Lucia Dlugoszewski (1925-2000)
Disparate Stairway Radical Other
Dlugoszewski, Lucia. Disparate Stairway Radical Other (1995)
Dedicated to Mikhail Baryshnikov,
Erick Hawkins (in memoriam),
And Mary Norton Dorazio (in memoriam).
Commissioned by The White Oak Dance Project for the dance Journey of a Poet by Erick Hawkins.
Performed by The White Oak Ensemble
Exacerbated Subtlety Concert (Why Does A woman Love A Man?) (1997, rev.2000)
Lucia Dlgoszewski, timber piano
Tender Theater Flight Nageire (1971, rev. 1978)
Gerard Schwarz, Edward Carroll, Norman Smith, trumpets
Robert Routch, horn
David Langlitz, tenor trombone
David Taylor, bass trombone
Lucia Dlugoszewski, Percussion
Gerard Schwarz, conductor
Space Is A Diamond (1970)
Gerard Schwarz, trumpet
CRI CD 859
Lucia Dlugoszewski was born in Detroit in 1934 and died in New York in 2000. Beginning in the early 1950s, she was an influential figure in the Greenwich Village and East Village counter-establishment scenes of loft performances, happenings, and experimentation. Early LP recordings on Candide, Nonesuch and Folkways have long been out of pint, so this CRI issue is not only a posthumous tribute, but a retrospective, for it includes works from the CRI archives recorded in the 1970s as well two work conceived during her final years when she was in her mid 60s. One hopes that CRI and/or other labels will follow with further recordings, because these four works have a freshness and exhilarating charm that commands respect and commends further exploration.
It may be unfair to bill Dlugoszewski as a musical primitive or naÔf as reviewers during her life typically did. They present her as a child who with great abandon plays in a garden of sound invented from traditional instruments, altered instruments, invented instruments (during the 1950s, she designed over 100 percussion instruments for her performances), and found objects. Unfair or not, the music engages one on an instinctive level that recalls child-like exuberance and raptness.
As I hear and re-hear these works, I have tried to figure out what sustains them beyond the immediacy of their improvisation-like charm, for indeed, they bear up will with repeated listenings. I am sure that Dlugoszewski engages in formal and structural moves that hold her ideas together, but whatever these are they do not present themselves to the auditor with ready reference to traditional western concert forms, nor do they recall the riffing and variation structures of jazz. Dlugoszewski is a composer of timbre-perhaps the composer of timbre par excellence-and the pallet of sounds that defines each work, as exhilaratingly diverse and astonishing as each might be, becomes the feature that gives each work its coherence and direction.
Disparate Stairway Radical Other is a string quartet in effect and even though Dlugoszewski draws, pounds, thumps, glides and sirens sounds from the venerable string grouping of violins, viola and cello, that grouping determines both a vast garden of sound-play and invention but also its containing boundaries. The work's seven short movements define a particular pallet of colors and motivic and rhythmical gestures so that the listener traverses a vibrant landscape of changing moods. The composer's comment on her title may or may not illuminate the work: "When you have immediacy, you're again deeply in aliveness, you've shed the nonalive past as well as the nonalive future for the very alive immediate. I remember seeing a Japanese architecture where, for no reason, there was off to the side a stairway. It was just there. And I always call it the disparate stairway" (note 11).
By contrast, Exacerbated Subtlety Concert (Why Does A Woman Love A Man?) is for solo timbre piano, the revision being one of the last projects the composer worked on before her death and the recording of her performance being her last recording. She says: "In 1992 I began to think of something totally different. I found myself saying, 'I want to love and will and otherize and also subtilize the world.' This concept of subtlety! I think music is capable of more subtlety than any other art: it just blows past your ear, it's elusive, it's ungraspable. I think the height of elegance is what is ungraspable; I call it the elegance of the ungraspable" (note 13).
The four part 17 minute work fulfills its title's promise and its composer's manifesto. When one thinks musical subtlety, Mozart's melodic lifts and swerves in which a tender sadness frolics with garish cheeriness, or a smile erupts from a terse drama might come to mind, or the impressionists with their seductively nuanced harmonies. Dlogoszewski's subtlety like her disparate stairway is an experience of immediacy and nowness, what she calls "aliveness." As one listens to the wondrous sounds of her prepared piano, the ungraspableness of the elusive brushings on the ear are alive both because they are ungraspable and because they seem to offer themselves to be grasped. This is quite different from the Mozartean elusiveness that emerges from ambiguity, or the impressionist elusiveness that comes from indeterminate and unresolved harmonies.
Dlugoszewski's quest into subtlety is original and genuine, and in Exacerbated Subtlety brings to full fruition a problematic that she dates back to 1992, but that as one turns to the works from the 1970s that round off this CD, has always been part of her compositional project. Tender Theater Flight Nageire and Space Is A Diamond explore brass timbres. The first work is for a brass ensemble with percussion, the second for solo trombone. She is fortunate to have Gerard Schwarz as conductor/performer of both, for he is devoted to this music and performs with great Èlan.
The 10 minute Space Is a Diamond is an ears' banquet, quite astonishingly served up by the trombone alone. While it dazzlingly seems to cut facets of aural space to reveal the lights and lusters of the trombone standing in as a diamond, it simultaneously carves facets from silence to glory in the aliveness and elusiveness and ungraspableness of sound itself.
In this, Dlugoszewski seems to me to be one of the most faithful followers of John Cage and in some ways to trump her mentor. Cage's project, in part at least, was to break down the dichotomies of sound and silence, music and noise, randomness and design. But the works in which he most ardently asserts these ideas are often intellectual projects more than auditory revelations. Dlugoszweski's works, like Space Is a Diamond, are auditory revelations, alive to the moments of their expression. When I leave from listening to this CD and go into my yard, I hear the sound-world in a delighted fullness that Cage had promised but, I believe, Dlugoszweski more fully delivers.
Lucia DLUGOSZEWSKI: Disparate Stairway Radical Other, for string quartet. Exacerbated Subtlety Concert (Why Does a Woman Love a Man?), for timbre piano. Tender Theater Flight Nageire, for three trumpets, horn, tenor trombone, bass trombone and percussion. Space Is a Diamond, for solo trumpet. The White Oak Ensemble (Contrad Harris, Margaret Jones, violins; David J. Bursack, viola; Dorothy Lawson, cello). Lucia Dlugoszewski, timbre piano. Gerard Schwarz, Edward Carroll, Norman Smith, trumpets; Robert Routch, horn; David Langlitz, tenor trombone; David Taylor, bass trombone; Lucia Dlugoszewski, percussion; Gerard Schwarz, conducting. Gerard Schwarz, solo trumpet. CRI CD 859.
Lucia Dlugoszewski, who died in April, 2000, had wanted our editor to do the notes to this release. Mike wrote a reminiscence that includes what Lucia had told him about her less than happy relationship with John Cage and Morton Feldman. CRIís then director Jody Dalton found the piece unsuitable as it stood. Our editor in turn found many of Mr Daltonís suggestions intolerable and therefore withdrew. The task of annotation fell to Hal Rammel, as living proof of the ill-wind saw. Hal did the better job by far.
The point is not made, but Iím inclined to believe that this performance on Luciaís timbre piano, recorded in January, 2000, may well be the final remembrance of the composer-performer at work. While Cageís prepared piano antedates Dlugoszewskiís innovation, itís a different animal. Cageís amounts to a one-man percussion group; Dlugoszewskiís operate rather more like a one-woman chamber ensemble in which percussive effects play a negligible rÙle . In the present instance, subtitled Why Does a Woman Love a Man?, she turns in an appropriately sensuous performance. (Iíve seen Lucia at a couple of her timbre-piano concerts. The instrumentís innards are worked with an assortment that more than a little resembles debris. From such as this, poetry! Iím also inclined to observe that a timbre-piano performance is better heard than seen. An instrumentalist at work is sometimes distracting, in Luciaís case, decidedly. But, as concernís the future, the observation is, alas, fatuous. Will acolytes take up where Lucia left off as several have done during Cageís lifetime and after his demise. Unlikely.)
Dlugoszewski sounds in rhapsodic command of her timbre piano, yet in terms of virtuosity, the wreath goes to Gerard Schwarz, whose trumpet explores sound-worlds one had thought beyond navigation. Curiously, in view of Dlugoszewskiís considerable oeuvre, Space Is a Diamond seems to be her best-known work, and credit for that must go to Schwarz. I wonder how many trumpeters could do this piece nearly as effectively or would even dare try.
Dlugoszewskiís titles do an effective and, if you think about it for a moment, rather fair-minded job of preparing the listener for the uniqueness (and doubtless for some, inaccessibility) of her musical thinking. Itís definitely out there. One might even call it anti-conventional, if we take convention to embrace the usages of the pre-Minimalist avant-garde. In this light, Dlugoszewski stands off-center a maverick modernist, with, again, modernist understood as an esthetic at odds with post-modernist practice. (Her failure to win over Feldman and Cage may very well look to what the two New York School stars regarded as a lack of apparent system in her methodology, or better, in an absence of methodology.)
Disparate Stairway Radical Other, a work for string quartet, engages, as does our stellar trumpeter, in buoyant improbabilities. I hear it as the programís best-conceived entity, which means, I suppose, its most coherently organized yet surprising event. The piece sails through clearly related episodes of whimsical topsy-turvy via an array of curiously animal-sounding turns ó birds, quadrupeds, little things that clatter over sunbaked rock, in formations suggesting counterpoint. I expect the White Oak Ensemble broke a few group sweats in order to get it as right as they do.
Tender Theater Flight Nagiere for three trumpets, horn, tenor and bass trombones, and percussion, sounds to this listener the quite perfect expression of Dlugoszewskiís nonesuch art. There is, first of all, a most unusual ensemble which, in the composerís hands, makes its own kind of sense, or better, creates its own little universe: impressions range from a perception of structure (the old bit about music as aural architecture) to a visitation from the spirit world, and, of course, animal activity. The work is, among many extraordinary things, a zoological garden and enchanted wood, albeit on another planet. Gerard Schwarz and another of Luciaís fans, bass trombonist David Taylor, participate.
Disparate Stairway Radical Other and Exacerbated Subtlety Concert are recent recordings. Tender Theater Flight Nageire and Space Is a Diamond date from the Seventies. Good sound all around and, of course, echt performances.