Composer Eric Nathan's releases the ambitious cycle of works "Missing Words", featuring performances by some of new music's most prolific ensembles: International Contemporary Ensemble, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, American Brass Quintet, Hub New Music, and Neave Trio, as well as cellist Parry Karp and pianist Christopher Karp. "Missing Words" balances structural impulses befitting the epic scope of the set with Nathan's carefully considered approach to details of orchestration, harmony, and pitch.
Missing Words I
|Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, conductor|
|01||I. Eisenbahnscheinbewegung (Railway-Illusion-Motion)|
I. Eisenbahnscheinbewegung (Railway-Illusion-Motion)
|02||II. Herbstlaubtrittvergnügen (Autumn-Foliage-Strike-Fun)|
II. Herbstlaubtrittvergnügen (Autumn-Foliage-Strike-Fun)
|03||III. Fingerspitzentanz (Fingertips-Dance)|
III. Fingerspitzentanz (Fingertips-Dance)
Missing Words II
|American Brass Quintet|
|04||I. Leertretung (Void-Stepping)|
I. Leertretung (Void-Stepping)
|05||II. Kraftfahrzeugsinnenausstattungsneugeruchsgenuss (Automobile-Interior-Furnishing-Aroma-Pleasure)|
II. Kraftfahrzeugsinnenausstattungsneugeruchsgenuss (Automobile-Interior-Furnishing-Aroma-Pleasure)
|06||III. Brillenbrillanz (Spectacles-Luminosity)|
III. Brillenbrillanz (Spectacles-Luminosity)
Missing Words III
|Parry Karp, cello, Christopher Karp, piano|
|07||I. Rollschleppe (Escalator-Schlep)|
I. Rollschleppe (Escalator-Schlep)
|08||II. Mundphantom (Mouth-Phantom)|
II. Mundphantom (Mouth-Phantom)
|09||III. Straußmanöver (Ostrich-Maneuver)|
III. Straußmanöver (Ostrich-Maneuver)
|10||IV. Schubladenbrief ((Desk-)Drawer-Letter)|
IV. Schubladenbrief ((Desk-)Drawer-Letter)
Missing Words IV
|International Contemporary Ensemble, Nicholas DeMaison, conductor|
|11||I. Erkenntnisspaziergang (Cognition-Stroll)|
I. Erkenntnisspaziergang (Cognition-Stroll)
|12||II. Dreiecksumgleichung (Triangle-Reorganization)|
II. Dreiecksumgleichung (Triangle-Reorganization)
|13||III. Tageslichtspielschock (Daylight-Show-Shock)|
III. Tageslichtspielschock (Daylight-Show-Shock)
Missing Words V
|14||I. Ludwigssyndrom (Ludwig’s-Syndrome)|
I. Ludwigssyndrom (Ludwig’s-Syndrome)
|15||II. Kissenkühlelabsal (Pillow-Chill-Refreshment)|
II. Kissenkühlelabsal (Pillow-Chill-Refreshment)
|16||III. Watzmannwahn (Watzmann-Delusion)|
III. Watzmannwahn (Watzmann-Delusion)
Missing Words VI
|Hub New Music|
|17||I. Witzbeharrsamkeit (Joke-Insistence) I|
I. Witzbeharrsamkeit (Joke-Insistence) I
|18||II. Betttrug (Bed-Deception)|
II. Betttrug (Bed-Deception)
|19||III. Witzbeharrsamkeit (Joke-Insistence) II|
III. Witzbeharrsamkeit (Joke-Insistence) II
|20||IV. Dielennystagmus (Hallway-Nystagmus)|
IV. Dielennystagmus (Hallway-Nystagmus)
|21||V. Witzbeharrsamkeit (Joke-Insistence) III|
V. Witzbeharrsamkeit (Joke-Insistence) III
|22||VI. Erebusterror (Erebus-Terror)|
VI. Erebusterror (Erebus-Terror)
|23||VII. Rolleirückblende (Rollei-Flashback)|
VII. Rolleirückblende (Rollei-Flashback)
Performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, American Brass Quintet, cellist Parry Karp and pianist Christopher Karp, International Contemporary Ensemble, Neave Trio, and Hub New Music, Missing Words is a six-part series inspired by German words invented by writer Ben Schott in his book Schottenfreude (2013) that describe ineffable experiences of contemporary life. The musical works speak to intimate yet shared experiences that range from the tragic and beautiful to the comic and commonplace. With Missing Words, Nathan finds meaning in the phenomena that add color to everyday life. Schott has contributed a foreword for the album and Robert Kirzinger wrote the liner notes.
Musically, Missing Words is a stark departure from Nathan’s other works. In order to convey the subtlety and complexity of Schott’s precisely constructed portmanteau words, Nathan has invented new sonorities and forms that are surprising and delightful. He expresses, with exactitude and humor, shared human experiences that bring us closer together. These Schumann-esque character pieces take the listener through sound worlds that are widely disparate.
In his liner notes, Robert Kirzinger writes, “Already possessing a strong compositional technique and a large toolkit of resources, Nathan frequently found himself developing new tools and sounds to translate into music the commonplace or surprisingly subtle ideas behind Schott’s linguistic constructions… At times we’re asked merely to notice something – the way some physical action feels, the way it affects our mood. Other pieces are one-liners, a nudge to the ribs, while others, perhaps unexpectedly given the tiny kernel of their origins, expand and reflect upon much bigger phenomena of human experience. Each of the pieces is complete in itself; at the same time, though, each is a porous little world of sound that grows beyond itself, blends with the memory of the others, and sings to us a song of humanity.”
The first Missing Words piece was born during Nathan’s time in Italy as recipient of the Rome Prize of the American Academy of Rome. Composed for the resident Scharoun Ensemble, made up of members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Missing Words I launched the quasi-Germanic musical concept. So far, the series consists of six pieces for various ensembles, each inspired by Schott’s proposed new words that are missing from the English language, in the vein of Schadenfreude, Doppelgänger, and Wanderlust.
Kirzinger adds, “Nathan’s music captures the range of human experience, and embodies an understanding that life’s richness results from the accumulation of all of its facets, from the mundane to the profound. The composition of Missing Words I set in motion a process, familiar to the composer, of seeking out the most direct musical language to express the emotional and narrative content of a succinct idea.”
Ben Schott writes in the foreword, “Eric’s selected translation – I can think of no better word – is not just unexpected in conception, but remarkable in execution. It does with notes what I attempted with letters – that is, it takes a superficially frivolous idea, and treats it with a seriousness that reveals. Missing Words is elegant and amusing, personal and public... Schottenfreude exists because when English is exhausted, we turn to German. Missing Words exists because when words are exhausted, we turn to music.”
Tracks 1-3 recorded February 13, 2016, in Fraser Performance Studio at WGBH in Boston Producer: Gil Rose
Recording and post-production: Joel Gordon
Tracks 4-6 recorded on October 26, 2021, in Norman S . Benzaquen Hall at The DiMenna Center for Classical Music in New York
Producer and engineer: Andrew Bove
Assistant Engineer: Mario Correa
Editing: Andrew Bove, Mario Correa, and John Rojak
Tracks 7-10 recorded August 14-15, 2021, at the Hamel Music Center, Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, in Madison
Producer: Eric Nathan
Recording and post-production: Brian Losch
Tracks 1-3 recorded September 8, 2021, at Oktaven Audio in Mount Vernon
Producer: Eric Nathan
Producer, recording and post-production: Ryan Streber
Editing: Ryan Streber and Charles Mueller
Tracks 4-6 recorded October 12, 2021, in Fraser Performance Studio at WGBH in Boston
Producer: Eric Nathan
Recording and post-production: Antonio Oliart Ros
Tracks 7-13 recorded October 8, 2021, at Futura Productions in Boston
Producer: Eric Nathan
Producer and post-production: Shauna Barravechio
Recording: John Weston
Post-production: Christopher Moretti
Mastering (full album): Antonio Oliart Ros
Foreword: Ben Schott
Liner Notes: Robert Kirzinger
Album Design: Denise Burt (elevator-design .dk)
Photo of Eric Nathan by Luyuan Nathan
The movement titles of Missing Words, and their translations and definitions, quote text from Schottenfreude by Ben Schott. Copyright © 2013 by Ben Schott. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
The Neave Trio are exclusive artists of Chandos Records and appear with their kind permission.
This recording was made possible, in part, by the Brown Arts Institute and Brown University.
Eric Nathan’s (b .1983) music has been called “as diverse as it is arresting” with
a “constant vein of ingenuity and expressive depth” (San Francisco Chronicle), “thoughtful and inventive” (The New Yorker), and as “a marvel of musical logic” (Boston Classical Review).
Nathan, a 2013 Rome Prize Fellow and 2014 Guggenheim Fellow, has garnered acclaim internationally through performances by Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, International Contemporary Ensemble, Boston Symphony Chamber Players, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Boston Musica Viva, JACK Quartet, American Brass Quintet, Ensemble Dal Niente, A Far Cry, Momenta Quartet and performers including vocalists Dawn Upshaw, Lucy Shelton, Tony Arnold, Jessica Rivera and William Sharp, violinists Jennifer Koh and Stefan Jackiw, trombonist Joseph Alessi, pianists Gloria Cheng and Gilbert Kalish, and violist Samuel Rhodes. His music has additionally been featured at the New York Philharmonic’s 2014 and 2016 Biennials, Carnegie Hall, Aldeburgh Music Festival, Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, Aspen Music Festival, MATA Festival, Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Ravinia Festival Steans Institute, Yellow Barn, Music Academy of the West, 2012 and 2013 World Music Days, and Louvre Museum.
Recent projects include three commissions from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, including a chamber work, “Why Old Places Matter” (2014) for the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, and two orchestral works, “the space of a door” (2016), that Andris Nelsons and the BSO premiered in November 2016 and commercially released on the Naxos label in 2019, and “Concerto for Orchestra” which Nelsons premiered on the 2019-20 season-opening concerts.
Nathan has received additional commissions from the New York Philharmonic for its CONTACT! series, Milwaukee Symphony, New England Philharmonic, Tanglewood Music Center, Aspen Music Festival for the American Brass Quintet, Boston Musica Viva, Collage New Music, New York Virtuoso Singers, The Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress, Barlow Endowment and Fromm Music Foundation. Nathan has been honored with awards including a Copland House residency, Civitella Ranieri Music Fellowship, ASCAP’s Rudolf Nissim Prize, four ASCAP Morton Gould Awards, BMI’s William Schuman Prize, Aspen Music Festival’s Jacob Druckman Prize, a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Leonard Bernstein Fellowship from the Tanglewood Music Center.
In 2015, Albany Records released a debut CD of Nathan’s solo and chamber music, “Multitude, Solitude: Eric Nathan,” produced by Grammy-winning producer Judith Sherman. Poisson Rouge presented a CD release concert of Nathan’s music in October 2015. In 2020, Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project released a portrait album of Nathan’s orchestral and large ensemble music on the BMOP Sound label.
Nathan is currently Composer-in-Residence with the New England Philharmonic . He previously served as Composer-in-Residence at the 2013 Chelsea Music Festival (New York) and 2013 Chamber Music Campania (Italy). He received his doctorate from Cornell and holds degrees from Yale (B.A ) and Indiana University (M.M.). Nathan served as Visiting Assistant Professor at Williams College in 2014-15, and is currently Associate Professor of Music in Composition-Theory at the Brown University Department of Music.
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) is the premier orchestra in the United States dedicated exclusively to commissioning, performing, and recording music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Recently hailed as “one of the most artistically valuable [orchestras] in the country for its support of music either new or so woefully neglected that it might as well be” by The New York Times, BMOP was the recipient of Musical America’s 2016 Ensemble of the Year award, the first symphony orchestra in the organization’s history to receive this distinction.
Founded by Artistic Director Gil Rose in 1996, BMOP has championed composers whose careers span nine decades. BMOP’s distinguished and adventurous track record includes premieres and recordings of monumental and provocative new works such as John Harbison’s ballet Ulysses, Louis Andriessen’s Trilogy of the Last Day, and Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers. A perennial winner of the ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, the orchestra has been featured at festivals including Opera Unlimited, the Ditson Festival of Contemporary Music with the ICA/Boston, Tanglewood, the Boston Cyberarts Festival, the Festival of New American Music (Sacramento, CA), Music on the Edge (Pittsburgh, PA), and the MATA Festival in New York.
BMOP/sound, BMOP’s independent record label, was created in 2008 and has garnered praise from the national and international press; it is the recipient of six Grammy Award nominations and its releases have appeared on the year-end “Best of” lists of The New York Times, The Boston Globe, National Public Radio, Time Out New York, American Record Guide, Downbeat Magazine, WBUR, NewMusicBox, and others.
Gil Rose is a conductor helping to shape the future of classical music. His dynamic performances and many recordings have garnered international critical praise. In 1996, Mr. Rose founded the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), whose unique programming and distinguished performances have earned the orchestra fourteen ASCAP awards for adventurous programming as well as the John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music. Also one of the country’s most inventive and versatile opera conductors, Mr. Rose founded Odyssey Opera, a new company dedicated to exploring eclectic and overlooked operatic repertoire, in 2013. He led Opera Boston as its Music Director starting in 2003, and in 2010 was appointed the company's first Artistic Director. Mr. Rose serves as the executive producer of the BMOP/sound label, and has led the longstanding Monadnock Music Festival in historic Peterborough, NH, since 2012.
Founded in 1960, the American Brass Quintet immediately became a leading proponent of serious brass chamber music. Beginning with the commissioning of Charles Whittenberg and his Tryptich, ABQ has commissioned and premiered over 150 pieces. ABQ has recorded nearly 60 albums of brass music, ranging from the Renaissance and Early Baroque to music from the 21st Century. Touring extensively since the early 1960’s, ABQ has concertized and taught in all 50 states and 5 continents. Committed to the promotion of brass chamber music through education, the American Brass Quintet has been ensemble-in-residence at The Juilliard School since 1987 and the Aspen Music Festival and School since 1970.
Cellist Parry Karp is Artist-in Residence and the Graebner Professor of Chamber Music and Cello, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is director of the string chamber music program. He has been cellist of the Pro Arte Quartet for the past 45 years, the longest tenure of any member in the quartet’s over 100 year history . Parry Karp is an active solo artist, performing numerous recitals annually in the United States, and has recorded six solo CDs. Unearthing and performing unjustly neglected repertoire for cello is a passion of Mr. Karp’s. In recent years he has transcribed for cello many masterpieces written for other instruments.
Pianist and violinist Christopher Karp’s extra-familial music training included violin and chamber music studies with Lorand Fenyves and Robert Koff. Recordings include three CDs of the chamber music of Joel Hoffman (Albany Records). A physician-scientist, he is currently the Director of Global Health Discovery & Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Called “America’s foremost new music group” by The New Yorker, The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) is an artist collective that is transforming the way music is created and experienced. As performer, curator, and educator, ICE explores how new music intersects with communities across the world. The ensemble’s 35 members are featured as soloists, chamber musicians, commissioners, and collaborators with the foremost musical artists of our time. Works by emerging composers have anchored ICE’s programming since its founding in 2001, and the group’s recordings and digital platforms highlight the many voices that weave music’s present. A recipient of the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, ICE was also named the 2014 Musical America Ensemble of the Year. The group currently serves as artists-in-residence at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Mostly Mozart Festival, and previously led a five-year residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. ICE was featured at the Ojai Music Festival from 2015 to 2017, and at recent festivals abroad such as gmem-CNCM-marseille and Vértice at Cultura UNAM, Mexico City. Other performance stages have included the Park Avenue Armory, The Stone, ice floes at Greenland’s Diskotek Sessions, and boats on the Amazon River.
New initiatives include OpenICE, made possible with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which offers free concerts and related programming wherever ICE performs, and enables a working process with composers to unfold in public settings. DigitICE, a free online library of over 350 streaming videos, catalogues the ensemble’s performances. ICE's First Page program is a commissioning consortium that fosters close collaborations between performers, composers, and listeners as new music is developed. EntICE, a side-by-side education program, places ICE musicians within youth orchestras as they premiere new commissioned works together; inaugural EntICE partners include Youth Orchestra Los Angeles and The People's Music School in Chicago. Summer activities include Ensemble Evolution at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, in which young professionals perform with ICE and attend workshops on topics from interpretation to concert production. Yamaha Artist Services New York is the exclusive piano provider for ICE.http://iceorg.org
Nicholas Demaison is an American conductor and composer based in New York City. Passionately devoted to the music being made in our own time, he has led premiere performances of new works for orchestra, opera, choir and various mixed ensembles with new technologies by well over a hundred living composers, and appears on albums released by New Focus, Mode, and Con d’or Records. He is currently the Co-Director of Wavefield Ensemble and Director of Orchestral Studies at the John J. Cali School of Music at Montclair State University.http://nicholasdemaison.com
Since forming in 2010, Neave Trio – violinist Anna Williams, cellist Mikhail Veselov, and pianist Eri Nakamura – has earned enormous praise for its engaging, cutting-edge performances. WQXR explains, “’Neave’ is actually a Gaelic name meaning ‘bright’ and ‘radiant’, both of which certainly apply to this trio’s music making.” Neave has performed at many esteemed concert series and at festivals worldwide, including Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 92nd Street Y, and more. Their critically acclaimed recordings include Her Voice, French Moments, and American Moments (all on Chandos Records); and Celebrating Piazzolla (Azica Records).
The Neave Trio are exclusive artists of Chandos Records and appear with their kind permission.
Called “contemporary chamber trailblazers” by the Boston Globe, Hub New Music – composed of flute, clarinet, violin, and cello – is forging new pathways in 21st-century repertoire. The ensemble’s ambitious commissioning projects and “appealing programs” (New Yorker) celebrate the rich diversity of today’s classical music landscape, and its performances have been described as on the “the cutting edge of new classical music” (Taos News). Founded in 2013, the group has commissioned dozens of works for its non-standard combination, and maintains an active performance schedule alongside its many educational endeavors.
The Germans have a knack for coming up with long, single compound words for various aspects of life that normally might take a sentence or even a paragraph to depict in English. Schadenfreude — or delight at someone else’s misfortune — is one of the best-known of them. So British writer Ben Schott took it upon himself to invent 120 new German words in that spirit for a book that he calls — um — Schottenfreude.
Cue the composer Eric Nathan, who in Missing Words has set some of these nearly-impenetrable polysyllabic words to music in a set of six compositions for various-sized ensembles (New Focus). While Schott writes, “Schottenfreude exists because when English is exhausted, we turn to German,” Nathan tries to prove that “when words are exhausted, we turn to music.”
Each of the six Missing Words components consist of a suite of short impressions on new German words, each played by a different ensemble. Members of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) under Gil Rose take on the first cycle, the American Brass Quintet the second, the cello-piano duo of Parry and Christopher Karp the third. Nicholas DeMaison and members from the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) do the fourth, the Neave Trio does the fifth, and the Hub New Music quartet does the sixth.
It’s an intriguing concept. It sometimes results in intriguing music. And parts of these six compositions occasionally hit the target of conveying in sound the idea behind the complex words.
How complex? It can be as simple a word as “Betttrug” — or “The fleeting sense of disorientation on waking in a strange bed” — which consists of little more than soft drones. The longest, most outlandish one has to be (pause for deep breath) “Kraftfahrzeugsinnenausstattungsneugeruchsgenuss” — which is supposed to mean “New car smell.” How does that translate into sound? The music doesn’t offer a clue.
While many of the thoughts expressed by the words are rather frivolous, sometimes the topics are quite serious. In Suite III, “Straußmanöver” — or “Ostrich-Maneuver, the short-term defense strategy of simply denying reality” — starts with deep strummed piano strings, evolves into a torturously high cello line over amorphous piano chords, and ends with a feathery-voiced anthem that is supposed to represent “political angst” (another German contribution to the world’s vocabulary). In the succeeding piece “Schubladenbrief” — or “The letter you write, but never send” — the cello imitates a scribbler furiously busy with the pen while the piano hammers out some real angst.
Really engrossing and even touching is a selection in Suite IV called “Dreiecksumgleichung” — or “When two friends you’ve introduced form a new friendship that excludes you.” It’s a playlet in which a bass clarinet horns in on a violin-cello duo, eventually kicking the violin out of the triangle. Then we hear a flute and a piano frolicking together, with the flute quickly replaced by mallet percussion. But in the end, the flute ultimately finds a soulmate in the spurned violin. Anyone who has been in these kinds of triangles will identify.
There is humor, too, in the last two suites in which Nathan joins the multitudes of present-day composers who are obsessed with Beethoven, whose manuscript scores can be notoriously messy-looking. The Neave races around in “Ludwigssyndrom” — or “Ludwig’s-Syndrome: Discovering an indecipherable note in your own handwriting” — with embedded notes from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony strewn in fragments. And Nathan doesn’t stop there; the motto of Beethoven’s Fifth infiltrates Suite VI in recurring passages, ultimately coming to a contemplative rest in the final number of the collection, “Rolleirückblende” — or “The flood of memory released when looking at old photos.”
That’s enough tricky, made-up German words for one review.
— Richard S. Ginell, 2.28.2022
Finally, Eric Nathan’s Missing Words is a six-part series inspired by Ben Schott’s thought-provoking and mercurial book Schottenfreude. Schott riffs on the way the English language has adopted portmanteau words from German to express complex concepts—words like schadenfreude, doppelgänger, and weltschmerz. He then goes a step further, inventing his own words, for example, “Eisenbahnscheinbewegung” (literally trainillusion-motion), describing the imaginary feeling of motion you get on a stationary train when you see another pull out of the station.
Vividly performed by Boston Modern Orchestra Project, American Brass Quintet, cellist Parry Karp and pianist Christopher Karp, International Contemporary Ensemble, Neave Trio, and Hub New Music, each of Nathan’s six Missing Words series takes a handful of Schott’s words and attempts to convey them through purely musical means, often inventing innovative ways to express ideas in sound. The intricate, intriguing results are not so much a-tonal as a-rhythmic, a whistle-stop tour through extended techniques and microtonal harmonies, but always with the aim of creating a musical atmosphere evocative of a sensation, emotion, or curious compound concept. Each set is uniquely inspired, the music veering from thorny and angst-ridden to sly and jolly.
There is so much to discover in these elegant miniatures but let me single out the rapturous fanfares of “Brillenbrillianz” (which translates as spectacles-luminosity), which attempts to convey the innervating feeling of clarity when first putting on a new pair of glasses. Or the frequently comedic “Missing Words V” with its witty incorporation of Beethoven fragments in movements like “Ludwigssyndrom” (Ludwig’s-syndrome), depicting the frustration of discovering an indecipherable note in your own handwriting. This is brilliantly original stuff.
— Clive Paget, 1.26.2022
A few weeks ago, in this column, I wrote about that moment when you’re driving along a highway at consistent speed and you can’t tell what’s moving and what isn’t. Galileo described this sensation as relative motion (or would have if cars and highways existed in 17th-century Florence). Siddhartha Gautama described it as emptiness (or would have if cars and highways existed in 5th-century BCE India). It’s not the same exact sensation, but modern-day Germans have, along with cars and highways, a word for something similar: Eisenbahnscheingbewegung. Literally “railway-illusion-motion,” it’s described by writer Ben Schott as “the false sensation of movement when, looking out from a stationary train, you see another train depart.”
“Eisenbahnscheingbewegung” is one of those perfect words that describe an experience at once excruciatingly specific and broadly ubiquitous. Its allure also lies in its untranslatability which, paradoxically, is one of the reasons why Eric Nathan’s translation of it works so well. All glassy-eyed string glissandi and microtonal flutters of woodwind and brass, “Eisenbahnscheingbewegung” begins the composer’s “Missing Words I,” one of six suites assembled from 23 entries in Schott’s collection of untranslatable German words, Schottenfreude. It’s a slap of an opening; the unexpected jolt that shakes you awake after you lean your head against the cool pane of an Amtrak or Eurostar window and close your eyes. It feels wrong, disorienting, but also familiar: the screech of metal that we can place equally in Anna Karenina or on the A train; a horn call that is at home in both Steve Reich and the Berlin U-Bahn. Confusion slopes into acceleration, and just a few minutes later we cut into an entirely different sensation: Herbstlaubtrittvergnügen (“autumn-foliage-strike-fun”—that one’s a bit easier to piece together).
Like a sonic-Teutonic Magnetic Poetry set, Nathan’s “Missing Words” is a years-long collage that becomes as much an exercise in form and configuration as it is in musical translation. The components of each suite stand on their own, but next to each other they bring out strange resonances, like the echoes between the false sense of a train’s motion and the liberating chaos of running through a pile of leaves. What’s visually disparate is aurally similar. With no movement exceeding six-and-a-half minutes and the average entry lasting half that, “Missing Words” has the appeal of a luxury chocolate sampler. Over the course of listening and relistening to it, I found myself jumping to individual moments from particular suites to get to their flavors first, like the midsection of piano-cello duet “Missing Words III.” Schott clarifies that a Straußmanöver (“ostrich manoeuver”) is the time-honored short-term defense strategy of denying reality. In his adaptation, Nathan suffuses the cello lines, arching ever upward, with the sort of nostalgia that encourages classical music’s own ostrich manoeuvers. What sounds like it could be a disjointed echo of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” soon becomes a much more pointed, deliberate, and warped quotation of “Hail to the Chief.” It sounds like John Philip Sousa suffering a napalm attack.
— Olivia Giovetti, 2.24.2022
Ben Schott's 2013 book Schottenfreude is a glossary of German words invented by its author to describe contemporary life. Such notions as "tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity" and "the exhausting trudge up a stationary escalator" inspired chamber pieces by composer Eric Nathan, performed here by several ensembles.
Nathan's writing calls to mind Second Viennese School composers in merging beauty with subtle dissonance—a backhanded way of saying that it doesn't sound exactly new, nor does it need to. He cuts a line through the Brahms-Schoenberg continuum that is nostalgic, romantic, and post-Romantic. The recording adheres to tradition: bright and crisp, a full stereo picture with nothing pushed to the periphery.
Missing Words IV is the standout, thanks to the presence of International Contemporary Ensemble members Josh Modney (violin), Cory Smythe (piano), and Clara Warnaar (percussion). At 19 minutes, it's also the longest, and the titles of its three sections sample the lexicon roots Nathan is dealing with: "Erkenntnisspaziergang" (cognition-stroll), "Dreiecksungleichung" (triangle-reorganization), and "Tageslichtspielschock" (daylight-show-shock). The fictive vocabulary can be used for context, like Debussy's faun, or set aside in favor of simple listening.
Other pieces draw from the sounds of trains and accidental cell phone recordings, and there are allusions to Beethoven. The set is thought-provoking, ripe with cues to put the mind apace, as if these made-up words, full of meaning, were ripening fruit, with Nathan the baker collecting them all. When the pie was opened, the words began to sing.
— Kurt Gottschalk, 5.13.2022
I got a great sense of kissenkühlelabsal from Whitacre Hill's horn in the first part of Missing Words, performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. And in case you think I've lost my mind, "kissenkühlelabsal" is a word Ben Schott invented to describe "the ineffable pleasure and instant relief of a cool pillow." Every movement of this six-part work is in fact based on one of Schott's words from his Schottenfreude project, which turns into a great excuse for Nathan to produce reams of chamber music, from sparkling to introspective, and have it performed to a fare-thee-well by BMOP, the American Brass Quintet, cellist Parry Karp and pianist Christopher Karp, the International Contemporary Ensemble, the Neave Trio, and Hub New Music. Whether you know the words or not, this is a delight to listen to, although it did require some fingerspitzentanz ("tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity") to get the booklet out of the CD package so I could read the liner notes!
— Jeremy Shatan, 5.28.2022
Based on the volume I have been listening to with some joy, composer Eric Nathan shows himself to be a Neo-High Modernist of true inventive thrust. The album at hand is the chamber series contained on two CDs and entitled `Missing Words (New Focus Recordings FCR 314 2-CDs).
The idea of the music is that when English fails, one might switch to German, and if that fails, music should step in to give us in poetic clarity the complete thought message. As you listen, or as I did anyway, the programmatic idea lives on in the main as an inspiration for the series of six works. And as you listen you feel a musical narrative that you understand apart from any words.
The six works cover a full gamut of instrumental possibility from cello and piano (Parry and Christopher Karp, respectively) to the Boston Modern Orchestra Project as conducted and directed by Gil Rose. I do not think a blow-by-blow description will substitute for the experience of lingering within this cornucopia of music--and that is fitting since the idea is that music says what words cannot. In general though keep in mind this is a Modern sort of vocabulary, at times rooted in a sophisticated tonality and then expanding to a more spacious plethora of note relation choices.
What most strikes me about this series of Nathan's works is indeed how fluid, eloquent and assured is each of these works. This to my mind presents a series of works whose importance I suspect will in the years to come be a very memorable part of the music of our time. And it obtains that rather lofty spot in my ears in the most natural of ways. I do recommend this album highly. It is most original fare, played with poetic assurance. Anyone who values the "new" in New Music should experience delight in hearing these works. By all means check this one out!
— Grego Applegate Edwards, 1.27.2022
The esteemed composer Eric Nathan brings a small handful of the best modern ensembles to this very daring effort, where orchestration, pitch and harmony are all refined with a strong attention to detail.
“Missing Words I” opens the listen with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project providing much ambience and control as a cinematic and often tense climate pushes and pulls with moody strings and bright brass, and “Missing Words II” brings the American Brass Quintet to a very meticulous and adventurous layering of brass dynamics.
Disc 1 exits with the mysterious and charming blending of Parry Karp’s cello and Christopher Karp’s piano, as “Missing Words III” emits a low and alluring tone.
Disc 2 is especially exciting, where the fascinating manipulation of sound from the International Contemporary ensemble nearly sounds sci-fi on “Missing Words IV”, while “Missing Words V”moves swiftly with intricate strings and firm keys guiding the chamber setting. “Missing Words VI” then meshes the winds, and strings in both quick, upbeat settings, as well as calm, intimate ebbs thanks to Hub New Music.
Certainly more a desolate effort than most of Nathan’s work, in the area of contemporary classical and ambitious chamber music, it just doesn’t get much better than this.
— Tom Haugen, 5.04.2022
John Aylward (b. 1980) garnered deserved attention for his provocative 2020 release Angelus and should do the same with his latest, Celestial Forms and Stories. Drawing for inspiration from Ovid's Metamorphoses, the Northampton, Massachusetts-based composer has fashioned a five-piece chamber music suite that ten members of the Viennese ensemble Klangforum Wien, including conductor Finnegan Downie Dear, have brought to a state of compelling realization. The fifty-four-minute recording presents five pieces written between 214 and 2019, all of them enrapturing musical creations based on the myths immortalized by Ovid in his text. Intuition and formal strategies work hand-in-hand in Aylward's compositional process, the result daring explorations of counterpoint and harmonic texture.
He couldn't have hoped for better musical collaborators to bring his material into physical form. Comprising twenty-four musicians from ten different countries, Klangforum Wien has premiered approximately 500 new pieces during its tenure and boasts a discography of more than seventy CDs and a live performance history of about 2000 appearances. For Celestial Forms and Stories, the ensemble's represented by four woodwind players, three strings, a pianist, percussionist, and, as mentioned, conductor. The musicians, arranged in different configurations on the album (Daedalus and Mercury, for example, are performed by a quartet of flute, clarinet, violin, and cello), generate a wealth of sonorities and timbres that makes the scores all the more arresting.
While three pieces, Daedalus, Mercury, and Narcissus, offer an interpretative head start in being named after familiar figures, the two others, Ephemera and Ananke, are more abstractly titled. Some connections might be made between those figures and the musical material—in liner notes, Alex Rehding proposes that the airy opening of Mercury might be seen as a musical allusion to the winged messenger, as might the glassy passages in Narcissus to its famously vain character—but Aylward's less preoccupied with programmatic representation than exploring the general concept of metamorphosis through musical form.
Counterpoint and timbre are key to these pieces. At the start of Daedalus, for example, we witness some musical elements skittering agitatedly as others establish calm using sustained pitches. Sounds intertwine in a way that suggests four tributaries that while distinct also overlap and align and even at times merge. It is, to be sure, music that never ceases mutating as it advances through contrasting episodes of mood and dynamics. Instability likewise marks Mercury in its restless opening moments when string harmonics and fluttering gestures evoke the fleet-footed movements of the titular figure; even later staccato accents could be taken as suggestive of a body's movements.
At the work's centre, Ephemera accentuates timbral contrast by pairing rapid clarinet flurries and cello tremolos that after an intense dialogue sees the two oscillating between passages that are less frenetic and others that equal the intro for animation. Septet arrangements are used for Narcissus and Ananke, with percussion in the former and piano in the latter partnered with flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, and cello. Vibraphone and marimba patterns appear alongside flickering woodwinds and creaking strings during Narcissus, and timbre is naturally at its most dynamic in these settings when woodwinds and strings organize into trios and the seventh instrument positions itself between them. Like the other four parts, Ananke, the longest at fifteen minutes, is a study in contrast, with in this case piano the grounding presence around which the others constellate. Short, staccato accents pave the way for individual strands that then give way to unison statements and ever-changing combinations. The music swirls dizzyingly at one moment before relaxing in the next, with an eruptive piano solo episode at the mid-point differentiating Ananke from the other parts.
While Hassan Anderson, another contributor to the album booklet, recalls a friend describing Aylward's music as “like Elliot Carter dreaming of Debussy,” I hear it more as a contemporary exemplar of the post-harmonic zone explored by Berg a century ago (there are moments, for instance, in Narcissus that could pass for ones in a Berg chamber work). Like his, Aylward's music transcends conventional notions of harmony and dissonance, inhabiting instead an untethered realm where intuition plays as central a role as any adherence to a formal compositional plan. While a sense of liberation from rules emerges in the five parts, there's nothing random about the writing; on the contrary, everything feels meticulously worked out and considered, though not so much that the music feels constrained. It is also, it must be said, sensual, specifically in the way Aylward exploits instrument timbres. In that regard, the reference to Debussy is warranted.
— Ron Schepper, 4.12.2022
Back in 2013, author Ben Schott published Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition, a dictionary of German words he'd concocted to describe situations and states of mind for which English has no word. We English speakers had already borrowed many such composite German words for that purpose: zeitgeist, blitzkrieg, bildungsroman, wunderkind, and of course schadenfreude are a few; Schott took the idea and ran with it, over the top.
Over the past several years, composer Eric Nathan has taken Schott's creative fun into a new realm with Missing Words, six sets of instrumental music based on some of Schott's neologisms. This month, New Focus Recordings releases the world premiere recording of the full series, including performances by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the Neave Trio, Boston Modern Orchestra Project and others. It's a two-CD trip through the inventive mind of a composer who's part translator of the human condition, part trickster.
How to translate an individual portmanteau word (to use a French import for a moment) into music? Nathan often solves this problem by telling a story, of sorts, in sound. One of my favorite of Schott's creations is "Dreiecksumgleichung" (literally "triangle-reorganization"), denoting "when two friends you've introduced form a new friendship that excludes you." Performed by ICE, Nathan's musical interpretation has a third instrument "intrude" into a happy collaboration between two others, finally driving one of the original pair into the wilderness. He then extends the concept with a second trio of instruments, a second exclusion, and a union of the two outcasts.
Many of the linkages are suggestively programmatic in this way, as when the tongue-twisting "Kraftfahrzeugsinnenausstattungsneugeruchsgenuss" ("Automobile-Interior-Furnishing-Aroma-Pleasure"), denoting "new car smell," begins and ends with the American Brass Quintet simulating the sound of a car starting, revving and accelerating, with honking horns in between. It's one example of how Nathan marshals the timbre and attack qualities of particular ensembles to convey descriptive messages. Ever resourceful, he also evokes the aggravating noise of the city with violin, cello and piano in one of the movements performed by the Neave Trio. And an onomatopoeic piece performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project illustrates "kicking through piles of autumn leaves" by means of horn-bassoon "kicks" setting off brief flights of skittering strings, representing leaf-scatter.
Other word-music connections are more abstract. To illustrate "Schubladenbrief" ("(Desk-)Drawer-Letter") - "the letter you write, but never send" - the score directs cellist Parry Karp and pianist Christopher Karp through a web of frenzied activity and awkward gesturing, suggesting a letter-writer's feverish state of mind. "Straugmanover" ("Ostrich-Maneuver") - "the short-term defense strategy of simply denying reality" - slinks by with angst (another borrowing from German) and solemnity and ends with a glacially paced, clearly ironic reference to a patriotic song.
The same duo creates a haunting sound picture in "Rollschleppe" ("Escalator-Schlep") to suggest "the exhausting trudge up a stationary escalator." The Karps' four-movement sequence boasts extraordinarily compelling playing over a wide range of musical developments, atmospheres, and techniques.
It adds a dimension - and it's just plain fun - to refer to the explanatory liner notes explaining each piece as you listen. They inform us, for example, that in "Dielennystagmus" (Hallway-Nystagmus), denoting "repeatedly catching and avoiding people's gazes when, say, approaching them down a long corridor," Nathan calls for the musicians to cue one another through interrupted eye contact. The results are predictably halting and rather eerie.
But what gives the project its real heft is deep immersion in one composer's sensibility through different configurations of instruments. This makes Missing Words a supremely engaging multi-course meal full of dense flights of musical invention. The versatile and adventurous Neave Trio opens the fifth set with "Ludwigssyndrom" (Ludwig's-Syndrome), "discovering an indecipherable note in your own handwriting." In this and the other movements of "Missing Words V," and in the seven short pieces comprising "Missing Words VI" performed by the chamber ensemble Hub New Music, Nathan takes inspiration from Beethoven - his themes and his process - confirming Nathan's engagement with the classical tradition through an avant-garde lens while translating (Schott's word) the writer's arch humor and observational precision.
Missing Words is a feast for adventurous listeners and, I think, the friendliest sort of challenge for the avant-averse. It will be released on January 21, 2022.
— Jon Sobel, 1.16.2022
Eric Nathan (b. 1983) is an American composer who, like most living composers (and artists) nowadays, apparently had no birthplace and no upbringing. He just sprang full-blown on the world of music, according to his “bio” (why don’t they just be honest and call them “puff blurbs”?). writing works that have been nationally and internationally performed, winning awards and medals and loving cups with his name on them, and beginning a four-year stint with the New England Philharmonic in 2019. So I can’t tell you any more about him than what he provides, which is just that he’s wonderful.
Missing Words is a “work-cycle,” each of its six parts being written for different performing forces, of which only the first is a full orchestra. This would, I think, make it very difficult to play in public, thus n a sense it will probably only exist in this recorded form. According to the liner notes, its conception was “a collection of ‘German’ portmanteau words created by Ben Schott to describe otherwise ineffable human experiences.” These texts are given in the booklet for each movement as follows:
Missing Words I:
I: “The false sensation of movement when, looking out from a stationary train, you see another train depart.”
II: “Kicking through piles of autumn leaves.”
III: “Tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity.”
Missing Words II:
I: “Stepping down heavily on a stair that isn’t there.”
II: “New Car Smell.”
III: “The sudden, innervating clarity afforded by new glasses.”
I won’t go through all of them, because as purely instrumental music one must take it on its own merits aurally, but you get the idea. I suppose they think these are some kind of haikus.
What I liked about Missing Words I was its use of microtonalism. This, of course, is not a new device—Mexican composer Julián Carrillo was using it in the 1920s—but very few composers work in it because 1) it’s difficult to conceive and notate, and 2) it’s hard to play, yet the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (which performed on the CD I just reviewed of David Sanford’s music) plays it as if such music were second nature to it. Like Carrillo’s pieces, Nathan employs a lyrical sense of phrasing despite the edgy difficulties presented, and even introduces steady if uneven-meter rhythms. It’s very intriguing music, even if it would not be accepted by 90% of the classical music public…which is a shame.
As you listen to each movement of each piece, darned if Nathan doesn’t somehow match the verbal images conjured up by each phrase he used as a basis. This, too, adds to the music’s interest. The third movement of Missing Words I, in addition to representing “Tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity,” also sounds like little atonal elves romping through a forest. (Hey, he can have his mental images and I can have mine!)
The first movement of Missing Words II conjured up, for me, one of M.C. Escher’s drawings of houses with staircases that go every which way at physically impossible angles. Again, Nathan employs microtonalism, this time applied to a brass quintet. “New Car Smell” has a very humorous feel to it despite the harmonic edginess of the piece, and “The sudden, innervating clarity afforded by new glasses” is a sort of modern polytonal fanfare.
Indeed, if you are open to hearing this music as having a certain amount of dry humor in it in addition to some astounding creativity, you’ll enjoy it on those terms, and I see no reason not to. Not every piece of music need to be so serious that it stultifies the listener’s imagination, and as the old song lyrics went, “imagination is funny…it makes a cloudy day sunny.” Not that every piece is really humorous; the “Exhausting trudge up a stationary escalator” that begins Missing Words III is almost deeply tragic-sounding music, a reaction in excess to the situation described, with the focus being on the cello playing in its most cavernous register. This piece, however, only uses microtonalism sparingly, though it does not have a grounded tonality, although towards the end of the first movement the viola does indeed play some microtonal figures.
Microtonality returns full-blown in the movement titled “Feeling that the thermometer is still under your tongue after it’s been removed,” and here again the deadly-serious mein of the music is much too serious for its lighthearted description—again, a bit of tongue-in-cheek if rather dry humor. Nathan’s wit is even more apparent in the first movement of Missing Words IV for flute, clarinet, percussion, and piano trio, describing a stroll taken for the purpose of contemplation, where the instruments play in a highly percussive, busy manner, as if one simply cannot get into a contemplative mood even when completely alone. Although they do eventually settle into a peaceful mood, the movement ends with a loud flurry of notes. In the third movement of No. IV, Nathan surprises the listener by emulating (but not entirely imitating) traditional Japanese music.
The whole suite, which lasts 84 minutes spread over two CDs, is extremely imaginative and, although there are some heavy-handed moments, Nathan has done a splendid job of keeping the music varied and fresh throughout. No two pieces are really alike except in their common use of atonality and often microtonality, and in this way Nathan avoids the trap of so many modern composers by keeping his techniques fluid and different. Yes, there are a few lumbering moments in this music, but just as many if not more that are whimsical and even enjoyable. It really is a pleasure to hear something that doesn’t fit into a formula or a mold pre-created by others in his field. The sound quality of the recording is consistently bright and uses little or no reverb or echo (which I hate anyway), which gives the whole enterprise a brilliant, forward sound profile even in the quietest moments.
— Lynn René Bayley, 1.19.2022
For this one, we will need three prequels:
1. If you know several languages, you might know the sensation that something can be exactly expressed by a word or phrase in one language - but has no counterpart in another. I.e., I could say something in one word in Dutch but might struggle for words to express the same in English.
2. German is a language where you can easily create new words by joining existing ones. One of the better known in English (that is happy to adopt German words where own lack) is 'Schadenfreude'. The glee upon someone else's mishap, obtained by a joiner of 'Joy' and 'Damage'. So if you lack an expression, you might help yourself out by inventing the 'Missing Word'.
3. Ben Schott is an U.S. American writer. He wrote 'Schottenfreude', a book on invented German words that he explained with humorous and serious elements, creating completely new meanings and contexts. For example, the 'Unsterblichkeitstod' (death of immortality) is defined as the feeling that grips you when your last parent dies. This is a book of the otherwise 'missing' words.
Eric Nathan is a young U.S. American composer born in 1983 and thus a generation removed from me. As a result, his recording back catalogue only dates to 2014. But this also means that he has adopted a different approach to the many 'contemporary classical' composers of the second half of the last century. He has a much more expressionist approach to music that reminds of the early 20th century, he uses the full spectrum of the ensembles he composes for, and the full spectrum of musical expression that has built over the past 400 years or so, since the 'classical' classical music started with Haydn and Mozart. And you do feel there is an influence of grunge ...
The CD brings us 6 'Missing Words', most of them having three movements. Every movement is overwritten by one of Schott's new words. There is no direct link between the two. If you did not know the title, you would simply enjoy the music. However, if you look up the word, you can find many elements that connect the two. The liner notes discuss this at length - you can read them, undoubtedly helpful, but you can also launch your expedition at discovering how Nathan has turned (invented) word to the music.
Take this: 'Kraftfahrzeugsinnenausstattungsneugeruchsgenuss' - the joy of the smell of the interior of a newly delivered automobile. Now, wasn't that German so much sexier? I did not agree with the liner notes here. The sounds are those of surprise, of joy, of exploration (not trying to start a new car in vain ...?). But then. 'Herbstlaubtrittvergnuegen' is all about kicking around leaves in autumn, 'Brillenbrillianz' begins with a glorious chord in C (VERY unexpectedly), 'Dreiecksumgleichung' sees two trios pinching instruments from each other. You get the drift.
And see, there are three elements of insight and musical joy combined here. There is the humour of the 'missing' words invented to convey new (hitherto missing) meaning. There is the interpretation of these words in a lighthearted but at the same time musically engaging and compositionally sound manner. And there is the joy of listening to well composed and performed music that would stand by itself, even if voided of its title. The six sets of pieces (or movements, in a more conventional setting) are performed by different ensembles and orchestras, using different instruments. Eric Nathan has used these to the best effect. He has left the exploration of sound behind him and returned to a melody-based compositional style that, it seems to me, has more in common with the post-rock of Sunday Shogun or the Rachel's than with John Cage, whilst not even ignoring what Cage did for modern music. Anyone tired of the 'sound drippings' we have often heard over the past 30 years and looking for something more 'baroque' and gripping, something to get your teeth into without only finding a lot of empty space, here is a release to look into.
— Robert Steinberger, 2.01.2022
On January 21st, 2022, New York-born composer Eric Nathan released an album anthology of his six works titled Missing Words. Each composition consists of multiple movements, all with titles derived from newly devised German portmanteaux, which can be found in Ben Schott’s 2013 inventive dictionary Schottenfreude. With no single movement spanning over seven minutes in length, each episode feels like a vignette, a glimpse into a moment in time felt profoundly by the composer, then dictated into musical form.
Glossing over the societal context predating the album’s release seems foolish to this author, as I believe these pieces work best within the communicative styles born from and fostered by the pandemic. In a world where effective and concise verbal communication is more important than ever due to the isolated nature of interpersonal relationships—whether between two socially distanced best friends or the legion of professionals separated by the screens in their individual home offices—cultural phenomena has revolved around filling the gaps left by language and its limitations. Linguistic analysis pervades social media, however casually or formally. These analyses range from reactions to and repercussions of the divisive political rhetoric that dominates US media, to a deconstruction of Generation Z colloquialisms like “no because” by TikTok user @abrahampiper, to the poignant podcast episode of Krista Tippett’s On Being with poet Ocean Vuong where he breaks down the frequency of violent words in slang among English-speakers.
After seeing such a widespread focus on linguistics and the question of how language affects social interaction, Dr. Nathan’s work feels particularly timely, pulling from source material that seeks to address missing words in the English language as he fills gaps in verbal communication transcending beyond all language, through the emotive medium of music. To say Nathan’s work encapsulates that disparity is an understatement. As Ben Schott remarks in his lovely foreword to the album:
“Schottenfreude exists because when English is exhausted, we turn to German.
“Missing Words exists because when words are exhausted, we turn to music.”
One element captured in this complete body of work is the idea of the literal versus the figurative. The album booklet actually includes two separate track listings—one with the portmanteau movement names and the subsequent literal translation of the compound word breakdown (i.e. Herbtslaubtrittverginügen translates directly to Autumn-Foliage-Strike-Fun), the other giving a definition in addition to the breakdown (respectively, the definition for the prior example being “Kicking through piles of autumn leaves”). While listening to the album, I sought to interpret each track three separate ways:
By doing this, I found an auditory experience that I related to on multiple levels, intellectually and emotionally, while giving myself time to sit with how those words in different contexts evolved within the musical space. I’d advise any listener to follow the same process; I found catharsis in some of my own personal baggage provided by these past few years, particularly with Missing Words VI.
Featuring incredible performances from these ensembles—the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the American Brass Quintet, Parry and Christopher Karp, the International Contemporary Ensemble, the Neave Trio, and Hub New Music—each Missing Words compilation follows a different instrumentation, which gives the entire album a distinct sense of variety between the meanings of the individual pieces. While the album’s thirteen-page booklet contains the aforementioned foreword and a brilliant in-depth musical summary analysis provided by composer and Boston Symphony annotator Robert Kirzinger, here are descriptions of some of my favorite moments of the album based on the definitions denoted in the booklet:
Missing Words I, Mvt. III “Fingerspitzentanz” (Fingertips-Dance)—meaning “Tiny triumphs of nimble-fingered dexterity.”
Call and response motifs between individual players highlight technical flexibility in idiomatic challenges for each instrument, yielding a quietly victorious end to the first work in the series. As a bassoonist myself, I was drawn toward the prowess of the woodwind performers: Amy Advocat on clarinet and Ronald Haroutunian on bassoon.
Missing Words III, Mvt. III “Straußmanöver” (Ostrich-Maneuver)—meaning “The short-term defense strategy of simply denying reality.”
The final moments of this movement with the cello in its highest tessitura gave me complete pause. Parry Karp’s mastery of the instrument’s range steals the show, and the vulnerability he supplies in contrast to the stubborn piano chords interjected by Christopher Karp lead perfectly into the contrasting frenzied and charged nature of the following concluding movement.
Missing Words VI, Mvt. V “Witzbeharrsamkeit” (Joke-Insistence) III—meaning “Unashamedly repeating a bon mot until it is properly heard by everyone present.”
A prevalent theme throughout the entirety of these pieces is the infusion of multiple genres, including motifs provided in the nineteenth century by Ludwig van Beethoven. With the focus of this piece being placed solely on human interaction, this third iteration of “Witzbeharrsamkeit” draws attention to the emotional isolation of an individual. One can hear Alyssa Wang’s violin instigating the overdrawn-out joke, while the rest of the performers conspire to avoid joining by playing together in a juxtaposing compositional technique. Traditional vs. Contemporary. Retired vs. Relevant. With the context that this specific piece was written during the lockdown of 2020, the alienation of the violin in turn becomes a place of solace for the listener.
As this is a review of the full album, the masterful production and editing also need to be addressed. No moment felt out of balance, and every audio engineer involved was able to capture the stark contrasts in timbre in dynamic, allowing for an engaging, visceral audience experience. In addition, Denise Burt’s minimalist and tranquil album design puts the focus right where it needs to be—on the words, and even more importantly, on what lies between them.
In conclusion, this standout body of work from Eric Nathan is a perfect addition to the pandemic-influenced artistic canon. Even outside of that narrative, the album still succeeds, providing an easy-to-follow linear progression through each Missing Words vignette, woven together by an omnipresent thread—the question of how to bridge the gap of language with abstraction through art. On that note, I will leave you with one final quote by Hans Christian Andersen that this work embodied in my mind since my preliminary read of Ben Schott’s foreword:
“Where words fail, music speaks.”
With that in mind, Dr. Eric Nathan’s work speaks from a place where even Ben Schott’s profundity with words cannot truly go.
— Katherine Aydelott, 2.07.2022
“Inspired by words from Schottenfreude by Ben Schott” reads this double album’s tagline, a high-concept project based on Schott’s 2013 lexicon of newly-invented German compound words. Words like “Rollschleppe” ("the exhausting trudge up a stationary escalator"), or “Brillenbrillanz” ("the sudden clarity afforded by new glasses"). Six collections of these "missing words" are assembled here, variously scored, Schott’s booklet introduction thanking Eric Nathan for taking “a superficially frivolous idea, and treating it with a seriousness that reveals.” Nathan’s little pieces, few lasting longer than five minutes, neatly bring to life Schott’s words, whether it’s the upward swing of a boot kicking piles of dead leaves or the excitement of seeing the world through newly-acquired prescription lenses. The latter’s brightness is aptly conveyed by brass quintet, prefaced by an effective suggestion of the pleasures afforded by sitting in a clean new car, a Schott-ism so long that I daren’t try and type it.
There’s a depiction of what it’s like to step out of a dark cinema into bright sunlight. Or the frustration you feel when finding a self-penned note that’s illegible. Nathan’s seriousness is what makes things work; his depiction of the confusion briefly felt upon waking up in an unfamiliar bed is brilliantly vivid. Do listen to the album in sequence before you start dipping in and out, looking for your personal favourites. Each of the six sets of pieces has a very distinct flavour, each one beautifully played by a different set of players. Amusing, erudite and accessible, the whole thing nicely annotated and very well recorded.
— Graham Rickson, 4.02.2022
A fascinating and engaging project this is an instrumental re-imagining of selected words from Ben Schott’s book Schottenfreude which itself is an inventive dictionary of imaginary German words. The author says, “Schottenfreude exists because when English is exhausted, we turn to German. Missing Words exists because when words are exhausted we turn to music” Arranged in six groups over two discs the musical representations are made in a wide variety of styles by an assembly of talented new music performers. The first word of Missing Words VI (Witzbeharrsamkeit) particularly caught my ear, harking back to a very well-known German composer! I shall return to this CD to enjoy both the music and the original words and may now be inspired to seek out the book from which they are derived.
Why is Charles Ives, one of the most adventurous composers of the 20th century, embraced as Americana when today’s younger composers are mostly ignored by general listeners? I suspect a reflex reaction that we should try to get past. In a continuing series of reviews I’ve been introduced to an array of contemporary composers that represent the high standards of the New Focus label, which is Brooklyn-based and mainly focuses on the New York music scene. Nothing has been less than surprising, original, and highly imaginative. The more I hear, the better my reaction has become.
Here I got to meet Eric Nathan (b. 1983), who continues the New Focus theme of composers with superb credentials, but whom we general listeners probably have never heard. Nathan was a Rome Prize Fellow in 2013 and a Guggenheim Fellow in 2014. His impressive range of commissions includes the New York Philharmonic, Tanglewood, Aspen Music Festival, and Boston Musica Viva.
The adage goes that you are known by the company you keep. Nathan travels in elite circles. The Boston Symphony has commissioned three works, including a chamber piece, Why Old Places Matter (2014), and two orchestral works, the space of a door (2016), which Andris Nelsons and the BSO premiered in November 2016 and later released on Naxos, and Concerto for Orchestra, which Nelsons premiered on the 2019–20 season opener. It’s probably superfluous to add that Nathan went to Yale before getting a doctorate in music at Cornell; he is now a tenured professor at Brown.
Where do such gilt-edged credentials get a composer who is not yet 40? Pretty far. Conceptualism is quite prevalent today, and the concept behind this group of Nathan’s chamber works is about language. To quote the program notes, “The Missing Words cycle, so far comprising six pieces for various ensembles, has as its conceptual framework a collection of ‘German’ portmanteau words created by Ben Schott to describe otherwise ineffable human experiences.” I admit to a fondness for portmanteau words, my favorite being “insinuendo,” which combines “insinuate” with “innuendo.”
For English speakers, the gist of Schott’s inventions is pretty much lost. The three movements of Missing Words I are titled “Eisenbahnscheinbewegung” (Railway-Illusion-Motion), “Herbstlaubtrittvergnügen” (Autumn-Foliage-Strike-Fun), and “Fingerspitzentanz” (Fingertips-Dance). These are nonstarters, in English at least, just as “insinuendo” would be a nonstarter in German. In any event, Nathan’s music seems to bear no resemblance to the “missing words” it is based on. In terms of instrumentation, each work is distinct, which gives the listener an entry point.
I: for mixed ensemble: clarinet, bassoon, horn, string quartet, and double bass
II: for brass quintet
III: for cello and piano fuo
IV: for mixed ensemble: violin, cello, flute, clarinet, piano, and percussion
V: for piano trio
VI: for mixed quartet: violin, cello, flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet
As you see, there is a kaleidoscopic variety of instrumental color on hand, which Nathan expertly exploits, generally in a nimble, always listenable mélange. Familiar gestures like trills, flutter tonguing, and glissandos crop up in novel combinations. In place of melody or recognizable thematic cells we mostly get isolated notes, chords, and intervals. A total of 23 tracks in 84 minutes indicates how brief each one is, but the listener has no trouble feeling the individuality of each instrumental group.
As impossible as it is to describe these constantly mutating effects, Nathan puts us in familiar territory. Almost all contemporary music that isn’t ideologically avant-garde is eclectic. Nathan and his contemporaries have the entire arsenal of Modernism, Minimalism, Postmodernism, neo-Romanticism, and more at their disposal. Any possible sound world can be created. In Nathan’s case, he has supplied an appealing eclecticism that is with-it but not aggressively so, nonmelodic but filled with constantly interesting events.
The performances are expert, and although the various musicians are too numerous to list, there are prominent ensembles here like the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the American Brass Quintet.
The upshot is that Missing Words creates its own special niche and Nathan applies his imagination to make each little sound world stand out. It all makes for an enjoyable listen, suitable not only for the coterie audience that follows contemporary music but also for a general listener with adventurous ears. Happily, you can dip your toe in the water by sampling Missing Words online at any large listening site.
— Huntley Dent, 6.25.2022
The origins of Eric Nathan’s Missing Words (New Focus Recordings) lie in Ben Schott’s book “Schottenfreude,” in which Schott coined new German words for otherwise inexpressible human conditions. (Example: “Leertretung” — “Stepping down heavily on a stair that isn’t there.”) Nathan, a composer on the Brown University faculty, took the act of translation one step further by writing instrumental pieces for a large selection of these new portmanteaus. The resulting large-scale composition, by turns witty and deadly earnest, demonstrates a more angular and expansive musical language than many of Nathan’s earlier works have shown, and makes for deeply compelling listening.
— David Weininger, 12.28.2022