WUORINEN: Horn Trio / Horn Trio Contined
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Charles Wuorinen (b. 1938)
For all Charles Wuorinen's longstanding reputation as amodernist, the arc of his musical career has more incommon with those of Brahms and Beethoven than withany contemporary model. Like many of his greatpredecessors, Wuorinen developed and refined hisdistinctive style and rigorous craft through the verywork of composition, through the life of being acomposer. Since his co-founding of the Group forContemporary Music with Harvey Sollberger in 1962,that life has encompassed not only the writing of musicbut also conducting, piano performance, and teaching,all pursuits that have informed and enhancedWuorinen's sense of his own music. His music, from hisearliest pieces through the more recent masterworks,can be seen as a body of work as significant as one islikely to encounter.
The works on this disc, all trios of diversecombinations, of similar length, all commissions, and allwritten in the early 1980s, might at first seem like toosmall a sample from which to consider Wuorinen'smusic as a whole. Still, the ways in which the composerapproaches the four types of ensemble here illustrate hisparticipation in that tradition of the ensemble genre thathas been a lure for generations of Western composers.
The piano trio - piano, violin, cello - originated in theclassical era; it was with this that Beethoven establishedhis post-Mozartian credentials in the early 1790s.
Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Dvofiak, and many otherlater composers, made notable contributions. Moreuniquely, the horn trio's archetype is Brahms's Opus 40,which has been virtually a genre unto itself. In recentdecades the horn trio repertoire has expanded greatly.
The other two trios are truly sui generis, at least fornow. That these two trios were commissioned for thespecific forces - double bass, bass trombone, and tuba inthe one case; trombone, piano, and mallet percussion inthe other - takes nothing away from the Platonic solidityof their combinations as Wuorinen has treated them: themusic of these pieces is inextricable from thefundamental character of the instruments involved. Thecomposer is endlessly sympathetic to the interplay ofthe techniques, timbres, even \personalities" that are thecarriers of his musical expression. (The openingmoments of the Trio for Bass Instruments epitomize thisawareness.) Taking together the familiar genres herewith the unique, we have a further sense of Wuorinen'sconnections with the Western musical traditions of thepast as well as of the modern. Ultimately, of course,these contexts are by-products of the composer'sprimary concern, which is to create a piece of musicartistically satisfying to composer, performers, andlistener.
The wonderfully blithe Trio for Bass Instrumentswas commissioned by tubist David Braynard, to whomit is dedicated. Wuorinen wrote it over the course ofsome six weeks between 3rd October and 13thNovember, 1981, completing it in Corpus Christi,Texas. Perhaps surprisingly, this is the most lyrical ofthe works here: the flexible, almost improvisatorysoundingmelodies, like the shared one for basstrombone and tuba just moments from the beginning,have the quality of Middle Eastern or Byzantine vocalmusic. The easy flow of these lines never hinders thestrong sense of pulse typical of Wuorinen's music.
Horn Trio and Horn Trio Continued were bothcommissioned by Julie Landsman, who since 1985 hasbeen Principal Horn of the Metropolitan OperaOrchestra. Horn Trio dates from 1981. Here therepeated notes of the very start in piano and violin,intensified in the horn's flutter-tongue entry, are a keyelement throughout the work. Wuorinen's treatment ofthe three instruments is of particular interest: unison ortextural couplings of two of the three instruments occurquite frequently, creating temporarily a single metainstrumentin counterpoint to the autonomous thirdplayer. Throughout the piece, powerfully driven musiccontrasts with passages of sustained, but still forwardmoving,lyricism.
Horn Trio Continued, completed in May 1985, maybe played independently of Horn Trio or as a secondmovement to that work. Its character, in relation to HornTrio, is less impulsive than buoyant, even playful; thehorn is perhaps a little more prominent as leader of thetrio, and its distinctive "stopped" timbre is used withgreater frequency here. There are readily audible crossreferencesto Horn Trio, as well: for example, HornTrio's opening gesture appears in Horn Trio Continuedas a corollary to the prevalence of repeated pitches inthe texture.
Wuorinen wrote the Trio for Violin, Cello, andPiano between 28th May and 2nd August, 1983, inresponse to a commission from the Arden Trio. Incommon with the rest of the works on this disc, themusical content is essentially motivic, although inWuorinen's music (like Beethoven's) the "motive" isless a fragment of tune as a complex gesture withspecific melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic qualities. Themost prominent gesture, present already at the start ofthe piece, appears in its clearest form at measure 67(2:34), to be restated verbatim (with slightly differentarticulation) five bars later (2:57). Close listening willreveal numerous transformations of this fragment as oneof the main arguments of the piece. Generally quiteactive, the Trio from time to time settles on a (relatively)sustained chord, foreshadowing the seeminglybreathless repose of the final bars.
Double Solo for horn, violin, and piano wascommissioned by Speculum Music?ª for their fifteenthanniversary; the piece is dedicated to violinist BenjaminHudson and horn player William Purvis, and wascompleted in late December 1985. Although for thesame forces as the two horn trios, Double Solo, as itstitle implies, treats the instruments in fundamentallydifferent fashion: the horn and violin parts togetherfulfill one complex solo role (a stance hinted at alreadyin certain passages of the earlier horn trio pieces), withthe piano as accompaniment. The texture is much morelinear, contrapuntal, the flow and character much moreconsistent than in the other horn trios. The openinggesture, split between horn and violin - a rising, thenfalling arpeggio - already indicates their partialsymbiosis. At the same time the potential spatial rangeof the piece is (nearly) encompassed: the piano fallsquickly to a chord whose bass is the lowest A on thepiano while the violin lands on A-sharp a tenth abovethe staff. Such radical bifurcations, used motivically, area common occurrence in the Double Solo. Its rarercounterpart (very Wuorinen, as one hears in many ofthese pieces) is a series of insistently repeated notes.
The title of Trombone Trio already indicates theprimacy of that instrument in the unusual and resonanttexture of the work. The work was written in June andJuly 1985 to fulfill a commission from then-Parnassustrombonist Ronald Borror; the unusual instrumentationwas determined in discussion between Borror and thecomposer. Along with the trombone soloist and piano,the percussionist alternates seamlessly betweenshimmering vibes (with and without motor) and earthymarimba; the continual recombination of timbres is oneof the work's most beautiful traits. Prominent elementsinclude insistently repeated notes, such as thosepresented "off the beat" by the trombone against asteady piano pulse, just following the brief, sustainedintroductory measure, with similar moments in thepiano [0:35; 1:47, etc.], where the performer mutes therelevant string with a finger. The big form of this pieceis very clearly delineated by a couple of significantpauses: at measure 128 (5:13) and again at measure 254,between which occur passages of manically increasedtempo. Following the second, a foreshortened repeat ofthe opening measure of the piece signals the onset of thebrief concluding coda.Robert Kirzinger