Cygnus Ensemble

Cygnus presents Harold Meltzer's Brion

Hear the recording of Cygnus playing Meltzer's work that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize---Brion live at Merkin, April 23, 2008:

Harold Meltzer’s *Brion*, after a second hearing of his *Sinbad*–

(scroll down for resources that were up on the web for the Merkin Hall premiere of Meltzer's Brion, including a youtube tour of Carlo Scarpa's Brion, with excerpts from Meltzer's Brion)

April 10th, 2009
by William Anderson

Brion hooks into, then usurps, the soundworld of what in the early 2000’s we’d call “post minimalism”.  It usurps through overarching elements such as–-

--Metlzer’s unique use of parataxis
--nested rondo forms

(This is certainly a partial list...)

I think of Parataxis as an abrupt shift.  A technical literary definition talks about omitting connectives.   I first learned about parataxis from conversations with Robert Martin about his Diary of a Seducer.  Parataxis in music should also bring to mind Stravinsky.  Think of the abrupt transitions in Petroshka and other ballets.  In Brion there are such sharp shifts from one sound-object to another.

Another Meltzer piece sheds light on Brion.  Meltzer’s Sinbad is a treatment for narrator and piano trio of Donald Barthelme’s story,  also entitled, Sinbad.

Barthelme starkly and humorously juxtaposes bits of the Sinbad story with the story of an almost-has-been professor who is trying to muster his energies to teach a class on Romanticism.  Barthelme's Sinbad is all about parataxis.

The disjunction between Sinbad and the professor is Prufrok-like, a measure of the modern disconnect.  It is remarkable that Meltzer achieves in his Sinbad a sense of both the grand narrative, and the fragmentation.   The grand narrative is in the successful arch that’s created by the piece as a whole, I think.

Same with Brion.  There is a harmonic arc through the work that holds it all together in a lovely way.

Brion is a cemetery by the legendary modernist sculptor and architect Carlo Scarpa.  The opening pastoral music might be thought of as a perception of the beautiful nothern Italian countryside.  Following the opening pastoral are an intricate series of musical vignettes--finely etched “music things”.   At this point, the travelogue-aspect of the piece can prove to be a Trojan horse.  If one thinks through this scene a bit, one might begin thinking of these “music things” as mausoleums.  The natural landscape is parsed by Scarpa's architecture--nature/culture.   Meltzer's music, landscape-like if we wish, can also be parsed by our thinking through the scene---

The art-thing as a mausoleum is wonderfully apt. The object (love object, art object, whatever) pleasantly tantalizes, or brutally tyrannizes--unto death. (Think Werther, Tristan & Isolda) It’s Wagnerian eros & thanatos.  It's a great tradition; in fact, it's another grand narrative.  It's not necessary for an appreciation of the music, but it's there.   The classic response to the potential tyranny of the object is art, and more specifically, all the devices we’re talking about in Brion--abstraction, transformation, stark juxtaposition (parataxis).   I'm  finding that in each of Meltzer's works there is understanding of such things.  There is always something to learn.  

In Brion there are abrupt shifts, but also there are connections between the music-things, arcs through them;  transformation and abstraction of one in the next.   The best example is the section following the dirge, which is a bizarre transformation of the dirge. 

Finally--note the pastoral music of the opening.  It comes back twice, and the last time it’s heard, it’s twilight.

The Cygnus recording will soon be available on Naxos.



While watching the youtube tour, listen to Harold Meltzer's introduction to readings of Brion excerpts at Vassar College, February,2007:    (start both; the two will run simultaneously.)


Hear the recording of Cygnus playing Meltzer's Brion live at Merkin, April 23, 2008:

Composer bios: Harold Meltzer Yehudi Wyner Chester Biscardi Mario Davidovsky

Click Here for Wyner & Davidovsky interviews on youtube

Hear excerpts of Yehudi Wyner's Oboe Quartet


Program Details:
April 23, 8PM at Merkin Hall

Harold Meltzer's Brion & works by Wyner, Davidovsky, Biscardi

featuring soloists:
soprano Tony Arnold, Robert Ingliss, oboe;  Tara Helen O'Connor, flute
with Daniel Panner, guest violist, Jo-Ann Sternberg, clarinet, Joan Forsyth, guest pianist, James Baker, conductor


  • Oboe Quartet by Yehudi Wyner  (now under construction--Wyner Oboe Quartet web tour.)
  • Romancero by Mario Davidovsky, featuring soprano Tony Arnold   Romancero is a group of settings of traditional Spanish poems, offering a foretaste of  Davidovsky's work in progress for Cygnus--setting of Hebrew love poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, utilizing banjo, mandolin, guitar, winds and strings.                        "Moving with impeccable precision through the angular leaps and unpredictable melodic turns of Davidovsky's song cycle "Romancero,'' soprano Tony Arnold brought witty seductiveness to the opening song ... accompanied by a small ensemble, her austere "Sad was King David'' was moving, each carefully shaped note glowing like a teardrop in the slow, widely spaced melody."-----Wynne Delacoma, classical music critic, Chicago Sun-Times - 4/29/2002
  • Traverso by Chester Biscardi
    “Biscardi’s music is clear-line and remarkably accessible in its expressivity.” - Fanfare Magazine


    “All the works by Biscardi share a common ground in that they are expressive, sensitive and convincing.” - American Record Guide

You are here:

Contact Us

Cygnus Ensemble
112 Central Parkway
Mount Vernon NY 10552
(914) 665-2254