7 - 12
“Ekitundu Ekisooka” (1988)
Straightforward and lyrical, this work was brought to the attention of the wider world when it was featured on Pieces of Africa, a collection of compositions from African composers (Tamusuza is Ugandan) performed by the Kronos Quartet. After training in Baganda, Tamusuza studied under Kevin Volans, whose “White Man Sleeps” is included on Pieces, among others, and the diversity of influence proves vital to his music. It grabs you from the start, never truly relenting.
“Parallel Universe No. 3” (2011)
A work for solo cello, “Parallel Universe No. 3” is a showcase for the potential of Tideman"s native instrument as a solo performer. Her bowing is at times vigorous and others languid, often in the space of just a few bars. Most importantly, she generates gut emotions like awe, excitement, anger, and anticipation easily. Perhaps it is because Tideman composes for an instrument she plays, but her command of just what the instrument is capable of is astounding, virtuosic but always in service of the piece.
“dlp 1.1” (2001)
Possibly the piece that deviates most from the norm, Basinski"s “Disintegration Loops” are almost as famous for their story as for the actual sound of the thing. The composer attempted to transfer a number of old tape loops to a digital format, but as the tapes ran through the digitizer, pieces of magnetic material began to fleck off, the pieces dissolving the further on they went. In practice, this left jagged holes carved out of the hazy sounds, sometimes appearing gradually, sometimes brutally as a lot of material falls off at once. The final loops were completed on September 11th, 2001, and Basinski and his friends sat on the roof of his apartment in Brooklyn, watching the smoke billow from Ground Zero as the pieces played. In some sense, this threatens to overshadow the work itself, which is staggering even outside of the allegory it now represents. “dlp 1.1” is possibly the greatest of them all, devastating in its accidental replication of the violence of all things.
“Fog Tropes” (1981)
American composer Marshall"s work forms a bridge between ambient, electronic, and classical music, a trait on display here. Composed for “brass sextet and tape”, the piece is stridently amelodic, filtering through many permutations of the same mood. He rejects both serialism and holy minimalism for something more like the sound of a broken ham radio.
“St. Luke Passion” (1965)
Possibly the foremost master of dissonance and the true avant-garde voice post-1950, Penderecki"s range was phenomenal, composing for quartets, orchestras, choruses, and everything in between. “St. Luke Passion” is my pick for its vicious atonality, powerful emphasis on serialism, and its brief bursts of melodic, major voices that feel like the light of God shining down on the suffering Christ of the Passion. In fact, rarely in classical music has such tremendous violence been conveyed so directly. If nothing else, this makes Penderecki a master.
A Love Supreme (1964)
Now, I know what you"re thinking here, but hear me out. This four-part composition may contain elements of improvisation, of free jazz, but in what sense is it any more different from “Miserere” than “Fog Tropes” or “dlp 1.1”? If this list has shown anything, it is that compositional music post-1950 is full of abrupt left turns, of aiming directly for the ditch and coming back out stronger. I would in fact argue that Coltrane"s piece is the most accomplished, most affecting, and best American composition in the period considered, hands-down. Its four-part structure works to its benefit as a whole, differentiating between each section in Coltrane"s life-long striving for spiritual release through music, building tension and release not just in each movement but through all 30 minutes of the thing. Bandleader and virtuosic musician he may have been, the man was a composer, and the marks of his pen, and indeed his scalpel, are all over A Love Supreme. It is judicious where necessary, opulent in other moments, never anything less than the mind of a genius. Many composers pre-1950, Stravinsky among them, borrowed liberally from ragtime and jazz, subsuming them within a mantle of “sophistication” and “complexity” it was implied never existed in the source material. Post-1950, it"s time to acknowledge those progenitors as something other than materials to be cherry-picked; they were high art in their own right, and never more so than on A Love Supreme.