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Wolfgang Rihm: Excerpt from Jagden und Formen (1996-2001)

From the album Jagden und Formen (Ensemble Modern, conducted by Dominique My)

The phrase of a French critic writing about Italian opera around 1700 has long stuck with me. Describing its daring (and to French ears, undisciplined) style, he states that the music “owes its greatest beauties to those irregularities which seemed to threaten it with destruction.” This lovely expression often comes back to mind when I hear the music of the German composer Wolfgang Rihm.

Emerging in the mid-1970s, Rihm’s music could be seen as a highly idiosyncratic reaction the dominant midcentury modernism of Stockhausen, Boulez, and company. Though hardly listener-friendly in his own work, Rihm emphatically rejected the restrictions and dogmas that characterized much of the serial and post-serial composition of the postwar decades. (“You can’t make art with taboos,” he quipped.) His search for a more intuitive, direct, and viscerally expressive form of music corresponded to Theodor Adorno’s call for “informal music,” an approach to composition in which the rigors modernism have been absorbed and internalized, allowing the music to attain an organic wholeness without abandoning structural rigor.

Much of Rihm’s music can be heard as a late-20th-century reckoning with the Austro-German romantic tradition, from Beethoven through Brahms and Mahler to the Second Viennese School. This musical heritage surfaces in Rihm’s work in various ways, sometimes quoted directly, more often alluded to or subtly invoked. His openness toward the resonance of musical tradition, however, should not be mistaken with the conciliatory stance of a “neo-romantic”: the historical fragments in Rihm’s music are often disturbingly out of place and unsettling in their effect.

Jadgen und Formen (Hunts and Forms), a 55-minute work for orchestra, bears many of the hallmarks of Rihm’s style, characterized above all by the masterful pacing of textural shifts and a frantic expressive immediacy that leaves the listener gasping for breath. As Seth Brodsky poetically elaborates:

Form in Rihm’s music, the score’s path from first to last measure, acquires the unclassifiable as the contours of a violent spill; shape is dictated by a kind of creative emergency. A Rihm work does not develop; it survives, as if just un-caged, and goes wherever it can in order to keep going.

Played 329 time(s).

August 26, 2012, 9:13pm

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