String Quartet, Op. 28 (1937/38)
“Doomed to a total failure in a deaf world of ignorance and indifference he [Webern] inexorably kept on cutting out his diamonds, his dazzling diamonds, the mines of which he had such a perfect knowledge.” – Igor Stravinsky
His String Quartet Op. 28 was commissioned by the American music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The Kolisch Quartet gave the premiere at a festival in South Mountain, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1938.
Webern estimated that his three-movement work would take 20 minutes to play. The actual time is about eight minutes.
Here are some comments about the music from David Wright, from his Program Notes for a performance by the Tokyo String Quartet in 2008:
“The family resemblance of the three movements is apparent; Webern has used the same 12-tone row for all of them. He describes the second movement (Gemächlich, easygoing) as “a miniature rondo or else a scherzo with trio.” The main theme, he says, is a four-voice canon that could run indefinitely but is limited to an 18-bar “sentence”—Baroque infinity, Classical discipline, “a combination of the two manners of presentation, as everywhere else in the quartet.” The trio section offers a contrast of rhythm and mood: “a slow waltz, versus a very deliberate polka.” While the closing movement (Sehr fliessend, very flowing) doesn’t lose sight of the tone row and counterpoint (sharp-eared listeners will detect the famous four-note motive B-A-C-H), this music emphasizes drama and passion over everything else.”
Siegfried-Idyll (Glenn Gould Piano Transcription) for Piano Solo
(recording: Eaton’s Auditorium, Toronto, Canada, Feb. 3rd and 4th, 1973)
Siegfried Idyll is one of Richard Wagner’s best known works. Yet the general public was never supposed to hear it. It was a very private work, meant to be a surprise for and written to celebrate the birthday of Wagner’s wife of four months, Cosima, on Christmas day 1870. In fact, the name Siegfried Idyll was coined much later. It was originally called Tribschen Idyll, named after Wagner’s country retreat near Geneva.
In this recording, Gould has turned the tables on Richard Wagner, the celebrated maximalist, creating what is one of the most self-contained, intimate, and sublime musical experiences on record.
In a letter in 1973 to the RCA recording executive Peter Munries, Gould confessed “I’m rather pleased with the results of the Wagner transcription disc. I must warn you, however, that the italics re my interpretation of the Siegfried-Idyll are very much on the ‘Idyll’ and not on ‘Siegfried’ . . . I’ve always felt that the piece has an indigenous languor [internal slowness] which the ‘ruhig bewegt’ in the score does not adequately delineate.”
Kontakte for Electronic Sounds, Piano and Percussion (1959-60)
Kontakte (Contacts), along with Edgar Varese’s Poem Electronique, is perhaps the most popular electronic work of the 20th century. It was composed in 1958-60 at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk (GDR) electronic music studio in Cologne.
Stockhausen made two versions of the work: a four-channel version for electronic sounds alone, and the version presented here for electronic sounds, piano and percussion.
Stockhausen explains: “The title refers both to contacts between instrumental and electronic sound groups and to contacts between self-sufficient, strongly characterized moments. In the case of four-channel loudspeaker reproduction, it also refers to contacts between various forms of spatial movement.”
Kontakte Performance Score, pg. 36