The late 60s
The late 1960s were marked by critical discourses and debates about democracy and values that also found reflection in contemporary music. Helmut Lachenmann was not the only one who contemplated whether music itself had the right to exist. As he wrote in 1969 concerning his orchestral work “Air”, “It is only in the negation of conventional musical expression that possibilities existed to “derive new functions out of the anachronism of a concert for solo and orchestra”.
Music that draws on the sound itself and its production, an unveiled, prosaic approach to the audible, to the instrument and to the sonorous setting gave Lachenmann the impetus to create this work. The solo drums seemed to be the most striking medium for such “sound realism”. Structural clarity is accompanied by energetic processes that give the music a metaphysical force.
This is also the case for the “Beta” symphonic torso of the large-scale “Firecycle” triptych by Brian Ferneyhough. When Ferneyhough began writing the work in 1969 he had not considered performing it. It was his very first orchestral work and represented a utopian vision of a liberated musical language. It was to stay a torso for eternity. “Beta”, the central part between the originally planned “Alpha” and “Gamma” parts, emerged from a dialectic interplay between two ideal extremes yet, according to Ferneyhough, illustrates endlessness, as it were, in its imperfection. The idea of group opposition and the phenomenon of distance and change of perspective determine the composition. In addition to soloists stepping forward, therefore, “Beta” involves multiple ensemble groups that are conducted independently of one another. This includes four co-conductors in addition to the main conductor.
A French equivalent and further music-historical testimony of this exciting time is Jean-Pierre Guézec, Olivier Messiaen’s student and successor at the Conservatoire de Paris who died far too young. He brought the concepts of timbre, rhythm, volume, sonority and density of a Messiaen, Varèse, Boulez or Xenakis to an astonishing synthesis. The Konzerthaus orchestra, under the direction of Arturo Tamayo and together with the superb percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky, the GrauSchumacher Piano Duo and four co-conductors, plays a trio of challenging works and unique documents which have maintained the fresh spirit of the time.