The Five Points (NEOS 11519), 2015
Martin Schlumpf: “Spiegelbilder (Mirror Images)” (Michel Rouilly, Thomas Grossenbacher, Petya Mihneva), “Push and Pull” (Sergej Tchirkov), “The Five Points” (Matthias Müller, Galatea Quartet: Yuka Tsuboi, Sarah Kilchenmann, David Schneebeli, Julien Kilchenmann), “Puzzle” (Matthias Müller), “Pandora’s Promise” (Harry White Trio: Harry White, Pi-Chin Chien, Edward Rushton)
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Spiegelbilder, The Five Points, Push and Pull and Puzzle
Booklet Text CD The Five Points
This CD “The Five Points” brings together five of my most important chamber works of recent years: a quintet, two trios and two solo pieces. In all these compositions, I tell imaginary stories. Starting from clear yet differing points of departure, I have allowed myself to be driven in an improvisatory manner whilst writing (like a jazz musician), following a thread, bringing something new into play, allowing different characters to enter into dialogues, arguing, rebelling or becoming reconciled. Time and again, however, this quality of being driven is also “controlled”, encouraged by my architectonically-formally thinking mind: the emotional aspect is formed by the rational, head and heart complement each other.
When I listen to my own music on this CD analytically, I am struck by two special characteristics. Firstly, echoes of 19th-century music appear – relatively well hidden at some spots, rather clear at others – creeping in almost unnoticed and then disappearing again. I felt that it was an enrichment to allow my language to be inspired by elements of music from earlier times. Secondly, my dialogic story-telling repeatedly urges me to adopt a polymetrical and polytemporal way of writing. Several persons speak after or with each other in different tempi and patterns of accentuation. This polyphony of tempi is complemented by leaps in tempo: the music suddenly shifts from an established tempo into a new one. The surprised listener must adapt to a new situation. These forms of play are all typical of a rhythmist, which I sense myself to be to a high degree.
I wrote SPIEGELBILDER (Mirror Images) for the Swiss Chamber Concerts in 2013. The title refers to two different themes that lend specific characteristics to this piece.
On the one hand, there are passages in which two respective voices are related to each other as reflections, to such an extent that the directions of their movements run towards each other in inversion. Such pairs of parts are found between the two string instruments and both hands of the piano part.
On the other hand, there are places where the music of Robert Schumann shines into my music, more or less through a time mirror. Motifs from Märchenbilder op. 113 form points of reference for brief modulations of my musical language. This process cannot always be recognised in the same way: sometimes the surface of the mirror is clear; at other times, it is strongly overlain by the patina of time.
PUSH AND PULL was composed in 2013 in response to a commission from Sergej Tchirkov for the International Festival of Contemporary Music in St. Petersburg. A very special sound world emerges on the accordion with pushing and pulling, originating with a central tone B modulated a number of times, taking the listener on a diversified journey with ecstatic climaxes and meditative low-points, often spurred on by virtuoso rhythmic dances.
In the film “The Gangs of New York”, Martin Scorsese describes the bloody conflicts between the natives and the Irish immigrants in the “Five Points” in New York. These finger-shaped street intersections form a true melting pot of cultures.
In the clarinet quintet THE FIVE POINTS, composed in 2012 for Matthias Müller and the Galatea Quartet, the idea is not combative conflicts but rather the formal design within the field of tension between contrast and analogy. Each movement has an unmistakeable profile: here, too, we have a melting pot of different types of musical shapes. I have structured the duration of the individual movements in accordance with the Fibonacci series, in which each number results by adding together its two predecessors. In this way the movements are arranged so that, beginning with the first and shortest movement, the durations increase continually with the exception of the longest movement, which is the fourth instead of the fifth movement. Through the liberties that I have taken in the realisation of this scheme, one is set back from the ideal realm of numbers to mundane reality (the terrain of the Five Points).
Moreover, echoes from the music of Johannes Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet op. 115 can be heard in a few places. It was a pleasure to “bend” my musical language here and there so that allusions could flow in organically and disintegrate again as an homage to the great composer.
PUZZLE, written for Matthias Müller in 2011, is one of the pieces in which I work with tempo-polyphony. In this case, there is a four-part texture consisting, in the first section, of the tempo relations 72:60:45:40. With regard to all the two-voiced possibilities, this results in the following proportions: 9:8 / 6:5 / 4:3 / 3:2 / 8:5 / 9:5. The solo instrument moves in one of these four voices at a time; it is connected with the computer music recorded in my home studio in Würenlingen by a click-track for purposes of coordination. The result is a complex groove-music in which the multi-layered textures merge into an overarching whole. Or, put a different way: individual puzzle pieces are assembled, forming chains of similar material, dissolving, returning and finally swirling about in an ever-accelerating tempo.
PANDORA’S PROMISE, written in response to a commission from the Harry White Trio in 2014, consists of three movements all of which begin in almost the same way. Insistent repetitions of the note G and close-meshed melodic arabesques focus the listener’s attention, like a signal, on what is coming up: the opening of Pandora’s box. This opening results in widely differing consequential stories that can possibly result after the destruction of mankind’s state of paradise. Not only work, tribulation, illness, etc. play a role in this, but also hope – the last of the characteristics that came over humanity out of Pandora’s box. It remains an open question whether hope is ultimately a blessing for us or a curse, as Nietzsche saw it. A special musical characteristic in this collection of curios appears in the second movement: the music is carefully transformed with clear references to the fugato in the fourth movement of Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio op. 17. We hear a flashback, out of the conviction that a great deal must have changed massively, but that important human conditions have nonetheless remained the same.