Part 2, Project 7 – Percussive voices

For the start of this project I have researched Ernst Toch and Veljo Tormis.

I listened to Toch’s “Geographical Fugue” first and had the following response to it:

Toch presents in this piece a series of places in America; the lyrics are as follows:
And the big Mississippi
and the town Honolulu
and the lake Titicaca,
the Popocatepetl is not in Canada,
rather in Mexico, Mexico, Mexico!
CanadaMálagaRiminiBrindisi CanadaMálagaRiminiBrindisi
Yes, Tibet, Tibet, Tibet, Tibet,
NagasakiYokohama! Nagasaki! Yokohama!”

The voices are contrapuntal throughout and enter the piece in the following order: tenor, alto, soprano, bass.  It was first performed in 1930 with this piece being the 3rd movement of his Gesprochene Musik (Spoken Music).

As the title suggests, it is written in fugal form with each part following the other in quick succession.  It reaches a climate towards the end and relies on all four parts to stress the various parts of the places’ syllables to create the rhythmic drive.  They vary the dynamics throughout to give light and shade but the success of the piece lies in the vocal artists’ abilities to concentrate on their individual parts whilst still forming part of a polyphonic piece.  Quite ingenious but it took me a couple of listenings to really appreciate it.

I viewed a performance of Tormis’s “Curse upon Iron”, which was written by Veljo Tormis in the same year as Toch’s fugue (1930).  It has a very ominous feel to it and is quite frightening.  It tells the story of how iron came to be and curses this killer of mankind.

This is a much larger group than the fugue and is conducted by a man beating on a shaman drum, which sets the powerful tone and maintains the “pulse” throughout.

This choral piece, although a cappella sees the chorus accompanying two male soloists who alternate in singing various lines from the Finnish epos “Kalevada”.  There are also modern statements and sirens wailing as well, but you sense that the chorus is very much in supporting, imitative role in this piece.

I took to this piece upon first listening; I found the chorus quite hypnotic and unnerving.  I enjoyed it.

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