Monday, 28 April 2008

Ghosts before Breakfast, 25 April 2008

This concert, put together by the new ensemble Counterpoise in partnership with Barry Millington, presented works in the German tradition of melodrama - unstaged, musically accompanied recitation - together with more recent works which deployed film and other visual elements. The programme as a whole explored the relationship between music, poetry and the visual, and ideas about narrative.

It included Strauss's The Castle by the Sea (1899; a work which has been described as a film soundtrack without the film) and Heiner Goebbels's In the Basement, which incorporated an Edgar Allen Poe narrative. Ghosts before Breakfast (1927), a film by dadaist artist Hans Richter with surreal sequences of flying bowler hats and cameos from Hindemith (who composed the original score), Milhaud and his wife and Richter, was accompanied by a new score by Jean Hasse. In Kagel's MM51, a film of a film of Nosferatu (in which Kagel is (silently) playing the piano accompaniment) was projected on a screen, with a live pianist playing his score.

The second half of the programme comprised the world premiere of Edward Rushton's On the Edge, about the dangers of the Swiss Alps (accidents, avalanches, the supernatural). Its spoken texts (compiled by Dagny Gioulami) were taken from Arnold Lunn's nineteenth-century writings and from a Swiss folk tale, and it was accompanied by video images (including early footage) by Syl Bertulius. The score was written specifically for Counterpoise's combination of piano, violin, saxophone and trumpet, and evoked the extreme conditions of the mountains. The work's combination of speech, music and image links it not only to the works of Kagel and Goebbels, but also to nineteenth-century traditions of melodrama.

Counterpoise: Alexandra Wood (violin), Kyle Horch (saxophone), Deborah Calland (trumpet), Helen Reid (piano)
Narrator: Richard Angas

Funding from the AHRC, the PRS Foundation, the National Lottery through the Arts Council


Anonymous Fiona Ford said...

For me, Edward Rushton's piece should not have been called a melodrama, but an anti-melodrama since it intentionally aimed at free association between text, music and image, taking a deliberate stance against the melodramatic aesthetic. This seemed strange given the purpose of the MOSS project. I was disappointed by the composer's decision to forego attempts at synchronisation in even a broad sense, especially since it resulted in a scrappy end. There was quite a lot of music left over after text and images had ended. Live synchronisation requires effort and avoiding it is just taking the easy way out. For me, the sections which worked best were those without the narrator, or narrations where the music was most subservient to the text, with static underscoring. Mostly the narrator was having to compete with the musicians. I enjoyed the texts (especially the folk tale) and the images, even though they didn't always make sense with each other or the music.
I loved 'Ghosts before breakfast' and the Jean Hasse score, which was unashamedly narrative by her own admission. Monty Python fans should also check out the earlier film 'Entr'acte' by René Clair (1924, music by Satie) for an even more surrealistic concoction of unrelated images.

April 28, 2008  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Rather than an anti-melodrama, I think Edward's piece was a modern take on melodrama. Although the different elements were freely associated (up to a point) in conception, they were nevertheless inseparable in the experience of watching/listening. I was struck how (my) attention was constantly shifting between music, voice and image - in some ways the narration helped this process. I was also struck how extraordinarily beautiful some of music and some of the images were, particularly in the more static moments. I agree that in some ways the question of synchronisation does need to be addressed (perhaps we are rediscovering the problems of 100 years ago...), but I also rather liked the chance element.

April 28, 2008  

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