Composition Competitions Compared

Polar_Music_Prize

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the Pulitzer Prize, mainly about the trends in aesthetic style of the finalists and whether or not the award remains valid. Although I’ve had many such conversations in the past, this one sparked me to do some research, and compile my findings in a way that would allow me to compare all the major composition awards I’m aware of, year-by-year.

I’ve assembled this data in a spreadsheet that I’ve shared with you below. First, here are the awards I’ve included, along with some basic information on each.

Pulitzer Prize in Music Composition: Any piece by a US composer may be entered with a $50 entry fee. The piece must have received it’s world premiere in the US during the year. A jury of professional musicians (the majority being composers) nominates the finalists, and the Pulitzer Board decides upon the winner. In 2004, the scope of the prize was greatly broadened to include all genres of music composition. Cash prize: $10,000.

Grawmeyer Award: Any piece by a composer of any nationality may be nominated by a professional musical organization or individual. Entry fee: $40. Composers cannot submit their own work. Cash prize: $100,000.

Rome Prize: Any composer who has received an undergraduate degree may apply. A jury selects finalists who must travel to New York for an interview round. Entry Fee: $30 for early submission or $60. Winners receive an 11-month fellowship at the American Academy in Rome and a $28,000 stipend.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize: The award is for lifetime achievement in “serious” contemporary music. It is awarded to either a composer, performer, or an otherwise epochal figure. Cash Prize: 250,000 euros. NB: This article includes only the Siemens Music Prize, and not the Composer’s Prize, which is awarded for a single work by a younger composer.

Polar Music Prize: Anyone who is associated with the music industry may win. An award committee of professionals representing many different genres of music select the laureate from nominations made by various musical organizations (all European). Cash Prize: one million Swedish kronas (approx. $156,000 US).

Here is the spreadsheet, which includes all the winners for these prizes from 1980 to 2013 (non-composers are shown in blue):

composition awards

Noteworthy statistics:

  • Ligeti and Lutoslawski are the only composers to win the Grawmeyer Award, Siemens Music Prize, and the Polar Music Prize.
  • Ellen Taaft Zwillich was the first female to win the Pulitzer Prize.
  • Boulez and Saariaho are the only composers to win the Grawmeyer Award and the Polar music Prize (without yet winning the Siemens Award).
  • Kurtag is the only person to win the Grawmeyer and the Siemens Award (without yet winning the Polar Prize).
  • Elliott Carter and Leonard Bernstein are the only Americans to receive a Siemens Music Prize, and both won prior to 1990.
  • The Polar Music Prize – which recognizes the broadest array of genres, disciplines, and nationalities – is the only to recognize Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen, who are two masters and legends of Avant-garde composition.
  • David Del Tredici is the only composer to win a Pulitze Prize, and then receive a Rome Prize later. Conversely, Kevin Puts, David Lang, and Aaron Jay Kernis all won the Rome Prize, and received Pulitzers later.

These are only a few of the most obvious conclusions to draw from the data present on the spreadsheet.

The total information suggests two things to me: 1) critical success and general recognition have a tendency to snowball over time, and 2) The composers who are recognized by disparate organizations/foundations (one in the US, and one in Europe, for example)  also stand as leaders in the field, and the ability of widely divergent musical sensibilities to recognize their achievements attests to this. Even so, some of the greatest iconoclasts of our time go largely unnoticed, a fact which highlights a truth about all of music history: composers who are truly ahead of their time take the longest to gain general acceptance in the community.

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A Lineage of Great 20th Century Composers?

stockhausen

Robert Craft said that after Stravinsky we can no longer identify a lineage of truly great composers, as we readily can for several centuries past.

There are possible holes immediately evident in this statement, the most obvious of which is that we do not have enough distance from the 20th century to know which works and composers will stand as legendary beyond their time. However, I believe we 1) are able to identify masterworks without significant historical distance and 2) can identify a pale of great composers of the 20th century, given the appropriate criteria. So, I’ve decided to attempt to create my own list of the 20th Century’s greatest composers, as a thought-experiment for myself, and to elicit the outraged opinions of my colleagues.

Here are the criteria I’ve set:

  • iconoclastic: defined or popularized a new aesthetic
  • composed major works that have remained in the collective consciousness
  • compositions are objectively well-crafted
  • compositions stand as good music in hindsight, i.e. they don’t stand only on the trends of the time
  • compositions demonstrate a superior ear for various musical parameters (especially pitch material), and a special gift for narrative and imagination

I’ve allowed myself to identify up to two composers in every generation, and I’ve gone up to the “Baby Boomer” period.

Here is the list of composers, along with two of their most groundbreaking works:

Igor Stravinsky: 1882-1971

  • 1911  Petroushka
  • 1913 Rite of Spring

Edgar Varese: 1883-1965

  • 1921  Amerique
  • 1958  Poeme Electronique

Giancinto Scelsi: 1905-1988

  • 1959  Quattro pezzi su una nota sola
  • 1965  Anahit

Olivier Messiaen: 1908-1992

  • 1941  Quartet for the End of Time
  • 1969  La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ

Iannis Xenakis: 1922-2001

  • 1955  Metastasis
  • 1971  Persépolis

Karlheinz Stockhausen:  1928-2007

  • 1955  Gruppen
  • 1977-2003  Licht Cycle (7 operas)

Gerard Grisey: 1946-1998

  • 1976-1985 Les espaces acoustique (cycle of 6 works)

Salvatore Sciarrino: b. 1947

  • 1981  Introduzione all’Oscuro
  • 1984  Lohengrin

Please feel free to offer your thoughts, as my hope is that this post will generate a healthy discussion of the topic.

Darkness In Haas’ “In Vain”: insights into the text and execution

I was extremely fortunate to have the experience of leading Georg Friedrich Haas’ In Vain this past February (You can read about the concert HERE). I’m very happy to say that that performance stands as one of the most personally meaningful for me so far. As many of you likely know, Haas is deeply interested in the relationship between light and the aural sense, and so a number of his works have periods of complete darkness. I mean “complete darkness” literally: the performance space should be so dark that nobody can see anything except black. As you’ve probably surmised, the musicians have to commit these portions to memory, and perform without the usual aid of seeing each other. I’ve frequently been asked many questions regarding the composition and execution of these sections. This article is intended to address those queries, and hopefully further elucidate this music for those who are interested in the work and may be performing it in the future.

Typically, performances of In Vain have two sections of complete darkness: one close to the beginning, and one toward the end in which the climax of the work is contained. In the performance I led, we played in very dim light during the first of these sections, and in complete darkness for the second. This procedure is permitted by the score: the first section bears the indication: dunkel bzw. wenig Licht (dark or low light; see example at left). Contrastingly, the second section demands völlige dunkelheit (complete darkness; see example below). My feeling is that doing the first section in complete darkness dilutes the drama of the later section, and the climax of the later section contains the loudest and most turbulent music of the piece. In other words, when one experiences the first section in darkness, he has the idea of “ok, we’re doing this again” at the onset of the second one. Of course, this is just a matter of opinion; both are acceptable, to say the least.

I’d also like to briefly expand the previous point into a broader one: the markings concerning the lighting effects in In Vain are very clear, yet “open” in terms of execution. Take, for example, the moment when single strobes of light begin: optisch wahrnehmbares Signal (z.B. kurzer Lichtblitz) dann wieder völlige dunkelheit (a noticeable visual signal (e.g. a short flash of light, then, total darkness). Considering that Haas is a particularly scrupulous craftsman, I would assume that these markings are deliberate in what they indicate and what they don’t. In the aforementioned example, Haas mentions flashes of light as merely an example, yet in the piece’s 12-year life it has already become customary for these visual cues to be only flashes of white light, as suggested. In this and other instances, it strikes me that there are other options, potentially richer and varied. If I’m lucky enough to lead In Vain in the future, I hope to explore a wider visual palette.

Find below a recording of the work and some useful time markers to orient yourself. Please note that the lights are very slowly dimmed and illuminated, and so the  beginning/ending times are the points at which the room arrives at the final level of darkness or luminosity.

first “dark” section: 5’30”

first “dark” section ends: 11’02”

Second “dark” section begins: 42’15”

strobe flashes begin: 48’20”

second “dark” section ends: 56’35”

The beginning of the first dark section surprises the listener with an amorphous, murky soundscape; it gives the impression that the terse, fleeting music of the opening of the piece has become submerged deep in water, where one’s senses are slowed and dulled. The section is primarily comprised of a series of duos (one string instrument and one wind instrument), whose entrances are overlapped and chained together. The duos begin on a unison pitch, but the string instrument immediately slide the pitch up or down by a half step, concurrently overtaking the corresponding woodwind in volume. The first example page earlier in this article will clarify this construct; it is the first page of this section. My own markings in the middle of the page indicate what instruments are playing with each other, and what pitch the duos begin on. Take note that the dotted lines indicate where the duos begin. When executed accurately, the dovetailing should create a constant ebb and flow, so there is no moment of stasis.

The cadence of duos increases steadily in speed (yet not volume) for circa 4 minutes; each “event” played by a duo is marked to last 6″ to 7″ at the outset and speed up until they last 3″ to 4″ at the end. Like much of In Vain, this process evolves so slowly, and by so few parameters, that the notion of “increasing intensity” creeps up on the listener only after most of the music has been played. Haas is a master of pacing, and it is just at this moment that the formula of the “chain of duos” becomes apparent that he introduces the brief, yet  ingenious, transition to the following harp solo. The transition is essentially 12″ long, and can be found at the end of the example page below. In it, the sustained sonority of the strings, which has been acting as little more than a diffuse “cloud” over which activity occurs, becomes the primary material without arising from its ppp dynamic level(!). The strings begin sliding glacially from their chaotic, indistinct harmony, and slowly approach a  glimpse of profound harmonic resolution: a pedal B1 along with F#, C#,  and A-one-sixth-flat, i.e. a a small, delicate collection of lower partials of B. However, Haas only hints as this moment of relief. The majority of the strings glissando very slowly over the 12″ duration against B and F# pedal tones in bass, cello II, and accordion (a  common-tone harmonic relation that Wagner would be pleased with). So, in the last few seconds, the listener anticipates the arrival of the B-based resolution, yet at the actual point of arrival, the B1 in the bass part (the most fundamental to the sonority) slides microtonally higher to B-quarter-sharp! So, although the B+partials arrival is perceived by the listener, it does not appear in vertical alignment in the score, strictly speaking. This is only one of many varied events in which Haas plays insidiously with the aural and mental perception of the listener. For me, this subtle, fleeting transition stands as a deeply meaningful first exhale after 9 minutes of music. It’s poignant beauty is not only due to its musical content (brilliant as it is), but also to its arresting brevity.

The gentle, spacious harp solo comes suddenly and unexpectedly (the two example pages below contain the entire passage). The harp is tuned to an overtone series, and this tuning, in conjunction with the closed, knotted sonorities, creates a singular timbre that makes it almost difficult to recognize the harp as being the instrument it is, at first. Hidden far behind the harp is a turbulent murmur created by low strings playing sliding pitches a quarter-tone apart from one another. The effect is that of a distant storm cloud, which further highlights the crystalline, immediate voice of the harp. While the low strings recede,  the harp states its last utterances without a decrescendo(!). The purposeful omission of a decrescendo at the end off this solo is – to me – a tiny masterstroke. Like the lack of a crescendo in the previous series of duos, the missing decrescendo here gives the listener a heightened feeling of uncertainty and expectation. Consequently, the silence at the end of the harp solo is alive with attentive anticipation, whereas if the harp did the obvious and dwindled to quasi-niente, the silence would feel flaccid and pedestrian. Then, the upper strings offer a minuscule sliver of light – the 8th, 11th, 12th, and 15th partials of B-flat2 – concurrently with the onset of the slowly illuminating concert lighting. The purity and simplicity of this moment is a fitting introduction to the honest, austere, and indefatigable central section of In Vain, which houses some of the most lovely and integritous music I’ve had the pleasure of conducting.

 

Sound Icon’s Upcoming Season: Selected Listening

Sound Icon will be announcing it’s 2012/13 seasons shortly, and I would like to offer some selected listening from the repertoire we’ll be presenting. I am extraordinarily excited about offering these pieces this season!

Also, Christian Gentry interviewed me for the excellent blog I Care if You listen. We spoke about many topics relating to Sound Icon’s work. You can read the article HERE.

Please also check back here soon; within the next couple days, I will post the first of two articles discussing the two sections of darkness in Georg Friedrich Haas’ In Vain. After Sound Icon’s performance last season, I was frequently asked about various logistical and musical issues with those portions of the work, especially in regards to the section of complete blackout. I hope the articles will address those queries, and then some!

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Gerard Grisey’s Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil

Grisey’s last work and masterpiece, Quatre Chants, stands as one of the most compelling pieces from recent decades, and arguably one of the finest works for voice and ensemble. Soprano Jane Sheldon will join us to sing this opulent, seminal work.

Stefano Gervasoni’s Epicadenza

Sound Icon will perform this work for solo percussion and ensemble in March of 2013, featuring our own Mike Williams as soloist. The work also features a prominent Cimbalom part (performed by Nicholas Tolle) in the ensemble that acts as a foil to the soloist. Epicadenza is a work of subtle, Italianate beauty, and demands the soloist to engage in an act of choreographed virtuosity, navigating a sizeable and highly unusual percussion setup with grace.

Georg Friedrich Haas’ …und…

Like many of Haas’ works, …und… explores the relationship between the visual and aural senses.  It is a major work for ensemble and electronics.  Like In Vain, it has a period of complete darkness, in which the electronic part provides aural cues for the ensemble. It also resembles In Vain in that it is a work displaying astonishing invention and visceral beauty. Sound Icon’s performance of this in November will be the US premiere.

Olga Neuwirth’s Torsion

Sound Icon’s own Chris Watford will perform as soloist in this piece for bassoon and ensemble. Torsion presents an alien sound-world for the soloist, utilizing unusually complex and closely-voiced multiphonics that are particular to the bassoon. The ripieno provides an indistinct, placid canvas for the soloist to athletically traverse.

These works represent only a small sampling of what we will offer this season. Please check  soon for our complete season listing! And please visit this blog again in a few days to read new articles!

Discovering recent masterworks: Abrahamsen’s “Schnee”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen’s hour-long tour-de-force Schnee (2008), I’d like to introduce you to the piece and hopefully illuminate some reasons why it is one of the most thrilling works composed in the last few years. For those of you who might conduct or perform in Schnee, I will also present some information concerning the execution of this highly challenging, yet wonderfully rewarding  piece.

Schnee is scored for nine musicians: two groups of four with the percussionist seated between them and playing with both. It is a ten “movement” work, or to put it more precisely, there are five groups of two canons each. Additionally, there are three fascinating Intermezzi during which various members of the ensemble re-tune their instruments to microtonal pitch levels. Below is an excellent recording of the work on Youtube, along with the start times of each movement:

Canon 1a: 0’00” / Canon 1b: 8’43”

Canon 2a: 18’00” / intermezzo I: 25’02” / Canon 2b: 27’02”

Canon 3a:  34’38″/ Canon 3b: 41’23” Intermezzo II: 48’50”

Canon 4a: 50’49” /  Canon 4b: 54’24” / Intermezzo III: 56’07”

Canon 5a: 46’43” / Canon 5b: 57’50”

As the reader has probably already gathered, Schnee  inhabits a tightly-knit architecture, comprised of a series of canons of varying complexity. Each canon is cast in three “parts”, which form an ABA structure, and each  is scored for a different subset of the ensemble, with the ensemble playing tutti in just a few canons. Much more can be said about the extraordinary structure of the piece as a whole, but I would instead like to focus on some details of the work the are of particular elegance and/or interest. I would like to point out that despite the extreme formal rigor of the work, the execution never feels forced, not does the form in any way detract from the visceral impact and sheer appeal of the music. In this regard, Abrahamsen couples formal constitution with intuitive design remarkably well.

Schnee means snow in German, and the first time I listened to this piece in it’s entirety, I was intensely struck with the notion that each set of canons, in its own remarkable way, sounds like snow. There is something amazing about a piece of Schnee’s scope and complexity being able to somehow consistently capture the concept of snow.

Prior to my hearing Schnee in totality, I was briefly introduced to the opening of the work by my friend and colleague, Nick Tolle (director of the Ludovico Ensemble, with whom I performed this piece in 2011). I have come to know that I will ultimately not care for a piece a great deal if I am not gripped by the opening of it, and I must say that Schneee has one of the most captivating openings I know of. The first example shown below is the beginning of the piece.

Schnee is one of the most finely notated works I’ve conducted. There is always just the right amount of information to be perfectly clear in all regards, yet the score does not give the impression of being over-marked. Also, Abrahamsen’s stylistic markings, to me, strike the perfect balance between pragmatic clarity and poetic description.

Take the very opening as an example, in which the violin introduces the haunting ostinato that will drive all of canons 1a & 1b. Abrahamsen marks this very high touch-4th harmonic with the word eisig, German for icy. Eisig is an ingenious marking for this first utterance; it encapsulates the idea that this effect will yield only “air sound” due to the extreme registration, and it also imparts a slightly abstract stylistic idea that sets the tone for the first canons. There is also a footnote for this technique (which is passed among all the strings in this canon) – which is no less fertile with economic and poetic beauty – that describes the violin as sounding “like an icy whisper, but with a pulsation.” Textual markings of this clarity and lyricism fill Schnee, and stand as one of the many signs of superior craftsmanship.

Also of note in the opening is the exactitude of the notation in the piano part. The monophonic line is split between the staves to demonstrate which note is to be played with which  hand (NB: both staves sound 15ma). This conceptual execution – called for in a passage that could easily be performed with one hand – lends an incredible ease and sense of cadence and regularity to the opening theme.

Canon 1a is scored for “Group I”, which is three strings and piano, and Canon 1b is an elaboration of 1a, scored for the entire ensemble. In 1b, the percussionist takes over the ostinato from the strings, utilizing a technique of great ingenuity. The percussionist is seated behind three table-tops, and s/he rubs two different kinds of paper on the tables in circular motions. This creates an airy pulsation, similar to the strings in canon 1a (For anyone who might play this part: the paper should be slightly crumpled into the grip of the hand, otherwise the flat sheet of paper will stick to the table). The original conception of the work was for the ensemble to perform unconducted, with the percussionist leading the two groups with this pulsation, one group per hand. However, Abrahamsen reported to us that this proved enormously taxing (later examples in this article will demonstrate the extreme difficulty of some canons), and it is now standard to have the piece conducted. Props should be given to Ensemble Recherche, who premiered and recorded Schnee without a conductor!

Before going onward, I should point out that Canons 1a & 1b are published separately as a piece unto themselves. More so than the other sets of canons, 1a & 1b create a powerful dramatic scope, and are certainly worth programming alone. In fact, the closing of 1b is one of the most stirring moments for me personally; I experienced an uncharacteristically emotional reaction the first time I led this music in rehearsal.

Canons 2a & 2b are clearly related to to the first canons in that they have a constant motoric motif propelling them along, and the b canon of each set is an elaboration of the a canon that broadens and completes a dramatic arc. In 2a & 2b, the ostinato is an additive rhythm which appears insidiously simple on the page, but is quite difficult in practice. Refer to the example to the right: this is the first page of 2a. Aside from the uniquely difficult rhythmic material, I’ll point out two delightful things that appear: 1) The stylistic directive at the top translates to: Happily playing, but not too happy, with a little melancholy. Even given the somewhat self-conflicting and abstract nature of this marking, I still find, somehow, that it brilliantly captures the feel of this music. 2) Notice that there is text(!) printed below the flute and clarinet parts.  This text simply exists as a guide to phrasing, but it stands as yet another detail that is born of an incredible gift of invention.

In between Canons 2a and 2b we come upon the first Intermezzo. Re-tuning instruments to microtonal pitch levels is not new, but Abrahamsen handles this with a musical intensity and purposefulness that raises the effect of the Intermezzi in performance to the same level as the Canons themselves. Have a look at the first Intermezzo below.

With elegant and lucid notation, the first Intermezzo essentially has all of the strings and winds tune a 1/6-tone lower, using the 7th partial of the cellist’s IV string (which is in a scordatura tuning: g1, below the usual c2. There is a magical moment in Canon 1b in which this open string is very softly revealed.) as a reference pitch. Part of the strength of these Intermezzi lies in the marking “sempre pp dolce.” With this, Abrahamsen has effectively insufused what could be perfunctory episodes of tuning with a musical gravitas. The Intermezzi in Schnee are really substantial musical entities that act like palete cleansers during fine meals, which can taste light and lovely on their own. I would encourage anyone preparing this work to focus on the intonation and the musical presentation of the Intermezzi equally.

Canon 2b builds on the rhythmic propensity of 2a, but with far greater complexity. Here, I’d like to discuss the conducting in some detail; 2b is highly virtuosic for the conductor (and ensemble), and there are several choices that should be carefully considered. On viewing the example below, you’ll notice that the pianists and percussionist are playing an ostinato figure that is of the same fundamental construct as 2a (i.e. alternating 9/8 and 8/8 bars with the same 3+3+3 and 3+2+3 groupings, respectively). The other instruments are playing hocketed material that splits the bars into different, yet even groupings per bar (when not playing long tones): they have a 9:8 poly-rhythm in the 8/8 bars, and an 8:9 poly-rhythm in the 9/8 bars. To put this another way: when pianos/percussion have 9 beats in a bar, the other active parts have 8, and vice versa (see example).

The conductor must ask himself, do I conduct rhythmically with the pianos and percussion, or with the “other group?” From my experience, I can say that in canon 2b, one should conduct the subdivisions of the “other group.” Besides having the experience of attempting both, I think that the pianists and percussionist are able to run the ostinato figure more or less on their own, making sure that their downbeats coincide with the conductors. This is easier in the context of the whole piece, because the ensemble will have just experienced the same fundamental ostinato figure in 2a, and will have the feeling of that in their head.

To be explicitly clear, I conduct the 9/8 bars in two even beats, and the 8/8 bars in three even beats, thereby showing the subdivisions that exist in the flute, oboe, violin, and viola parts. I would like to suggest that when preparing this section, it is best to conceptualize the beats one is conducting as a poly-rhythm that is working against the meters, as opposed to only thinking of the tempi of the poly-rhythmic beats, and growing comfortable with the relationship between them via muscle memory. This will allow the conductor to be attentive to both rhythmic groups while conducting in rehearsal, and more importantly, will enable s/he to have a flexible relationship with the ostinato in the pianos/percussion. I also found it useful to begin this Canon with a full bar of 9/8 (in the tempo that pianos/percussion will play) for nothing.

This approach to the opening of 2b can (and should, in my opinion) be extended to the entire movement, so that the conductor is always conducting the music of the strings and winds, except in part II, where this decision is not pertinent.

Fortunately, Canon 2b is wonderfully and strangely beautiful, and so the significant work that goes into it is met with gorgeous music.

Canons 3a & 3b are the antithesis of what comes before them, in general effect. They are very slow, with great chasms of space lying between brooding and contemplative music. Once again, the stylistic marking is of particular merit: Very slow with bleakness, sluggish, (in the tempo of Tai Chi). When I first saw this, I did not know what Tai Chi looks like, and so I had to watch videos of it on Youtube. I was delighted to see that the “slow-motion” effect of Tai Chi is the physical equivalent of the music in these Canons: in it’s extremely deliberate pace there is still inexorable life and  purpose. Conductors, take special note: Abrahamsen insisted that I conduct the eight=36 tempo of these Canons without subdivision, thereby mimicking the physical appearance of Tai Chi in my own motions. Practically speaking, this is enormously difficult (Abrahamsen referred to it as “nearly impossible”), especially given that the music is frequently shifting between simple and compound rhythmic material at irregular intervals. I found that I was only successful in these Canons after I had carefully planned out what subdivision I would feel internally during the periods of relative inactivity.

In Canons 3a, there appears frequently a highly unusual harmonic technique that is scattered throughout the piece. The effect is a non-standard way of producing an artificial harmonic, in which the player has both the fundamental pitch and the “touching point” stopped with harmonic finger-pressure(!). It is a reliable technique that produces a brighter tone quality than the normally sounded artificial harmonic. I remain surprised that I haven’t seen this effect in any other piece, although I assume it must be scored for elsewhere (the cello part has many of these harmonics in the second system of the example to the left).

I trust that all of these titillating details have whetted the reader’s appetite sufficiently. So, I will touch on Canons 4a through 5b very briefly.

The fourth set of Canons are a homage to Mozart, and draw on his Three German Dances (K. 605) for inspiration. These canons have a frenetic level of activity that set them apart from the rest of Schnee; one might appropriately refer to them as the “scherzo” of the work. The percussionist must play tuned sleigh bells in these canons, which is also derived from the Mozart. Unfortunately, the pitches required for Schnee are different than the Mozart, thus are difficult to acquire. A possible solution is to dismantle a few standard sets of sleigh bells and string together the bells that sound closest to the required pitches. The sleigh bells also pose a balance issue, which can be alleviated by the percussionist playing them within an open box that is facing him/her.

Canons 5a & 5b return to the serenity of 1a & 1b, although they present a far different sound world, put forth simply and briefly (the marking here is: Simple and childlike). They serve as a fitting coda to a work that, to me, traces a journey spanning Wagnerian drama to meditative calm.

There is so much more that can and should be said about Schnee. It’s world cannot possibly be encapsulated here, and I only hope that  my comments will propagate some much-deserved interest. With any amount of justice, I believe that Schnee will go on to stand as one of the truly great contemporary works for chamber ensemble.