Here we go again. This month, Round Two of Mystery Composers. I provide a handful of clues about the musician, plus a few craftily chosen music samples, and you try to figure who it is. Fun, even if you know who it is from the get-go. (Pay no attention to the man pictured on the left. No bonus points for naming him.)
Mystery Composer No. 1: Our first shadowy figure was born in the late 17th century, in Germany. So he was contemporary with Bach and Handel. In fact, he knew both of them. In Bach’s case they were close enough so that our Mystery Guest was asked to stand as godfather to one of Johann Sebastian’s sons. If you can name a few Bach sons, you can shortcut the whole game right here, because this godson is also our Mystery Composer’s namesake. Sort of.
But Mystery Composer No. 1 was in many ways a more fashionably au courant musician than was J. S. Bach. He kept up with all the new trends in music, which as the 18th century continued, gradually became more streamlined, more chic (or galant, as they called it then), and just generally more user-friendly. Fewer fugues, more hooks. Listen to this typical bit of MC 1’s music, in this case a concerto for two horns:
MC 1 distinguished himself in another modernist manner: he collected folk music. We usually associate scholarly folk study with 20th-century musicians. Béla Bartók, for example, meticulously transcribed and analyzed all sorts of folk songs, traveling through Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. By 1913 he had ventured as far afield as Algeria. Bartók worked many of his findings into his own compositions and spent time later cataloguing his ethnographic researches. The folk bug bit other modern composers too—Stravinsky, Kodály, Copland. (Copland didn’t do much fieldwork. When he needed some cowboy music for Rodeo, he just went to the library and fished out a book. We even know which book it was.)
But I digress; let’s get back to the 18th century. MC 1’s fieldwork took place along the Polish-Hungarian border. Like Bartók, he was quite young when exposed to it. MC 1 had just been appointed Kapellmeister in Sorau (today Zary) by one Count Erdmann von Promnitz, whose court resided for half the year in Plesse and Krakow. In his autobiography, MC 1 wrote
I became acquainted with both Polish music and the music of the Hanaks [Czechs from Moravia]. This in all its barbaric beauty. The music came from four different instruments: an extremely shrill violin, a Polish bagpipe, a bass trombone, and a regal. . . . One can hardly imagine the brilliant ideas the wind players and violinists brought forth during the improvisations. . . . If you were to write down all that was played there, after a week you would have enough ideas for the rest of your life.
It seems that MC 1 did write down a lot of the music he heard then, preserving it in short score (i.e., first violin and bass line) in something now called the Rostock Manuscript. Here’s a sample:
And here is a Concerto Polonois that MC 1 made from such folk treasures:
Not that MC 1 couldn’t shake a leg. Listen to the opening measures of that same Concerto Polonois:
We’ve been listening to excerpts from an intriguing new collection on Channel Classics that emphasizes MC 1’s folk connections. Most classical fans today wouldn’t have made that association, because this composer became known during the Baroque Revival of the 1950s and ‘60s as a purveyor of Easy Listening in the new (for the 18th century) Italian manner. One of his most popular works was his 1733 collection Tafelmusik. That means, among other things, light music suitable for feasting and conversation. Allow me to offer you an hors d’oeuvre:
MC 1 was extremely prolific. He wrote chamber music, cantatas, keyboard works, oratorios, and more. If you were collecting records in the 1960s, though, you probably encountered him in various concerto LPs licensed from European sources and re-released in this country by Musical Heritage Society. I seem to recall that the Jean-François Paillard Ensemble, along with soloists like Maurice André and Jean-Pierre Rampal, were responsible for a lot of those.
If you haven’t guessed this composer’s identity by now, feel free to scroll downward until you find it. But before you do, you can click on the clip below to hear one more of his Greatest Hits—this from a Naxos CD entitled A Bride’s Guide to Wedding Music. (No, it’s not Pachelbel or Purcell!)
On to Mystery Composer No. 2. Maybe this one will be harder. That depends on whether you follow major trends in 20th-century music, because this guy’s a survivor of some of the big modernism wars. Like a lot of other American composers, he collected degrees at good schools and then taught at several, including my alma mater, the University of Colorado. (If I told you which Ivy League university got to keep him longest, that might give the game away too soon.)
Unlike many academic composers of his generation, he wasn’t crazy about serialism, nor did he write safe little pieces in neo-classic style suitable for the college wind ensemble or the glee club. Instead he launched and sustained a unique, identifiable style of his own, one that drew upon unusual timbres, extended instrumental and vocal techniques, and his deeply humanistic, even Romantic view of existence. You could never tell what was going to pop up in MC 2’s work, but you knew it would reflect his special world. For example, from 2002 (you may need to turn up the volume so that you can hear the very quiet parts of this).
Undoubtedly you recognized the source material. MC 2 calls this piece Eine kleine Mitternachtmusik. Monk’s venerable tune soon gets buried, however, beneath increasingly creepy or fanciful ideas from the composer. In the third movement, “Premonition,” Charles Ives encounters Wes Craven:
And so on, for a total of 16 variations on the theme, some of which also draw upon referential quotations from Strauss, Debussy, and Wagner (via Debussy). Usually MC 2 doesn’t depend quite so heavily on external sources—he’s no post-modern plunderer of other musics. You would never mistake this bolero for something by Ravel:
But listen to the power and mystery that he brings into what comes next in that work when he briefly quotes “Bist du bei mir” (from Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook) on a toy piano. The text, as before, is in Spanish: “Todas las tardes en Granada / todas las tardes se muere un niño.” Each afternoon in Granada, a child dies each afternoon.
The poet was Federico Garcia Lorca (1898–1936), and that itself may tip you off as to MC 2’s identity. He has probably set more of Lorca’s poetry than any other living non-Spanish composer. In the late 1960s he wrote four books of “madrigals” to Lorca’s words. Like the landmark work sampled above, they require virtuoso vocal techniques and have become associated with some of the 20th century’s great singers of new music.
One of MC 2’s most famous works calls upon another sort of voice—the voice of the humpback whale. Fascinated by recordings of these animals that circulated in the late 1960s, our composer decided to fashion a piece for electric flute, electric cello, and electric piano that set the cries of the whale against the industrial, dehumanized sounds of encroaching civilization. In the course of the work that resulted, the pianist is asked to play upon the instrument’s strings pizzicato and to produce harmonics (i.e., eerie high-frequency sounds generated by the overtones rather than the fundamental pitch). The cello is re-tuned, the flutist required to sing and play simultaneously. Here is a bit of the last movement, which achieves a serenity that earlier sections do not:
Finally, we should mention MC 2’s unique way with a score. He is an expert calligrapher who has fashioned stunningly original manuscript scores for his publisher C. F. Peters over the years. Below we show just one example of the visual beauty present in his innovative musical notation. As practical guides to performance, incidentally, these scores function just as well as more conventional notations.
Give up? Intrigued? Scroll to the bottom, past our customary Mystery Guest video from the old What’s My Line TV show. We’ll reveal composer names plus details about available recordings.
Mystery Composer No. 1: Georg Philipp Telemann
Barbaric Beauty: Telemann & 18th c. Dance Manuscripts. Holland Baroque Society, w/ Miloš Valent, violin; Jan Rokyta, flutes & cimbalom. Channel Classics CCS SA 31911. CD/SACD, 2011. Available as hi-res download.
Telemann: Tafelmusik (Musique de Table), vol. 1. Florilegium. Channel Classics CCS SA 19102. CD/SACD, 2002.
A Bride’s Guide to Wedding Music. Various artists. Naxos 8.503134. CD, 1988.
Mystery Composer No. 2: George Crumb
Crumb: Ancient Voices of Children; Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik; Madrigals, Books I–IV. Tony Arnold, soprano; Emanuele Arciuli, piano; David Colson, conductor. Complete Crumb Edition, vol. 9. Bridge 9170. CD, 2005. (The bolero and toy piano excerpts were taken from Ancient Voices, a landmark work in Crumb’s output.)
Crumb: Eleven Echoes of Autumn; The Sleeper; Vox Balaenae; Five Pieces for Piano; Dream Sequence. International Contemporary Ensemble, Jamie Van Eyck, conductor. Complete Crumb Edition, vol. 12. Bridge 9261. CD, 2009.
I can’t say enough good things about Bridge Records’ ongoing Complete Crumb Edition. David and Becky Starobin have introduced or revived a lot of great American music, but their Crumb Edition is really something special. Check it out here.