Songs of Innocence & Experience
10 Fränkische Tänze (1977) 12:56 sublimated for string quartet with drone quartet
Keuper (1980) 6:51 for string quartet
Festina Lente (1987) 26:28 for string quartet
Songs of Innocence & Experience (1996/2004)
Taula/Novo Ben (2003) 15:50 for viola with voice
10 Fränkische Tänze (1977) 12:06 sublimated for string quartet without drone quartet
The Sonar Quartett
This is the first complete recording of Walter Zimmermann’s string quartets.
The 10 Fränkische Tänze, from the project Lokale Musik (Local Music) explore the folk music of Franconia in Germany. They are built on research of old peasant books of dances, some dating back to the early 19th century and the beginning of the notation of folk music. The many dance melodies including waltzes, Schottische [German polka], mazurka, galop etc. are captured, rejected and presented in just intonation, lending them an archaic character. It can be performed with or without a drone, both versions are presented here.
Songs of Innocence & Experience is a composition with twenty ritornellos after William Blake’s cycle of poems Songs of Innocence. The spirit of each poem is condensed and projected onto children songs, which Zimmermann recorded on the streets of Nuremberg. The songs were transcribed with all their intonation inaccuracies and with their repeated phrases which point to both the recollection and forgetting of the melodies. These recordings as well as Allan Ginsberg’s interpretation of Blake’s The Tyger poem are interwoven into the quartet.
Festina Lente explores the phenomena of listening to the fast music within the surface of slow passages and to the slow music within the surface of fast passages.
Die Sorge geht über den Fluss [Care Crosses the River] for solo violin is based on the 220th Fable of Hyginus, from which it takes its title. Zimmermann composed the piece like a diary: “Each day, I composed one line and if that was not the case, a rest with a fermata replaces sound, so that the structure of the diary from January 1, 2000, to April 1, 2000, produces the form alternating between composed and silent portions.”
Taula/Novo Ben, for viola with voice (one performer), is the first of the cycle of works written for instrumentalists who also sing. This project creates a new, extremely demanding discipline. They are not just simple songs, but a performer’s challenging investigations of his/her instrument and his/her voice. At a time of much specialization in new music, this cycle leads back to the basic forms of music making which date back to the troubadours for whom it was natural to accompany their own vocal performances, although their songs were easier.
Composer supervised recordings by Germany’s Sonar Quartett.
Liner notes by Walter Zimmermann and Rainer Pöllmann. Cover art by Nanne Meyer.
A specially priced 2-CD set.
Walter Zimmermann’s music is hardly known in Britain. Born in 1949, he reacted against the prescriptions of the postwar avant garde in Germany, and he has remained a musical outsider ever since. The work of American experimentalists, especially Cage's music of the 1940s, gave Zimmermann his starting point, and he used the folk music of his native Franconia as his raw material in the cycle of pieces called Lokale Musik that made his name in the late 1970s; two versions of one of those pieces, 10 Fränkische Tänze, frame these discs of string music, which also contain the 23 Ritornellos, based upon William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, and the 45-minute solo violin Die Sorge Geht über den Fluss. The musical means may change – another quartet piece, Keuper from 1980, explores tiny differences of tuning and temperament – but the pared-down, almost self-denying character of the music, with nothing rhetorical about it all, has remained constant.
Walter Zimmermann gives me pause touching at times on retreat. The man’s music wanders hither and yon in roughly modernist guise oblivious to consistency or allegiance to coteries. A few of the pieces among mode’s three discs I cannot bear. Others enthrall. Yet others puzzle in not unpleasant ways. A just-released two-CD set, mode 245/6, is for this listener the most engaging, not least for Zimmermann’s Fränkische Tänze (Franconian Dances), for string quartet with drone quartet (for these sessions an overdub by the principal performers, the Sonar Quartette – a live performance would call for two quartets). The fabulously spooky folk-based morsels enchant the ear as a concoction of hurdy-gurdy, harmonium, and wallflower calliope. The dances appear twice, the second go-round differing but slightly from the first. Again for string quartet, Keuper nicely dismantles another folksy cluster. Zimmermann’s own notes reveal a taste for the distant past. For example, Festina Lente (Hurry Slowly) sets out to depict a Renaissance oxymoron as illustrated by a lumbering tortoise attached to whose shell is a mast in full sail. If this all sounds intriguingly strange, I’ve conveyed the impression I’ve tried to make. Well worth looking into. And well recorded.
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