October 2005

The Music of Jörg Widman
Accordes String Quartet; David Hetherington, cello; David Swan, piano; Jörg Widman, clarinets.
October 16, 2005The Music GalleryToronto
New Music: Black and White and Blue
by Stanley Fefferman
Widman’s musical thinking begins with sounds rather than notes. How to find words for his precisely annotated sound elements, in this case played by a string quartet, piano, and clarinet? The rustle of leaves, the whisper of wind, the crack of a whip; mice scurrying in the attic, acorns dropping onto the roof; squeak of wheel, creak of hinge, panic of birds, thrum of wings, clicks and squawks and insect buzz. Widman’s music is close to nature, and oddly close to words, because of its onomatopoeic elements—boom, sizzle, crash, bang, bump. All these sounds and noises coaxed out of playing techniques on conventional instruments including carefully prepared piano. The sounds may seem weird, but the effect is exhilarating.

The thing about sounds and noises is that they are colourless, so the pieces are like black and white photos or drawings until a note or scale passage appears on the pallid sonic plane like a dot or splash of colour, with startling effect. The notes that flow from Widman’s clarinet, in the first piece, entitled “Fever Fantasy” are often the recognizable element, sometimes quoting Robert Schumann’s First Violin Sonata, before he reduces them to colourless noises. And in my favourite, “Night Piece” for clarinet, cello and piano, the mood turns blue, as if Gershwin’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” were being performed by Martians.

Widman’s compositions, his melodic forms and specific performance indications trigger moods that slip through the bars of conventional musical associations, and for this reason alone create an atmosphere of liberation and curiosity. His third string quartet (2003), entitled Hunt Quartet, opens with the members of Accordes shaking their bows at each other and uttering a terrifying shriek: then the music whisks you away to the sounds of a appropriately discordant highland fling, over hill and dale in pursuit of the prey.

Jörg Widman
This is wakeful music, full of the energy of discovery. For this we have to thank the composer, Jörg Widman, the players, and the presenters--New Music Concerts (Robert Aitken, director), and Goethe Institut Toronto.
We welcome your comments and feedback
Stanley Fefferman
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