Jan/Feb 1999

m a k i n g   t i m e


with Don Mager

Voices of Self-Exile

Gerhard, Roberto. Symphony No.4, New York, and Metamorphoses (Symphony No.2).
Sponsored by Fundacion Caja de Madrid.
Paris: Auvidis Montaigne MO 78201, 1995.

Panufnik, Andrzej. Symphony No.9: Sinfonia della Speranza, and Piano Concerto.
London: Conifer Classics 74321 16189 2, 1991.

Roberto Gerhard (from Franco’s Spain in the late 1930s) and Sir Andrzej Panufnik (from Communist Poland in the 1950s) voluntarily left their homelands in protest of dictatorships to settle in England for the major parts of their musical careers. Each in astonishing ways carves out of his exile a compelling musical personality whose authenticity and power has been increasingly recognized as we move farther from their careers. Their major works span the 1940s through 1960s, and in retrospect each seems to be one of the more definitive voices of that time, often characterized as the triumph and fall of total serialism. These CDs give us the final symphony by each--the final solutions each came to in his quest for symphonic renewal.

Gerhard (1897-1970) had one of the most amazing musical trajectories of any modern composer. As a Barcelonan Spaniard he early absorbed the nationalist ideas of the generation of Albeniz and Pedrell, even though his ravishing early Trio is Brhamsian in scope. He apprenticed himself to Schoenberg and by the late 1920s had integrated Viennese atonalism with Spanish nationalism. Many saw him as the successor to De Falla. When the Revolution came, he was appointed Minister of Culture for the Republic centered in Barcelona, and when Franco triumphed, he went into exile. In the 1940s, he worked in the London theater producing several ballet scores and the stunning opera buffa The Duenna (to my mind the most rollicking opera buffa anywhere since Verdi’s Falstaff), even though i did not receive a full stage production until forty years after its composition, in post-Franco Madrid.

By the 1950s, Gerhard moved away from an overt Spanish vocabulary. Suffering from illnesses, he worked slow, sometimes taking a decade to complete a score, with several projects in simultaneous development. His symphonies track his exploration of a total serialism that is unlike any produced by contemporaries elsewhere because his procedure is one of total variation and totalizing development. Gerhard serializes not only the twelve tones, but dynamics, rhythmic cells, instrumentation and intervals. This results in a procedure that is an aural kaleidoscope--the only way I know to describe it. Furthermore, he integrates the percussion into the instrumental texture, not as a battery of effects punctuating and underlining from the sidelines, but as an integral part of the sounds through which the musical thought unfolds.

Symphony No.4 Is the culmination of Gerhard’s orchestral virtuosity. The entire orchestra--and a very large one it is--is set in aural motion as if it were a single inexhaustible instrument. The fecundity of musical ideas and especially scintillating timbres and colors rushes forward before the ear’s “gaze” as if ingenuity were inexhaustible. What protects listeners from a stimulus overload and inadvertent ennui is a large structuring of this one movement work (36 minutes) through a series of contrasts: kinetic ideas versus a kind of musical stasis that Gerhard calls “action in very slow motion.” Because we are allowed aural space during which to “regroup,” the explosions of energy when they periodically erupt do so with gusto, vibrancy and textural bedazzlement. This is a symphony to take to one’s desert island; one can hear it many times without exhaustion; it’s renewal of delight does not wear out; and its delight in its own sense of wonderment is profoundly joyful.

Like his Polish contemporaries Lutoslawski and Pederecki, as a new voice in music Panufnik (1914-1991) achieved remarkable stature in Poland--the only Eastern Block country to give experimental music sustained space to develop. Nevertheless, Panufnik’s deep Catholicism led him into self-exile in protest. Unlike Gorecki or the English Rutter, Panufnik does not exploit a minimalist musical mysticism. His dense mathematical and geometrical schemata of note cells out of which each of his works in built would seem to carry us back to the kind of rigid procedures of Netherlandish polyphony or Bach’s canon building--almost the opposite of spirituality and religious fervor. But like Okeghem, Dezpres and Bach, Panufnik’s mathematical wizardry leads relentlessly toward not away from musical spirituality of deep resonance.

Subtitled, “symphony of hope,” Panufnik’s No.9, although in a single 40 minute movement, falls into three distinct sections. A translucent and shimmering middle calm (not unlike Gerhard’s “action in very slow motion”) is surrounded by two longish sections of equal weight best described as strenuous. Powerful, full of yearning, like a relentless and unrelieved climb to a summit, the music does not settle for easy bursts of triumph nor “hyped” ecstatic climaxes. The strenuousness itself becomes the music’s “speranza,” for it projects a sense of illumination through quest. Panufnik takes my mind to the Dante of Purgatory more aptly than any other composer I know. Like Dante, scholastic design exfoliates into transcendent enlightenment. For such a musical climb to be achieved in the 1980s, in exile, in England, is both baffling and stunning.

Out of the rigorous methods of total serialism, often dismissed by the generation that followed as arid and academic, we have here two composers who achieve musical utterances of the most enriching profundity: joy and wonderment with Gerhard, and questing illumination with Panufnik.


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