Chicago based pianist Mabel Kwan (Ensemble Dal Niente) releases the premiere recording of Georg Friedrich Haas' Trois Hommages, a beguiling work for two pianos tuned a quarter tone apart and played by one performer. Dedicated to Steve Reich, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Josef Matthias Hauer, Haas' expansive work deconstructs stylistic elements of prominent modern compositional aesthetics as well as the central association the piano has with equal temperament and its impact on music history.
The historical influence of the advent of equal temperament and its manifestation through the mechanism of the piano keyboard cannot be overstated. In an effort to be able to modulate more freely between keys within the context of keyboard composition, a system of equal distance between twelve notes in an octave was devised and refined, and became the frame within which the entire Western canon developed. And yet, it was always a constructed frame, an attempt to mold complex acoustic realities into a manageable system for ease of use. Georg Friedrich Haas’ Trois Hommages is written for one pianist playing on two pianos, tuned a quarter tone apart. Haas' compositional decision is a doubling down on equal temperament (the pianos are still tuned in 12 equal notes per octave, and played together, sound a 24 note scale). But seen another way, it’s also modernist deconstruction of the equal tempered paradigm and the conventional piano’s stronghold on the way we listen. Whatever Haas’ thinking behind the central conceit of the piece, he lets it lead the discourse throughout, keeping the otherworldly and often unsettling pitch world front and center in the listener’s attention. He pays tribute to three modern masters of composition, György Ligeti, Josef Matthias Hauer, and Steve Reich, exploring the 24 note scale through hypnotic repetition with very subtle variation. The opening movement, dedicated to Ligeti, is 30 minutes of percussive, repeated dyads and chords that create a sound mass of beatings and underscore the exotic resonance of the pianos sounding together. The middle movement, dedicated to twelve tone pioneer Hauer (he published a “law of twelve tones” before Schoenberg’s circle), is a steady stream of flowing, ascending arpeggios that highlight the quarter tone tuning. At the opening of the movement, we hear five note arpeggios, then six notes, then seven, before the final section arrives at eight note groupings. Haas’ hommage to Reich characteristically explores polyrhythm, shifting through a series of different rhythmic superimpositions while insistent patterns are articulated across the two alternate keyboards. Ensemble Dal Niente’s pianist Mabel Kwan’s performance is patient and compelling, allowing Haas’ slow evolution to reveal itself over the course of the 72 minute recording and articulating the aspects which highlight the rich color of the tuning throughout.
- D. Lippel
Recorded and produced at EMPAC - The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
Molly Roth Scranton, Visual Artwork and Design.
Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas is known and respected internationally as a highly sensitive and imaginative researcher into the inner world of sound. His music synthesizes the Austrian tradition of grand orchestral statement with forward-looking interests in harmonic color and microtonal tuning that stem from both French spectralism and a strand of American experimentalism. Since 2013 Haas has been the MacDowell Professor of Music at Columbia University.