Iowa and Illinois based composer Carl Schimmel's music has been praised by The New York Times as “vivid and dramatic." He often employs humor in works that are dense with literary and extra-musical references, as well as musical quotes, combining intensity of expression with a structural rigor which draws upon a background in mathematics.
Roadshow for Otto
|Alex Sopp, flute, Romie deGuise-Langlois, clarinet, Sumire Kudo, cello, Steven Beck, piano|
|01||I. The Silver Atom Ray Gun|
I. The Silver Atom Ray Gun
|02||II. The Clown Mandeville|
II. The Clown Mandeville
|03||III. Pedaling the Spirit of America|
III. Pedaling the Spirit of America
|04||IV. Camel and Monkey|
IV. Camel and Monkey
|05||V. The Revolving Flashing Robot|
V. The Revolving Flashing Robot
Roadshow for Thora
|SOLI Chamber Ensemble|
|06||I. The Yes No Bear|
I. The Yes No Bear
|07||II. The Ives Trotter|
II. The Ives Trotter
|08||III. Pulling the Pink Pig|
III. Pulling the Pink Pig
|09||IV. The Clown Magician|
IV. The Clown Magician
|10||V. The Humpty Dumpty Circus Band|
V. The Humpty Dumpty Circus Band
Four Nocturnes from "The Oblivion Ha-Ha"
|Lucy Shelton, soprano, Da Capo Chamber Players|
|11||I. Jim's All Night Diner|
I. Jim's All Night Diner
|12||II. The Plaza|
II. The Plaza
|13||III. The Sleeper|
III. The Sleeper
String Quartet #2 "Six Faces"
|Left Coast Chamber Ensemble|
|16||Girl with Cross|
Girl with Cross
|18||Man with Pipe|
Man with Pipe
|20||Woman with Animals|
Woman with Animals
|22||Woman with Mandolin|
Woman with Mandolin
|24||Woman with Fan|
Woman with Fan
|25||Man with Cane|
Man with Cane
The Pismirist's Congeries
|Alex Sopp, flute, Sharon Roffman, violin, Wendy Law, cello, Steven Beck, piano|
Carl Schimmel’s music possesses a mathematical structural sensibility augmented with a playful sense of humor. His wonderful ability to communicate semantic meaning from moment to moment gives his scores a engaging narrative, and his penchant for miniatures fits perfectly with his colorful depiction of different characters. He is influenced deeply by literature and extra- musical phenomenon.
Both of Schimmel’s “Roadshow” pieces are written for his children, one for his son Otto and the other for his daughter Thora. Schimmel was inspired by the hit PBS show “Antiques Roadshow,” and each miniature movement is a musical imagining of how his children might play with toys he saw featured on the show. The first track of the recording, “Silver Atom Ray Gun” from Roadshow for Otto, with its bravura opening and maudlin asides, encapsulates Schimmel’s occasionally cartoonish presentation. The opening movement Four Nocturnes from “The Oblivion Ha-Ha” sets poetry by James Tate, an American poet whose surrealist imagery veered toward the absurd later in his career. Schimmel’s style of setting the text here verges closer to recitative than lieder, and an attentive listener might hear references to Debussy in the final movement. The six movements of his String Quartet #2 are inspired by cubist paintings that Schimmel then incorporates as characters in the piece (the paintings are by Braque, Picasso, Gleizes, Gris, Metzinger, and Leger). Like a cubist painting, the piece’s six portrait movements form six sides of the same complex entity, perhaps even facets of a single personality. The final work on the recording, The Pismirist’s Congeries, returns to something of the light character of the “Roadshow” pair. A “pismirist” is someone who collects small, insignificant things, and each movement of this work is named after a different keepsake, such as “orrery” (a clockwork model of the solar system”) or “zufalo” (a small flute used to train songbirds). This collection, Schimmel’s debut full length release, shows the composer at his best, writing intricate, expressive music that balances wit and pathos.
Executive Producer: Carl Schimmel and Daniel Lippel
Producer: Carl Schimmel
Engineers/locations: Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio, Yonkers, NY (tracks 1-5, 27-35), Ryan Streber, Merkin Concert Hall (tracks 11-14) David Bowles, Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, CA (tracks 15-26), Brad Sayles, Wire Road Studios, Houston, TX (tracks 6-10)
Design and layout: Carlos Araujo
This recording was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Aaron Copland Fund for Recording
Carl Schimmel is a composer based in Iowa and Illinois. Praised by The New York Times as “vivid and dramatic,” his recent music is dense with literary and musical references, often humorous, and combines intensity of expression with a structural rigor which draws upon his mathematics background. In infusing his music with extra-musical influences such as poetry, art, and even unusual words, he strives to construct nexuses of experience which reflect both the inner life of emotions and the outer physical world which shapes us and is shaped by us. Winner of Columbia University’s Joseph Bearns Prize and the Lee Ettelson Award, Schimmel has received honors and awards from many organizations, including the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Copland House, New Music USA, and ASCAP. His works have been performed in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall, Merkin Hall in New York, Severance Hall in Cleveland, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, and at other venues throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. He has received performances and commissions from the American Composers Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, California EAR Unit, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, North/South Consonance, Quintet Attacca, the Mexico City Woodwind Quintet, and many others. A graduate of Duke University (Ph.D.), the Yale School of Music (M.M.), and Case Western Reserve University (B.A. Mathematics and Music), he is currently Associate Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Illinois State University in Normal, IL.
Schimmel’s Wild and Wacky Music Entertains and Surprises
Columbia University graduate Carl Schimmel’s music has been described by The New York Times as “vivid and dramatic,” but it’s also humorous, combining an intense “expression with a structural rigor which draws upon his mathematics background. In infusing his music with extra-musical influences such as poetry, art, and even unusual words, he strives to construct nexuses of experience which reflect both the inner life of emotions and the outer physical world (from the liner notes).”
The first two pieces on this CD, as well as the disc’s title, stem from the PBS program Antiques Roadshow and some of the toys Schimmel saw on that program. The first is dedicated to his son Otto, the second for his daughter Thora. The boy’s toys are “The Silver Atom Ray Gun” (oh, heavens! he supports toy weapons for children!), “The Clown Mandeville,” “Pedaling the Spirit of America,” “Camel and Monkey,” and “The Revolving Flashing Robot.” The girls’ toys are “The Yes No Bear,” “The Ives Trotter,” “The Clown Magician”(wow, he seems to have a thing for clowns, huh?), “Pulling the Pink Pig” (where are the animal rights activists to STOP this madness?) and “The Humpty Dumpty Circus Band.” All of this music is whimsical, lively and asymmetric, pitting the chamber instruments involved against one another rather than having them play as a unit. I should also point out that, for all its wackiness and humor, the music is resolutely tonal and, for all its asymmetric moments, highly rhythmic. It seems to my ears to draw on older popular music forms, occasionally spirituals (“Camel and Monkey” bears a strange resemblance to “Amazing Grace”!) and klezmer, particularly in his use of the clarinet. The allusions to the toy descriptions are merely symbolic for the most part, although Schimmel does occasionally try to simulate sounds that might be represented by the specific toys.
As for the underlying structure, it is mathematically balanced, as advertised, but doesn’t conform to any pre-existing classical form. In a reduced sort of way, the music put me in mind of Oliver Knussen’s wonderfully imaginative music for Where the Wild Things Are. There are many pauses and full stops written into each piece, short though they are (none of the Roadshow pieces are longer than two minutes, and many are about a minute and a half). Yet aside from their entertainment value, the music makes you think as you listen, perhaps because of those stops and pauses. A headlong rush through each piece would have been equally amusing, but it wouldn’t brig us up short and force us to hear what is really going on in the music. Perhaps the best example of what I mean within the first two suites is “The Clown Magician,” where Schummel creates an aura of mystery with slow, quiet music, the humor coming from the two or three “honks” of the clown’s horn, represented by the clarinet “honking” in the low register. Perhaps the most effective use, for atmosphere, of the stops and pauses comes in “Pulling the Pink Pig,” where Schimmel writes bouncy kiddie music to represent the moments when the pig (on wheels, obviously) is being pulled, and the silence to represent those moments when the pulling ceases. I’m sure that these words will mean very little to anyone who has not actually heard the music, but for those who have it will make perfect sense.
The 4 Nocturnes from “The Oblivion Ha-Ha” are voice-with-xchamber-group pieces, here featuring the inexcusably wobbly voice with a strained top range and incredibly poor diction of soprano Lucy Shelton, who ironically enough was used by Knussen many years ago to sing his Whitman Settings (she had a little bit of a wobble back then, but better diction and no strain up top). This music is consistently slow in tempo, imaginatively scored for the unusual quintet of flute, violin, clarinet, cello and piano, here played by the excellent Da Capo Chamber Players. Considering the fact that Schimmel has apparently paid great attention to the setting of these texts by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Tate, to exploit “the evocative and visual nature of the poetry through word-painting, and to employ the natural stress and rhythm of the English language, like a scaffold over which I draped the verses.” Tough luck, Carl; you got stuck with a soprano for whom English is her native tongue who can’t sing a single syllable of it clearly. But the music is interesting and highly imaginative, just so long as you follow the words in the booklet and pretend the singer can be understood (I actually did make four or five words out in a couple of the songs, but only because I’ve trained myself to deciphering the poor diction of such singers).
The 12-part String Quartet No. 2—six numbered movements with a Prelude, Interludes, an Intermezzo and an Epilogue—represent different paintings. Schimmel lists them as Georges Braque’s Girl with a Cross (1911), Pablo Picasso’s Man with a Pipe (1911), Albert Gleizes’ Woman with Animals (1914), Juan Gris’ Woman with a Mandolin (1916), Jean Metzinger’s Woman with a Fan (1913), and Fernand Leger’s Man with a Cane (1920), thus this quartet may be called his own personal Pictures at an Exhibition. The music, however, is continuous, each movement and interlude running one into the next without a break, and there is no stylistic distinction between the various “portraits.” This does not mean, however, that the music is uninteresting; on the contrary, it is highly engrossing, being alternately quiet and dramatic almost to the point of violence, never really relaxed or relaxing. Indeed, Woman With Animals is so violent that, without being able to see the painting, I would almost think that she was wrestling a grizzly bear or some such thing (and that, despite moments of taming it, the grizzly bear won). Indeed, this quartet is less a Pictures at an Exhibition than a pretty edgy and nightmarish Night Gallery. Don’t look at these paintings in the dark!
Having come a long way from the whimsical opening pieces on this disc, we then move on to the final nine-piece suite, The Pismirist’s Congeries. Schimmel describes a pismirist as a person who collects “small or insignificant things.” And insignificant they are. The list of items described by the music, given in the booklet, sound like that old Bob & Ray comedy routine about the “hard luck person” they found at a bus station, to whom they give such gifts as sailing vessels used by the ancient Phonecians (to which the recipient, who was broke and needed a bus ticket home, would ask, “Now, what am I going to do with that?”). Among the indispensable gems collected by this person are a war flag of pre-heraldic Europe (Gonfanon), a clockwork model of the solar system (Orrery), a finger exercise machine for pianists (Chirogymnast) and a torture instrument for crushing fingers (Pilliwinks). Remind me to stay away from this guy. But the music is utterly fascinating, reminding me in form and structure of the late Marius Constant (yes, The Twilight Zone guy).
All in all, this is a fascinating, engaging, and almost wildly diverse set of creative vignettes by a composer I hope to hear more of. Keep on truckin’, Carl! I love it!
— Lynn René Bayley, The Art Music Lounge, 1.10.17
Few composer portrait albums are as delightfully diverse and sprawling as Roadshow, a terrific collection of chamber music by Carl Schimmel, a professor Illinois State University with a wide range of influences and interests. Two different quartets open the album, playing a pair of five-movement works the composer wrote for his children.
In both, Schimmel visualized antique toys he’d seen on the popular PBS program Antiques Roadshow as objects he imagined both his son Otto and daughter Thora playing with. While the pieces are joyful and light-hearted, he packs a load of ideas into each miniature, with an almost surrealist’s sense of scale and juxtaposition; “The Silver Atom Ray Gun,” for example, melds campy sci-fi film soundtrack motifs with dark harmonic movements, while “The Clown Mandeville” zips along with music-box melodies and circus-like ebullience. “Four Nocturnes From ‘The Oblivion Ha-Ha,’” played by the Da Capo Chamber Players and sung by soprano Lucy Shelton, sounds much more somber and stately, but the text, by Pulitzer-winning poet James Tate that Schimmel has set to music here, brings with it its own surrealist imagery. A series of cubist paintings by Picasso, Gris, Braque, Leger, Gleizes, and Metzinger inspired the six movements of his stunning “String Quartet #2,” played with bracing clarity by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and the album concludes with the emotionally charged “The Pismerist’s Congeries,” another delicate chamber quartet that toggles between gauzy serenity and pulsing darkness. - Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Daily, March 2017
The latest release from the always fascinating stables of New Focus Recordings is a survey of American composer Carl Schimmel's chamber music written between 2006 and 2015, and unfolds like a cabinet of wondrous curiosities for the ear.
The textural writing is imaginative, lush and expressive in the String Quartet no 2, frail yet agile in the set of Psimirist Congeries, or dancingly ethereal in the Roadshow for Thora. Aesthetically, Schimmel's music seems to occupy the same world as that of Erik Satie - writing on the small-scale, finely crafted, yet with terrific wit and deft, comic touches, and ranging from a robust pleasure in the charm of nursery-rhyme melody to the more brooding implications of Surrealist poetry setting.
The song-cycle Four Noctures from the Oblivion Ha-Ha, setting words by poet James Tate, is the dark heart of the disc. Again, Schimmel's inventive textural conjuring is in evident through the cycle. The lurching surrealism of 'Jim's All Night Diner,' the first of the suite , clothes an expressive solo soprano in dark colours.
The collection concludes with the exquisite miniatures of the Psimirist Congeries (a psimirist, the liner notes inform us, is 'a collector small or insignificant things') with intricate, crisp textures. The survey on this disc shows that Schimmel's creativity is neither small nor insignificant; whilst it appears his music has been performed often in America, hopefully the disc will inspire more scheduling of his music here in the UK.
The disc rewards repeated listening, yielding new treasures with each visit to this 21st century cabinet of curiosities; find out more here.
-- Dan Harding, Shock of the New, 2.1.2017