a lack of verbal precision as a promise that what is to be said will be said clearly, without affectation. This it seems to me is part of what all Peter Hatch's work (and not just Blunt Music) is about. Hatch is not afraid to appropriate musical figures and forms with which we are already familiar, like the simple tonal harmonies which form the materials of Blunt Music or the folk-clarinet figures ofEurhythmy. What Hatch recognises is that the very familiarity of these sounds breeds the ambiguities on which his music thrives. Again there's a debt to Stein; as in her work the words may be simple, but combined they form complex ideas. Or as she said herself, 'sentences are not emotional and paragraphs are;' in Stein and Hatch's art expression lies not in the formation of bon mot but in the twisting and turning of gathered evidence.
What are the notes F and G when they're sounded together on a piano? Sometimes they're the sound of a piano, sometimes they're a major second, sometimes they're the first two notes of the third inversion of a dominant seventh chord in root position, and sometimes they're the beginning of Chopsticks. In A Chopsticks Fantasy Peter Hatch makes his music in this space between the signifier and the signified and the result is both exciting and witty. (I particularly like the moment where the piano idiom veers sharply towards avant-gardiste chaos, the sort of piano writing of which conservative listeners say, 'A three year old could do better' -- But three year olds like to play Chopsticks too!)
The moment when things turn out not to have been what we thought they were is a moment that Peter Hatch is fond of visiting. On this disc there are at least three examples, none more spine-tingling than that at the end of Reflections on the Atomic Bomb when Stein's chillingly acute observations, not so much about the atomic bomb as about humanity's capacity for disinterest (if it's not The Bomb then it's Bosnia, if it's not Bosnia then it's a bomb in a building full of children) are spoken over music whose components we thought we knew. Until this coda begins , we believe that we are listening to a beautifully crafted piece of ensemble music. There is much to enjoy: the unfolding of long-legged melodic lines, subtly graded harmonies and a sophisticated two movement form which nests disruptive elements of each movement in the heart of the other movement. None of this prepares us for the sting in the tail, but that story is best told by the music itself...
Christopher Fox is a composer/writer who lives in York, England.
�1995 Christopher Fox
About Me —
Music by Peter Hatch
Performed by The Canadian Chamber Ensemble, The Penderecki Quartet and Cynthia Hiebert, harpsichord. Catalogue: ART-028.
We are an art with no name.
Or perhaps with too many names - new music, new art music, contemporary music, new classical music, postmodern music, contemporary concert music.... The incredible diversity of styles and genres exhibited by composers individually and collectively has, perhaps, no precedent in the past and is often only described with such nonspecific terms as 'pluralistic' and post-whatever. At the beginning of the 21st century we are an art in search of defining its own identity.
We live in an era when classical music is virtually synonymous with the idea of masterworks by composers long dead and with superstar performers or conductors. It is hard for us to imagine, but in Mozart's day the situation was quite the opposite - the public demanded to hear new works, and allowed only occasional 'token' old works to appear on programmes. Today, however, this situation is reversed - most living composers are invisible to the listening public. Whereas in Vivaldi's day a musical 'keener' may have heard the 'Four Seasons' concerti a maximum of two or three times in his/her lifetime, it is possible that many of us have heard at least part of this piece that many times in the last month alone. While this should make everyone an expert with this music (and in some ways does), the way we are exposed to it - in shopping malls, restaurants, doctor's offices, as part of television broadcasts and in movies - creates a very different relationship to these pieces than that experienced by audiences at the time they were written. These 'masterworks' have gone from being loved to being adored to being used, exploited, packaged and sold...... This numbing exposure has forced us to develop tools for tuning this music out in situations where our attention is needed elsewhere or we don't care to listen. Perhaps we have also become experts, then, in tuning this music out - in unlistening.
There is little place for anything new in this climate. New music requires open ears, an open attitude and and an engagement with music that is directly against the kind of packaged comfort that so much classical music represents today. Many years ago forward-looking composers and the public turned their backs on one another and have only begun to face each other again recently. Whether this is a new trend or an historical blip remains to be seen.
The music on this CD represents a collection of some of my musings over the past decade or so about our inherited tradition and its present day status. All of the pieces on this CD are based on previous musical works, and in this sense are 'remixes'. Take out: All composing is remixing in the end, though - we are always combining and blending ideas we have gathered to give them new voice. My intent in referencing previous musical materials was to try and get at what Gertrude Stein called their 'bottom nature' - their essence, not just as an abstract composition, but as works existing in the late 20th/early 21st century. From old master's revisited (Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Holst's The Planets and others) to humorous juxtapositions of newer and older styles and genres, questions about our art form - and about 'identity' in a broader sense - run like a thread throughout the disc. I do this sometimes with the utmost seriousness and sometimes with a strong sense of humour and irony. My interest is in not in quotation, but in the transformation and distilling of these works through present-tense filters.
Like Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf, we need to be able to hear and understand the essence of this music, to recognize its beauty amidst the din of today; to distill the underlying truths of it in present day culture, and to combine and compare various truths from various angles. To move ahead, we must reckon with the past.
But first, we must gather the evidence.....
Penderecki String Quartet
Il Cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione
Canadian Chamber Ensemble & Penderecki String Quartet
I. Allegro (4:37)
II. Adagio (2:40)
III. Allegro (3:04)
Canadian Chamber Ensemble & Daniel Warren
I. War (1:36)
II. Peace (1:50)
III. Messenger (0:15)
IV. Jollity (1:53)
V. Old Age (1:48)
VI. Magician (1:52)
VII. Mystic (2:07)
In a Vernacular Way
Cynthia Hiebert (harpsichord)
I. At a Discount (1:56)
II. Random Regalia (2:07)
III. A Bent Bugle (1:04)
IV. Tangled Moon (2:28)
V. Post Modern Blues (3:46)
VI. With a Hey, Ho, Jimi's Joe (2:56)
Released: Sep 4, 2012
℗ 2012 Centrediscs
Purchase at: https://www.musiccentre.ca/node/40007
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