Credo in US
"Credo in US" shows the USA as land of inspiration for creative, political and artistic free spirits.
The mysterious, sarcastic and naive "Credo in US" by John Cage offers nomen et omen for this programme. This 1942 composition for 4 performers was written for Merce Cunningham's choreography. The percussionists play muted gongs, tin cans and tomtoms, prepared piano and an electric buzzer, and sounds from a record player or radio playing classical music.
Stefan Wolpe grew up in Berlin taking artistic inspiration from Ferruccio Busoni, Bauhaus and Dada artists. He was forced to leave Germany in 1933 staying first in Palestine, where he found it difficult to offer his radical ideas, emigrating to the USA in 1938 where he became a mentor for a generation of composers, his students including Morton Feldman and David Tudor.
Wolpe's music bears evidence of styles from the second viennese school, jazz, jewish folklore and serial organisation. His "Music for any instruments" is a reservoir of musical material out of which many younger composers have drawn, including ascolta's trombonist Andrew Digby.
When Conlon Nancarrow died in 1997 in Mexico his work was only beginning to be heard and appreciated in Europe, particularly through the instigation of György Ligeti who, on his own account, had been inspired by Nancarrow's polymetric "Studies for Player Piano".
The young Nancarrowwas a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, on his return found himself politically unwanted in his home country and so compelled to emigrate to Mexico where he lived in isolation until his death. Disappointed by a music industry which could not play his music, he composed exclusively for the mechanical player piano for which he meticulously prepared rolls. This way he could compose complex structures with ridiculously fast tempi and metric superpositions unplayable by human musicians. He once said: "When you compose a canon you repeat the same melody so you don't need to think about it and can concentrate on the temporal aspects. If you simplify the melodic element you can better follow the tempo relationships. A reaon for my work with player pianos was my interest in dissonant tempo relationships. Temporal dissonance is almost as difficult to define as harmonic dissonance. I would describe a tempo relationship of 1 to 2 as not dissonant; a relationship of 2 to 3 as partly dissonant; and so on to the extremes of irrational relationships. A composition with two voices in the relationship 2 to root 2 is probably the most dissonant of all, comprising two voices which never coincide."
In Hubert Steiner's arrangements for ascolta the ensemble uses up to three click tracks in order to play the tempi as precisely as possible.
Christian Wolff, son of the publisher Kurt Wolff, came into contact with Cage and his friends at the age of 16. He studied and taught classical philologie at Harvard University and was always politically active. His music offers radical models of individual freedom within a collective. In his "Exercises" Wolff experiments with alternative models of musical communication. There is no fixed pitch, as the lines can be played in any clef or transposition, and there is no fixed rhythmic or metric relationship. The group plays along the material rather like in hiking in the mountains: each chooses his own tempo, which may vary, chooses to walk with this or the other companion. If one wishes to go ahead alone he may do so but may find himself alone and having to wait for the others. If one spends time on every note he may equally find himself alone, if the others do not wait for him. In this way the old contrapuntal techniques are transformed into an organic, individual play of voices in flexible tempi.
Steve Reich belongs to the most familiar artists in the USA. After an unhappy experience of academic tuition the young composer drew great energy from reacting against academic occidental practices and institutional conventions. He became fascinated by certain african practices, beginning to work with the repetition of small sequences, samples or patterns. In compositions for magnetic tape he recombined the patterns with progressive shifts to one side (phasing) hereby discovering a technique which would stand him in stead for a good many instrumental pieces and has remained the character of Reich's music until today. The fascination of his music is however not only in the way it is made. The regular rhythms and continual repetition can create trance-like effects, which has secured the composer a worldwide fan community and influence also, even, in the pop, techno and hiphop scenes.
The name Kurt Weill is for many indivisible from that of Bertolt Brecht although their collaboration with was only shortlived: the music for "Mahogonny" or the "Threpenny Opera" is known to millions. Weill studied in Berlin with Busoni but fled Germany in 1933, initially to Paris and in 1935 to the USA. Here he had many successes, and flops, on Broadway, combining european influences with dance and swing music. When he died, aged only 50, he was working on a musical adaptation of Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn".
When Weill was described in 1947 in the magazine "Life" as a "german composer" he protested in an open letter: "although I was born in Germany i do not describe myself as a german composer. The Nazis did not and I left their country in 1933. I am an american citizen; during my 12 years in this country I have composed exclusively for the american stage."
It is not well known that popular standards such as "Speak low" and "September Song" or the french tango "Youkali" were written by Weill. Performers including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Nick Cave and the Doors have interpreted music by the composer. Langston Highes, the black american poet who wrote the texts for "Steet Scene" once said something to the effect of :
If he had gone to India and not to the United States he would, I believe, have written wonderful indian music. Germany claims him as a German, France as french, America as american and I claim him as black.