Cage/ Harbison/ Hartke/ Wyner

Composer(s): Yehudi Wyner, John Cage, John Harbison, Stephen Hartke
Album Title: Michelle Makarski Plays Cage,Harbison,Hartke,Wyner 
Cat. No.: 80391
Genre: Classical
Description: John Cage: Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard
John Harbison:Four Songs of Solitude
Stephen Hartke:Oh Them Rats Is Mean in My Kitchen
Yehudi Wyner: Concert Duo for Violin and Piano

Michelle Makarski, violin; Brent McMunn, piano; Ronald Copes, violin

Modern music-especially American music, with its tendency to invite various traditions to share the same compositional space-can be a generous art, an art which welcomes inclusivity. Here are works by
John Cage (born 1912), Yehudi Wyner (born 1929),
John Harbison
(born 1938), and Stephen Hartke (born 1952)-four American composers from different generations with different sensibilities, representing very different approaches to writing for the violin. Yet however much these works represent various facets of American violin music, each in its own way provides an example of the American habit of musical absorption and transformation.

John Cage and Yehudi Wyner, for instance, exemplify two extremes in American music. Cage's Six Melodies is non-imposing music, emotionally uninflected, unpredictable. It is without dramatic gestures, intentionally small of scale and gentle of sound. Wyner's Concert Duo, by contrast, is a substantial score, full of nuanced drama, calculated expressivity, and classical reference.

Harbison's Four Songs of Solitude and Hartke's Oh Them Rats Is Mean in My Kitchen also suggest a duality between an introspective music and a more open one. Both works, moreover, almost ask to be considered jointly, since they were written in the same year, 1985, by composers who happen to have been born in the same town, Orange, New Jersey. Both works explore only pure violin sound, Harbison's being for the instrument alone, Hartke's for a violin duo.

Four Songs was written as a present for the composer's wife, the violinist Rose Mary Harbison, and, like Cage's Six Melodies, it consists of brief individual pieces of songlike character and somewhat lonely temperament. As Cage has long done, Harbison here contemplates the relationship of music to composer, performer, and listener. In a brief program note, he suggests that Four Songs explores three kinds of solitude: that of the composer, "in a landscape of his own invention"; that of the performer, "onstage or in the practice room"; and that of the listener, "confronted with seemingly private references."

Where Harbison transforms folk roots into refined and solitary music, Hartke, in Oh Them Rats, has created a more raucous, blues-influenced work. The impetus for Oh Them Rats is the rhythm of the opening line from Blind Lemon Jefferson's Maltese Cate Blues, which struck Hartke when he heard it in a recording by Tennessee blues singer Sleepy John Estes. But Hartke grafts this vernacular style onto the resonant classical violin technique, and he amplifies the effect by doubling the instrument. A full statement of Jefferson's generative rhythm is not heard until the final three bars of the Hartke score, and all of Oh Them Rats is a dramatic progression leading up to that climactic final revelation. 
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