Composition, instrumental solos and duos | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Composition, instrumental solos and duos

IntroductionOne may consider the repertoire of Canadian compositions in these categories in two ways. First, 'repertoire' may indicate those works which are played repeatedly.

Composition, instrumental solos and duos

One may consider the repertoire of Canadian compositions in these categories in two ways. First, 'repertoire' may indicate those works which are played repeatedly. From the late 19th century Lavallée's Le Papillon for piano would be an internationally recognized example; a generation or two later Champagne'sQuadrilha Brasileira, also for piano, offers an instance of wide use. From the mid-20th century Pentland'sStudies in Line, Morawetz'sScherzo, Kenins'Sonata, and Hétu's Variations for piano, Beecroft'sTre Pezzi Brevi and Somers'Etching for flute, and Adaskin's Canzona and Rondo for violin and piano all could be cited as appearing with regularity in concert programs, broadcasts, and (sometimes) recordings. Further pieces could be added.

But one may broaden the lists much more by using a second meaning of 'repertoire': that by which one may indicate all compositions which have been completed and have proved themselves in performance (though perhaps on only a few occasions or at the hands of only one performer or pair of performers). The available repertoire in this sense is surprisingly large, and includes older compositions deserving revival as well as newer and perhaps more experimental ones as yet not assimilated.

More frequently than in other compositional categories, in solos and duos one feels the impact of the performer-composer who writes for his/her own instrument, bringing a ready acquaintance with its idiomatic nature which the generalist composer must gain by more external effort. When Murray Adaskin, Otto Joachim, or Ernst Friedlander composes for strings, Aitken, Freedman, Luedeke, Mann, Komorous, or Weait for winds, Colgrass or Wyre for percussion, or John Armstrong, Robert Bauer or Davis Joachim for the guitar, the musical statement relates with ease and assurance to the instrument's capabilities. The same is true of the piano music of composers who are accomplished pianists (as distinct from those who 'play the piano like composers') - among them Buczynski, Burge, Eckhardt-Gramatté, Garant, Koprowski, Mather, Morawetz, Pentland, Pépin, Somers, and Tremblay.

Little use has been made in this genre of borrowings from folk music, compared to that found in the orchestral and choral categories. Ernest Gagnon'sStadaconé, 'danse sauvage' for piano; Léo-Pol Morin'sSuite canadienne and Three Eskimos for piano; and from a later generation Kenins' Fantasy-Variations on an Eskimo Lullaby, for flute and viola, may be mentioned. In the string category, where the violoneux and fiddle traditions are well developed and ripe for compositional comment, one can point to only a few examples from the 1920s and 1930s - Champagne's Danse villageoise (a 'repertoire' piece in the first sense, in its several arrangements) and the five Danses canadiennes for violin and piano by Gratton. These works sometimes dress the borrowed idioms in rather flowery harmonic garb, and even introduce programmatic touches, but in Gratton's second Danse the pitches remain faithful to a single mode almost throughout, and concentration centres on the characteristic fiddling rhythms.

In the 1940s and 1950s a remarkable crop of longer concert pieces appeared. These works often adopted the abstract, neoclassic shape of the sonata in several movements, whether for a solo instrument or, more frequently, for a duo consisting of piano and one other instrument. Following the Gebrauchsmusik example of her one-time teacher Paul Hindemith, Violet Archer has been notably productive in this field, composing duo-sonatas for piano with violin, cello, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and alto saxophone. This lively series, though it may adopt Hindemith's outward example, does not always emulate his style. Other Canadian solo and duo sonatas of the period are dependent even less on specific international models, though individual works or single movements may evoke comparisons.

The 1960s and 1970s revealed a trend away from the abstract utility sonatas, and also from the concurrently cultivated 'showcase' genre (as seen in the exuberant concertante pieces for various instruments by Kenins, Eckhardt-Gramatté, and others), and towards sonorous experiment. Morel's Deux Études de sonorité, with their post-impressionist colourings and freer structures, may be regarded as a prophetically titled early symptom of this tendency. Garant's Cage d'oiseau, Tremblay's Deux Pièces (Phases and Réseaux), and the Five Piano Pieces of Hawkins represent later stages in works for the solo piano; other works, including those from other instrumental areas, will be noted at appropriate points below, where the trend will be seen to link by natural consequence with the particular subcategory of the duo for instrument and prepared tape.

In the 1970s a further new direction arose in the form of theatrical elements - applied with special emphasis, for example, by Weinzweig in a cycle of interrelated works starting with the percussion solo Around the Stage in Twenty-Five Minutes. Here the scores give indications of physical attitudes and gestures alongside the symbols for musical sounds, but the results, in Weinzweig's case at least, are often interior and personal rather than theatrical in the melodramatic sense, while such traits as whimsy, humour, and even nostalgia are often present.

In the 1980s an increasing number of composers applied the Gebrauchsmusik ('utility music') approach in works for instruments and instrumental pairings whose standard repertoires are scanty. Commissions from enterprising performers often stimulated this compositional response by pointing to a perceived repertoire need. The pianist Louis-Philippe Pelletier, the oboist Lawrence Cherney, and the violist Rivka Golani have been among the large number of soloists active in encouraging new works.

While the duo of piano and another instrument continued to be a favoured medium, the variety of 'other instruments' widened; the literature for standard partners (flute, violin) continued to expand, but non-standard ones, from percussion to tuba, were also cultivated. Notable achievements during the decade were Morawetz's seven duo sonatas for piano with one wind or brass instrument and Richard Johnston's four Duo concertantes for piano with one wind or string instrument, some of which incorporated folk or historical allusions.

The short solos of Saint-Marcoux (flute, oboe, violin, cello) continued the 1970s lines of sonorous investigation, redefining the tradition of the instrumental etude. Sets of pieces actually designated as etudes were produced by Armstrong for guitar, Houdy for saxophones, and Beckwith for piano. The decade's advances in newer directions such as duos combining electroacoustic with acoustic instruments, solos adding electroacoustic features, and works for exotic instruments are detailed below.

Organ and harpsichord solos are discussed in separate entries (see Organ composition, Harpsichord composition).

Piano Solos

The largest body of Canadian instrumental music from the 19th century is for solo piano. The waltzes, galops, and quadrilles (often based on French-Canadian tunes) followed the prevailing facile entertainment-music fashions of the USA and Europe and were designed almost exclusively for the parlour upright piano rather than the concert hall grand. Exceptions occurred with increasing frequency as professionalism and concert life developed. C.W. Sabatier, in the late 1850s, probably was the first Canadian to write the kind of showy salon piece taken a stage further by Calixa Lavallée. Lavallée's graceful and idiomatic piano works occasionally reached beyond the conventional requirements of their variational or dance forms, as in Le Papillon, a Mendelssohnian character-piece with the unusual shape ABAC, the C-section being an extended emergence into the major from the minor. This work, once highly popular and internationally anthologized, remains a true Canadian piano classic. Like Lavallée, his contemporary Salomon Mazurette produced a large body of short genre pieces. In the generation after Lavallée, Lucas and Forsyth, and later Émiliano Renaud, wrote more extended pieces with a more personalized expression, using Chopinesque forms and titles (prélude, impromptu, etc). Their music may be compared to that of such interesting minor US piano composers of the day as William Mason; indeed, in common with great quantities of junior and intermediate piano pieces by L.J. Oscar Fontaine, G.A. Grant-Schaefer, Cedric Lemont, and Léon Ringuet, their work was published and performed more often in the USA than at home. More innovative, perhaps daring for the early decades of the 20th century, were Anger's Tintamarre, with its echoes of the Celtic dreaminess of Bax, Cyril Scott, or perhaps MacDowell, and the effective short Preludes of Colin McPhee, composed and published in Toronto in his early Wunderkind period.

By the 1930s and 1940s - in the Sonata of Rodolphe Mathieu, the Trois Pièces brèves of Georges-Émile Tanguay, the young Robert Fleming's tuneful and Poulenc-like Sonatina, and the first items in Pentland's distinguished piano list - a sense of greater variety in the forms and styles and of a deeper artistic commitment (even in short and light-textured movements) may be felt. Pentland's Studies in Line, Variations, and Sonata-Fantasy show this commitment in their careful structuring and stark piano colours. The four Studies, with geometrical figures as their titles, exhibit especially well-devised contrasts between their brief neoclassic explorations of characteristic motives. Her later piano music - such as the lighter Sonatinas No. 1 and 2, the Suite Borealis, and the Toccata - reveals the same approach applied to different problems (shorter or longer forms, evocative aspects, leaner textures, etc). Other strong representatives of the post-1945 era are the concise, Stravinskian Sonata of Weinzweig, the eloquent Passacaglia of Duchow, Arnold Walter'sSonata, Suite, and Études, and various pieces by Pépin, notably his three-movement Suite, with its showy finale, Danse frénétique, often played separately.

Indications of change were apparent in several other works of the later 1940s and early 1950s. A notable isolated example is Otto Joachim'sL'Éclosion, with its then-novel approach to duration, and its characteristic intensity. Just as original and as isolated is Anhalt's imposing and eruptive Fantasia. The piano music of Somers, however, has a special importance, for its extent and concentration as well as for its quality: the first four of his five sonatas belong to the era mentioned, as do his 12 x12 (a set of 12 short fugues on 12-tone subjects) and a number of shorter compositions. Taking the keyboard almost for granted in their ease of idiomatic treatment, these works develop a personal rhetoric and a sense of musical space through their application to various kinds of writing - romantic in Sonata No. 1, virtuosic in Sonata No. 2, linear in the fugues, etc. Though suggesting models (conscious or unconscious) as diverse as Mozart, Liszt, Ives, Debussy, Krenek, and Weinzweig, the pieces always demonstrate Somers' own profile most of all. Another sensitive, though smaller, output for piano from the 1960s is that of Bruce Mather, whose Smaragdin, Like Snow, Mystras, and (especially) Fantasy are all worthy of greater circulation. Kolinski'sSonata, four Suites, and especially Four Dances in Étude Form - composed before his arrival in Canada - are fluent and rhythmically intriguing.

The sonorous experimentation already referred to, which is exemplified in the well-imagined piano harmonies of Tremblay's Phases and Réseaux, continued into the 1970s in such works as Papineau-Couture'sComplémentarité, with its structured use of knocks on the side, key-lid, and keys, and its chromatic glissandi produced by lowering the key-lid partway and passing a rod along the inside, behind the black keys, and Gellman'sVeils, with its use of the three pedals simultaneously, two to be depressed by the left foot, the third by the right. In Douglas' Celebration one sees an affinity successfully struck with classic-jazz piano idioms, while Kristi Allik'sFragments is an even later product, by a younger composer, showing strongly confident ideas and interesting durational subtleties. At the same time one well may register surprise at the freshness of Weinzweig's mid-1970 Impromptus; with their fragmented and interrupted continuity, their conscious self-quotations, and their humourous stage gestures they move to a world quite apart from his earlier Sonata.

In the 1980s several experienced composers added substantially to their output for solo piano: examples are Buczynski (The August Collection, 24 preludes, 1987), Hétu (Sonata, 1984), Pentland (Canticum, Burlesca and Finale, 1987) and Weinzweig (Micromotions, 20 pieces, 1989). Standard pianistic devies - chords, rapid scales - had evidently not exhausted their interest for composers such as Cherney and Burke; the former's In the Stillness of the Seventh Autumn (1983), and the latter's Dreampaths (1986) revitalized these resources in neo-impressionistic free forms. Similarly, Saint-Marcoux, in her Mandala II (1980), another competition test-piece, found new contexts for stopped-string bell effects and glissandi on the strings. Diana McIntosh explored a wide gamut of non-keyboard effects in Climb to Camp 1, for piano interior (1990), using assorted camping equipment as plectra and damping materials. Gellman broke new ground in an assured Keyboard Triptych (1986), in which one player manages both a conventional piano and a DX-7 synthesizer 'mounted on top of the piano lid'. Arresting in its new sonorities and ingenious interplay of solo and duet passages, the work is at the same time rooted in keyboard archtypes, as seen in the sub-titles of the three sections: 'Invocation,' 'Toccata,' and 'Aria'. In Gordon Monohan's Piano Mechanics (1983-4), the investigation of the instrument's action and the observation of its complex resonances are just as clinical as the title suggests, but the work's originality and force of expression, especially in the composer's own performance, have proved impressive. James Rolfe's Idiot Sorrow (1990), radically concentrating on a minimum of sounds mainly in the piano's middle range (often regarded as ungrateful), achieves a sustained movement of remarkable intensity. The title is from Rimbaud.

Piano Duos

The list of concert works for four hands at one piano is small. The main items are Archer's Ten Folk Songs for Four Hands, Beckwith's early suite Music for Dancing, Kasemets' puzzle-piece called Squares, and Pentland's Three Duets after Pictures by Paul Klee.

There are more, and more varied, works for two pianos, the more customary concert medium in modern times. Willan's Theme and Variations is a solid late-romantic entry. Kenins' Concertino and Michael C. Baker's Sonata cultivate the mechanical brilliance of much mid-20th-century two-piano writing, while the Sonata of Hétu, the Sonata of Mather, and the Études of Hawkins explore different sonorous and rhythmic possibilities.

Keith Tedman's Parachronisms (1983), employs the medium for a 'study in time displacement': the two instruments are located further apart than usual on the stage, and piano II has the task of delaying, echoing, and transforming (often with harmonics) the sounds of piano I. In Weinzweig's Dualogue (1990) - a less theatrical, more purely musical work than his earlier Trialogue - a conversation-like continuity develops from a handful of short well-characterized phrases, some of which, as in other Weinzweig pieces, are self-quotations.

See also Piano teams.

Instrumental Duos With Piano

Sonatas for violin and piano from the early and mid-20th century include Willan's flamboyantly romantic Sonata No. 1, his deliberately Handelian Sonata No. 2, and the incomplete, posthumously discovered Sonata No. 3; the two robust sonatas of Somers; Coulthard's two sonatas; Vallerand's example modelled on Fauré and Poulenc; and the crisply neoclassic example by Papineau-Couture. Shorter pieces include André Mathieu's and Maurice Dela'sSonatas, Morawetz's one-movement Duo, pieces by Adaskin and Brott, Pépin's Monade IV (Réseaux), Somers' Rhapsody, and Freedman'sEncounter.

The cello has been, perhaps surprisingly, more richly supplied than the violin by Canadian composers over the years. Contant'sLa Charmeuse, Méditation, Romance sans paroles, and Tarantelle represent early styles. A program of Canadian cello and piano sonatas might range from the early-20th-century examples of Rodolphe Mathieu, Oscar O'Brien, and Leo Smith, through Weinzweig's passionate yet not overblown Sonata 'Israel,' to the broad gestures of Prévost and Otto Joachim. Eckhardt-Gramatté's Duo Concertante, of sonata dimensions, embodies concerto principles of display-dialogue and technical extension. Smith's Four Pieces in Old English Style and Pentland's Mutations represent a similarly wide range of expression and style in shorter cello works. Luigi von Kunits'Viola Sonata is an isolated early Canadian work for that instrument. Buczynski's Duo and Weinzweig's Refrains, both with contrabass, represent two different successful answers to a special challenge.

Pieces for solo wind instrument with piano may be exemplified by Beecroft's Webernian Tre Pezzi Brevi (for flute, the accompaniment alternatively for piano, guitar, or harp), Eckhardt-Gramatté's ingeniously constructed Ruck-Ruck Sonata and Garant's sonorously innovative Asymétries No. 2 (both for clarinet), Mather's Elegy (for alto saxophone), and sonatas for horn by Wuensch, for flute by Baker and Saint-Marcoux, and for bassoon by Weisgarber, in addition to those of Archer already referred to. The trumpet list begins with the leisurely showpieces (perhaps originally for cornet) by Lavallée and Herbert L. Clarke and also includes the effective and much played Little Suite by Bissell. Ka Nin Chan'sThree Movements (1978, for clarinet) is an absorbing study employing novel sonorities.

The period 1980-91 witnessed an enrichment of extant repertoire areas and initial Canadian ventures into yet newer ones. The flute was the most-often-cultivated partner of the piano in this period. The viola, the saxophone, the bassoon, and the tuba also struck composers' imaginations, while the oboe, clarinet, horn, and trumpet literatures expanded further, along with those for cello and contrabass. Notable partnerings with piano have included Hope Lee's intricate, assemblage-style Nabripamo (1982), with marimba; Mather's ingeniously microtonal Sassicaia (1981), with clarinet; and Fodi'sRhapsody (1985), with bass clarinet, written for the international virtuoso Harry Sparnaay. Harpsichord substitutes for piano as a keyboard partner in Burke's Escher/Bach (1985) for flute, and Komorous' Passacaille (1985) for bass flute.

Solos And Duos Without Piano

Rodolphe Mathieu's Douze Études Moderne, 'Monologues' for solo violin were written in 1924, but the composition of instrumental solos is more characteristic of the period after 1940, when several serious and challenging solo works emerged, eg, Eckhardt-Gramatté's Suite for Violin Solo No. 4, 'Pacific' (written for Marta Hidy), Papineau-Couture's Suite (written for Szeryng), and Somers' Music for Solo Violin (written for Menuhin). For solo cello Kasemets' Sonata da camera achieves an illusory double fugue by interlocking the two subjects at points where they are broken by rests, while Donald Steven'sIllusions is marked by wide contrasts of 'distant' harmonics and floating arpeggios with chordal gestures typical of the cello's traditional rhetorical voice. Mozetich'sSurvival (1979), for viola, is a strong proponent for the new moto-perpetuo energies of the minimalists.

Klein'sSix Exchanges for saxophone and Eclogues for guitar are both idiomatic and exploratory. The guitar is enriched further by Somers' Sonata and Morel's Me Duele España, and the various pieces of Bauer. Dolin, Kolinski, and Wuensch have contributed useful and original works for the free-bass accordion, and Weait has composed neat and resourceful Variations for the bassoon. Other notable solo compositions for woodwinds include Pépin's Quatre Monodies and Tremblay's Envoi: Alléluia, both for solo flute, Cherney's Epitaph for cor anglais, and Mather's Étude for solo clarinet. A full-blooded and colourful solo work for harp, with electronics and auxiliary percussion (including anklet bells) to be played by the soloist, is Schafer's suite The Crown of Ariadne. The five movements of Buhr'sTanzmusik (1986), cover a wide gamut of harp techniques and idioms and offer dramatic contrasts of regular with non-metred rhythms and of free with narrowly tonal pitch formations. Robert Turner'sLittle Suite and Fantasy and Festivity and Weinzweig's 15 Pieces for Harp are other additions to the repertoire for solo harp.

Some instrumental duos have that sense of sharing brief musical thoughts between equals that is so common in four-handed piano music - examples are Simeonov's Studies for two clarinets and Beckwith's Five Pieces for two flutes. In other cases the musical intentions are expanded further, as in Hawkins' sonorously varied Eight Movements for flute and clarinet, Bottenberg'sSonata for the same combination, Morel's Étude en forme de Toccate for two percussionists, or the Music for Violin and Viola of Otto Joachim. Tremblay's '... le sifflement des vents porteurs de l'amour..'. occupies a unique place by its sophisticated rapport between amplified flute and percussion, and by its poetic treatment of an exceptionally wide dynamic range.

The special case of the instrumental solo with tape shows a fair number of Canadian examples, all from the 1960s and 1970s. Among these may be mentioned Healey's Lieber Robert for piano and tape, partly based on quotations from the keyboard music of Schumann; Saint-Marcoux's delicate Miroirs for harpsichord and tape; and the three one-movement Sonatas of Dolin (the first for violin, the second for flute, the third for cello). The solo part for each contains four pages of score in a free style - free, that is, of dynamics, articulation marks, or tempo indications: these aspects are to be determined by the performer, the given parts providing characteristic gestures and idioms of each instrument as a framework. The free-form concept extends further, in that the three tapes are interchangeable, so that 'three different performances of each sonata can be realized'.

Peter Hatch'sLagtime (1985) for marimba aligns with the rhythm-phase studies of Reich and others in the USA, while his When do they is not the same as why do they (1990), recalls 1970s theatricalism: while performing a percussion assortment, the soloist now and then recites pasages from Gertrude Stein. Among other percussions solos of the 1980s were works by Marc Gagné, Kasemets, Petros Shoujounian, and others. Duos for percussion with another instrument outnumbered other duo types in the decade by a significant margin, and included Tremblay's Le Signe du lion (1981) for horn and gongs, and Schudel'sIncantation (1986) for percussion with contrabass, and Dialogues (1987) with trombone. Louie'sCadenzas (1985, revised 1987), for percussion (mallet instruments, cymbals) and clarinet, is both brilliant and dramatically effective, for example in its juxtaposing of the clarinet with marimba tremolos and in its unisons of rapid off-centre rhythms.

Innovative, exotic, and historical instruments attracted a number of composers. Two - Lanza and Kasemets - provided works for the pairing of columbine and amaranth, instruments designed and built by Gayle Young, Lanza in Ektenes I (or 'Litany') of 1987, and Kasements in Portrait: the First Moon of 1988. Kucharzyk'sSecond Generation (1987), is a duo for gamelan and sampler. Komorous' The Necklace of Clear Understanding (1986), for baroque flute, and Cherney's River of Fire (1983), for oboe d'amore and harp, are indicative of new music for instruments once regarded as obsolete - an interesting fusion of creative developments with those in the early-music performance field.

In the 1980s the duo of a solo instrument with an electroacoustic companion (whether prepared tape or tapes, live electronics, or computerized synthesizer) became - in new-music concerts at least - more of a mainstream medium than a specialty. The new repertoire embraces works in this category by Allik with clarinet and with saxophone, by Arcuri with percussion, by Brady with harpsichord, by Kucharzyk with trombone (and with gamelan, noted above), by Kulesha with cello and with marimba, by Louie with clarinet and with accordion, by Diana McIntosh with piano and with viola, by Pennycook with saxophone, by Piché with oboe, and by Southam with piano, as well as several others. Southam's Re-Tuning (1985), for viola and tape (sequel to her earlier viola piece, Tuning), is a kind of minimalist mosaic. The live part consists of 69 diatonic segments closely related to the open strings; only 25 of these components are different, the others being repeats. Resourceful cycles of works in this period were Larry Lake'sSticherarian (accordion and tape, 1984), Psalm (oboe and tape, 1985), Three Bagatelles (gamelan and computerized synthesizer, 1986) and Helices (bassoon and computerized synthesizer, 1988) and Truax'sEast Wind (recorder and tape, 1981), Night Watch (marimba and tape, 1982) and Etude (cello and tape, 1983-4).

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