Universal Edition. The considerable virtuosity in this sequence is nonetheless clearly expressive in character: quick passages, long, intense breaths, colour changes using multiple sounds that require speedy articulation. The very variable discourse, alternating florid, ornamented figurations and long, restful held notes or notes in the "recto tono" manner reach back to an ancestral experience of the instrumental genre. Publishers use a lot of words to describe what they sell, and we know it can be confusing.
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Neil McGovern - Saxophone. Berio - Sequenza IXb Luciano Berio was an Italian composer who was part of the Darmstadt school and a leading figure in new music. Having studied abroad with Dallapiccola at Tanglewood, he became involved with composers such as Boulez, Stockhausen, Ligeti and Kagel. He taught extensively at Harvard, Tanglewood and Julliard, giving highly regarded lectures on music and composing. His interest in electronics led him to take up an important position at IRCAM and he latterly founded his own research centre for new music, the Tempo Reale, back in Italy.
These fourteen pieces for various solo instruments are among the most often performed contemporary solo pieces of in the world. A central theme in all the Sequenzas is that of virtuosity, evident not only in the technical difficulties presented, but also in the treatment and writing style for the instruments. Sequenza IXb for alto saxophone is developed from two pitch sets which are manipulated and deftly interwoven throughout the piece. The piece then might best be described as a sort of heightened serialism.
After a relatively peaceful opening, the melodic line pirouettes through the harmonic commentary by way of dynamic, rhythmic and articulatory variation. A thorough exploration of the two tone rows is undertaken The piece leads inexorably towards a single pitch centre, the concert Ab which relentlessly invades the latter section of the piece. It is interesting to consider that the original piece was conceived for clarinet and electronics, although Berio withdrew this work Chemins V. Berio was famed for his reworking of pieces, most of which were really works-in-progress.
A later version of the piece, Recit or Chemins VII uses the solo instrumental part but adds extensive orchestral accompaniment. Sequenza IXb has been interpreted differently by performers, listeners and musicologists who have all reached different conclusions.
This essay will discuss the role of melody in the work and specifically how performers tackle its difficulties. The last fifty years of Western Art Music have yielded far fewer memorable melodies than the previous four hundred. Although there are many outstanding works, enduring themes are notable by their absence.
Even performers with exceptional aural skills often confess to hearing contemporary music as a global timbre, not as clear thematic or linear material. Indeed in the absence of easily distinguishable melodic or harmonic gestalts, the listener has to fall back on a mapping of shifting densities, tone colors, and rhythmic complexity, or upon extra-musical analogies. Composers such as Xenakis, Boulez and Carter knew this, regardless of their public statements.
How performers communicate on the horizontal plane through this coarseness needs to be examined. All the Sequenzas exploit remarkable devices in the creation of the melodic line, often obscuring the compositional method.
Sequenza IXb for alto saxophone was written in and is all but identical to the clarinet version, IXa. The piece provides an ideal springboard into the wider issues of contemporary performance practice, the philosophy of integral serialism, the revisiting of work, aural cognition of contemporary music, the primacy of the voice and historical lineage.
Sequenza IXb features phrases in which there are variable pitches, rhythms, dynamics, tempi and articulations all within a few seconds example 1. He himself emphasised the importance of adherence to the score. Sequenza IX originates from the withdrawn Chemins V for clarinet and electronic system. The capabilities of computers to perform metahuman feats of musical activity led composers to become ever more specific and exigent with their demands on performers. It is this high degree of "determinancy" that most strikingly differentiates such music from, for example, a popular song.
A popular song is only very partially determined, since it would appear to retain its germane characteristics under considerable alteration of register, rhythmic texture, dynamics, harmonic structure, timbre, and other qualities, Babbitt, , 1. This is erroneous, firstly, because it is not only contemporary music that holds high expectations of performance standards. Secondly, although to play Berio effectively one must strive to implement every detail as far as possible, more important is the ineffable quality of humanity.
A single glance at the Sequenza IXb score might suggest a computerised approach is necessary, especially with such precise metronome markings, the sempre senza vibrato stipulation and the pauses of specific length, however, by delving deeper we discover a different truth. The instruction at the beginning of the score, ma sempre un poco instabile, then later, trattenuto and tempo molto instabile, suggest a flexibility in phrasing and more lyrical style of playing.
There is a historical potency in using Italian terms in music, because unlike English instructions, they immediately recall a rich artistic tradition with all its implications.
In the interest of remaining faithful to the score, double dotted rhythms ought to sound snapped to be sure they are not mistaken for single dotted rhythms. Dynamics range from ppp to fff with every possible level in between, yielding eight distinct intensities, which need to be adhered to as strictly as possible. Grace notes play an important role as they are often the only places where we find the primary row overtly stated and should maintain the utmost clarity.
At every occurrence, the repeated rhythmic figure example 2 should sound as though there had always been an imperceptible stream of rapidly repeated notes in the background, like a fragmented version of the Sequenza VI drone. During the twentieth century, the role of melody reversed: If previously, as late as Brahms, the theme was generated and conditioned by specific harmonic, rhythmic, and metrical functions, it now becomes itself the generator of analogous functions, and of others besides.
It becomes a generative nucleus, a cell made up of a few elements, a regulator of musical processes. The theme in itself has disappeared; it has become fragmented, hidden, though it pervades all the textures, coloring them with its colors: it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, Berio, , Sequenza IXb, it should be stated, is not purely a work of integral serialism.
Such systems might best be termed heightened serialism. Nevertheless, melody needs to be discussed not only in the traditional sense of pitch and rhythm, but as something that encompasses all performance elements, for no component is truly dominant in this piece. The important generative properties of this meta-melody will be considered later. The piece is based on two pitch sets, a seven note row with symmetrical properties and a five note row which together complete the chromatic scale example 3.
From letter A a new section begins in which each phrase starts and ends on the same note, forming a new pitch series by pausing on these notes for a specified number of seconds each time. Engrafted onto this section is a rhythmic series example 4 which repeats, with interjections, seven times. At letter C, the focus turns to registral displacement, beginning with extreme, disjunct intervals which become more contained as this provocative section progresses.
The new tempo marking at the top of the third page signals a return to the original seven note row which merges into the swiftly mobile D section. Letter G soon establishes a new series, this time a hexachord example 5 before returning to the original set.
There is a brief foray into alternative fingerings at letter H which serves as subtle timbral variations rather than the indecorous sonority usually associated with this saxophone technique. A new pitch series closely linked to the original set appears at letter I which is presented at a consistently bold fortissimo. At letter P we have the first major occurrence of a sustained high F, which becomes the central harmonic point of reference until the end of the work.
Although the piece has no single climax, the first high F of letter R would be a strong contender for such a designation for three reasons. Firstly, it is in the upper register, which Berio has avoided in the immediately preceding material. Secondly it is the loudest point in the piece so far and will be matched in volume only by successive appearances of the same.
Finally, it corresponds approximately to that point in musical works where climax is often found, relating to the golden ratio. The repeated high F continues until the last line of the piece with a melody at a different register and dynamic pirouetting underneath the sustained tone to create a tangible sense of polyphony.
By letter Y, however, it has been stripped of its dynamic potency as the piece fades away into the ether. What begins as a fine example of serialist craftsmanship metamorphoses into an almost teleological obsession with a single note. The gravitational power of this note is at its strongest at letter V where we see several enclosures of the note at close registral proximity example 6. The continual reworking of pitch repertoire in different contexts maintains interest, especially when performed instabile.
While there is no paucity of repetition, this serves not to mechanise every musical element, but rather brings elegant cohesion to a deeply intricate work. In some cases, he uses material from the established classical canon. Rather, Berio had a habit of revisiting completed works in a refining process, much as one might take cuttings of a healthy plant to breed a new one somewhere else. The electronics part for this piece underwent four revisions before it was finally scrapped.
The clarinet part remained mostly the same, but it is clear that Berio found significant generative qualities in his original clarinet material, which were realised afresh in the subsequent opera La Vera Storia. I wanted to establish a way of listening so strongly conditioned as to consistently suggest a latent, implicit counterpoint, Berio, , 97 cited in Dalmonte. Berio goes on to describe how he drew inspiration from the polyphonic melodies of Bach and wanted to create a comparable language of his own.
Interpreters of Bach should be able to hear dormant counterpoint below the audible surface. Likewise, the performer of Berio at least needs to have some sense of the implied harmony that exists beyond the enigmatic written score.
It also requires the saxophonist to formulate logical phrasing through obstacles of registral displacement and extreme dynamic oppositions Example 7. Yet to omit any detail of dynamic, articulation, rhythm or extended technique fundamentally weakens the impact of the piece. A patent example of pseudo-polyphony on the saxophone is the multiphonic.
The onus for finding correct and useable alternatives for these devices lies solely with the saxophonist. Many saxophonists tend to be quite blithe about the use of multiphonics. In jazz their use often seems resigned to the screaming zenith of an extended solo, but for the performer of contemporary classical works the technique requires pertinent and diligent study.
We have now considered the full constellation of works to which Sequenza IXb is connected see Appendix 2. With no teleological frame of reference, many performers have to rely on listeners having previously heard the work. It is true that the perception of harmony as an evolving process can only come about if the ear can clearly distinguish different types of harmonic material—and that in turn demands a wide harmonic palette.
Berio's approach to establishing that range was a distinctive one. This can be achieved through phrasing, an engaging demeanour, sophisticated stage deportment and above all a sense of empathy with the music.
The downside of the virtuosic age is a glut of perfect performances from performers who are emotionally, spiritually and intellectually bereft. In performance, a difficult piece such as Sequenza IXb has to transcend its complex aural framework if it is to be understood by the audience. The converse is also true: force the ear into the interstices of even a single sustained pitch and it begins to distinguish all sorts of extremely subtle secondary activity, Ferneyhough, , cited in Ford. Throughout its fourteen minute duration, the angularity and dissonance must submit to the effective transmission of art.
Great performers awaken our ears not through aural tests for the audience, such activity would be ridiculous, but through honest and impassioned performances. Good performances may be free of error and elicit polite applause, but great performances leave a previously sceptical audience transformed, instilling in them a passion for the music. It is a moot point as to how much foreknowledge audiences should be expected to have when listening to contemporary music.
Berio himself heard music from the canon in much the same way as he heard the music of peers like Pousseur and Maderna. He described perceiving whole Beethoven symphonies not in Schenkerian terms, but rather as single sonorities, even pitch fields.
This exaggerated, though not wholly unfamiliar point of view, betrays the ignorance and closed-mindedness that constitutes musical bigotry. When Berio was composing this piece he began by examining the spectral construction of vowel sounds from Italian, English and French. The vowels yielded sonorities similar to the main pitch row from which Berio based his piece. A diluted form of this concept can be found in Sequenza IXb, where alternative fingerings are rhythmically applied to a single pitch example 8.
Although nowhere is there a performance direction that explicitly instructs us to play lyrically, dolce or espressivo, a knowledge of Berio and his oeuvre will guide us inexorably in this direction.