1914 in Music

My music reviews for music published in 1914.

1. Leos Janacek: Violin sonata (10/10)

Janacek’s sonata is a really stirring and incredible piece – the piano accompaniment in the first movement is more interesting than the violin. Listening to this, part of me wishes I could have heard his earlier attempts though I doubt they would be as interesting. Fantastic.

2. Charles Ives: Violin Sonata No. 3 (10/10)

The third sonata, though possibly written first, is considerably mellower than the first two, but that is a relative thing with Ives. Even when he tries to play it cool, he is still all over the place, which is great, and the music still leaps with energy.

3. Erik Satie: Sports et divertissements (9/10)

This is considered the crowning glory of Satie’s humourous period, though for us listeners it’s not as easy to see why: the pianist gets to read funny jokes while playing, but it’s not something that’s easy to be performed (so it isn’t).

But the music itself is classic Satie, combining his humour with his rejection fo much of the classical tradition. Most of his humourous music is more ambitious than his early music, in part because it’s parodying more ambitious music, but these pieces are much more in line with what we think of when we think of the man who invented ambient.

4. Leos Janacek: The Eternal Gospel (8/10)

The Eternal Gospel is a triumphant but modern; it hearkens back to tradition (what I know of it) but at least hints at modern sounds. It’s a good piece, though it’s not the equal of the mass it’s paired with.

5. Alexander Scriabin: “Vers la flamme” Op. 72 (8/10)

“Vers la flamme” is a strident piece that builds and builds. It’s not particularly out there, but it is compelling nonetheless, with it’s mounting tension and climax. It’s cool. Apparently it was supposed to be his 11th sonata, but it is really short.

6. Erik Satie: Les trois valses distinguées du précieux dégoûté (8/10)

Not waltzes, as far as I can tell, which is the whole point, isn’t it? Brief, sometimes violent, sometimes serene pieces that are anything but waltzes.

7. Claude Debussy: Berceuse héroïque (8/10)

This is one of Debussy’s really deliberate pieces where the player sometimes sounds as if he is falling asleep. But, as usual, the tempo speeds up, and things build and build…until they don’t. He subverts the conventions with his usual wit and playfuness.

8. Erik Satie: Heures séculaires et instantanées (7/10)

I can’t tell you why I know the first of these, but I do. It’s possible I am recognizing the parody without realizing it is one. That happens, since he incorporated so much of other people’s music into his stuff around this time.

These are briefer than the other parodies.

9. Igor Stravinsky: The Nightingale (7/10)

Lyrically I was a little lost. I don’t know the story but I found it to be a bit removed from the arc I was expecting it to follow, and I don’t know whether that’s due to the original story or the libretto. Anyway, it’s a story about hubris, but there wasn’t much drama to it. Literally everything great about the story came from the production.

The music is substantially more conservative for Stravinsky during this period than I ever would have guessed. I actually thought it was written decades later, due to how melodic it is, and how it lacks so much of his signature percussive force. As music, it had some really pretty parts but was maybe a little too conservative for my liking.

10. Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending (7/10)

This is one of those gorgeous pastoral “tone poems” that gets lots of attention but fails to truly arouse me. (Also, I don’t know if it’s technically a “tone poem” but that’s the closest thing I can come up with.)

It’s just very, very pretty but, in the context of the time, it sounds like escapism to my ears. And we all know how I feel about escapism.

This is apparently actually quite a musically sophisticated piece, but I don’t have the ear for that. All I hear is prettiness.

Oh and it’s the 1921 orchestrated version I’ve heard. Maybe I’d like the duo version better.

11. Erik Satie: Carnet d’Esquisses et de Croquis (6/10)

When every note is published you eventually get stuff like this, a bunch of sketches that I guess are related, where it’s more of interest in terms of the composer’s process than as any kind of great musical  statement. These were last written in 1914, which is why I’m including them in that year.

Most of these are so brief they’re barely there, but that is what Satie was like a lot of the time, so it’s no surprise that when he wrote down an idea, that idea sometimes was 15 seconds of music. This approach is completely contrary to basically every other professional composer before him. (Or, if it wasn’t, nobody was aware of it.)

Certainly only for fans, but interesting nonetheless.

11. Igor Stravinsky: Pribaoutki (6/10)

These four pieces are exceptionally brief; it’s hard to get excited about them.

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