Christopher Fox is a composer who specializes in rather unusual types of music. He professes to love many musical forms, some of which indulge in radical tunings called scordatura. The use of an alternative tuning allows the playing of otherwise impossible combinations of notes and it can be used to create unusual timbres.
That is why, on this disc, the members of the Scordatura Trio tune according to Fox’s instructions. He says he writes music that can change its harmonic weight midstream because he wants to allow the gravitational pull of a tonal center to wax and wane. He feels that harmonic shifts in today’s music can have the same sort of emotional impact that a key change has in 18th- and 19th-century music. He has been known to disparage equal temperament because he feels that it changes the innate mathematical proportions of the harmonic series in order to allow composers to indulge in key changes.
In the first piece on this disc, Fur Johannes Kepler, Fox makes use of the great 17th-century astronomer’s discoveries of the various intervals produced by the ratios between the orbits of the planets. He makes them the basis for his setting of a Latin song of praise to the creator of the celestial harmonies. Surprisingly, vocalist Alfrun Schmid and violist Elisabeth Smalt intone in equal temperament here. Schmid sings the text as single syllables, so it is never declaimed in a fully understandable manner.
According to Fox, Blank is “based around a single melodic line, moving at different speeds, in three separate layers, progressively unfolding to the point where its unitary identity begins to disintegrate.” It does eventually come apart, and it’s fun when it does.
I find Trummermusik, which is based on Max Frisch’s Berlin Diaries, quite fascinating because I often heard similar tales from the war refugees with whom I grew up. The diaries are a record of the Swiss writer’s trip to the city in 1947 when he recorded the sufferings of the German people. He notes that those who caused the city’s destruction are far more comfortable, safer, and better-fed in prison. He quotes Schubert’s Winterreise in the second song when he talks about the devastation, and he uses it very effectively. The whole piece evokes tumultuous emotions because of its description of man’s inhumanity to man. Schmit has a number of high notes here and she does her best, but some of them are noticeably difficult for her.
In Generic Composition No. 8, Scott McLaughlin tunes four strings on his electric guitar to par-tials derived from a single fundamental. The result is what Fox calls “the changing interaction between sustained stopped notes and open strings in just intonation.” The composer goes on to say that what interests him “is the extent to which the instruments seem to write their own music when composers let them.” In Natural Science, Fox has eschewed singing and has keyboard player Bob Gilmore speak the text. It does make the words more easily understandable, but the resonant tones of a professional baritone would have been appreciated. Elisabeth Smalt’s bronzed viola tones are a true delight, however.
For the finale, Fox set the name of composer Aldo Clementi in a canon to celebrate his 85th birthday. It’s fun and puts a fitting ending to this interesting disc.
The instrumental playing is excellent throughout and the resulting sound is clear. Since much of this music is mathematics-based, I think that those who deal with numbers on a daily basis will find it fascinating.
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