Contextures: Riots - Decade '60

William Kraft

Publisher: Theodore Presser Company
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

"Contextures: Riots ?Decade ?60" was commissioned by Zubin Mehta and the Southern California Symphony Association after the successful premiere of the Concerto for Four Percussion Soloists and Orchestra. It was written during the spring and summer months of 1967. Riots stemming from resentment against the racial situation in the United States and the war in Vietnam were occurring throughout the country and inevitably invaded the composer?s creative subconscious. "Contextures", as the title implies, was intended to exploit various and varying textures. As the work progressed the correspondence between the fabric of music and the fabric of society became apparent and the allegory grew in significance. So I found myself translating social aspects into musical techniques. Social stratification became a polymetric situation where disparate groups function together. The conflict between the forces of expansion and the forces of containment is expressed through and opposition of tonal fluidity vs. rigidity. This is epitomized in the fourth movement, where the brass is divided into two groups ? a muted group, encircled by the unmuted one, which does its utmost to keep the first group within a restricted pitch area. The playful jazzy bits (one between the first and second movements and one at the end of the piece) are simply saying that somehow in this age of turmoil and anxiety ways of having fun are found even though that fun may seem inappropriate.

The piece is in five movements, with an interlude between the first and second movements. It is scored for a large orchestra, supplemented by six groups of percussion, including newly created roto-toms (small tunable drums) and some original devices, such as muted gongs and muted vibraphone. There is also an offstage jazz quartet: bass, drums, soprano saxophone and trumpet.

The first movement begins with a solo by the first clarinetist which is interrupted by intermittent heckling from his colleagues leading to a configuration of large disparate elements. The interlude of solo violin and snare-drum follows without pause. The second movement, "Prestissimo", is a display piece of virtuosity for the entire orchestra. The third movement marks a period of repose and reflection and calls for some expressive solos, particularly by the horn and alto saxophone. The fourth movement opens with a rather lengthy oboe solo, which is threatened by large blocks of sound from the orchestra, against an underlying current of agitated energy in the piano and percussion.

This leads to a section in which large orchestral forces oppose one another, ultimately bringing the work to a climax, if not to a denouement. Various thematic elements are strewn all over the orchestra, resulting in the formation of a general haze of sound. A transition leads to the fifth movement without pause. The musical haze is pierced gently by the offstage jazz group as if they were attempting to ignore and even dispel the gloom, but a legato bell sound enters and hovers over both the jazz group and the orchestra, the latter making statements of disquieting finality.

Two films were conceived to accompany portions of "Contextures". The first done by Herbert Kosowar, was a chemography film (painting directly into the film using dyes and various implements) with fast clips of riot photographs. The second was a film collage made by photographically abstracting details from paintings of Reginald Pollack. The purpose was to invoke a non-specific response ? as in music ? but at the same time to define the subject matter of the piece. The films were constructed to correspond with certain developments in the piece and in no way affect the independence and musical flow of the piece, having been made after the piece was completed.

"Contextures: Riots ? Decade ?60" is dedicated to Mehta, the Southern California Symphony Association and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

The news of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King came the afternoon of the premiere, April 4, 1968. That evening?s performances, and also the succeeding ones, were dedicated to him and a special dedication to Dr. King has been inserted into he score. All the music that follows the jazz group ? beginning with the legato bell sound playing the first 2 notes to ?We shall overcome? constitutes a new ending to commemorate Dr. King?s death.

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Additional Information

Commission Zubin Mehta and the Southern California Symphony Association
Composition Date 1967
Duration 00:16:25
Orchestration Solo Vln., Solo Dr.; 4 4(E.H.) 4(EbCl./B.Cl./A.Sax.) 4(Cbsn.) - 4 4 4(B.Tbn.) 1; Timp. Perc. Pno.(Cel.) Hp. Str., Jazz quartet: Sop.Sax. Tpt. Bass. Dr.
Premiere Los Angeles Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta conducting; Los Angeles, CA; April 4, 1968

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