Luigi Nono, “Guai ai Gelidi Mostri”
(listen to Part IV, which is track 4 on the Naxos site)
Richard Wagner, Act 3 from “Götterdämmerung”
(disc 4, all tracks)
J. S. Bach, Ricercar à 6 from “The Musical Offering”
J. S. Bach: Ricercar à 6 from “The Musical Offering”
Anton Webern / J. S. Bach: Ricercar à 6 from “The Musical Offering”
You have one story to read and five listening selections. The third, fourth and fifth listening selections are different versions of the same piece, but be sure to listen to all of them, as you will be comparing them.
In the story, “Götterdämmerung in Vienna,” the third act of Richard Wagner’s apocalyptic opera “Twilight of the Gods” is subjected to a series of transformations; starting from a planned performance in an opera house, we wind up at the end with rotting canisters of film, preserving in distorted form the recording of a desperate and weirdly fragmented performance. Trace these transformations and describe briefly, but as clearly as you can, the steps through which this performance and these recordings have gone. You might want to imagine the end result as presented near the end of the story, and then work back to how the music was presumably intended to sound. Describe these transformations with direct reference to the imagined sound production and performance, not just to the plot and the actions that the story describes. Of course this will require some effort of imagination.
In the Listening selections, listen to the final act of “Götterdämmerung” to hear how that music sounds in the “original.” In fact, this is a live recording from 1955, just 10 years after the setting of Kluge’s story! Thus the recording has some historical link to the premise of the story. Listen in particular for the extraneous sounds captured on this live recording, including the stomping of the feet of the singers on stage, and the audience noise. Compare this to the external sounds Kluge describes in his fictional account. (off the record: this is a very long selection, and it may be quite abrasive as a listening experience; listen to as much as you can, getting a feel for what this music does and how it feels and sounds.)
Then, listen to the last part of the Luigi Nono piece to get a sense of how this composer’s music sounds and functions. Nono is mentioned in the story as the composer to whom the fragmented Wagner recording is posthumously attributed. The vocal parts in Nono’s composition use a collage of texts borrowed from multiple sources, but then sung in such a way that the lyrics are intentionally unintelligible. Then listen to the three versions of the Bach Ricercar and try to identify the differences between them. The first and second versions aspire to the status of “authenticity,” while the third, an orchestration from 1935 (10 years before the setting of Kluge’s story!) clearly undertakes a process of fragmentation and re-arrangement. Comment on how this re-arranging and fragmenting is achieved by Webern, as best you can.
So this assignment is about fragmentation and transformation, and how this notion can be traced across the selections I’ve assigned. In the story, fragmentation is the result of destruction, breaking apart and decomposing, so to speak. In the Nono, it seems to be a process of saturation, and a kind of blurring and “bleeding over” so that contours are no longer legible. And Webern does it differently too, clarifying through differentiation.
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