Commentary and Reviews
. . . . his talents as a composer more than equal his exceptional skills as a performer.
Harvey Sollberger's music is similarly suggestive (in the sense that a deep involvement of basic compositional idea with the act of live performance creates a powerful argument for the latter's continuing vitality), but more from a point of view as “performer's music” in the best and freshest sense of an intelligent and perceptive synthesis of a wide range of “characteristic” new-music figurations and profiles.
Harvey Sollberger was the other major talent . . . a virtuoso flutist whose highly developed music was just as challenging and assured as Mr. Wuorinen's but brushed with a slightly mad wit and theatricality that gave his style a special appeal.
Mr. Sollberger's artistry extends far beyond his compositional skills. He is an extraordinarily-gifted flutist; his accomplishments in promoting new music for the flute are without equal. Based in New York since 1960, the flutist has extended the timbral and percussive range of the instrument to previously unknown limits. . . . His music is frantic and sensual, complex and mystical.
The concert began with a composition by Mr. Harvey Sollberger entitled Music for Woodwinds. Composed in 1959, Sollberger's work is scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn and bassoon, and one senses that the composer was dominated by the desire to keep every line of that score free from the musical cliché. Music for Woodwinds was highly imaginative. One heard the random sounds of birds in a forest, fog whistles on a shrouded bay, and clashing armies, and yet sequence and coherence were certainly present. It is a delightful piece of music.
Introduction and Caprice was, to mix metaphors, a sensuous pastiche of rhythm, theme and mood, a delight to the ear of the musical gourmet. The rhythms included anything from the circus standard to slick syncopation. The themes hinted of Broadway, Beethoven and Beersheba. There was extraordinary beauty in the quick transitions from tense mystery to pastoral serenity, and from solemn bass depth to treble color. There were moments of rich volume, showing an ability to orchestrate rare in a man of only 22 years.
The Sollberger, coming at the end, was an unusual pleasure, with luxuriant sonorities that seemed self-generating, so appropriate were they to the medium.
Harvey Sollberger's Grand Quartet for Flutes was inventive and well-played, with the composer as first flutist.
Harvey Sollberger's Grand Quartet for Flutes lasted about eight minutes. It depicted all the sounds contemporary flute players are capable of drawing from formerly gentle instruments – squeaks, whistles, flutters and pops. There were also orthodox flute sounds and two long, gradual crescendos leading to frightful frenzies.
The Grand Quartet for Flutes by Harvey Sollberger extended deliciously the tradition of virtuoso chamber music that exploits the potential of a particular insttrument.
Mr. Sollberger's piece is notable for its loud silences bordered by brief, bright outbursts, and for the dense passages where different meters play against each other.
Other personalities felt: that of the flute in Harvey Sollberger's Grand Quartet for Flutes (In Memoriam Friedrich Kuhlau), a very thorough-composed-sounding, shapely piece, its flutiness well-coached by an expert, John Heiss.
Harvey Sollberger's Two Oboes Troping, a lively, springy, gamelike piece that developed imposing strength as it went along.
This was the droll, bickering conversation of two silly magpies. The music jumped and darted and scurried in cacophonic prattle. Its virtue lay in the wit and skill with which the composer handled his two instruments.
In Harvey Sollberger's Two Oboes Troping,. . . the pair suggested two bird pecking and chortling merrily over a basket of delicious nuts.
For me a highlight of the Marx Duo was their performance of Two Oboes Troping by Harvey Sollberger.
Sollberger, born in 1938, wrote his two-movement oboe duet in 1962 and 1964. It's dedicated to Stefan Wolpe and the two American oboists for whom he wrote it, Josef Marx and Judith Martin. It's a kind of 20th century bicinium in which the first movement uses a kind of spatial rhythmic notation while the second movement is serial in orientation. The counterpoint is complex and the music requires a well-worked-out performance (especially with regard to the extremes of notated dynamics).
The pair played Mr. Sollberger's Music for Flute and Piano, a big dissonant, brilliant sort of showpiece for the two with an expressive and dynamic range that stretches from the merest, barest whisper to a fistful of Hammer blows, from a flick of a flute flutter to a jagged tumble of metal and ivory keys. It's a big piece, with a fine big shape and – and with these performers anyway - it works.
10. Chamber Variations (1965) for twelve players and conductor:
A SOLLBERGER KO. The knockout was Harvey Sollberger's Chamber Variations, a big, big piece made out of a kaleidoscope of shifting, twitching, intertwining sounds set in an immense open space. There are contradictory, overwrought things in this music; grand gestures not taken into the conception; discrepancies between the remarkable and powerful accent, color, rhythm and texture on the one hand and the choice and management of the pitches and the time space on the other. But the conception is extraordinary and enough to absorb these things into an overwhelming whole.
Harvey Sollberger (b. 1938) writes in an idiom informed by the twelve-tone melodic gestures and pointillist timbres of Webern, with the increased rhythmic complexity and density developed through the 1950s by Boulez, Babbitt an others. Chamber Variations (1964) for twelve players and conductor, relies on the expanded range of ensemble virtuosity that also grew out of that time. Initially each instrument plays without explicit reference to its fellows – short bursts of notes explore the entire instrumental range over time. This process of individual expression evolves into the analogous exploration of ensemble possibility as a more group-oriented texture emerges. This contrast of diversity and cohesion is the key to the expressive effect of the piece.
Significantly, Sollberger's piece was written for its performers, the laudable Columbia University Group. It shows the composer of Now, committed to humanism in science-oriented surroundings. Its sounds clearly are electronically inspired, but its spirit is one of personal involvement.
The Sollberger Chamber Variations are enormously ambitious, somehow dense and spacious at the same time in their texture.
At the premiere, the many hours of rehearsal failed to achieve a workable performance . . . this should indicate what an extremely difficult score Sollberger has written. It is a kind of music whose notation problems go beyond some of the most tangled scores of any period. At some points, the conductor is called upon only to indicate “events”, that is, coincidences of the many strands; and the notation changes from standard to “spatial” with the distance between the notes indicating the relative time-spans and durations.
Sollberger's Chamber Variations for twelve players and conductor rambled on and on in an exposition of varying combinations of sound and melody fragments within a tense rhythmic structure. There is a sombre, restrained mood at first and this builds-up to a more violent atmosphere before the conductor cuts everything off. But one hardly has the feeling of a logical beginning, middle or end.
Perhaps I am missing something, but I find this music (a CD containing Chamber Variations, Divertimento, Riding the Wind I and Angel and Stone) dreary and mechanical, a series of elaborate but dry 12-tone academicisms. . . . Despite programmatic titles, this music is pure mathematical process, strictly for insiders, sealed off from such sloppy matters as feeling, sensibility, poetry, and charm. Sollberger's notes go on in great detail about “continuous cyclic expansion”, “simultaneous and successive confrontations of originally 'fixed' musical occurrences”, “intensity patterns”, “spatial notation”, and “polyvalent” structures. The scary thing is that this jargon is entirely appropriate: there is little going on in this soulless music except mechanical procedures.
Harvey Sollberger's Music for Sophocles Antigone, scored for narrator and electronic tape, is an effective integration of stunning text and intriguing paraphrastic noises which take on pitch near the end.
Harvey Sollberger's electronic score was suggestive enough in mood that you wanted, at times, to turn off the voices and concentrate on the noises.
But surely they deserved something better than the boiler-factory electronic music of Harvey Sollberger with which they had to contend. Old Sophocles, one imagines, would have overlooked everything save that.
Harvey Sollberger made impressive tape music.
The taped electronic music accompanied passages from the play read by the composer. Like the best incidental music of any age, Sollberger's contributed new shadings of meaning to the text while reinforcing other, more obvious aspects of the drama. A good deal of the music was representational and almost all of it was forceful and successful.
. . . Sollberger's highly exciting Impromptu for piano . . .
. . . Harvey Sollberger's excellent Impromptu for piano . . .
Instrumental virtuosity was notably demanded by Harvey Sollberger's Impromptu, a Webern-cum-Boulez piece for solo piano, and Charles Wuorinen furnished it amply.
Impromptu for piano is a most moving work.
Mr. Sollberger's piece, Divertimento, sounded continually intriguing. The work remained spare and direct throughout, partaking of both the overall esthetic and some of the specific sounds of Japanese music. For all its undoubted complexity of organization, it appealed overtly to the ear.
The most palatable and probably the best piece on the program was Sollberger's Divertimento. Particularly gratifying are the many little sliding effects in the flute and cello, which are beautifully-timed and usually lead to or from some important pitch. The many other special effects include blowing into the flute like a trumpet, plucking piano strings, thumping on flute keys, and so on, but most of the time I did not even think of them as special effects because they grow quite naturally out of the context.
Mr. Sollberger's lean-lined Divertimento is a score exhibiting its composer's characteristic flair for instrumental drama and bright-edged sonority.
A more immediately vivid piece, Harvey Sollberger's Divertimento for flute, cello and piano went further afield, making capital of flute microtones, sustained piano tones, percussive clacking of flute keys and flurries of repeated notes. There were breath-holding mini-cadenzas and small codas in which the cellist, say, would finger notes but not draw the bow, the hammered notes speaking out hoarsely and spookily. The esthetic path here again seemed to parallel Webern's, with much less use of metered silences and attenuated strands of tone, but Elliott Carter came to mind, too.
Sollberger's snappy little Divertimento for trio is the main attraction here, although the ten-minute Impromptu has a spirit of wit and invention not unlike the chamber work. Both are played with great virtuosity.
Sollberger, the performer, has been lauded here innumerable times; but Sollberger, the composer, is not among my favorites. His Divertimento is as much contemporary “formula” with its pointillistic poking around and “modern” playing techniques as the baroque formulas are to many in the realm of boredom, only more so. His piano Impromptu is made of the same goofy stuff, although I can imagine it may be fun for the player.
The most striking element in Harvey Sollberger's Divertimento for flute, cello and piano is the use of silence. The piece is comprised of seven short movements with silences providing an integral part of the musical structure both within and between them. The title, Divertimento, seems to be connected to a fanciful, almost improvisatory impression that results when musical events, full of sharp contrasts and sudden frenetic outbursts, are balanced with the suspenseful tension of the silences. The overall feeling is that musical patterns have been etched onto an open background space.
The Divertimento for Flute, Cello and Piano (1970), in seven short movements, expects a more traditional ensemble relationship from its players. The trio's textures follow an exchange of parts not far removed from Brahms or Schubert. The character of the music is simple and direct, as a divertimento should be, with each movement acting on a new impulse. The material of its composition remains in the atonal, rhythmically free vein of the earlier work (Chamber Variations), with the addition of bended pitches in the flute and cello.
Sollberger has found fascinating combinations of piano and trumpet sonorities to exploit.
NEW WORK BY SOLLBERGER OFFERS TRIBUTE TO WOLPE: Harvey Sollberger's The Two and the One, in its first performance, made obeisance to Mr. Wolpe, who died this year. Mr. Sollberger's trio for two percussionists and amplified cello proved to be a firmly profiled piece with a bright, hard finish. There was a marvelously reflective cadenza for one of the percussionists near the end, with cowbell evocations, and an immensely effective coda.
. . . Harvey Sollberger's The Two and the One, an obnoxiously noisy and needlessly abstruse work for amplified cello and two percussionists that was as unpleasant and assaultive as a piece of music can be.
In this context Harvey Sollberger's clearly structured, 12-tone The Two and the One sounded almost Classical. It, too, makes virtuosic demands, ably met by cellist Erica Duke and percussionists Arthur Jarvinen and Amy Knoles.
An even more positive impression was made by Sollberger's Riding the Wind II, III and IV, of 1974, a work for amplified solo flute which was performed with breathtaking virtuosity by the composer. One purpose of the work is to roll back the boundaries of what we expect flutes to sound like. While a variety of new percussive and wind sounds abounded, the basic identity of the flute was never obscured.
Playing an amplified flute, the composer-performer shaped a long, expressive piece by allowing conventional sonorities to rescue themselves from a blizzard of percussive noises, only to be swallowed up again in a flurry of gusts and moans.
Sollberger is one of the best flutists around, and while his Riding the Wind II, III, IV for amplified solo flute is avant-garde, it fits one of the great 19th-century molds: a virtuoso composer's vehicle for displaying his own performing prowess. And it is very much a real exploration, too, conveying that old-fashioned sense of daring and adventure.
Mr. Sollberger's Riding the Wind II, III, IV for solo flute and Hara for solo alto flute include humming and whistling into the flute, key clicks and pops, flutter tongue and various vibrato techniques. His music is frantic and sensual, complex and mystical.
Sollberger's Riding the Wind II, for solo flute, exploits the sonic possibilities of the modern instrument beyond what its inventor intended, with a noisy clicking and clacking of the keys such as flute students learn to avoid, with breathiness, with broken notes, chords, and counterpoints that form no natural part of the instrument's utterance. It's an exciting piece.
The American flautist, Harvey Sollberger, has been pioneering some of the most advanced playing techniques over many years, and his composition, Riding the Wind II-IV encapsulates the results of his explorations. As with other melody instruments, one of the principal challenges is to create an illusion of polyphony from a single line. Sollberger's approach involves alternating various strands of material moving at different speeds and distinguished by means of timbre or register.
Spencer was careful to treat each of the other four composers with respect, but we somehow get a sense of the influence of one of the composers on the other three. In 1973 when Harvey Sollberger wrote his Riding the Wind IV he had already become a major voice in changing composers' perception of the flute as a solo instrument. He admits that the fourth in the cycle set out to “explore in a thorough and systematic way that whole new area of sound production and articulation known as extended techniques”. He followed through in a piece that is terse and economical (eight minutes) but that also conveys a special mysticism derived from the words of the Chinese philosopher, Lieh Tzu.
Sollberger . . . . provided introductions to the pieces that explained his use of such “extended techniques” as multiphonics and key clicks. Nowhere were they put to better effect than in his two flute solos, Riding the Wind II (1973) and Riding the Wind IV (1974). . . . . Riding the Wind II, which the composer described as a “country piece” written in Upstate New York resembled a kind of postmodern Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. It was both dynamic and subtle with piercing accents and exotic warblings akin to that of a Japanese shakuhachi flute. Also involving was Riding the Wind IV, which ended with a series of inhalations and exhalations that gradually faded away.
. . . the extensive and literally breath-taking Riding the Wind pieces by Sollberger himself . . . Parts II, III and IV of Riding the Wind by Harvey Sollberger constitute the most substantial offering in this series. As might be expected from a gifted composer who is also a virtuoso flutist, they embody the most successful union of instrumental technique and musical thought, resulting in a set of pieces that would be difficult to conceive of as written by anyone not thoroughly at home with the most recent technical extensions. . . We might well wish Sollberger to commit his own commanding renditions to disc.
The Sollberger piece is one of the flutist-composer's most satisfying works. It is a very sensitively-organized repertory of conventional and extended techniques, with the ensemble always providing salient support as the flute moves into and out of its traditional method of performance.
Riding the Wind I is designed to explore the new areas of sound production in flute-playing, and it does indeed use virtually every know trick of the trade in urging sounds of one kind or another from the flute – inhaled and exhaled sounds, multiphonics, buzz, clicks and whatever. The work begins and ends with this type of thing, but the middle section is pretty “straight”, and the whole work has a direction and purpose.
Riding the Wind I is a virtuoso vehicle for solo flute with chamber ensemble, in which an attempt is made to integrate in the solo part “extended” performance techniques (buzz tones, singing while playing, breathing into the instrument, multiphonics) with traditional ones. Indeed, the shape of the entire piece is controlled by relationships between the two types of playing: it begins with flute music in which innovative techniques predominate, works gradually toward a middle section played in the normal fashion, and finally returns to the type of writing heard at the beginning. The transitions both to and from the middle section are beautifully realized, so that one is scarcely conscious of the dichotomy between the two methods of playing. Sollberger is himself a first-rate flutist who specializes in new music, and one is always conscious here of his complete command of the possibilities and limitations of the instrument. . . . the writing for all of the instruments is idiomatic, and the work as a whole creates an impressive sense of sustained excitement.
Riding the Wind I (1974), for flute and four players with conductor, explores the entire range of extended techniques for flute, including pitch-bending and microtones, multiphonics, and key clicks. The sparse accompaniment allows the flute to truly act as soloist, including in cadenza-like passages. There is more of a sense of a span of the piece as a whole, a sense of integration, here than in the other three pieces on the disc, perhaps because of the dominating nature of the flute part. Again, the basic language is atonal and even more concerned with instrumental color.
There were lyric passages here also, and several fragmented moments of unusual color. It proved to be a likeable work with a sense of the outdoors and natural events.
A much gentler and more traditional piece, it played on Sollberger's ability to shape lyrical lines.
Unsurprisingly, his own composition, Hara for solo alto flute, provided the fullest range of instrumental opportunities. He sometimes drew such a pure stream of tone from his instrument that it might have been a wooden flute rather than a metal one.
. . . Hara, Sollberger's imposing showpiece for flute.
Hara is a wonderfully-imagined, precisely-worked piece, an homage not only to the arts of playing the Japanese flute but to the Japanese philosophical concept that gives the music its title, the supreme state of self-control and inner calm.. The techniques of the piece are both ancient and modern; the impact is timeless, especially played with such evocative mastery.
Harvey Sollberger's met him pike hoses for flute and violin, a study in musical transformations, was chiefly absorbing as a showcase for the virtuosity of Mr. Sollberger, a superb flutist, and the violinist, Marilyn Gibson.
Harvey Sollberger's puzzlingly-titled met him pike hoses was a heated musical conversation between Fischer's fluttery, growling flute and Shapiro's sympathetic, shimmery violin.
Angel and Stone (1981), while the most recent work, sounds like the most conservative. This partly results from the relatively pedestrian flute and piano duo. The piano begins with a grand gesture of an arpeggio straight from the Liszt era, followed for two minutes by a rhythmically stable, atonal flute passage. This placid gesture returns throughout the piece, sometimes disguised, as in a section where, Bachlike, Sollberger gives the flute its own distinct counter-melody. The pianist goes “in strings” at the midpoint of the piece, which introduces a new series of gestures – flute flutter-tongue and overblown notes, the pianist whistling, and declamation of poetry. There are genuine, deliberate stylistic allusions in this piece as well, which point to a possible aesthetic experimentation for Sollberger rather than a strictly technical one. Taken as a whole, these pieces (Angel and Stone, Chamber Variations, Divertimento, Riding the Wind I) reveal a composer of considerable accomplishment, a strong voice in American contemporary music.
In the first half, the most engaging piece, and the one least bound by the extreme chromaticism and rigorous post-serialism of the others, was Harvey Sollberger's Life Study. As played by the Jubal Trio, this was a glossary of idioms and instrumental and vocal techniques. The idioms ranged from 1960s-style speech and choral sound effects for all three performers to harmonic and stylistic genres of the past. While the results were sometimes diffuse, there was much to admire and enjoy.
Mr. Sollberger's work calls to mind a slow awakening, a gradual coming into focus. It begins with muffled cries and whispers (a la Ingmar Bergman), phantasmagorical rattles and groans from the harp and the flute, and becomes steadily more lyrical, straightforward and coherent as the piece progresses. Life Study seemed overly long but was engrossing for most of its 20-minute duration.
Mr. Sollberger wrote both poem and music to Life Study. Of all the works on the CD, this comes the closest to the supposedly discredited atonal style of the post-war period. Even more than in the Crumb work, the voice part is instrumental in character. The soprano sings isolated syllables and produces a large variety of sounds that combine effectively with the flute and harp to make a coherent whole. The listener who treats this work as one would a purely instrumental piece without following the text, will miss a great deal, for the composer is seriously involved with the poetry on many levels. If Life Study seems a bit long, it still has many fascinating moments and can reward close attention.
The Humble Heart, written especially for the Catskill Quintet by Harvey Sollberger in 1982, was in Shaker idiom: simply-structured, straightforward and understandable. I was rather surprised at the musical appeal. . . . . A highly inventive number which employed most effectively the technique of one instrument melodizing while others play around, under and over the tune.
Taking its title from a Shaker hymn, the piece incorporates a few such hymns in a texture that shifts from sweet to somewhat chaotic, always pulled back in line by the gentle melodies. It calls for some virtuoso work by each of the players, although the composer, himself a flutist, seemed to pick extra often on that instrument.
In terms of interest and originality, Harvey Sollberger's brand new Interrupted Night came in a very respectable second (to Frederik Rzewski's Winnsboro Cotton Blues). The work is scored for violin, cello and clarinet, with flute and piano performing obbligato. The concept of placing the groups of instruments slightly apart on stage was effective, and the work is structured in patterns, with haunting clarinet statements followed by string commentary, sometimes pizzicato, sometimes bowed and sometimes in tremolo style. The flute and piano offer another plane altogether, separate but related.
. . . the swirling and exotic tapestries of . . . Harvey Sollberger.
This entrancing, jazz-like piece features one flute soloist with a choir of piccolos, flutes and alto flutes.
The evening's highlight may have been Double Triptych for flute and percussion by Harvey Sollberger, which combined knowledgeable writing for the flute with some intriguing timbral effects for a battery of percussion instruments.
Harvey Sollberger . . . always has been concerned with extending the flute's conventional sonorities. He here combines them with those of vibraphone, drums and a variety of noisemakers in ways that are as charming as they are novel. Double Triptych also proved to have a strong melodic profile with a distinctive African flavor.
The most effective parts of her program came with . . . Harvey Sollberger's Double Triptych, more densely and effectively organized music than most, and benefiting from a melody instrument (in this case a flute) . . . to leaven the otherwise prevalent rhythmic and timbral onslaught.
The concert's most recent work, Double Triptych, was also the most amusingly experimental. Flutist Cella and percussionist Longshore adroitly presented “Triptych's” three bustling movements and three sleepy “anti-movements” which were as contrasting as day and night.
Sollberger's apparent reluctance to inject an occasional rhythm, phrase or interval until almost at the end left most of the listening experience a fairly arid atonal desert.
Mr. Sollberger's Taking Measures, for violin and piano, actually had a surprising amount of repetitious ostinato and of gradual metric transformations rather like those in the music of Steve Reich – though few would hear it as a concession to Minimalism in the air, since the dissonance is too pronounced. It is a vigorous, wiry piece, also beginning with its busiest music and dwindling to a quiet close.
The program opened with Harvey Sollberger's Taking Measures for violin and piano. This sturdy, angular contrapuntal duet, in one ten-minute movement, was engrossing throughout.
Sollberger's Taking Measures, receiving its world premiere, is a 10-minute conversation between violin and piano that is at times heated and animated, then dreamy and impressionistic.
The Sollberger is a 16-minute piece for string orchestra that draws tangentially on invented notions of musical Persia (I don't think there's any golf in it). The opening sets the tone: a long drone pitch above which a single violin melody curls in approximation of Middle Eastern modes. This gives way to a lengthy and thoroughly opaque central section; a sudden attack of string harmonics signals the final section, a dance-like presto. On the whole it's as unappealing a piece as the title suggests. Most of the string writing is thick and graceless, and in the absence of much innate musical interest, the “Persian” angle seems more like gimmickry than anything else. The last two minutes or so have a certain propulsive allure, but the melodic invention for most of the piece is fairly threadbare. Joshua Kosman.
There was playfulness aplenty. What Bartok did for young pianists and Orff for young percussionists, so Sollberger may have done for budding flutists. But it's not music for novices.
FLUTIST PREMIERES A CAPTIVATING WORK. The work is a series of studies in advanced flute techniques subtly incorporating 13 quotations from other flute works. The quotations proved of no consequence, but the work on its own terms was a knockout. Yes, it employed an arsenal of unconventional flute techniques like breathy tone, popped attacks, split tones, key slaps, harmonic overtones, tongue clucking, and aspirated syllables that never quite crossed the line into speech. But Sollberger managed to string all this together in a very original continuum of sound that has musical value, including some mesmerizing jazz rhythms, without mere gimmickry.
It is uncommon to find teaching material on extended techniques which also functions as a strong recital piece – but that is exactly what Quodlibetudes is. Sollberger should be commended not only for a fine piece, but also for the clear and concise way in which he explains the extended techniques he explores. Both flutists and professional flutists should find the work rewarding – difficult enough but not overly so – and for the teacher, Quodlibetudes importance should not be underestimated.
Quodlibetudes . . . is an outstanding new work from one of the long-term leaders in the school of avant-garde flute music. . . Indeed, these etudes belong in the same class as the Chopin Etudes for piano: there is much to be learned from practicing them, but in the end there is only the music, and they are certainly not “easy”.
Sollberger's Quodlibetudes should become a staple of every flutist's etude diet, along with the standards by Joachim Anderson, Louis Drouet, Marcel Moyse and Paul Taffanel and Louis Gaubert.
Surprise guest artist Sollberger premiered this delightful set of mini-pieces, subtitled “13 flirtatious fantasies arranged (almost) continuously and based on the letters of Judith Bentley's name.” (J is “jumpy;” U is “undulating; D is “drumming;” and so on.) Each section begins with the letter whispered into the flute, and each section contains amusing quotes from the flute literature and pseudo-quotes that the composer didn't write but should have.
44. Aurelian Echoes (1989) for flute and alto flute.
After intermission, Harvey Sollberger's Aurelian Echoes provided a light-hearted (but not lightweight) change. A perpetual motion for two flutes, this work was inspired, according to the composer's fanciful program notes, by his experiences of life in Rome. Once set in motion, this entertaining composition generally maintains a regular pace that is occasionally interrupted by rhythmic changes; the work ends with the suggestion of a Roman church bell, followed by the wail of a Roman police siren.
What they faced was a complicated score built on words of Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau and a verse from the Modoc Indians. Those words speak and sing of man's place in the universe, of struggle, of the soul's quest for peace. Sollberger's music ranges from astringent bursts of non-melody in forced rhythms to touches of church-like classicism that roll off choir tongues as on Sunday mornings, from tinklings of individual percussions to grand noises backed by chimes and tubas. There are also deft exchanges of words from solo voice to chorus and back again. The composition leaves one tense, wondering where the next sound will come from and in what sort of force and shape.
As good a work as Dreaming was, Sollberger's Passages impressed me even more. Passages was composed at the American Academy in Rome; Sollberger wanted to write a specifically American work for his European audience. Tapping into the Transcendentalist tradition, he chose texts by Whitman, Thoreau and a traditional Modoc Indian song. . . Sollberger presented his texts in juxtaposition, an effective musical translation of the all-embracing nature of American Transcendentalism. Sollberger takes four different texts and unites them in one grand vision through his music. It is a successful musical summation of Whitman's lines, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself (I am large, I contain multitudes)”.
Without pretending to understand the music's workings, I found myself drawn in by its contrasts and by the vividness and clarity of the writing”.
Sollberger's latest composition, prompted by images of Baghdad and Sarajevo, is perhaps the first serious musical statement about the Gulf War and the war in the former Yugoslavia.
In effect, the music subtly and swiftly moves back and forth from fluttery agitation to episodes of incessant beat, creating a sense of dreaded anticipation. It gradually swells into a paroxysm of sirens, whistles, bangs and other sounds of war. Under Sollberger's exacting guidance, the ferocious and harrowing performance by a CCP sextet was spellbinding enough to compensate for the piece's rather cliche-ridden first half.
For centuries composers have written powerful music in response to the horrors of war. American composer Harvey Sollberger adds his voice to the outcry in The Advancing Moment. . . the sirens play a deafening role in his explosive piece, which is scored for piano, percussion and amplified flute, clarinet, violin and cello. Written in a complex contemporary idiom, the intense work makes its point with wailing sonorities, pounding drums, screaming high pitches and suggestions of military tattoos.
“Moment” crackled with intensity, from the brief opening outburst that scattered shards of metallic sounds into the air. . . the work settled into heavy, swinging rhythms that were a unifying force for the seemingly random cries and melodic bits and pieces coming from the six musicians. In the final section a thin menacing drone emerged, as insistent as an air-raid siren but more terrifying because it was ephemeral. The startling, sharp thump of drumsticks slamming repeatedly into drumskin was equally evocative, exploding like bombs. Its vagueness made the sound much more effective than imitation gunfire.
Musically, the work begins with the kind of ruthless logic we may hear in, say, Boulez's 12-tone music, but gradually drifts away from the intellectual, theoretical framework and becomes a powerful rhythmic assertion that no listener can fail to react to.
Sollberger's music is volatile and pungent, an inventive sample of the ordered disorder that has found favor among more than a few mid to late 20th-century composers.
The one pure New York” piece this summer was Sollberger's own The Advancing Moment, a drab, self-serving relic of a stillborn style better forgotten.
Mr. Sollberger's work pitted groups of instruments against each other and built into a kind of pummeling fanfare, full of menacing extremes of pitch and volume. His program note spoke of addressing a world of “false truths” and annihilation. Translation: musical escapists and solace-seekers should look elsewhere. This last work and the program in general brought to mind Theodor Adorno's opinion that certain modernist music gave voice to a deeper collective anxiety and fear. Listeners were scared of such music, he suggested, not because it was incomprehensible, but because it was “all too correctly understood”.
The concert ended with Harvey Sollberger's The Advancing Moment, a colorful battle between melody instruments and percussion and piano. The vigorous performance was conducted by the composer.
. . . . Harvey Sollberger's colorful and energetic The Advancing Moment.
59. Spillville (2006) for flute, viola and guitar.
From the modernist heights of Harvey Sollberger's “Dvorak and the Scarlet Tanager/his 'damn bird'” to the bluesy depths of Pat Smith's Spillville Blue, no reference is too esoteric to evoke or too low to riff on.
The music on this disc reveals a wonderful sense of Midwest America. . . Spillville was home to a special guest for a time: Antonin Dvorak and his family lived in the town while he was composing his “American Quartet”. Sollberger uses many of Dvorak's motifs throughout Spillville, interspersing the music with folk songs and bird calls. There are six movements in this work for flute, viola and guitar, each revealing a 'new' and sometimes lonely place, with glances towards neighbours nearby.
When Harvey Sollberger . . . retired to his native Iowa, he tempered his arsenal of sophisticated compositional resources with fond and haunted reminiscences reflecting the contours of the state's rich and yet starkly dramatic cultural landscape. Spillville was inspired by Dvorak's “American Quartet”, written in the summer of 1893 when the composer lived in the tiny Iowa town. The familiar tunes serve as unifying devices which turn out to be as coincidental as famous themes can be, so that what starts out as an apparent pastiche elevates its intentions by deconstructing in a variety of unexpected ways and gorgeous timbres. Sollberger has not apprehended Dvorak, he has embraced and extended him.
In Spillville for flute, viola and guitar, Sollberger draws directly on Dvorak's String Quartet in F, Op. 96, usually known as the “American Quartet”. Four of its seven movements are directly inspired by the four movements of the string quartet. Alternating with these movements are duo arrangements of Czech folk songs for two group members each time. The entire work is an inviting mixture of textures, from soaring lyrical lines to strongly articulated passages that require excellent chamber playing and communication among group members.
In the seven short movements of Harvey Sollberger's Obsessions . . . instruments of the duo combinations are sometimes pitted against each other. In “Slavedriver”, for example, the piano seems to take the title role. At other times the collaborations are more peaceful, like the cello-violin conversation in “The Entry of Jean Seberg into Heaven”. At the beginning of “Gallus Fratres Habet . . . Coniunx”, anxious violin snippets overlap with angry cluster chords on the piano.
Perhaps Gilead for flute, viola and string quartet is much more intense in contrast to the first piece (Spillville), and takes the listener on a journey through three chapters of the novels of Marilynne Robinson that are set in this fictional town. . . it would be pleasing to see similar ensembles in the UK including this music in their repertoire.
In Perhaps Gilead Sollberger creates a moving quilt of history out of the real and invented memories of three generations of fictional Congregationalist pastors in rural Southwest Iowa. Based on novels by Pulitzer Prize-winner Marilynne Robinson, the transcendental unreality, bitterness and violence of the Civil War are counterbalanced by the sweeter, more innocent moments of community.
Sollberger bases the second work on the CD, Perhaps Gilead, on a fictional town, that of author Marilynne Robinson's creation. Each movement takes a character or moment from Robinson's novel Gilead as inspiration, resulting in an amazing variety of textures, styles, and instrumental techniques. Perhaps Gilead is scored for flute, guitar and string quartet, and the composer uses the technical and expressive capabilities of all instruments throughout this 30-plus-minute work. . . . Spillville and Gilead might appeal most to connoisseurs of Harvey Sollberger's music or those familiar with Red Cedar Chamber Music, but others should have a listen as well. The listenable music is played well and will provide captivating pieces on chamber music concerts in the coming years.