For large orchestra
Composed 1995-2003: in Salzburg, Vienna, and while in travel; completed in Vienna on 25. December 2003
Duration: ca. 30 minutes

 

(First) attempt at an introduction:

Around 1994, encouraged by Christoph von Dohnanyi, I began to think about a new extensive orchestra piece, even though there were no concrete plans for performances. At that time, the image of classical music was characterized by a kind of canon of apparently eternally valid works, with the modern, together with its variously labeled successors, serving as contrast: avant-garde, new music, music of our time, experimental music, etc., categories to which durability was not generally attested.

In opposition to this cliché I wanted to set up a piece that would attempt to break through diverse platitudes and prejudices: a kind of composed-out music history, which would however question that very history, simultaneously being a kind of persiflage on the traditions and mechanisms of the music business.

I effectively solved the problem of form by piecing together fragments as in a mosaic of diverse colors and thoughts, this within a global development. Therefore the subtitle »Fragments in four parts«: it wasn’t just a matter of creating fragments, but of subjecting these to something like a four-part symphonic form. Each of these fragments, through its processual formation, functions as a phase of the complete work. The individual parts of each movement are therefore designated in the score as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd phases. (In this description of the work, »phase« means the same as »process« or »fragment«

Working through the ambivalence between cliché images of music and compositional fantasy required numerous tricks and lots of artifice, in order not to lose the illusionary and surreal character of an essentially parodistic work.

 

The first part: Matter and Impulse

Musical material—tone, rhythm, scales—and the impulse to do something with it unite in the development of form, a development that never stands still. To begin with, tone: the rhythmically perforated sound surface, in religious music frequently presented as handed down by God, driven to the point of satiety in the 19th century cult of genius (Wagner’s Rheingold), applied in the modern period in a dramaturgically compact manner—this is here deliberately satirized.

Processes of harmonic and rhythmic division serve as basic element of this first fragment (measures 1-42) of the Clichés. The fluvial draining of these matter particles as glissando cascades flattened out into total chromaticism ends this fragment, from out of which subtle processes of filtration (2nd phase or fragment: m. 43-83) slowly crystallize something like a scale system, which then serves to bring out clichés of church music and its modes. An ironic and satiric effect, evident to the knowledgeable listener, is reached through the fusion of incompatible ecclesiastical modes. The evolution of the modes out of chromatic totality and their subsequent ecclesiastical manifestation make up the second fragment of this first part of the Clichés.

Medieval organum serves as point of departure for the first movement’s last fragment (m. 84-119), which is driven into total absurdity by its intricate rhythmic design and by a march-like accompaniment of the snare drum. This is also where the six chords that make up the work’s essential musical material are crystallized, chords that regardless of their metamorphoses will remain the work’s »core«. Not only this piece but also all other works of the extensive cycle op. 22 are based on these same six chords.

One could gather from this that the work’s real exposition begins with the third fragment of the first movement, and that the preceding musical events served to run through processes that prepared the material of that exposition.

The ostinato impulse of this section is framed against two other rhythmic maneuvers: a dotted-note string formation in eight parallel voices, and chordal interjections of the winds. Seen on another level, this last fragment is also a multi-dimensional study in dynamics, made up of a crescendo study in the percussion and of more differentiated dynamic progressions of the strings and winds.

 

The second movement: Filtered Triads

As the title indicates, the main element of this movement is that cliché that succinctly exemplifies tonal music, particularly that with a central European and Viennese stamp, and therefore became an almost superstitiously venerated myth of the art of the immediate past (and of the 19th century): the triad. In the first fragment (m. 1-26) of this second part the single chords that at first distinctly emerged at the end of the first movement are further differentiated, in horizontal movement.

This part goes over almost seamlessly into the second fragment (m. 27-105), which through overlapping of the six filtered-out basic chords allows the contours of a further Viennese cliché, the all too well known waltz, to glimmer through. The handed-down clichés are however transcended by the unorthodox harmonic progressions and by the quite rudimentary melodic interjections, which function like leftover bits of a broadly laid out melodic structure. The ambivalent character of the piece becomes evident.

In the last fragment (m. 105-150), waltz and 2/4 time are combined into a fast 5/4, in which jazz and ragtime illustrate the cliché. Major and minor chords are upgraded in that they appear not only as results of thoroughgoing structural transformations, but come rather to dominantly determine the course of things. At the end of this part, this development is progressively faded out.

 

About the tempi of this work

Attentive listeners will have noted that there are no »slow« or »fast« movements here, but rather movements that each feature diverse tempi and diverse characteristics. Here evolution is therefore more important than tempo. The processual character of the work, always leading to new goals as well as to starting points for new ideas, should be the key for working out an interpretation. The entirety of the work should be regarded as a spiral, which seen from above circles around the same point, but when viewed from the side no longer returns to that point of origin … see the title of the last movement.

 

Third movement: Transformations

In this movement the triad goes through continuous transformations: from major / minor at first into diminished, and then into augmented triads. The diatonicism that dominated the second movement goes into a larva / pupa phase and metamorphoses into a whole-tone sphere, which finally comes to dominate this third movement. This metamorphosis is contoured through the first process (m. 1-33).

Here as in the other movements (parts) the course of events comprises three processes which do exhibit transitions but are nonetheless clearly delineated. The first of these is characterized by the transformation from major / minor into a whole-tone framework. Here the focus is on pitch processes. Unpitched percussion instruments are therefore not used, only mallet instruments such as vibraphone, glockenspiel, etc.

The second process (m. 34-62) rushes dramatically and rapidly by, working out harmonically mutually exclusive whole-tone blocks.

A question-and-answer passage involving several orchestral groups (m. 63-133), with contrasts between whole-tone harmony and half-step coloration, provides the form-building impulse for the third and last phase of this movement. Here the whole-tone structures playfully transform into the half-step chromaticism that will ultimately be the dominating element of the last movement. While the instrumentation in this process hints at a (false) recapitulation, this impression disappears almost completely in the course of the continuously unfolding processes.

The clichés of whole-tone structures and pentatonicism and of the harmonies resulting from these delineate the image of impressionism that shapes our images and preconceptions. This movement attempts to disclose possibilities for transforming and breaking through these clichés.

 

Fourth part: Spools and Spirals

After a very brief introduction of just six measures that stand as motto for the as yet unformed harmonic possibilities in the field of chromaticism, we have the first phase. This, the longest (m. 7-397) fragment within the Clichés, is characterized by its episodic formation, where its segments are always terminated by percussion solos. One shouldn’t regard this as a variation form, since here as well new developmental possibilities are being continually sought out. Despite the clearly divided sections the processual character of the piece is not abandoned but rather emphasized.

The episodic character also serves to present modern clichés such as jazz and dance music, twelve-tone music, cross-fade techniques, theatricality, noise complexes, and rhythmic revolution. Here as in the other movements it attempts to offer imaginative solutions for breaking through rigid preconceptions.

In this first phase the piano is often used soloistically, thus further contributing to the percussive character. In the contrapuntally constructed episodes the tendency to reversals of dynamics is striking: voices of equal significance get different illuminations through sudden changes of dynamics. These voices then receive greater or lesser emphasis and thereby significance (see for example m. 127-133), thus contributing to the vibrant character of the musical matter. Where important voices hold sustained tones, these tones often lead either into gradual differentiations or into blurring of the elements. Some sections have clear contours, while others are more indistinct.

Apart from this, all the episodes repeatedly strive towards a climax. Their episodic nature and their climaxes result in that image of spools and spirals apostrophized by the title.

The second phase (m. 398-435) organizes the musical material horizontally. Here a kind of counterpoint appears which is however not linearly determined, but rather just the linear interpretation of the harmony that was exhaustively presented in the first phase. There are therefore no themes and replies (dux and comes), no expositions and developments as would be usual in traditional contrapuntal writing, but just linear formations grounded on harmonic successions. Some small alterations have also been composed into the increasingly differentiated ramifications.

Finally, the third phase hints at a further possible development into microtonality. It is carried out by two string quartets, whereby one is tuned a quartertone higher than the other, so that a microtonal effect is produced. But the composer has kept this phase brief, since the cliché of microtonality is at this time not so widespread as to permit taking up a comprehensive critical position.

 

Résumé

It’s not the cliché aspects of our world that are being presented here, but rather the possibility of going out from various clichés to a new creation, which (ironically) receives its impetus from a critique of the current music industry and of cultural politics. The individually mandated task of the composition consisted of using individual thinking, change, and transformation to give a deeper meaning to the cultural consensus shaped by mass consumption.