četvrtak, 28. studenoga 2013.

Vladimír Godár - Mater (2006)

Zapanjujuća klasika u folk-katedrali.


In May 2006 a new CD was released by the publishing house Pavian Records titled MATER featuring the most recent compositions by Vlado Godár performed by Iva Bittová, Solamente naturali ensemble led by the first violinist Miloš Valent, Choir of Bratislava Conservatory prepared by a choirmaster Dušan Bill and conducted by Marek Štryncl. The CD reflects the concert by the Solamente naturali ensemble with Iva Bittová on the Bratislava Music Festival 2003, however, the recording itself is not from the concert; it was realized at the end of summer 2005 in the St. George Church in Svätý Jur.
ECM, the world-known publishing house of Manfred Eicher released the Vladimír Godár's CD Mater on 20th October 2006. ECM will distribute the new CD through its distributing network excluding the Slovak and Czech territory, where it will be distributed by the Pavian Records as before. The ECM concert department supports the spreading of new releases by the concerts presenting the featured performers and released pieces. Therefore the complete CD Mater was performed at the great jazz festival Enjoy Jazz in Ludwigshafen on 8th November 2006, 7 p.m., in the Friedenskirche. Iva Bittová, Solamente naturali ensemble led by Miloš Valent, Choir of the Bratislava Conservatory with Dušan Bill as choirmaster and under the baton of Marek Štryncl – these all took part in the event. After one-hour silence lacking any clapping German listeners rewarded the musicians with longtime applause and whistling.
On the photos you can see the rehearsal, an ardent discussion of the conductor and the first violinist, instrumentalists, choir singers, the author with a humbly bowed head, the soloist and several photos from the concert. The smiling man at the penultimate picture is a Gray Eminence, the musician not present at the stage, but irreplaceable for the whole project – Mr. Choirmaster. The ultimate photo – Iva Bittová and Vlado Godár discussing with Manfred Eicher at the excellent gastronomic midnight supper.
A new tour of the Mater project was realized during April 1, 2, 3, 2007, when music from the CD sounded in Italian Bergamo and German Memmingen and Berlin. The end of the month April, 23.–26., 2007, offered the latest opportunity to see the Mater project live in the cities of the former Czecho-Slovakia – Ostrava, Bratislava, Brno, Praha – before the Iva Bittová's departure for her long-lasting US working stay.
More than one year later the whole group of instrumentalists and singers came together again to renew the project featuring the pieces from the CD Mater. The first concert took place in Prievidza on July 9, 2008 in a beautiful baroque Piarist Church possessing excellent acoustic characteristics. Iva Bittová returned from the U.S.A. in an admirable form, what was rewarded by her fans’ thunderous applause between the pieces, and sometimes even during them. Instrumentalists were in amazing shape, too. Although some of them met the Vladimír Godár’s pieces for the first time, the ensemble led by Stephen Stubbs made an impression of a cohesive group. Due to the work of the choirmaster Dušan Bill the Bratislava Conservatory Choir is in fact a choir of solo singers. They got their chance particularly in a sneak preview of a new Godár’s piece Dormi Jesu for soprano, choir and harp. The soprano was sang by the choir singer Hilda Gulyásová, Maxine Eilander played the harp. Hilda’s chiming voice floated over the church, enchanted all listeners and changed the little piece into a small prayer. Iva positively dominated the second part of the concert and it was her who enjoyed the final frenetic applause. 

On July 11, 2008 the whole programme was repeated in Fribourg (Switzerland) on an International Festival of Sacral Music (www.fims-fribourg.ch). The church of St. Michael (Eglise du Collège Saint-Michel) offered the acoustics similar to that in Prievidza. The concert was entitled Le monde enchanté d’Arvo Pärt et Vladimir Godar (Enchanting World of Arvo Pärt and Vladimír Godár), therefore besides the Godár’s pieces also three compositions by Arvo Pärt sounded; two of them again gave an opportunity for the choir to present its mastery. Neither the premiere of the new piece Dormi Jesu failed. All the musicians contributed to the beautiful sound and atmosphere of humbleness, what resulted in a fact, that for long minutes the audience did not allow them to leave the stage. Entranced applause, bravo, thumping... As one Swiss of Slovak origin said: “I never experienced such a response in the reserved Switzerland.” The concert was broadcast live by the Radio Suisse Romande. It was a great success for all participating performers.  

I predict that this CD is going to be the "next big thing" in the classical world. Reminiscent in different ways of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Górecki's Symphony #3 ("Symphony of Sorrowful Songs"), and the works of Giya Kancheli and Arvo Pärt, Mater is a synthesis of the old and the new, and although it speaks softly most of the time, I think it will have a powerful impact on sensitive listeners.
Godár was born in Bratislava, the capital city of present-day Slovakia, in 1956. His background includes studies in both early music (particularly renaissance polyphony) and in cutting-edge music of today: Xenakis, Berio, Ligeti, and the like. Mater is actually a collection of vocal works composed between 1997 and 2005. "Mater" means "mother" in Latin, of course, and its texts are taken from disparate sources. Godár takes us from annunciation (a Slovak setting of the Magnificat) and birth and infancy (three Slovak lullabies, and James Joyce's Ecce Puer), to death (a Slovak setting of the Stabat Mater) and rebirth (Regina Coeli). This cycle of what is essentially a mother's story is framed by Maykomashmalon, the words of a young Yiddish scholar reflecting on mortality.
Godár's juxtapositions are striking but never jarring. The Regina Coeli, for example, sounds like Monteverdi filtered through Slovak folk music. Here and elsewhere on this disc, one is struck by the singing of Iva Bittová, a vocalist who can sound like a little girl, a gypsy folk-singer, or a grown up classical artist from one moment to the next. I think that she and Björk would have a lot to discuss. Bittová was born in 1958 in what today is the Czech Republic, and has achieved fame as a solo artist. (She often plays the violin as she sings.) She herself inspired Godár to composer the Stabat Mater, and perhaps Mater as a whole can be regarded as a collaborative work between the Godár and Bittová.
In some of Mater's individual works, Bittová is accompanied sparely, by only a viola and a cello. She is accompanied by a string quintet in Uspávanky. In the Magnificat and the Regina Coeli, she is joined by the Bratislava Conservatory Choir, and either a small ensemble of strings, including the harp (Magnificat), or a mixed ensemble containing "antique" instruments such as the harpsichord and the chittarone (Regina Coeli). The contrast between old and new is particularly interesting in Ecce Puer, where Bittová's voice (at its most fragile sounding and ethereal), and Joyce's text (sung in English) is underlined by an instrumental group not unlike an English Baroque consort in its composition.
Recordings released under the ECM New Series label usually are recorded "in house." This time, however, the label has licensed this recording from Pavian Records, based in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I gather that ECM's Manfred Eicher was so impressed with Mater when Miloš Valent brought it to his attention that he decided to give it world-wide exposure on his own label. We're the richer for it. The recording was made in Slovakia with an indigenous recording team, and the sound is just as good as one would expect from any ECM New Series release. As one expects from this label, the booklet is attractive, and contains texts, essays, and session photographs.
Moving but not morbid, thought-provoking but not pretentious, challenging but not forbidding, Mater deserves to be one of the success stories of 2007. I think it will be on many "Best of the Year" lists come December. I know it will be on mine! - Copyright © 2007, Steve Schwartz

The junction of Godár and Iva Bittová is congenial, no other composer has managed to write for this singer so much music with which she would be able to identify to such a degree. Magnificat is one of the most gorgeous pieces originating here, a pure essence of beauty and the best quality from the history of music, namely of Monteverdi...
The playful Regina Coeli recalling the composer’s memory of his music-making in the house of Ján Albrecht, the spiritual father of reviviscence of early music in our country... While Solamente naturali ensemble vigorously let off the instrumental passages, Iva Bittová started to dance and her singing was later on nicely supported by Bratislava Church Choir...
(Oliver Rehák, kultura.sme.sk, July 1, 2012, on “Mater”)  

Querela pacis

After long months of expectation the CD Querela pacis has been released on the Pavian Records label. Peter Corlett is the author of the cover picture: Man in the Mud. The author of the photographs and graphic design is the same as on the CD Mater – Vladimír Yurkovic. Although the recording brings an atmosphere that is quite different from the previous CD Mater, we believe the listeners will enjoy it alike. The CD Querela pacis may already be purchased in Bratislava in Dr.Horák CD store, or on the address of the Indies Scope (http://indies.eu/alba/826/querela-pacis/), DVDBest (http://www.dvdbest.sk/cd/146264/godar-vladimir-querela-pacis), or Vinyl World (http://www.vinylworld.sk/?p=902). 

The title Querela pacis = Lament of peace refers to the nature of war, the paradox that “our civilization is probably since the WW2 still paving its existence by means of honorable killing in endless wars somewhere on Earth.” (booklet) Godár’s effort to liberate the humankind from this bloody ilusion, which communicates with baroque music is authentic and if you listen to it with attention, it is unbelievably touching, like an unselfish prayer, like an arrow aimed to God, which is almost physical.
(Alapastel, last.fm, January 12, 2012, on Querela pacis)   

My intention is to present a recording which is better than good. [...] A comparison with Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem is convenient (the use of Latin and English texts is another resemblance), but the musical language here is very different. In my view the piece is the most impressive in those moments where the composer uses the modal material (resembling voice leading in Arvo Pärt’s compositions), that is in the introductory Preludio and final Postludio. A certain special rigidness and archaic character (stemming from the material used) in contrast with superb tectonic structure results in an interesting new quality and succeeds in keeping the attention even for a relatively long time. I do not value as high the movements whose harmonical language and rhythmics refer to a more trivial kind of pop-music (e.g. the second movement – Recitativo), or to older music (for instance the “Wagner-like” conclusion of the third movement – Obsidium Urbis and the baroque style, which are present frequently). Speaking about the performance and sound the recording cannot be reproached almost for anything [...] Solamente naturali ensemble is playing with historical knowledge, precisely and with marvelously dynamically rich sound, which is always smooth and cultivated even in fortissimo. The soloists, choir and conductor, as well as sound directors of the recording – all deserve the honours. Excellent sound, excellent presentation. Good news for contemporary music.
(Michal Nejtek, Harmonie, 2011/11, on Querela Pacis)

When musician Godár joined his musical celebration of peace with historian Godár’s verbal accusation against war, that was obviously an extremely contemporary gesture of humanist Godár, however pathetic it sounds. Fortunately Godár’s engagé music is not cruel. It is sublime. However, it is not sublime due to its interpreted extra-musical idea. It is sublime in elegiac manner. As an artistic answer to the unsettling phenomenon of war it dissociates it through a universally valid form, which joins actual musical utterance with historical consciousness. In Godár’s work both aspects are separable only with difficulties; although being contemporary composer he approaches music from the historical position. Even now he converses not only with social, but also with musical context of the Erasmus era. Historical word and historical tone sound in unison from the introductory Preludio – Mantra till the closing Postludio – Mantra, in which Godár set fragments from Erasmus’ treatise Lament of Peace to music. The word falls silent only in two instrumental movements A Gran Battaglia for violin and orchestra and A Sad Pavan for these distracted times for orchestra. Both are superb displays of musical mimesis informed by philosophical-aesthetic lecture of an educated historian and motivated by representative ambition of an ambitious composer. Here Godár presented himself as a compositionally competent neoclassicist with refined recycling aesthetic a la Stravinsky [...]
The strongest moments of the new Godár album are, as I see it, its fith, ninth and tenth movements. Lament for its unity of idea and its compositional solution, Pavana for its sheer musical beauty and in Postludio probably most distinctively revealed the author’s poetical writing and his famous sense for dramatic and affective pathos.
(Jozef Cseres, Hudobný život 2011/10, on Querela pacis)   

Taylor Davis-Van Atta: You have described Béla Bartók’s music as “a kind of milk” for you. Can you elaborate on how Bartók’s music has informed your thinking and your evolution as a composer?
Vladimír Godár: As a child, I went to a school where I specialized in mathematics, studied piano, and listened to rock music. The worlds of numbers, words, and sounds interested me. I was twelve when The Prague Spring occurred, and it was then, after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, that I realized that the world of words was the main harbinger of shameless lying, so of the two remaining worlds—of numbers and of sounds—I chose the world of sounds. In fact, it was Bartók’s music that was the impulse for this decision. Initially, I admired his music’s expression, and later on its ideal balance between rationality and spontaneity, expression and construction, between contemporary and historical models, and between rational composition and oral traditions. The synthetic nature of his personality still fascinates me today. And not just me: we can hear Bartók’s influence in the ideals of many other composers whose music I enjoy: Lutosławski, Górecki, Ginastera, Piazzolla, Kancheli, George Crumb, and so on. The universality of Bartók was masked for too long by Adorno’s assertion that the polarity of Schoenberg and Stravinsky was the key to contemporary music. To discover Bartók’s significance, it is necessary to thoroughly critique Adorno’s ideas.
TDVA: One of the most beautiful movements of Querela Pacis is entitled “A Sad Pavan for These Distracted Times.” This movement seems to me as much an elegy to a bygone era and culture as it is a lament to what that old way of life has been replaced with: that is, a lament to today’s disposable culture. Art is highly marginalized in Western culture—and increasingly so in world culture. Even though most of the major oppressive political regimes of the past century have fallen, it seems to me that we now engage in a form of self-censorship, wishing to remain distracted rather than engaged. Do you believe it is possible for art to engage with the mass public today?
VG: Thomas Tomkins composed his virginal work “A Sad Pavan for These Distracted Times” two weeks after the King of England, Charles I, was beheaded on February 14, 1649. Perhaps he wanted to designate that period in history which was without rules, when violence and terror were everyday occurrences. Today, mass murder, possible because of the latest scientific discoveries, is being legalized by journalists, politicians, administrators of justice, and church leaders. The marginalization of art and its function inevitably accompanies our reality... - www.musicandliterature.org/

What does Vladimír Godár’s music sound like? The candidates for comparison that I’ve seen mentioned range from Claudio Monteverdi to Arvo Pärt. I could add further names—Igor Stravinsky, Valentin Silvestrov—but the comparisons hardly matter. The music of Godár sounds, to me, like the music of a time in which religious ritual has died and what was prayer is now dramatic exclamation, what was faith is now the enthrallment of beauty. The old ritual forms are often invoked by Godár, for those forms still hold music well, but Godár’s music is a renunciation of piety and a restoration, a worship, of the anguish needed to awaken our souls.
So Godár’s music sounds to me, at its happiest, even, with hallelujahs faint as angels comforting a child, like anguish. Anguish, like piety, requires form for full expression so as to be released, fulfilled within the ear of the listener, set free to circuit the mind and body, wordlessly to instill the balm of Solomon’s magic ring inscribed “This too shall pass,” a profound mindfulness, everything passes, but caught within poignant melodies and intense rhythms the anguish passes in its guise of the exquisite beauty of necessity.
That is the theme, I think, of Gilgamesh’s Lament for bass and cello. In his album liner notes, Godár tells us that he “came to the conviction that it was vital to work with the original text.” As that text is in Akkadian, Godár enlisted the aid of a scholar of ancient Semitic languages to create a phonetic version to be sung. Why not instead employ a Slovakian translation? Why deprive his native audience of its native tongue? The answer seems to me to be that Godár hoped for the exact tonalities that Gilgamesh might have let loose over the corpse of his dearest friend Enkidu, a primal man, for the sake of whose companionship Gilgamesh, the warrior-king of Uruk, forsook marriage. To feature these tonalities is to call back to the past as far as one can musically.
Iva Bittová (left) and Vladimír Godár (right) are both featured artists in the latest issue of Music & Literature 3.
Godár observes that he finds what is commonly titled The Epic of Gilgamesh “more theatrical than epical,” due to the prevalence in it of direct speech. The direct speech of Gilgamesh is directed at a god, is a plea, a loud private prayer. In Godár’s setting it becomes a chamber lament played in low darkness with no one to hear but the audience hidden both from the musicians and the god. The solace in the lament is that anguish is ancient and always in essence the same. Gilgamesh must submit to the fact that death awaits not only the friends of great kings but great kings themselves. Yet he did not consent to place Enkidu’s body in the grave until, after seven days of grieving, he saw a maggot crawl out of his friend’s nostril. And his speech is more tantrum than submission. Godár’s music does not seek to convey the tantrum of the text, for that is the business of the text. The music captures the slow cadences of anguish. In this, Godár, who lectures on the history of aesthetics, follows (as I see it) the indications of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Laocoon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry, in which Lessing argues that the visual arts (and, I would say, music as well) must capture anguish by means of beauty and not by slavish adherence to human reality, which means that, in the famous statue of Laocoon, the seer of Troy, and his two sons wrapped about by thick poisonous serpents sent by Athena to protect the secret of the wooden horse of which Laocoon was warning, all three must possess noble stoic features (even though, as they are naked, the visceral anguish is conveyed by their constricted muscles) rather than contorted howling faces which would have ruined the effect intended—the catharsis of seeing appealing, rather than hideous, persons die. In like manner, Godár did not wish to scream out Akkadian as that would have negated the echo that his call to the past had elicited—Gilgamesh even in anguish would not have shrieked at the god, for the god, Enlil, a god of storm and violence, was already angry at both Gilgamesh and dead Enkidu (it was Enlil who had issued the sentence of death) for their hubris in killing the monster Humbaba who guarded the cedar forest beloved of heaven. Further yelling would have done little good; Enlil had shown his intent and his power. So in Godár’s music the vocal tonalities ascend just a bit, enough to be heard on high, then fall to the earth from the weight of their pain and form stones of sound for Enkidu’s grave. In terms of the phonological insights of the Prague structuralists of the 1920s, admired by Godár, the jagged contrasts of the Akkadian phonemes are an onomatopoeia (like the barcarolle form, suggestive of a rocking boat, employed by Godár in a chamber work for violin) as unique as the brickwork of the fortified walls of Uruk, a wonder constructed by Gilgamesh’s order, a wonder that, as he says in the epic’s conclusion, will survive him.
The Prague structuralists were influenced by the works of the Russian Formalist (St. Petersburg branch) Viktor Shklovsky. Godár’s Sonata in Memory of Viktor Shklovsky was originally inspired, the composer tells us, by the desire to create “the form of a structured rhetorical composition… This I did not manage to realize, but I think the vestiges of the original conception can still be discerned in the work’s final incarnation.” What Godár meant by this in terms of this sonata I have no idea, but the topic is a naturally playful one for me. Shklovsky is famous for his insistence that creative writing depends upon the knowing use of devices, skillful techniques, by the artist. To write a good story, one needs to understand how to structure it so that it takes the readers out of their worlds and into the text. That structure has nothing to do with the writer’s personal psychology or politics; it belongs to the realm of aesthetics, which Shklovsky aspired to make more empirical, modeled somewhat after scientific research. But the negation of politics as an artistic criterion—and the implicit affirmation of unfettered artistic freedom—had never been a popular view in Russia, not in the days of the Tsar, and not in the days of Stalin.
What I gather Godár means by a structuralist composition shows itself most clearly in a work such as Mater. A theme—woman, mother, the eternal feminine—serves to elicit his music. Godár makes his choice of devices—liturgical, literary, folkloric, a Magnificat, a James Joyce poem, Yiddish songs—from throughout time and without regard to their original cultural contexts. (Consider Godár’s Querela Pacis (“The Complaint of Peace”), dedicated to Erasmus, the author of an eponymous 1521 work, with quotations from that work set by Godár to the form of mantras.) The aesthetics of music survive with ease the present shift from the church into theater, the concert hall, films such as those for which Godár writes scores. It is the music, the tones, that are enduring, not the beliefs that they are regarded as serving at a particular place and time. The same will be true two thousand years from now. I look forward as far in time as The Epic of Gilgamesh is now distant from us, when samplings from Godár’s Mater bypass the ear to trigger direct neuronic signals to deep space travelers to enfold themselves with kindness through the long night.
It would be a purist philosophical idealism to conceive for the universe a higher, truer ear beyond our realm. To this ear, music would always be only music. There would be no need for structuralism because the intertwining meanings that inform music as they do all phenomena become irrelevant in the higher truth realm in which the ear abides happily without a head, because all music is interrelated as the medium, sound, is one. No matter what one played for the ear, it would form a kind of infinite occasional oratorio, as best I can conceive it. But here on earth the choices of Godár are vibrant and welcome. But as a grateful, musically untutored listener to his works I cannot say, though I seem to have written about it, that Shklovsky’s devices or anyone’s structuralism much matter to me. His music moves slowly, intensely, yearning for the primal ground of Gilgamesh, the tonal grace of the psalmist David. The itinerary is to my liking, the notes take me to places Godár could not have had in mind. Music can be given forms, but listeners can slip free of those and escape with the notes out the window.Lawrence Sutin

Vladimír Godár (born 16 March 1956, Bratislava) is a Slovak composer who is active in the fields of contemporary classical music and film music. He is also known for his collaboration with the Czech violinist, singer and composer Iva Bittová. As an academic, he is a writer, editor and translator of books on historical music research. He has been active in reviving the music and reputation of 19th Century Slovakian composer Ján Levoslav Bella.
He studied composition under Juraj Pospíšil and piano under Mária Masariková at the Bratislava Conservatory. In 1979 he began work as editor of the music books department of OPUS, and he taught at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava from 1985.

His work is largely unknown in the English-speaking world, but much of his music has been released by Slovart Records.

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