Irvine Arditti continues his acclaimed traversal of the complete music for violin by John Cage. This disc contains music from two different periods of Cage’s composition.
In 1975, the violinist Paul Zukofsky learned that John Cage had returned to a more conventional notation after a period of graphic indeterminacy and hoped the composer would write a new work for the violin. Zukofsky contacted Cage with this request and the two met early in 1976 to discuss a series of new works. The main work resulting from this collaboration was Cage’s Freeman Etudes (recorded by Irvine Arditti on Mode 32 and 37). But before Cage could begin on that imposing project, he needed to understand better the violin’s capabilities. This he did with two smaller works, an arrangement of Cheap Imitation in 1977 (recording by Arditti forthcoming on Mode) and the Chorals. As so often is the case, Cage described his activity in terms of wonder and discovery: “I study under Zukofsky’s patient tutelage, not how to play the violin, but how to become even more baffled by its almost unlimited flexibility.”
The Chorals have their origins in Erik Satie’s Douze petits chorals, dating from Satie’s years of study at the Schola Cantorum (1905-8). Its notation calls for precise microtonality, and demonstrates Zukofsky’s suggestion “to make a continuous music of disparate elements, single tones, unisons, and beatings”.
One6 is, perhaps, the most unusual of Cage’s violin works. The first note, a single F, is sustained for an extremely long duration. This note is followed, after a short silence, by another F, and then another! Other notes appear eventually, but the result is one of the listener losing all sense of relating one to another, verging on a kind of trance.
Late in life, John Cage wrote a series of number pieces, the title indicating merely the number of instruments involved, a super-scripted numeral the sequence of composition. One6 for solo violin dates from 1990, and consists of long-held, single notes, husky-toned and often on the cusp between sounding and not sounding in Irvine Arditti’s new recording. At nearly 50 minutes, the piece is likely either to achieve the composer’s musical goal of sobering and quieting the mind, “rendering it susceptible to divine influences,” or do exactly the opposite. The Chorals, derived from Satie’s Douze petite chorals, are slow by any other standard, but a hive of activity by comparison with One6, microtonally and multi-linearly exploring particular pitch areas in a way that brings the music of Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi to mind. — Michael Dervan, Irish Times, August 21, 2003
If you were as impressed as I was by Irvine Arditti’s staggering performances of John Cage’s more-difficult-than-they-sound Freeman Études a few years back (Mode 32 & 37), you’ll probably be interested in his follow-up volume in Mode’s complete Cage violin music survey. The 1978 Chorals alter the pitches of Satie’s Socrate in microtonal increments, based on chance operations. Arditti shaves about one minute off Paul Zukofsky’s 1991 premiere recording (Musical Observations) and connect Cage’s recalcitrant pitches with a greater sense of colour and line.
As with the other compositions in Cage’s 40-odd ‘number pieces’, One6 involves single notes placed within what the composer calls ‘time brackets’. The performer is presented with a range of choices as far as beginning, ending and sustaining pitches. Arditti stretches out these notes in endless arcs, with virtually undetectable changes in bow, maintaining high tension even in the long silences. This kind of music makes Morton Feldman’s protracted time-scale seem hasty by comparison. One6 requires you to listen with the same single-minded patience and concentration that Arditti brings to his performances. While I can’t pretend to love these pieces, nor preach it to the unconverted, my rating nevertheless reflects Arditti’s fierce commitment and painstaking musicianship. — Jed Distler, BBC Music Magazine, October 2003
John Cage Complete John Cage Edition, Volume 27: The Works for Violin 5 Mode 118
Cage idolised Satie and composed two reworkings of his music for solo violin – Cheap Imitation, based on Socrate, and the Chorals (1978) based on nine of Satie’s Douze Petits Chorals, which are virtually unknown and not recorded. Cage took Satie’s melodies and compressed them so that their intervals include quarter-tones. He kept close enough to Satie’s rhythms for the sources to be identified (but not in the CD booklet) – Cage’s nine chorals are Satie’s 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Irvine Arditti now supplants Zukofsky (7/92 – nla).
Cage’s last works were the number pieces. In this case One refers to a single instrument and the 6 signifies the sixth instrumental solo. The violin version consists of single notes, mostly of extraordinary length. Arditti’s wizardry delivers a continuous sostenuto of a kind normally assumed to be impossible on a bowed instrument. His legendary dedication and expertise are again on display in this Volume 27 in the Mode Complete Cage Edition. — Peter Dickinson, Gramophone, July 2003
John Cage The Works for Violin 5 Mode 118
At this point, John Cage’s popular reputation is pretty well cemented as the guy who called 4 1/2 minutes of silence “music.” It’s a shame because, of course, Cage contributed much more, but perhaps it’s a testament to his genius that he has any sort of reputation at all. The only thing worse than being talked about, of course, is not being talked about. Cage did make silence into music, and continues to receive attention as a result.
The two solo violin works presented on Mode’s 27th disc of Cage music are of the sort that arm his naysayers; that is, they are more concept than composition. Chorals, from 1978, uses Cage’s chance operations to alter the pitches of Erik Satie’s Douze petits chorals. Cage placed a transparency over the original score, putting the same physical arrangement of written notes onto a larger staff so that the distance between notes was decreased and microtones introduced. One, composed in 1990, gives the performer a series of notes to be played within a set amount of time. Both pieces have such sustained tones and so much empty space around them that they are virtually indistinguishable. There’s something suspenseful, even beautiful, about the results, similar to the way in which the work of his contemporary Morton Feldman works can be gradual yet gripping. Irvine Arditti’s playing is beautiful, and the music evocative, but the material itself is almost pallid. — Kurt Gottschalk , The Squid’s Ear (www.squidsear.com), December 2003
Also by Irvine Arditti and The Arditti Quartet on Mode Records: John Cage: Freeman Etudes, Books 1 & 2 (mode 32), Books 3 & 4 (mode 37) Two4 – versions for violin & piano and sho & piano – with Mayumi Miyata and Stephen Drury (mode 88) The Works for Violin 4 – Six Melodies; Nocturne; Two6; Eight Whiskus; One10 – with Stephen Drury (mode 100) String Quartets Vol. 1 (mode 17) and Vol. 2 (mode 27) Five3 (mode 75) Chaya Czernowin: String Quartet (mode 77) Peter Maxwell-Davies: String Quartet #1 (mode 59) Gerard Pape: Vortex (mode 26) Le Fleuve du Desir (mode 67; mode 98/99) Hilda Paredes: Permutaciones; The Seventh Seed (mode 60) Bernadette Speach: Reflections (mode 105)