Portrait of Three Ladies (American)

Composer(s): Charles Whittenberg, Richard Hoffmann, Edwin London
Album Title: Portraits of Three Ladies (American) 
Cat. No.: 80562
Genre: Classical
Description: Works by Richard Hoffmann, Edwin London and Charles Whittenberg

Artists: Oberlin College Conservatory Orchestra, Robert Baustian; The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, Arthur Weisberg; The University of Illinois Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, Edwin London

The names might be unfamiliar but Portrait of Three Ladies (American) is an excellent prism through which to view the battle raging in the 1960s musical establishment between the hardcore advocates of serialism and those seeking to break down the walls between "high and low." The explosive abstractions of Hoffmann's Orchestral Piece and the Webernesque purity of Whittenberg's Variations for Nine Players represent a remarkable line back to the New Viennese School of the early twentieth century while London's wild juxtapositions of mood and music (classical, jazz, blues, pop) clearly point the way toward Michael Daugherty and John Zorn.

Richard Hoffmann's Orchestra Piece 1961 combines a lyrical line with swirling kinetic energy. Soaring, colliding, and collapsing between three orchestral groups, soloists, and four percussionists, the melodic material evokes, in the composer's words, "the maximum possible illusion of multi-dimensional movement." This dynamism is intensified with directional microphones dispersed among the ensembles and relayed to three loudspeakers positioned as far as possible from one another, plus a nondirectional microphone in the middle of the soloists relayed to a continuously revolving loudspeaker in the middle of the auditorium. Timpani glissandos rumble and thunder under piercing brass and sighing strings, bells, chimes, and piano ring out with a mysterious sense of ritual.

A more delicate if equally mobile sound bounces through the 1964 Variations for Nine Players by Charles Whittenberg. As in Webern's mature works, the theme is constantly broken and dispersed among the various instruments, producing a sensation of constant motion.

Advocates of a more dramatic, overtly emotional style of nontonal music such as Edwin London in his 1967 Portrait of Three Ladies (American) began experimenting with a surrealist style of theater music most popularly represented  by George Crumb and Peter Maxwell Davies. Scored for narrator, mezzo-soprano, and chamber orchestra, Portrait is a setting of children's poems whose extraordinary vividness is heightened in London's music by wa-wa brass, aggressive percussion, long glissandos, and a narrator who shouts and wails as well as reciting. 
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