Sunday, August 12, 2012

Music and Architecture, Part 2

In this post, I talked about how certain pieces of music were associated with specific buildings. In those cases, they were both churches. But the story continues. In a work in direct historical descent from those of Giovanni Gabrieli that I discussed in the previous post, in 1837 Hector Berlioz (1803 - 1869) wrote a Grande Messe des morts, op 5 for huge orchestra with four independent brass ensembles placed at the four corners of the performing space. It is hard not to imagine him inspired by Gabrieli's music for separate ensembles answering one another between the two choir stalls of St. Mark's in Venice. But Berlioz' work, commissioned to honor those who died in the revolution of July 1830, was performed in the mammoth chapel of Les Invalides, national monument to France's war heroes, Napoleon among them. Here are photos of the exterior, the interior, and of the dome:

That is certainly spectacular enough to inspire some spectacular music. The extra brass ensembles are reserved for the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) section. There are also eight pairs of tympani in addition to the huge orchestra and six-part chorus. I have heard the Requiem in concert and it is really not possible to record the impact of it. But here goes:

Just imagine this echoing around the dome! The only orchestral piece I can recall hearing that might be more terrifying than that is the first movement of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, which feels a lot like experiencing a Nazi invasion.

My next example was a very close collaboration between an architect and two experimental composers. In 1958, for the World's Fair in Brussels, the Philips electronics company commissioned Le Corbusier to design a pavilion to house a multimedia spectacle celebrating technological progress. The two composers were Iannis Xenakis (1922 - 2001), who was also a mathematician and engineer and assistant to Le Corbusier, and Edgard Varèse (1883 - 1965). Here is a picture of the building itself:

Though it was Xenakis, in collaboration with Le Corbusier, that did much of the design of the building itself, the music specially created for performance inside was by Varèse and entitled Poème électronique. It was a composition for tape alone, to be delivered through an installation of over four hundred speakers inside the space. The tape was made up of a mixture of pre-recorded sounds and synthesized ones. A mere two channel recording of this music is even less likely to sound anything like the original than my previous examples. But here it is:

I'll bet that was a lot nicer than you were expecting, right? Quite a few interesting moments/sounds. I'm curious about the structure--how does one structure this kind of music? By 'structure' I mean, just, how do you decide what comes first, second and so on. There is no 'narrative' flow, no emotional arc, so...?

My last example is Music for Wilderness Lake by the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. Alas, I can't provide the example. There is nothing on YouTube. But I can give you the description from the company that markets the film of the performance:
Twelve trombonists positioned around the shores of an unpopulated lake play meditative music across the water to one another at two specific times of day -- dusk and dawn. The music is cued by Mr. Schafer himself from a raft in the middle of the lake, while the natural inhabitants of the surrounding landscape respond and contribute to the music in their own way.
'Unpopulated' would seem to indicate that the only audience for the piece are loons and beavers. As a commercial proposition, it's not likely to catch on! I guess the real audience was the film crew. As a consolation, here is a piece for choir by R. Murray Schafer that I'm sure sounds nothing like the Music for Wilderness Lake, but is very nice, nonetheless:

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