Classy, not classical

Another event for you early returners…

Name: Brant and Bruce [and Debussy]Date: Saturday, January 13th
Time: 11am – 12pm
Venue: Memorial Chapel


Henry Brant — Partita for Flute and Piano
Neely Bruce — Grand Duo for Flute and Piano
Henry Brant — “Sonate de chansons” based on Debussy’s “Five Poems of Charles Baudelaire”

Neely’s program notes:

Henry Brant’s Partita for Flute and Piano was written in the 1932 and extensively revised in 1954. Brant is justly famous for his innovations as a composer of spatial music. The Partita is not spatial, however, but is a piece of neoclassical chamber music, characterized by a strong rhythmic profile, beautiful melodic writing, and a unique harmonic style. I asked Henry about the harmonies in this piece, which I find quite striking. He said he had devised a specific harmonic palate for this piece and never used it again.

My “Grand Duo for Flute and Piano” was first performed at Wesleyan in 1978, then extensively revised for a concert in 1980. It was written for Peter to play and is dedicated to him. We came to Wesleyan in the same year (1974) and have been making music together for almost the entire time. He is a magnificent virtuoso performer, and I can report that he says my piece is, in some respects, the most difficult composition he has ever played. (Since he has played the Boulez Sonatine and lots of other really hard flute music, this is saying a lot.) If you’re going to write hard music it’s good to have a performer who can handle it! Structurally it is an ever-expanding one-movement sonata, the intersection of a form (sonata allegro form) and a process (expansion). The listener can follow the procedure without any problem, and there are some real surprises along the way. It is also quite exciting, if I do say so myself!

Henry’s “Sonate de chansons” [“Sonata of songs”] based on Debussy’s “Five Poems of Charles Baudelaire” is an elaborate arrangement of some of the French master’s most beautiful yet enigmatic music. When Claude Debussy wrote these songs he was completely under the spell of Wagner. The young, impressionable Frenchman had heard the German master’s operas at Bayreuth and was dizzy from the complex harmonies and the long, seemingly endless melodic wandering. Imagine Wagnerian harmonies and the beginning of Debussy’s mature, totally French, musical syntax’ topped off with an extravagant yet totally syllabic vocal line. The songs are difficult to sing and somewhat sprawling, and have never really caught on with singers. They have proved endlessly fascinating to composers and musicologists, however. Dissertations have been written on them, they have been orchestrated (by John Adams, no less), and in the case of this work of Brant, “recomposed.” While the piano part is almost what Debussy wrote, the flute part has been elaborately varied in an almost improvisatory manner. Sunday’s performance will be the WORLD PREMIERE of this unique work — a remarkable addition to the late-nineteenth century literature for the flute, conceived and written in the late twentieth century and first heard in the twenty-first. Ironically, it is the “newest” piece on the program, written in the mid-1980s, long after the Partita and a few years after the final revisions of the Grand Duo.

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