CD Review – Various Artists – Notes From The Underground: Radical Music Of The 20th Century (Box Set)

One of the many facets of twentieth century culture is just how diverse it was. Some of it was, by its nature, conservative and traditional, some of it was popular and folksy, while some of it was avant garde and radical. It is true that what is considered revolutionary and alternative by one generation can easily seem old hat and stuffy to the next. In the realm of music, the diversity of the profundity of this radicalism was often quite marked, with a least one riot resulting from the sounds presented to an audience (Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring in 1924).  

Notes From The Underground collects together what can be considered landmark recordings of pieces that shaped the musical and cultural landscape in a sprawling four CD set. It includes major works like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Déserts by Edgard Varèse, Edith Sitwell’s Façade, Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, and John Cage’s 1940’s compositions for prepared piano, which were astonishing. These works created scandals that deeply divided audiences and provoked furious debate and threatened serious public disorder. Edith Sitwell reflected that; “We were subjected to floods of abuse, often of an exceedingly personal and scurrilous nature.” Other works, including Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem Howl, Miles Davis’ Third Stream re-interpretation of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, and ballet music for Parade, composed by Erik Satie, even entered dangerous legal territory. These pieces and their creators became, in most instances, quite influential. Some, among them, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Coltrane, Pierre Boulez, Bill Evans, Ravi Shankar, Pierre Schaeffer, Gustav Mahler, Claude Debussy and Charles Ives, proved to be innovating crusaders whose musical explorations enabled them to acquire a deeper understanding of their art that would enable them to attain hitherto unknown creative heights. Some of the selections highlight the increasing crossover between art forms. Film music could enhance radical cinematic productions, for example Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s biting 1929 surrealist short, Un Chien Andalou, from Lindsay Anderson’s savage attack on the establishment, if…, and music from Electra by the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. and from Patrick McGoohan’s fantastical, highly provocative TV drama, the era-defining political allegory, The Prisoner.

It is true to say that the avant garde reflects, to a degree, the society in which it lives. What is radical in one place may not be in another. Societies change too. Profound changes occurred in western societies after the Second World War, especially in the 1960s when radicalism influenced a lot of the arts. “Creative expression is, above all, an act of freedom. I create means I am free – I become free. The message of art is a message of freedom. Therefore, the art that wants to express faithfully and sincerely a people that struggles for its freedom aspires to win not only the love of its people but also the hatred of its enemies. It is a great, consummate aspiration, which I do not hide. I have pushed it with all my heart!’ Mikis Theodorakis is quoted as saying in George Giannaris’ ‘Music and Social Change’.

The selections on this release are a fair and balanced reflection of this, but there are what many would think to be omissions. The choices are mainly from the classical world, with a little jazz and world music along with a spoken word excerpt of Ginsberg’s Howl. There is no rock music included, which many would think unusual. But who could be included that fits the requirements? Frank Zappa potentially, Pink Floyd maybe, Yes at their most energised, say an excerpt from Close to the Edge, the radical pop-rock of The Beatles. A list could be endless. Maybe the avant garde shifted to the popular mainstream, for a while at least.

This is a really intriguing release though that juxtaposes varied pieces that you may be familiar with, with those you may not be. Debussy’s Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Faun has become a popular well known piece, Pierre Schaeffer’s Two selections from Cinq études de bruits (Five Studies Of Noises) has not. But they work well together on this compilation. The inclusion of television and film tracks suggests the choices are not always obvious. There is an excellent accompanying booklet with plenty of contemporary photographs and an essay giving the works some perspective. This is a treat for those with an inquisitive musical mind.

Igor Stravinsky

DISC ONE:

CLAUDE DEBUSSY

1 Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) – London Symphony Orchestra / Conductor: Pierre Monteux

IGOR STRAVINSKY

Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) (1913 version) Part One – ‘Adoration Of The Earth’

2 Adoration Of The Earth – Introduction

3 The Augurs Of Spring – Dances of the Young Girls

4 Ritual of Abduction

5 Spring Rounds

6 Games of the Rival Tribes

7 Procession of the Sage

8 The Sage

9 Dance of the Earth

Part Two – ‘The Sacrifice’

10 The Sacrifice – Introduction

11 Mystic Circles of the Young Girls

12 Glorification of the Chosen One

13 Evocation of the Ancients

14 Ritual of the Ancients

15 Sacrificial Dance

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Conductor: Pierre Monteux

KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN

16 Studie 1

PIERRE SCHAEFFER

Two selections from Cinq études de bruits (Five Studies Of Noises)

17 Étude violette

18 Étude noire

JOHN COLTRANE QUINTET FEATURING ERIC DOLPHY

19 My Favourite Things

MUSIC FROM THE PRISONER

A B & C (Episode 3 – On scientific intrusion into the mind)

20 Sidney Torch – Virtuosi Moderne – Off Beat Moods – Part 3 – Dramatic Sustained

FALL OUT (episode 17 – on the exultation of individualism)

21 The Four Lads – Dry Bones

DISC TWO:

EDGARD VARÈSE

1 Déserts (World Premiere, 1954)

Orchestre National de France / Conductor: Hermann Scherchen. Magnetic tape operator: Pierre Henry

DAPHNE ORAM

2 Amphitryon 38

DAPHNE ORAM & DESMOND BRISCOE

3 The Ocean

4 Winter’s Journey (intro) (1958)

PIERRE BOULEZ

5 Sonatine for Flute and Piano

MUSIC FROM UN CHIEN ANDALOU

6 Vicente Alvarez and his Tropical Orchestra – Tango Argentino

Miles Davis

MILES DAVIS

7 Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio) from ‘Sketches Of Spain’

ALLEN GINSBERG

8 Howl

DISC THREE:

DITH SITWELL & WILLIAM WALTON

FAÇADE – An Entertainment (1923)

1 Fanfare

2 Hornpipe

3 En Famille

4 Mariner Man

5 Trio For Two Cats And Trombone

6 Through Gilded Trellises

7 Tango Pasodoble

8 Scotch Rhapsody

9 Lullaby For Jumbo

10 Fox-trot

11 By The Lake

12 The Man From A Far Countree

13 Jodelling Song

14 Country Dance

15 Black Mrs. Behemoth

16 Popular Song

17 Polka

18 Waltz

19 Four In The Morning

20 Something Lies Beyond The Scene

21 Sir Beelzebub

RAVI SHANKAR

22 Kafi-Holi (Spring Festival of Colours)

MIKIS THEODORAKIS

23 Electra Suite No. 9

ORNETTE COLEMAN QUARTET

24 Kaleidoscope

LUCIANO BERIO – CATHY BERBERIAN

25 Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) for voice and tape

LES TROUBADOURS DU ROI BAUDOUIN

MISSA LUBA – A mass sung in pure Congolese style

26 Kyrie

27 Gloria

28 Credo

29 Sanctus

30 Benedictus

31 Agnus Dei

OLIVIER MESSIAEN

32 Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) 8: Louange à l’immortalité de Jésus (Praise to the immortality of Jesus)

BILL EVANS TRIO

33 My Foolish Heart

DISC FOUR:

GUSTAV MAHLER

1 Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor IV. Adagietto – Sehr langsam New York Philharmonic Conductor: Bruno Walter

JOHN CAGE Four Sonatas (for Prepared Piano)

2 Sonata VII

3 Sonata IV

4 Sonata II

5 Sonata III

Maro Ajemian: piano

ERIK SATIE Parade (Ballet Suite)

6 Prélude du rideau rouge (Prelude of the Red Curtain)

7 Prestidigitateur chinois (Chinese Conjurer)

8 Petite fille Américaine (Young American Girl)

9 Ragtime du paquebot (Ragtime of the Passenger Steamer)

10 Acrobates (Acrobats)

11 Suite au prélude du rideau rouge (Continuation of the Prelude of the Red Curtain) French National Radio Orchestra / Conductor: Manuel Rosenthal

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG Pierrot Lunaire, Op.21 (1912) / Part 1

12 Mondestrunken

13 Colombine

14 Der Dandy

15 Eine blasse Wäscherin

16 Valse de Chopin

17 Madonna

18 Der kranke Mond

Helga Pilarczyk: speaker. Conductor: Pierre Boulez

Charles Ives

CHARLES IVES

19 Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 19 ‘Concord, Mass III. The Alcotts

John Kirkpatrick: piano

ALI AKBAR KHAN

20 Raag Chandrakauns – Alap & Gat

Release date: 21st January, 2022

Label: Cherry Red Records

Format: CD Boxset

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