Since its beginning in 1985, Cygnus has created a large body of chamber music by both established and emerging composers, including commissioned work by Charles Wuorinen, Scott Johnson, Jonathan Dawe, Anthony Braxton, Milton Babbitt, Sebastian Currier, George Walker, Harold Meltzer, Chester Biscardi, David Claman, Richard Festinger, Laura Schwendinger, Matthew Greenbaum, David Lang, and Akemi NaitoAbout
"World Class Performers"
From Wolpe, Greenbaum inherited the idea of the limited pitch field, Wolpe’s term for a process of attrition where subsets of the chromatic collection gradually add and lose pitches (thus the nine-note group in Nameless.) Wolpe’s technique of “cubist polyphony” (Greenbaum’s term) also left an indelible mark. It describes a process where motivic units are fractured into their component parts and projected into musical space, so that the same event becomes perceivable from different soundpoints. Greenbaum’s work is thus linked to the Austro-German musical tradition through Wolpe, who himself was a student of Anton Webern. Greenbaum also has a strong affinity with Wolpe’s utopian socialism.
Davidovsky’s influence can be felt in the acknowledgement of timbre as a constructive element, in the treatment of instrumental complexes as ‘mega’-instruments, and in the super-liminal speed of certain passages—as in Venerable Canons. It was Davidovsky who introduced Greenbaum to Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed. Davidovsky’s Biblical work for voices and instruments, “Scenes from Shir hashirim” (The Song of Songs) was deeply influential in the conception of Nameless.
Greenbaum's epic "Nameless" bears an inscription from the single greatest work of Jewish Philosophy, The Guide for the Perplexed of Moses Maimonides (1120-1190). Greenbaum's work is one of the most ambitious works of Jewish sacred music ever undertaken.
Whatever is Deity can’t be described; what can be described is not Deity.
Hence, the title, Nameless. Nameless is a long, wordless psalm. It is not descriptive; rather, it is a series of impressions—reflection, ecstasy, reverence, idyll and dance--expressed through fugue, chorus, dialogue, and aria. These are signposts for the listener that point outward to musical expressions of the ineffable in every culture and time.
There is nothing sentimental about Nameless. Greenbaum was one of the youngest proteges of Stefan Wolpe. American modernism of this Wolpe lineage is hard, primary, unsentimental (in Schiller's sense), consistent with the work of Babbitt, Wuorinen and Davidovsky.
The composer notes that Maimonides worked out his negative definition of God together with Muslim theologians. Averroes was roughly a contemporary of Maimonides, and they were both based in Cordoba, Spain. Nameless is therefore thickly enmeshed in the entire Abrahamic tradition. Finally, the composer tells us in his introduction that features of this work are “signposts for the listener that point outward to musical expressions of the ineffable in every culture and time.” As a highly abstract work that bounces off of highly abstract theology we get a model for the way cultures believe themselves to relate to one another--translation through abstraction. If you’re inclined, you might find that the work dissolves its premise in a way that mirrors religions as they gradually dissolve into abstraction, or revolve into their opposites. Imbricated here is the history of consciousness, and its major landmarks--the advent of monotheism, the disappearance or sublimation of god.
This CD was recorded over a period of many years, as new masterpieces for guitar duo joined the Anderson/Fader repertoire. There is a great range of musical attitudes.
Le Cirque - Sydney Corbet
Warmth - David Lang
Entertwined - Robert Pollock
Bowery Haunt - Scott Johnson
Fantasy on 12 Strings - Martin Rokeach
Resisting Stillness - Chester Biscardi
Dodecadactyl - Charles Wuorinen
My Morphine - William Anderson/Gillian Welch
Cygnus commissioned Meltzer's Brion through a generous grant from teh Barlow Foundation. It was a Pulitzer Finalist in 2011. It was also a featured work at a Cygnus residency at the Library of Congress in 2012.
Frank Brickle is quiet guru in the nascent field of post-maximalism. He was received all of his degrees from Princetonian, studying with JK Randall, Ben Boretz and Milton Babbitt. Starting from that high modernist background, he slowly plowed his way to the post-maximalist stance we see here.
Farai un vers, Merlin I, Ab nou cor, and The Creation are the masterpieces here.
In addition to his striking original compositions, this disc includes two transcriptions for Cygnus, each is advances one of the themes that weave through Cygnus programming over the years: Decadence and the Pre-Raphaelitism.