“Less Is More” with Telemann, Debussy, Kodály, Anzoletti, Prokofiev, Berio, and . . .

1IMG_6714_edited-1The Great Composers Appreciation Society has been listening to music on the theme of “Less Is More” this month (4/15-5/14/15). The main selections for the month, chosen with typical perspicacity by our helmsman, Brian Long, include:

J. S Bach: Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009 (1720?)  (More information here.)

Joseph Haydn: Symphony No.45 in F-sharp minor, Hob.I:45 (“Farewell”) (1772)  (More information here.)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Duo for violin & viola No. 1 in G major, K. 423 (1783) (More information here.)

Claude Debussy: Syrinx (1913) (See below for more information.)

Edgar Varèse: Density 21.5 (1936, rev. 1946)  (More information here.)

Anton Webern: 5 pieces for orchestra op. 10 (1913)  (More information here.)

Benjamin Britten: Cello Suite No. 3, op. 87 (1971)  (More information here.)

Luciano Berio: Sequenzas 3 (for voice, 1965) and 5 (for trombone, 1966) (See below for more information.)

Along the way, members have posted dozens of additional pieces, and the month, which ends the 15th, isn’t over yet. Here are screen shots of the list-in-formation of “additional pieces” (click on each screen shot to enlarge it):


And here’s a little “quiz” of sorts:

  • What would you add to the “Less Is More” lists of selections?
  • What pieces on the lists of selections do you already know and/or like?

Listening List

For a Spotify playlist of the GCAS main “Less Is More” selections, click here. (For the Telemann, I was only able to locate the Largo on Spotify.)

Georg Philipp Telemann, Trio in b minor for violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord, TWV 42:h6 (18th C.) (with particular thanks to GCAS member Bert Carter for offering us so many lovely pieces from this era)

For general information about Telemann and his chamber music, click here.

Claude Debussy, Syrinx (1913) (Emmanuel Pahud, flute)

Syrinx “is the first really significant piece for solo flute after the Sonata in A min composed by C. P. E. Bach exactly 150 years before (1763), and it is the first solo composition for the modern Böhm flute, perfected in 1847.” [citation]

Zoltán Kodály, Cello Sonata No. 1, op. 8 (1915) (Jakob Koranyi, cello)

Composed in 1915, its creator prophesied for his Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello, Op.8 that “in 25 years no cellist will be accepted who has not played it.” By 1956, the sonata had become obligatory for the Casals Competition in Mexico City. The innovative compositional technique demands unorthodox skills from the cellists and also extends the tonal range and sonic effects of the instrument. As Starker commented: “Kodály uses the cello from top to bottom. All the fingers are busy. Three fingers are playing the melodic ideas while the others are plucking chords. The use of the thumb is also highly inventive. Ponticello is a new technique on the cello.” Yet the beauty of Starker’s interpretation is that the listener will not be drawn to the technicalities. Instead one is carried on a musical journey to the heart of historical Hungary. [citation]

Marco Anzoletti, Caprice No 11 from 12 Studies, op. 125 (1929) (Marco Misciagna, viola)  (More information on Anzoletti here.)

Sergei Prokofiev, Piano Sonata No. 6, op. 82 (1939-40) (Yuja Wang, piano)

The Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82 by Sergei Prokofiev is the first of his three ‘War Sonatas”. They are the pinnacle of his music for piano; and given his lifelong ties to the instrument, they could rightly be considered the high point of his entire output. Following a sixteen-year absence from the genre, and in the midst of a long, confusing waltz with the Soviet regime, Prokofiev’s return to serious composition for the piano was a return to his sources, an attempt to solidify his recent triumphs (Alexander Nevsky, Romeo and Juliet, Peter and the Wolf) and a sign of his returning confidence. [citation]

Luciano Berio, Sequenza III (1965) (Laura Catrani)

More information on Sequenza III may be found here.

Luciano Berio, Sequenza V (1966) (Johannes Ettlinger, trombone)

Berio wrote of this piece:

Behind Sequenza V lurks the memory of Grock (Adriano Wettach), the last great clown. Grock was my neighbour in Oneglia. He lived in a strange and complicated villa up the hill, surrounded by a kind of Oriental garden with small pagodas, streams, bridges and willow trees. Many times, with my schoolmates, I climbed a high iron fence to steal oranges and tangerines from his garden. During my childhood, the closeness, the excessive familiarity with his name and the indifference of the adults around me, prevented me from realizing his genius. It was only later, when I was perhaps eleven, that I saw him perform on the stage of the Teatro Cavour in Porto Maurizio, and understood him. Once during the evening, while performing, he stopped suddenly and, staring at the audience with a disarming look, asked: “warum?” (“why?”). Like everyone else, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry and I wanted to do both. After that experience, I stole no more oranges from his garden.

Sequenza V, written in 1966 for Stuart Dempster, is a tribute to Grock and his metaphysical why, which is the generating cell of the piece.

More information on the clown Grock may be found here.

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Credits: The quotations may be found at the links indicated in the text, with thanks to Brian Long and other GCAS members for so many of the links collected here. I took the photographs, of Innisfree Garden May 9, 2015, a few days after the garden opened for the season. At this time of year, the garden itself offers many wonderful examples of “Less Is More.”






8 thoughts on ““Less Is More” with Telemann, Debussy, Kodály, Anzoletti, Prokofiev, Berio, and . . .

  1. David N

    Serendipity: on Sunday I was listening to the Kodaly Sonata in the searing performance by Alban Gerhardt (his first CD, with Britten’s First and Bach’s Fifth Cello Suites). No-one could ignore the way he plays the first movement. As for making lists, well, where to start and stop? And I’d better stop now, because this is my fifth attempt and my creaking computer’s not liking this page.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: Serendipity indeed, and thank you so much for the heads up on this CD. How sorry I am your computer didn’t cooperate with you, as I would have loved to see what you might suggest!

  2. shoreacres

    I can’t help but wonder if the “Why?” Berio heard was less metaphysical and more accusatory. In context, he may well have experienced the question more directly than others who had gathered. It certainly would explain the sudden end to orange theft in the neighborhood.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: Intriguing thought! Now, this doesn’t fit the description of the “Warum” Berio saw, but it’s fun to see: https://youtu.be/sNvIrHj1nhw Here’s a commentary on the video:

      Grock tells the concert violinist that he doesn’t understand Spanish. The violinist explains that he wasn’t speaking Spanish but English. In his inimitable style Grock responds, “English! W-h–y?” Violinist: I thought you were English. Grock, “Me, English! Impossss-ible! I’m not English.” Violinist, “What are you then?” Grock, “A bicycle rider.” This skit is an example of superb clown dialogue. The seriousness of the straight man offsets the silliness of the clown who is also serious but ironically “unaware” of his silliness. When Grock delivers the punchline in German, “Radfahrer.” (lit. bicyclist) he widens his eyes like a child telling us something very serious and important thus bringing the exchange to a climax. The more serious he takes himself the funnier he is to us.

      Shortly after Grock uses the word “warum” he responds to another comment with the comically drawn-out words “nicht moeglich” (lit. “not” possible or the more idiomatic “impossible.”) This humorous intonation of “nit moeglich” (a Swiss dialect) became one of Grock’s most singular and best-known trademarks. It is delivered with the same wide-eyed innocence as “warum” and should be studied as well.

      Musicians might consider how one can play a few notes of a key phrase with the same symbolic resonance that Grock creates when he says “warum” or “nit moeglich” – something so vivid, iconic and perfectly inflected that people never forget it. http://www.osborne-conant.org/Grock.htm

      PS: And looking further into the link I provided about Grock, I do begin to think Grock could have been an inspiration for Jack Benny! https://youtu.be/qSj_pxcH5Uw

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