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Czech New Music of the 1960s


F1 0048    [8595017404825]
TT-  62:48   released 6/1994

    1. Jan Rychlík - African Cycle (1962)   4:48
      for eight wind instruments and piano
      parts 1, 5, 3
    2. Josef Berg - Dreaming (1970)   10:29
      for 4 violins, 2 guitars, piano, ionica
      and percussion, twelfth-tone composition
    3. Rudolf Komorous - Olympia (1964)   5:09
      for two players
    4. Rudolf Komorous - Chanson (1965)   4:02
      for viola, guitar and clock spiral
    5. Rudolf Komorous - Sweet Queen (1963)   3:18
      for mouth-organs, piano and bass drum
    6. Zbyněk Vostřák - Secret Fishing (1973)   34:15
      for four groups of instruments

Martin Čech - flute (1,6), Pavel Polášek - oboe (1), Kamil Doležal - clarinets (1,6), mouth-organs (3,5), Václav Bratrych - altsaxophone (6), Milan Sládek - bassoon (1,6), Tomáš Secký - French horn (1,6), Jaroslav Secký - French horn (1), Ivo Kopecký - trombone (1,6), Josef Litoš - trombone (1,6), Petr Fleischer - tuba (6), Jaromír Kubíček - percussion (2,6), František Čech - percussion (2,6), Marek Velemínský - guitar (2), Jiří Mrhal - guitar (2), Miroslav Šimáček - el.guitar (4,6), Vojtěch Spurný - piano (1,2), Martin Smolka - prepared piano (6), artistic director, Petr Malásek - ionica (2), Kryštof Marek - synthesizer (6), Zuzana Hájková - violin (2,6), René Vácha - violin (2), Ivo Anýž - violin (2), viola (4), Pavel Hořejší - violin (2), viola (6), David Rejchrt - cello (6), Ivan Bierhanzl - double bass (6), percussion (3,4,5), Petr Kofroň - conductor (1,2,6), piano (5)

The Sixties were a time of searching. People wished to be familiar with all things; both in a "horizontal" sense (the global age begins at that time; North South East West know about each other and are mutually influencing one other), and in a "vertical" sense (the descent into the psychological sphere aided by drugs, attempts at a new social formation in Prague and Paris 1968). In the art of those years the terms "experiment" and "experimental art" were among the most widely used. They imply that by raising "the quest" above "the find", the contemporary world in art, too, was sacrificed to the future.
     This force was charging ahead with three times its strength in Bohemia at that time. Art, then, chiefly had a direct existential meaning. To the people art was a substitute for life in a "dead" society. The ideas of art were the most effective weapon, that of "being" against ideology. In addition, after decades of isolation, Czech music was suddenly confronted by world music, which, in the meantime, had undergone perhaps the most radical changes of all the arts. The meeting with New Music must have come as a shock. And finally, Czech composers who were struck by this new style were actually forced (by a lack of information and by living beyond the hub of things) to reckon with all the impulses for themselves in their own way.
     Jan Rychlík (1916-1964) was one of the first in Bohemia at the end of the 1950s to be influenced by New Music. Until then life had been kindling in him the most diverse suggestions: He studied at the School of Business during the years 1933-39. When it closed during the Second World War he continued his study at the Prague Conservatoire (1940-46) during which time he both played and composed jazz. He was a member of the group of writers and artists which included among others Jiří Kolář. He translated poetry (e.g. Christian Morgenstern), he wrote his own literary texts (the manuscript Diary, 1955) and specialist works on jazz and musical instruments. He became a sought-after composer of film scores, a proclaimed expert on instrumentation and a legend in Czech New Music (in 1961 he co-founded the contemporary music ensemble Musica viva pragensis). Up until the end of the 1950s he was composing Neo-Classical works and at the beginning of the Sixties he wrote a few small studies and compositions reacting to the world's avant-garde of the time (String trio no. 2, 1961 (?), African Cycle, 1962, Relazioni for three instruments, 1964). Of these African Cycle is the most individual. The work's five parts arose step by step; the sequence of their performance was free. This CD recording presents three movements which are founded on the principle of polymetric bands (inspired by African drum rhythms). It was this principle which came to the foreground later, in minimal music.
     Josef Berg (1927-1971), after graduating from grammar school, studied at the Brno Conservatoire (1946-50) in the composition class held by Janáček's pupil Vilém Petrželka; he did not, however, complete his musical theory studies at Brno university. From 1953 he lived as a free-lance musician earning a living by writing incidental music and by arranging pieces for the Brno Radio Orchestra of Folk Instruments. After a change in direction in his poetics at the end of the 1950s Berg created his own style, a kind of bizarre musical Neo- Classicism associated with literature and theatre. After a series of "chamber operas", as Berg called his unusual creations (e.g. Euphrydes before the Gates of Thymenae for tenor and trumpet, 1964) his works gradually became much more theatre than music (The History of Musical Experimentation in Prague and in Moravia, 1965, Berg Performs a Musical Happening, 1970). Berg's literary work embraces all forms from diaries and correspondence to poetry, puppet plays and finally to Berg's own unique creations (e.g. "inventive units", forms of verbal, unrealisable concepts). Text, a selection of such work was published posthumously in 1988. Many visual projects were grouped around the piece Dreaming (i.e. the idea that pornographic films should be shown parallel with the music, several simultaneously). Berg, however, finally limited his plans only to music. He decided that, rather than having a "Surrealist" confrontation of the musical with the visual (like the "multi-porn" concept), "normal music" would be much more effective presented in a special "Surreal" manner. In the beginning Berg wanted to take a popular, almost overworked piece, for example, Dreaming, Evening Song and Moonlight Sonata and manipulate it but, in the end, all that remained of that idea was the name of the work and a much more general manipulation of the Classical style. Classical elements - melody, rhythmic motifs, chords and their combinations - have, in Dreaming been rendered "non-Classical" and unexpected. Berg first created for the work a new, twelfth-tone system, with a maximum elimination of the standard intervals (known from pure and tempered tuning) and arising from non-standard intervals. Berg's range, for example, uses all intervals from three twelfth-tones interval (quarter tone) to interval of eleven twelfth-tones with, of course, one exception: there never appears an interval of six twelfth-tones, known to us as a semitone. In order that the remarkable character of the tonal system is rendered more distinctive, a series of scales becomes the main motif of the work and four violins and two guitars playing on retuned open strings hand these melodic lines from one to the other using the hocket device. Thus Berg's Dreaming is not the serene classical slumber but a bizarre dream one would experience at the height of a fever.
     Rudolf Komorous (1931) is one of the most original phenomena of Czech New Music of the Sixties. He studied the bassoon and composition at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts (1952-59) but the course of his life defied the ordinary beliefs of the time. He first became a member of the Neo-Dadaist group of artists, Šmidrové, then he went to Peking for two years (1959-61) where he taught bassoon and chamber music at the Conservatoire. He later was an advocate of dandyism but earned his living as a bassoon player in an operatic orchestra. In 1969 he finally left for Canada. During the 1950s Komorous developed the so-called "aesthetics of curious things". Unlike the world concept of the abstract of the time he emphasised all things concrete. It was concrete so that, among the meanings which everything concrete bears with it, the most strange constructions and connections could be utilised. This "curiousness" of thought was expressed in Komorous's music chiefly in the first half of the 1960s, in particular in connection with non-traditional instruments and instrumentation. To see and hear a nightingale being played alongside altar bells was one of those "strange constructions and connections". Komorous was greatly influenced by his time in China. He discovered that only that which is "empty" can be filled (Tao); only silence may be filled with sound. Thus Komorous's music was not a music current interrupted by pauses but a flow of silence interrupted by sound. At the same time Komorous was aware that elementary forms, returned to their essential mould, are filled with the greatest charge, a fact which he must have drawn from oriental calligraphy. Komorous's compositional searching also moved about in the world of the artist rather than that of the musician. He endeavoured to condense the music into one area (a square or circle), to organise the sounds on a geometric principle, but ridding it of convention (for example New Music's customary association of vertical axes with frequency, horizontal axes with time etc.). Olympia, Chanson, Sweet Queen are profound contemplations in the construction of sound, a construction built up so thoroughly in order that it bears the staggering tension concentration not only in every sound but also in the silence.
     Zbyněk Vostřák (1920-1985) for a time experienced a successful career as a conductor and he was equally successful as a composer of Neo-Classical and Neo-Romantic operas and ballets. During the Fifties, however, he experienced two traumas. In 1954, after a mystical experience he completely changed his spiritual orientation and, during the years 1959-60 a nervous illness put an end to his composing activities. When, at the beginning of the 1960s, he became acquainted with the work of Anton von Webern and his musical legacy, he took his leave of traditional compositional methods and, in so doing, the whole of his creative work up until that time. During the 1960s Vostřák became a personality who, in Czech music of the time, probably corresponded most of all to the prototype of the New Music artist. Vostřák experimented with serialism, the aleatory, graphic notation and he created a number of electro-acoustic works while, at the same time, conducting the ensemble Musica viva pragensis. Secret Fishing is Vostřák's first work in which the instrumentation direction is not given nor is the length of the piece defined. Each of the four instrumental groups play thirteen individual sections; the sections of all the groups are set in various irregular strata (like stones and bricks in an old wall). In each section the pitch limits are set along with the interpretative ideas for the form, tempo, rhythm, articulation and dynamics. The most important is the data provided on the form. Music for Vostřák means in essence three form principles, the ideological archetypes of music - statics, kinetics and rhythm.. The composition is rooted in the treatment of these three principles for their balance creates the internal harmony of the music. With what concrete musical material the three form principles are fuelled, ceases to be so important. Secret Fishing is associated with the statement made by an unknown alchemist: "Do you like fishing? Alchemy has something in common with fishing. Women's work and child's play." The composition is actually built up according to a model of alchemistic processes. The alchemist's construction begins with each instrumental group being composed of greatly differing instruments representing the individual elements: for example, the wind instrument as "air", the brass instrument as "fire" (iron is forged in fire), the wooden instrument as "water" (water gives life to wood), the stone instrument as "earth". These are the four elements on their elemental, tangible plane. The fact that these disparate sound sources are governed by one condition of the manner of play brings about the first elemental correlation (on an elemental plane). The four instrumental groups are the four elements on a higher plane. When the four groups sound together they create a second elemental link (on a higher plane). Three ideas pass through the four elements. The trinity of form principles is, for Vostřák, a symbol of the most superior ideas: the statics is the symbol of God the Father, kinetics the symbol of the Son and rhythm symbolises the Holy Spirit (in the mystical conception the Mother). By balancing these ideas (the form principles) in the forms of individual elements (the instrumental groups) a supreme fusion is achieved.

Petr Kofroň, June 1993

Dedicated to the memory of dr.Vladimír Lébl (1928-1987).

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