Bethany Beardslee, soprano; Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago; Ralph Shapey, Conductor; Easley Blackwood, piano
Ralph Shapey's Incantations was described as “One of the most searing, terrifying and altogether extraordinary compositions this listener has ever heard” by Allen Hughes in the New York Times on the occasion of its premiere. That was in 1961. Four years later, the same paper's Harold Schonberg reported from Chicago that it was “the most authoritative and professional work on the program.”
Still later, in the San Francisco Chronicle, Alexander Fried called the work “an absolute masterpiece, of a daring and curious character.” Asked to write a few words of his own about his controversial work, Mr. Shapey sent the following prose-poem:
music as an object in Time and Space . . .
aggregate sounds structured into concrete sculptured forms . . .
images existing as a totality from their inception, each
a self-involved unit of individual proportions . . .
related, interrelated and unrelated images organized into
an organic whole . . .
permutations occurring only within each self contained unit . . .
varied phases resulting from juxtaposition of designs . . .
imposed discipline by ritualistic reiteration . . .
(the voice projected as an instrument, using syllables in organized sound-structures.)
John MacIvor Perkins' Music for Thirteen Players opens quietly with a very short introduction during which melodic fragments pass from instrument to instrument usually at the rate of one note per instrument — and sustained chords are built up. The instruments are thus cooperating in a common project and allowing their individual, contrasting characteristics to come to the fore only rather hesitantly, at the most appropriate moments. At the end of the introduction, however, the percussion players begin a more independent, self-assertive activity. Almost immediately, the other instruments enter with a new abandon. The resulting dense, intricate, “all-over”, almost totally chaotic texture — the opposite extreme from the introduction — is sustained in its first appearance for about one minute, and constitutes in itself the main idea of the work. When this texture revives from time to time during the course of the piece, specific musical motives are not prominently recalled; instead, the relationship of the parts, perceived statistically, becomes an identifiable “sound”, subject to progressive modification. By the ending, for example, the "chaotic" material has been so modified, through the application of various rhythmic and harmonic constraints, that it takes on a certain aspect of orderliness. This kind of order, however, is in contrast to the relatively classical, more “expressive” introduction, which also revives periodically before it is finally engulfed.
Caprice was commissioned by Easley Blackwood and completed in 1963. The work is 12-tone, and can be divided into four parts. The first part, which begins after a brief introduction, sets up a basic tempo as a point of reference. The piece then begins to speed up as a faster tempo is first superimposed on the basic one, and then continued by itself. This occurs in three successive steps, with a passage in the basic tempo inserted between each step. Finally, a speed twice as fast as the basic tempo is reached. The second part is in the form of an unstable prelude followed by a short fugue whose subject begins with four repeated notes. In the third part, the piece slows down in a manner similar to the speeding up of the first part. At the same time, there is a development of very long sustained chords which have been slowly coming into prominence throughout the work. After one last fortissimo fragment in the original tempo, the final section begins. This is a slow chorale developed from the sustained chords, and occasionally interrupted by rapid pianissimo figures. The work ends quietly.
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