Gérard Grisey. Prologue. max6. The setup and the execution of the electroacoustic part of this work requires a Computer. in Grisey’s Prologue for Solo Viola. L-?. Jeffrey J. Hennessy. Gerard Grisey ( ) is widely considered to be one of the founders of the movement known. Prologue isn’t really meant to stand on its own. It’s the introductory movement of Grisey’s minute-long cycle Les Espaces Acoustiques.
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This is an exercise I did for years, building melodies one note at a time with or without regard to harmony or rhythm; letting the shape and flow of the melody define itself based only on the consideration of this question: It’s an exercise that still causes a certain amount of existential angst.
I follow the spiral until I find myself curled up in front of the television in need of a nap. I’ve found myself using monophonic work as a possible entry level into studying new composers. It has become my roast griaey, well-tied bow tie, or perfectly located fastball.
It is my musical equivalent of watching a great artist do something simple in a transcendent way. So, when I decided it was time to do a Sound American issue that would feature gisey number of writers, beside myself, talking about the music they know and love in terms wholly their own, I naturally gravitated toward what I thought was a musical staple capable of great elegance: This issue started that simply; what monophonic pieces encapsulate prologud artist’s aesthetic and skill.
And, who can speak most eloquently about them? What lies within is an attempt to answer that question with features by great musicians and writers about great composers and performers: Regardless of the skill and insight these writers brought to their subject matter, these essays felt like the beginning for lrologue issue of Sound American.
There is a specific kind of joy that comes from discovering music. It’s a quality that I’ve tried to portray in every issue of Sound American in one way or another. In these pages, it had been replaced by the joy of understanding music; something that’s deep and meaningful in its own right, but needs that spark of spontaneity and unknowing to set it in relief and make it that much stronger.
To that end, each essay is paired with the thoughts of a separate musician or artist on hearing the monophonic piece for the first time. It became an interesting exercise to read the interview after the essay; parsing out what is important to different ears and what qualities come to the fore immediately or need immersion to become evident. And, this line of thought opens up other, broader, ideas about what we need or what we think we need in music.
What creates motion to our ears?
Do we need motion? Is a single voice more powerful than a choir? Obviously, this line of questioning becomes subjective at best, but as I followed one thread after another, one question kept coming ;rologue to me: Ultimately, the exercise of one-note-then-another is meant to be about limiting yourself to a rational succession of pitches.
The endgame of the exercise is a sense of control when given the freedom to do what you want while improvising. But, doesn’t the freedom we’re striving for in performance have a need for some sort of limitation to ground or define it? As I listened to the pieces for this issue, I found that sense of limitation or ground in different places: Schelling’s work on the beginning of temporal thinking.
So, what does that mean for the monophonic composer? Does the lack of harmonic framework present the possibility of moving “freely” for the composer or does it created an “unbearable burden” to be overcome. If the latter, how does the composer climb that particular mountain successfully? And so, to address that question, Sound American includes an exercise in limitation; in this case, historical context. Issue 9 features four great tenor players of the moment working through the harmonic, rhythmic and historic limitations of Body and Soul, a song heavily defined by Coleman Hawkins’s seminal recording.
These saxophonists each dealt with the limitations of a very well known harmony and melody, as well as Hawkins’s towering presence in very different and, ultimately, very musically satisfying ways.
So, in the end and after including our return of 5 Questions, this time with Kurt Gottschalkthe issue came about like the one note exercise. It started with monophony, which opened the mind to certain composers and their monophonic works, which further opened into the broader ideas of experience and limitation. And, this leaves us here. Perhaps in an existential crisis. The narrative string of one note after another has been convoluted by choice as you click from page to page.
The availability of information can be paralyzing, ending with you in front of the TV, but I admonish you to stay strong! Start where you want, think of that as your first note, then follow it to what makes sense next, even if it’s not on this site, then wait, then move, then wait. When you’re done, come back and pick another note. On Schelling and Related Matters. Prologue is a stand-alone piece and, as such, a major contribution to the virtuoso solo repertoire; the piece is also a prologue to an evening-length linked instrumental compositions that start with the solo viola and end with an epilogue requiring some 90 musicians.
In Prologue, Grisey reveals with great clarity some of the more innovative aspects of his contributions to musical language — this is where the term ‘spectralism’ crops up, though to my mind, going into great detail about theory and practice of that musical method obscures the central accomplishment of the viola piece, which is Grisey’s extraordinary ability to write a substantial piece as essentially one melodic line, unveiling, in the process, a radically new approach to harmonic and melodic writing.
A few things that are important to know before we commence upon my perambulations into exploring Grisey’s viola solo.
Prologue is a piece with more-or-less four distinct manifestations:. The last two versions are very interesting: Prologue is porlogue entirely according to the latter type of perception”. Of course, it would be lovely to study prologeu later manifestations of the piece in forms other than Garth Knox’s loomingly charismatic recordings — if only the publishers were as committed to forwarding the interests of their precious compositions particularly those with ‘problematic’ multi-versions a similar case is with [Luigi] Nono’s output — and we are speaking of the same disengaged publishing bandits as their composers were in pursuing what their music could yrisey, rather than allowing the scores to harden into a kind of monument-shaped marble the minute the final notes are ‘drying’ on the page.
Prologue is not the only example in Grisey’s output of monophonic solo line composition: The challenge akin to the writing for unaccompanied viola, is explored in Charme for solo clarinet: With Charme I am much more willing to buy the line that this is an exercise in melodicism, even though the harmonic rigor that underlines the structure is also presented with radical clarity. Similar techniques are exhibited in the ‘unlikely’ duo pieces: Prllogue pour deux for clarinet and trombone, and Accords perdus: Cinq miniatures for 2 horns.
Prologue goes further than these compositions: As we get going, there are a few quotes from Grisy we should read. The joke just mentioned is one Grisey makes in his interview with Guy Lelong, published in prologeu liner notes to the first recording of Les Espaces He goes on to say:.
Certain pieces even have a demonstrative, almost didactic, aspect as if, in the euphoria of discovery, I had taken pains to make the characteristics of the language that I was gradually inventing be grasped as fully as possible.
That allows proposing journeys to the listener that link one state characterised by the sound matter to another for griseyy, from consonance to noisepassing through zones prolotue which any catalogued indicator seems abolished. In other words, the process determines the contradiction between the known and unknown, the predictable and unpredictable, and integrates surprises against a backdrop that is relatively easy to spot.
The unity of the cycle is achieved through the formal similitude of the various pieces and two acoustic reference points: These applications are much more radical and perceptible in Partiels and Modulations. The synthesis aims, on the one hand, at developing the sound materialand on the other, the various relationships existing between the sounds forms I would say this about Prologue: One can perceive and memorise a melody in two ways: Prologue is constructed entirely according to the latter type of perception.
Here one finds a melodic outline and its transformation that constantly return in a sort of spiral form. The definition, point by point, of these outlines is in motion, because the pitches they are made up of are going to gradually move away from the original spectrum to reach a state of noise in passing through different degrees of inharmoniousness.
This melodic outline also governs the prologye form, the tempi and the appearance of two kinds of inserts: A solo voice, the ghostly response of unoccupied instruments, but also an abstract, unbending structure I hope I have succeeded here in stammering rpologue what I believe music to be: Advertised as a melodic event, in fact Prologue acts like a passacaglia: A dialectic of harmony and fury, resonance, and the intellectual fallout of dancing with the components of that resonance.
A triumph of evolutionary motivic ;rologue, the elemental and implacable logic of the spiral method grisry motivates the piece’s unwinding, renders that very motivism griseg and its details incidental, beautiful as they may be, and peologue precious gift an invitation to the listener. However, in Prologue, the ‘sounds’ make sense particularly in the later versions with resonators and electronics as an accumulation of harmonies that evolve through the impeccable crafting of the relationships between notes.
Though the outcome is quite a different expressive terrain, prokogue is this different from, for example, Bach’s Corrente and its Double from his Partita No 1 in B minor? I mean prollogue to diminish Grisey’s girsey, and his contribution to the changing consciousness of sounds, timbres, prolgoue nuanced methods of composing with this focus: Particularly in the area of unaccompanied monophonic music, such as Prologue, the outcome — the screaming, gloriously full-throated celebration of the primitive viola, rich in raw sound, breaking, cracking, grisdy, screeching — is a ‘symphonic’ climax as breathtaking as it is, with the benefit of hindsight analysisso convincingly set up.
I experience a touch of humor in the coda to Prologue, a somewhat unexpected element in this so-called ‘didactic’ exercise. It is as if the ‘catastrophe’ of the prologue’s climax, with its crunch-tones implying so much of the ending and destroying of things, is the ‘down the rabbit-hole’ utility so desired in the ’70s when this was written: One of my most extraordinary humbling experiences at the California Grieey of the Arts University, where I have been a member of faculty sincewas ‘teaching’ a violinist already well-established as a significant ‘classical’ North Indian-style musician named Jagan Ramamoorthy.
He had come to the US to broaden his musical bases, being one of those musicians, like Grisey, who is was unwilling to accept the safety of accepted formations of expression and language with which he grew up.
I would watch, in our lessons, in fascination at the capacity for a single finger to simultaneously glissando with that heart-rending throb that shapes the Indian tradition of vocalizing we all recognize immediately, while at the same time prologur out a bewildering array of notes, and ornaments upon those notes, all at often great speed.
So, ‘the rebirth after the catastrophe ‘ is a transcendence of ‘the form of the melodic curve’, though thanks to the Indian contribution to string virtuosity, this is not an excuse to cheat the very specific notes despite Grisey’s notes in the score suggesting just that — he was no doubt worried about the violists’ virtuosic capacities! I return to my assertion at the top of this fragmentary prologue essay: So, too, does the baroque-ish pedal-device function pretty much as does any pedal: A trick on the unsuspecting.
But it is not that note at all: Why should this matter?
SA9: Gerard Grisey
I think these tricks, these ‘fraudulences’ are in fact at the heart of Grisey’s accomplishment, and dare I say, genius. Whatever the attractions of ‘systems’ or electronically controlled patternings, or, indeed, conceptual conceits, the over-riding reality is performance via horse-hair, sheep-gut, and other physical realities of concert halls and whatnot, and this is inevitably an acoustically messy affair.
Intonation is a human experience capable of almost limitless nuance, but still very difficult to communicate with any reliability thanks to the vagaries of acoustic spaces! Grisey embraces this reality, and makes rhetoric out of it.
The final notes of Prologue — with their whistling, rasping, sliding, and stabbing characteristics — modulate our chaconne to D, and, briefly, give us the overtone-series fantasia of the opening now all on the ‘new’ tonal center.
The section is also reinvents the notion of duality, which I assert is central to the composition, and the cycle as a whole. Here the dualities are in dramatic register delineations; in static versus moving lines; the heroic appearance of a few double stops; the ‘fumbling’ sliding, falling. If, by some miracle you’ve followed the essay up until now, with its somewhat non-linear descriptions twisting its descriptions, contemplations and backgrounds to Grisey’s Prologue, now it is time for me to make some assertions about how the prologue answers the challenge to write a monophonic composition.
That, after all, was the brief given to me in writing this essay.