1979, 1981, 1982, Music

Vox Humana? / Finale / Fürst Igor Strawinsky (1991) by Mauricio Kagel, performed by Ensemble 2e2m, Lyon National Opera Chorus conducted by Paul Méfano

This record collects three of Kagel’s longish “choral” pieces. Kagel was a weirdo is the best ways.

Listening to Kagel’s work, rather than watching it, is a bit of a problem, because Kagel’s work is often “theatrical” not just in the sense of being influenced by the theatre, but of having the musicians act out parts. Listening to the music online you miss that aspect. (Something big definitely happens 10 minutes in, when there is a giant scream.) That being said…

This piece sure reminds me of Berio at his most theatrical (in a good way). It is about a decade older than some of Berio’s craziest stuff, and so I must recognize that it’s not quite as daring, just because Berio was doing crazy shit like this in the ’60s. But it’s still my kind of bonkers “new music,” wherein the rules are thrown out the window.

Finale is so named because the conduct has a heart attack in the middle of the piece. Yes, I said he was a weirdo. It’s among his most famous works and it’s easy to see why. It starts out as relatively conventional “avant garde” music. It takes a turn into much more traditional territory as the orchestra presumably mourns the conductor’s death – that’s a guess, because I don’t know when he dies – but it resumes it’s more out there nature soon after. And it gets progressively weirder as it goes on – there’s likely stuff happening on stage, like when the bike horn comes in… There’s a quote of a famous piece of music right at the end which I can’t quite place right now. It comes out of nowhere, of course. This is a deservedly famous piece that I suspect is even more enjoyable live.

I do not know Stravinsky as well as I should. So I have a hard time judging this requiem for him as a tribute to him, as opposed to just a requiem. It certainly has the weirdest opening of any requiem I’ve ever heard, starting with knocks on what sounds like wood. It gets much more requiem-like about a minute 40 into the piece, when there is a mournful vocal on top of the knocks and some reeds, which almost always sound mournful. My guess that there are some quotes of his music, but I honestly have no idea. It’s probably the most radical requiem I’ve ever heard but it’s still successful, I think. It’s not goofy like some of his other pieces, much more sombre.

On the whole this record shows off the things that make Kagel really interesting, even if we can’t see what’s happening. As a record of something that should be seen live, it does a pretty good job.


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