Tone Poem Tuesday

Today we have a work of the kind that I find deeply challenging to write about, because I know so very little about this whole approach to music in the first place. It’s an avant-garde piece by 20th century Greek-French composer Iannis Xenakis, called Jonchaies. Xenakis’s music was not only heavily influenced by the musical trends of the 20th century, but by his own training in architecture and engineering. I have not heard a great deal of Xenakis’s work, but there is a character in what I have heard that I would describe as industrial. (I almost chose mechanical, but that has connotations that I don’t think apply.)

When you hear Xenakis’s music – any piece of what we recognise as his mature work, starting with 1954’s Metastasis, onwards – you’re confronted with an aesthetic that seems unprecedented according to any of the frames of reference that musical works usually relate to. You won’t hear vestiges of things like familiar forms, or shapes, or languages. Even the furthest-out reaches of early 1950s serialism sound resolutely conventional next to Xenakis’s works of the same period. It’s music whose sheer, scintillating physicality creates its own territory in every piece, whether it’s for solo cello or huge orchestra. (credit)

As for Jonchaies itself, I find it a thrilling exercise in orchestral colors and textures. This is the kind of music one has to approach with a willingness to work at finding its appeal; it’s too easy to listen to this and dismiss it as random cacophonous noise. This article (worth reading!) describes Xanakis’s approach as “sound sculpture”, and I think that is right. Having walked through the Albright-Knox’s collection of modern art more than a few times, I can definitely hear the connective artistic tissue that binds this music to some of the abstract sculpture I’ve seen in museums.

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One Response to Tone Poem Tuesday

  1. Roger says:

    At times, it reminds me of the very end of A Day In The Life, when the orchestra is chromatically ascending at different times.

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