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20/21 - Cardew: The Great Learning; Bedford: Two Poems


Release Date: 11/12/2002 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 471572   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Cornelius CardewDavid Bedford
Conductor:  Cornelius CardewHelmut Franz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Scratch OrchestraNorth German Radio Chorus Hamburg
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 56 Mins. 

Special Order:  This CD requires additional production time and ships within 2-3 business days.  

This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

These recordings were originally made in 1968 (Bedford) and 1971 (Cardew). The recordings of The Great Learning, Paragraphs 2 and 7, were released on disc by the label of the Cortical Foundation, “organ of Corti,” along with a 1982 performance of Paragraph 1, in 2000. I surmise this was an endeavor of Horace Cardew.

In 1966 Morton Feldman said of Cornelius Cardew, “Any direction modern music will take in England will come about only through Cornelius Cardew. . . .” Cardew (1936–81) began his musical life as a boy chorister and studied at the Royal Academy of Music before becoming Stockhausen’s assistant; he was a co-realizer of Stockhausen’s Carré. In the 1960s he became interested in Cage’s and Christian Wolff’s
Read more ideas—indeterminate processes, prose notation, decision-making for performers, and non-expert participants—ideas that Cardew drew upon over the course of the decade in his Treatise and smaller works. By 1969, Cardew had co-founded the Scratch Orchestra, a group of professional and untrained people brought together to perform actions (not necessarily music in the traditional or even experimental sense).

The Great Learning (1968–1971), Cardew’s defining piece to that point, necessitated the formation of the Scratch Orchestra because of the great many personnel it would require. Its combination of prose instruction, graphic, and traditional notation could quickly be grasped and performed by non-musicians (for musicians it’s probably harder). The Great Learning is a setting of the first chapter of the eponymous classic by Confucius. There are seven paragraphs, each with its own approach. Paragraph 2 is for any number of drummers and singers; there are 26 short rhythmic patterns played concurrently with the singing of the text, each note of which is held for the length of a breath. The long phrases are pentatonic, simple. There are several different groups performing, each with a lead drummer, each of whom is conceivably playing a different rhythm and tempo than all of the other lead drummers. The layers of sound and the duration will be different for every performance despite the simplicity of the original materials. Paragraph 2 is about 22 minutes in this performance. Paragraph 7 has a much more audible directed process, in which each member of the group of performers begins to ad lib on his or her own pitch but chooses the following pitch to be the same as that of a neighbor as he or she moves about the performance space. Hence, the harmony is continually simplifying as it approaches a unison. This particular performance is not captured completely on this recording. Whereas Paragraph 2 is exuberant, powerful, unleashed, Paragraph 7 is sustained, calming. Both have a sense of ritual.

Unfortunately, both are also dull to listen to, particularly the unrelenting Paragraph 2. I imagine that performing the piece, or being in the midst of it as it’s being performed, might be a very engaging, lively, cathartic, even moving experience. On disc, it’s more nostalgic than musical.

David Bedford (b. 1937) was also at the Royal Academy in the 1950s and then worked with Nono in Venice. He also wrote music for non-specialists and has also been a teacher. These two pieces on poems by Kenneth Patchen are in a style clearly influenced by Nono (Da un diario italiano, for example), although one can hear Ligeti and Stockhausen here too; it was in the air. The pieces are serial, with sustained harmonies and widely spaced textures. Bedford uses the texts as a starting point, not setting them word-for-word, but instead having the singers articulate specific momentary images. This is very attractive music by a composer I’m not at all familiar with. I don’t know enough about Bedford to understand why he’s been paired up with Cardew, since Two Poems for Chorus on Words of Kenneth Patchen is solidly in the post-war modernist tradition that Cardew escaped. There are a couple of complete NMC discs of Bedford’s music available, but the only other piece I’ve heard was the not very interesting Backings performed by Simon Haram, a very different music from that on this disc.

Bedford’s pieces work fine on disc. The performances of the Patchen choruses, while not pristine, are good; the sound is not at all dated. Sound on the Cardew is compressed and lacking a sense of space. I find Cardew fascinating, and The Great Learning is one of his most important documents, however incomplete it comes off in recording. Hearing it in some way, if only partially and two-dimensionally, is better than not hearing it at all, but the recording could be better, or rather the experience could be more accurately reflected in recording, I think. Probably someone is out there right now sinking some significant resources into a project to rectify the matter. Primarily because of The Great Learning’s unsuitability for this medium, the value of this release is more historical than anything else. For a more listenable take on Cardew (although a very different kind of music), try Frederic Rzewski’s recording of the piano pieces We Sing for the Future and Thälmann Variations.

-- Robert Kirzinger, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
The Great Learning: Paragraph 2 (January, 1969) by Cornelius Cardew
Conductor:  Cornelius Cardew
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Scratch Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969; England 
Date of Recording: 02/1971 
Venue:  Chapell Studios, London, England 
Length: 21 Minutes 45 Secs. 
2.
The Great Learning: Paragraph 7 (April, 1969) by Cornelius Cardew
Conductor:  Cornelius Cardew
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Scratch Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969; England 
Date of Recording: 02/1971 
Venue:  Chapell Studios, London, England 
Length: 20 Minutes 30 Secs. 
3.
Poems (2) for Chorus: O now the drenched Land wakes by David Bedford
Conductor:  Helmut Franz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  North German Radio Chorus Hamburg
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963; England 
Date of Recording: 05/1968 
Venue:  Studio Rahlstedt, Germany 
Length: 4 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Language: English 
4.
Poems (2) for Chorus: The Great Birds by David Bedford
Conductor:  Helmut Franz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  North German Radio Chorus Hamburg
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963; England 
Date of Recording: 05/1968 
Venue:  Studio Rahlstedt, Germany 
Length: 8 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Language: English 

Sound Samples

The Great Learning: Paragraph 2
The Great Learning: Paragraph 7
Two poems for chorus on words of Kenneth Patchen: O how the drenched land wakes
Two poems for chorus on words of Kenneth Patchen: The great birds

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