Garrett Sholdice programme overview

Madame Press Died Last Week At Ninety is a beautifully touching elegy for Morton Feldman's childhood piano teacher - Vera Maurina Press, herself a pupil of Feruccio Busoni. The chorale here is in the continuous re-harmonization of the tiny two-note flute gesture that repeats throughout the piece. Feldman's language and pacing - always so painterly, so tactile - have been of great influence for me.

I have made three arrangements of music by J.S. Bach for this concert. With these, there is a real sense of palimpsest - and thus also a sense of continuity, continuity of craft, of practice.

Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig (Oh, how fleeting, oh, how futile) is a hymn by Michael Franck, dating from around 1650. J.S. Bach returned again and again to Lutheran hymns such as Franck's, using the tunes and poetry - well known to his audience - as basic material for his compositions.

Bach's wonderfully aphoristic Orgelbüchlein contains a beautifully fluid organ chorale prelude 'on' Franck's hymn, and I have arranged this twice for this concert. Bach's piece exalts the hymn tune with dexterous interlocking passagework. In my arrangement for strings, I have simply transcribed this wonderful music, zooming in on a certain line of counterpoint at first, relishing it. My orchestral arrangement is more of a re-composition - only spectral glimpses of the original filigree flicker on the edge of perception - but Franck's tune is all there, albeit slower, and quieter. Anton von Webern is here too, in the orchestration - another ghost.

Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig was also the basis of one Bach's very many cantatas - BWV 26. Almost always, these cantatas finish with a chorale - a simple harmonized statement of the "source" hymn tune in which the congregation would sing. In my arrangement of the final chorale from BWV 26 for brass ensemble, I want to present the refinement, the honesty, but above all the humanity I hear in these congregational chorales.

Benedict Schlepper-Connolly and I have worked together, curating and producing, for our production company and record label Ergodos, since 2006. We share many of the same aesthetic touchstones, and his music has certainly influenced my work. I commissioned Last Pictures from him for this concert. The piece sure handedly builds a texture, resolute in its optimism. The final wind and brass chorale is not a negation of this exuberance, but its necessary adjunct.

James Tenney (1934-2006) was, in many ways, an impetus for Benedict and myself to form our company - in fact, Ergodos is actually the title of one of Tenney's early works. The word refers to the adjective 'ergodic' used (in mathematics) to describe a system that impinges on all points in a given space. This "universalism" was (and is) of great inspiration. And Chorales for Orchestra embodies this aesthetic beautifully. In this chorale (heard in four differently hued orchestrations), the supporting harmony is made from condensing the pitches of the tune: the vertical and the horizontal are one.

My piece, Fall and Disappear, composed for this concert, takes its title from the final stanza of the aforementioned Michael Franck hymn:

Ach wie fluechtig, ach wie nichtig
Sind der Menschen Sachen
Alles, alles was wir sehen
Dass muss fallen und vergehen...

Oh, how fleeting, oh, how futile
Are the things of man
All, all we see
Must fall and disappear...

I like the poetry of this final phrase (and of, course, there's an essential truth to the sentiment too). Actually (and tellingly), I'm also being a little poetic in my translation too: vergehen literally means "decay" or "vanish", implying total extinguishing, but "disappear" is more ambiguous - there is a sense of unseen continuity. The music unfolds as a revelation and subsequent disintegration of a chorale - in this case a chorale infused with the logic of a Javanese gamelan ladrang. A memory unearthed, and then evaporated.

Garrett Sholdice, Berlin, December 2011

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