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New Music, Early Music: Galax Quartet’s Dream Drapery

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Theme music

Welcome to Harmonia . . . I’m Angela Mariani.

One of the most enjoyable phenomena that arose from the historical performance movement of the last few decades was the re-discovery of early instruments: lutes, violas da gamba, recorders, shawms, sackbuts, harpsichords, and so many more. Eventually, contemporary composers also began to experiment writing entirely new music specifically for those instruments, or adapting pieces to be played by them. This hour, new music from a CD called “Dream Drapery,” played by the Galax Quartet: Elizabeth Blumenstock and David Wilson, baroque violin; Roy Whelden, viola da gamba; and David Morris, Baroque cello, with contralto Karen Clark, featuring works by contemporary composers Marc Mellits, Robert Morris and Joseph Schwantner. Also this hour: fourteenth century music performed by the ensemble Blue Heron, on our featured release.

Theme music fades

MUSIC TRACK

A 14th-Century Salamagundi
Blue Heron; Scott Metcalfe dir.
Blue Heron 2020 / B08HGKFLY2
Jacopo da Bologna
Tr. 7 Ogelletto silvagio per stagione (4:28)

“A woodland bird of the season sings sweet verses in a lovely mode; but here and there some  squawk so loudly that one can’t praise them . . . to make a beautiful song requires mastery.” The ensemble Blue Heron performed Ogelletto silvagio per stagione, a 14th-century “caccia” by composer Jacopo da Bologna, from a CD called “A 14th century Salmagundi.” We’ll hear more from Blue Heron later in the program.

 

Angela Mariani: One of the things that we like to celebrate occasionally on Harmonia is the vibrant repertoire of new music written for early instruments. This week, we'll hear music from a beautiful new recording by the Galax Quartet called Dream Drapery, featuring works by Marc Mellits, Robert Morris and Joseph Schwantner. The members of the Galax Quartet are Baroque violinists, Elizabeth Blumenstock and David Wilson; Roy Whelden, viola de Gamba; and David Morris, Baroque cello, and they were joined for the CD by contralto Karen Clark. I'm talking this hour with Roy Whelden, composer Robert Morris and Karen Clark. Welcome! First of all I have to tell you that I absolutely love this recording . . . and the theme of this CD at least partly involves the writings of Henry David Thoreau. Could you say a few words about the concept for the recording?

Roy Whelden: Sure-- this is Roy Whelden speaking here. The centerpiece of the recording happens to be a song cycle written by Joseph Schwantner on texts by Thoreau. The title of this song cycle is actually Dream Drapery: Thoreau Songs. “Dream drapery” is taken from one of the texts used in the songs.

It was actually our record producer who insisted that there’d be connections made between the three pieces on this recording and the works of Thoreau.

Robert Morris: I might add something here: Although my piece is not related to Thoreau, my sensibility as a composer certainly is, and we can find Thoreau having an important influence on the works of Charles Ives and the Transcendentalists generally, on American culture, and it's something that we have as Americans that doesn't come from Europe, or at least not directly, and some of those ideas even came from books that Thoreau read from the East. In addition to that, it seems to me that other composers have been interested in Thoreau,  John Cage, especially who actually composed pieces based on Thoreau’s drawings. And so I see Thoreau as an important element in American Music, and certainly my music. Because one of the things that Thoreau mentions or implies,  is the emphasis upon attention paying attention to things and being clear about that kind of thing. And I think it's really important for people who listen to music attentively-- that they pay attention to what's happening, and less on what they expect things to be.

MUSIC TRACK

Dream Drapery
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Music and Arts Program / B07XN1LK73
Joseph Schwantner
T.7 Dream Drapery, “Thoreau Songs,” No. 3: I Mark the Summer’s Swift Decline (4:07)

Contralto Karen Clark and the Galax quartet, with music by Joseph Schwantner from a song cycle called Dream Drapery, settings of texts by Henry David Thoreau. We heard  “I Mark the Summer’s Swift Decline.”

In the midst of these beautiful settings of Thoreau texts, Schwantner places a haunting piece written in memory of a friend, using the famous plainchant “Dies Irae” from the requiem mass. Let’s hear his “Hymn for Bruce: Dies Irae.”

MUSIC TRACK

Dream Drapery
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Music and Arts Program / B07XN1LK73
Joseph Schwantner
T.9 Dream Drapery, “Thoreau Songs,” No. 5: Hymn for Bruce “Dies Irae” (2:59)

From the song cycle “Dream Drapery: Thoreau Songs,” by Joseph Schwantner, the “Hymn for Bruce,” sung by contralto Karen Clark and played by the Galax Quartet: Elizabeth Blumenstock and David Wilson, baroque violins; Roy Whelden, viola da gamba; and David Morris, Baroque cello—contemporary music played by period instruments, from a CD called Dream Drapery.

 

My guests on Harmonia this week are Karen Clark, composer Robert Morris, and Roy Whelden, composer and gamba player with the Galax quartet. Another piece featured on the “Dream Drapery”  recording is the String Quartet #2, “Revolution,” by composer Mark Mellits.

RW: It was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet. I believe it was in 2003 or 2004. And when I first formed the Galax Quartet in 2005, since we were lacking in pieces from the 18th century--there are just a handful of pieces for this ensemble that are from the 18th century--we made do in that first year with pieces from composers that we had worked with, pieces that had actually been written for other ensembles, and one of those was this string quartet #2 from Marc Mellits, and he was very happy for us to do the piece; and we worked with him to make it work for the substitution of viola de gamba for the viola. It was mainly a matter of reconfiguring some of the chords that were playable on the viola, but not on the viola da gamba.

In Mark Mellit’s case, I get the impression that he's quite flexible, perhaps more so than any other composer that we've worked with, in having alterations made to his pieces. For example, I've heard on YouTube, I've heard this same quartet that we recorded played by saxophones, a quartet of saxophones, which is strange because there are chords written throughout the piece. Especially the slow movement, the third movement.There are double stops in both the cello and viola de gamba near the end of the movement, which would have been impossible for saxophones, so the chords would have been completely different and I'm going to put in a plug for our recording here: Mark said that our recording of the third movement was how he had always imagined it. So. That felt good.

MUSIC TRACK

Dream Drapery
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Music and Arts Program / B07XN1LK73
Mark Mellits
T.3 - String Quartet #2, “Revolution,” III: December 1989 (3:45)
T.4 - String Quartet #2, “Revolution,” IV: Groove Machine (4:03)

Music by Marc Mellits, performed by the Galax Quartet, from the CD “Dream Drapery.” We’ll be back after the break with more from the Galax Quartet.

You can hear highlights from recent and archival concert recordings of early music on Harmonia Uncut -- our biweekly podcast, curated and hosted by Wendy Gillespie. Listen online at harmonia early music dot org and through iTunes.                                                                                                                               

You’re listening to Harmonia . . .  I’m Angela Mariani.                                                                             

Theme Music Bed: Ensemble Alcatraz, Danse Royale, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 / B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal
 
:59 Midpoint Break Music Bed: 

Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Music and Arts Program / B07XN1LK73
Mark Mellits
T.1 - String Quartet #2, “Revolution,” I: Groove Canon (fade at 0:59)

 

Welcome back. This hour we’re listening to music played by the Galax Quartet: Elizabeth Blumenstock and David Wilson, baroque violins; Roy Whelden, viola da gamba; and David Morris, Baroque cello, with contralto Karen Clark, from their new recording “Dream Drapery.” My guests are Roy Whelden, Karen Clark, and composer Robert Morris, who composed a piece on the CD called “Radif 4.”

RM: The composition Radif 4 is actually what I call a meta composition. It's a composition that is given to performers or other composers to arrange in various ways for instruments to play. The original version of this is an electronic thing that I did, that lasted 60 minutes, and it was very complicated. It was in the minimalist tradition, but went a lot further in the idea of patterns that are continually evolving and choruscating as a brook or stream does, and Roy heard this piece and through other connections that worked through Gary Snyder's work, he suggested that he might want to make a string quartet version of this, or some of it.

RW: So I then emailed Bob Morris and asked if it would be OK, and then I learned that that's indeed why he had written the piece, so that it could be arranged by instrumentalists who were interested in playing it. And I'm constantly reminded of the parallel between Radif 4 and the Art of the Fugue. I think they were similar in some ways in that yes, the art of the fugue can be played for the most part on keyboard, but was it intended for that? Perhaps not, you know, so it's a meta composition in the same sense that Radif 4 is.

MUSIC TRACK

Dream Drapery
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Music and Arts Program / B07XN1LK73
Robert Morris
T.13 - Radif IV: Stars of Highest Magnitude (Galax Version): III. Kochab (2:12)
T.14 - Radif IV: Stars of Highest Magnitude (Galax Version): IV. Denebola (3:42)
T.15 - Radif IV: Stars of Highest Magnitude (Galax Version): V. Ginehah (3:15)

Three movements from The Galax Quartet’s version of Robert Morris’s composition “Radif IV: Stars of Highest Magnitude,” from the CD “Dream Drapery.” My guests tonight are composer Robert Morris, Roy Whelden of the Galax Quartet, and contralto Karen Clark.  Roy and Karen, this isn’t the first time that you’ve worked with Robert.

KC: Well, I wanted to say too that I am thinking of Robert Morris’s piece that he wrote for us on the Gary Snyder poems, “This bubble of a heart.” Because we've been doing this like for 10 years, creating new music and then for contralto I'm fortunate I get to sing with them pretty often in these projects and even during that time back in . . . that was 2008. I don't know how I found a way to afford the time that I could do this, but I remember living with those poems, and I did the same thing with the Thoreau. But I have these really fond memories of -- I did a lot of knitting and it was a really rainy El Nino year here and drinking tea, and I'd have a Gary Snyder poem in front of me-- and every now and then, you know how poetry is like that-- that you know, suddenly the image turns into this, you're in this place in space and time; it was like --  so I got to live with those poems. Maybe it's even that I got to learn to live with poems like that. And I'll tell you what, Gary Snyder, and especially Robert’s piece “This bubble of a heart” is like it doesn't jump off the page. In fact, what I think Gary Snyder-- and this goes into Thoreau for me--it's not always an emotional feeling. You end up being in this place at this point in time. And I even felt this a lot with Gary Snyder and morphed into Thoreau. It's like I want to be there. It's so funny how the words of the poem create this desire for me to be in that place in time, in that point in time. So that, somehow, is how I get into the music then. Singers are told this all the time, right? You're learning a Schubert song, or every voice teacher’s just, “learn the poem first.” Rarely does anybody do that.  With this music, there was no other way in, just no other way in. It's really a delight, and I feel really grateful.

MUSIC TRACK

On Cold Mountain: Songs on Poems of Gary Snyder
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Innova / B004KDO2A2
Robert Morris
Tr. 6 - “This Bubble of a Heart,” EXCERPT (2:24)

 

An excerpt from “This Bubble of a Heart,” a setting by composer Robert Morris of a poem by Gary Snyder.

AM: Have you met Snyder?

KC: Yeah, and well, and that was the cool thing. This project in 2008. He did the concert of all the premieres with us and Robert Morris was here; Alaudi Matthew . . . Fred Frith was there, and we got to rehearse with all of them, and then Gary Snyder came. We had a dress rehearsal with him. He was in the piece that Roy set -- Gary Snyder performed with us.

AM: Right.

KC: So yeah, that was like-- whoa, that was over- the-top memorable experience for sure.

AM: Yeah, he is absolutely one of my favorite poets. I'd say top three, you know when they always ask that question about you know, hey, if you could sit and have a conversation with anybody in the world—

KC: Right.

AM: He's right up there. Just amazed by his work, always.

 

My guests on Harmonia this week have been Roy Whelden, composer and viola da gamba player in the Galax Quartet; contralto Karen Clark; and composer Robert Morris. The new CD by Karen Clark and The Galax Quartet—Roy Whelden, David Wilson, Elizabeth Blumenstock and David Morris -- is called “Dream Drapery.” Thank you so much for being here in cyberspace with us.

 

For our featured release this week, We turn to music that sounds every bit as unexpected as any newly-composed work, even though it is about seven centuries old. The ensemble Blue Heron has entitled this release A 14th-century Salmagundi, using a word derived from the French name for a savory dish composed of many different foods. These days, Salmagundi might just as easily be used to describe any disparate collection of miscellaneous parts. If there is any kind of theme uniting the pieces of music featured on this recording, it might be…complaint. In the case of Guillaume de Machaut’s ballade Biauté qui toutes autres pere, the complaint is against the fickle nature of love. The text begins, “Beauty, which is peer of all others, towards me inconstant and distant, exquisite sweetness, bitter to my taste.” Machaut wrote this ballade for two voices—possibly one sung and one played—but in a copy of the piece made for the duke of Berry about 15 years after Machaut’s death, a third part was added, probably by someone other than Machaut. We’ll hear that version—performed here by tenor soloist accompanied by two fiddles.

MUSIC TRACK

A 14th-Century Salamagundi
Blue Heron; Scott Metcalfe dir. / Owen McIntosh / Laura Jeppeson, fiddle / Scott Metcalfe, fiddle
Blue Heron 2020 / B08HGKFLY2
Guillaume de Machaut
Tr. 4 Biauté qui toutes autres pere (6:07)

A ballade whose title translates to “Beauty, which is peer of all others,” by Guillaume de Machaut, performed by Members of Blue Heron: Tenor Owen McIntosh, joined by fiddlers Laura Jeppeson and Scott Metcalfe. 

Let’s end with music by one of Machaut’s contemporaries, Petrus de Cruce, who was praised for pushing the limits of what musical notation could convey towards the end of the 13th Century. The theorist Jacobus of Liège even singled out two of de Cruce’s motets from the well-known Montpellier Codex as an example of particularly skillful composition. 

MUSIC TRACK

A 14th-Century Salamagundi
Blue Heron; Scott Metcalfe dir. / Jason McStoots / Michael Barrett / Sumner Thompson
Blue Heron 2020 / B08HGKFLY2
Petrus de Cruce
Tr. 1 Aucun ont trouvé / lonc tans me sui tenu / Annuntiantes  (3:37)

A three-voice motet by Petrus de Cruce, performed by members of Blue Heron: Jason McStoots, Michael Barrett, and Sumner Thompson, from the 2020 release, A 14th-century Salmagundi.      

Fade in theme music

Harmonia is a production of WFIU. Support comes from Early Music America: a national organization that advocates and supports the historical performance of music of the past, the community of artists who create it, and the listeners whose lives are enriched by it...on the web at EarlyMusicAmerica-DOT-org.

Additional resources come from the William and Gayle Cook Music Library at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

We welcome your thoughts about any part of this program, or about early music in general. Contact us at harmonia early music dot org. And, you can follow our Facebook page and our updates on Twitter by searching for Harmonia Early Music.

The writers for this edition of Harmonia were Angela Mariani and Aaron Cain. Thanks to our studio engineer Michael Paskash, and our production team: Aaron Cain, Wendy Gillespie, LuAnn Johnson, and John Bailey. I’m Angela Mariani, inviting you to join us again for the next edition of Harmonia.

plus theme music

The Galax Quartet

The Galax Quartet. (Artists' website)

One of the most enjoyable phenomena that arose from the historical performance movement of the last few decades was the re-discovery of early instruments: lutes, violas da gamba, recorders, shawms, sackbuts, harpsichords, and so many more. Eventually, contemporary composers also began to experiment writing entirely new music specifically for those instruments, or adapting pieces to be played by them.

This hour, new music from a CD called “Dream Drapery,” played by the Galax Quartet: Elizabeth Blumenstock and David Wilson, baroque violin; Roy Whelden, viola da gamba; and David Morris, Baroque cello, with contralto Karen Clark, featuring works by contemporary composers Marc Mellits, Robert Morris, and Joseph Schwantner. Also this hour: fourteenth century music performed by the ensemble Blue Heron, on our featured release.

PLAYLIST

A 14th-Century Salamagundi
Blue Heron; Scott Metcalfe dir. 
Blue Heron 2020 / B08HGKFLY2
Jacopo da Bologna
Tr. 7  Ogelletto silvagio per stagione  (4:28)
 
Segment A:
 
Dream Drapery
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Music and Arts Program / B07XN1LK73
Joseph Schwantner
T.7 Dream Drapery, “Thoreau Songs,” No. 3: I Mark the Summer’s Swift Decline  (4:07)
 
Dream Drapery
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Music and Arts Program / B07XN1LK73
Joseph Schwantner
T.9 Dream Drapery, “Thoreau Songs,” No. 5: Hymn for Bruce “Dies Irae” (2:59)
 
Dream Drapery
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Music and Arts Program / B07XN1LK73
Mark Mellits
T.3 - String Quartet #2, “Revolution,” III: December 1989 (3:45)
T.4 - String Quartet #2, “Revolution,” IV: Groove Machine (4:03)
   
Theme Music Bed: Ensemble Alcatraz, Danse Royale, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 / B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal
 
:59 Midpoint Break Music Bed: 
 
Dream Drapery
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Music and Arts Program / B07XN1LK73
Mark Mellits
T.1 - String Quartet #2, “Revolution,” I:  Groove Canon (fade at 0:59)
 
Segment B:
 
Dream Drapery
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Music and Arts Program / B07XN1LK73
Robert Morris
T.13 - Radif IV: Stars of Highest Magnitude (Galax Version): III. Kochab (2:12)
T.14 - Radif IV: Stars of Highest Magnitude (Galax Version): IV. Denebola (3:42)
T.15 - Radif IV: Stars of Highest Magnitude (Galax Version): V. Ginehah (3:15)
 
On Cold Mountain: Songs on Poems of Gary Snyder 
Galax Quartet, Karen Clark
Innova / B004KDO2A2
Robert Morris
Tr. 6 - “This Bubble of a Heart,” EXCERPT (2:24) 
Featured Release: 
 
A 14th-Century Salamagundi
Blue Heron; Scott Metcalfe dir. / Owen McIntosh / Laura Jeppeson, fiddle / Scott Metcalfe, fiddle
Blue Heron 2020 / B08HGKFLY2
Guillaume de Machaut
Tr. 4 Biauté qui toutes autres pere  (6:07)
 
A 14th-Century Salamagundi
Blue Heron; Scott Metcalfe dir. / Jason McStoots / Michael Barrett / Sumner Thompson
Blue Heron 2020 / B08HGKFLY2
Petrus de Cruce
Tr. 1 Aucun ont trouvé / lonc tans me sui tenu / Annuntiantes  (3:37)
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