Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

[International] Contemporary Classics Revived [& Revivified] in New York
AUFBAU 65:8 April 16, 1999 p. 13
917 words Copyright by Leonard Lehrman

The eyeball sliced with the razor blade and the woman's breasts turning into buttocks and back again no longer shock or even repulse as much as they were designed to do, judging from the overwhelmingly positive response of the audience at the latest showing of the 1929 classic Salvador Dali/Luis Bunuel film, Un Chien Andalou, at the Anthology Film Archives' "Sonicinema: music at the anthology" series.

A 1960 print was shown, with a 1996 score by Martin Matalon (commissioned by the Centre Contemporanea of Barcelona) performed by the Da Capo Chamber Players plus trumpet and two percussionists. Since the music had been written to accompany another print of considerably different length, adjustments had to be made in tempi, but these were managed handily by conductor Martin Goldray. Bunuel's own soundtrack for the film had leaned heavily on Tristan und Isolde_and Argentine tangos. The new score omits Wagner in favor of a salty set of tango-inspired variations, brooding and at times violent, as appropriate.

The program also included three world premieres and a New York premiere. Excepting the beautiful glass harmonica-like sounds of the bowed vibraphone in Eleanor Sandresky's "It's Come Undone," none held the listener's interest as much as the opening work: "Fourteen Ways to Describe the Rain," Hanns Eisler's classic score (dedicated to his teacher Arnold Schoenberg) for Joris Ivens' classic film, both of 1941. The different colorations obtained from just flute, clarinet, string trio and piano, performed by the Da Capo without conductor, were truly exemplary and still riveting, especially in conjunction with the film.

Erich Itor Kahn at the Goethe Institute

Another Schoenberg devotee who came to New York to escape anti-Semitism in his native Germany, Erich Itor Kahn (1905-1956) received recognition at New York's Goethe Institut last month in a concert with pianist Thomas Baechli and the 13-member Ensemble ADHOC conducted by Klaus Linder. Best known as the pianist in the Albeneri Trio (ALexander Schneider, BENar Heifetz, and ERIch Itor Kahn), Kahn was also an important and original early serial composer.

Also on the program were two rather lengthy, slow-moving pieces by the Chilean-born composer/researcher Juan Allende-Blin, who has done a great service in exhuming and programming works by Kahn, particularly the scores for two radio plays of 1932 and 1933 which opened this concert: the 13-minute quintet for Oscar Wilde's "The Canterville Ghost" and the 3-minute nonet with tape for Zacharias Werner's "The 24th of February."

The 15-minute "Actus tragicus" for 10 instruments, Kahn's largest chamber work, is striking in its sudden use of unexpected triads two- thirds of the way through. Though described as a "fragment," the Two Bagatelles for piano proved the be the most satisfying work on the program.

[League of Composers/ISCM]

In September 1945, Kahn wrote from New York to his colleague Rene Leibowitz in France: "The 'Societies for Modern Music' are dragging themselves heavily towards somewhere. The 'International Society [for Contemporary Music]' is neither dead nor alive and is as reactionary as possible. The 'League of Composers' is firmly in the hands of certain cliques... that control the 'market' and deliver the 'patterns' that could please their public."--cited by Juan Allende-Blin in his 1989 article "How Can We Sing in a Foreign Land: Erich Itor Kahn - A Composer in Exile" translated by Frida Kahn, widow of the composer, who still lives in Manhattan, and who attended the Goethe Institut concert.

A Wide Spectrum of Styles

Today the League and the ISCM have joined forces, and regularly sponsor concerts that endeavor to present a wide spectrum of serious musical styles that could be called contemporary. Donald Berman's impressive piano recital at Merkin Hall was a case in point, ranging from 1996 works by Dana Brayton and Jeff Nichols all the way back to unpublished studies by Charles Ives from as early as 1909; a world premiere of "Visions" (1950--a series of sketches by Carl Ruggles strung together and edited by Berman's late teacher, John Kirkpatrick; and the solid Second Sonata (1948) by the underperformed 84-year-old Robert M. Palmer, who journeyed to New York from Ithaca for the first performance of a work of his here in a decade.

He won't have to wait that long for another: His "Transitions" will be performed [by me] May 16 at the Rockville Centre Library and August 20 at the Bryant Library in Roslyn. [In preparation for the former, dear readers, after this 77th article of mine to appear in Aufbau_ I am, like my colleague (and Harvard classmate) Frank Rich at The New York Times, taking a short "sabbatical." He is working on a book. I shall be working on completing the opera Sacco and Vanzetti, begun by Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964), who played what he had written of it back in 1961 for Robert Palmer, who has agreed to advise me on the completion.

But I'll be back--May 15 Boosey & Hawkes is publishing the new Marc Blitzstein Songbook which I edited (including an aria from Sacco). And at the end of May I'll be reviewing the revival of Elie Siegmeister's opera Angel Levine after Bernard Malamud's eponymous short story, the work which spawned the musical that was the subject of my very first Aufbau article four years ago. It has been a pleasure working for an institution devoted not just to "objective" criticism but also to subjective reports and memoirs of and for the socially-conscious.

Bis bald! --] Leonard J. Lehrman

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