Published by Doblinger 35 967
Jeffrey Lewis, a Welsh composer, once told me he thought it was impossible to write dissonant music for the guitar. That opens up a wider debate as to whether or not atonality is inherently dissonant, and the 12-tone’s role in forms that rely on harmonic tensions to stabilise and destabilise them.
Friedrich Cerha is a well-known atonal writer and a friend of Ligeti. His credits are long and it’s obvious that in those spheres of post-Webern and Schoenberg writing, he is a significant figure. I heard his cello concerto as a prelude to writing this; it is a hugely accomplished piece. As a way into his music, I would suggest you too hear it.
He doesn’t seem to write with a consistent hope that his music will be heard. Indeed, in interview, he has expressed surprise that some of his works get heard at all. He is resigned with an inner peace to rejection and claims negative reception does not influence his writing because he has an elementary need to express himself.
He talks of his music in terms of carpets of sound with perforations, clouds of sound, music of a static character, fluid processes, and sees in his works both interference and displacement.
This sort of self-analysis is helpful in understanding his guitar suite. It is linearly constructed with a lower reliance on arpeggiations than many guitar writers, and the perhaps obvious alternative of superimposed lines (counterpoint) also barely appears. Instead, in the opening Präambel, we have lines of logic, focussing on a point of pitch as a structural destination.
It is a strange world but I can understand how this sort of conception will be deeply satisfying to some guitarists. Although the music is hard to grasp because of its obscure language, it is crafted by a sure hand. Tonality is implicit sometimes by numeric strength: repeating a note of D often makes that a centre of reference when departure occurs. He uses devices such as increasing textures and momentum to impart a forward movement in this arching structure, the centre of which is perhaps these rather wonderful chords of augmented and perfect 4ths.
Malinconia seems to descend from a height into a crater and with a short burst of acceleration manages to climb back out again with increasingly assured steps to a peaceful conclusion.
Glissandi does what it says and is an energetic romp which comes off the page rather easily. Full of brutal fingerboard-thumping strings and acerbic chords, this is a real wake-up after the peace of the 2nd movement.
There’s another arching structure in Interludium, and thenTrotz presents the player with some severe hand-contorting chords, which actually I couldn’t play. (Blame old fingers). This is in an insistent and strident style where release from a dissonance is another; that sets the tone for this piece which is a relentless challenge to tonality, a statement crowned with the insistent minor 9ths at its conclusion.
We needed a bit of calm or Ruhig gelassen after that, and Zwei Gegensätzliche Unaussôhnbare Charaktere (or Two Opposing Indescribable Characters) offers us a moment of repose. That’s the one character. A sombre and unmoved sul tasto presence which is interrupted by an increasingly agitated intruder, an intruder who is finally seen off by a deep-throated consonance of perfect 4ths and 5ths.
This being a suite, it is unsurprising that he concludes with a dance called Kleiner Kehraus. It’s a romp to the finishing Gs; this movement having a coherence by a previously rarely-seen device: the return of earlier stated material.
Just as Friedrich stretches his demands on our cerebellum, so a reviewer needs to find new ways to express the richness before him. This is deep music, the fruits of a vibrant and unfettered imagination which is able to give the guitar a refreshing voice. It is accessible to the initiated and probably gibberish to those not willing to commit to cultivating the ears necessary for appreciation.
A friend once said he thought music demanded a listening age, akin to a child’s reading age. You don’t give a child sophisticated adult literature to start off, you wean them on to it. And so it is with music, and certainly this is one such example. Only after being comfortable on the edges of tonality, can one step off into the chasm which is atonal music. For guitarists and teachers ready to take that step, this is fabulous music offering deep rewards.
Don’t expect an audience to come with you on this journey; it’s a lonely and personal voyage and although this suite is of a class fit for a concert platform, I cannot imagine many tickets getting sold.
For advanced and fortified ears and fingers only. Conservatoire professors and students might wish to be alert to this significant piece.
Colin Tommis, December 2020