RIP Ann Southam (1937-2010)

We’re saddened to hear the news of Ann Southam’s death this past Thursday after a long battle with cancer. Southam was one of Canada’s foremost composers, an influential teacher at the Royal Conservatory, and longtime arts advocate, active in several groups which fostered contemporary music.

She received numerous honors during her distinguished career. Earlier this year, she was named a member of the Order of Canada.

Southam’s oeuvre encompassed several compositional styles and genres: twelve-tone music, lyrical Neoromanticism, electroacoustic music, and postminimalism. I particularly admire her writing for the piano and have included two videos of contrasting works for piano soloist below.


Kronos remembers Gorecki

Some of Henryk Gorecki’s closest collaborators were the members of the Kronos Quartet. He composed all three of his string quartets for Kronos. As it happens, when the composer passed away yesterday, the group was in Poland. Late yesterday, David Harrington, Kronos’ first violinist, released the following statement:

“The three string quartets Henryk Górecki wrote for Kronos are a totally unique
body of work. With ‘Already it is Dusk’, Quasi Una Fantasia’ and ‘…songs are
sung’, Górecki extended a tradition that includes Bach and Beethoven, among
many others. When we rehearsed with Henryk, the experience was as close as
we have ever been to witnessing the raw, impassioned core in the heart of
Europe’s great invention: the string quartet. When he demonstrated phrases on
the piano for us I was always reminded of Beethoven: his fortes were shattering,
his pianissimos unfathomably inward. From us, he always wanted as much as
our bows could handle and more.

“Górecki represented a totally independent voice. He only listened inward.
There was no amount of pressure that ever pulled him away from his ideals. He
was known for his cancellations, as even the Pope discovered. Kronos waited 12
years for a piece that was so personal he couldn’t let it out of his sight until the
right moment mysteriously arrived. And I always loved him more for that
devotion to his muse.

“I learned that Henryk was a skilled furniture maker known for his beautiful
chairs. I once asked him if he would consider making me a chair. He said,
‘David, you can have the chair or you can have String Quartet #4. You choose.’ I
chose String Quartet #4. But it looks like I will have to wait.

“There is no one who can replace Henryk Górecki in the world of music. Many
others have created beautiful, passionate, even exalted music. But Henryk found
a way forward and beyond, through thickets of styles and fashions, that
resonates of the single human being in communion with the power of the
Universe. I miss him immensely.”

David Harrington
November 12, 2010
Wroclaw, Poland

RIP Henryk Gorecki (1933-2010)

Polish composer Henryk Gorecki died today at the age of 76. Gorecki was one of Poland’s most prominent musical figures and, along with Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and Englishman John Tavener, is widely credited with popularizing the “spiritual minimalism” strain of Postmodern era European music.

He is perhaps best known for his Symphony no. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (1976). Fifteen years after its premiere, a Nonesuch CD recording of the work, featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw and conducted by David Zinman, became a best-seller in 1992, breaking into the mainstream charts in the UK and dominating US classical sales during that year.

While the composer has denied a direct program for the work, it’s frequently been linked with the experiences of the Polish people under German occupation during the Second World War; in particular, with the Holocaust. Below is a video excerpt of the symphony performed at Auschwitz, from a film commemorating victims of genocide during WWII.

RIP Yvonne Loriod (1924-2010_

Pianist Yvonne Loriod has died at age 86. Loriod was best known for signature interpretations of her husband Oliver Messiaen’s music. After Messiaen’s passing in 1992, she remained a fierce guardian of his legacy as a performer, teacher, and editor of his works. In my opinion, her interview with Peter Hall in the Messiaen Companion remains one of the best short introductions to his life, works, and aesthetic.

Paul Griffiths, an author who’s written compellingly about Messiaen as well, eulogizes Loriod in the NY Times.