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H. E. Erwin Walther: Chamber Music / Hausmann, Bruns, Gutschmidt

Walther / Hausmann / Bruns / Gutschmidt
Release Date: 02/26/2013 
Label:  Neos   Catalog #: 11209  
Composer:  H. E. Erwin Walther
Performer:  Ib HausmannFrank GutschmidtPeter Bruns
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WALTHER Nine Pieces for Clarinet and Piano. Rotationen (Entwurf): Version A. Katenarien. Schwebende Klänge. Katenaria (Audiogramme). Rotationen (Entwurf): Version B Ib Hausmann (cl); Peter Bruns (vc); Frank Gutschmidt (pn) NEOS 11209 (74:40)

H. E. Erwin Walther (1920-1995) led a double life. Born in Amberg, Germany, he returned there after the war Read more and, by his own choice, flourished as a local, if not national, celebrity, churning out a continuous supply of Gebrauchsmusik— oratorios, cantatas, and choir settings for the church; music for theater, films, and television; an assortment of concertos, chamber works, and solo piano pieces. But at the same time, he was following a completely different aesthetic impulse, creating graphic scores—visual art or other types of non-notational information to be interpreted with musical responses—on the extreme edge of the avant-garde. He apparently designed over 300 such “audiogrammes,” as he called them, and although only a very small sample can be seen on the website devoted to him (erwin-walther.de), it’s obvious they offer a variety of challenges to the adventurous performer. Which is not to suggest that Walther was in any way an innovator; though he is said to have formed an interest in the relationship between visual art and music as early as 1938 while still a student, his catalog of works indicates that it wasn’t until the mid ’60s that he began to produce these pieces with a deliberate, conceptual regularity. By this time, of course, thanks to Earle Brown and the others in the so-called New York School, along with a host of experimentally minded Europeans such as Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, graphic scores had already been introduced and adopted as a possible, if still radical, option for those seeking to explore and expand the nature of composition. Today, graphic scores are commonplace. What makes this present release of special interest, then, is the breadth and style of his contributions to the genre of unconventional notation, and the fact that his work existed in obscurity until now.

Although obvious, it’s still worth pointing out that the less specific musical instruction a composer gives to the performer(s), the more the performer must supply, from simple tempo determination or phrasing adjustments all the way to choosing the notes themselves and accounting for their rhythmic and harmonic identity. But it also needs to be said that there is a distinction to be made between realization of a graphic score and improvisation on the part of the performer. Improvisation, when involving more than one performer, typically requires a sense of spontaneous invention based upon a reaction to what the other participants are playing, with their interaction creating the compositional context. Realization of graphic material, no matter how “unmusical” it may be, focuses the performer’s responsibility on achieving a musical representation of the material at hand, either through inspiration or predetermined strategies that relate sounds or techniques to details in the “score.” In Walther’s case, his “audiogramme” drawings, sketches, and constructions were intended to give the performer(s) the broadest sense of interpretive (but not total) freedom, even as some of the works contain visual references to staves, notes, or implicit musical relationships. This means, of course, that the performers will bring their individual ideas about technique, rhythm, harmony, form, and mood in response to Walther’s visual stimulation. He was quoted as saying “None of my graphic instructions specify a particular form of realization. My personal sonic ideas recede when the works are performed by others.”

Fortunately, the instrumentalists who have taken on this challenge are experienced New Music practitioners, and use their experiences to place Walther’s “audiogrammes” in a musical context that is at once familiar and unpredictable. Katenaria (1972), performed by pianist Gutschmidt, is given a 16-minute reading that at various times may suggest Xenakis or Ligeti, beginning with a flood of nervous linear energy, interrupted by spurts and flashes of clusters, slicing the line into angular segments, rumbling in the instrument’s lower register, and eventually pummeling out fistfuls of notes. Cellist Bruns interprets Katenarien (1972) as an acrobatic display of percussive attacks, pizzicato, string timbres, and textural contrasts. For Schwebende Klänge (1968), cellist and pianist agree on close-knit pitches within a loose harmonic framework, starting out reserved and gradually growing more animated before receding. The two separate versions of Rotationen (Entwurf) add clarinetist Hausmann, and the three instruments search for common ground amid shifting colors, contrasting clarinet flurries, cello glisses, and inside-the-piano slivers.

If that were the extent of this disc, we’d have a fine, imaginatively performed, thought-provoking example of graphic scores from a previously unknown source. But Hausmann and Gutschmidt have included one of Walther’s conventionally notated chamber works as well, the substantial and charming Nine Pieces for Clarinet and Piano (1963), which reveals the composer’s versatility and skill from a more traditional perspective. Again, there’s nothing innovative here; each of the pieces has multiple episodes, the harmonic language is resolutely tonal. The first piece begins and ends in a dark, claustrophobic mood, with a Bavarian dance, reminiscent of Bartók’s use of Hungarian and Rumanian folk tunes in between. Number 5 is jazzy, but from a Gershwinesque, rather than broadly improvisational, point of view. Number 7 has a Middle Eastern melodic flavor and ends in a dervish dance. And Number 9 is a cakewalk, à la Golliwog. All told, it’s an attractive work, well worth the attention of clarinet recitalists in search of unusual fare, here played with panache by Hausmann and Gutschmidt. And it adds to the curiosity factor of this release. I’d like to see many more of Walther’s “audiogrammes,” and hear what other interpreters might do with them, but a few more of his conventional scores wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

FANFARE: Art Lange
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Works on This Recording

Stücke (9) for Clarinet and Piano by H. E. Erwin Walther
Performer:  Ib Hausmann (Clarinet), Frank Gutschmidt (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1963 
Rotationen (Entw.) by H. E. Erwin Walther
Performer:  Ib Hausmann (Clarinet), Frank Gutschmidt (Piano), Peter Bruns (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969 
Notes: Version A. 
Katenarien by H. E. Erwin Walther
Performer:  Peter Bruns (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1972 
Schwebende Klänge by H. E. Erwin Walther
Performer:  Peter Bruns (Cello), Frank Gutschmidt (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1968 
Katenaria (Audiogramm) by H. E. Erwin Walther
Performer:  Frank Gutschmidt (Piano)
Rotationen (Entw.) by H. E. Erwin Walther
Performer:  Ib Hausmann (Clarinet), Frank Gutschmidt (Piano), Peter Bruns (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1969 
Notes: Version B. 

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