Monday, April 9, 2018

Sofia Gubaidulina, Part 13

In 1978 Gubaidulina wrote the first in a series of pieces with a religious inspiration. This piece, Introitus for piano and chamber orchestra, begins with a flute cadenza. When the soloist enters, nearly three minutes later, it is with slow chords and repeated notes. This confounds one's expectations of a piano concerto, of course. The music uses four different realms of pitch: quarter-tones, chromatic, diatonic and pentatonic. These correspond to a range of experience from the most sensual (quarter-tones) to the most spiritual (pentatonic). Alexander Bakhchiev, the piano soloist in the premiere, commented:
Introitus is not a common piece of piano music. It requires exceptionally airy, immaterial playing, which she showed me because it came quite naturally to her. But I had to learn it and get used to it, and at the first performance I succeeded only partially. An Introit is the beginning, the introductory item, of the Mass, but the Mass, of course, does not take place in the work itself; and it is difficult to move toward something that does not actually occur but must be prepared for spiritually. This preparation has to take shape in the course of about twenty minutes, and the audience expects something, but nothing tangible happens. I've played this concerto on several occasions and in each instance, no matter whether the audience was made up of professional musicians or the general public, the long trill at the end would be followed by a long silence. The audience was as under a spell ... and then they burst out in applause. [quoted in Kurtz, op. cit., p. 137]
Let's listen to a performance. This is Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro, piano and Mikhail Agrest, conductor with the Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra. The concert was in 2011:

Here is another performance, from 2009, with Drosostalitsa Moraiti, pianist with Goldsmiths Sinfonia under the conductor Alexander Ivashkin.

It would be safe to say that this is the exact opposite of a Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov piano concerto! I am often fascinated with the ways composers find to end pieces in the absence of the traditional grammar of the cadence. The long trill here is very effective.

Both of these videos together have little more than 1,500 views!


Jives said...

Wow, what a cool piece. This one really worked for me. I love the close interval writing in the strings. The unison is a powerful tool. The rising motive in the strings recurs, gives it a sense of cyclical unity. The voices seem unrelated to each other (murmuring violins with chunky piano chords atop), but the contrasts are fruitful and not striving or competing. She's a very skillful sound artist (reminds me a little of Pauline Oliveros), obviously interested in timbre and tone quality for its own sake. But she carries this through in a way that really works for the performance culture. good stuff!

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, it is, isn't it! I'm really enjoying my slow progress through Gubaidulina's music. Later on I am going to take a close look at a few pieces.