paul griffiths

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- essays on Berio, Mozart, Birtwistle, Wagner, Stockhausen, Schoenberg, Boulez, etc., etc. -
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latest publications 

Pavillon lunaire (La Différence)
La musica del Novecento

review of Krasznahorkai: Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens (Music and Literature website)


Apr 12 :  talk on music criticism (University of Louisville)
spring :  Music & Literature #7 (selection of fiction and criticism)
Jun 2 :  talk on Kurtág (Budapest)

record of the week 

Harrison Birtwistle: Chamber Music (ECM 2253)
Blessed with the cello of Adrian Brendel as an immaculate, sensitive and poignant running thread – plus, of course, transparent sound – this outstanding release offers an indwelling with Birtwistle in his infinite mode of grey melancholy.
The longest work is his
Bogenstrich (2006-9), which, lasting a little over half an hour, places a three-movement cello sonata between mirroring songs, both setting Rilke’s ‘Liebes-Lied’ to more or less similar melodic lines, but with divergent accompaniments: for piano in the sparkier prologue, cello in the epilogue. This is a trio, then, in which one or other of the performers is always silent. Even the ensemble, therefore, speaks from and of the poem, in which the ‘bowstroke’ Birtwistle extracts as his title is that of an unknown, and surely unknowable, musician playing on the strings that are the two lovers. The song, in both versions, is beautifully made, and given an appealing freshness by Roderick Williams’s singing, especially in the higher register. Of the cello-piano movements, wonderfully projected by Adrian Brendel and Till Fellner, the first, ‘Lied ohne Worte’, is a double of the song as it first appears, and the others pick up elements or junctures. It is not by accident that the five movements have more or less the same duration, and perhaps it is not surprising that Birtwistle produces one of his most coiled compositions by intercalating genres, as before in, for example, Pulse Shadows.
Yet the other things here are no makeweights. Twelve songs for soprano and cello, set to poems by Lorine Niedecker and composed between 1998 and 2011, find Birtwistle treading near the Kurtágian miniature, of bare musical images freighted with feeling. Some of these songs are exquisite – like the first, consisting of just a few vocal phrases over a more sustained cello line, finding a little cadential melody for the last words (‘the state I’m in’), but not ending there, going on into a couple of light hums. There are cross-references between movements here, too. Amy Freston, with her naturalness and delicate ease, almost makes one think these are old, old folk songs.
For a remove from song there is the Piano Trio of 2010, for which Lisa Batiashvili joins the instrumental team. Characteristic Birtwistlian features abound: stalling in ostinato, bursts of jerky dance, wandering against the pronounced pulse. There is also a Carterian sense here of three characters, except that Carter, the optimist, would have his characters living their own lives. In Birtwistle you cope with conditions long pre-existing.