Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Landmarks (52)

Lloyd Rodgers: Trio (1975).   A piano trio in one movement (audio recording available here) from a remarkable left coast composer who has stayed put on the left coast, neither seeking nor receiving much attention east of the Sierras. On the surface, this is a piece of tonal music with familiar features, 17-some minutes long, taking a grand neapolitan harmonic arch from A minor to a chaccone in Bb natural minor with a finale in a shimmering — yes, arpeggios and tremolos — A major bridged by the initial material, now in in Gb Major, and a Db Major Adagio.  But nothing here is really as it seems, or, more precisely, nothing here happens quite when it should be expected happen but reliably, in hindsight (hindhearing?) exactly when it ought to have happened, as this is music about finding strangeness and beauty in the smallest temporal details.  I've known this piece from a recording for years but only recently saw the score. It looked nothing like what I ever imagined. Through the use of spatial notation within metered measures — some of which looks like nothing other than a Schenker graph —, successions of measures of measured but unequal lengths, and, in the Adagio, non-metric recitative-like passages,  Rodgers has assembled a set of tools which, in effect, revisit the radical potential of rubato and do so in a compelling and pragmatic way.  (Special attention should be given to the solo piano introduction, in spatial-within-measures notation, which begins as if in the middle of things on a first inversion triad (sometime I should post a complaint about how composers have forgotten how powerful inversions can be!  Rodgers never forgot!) and then allows successive harmonies to smear into one another, typically with grace note figurations. The feeling is less of extemporaneity than of a memory slowly coming into focus.)  I have no idea how this ravishing music was actually made, how much method or how much improvisation, no madness, no sensibility, is in here, or what the proportion or balance between the two might be, but I'll claim it as a landmark of the west coast radical music, quite in company with the later works of Robert Erickson or of Rodgers's comrade Douglas Leedy, or his colleagues in the legendary Cartesian Reunion Memorial Orchestra, but also some of the Cold Blue composers.  (I'll take a wild guess that Roy Harris's 1936 Piano Quintet is also in the DNA of Rodgers's Trio; Rodgers knew Harris well.)  The minimal impulse, likely the best known aspect of the radical music, was to eliminate distractions (this was also the earliest definition of minimal visual art) in order to hear more of a sound or sounds in a music; here, Rodgers does exactly the same thing, using the non-distraction of a familiar tonal environment to force attention to musical time.

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