Friday, January 23, 2015


Score cover.
(Natural Durations 1–24) for piano,  2005, 2006 [approx. 2 hours, 20 minutes]

Rin bowls.
     NATURAL DURATIONS is the 3rd "hour" of Stockhausen's originally-planned 24-part cycle KLANG ("SOUND") which is based on the 24 hours of the day.  NATURAL DURATIONS, like the cycle itself,  has 24 installments, which can be played either as a complete set or independently (such as is done for Bartok's Mikrokosmos piano pieces).  They have at their core the initial concept of letting the tempo and rhythms of the work be determined by how long notes ring out (sustain).  Factors such as pitch register, attack intensity and use of the sustain pedal also are considered.  This idea was previously explored to some extent in Stockhausen's 1959 trio composition for piano, celesta and percussion, REFRAIN, but this cycle uses some additional techniques such as performer breathing rhythms, ringing percussion tones, durations based on difficulty of playing, etc...  The pianist does however have some percussion duties for a couple pieces, specifically No. 10 where Indian bells are attached to the fingers, and No. 22 where 5 Japanese rin bowls are used.

Form Structure
     Some of the NATÜRLICHE DAUERN are directly dependent on the decay times of piano attacks, but many are also fascinating explorations of melodic and rhythmic contrast.  The organization of the pitches in the KLANG pieces are derived from serial combinations of the KLANG 24-note all-interval tone row.  The general rhythmic shapes and melodic tendencies are described below.

Description CD Track
1      Sustain pedal is used throughout.  Loud single notes of a descending scale alternate with soft chords slowly increasing in volume and later, ascending.  Tempo is determined by decay time of the loud scale notes (but tempo generally decreases since the lower notes resonate longer than high notes).  The chord and scale note attacks start together, move apart, and then come back into unison.  A short coda of 24 rhythmically-notated chords (independent of note decays) ends the piece. 10:42 "waiting for
notes to finish"
2      Tempo is indicated as 60 bpm and sustain pedal is used throughout. Loud single notes of an ascending scale alternate with descending chords starting loud and becoming softer.  The chord attacks start close to the scale note and move away.  A short coda of 23 loud, descending and decelerating chords (independent of note decays) ends the piece. 10:51 "point and
3      Tempo is indicated as 60 bpm and sustain pedal is used throughout.  Strong high chords and soft low chords orbit a glacial melody, played with decisive attacks and with each note sustained until its natural decay.  In the final measure, a 24-note tone row is played, oscillating from small intervals to large, and then small again. 9:39 "through-
4      High staccato chords accelerate and decelerate.  Low sustained chords also accelerate and decelerate, but in a different tempo and asynchronously with the high chords. 7:32 "long and
5      Quiet low chords are accompanied by 3-note figures above.  Each chord-melody is separated by a long fermata.  The chord melody has an generally ascending direction.  One of Stockhausen's most "lyrical" pieces. 6:16 "chord
for 3"
6      A set of 3 descending right hand figures are repeated about 21 times at decreasing and then increasing tempos.  Starting a beat after the right hand starts, the left hand also plays a set of 3 descending melodies.  Both left and right pedals are applied. 4:56 "fast
7      8 figures made of alternating high and low notes with increasing and decreasing intervals distances (ie - 2 non-parallel scalar figures) are separated by fermatas, with each phrase either a crescendo or decrescendo.  Sustain is applied throughout and the piece ends with a tremolo on E. 5:16 "8 counterpoint
8      A low, rumbling, repeating 6-note figure with sustain pedal and gradual changes in dynamics is topped with isolated high and low single notes and chords. 3:12 "low rumbling, with
9      Sustain pedal is used throughout. Two isolated chord clusters open the piece (about a minute), followed by 9 fading dyad chords and then irregular tremolos on high B and low D.  Near the end, the title "Third Hour" is spoken. 2:22 "cluster,
tremolos -
Third Hour"
10      Right hand plays different sets of repeating quintuplet figures in fluctuating tempo and dynamic.  Indian bells are worn on the fingers and constantly jingle.  Some sets are bridged by tremolos or glissandi.  The left hand plays a series of sustained low dyad chords.  The piece ends with an ascending scalar figure. 10:14 "rolling
Indian bells"
11      A huge piano cluster is struck and sustained.  Then a melodic figure is played (begun) so that it ends at the same time as the initial cluster attack. 1:22 "cluster's
12      A sequence of 24 chords (alternating high and low) follows the rhythm of the player's inhalations and exhalations (~8 secs/chord). At the end, the 24 chords are repeated at a fast tempo (with audible fast breathing). 3:43 "half
13      24 chords are each played with a single inhale/exhale of the player (~12 secs/chord), emphasizing the low register. At the end the last chord is repeated 3 times, quietly. 5:46 "full
breath chords"
14      Expanding/shrinking intervals from the KLANG 24-note pitch row are followed by a long fermata, after which 4 bars of more complex material are played at 1 bar per breath. 1:22 "1
counterpoint and
4 breath
15      Slow ascending scales, first with single notes, then dyads, then triads, then tetrachords, then clusters, with isolated opposing register notes and figures.  A "falling" glissandi occurs before each successive scale ascent.  The final cluster ascent has extra cluster glissandi and figures mixed in.  "Ascension" is spoken during the ascending triads.  In a final ascent, the inside piano strings are scraped with a plectrum (or credit card). 9:02 "Ascension
16      Different upper register chord tremolos (between 2 chords with 1 shared tone) are separated by isolated high and low notes. A "free" interlude occurs in the middle of the piece.  Ascending chord tremolos end the piece. 3:43 "tremolo
chords with
17      Both hands play the exact same descending scale in the same register, with one hand delayed by 2 triplets. 0:33 "following
hands down"
18      Thumb and pinky of the right hand press and hold down 2 notes while the other fingers of the same hand play 2 to 12 notes in between.  This repeats several times with different internal melodic figures while holding the same dyad.  The thumb and pinky then play a new dyad and the process repeats - at a new tempo.  The left hand does the same procedure for a different sequence of held dyads and melody figures, asynchronous to the right hand. 
There are 17 dyad/tempo changes from 36 to 120 bpm, in non-sequential order.
3:53 "outlined
X 2"
19      Isolated chords (1-5) demarcate a sequence of fast chromatic glissandi, tremolo (with octaves), and chordal tremolos.  The piece ends on a chord tremolo, changing dynamics. 2:10 "points and
20      A repeating middle range note is bounded by alternating high and low notes with louder attacks.  The "root" note is also treated to energetic scalar ornamentation.  The root note eventually changes and the process repeats.  After several cycles of different root notes, a fast sequence of alternating small and large intervals ends the piece.   4:11 "points,
above and below a
21      Each hand asynchronously plays rhythmically even figures of single notes and dyads separated by pauses of varying length.  The figures for each hand start out at high and low registers but gradually come together in the middle register.  The tempo is fairly lively. 2:05 "high and
22      There are 5 sections, each one having a different sequence of 5 measures with a Japanese rin bowl strike in each.  Each rin strike and its decay determines the length of a measure, each made up of mixed chords and single notes.  The last measure includes a 7-note chord with 6 echoes. 7:58 "Rin bowl
23      This piece incorporates many shapes and colors including tremolo, pedalling, frame knocks and scalar runs.  The 48 measures are divided into sequences of 1 to 9 continuous measures, divided by brief silences.  Basic tempo not indicated, but marked as about 5'30" in length. 5:52 "shapes and
24      The preceding 23 pieces are revisited in an ascending sequence from 1, alternating with a descending sequence from 23: 1 - 23 - 2 - 22 - 3 - 21 - 4 - 20 - 5 - 19 - 6 - 18 - 7 - 17 - 8 - 16 - 9 - 15 - 10 - 14 - 11 - 13 - 12  19:21 "the shuffled past"

Live Performance
Frank Gutschmidt, Piano, Stockhausen Courses Kürten 2006 (12 July 2006)

Nino Jvania (Zhvania)

Duccio Beverini
Sound Impressions
     These final piano pieces are truly beautiful "postcards" of shape and color.  If the KLAVIERSTÜCKE are oil paintings, then these are like watercolors, or maybe even Japanese rock garden (枯山水) sand art.  Stockhausen always put poetic expression and beauty above musical athleticism, and these are perfect examples of that.  In fact he almost makes fun of technical virtuosity by making some fingerings very awkward in order to limit the tempo.  Interestingly, I sometimes found looking at the scores for these to be a little deceptive, since the music ended up sounding quite different than what I first imagined (then again, I'm no pianist...).  In any case, these are great pieces to listen to on a frigid wintry night - the notes and chords fall like snowflakes onto a field of silence.  Some pieces are also evocative of encountering lost islands in the ocean, or exotic fish in the deep sea.

NATÜRLICHE DAUERN samples, tracks listings and CD ordering
Purchase the score
NATÜRLICHE DAUERN 22 (Live Youtube clip)
NATÜRLICHE DAUERN 10 (Live Youtube clip, Nino Jvania (Zhvania)
NATÜRLICHE DAUERN 5 (Youtube clip Marino Formenti)

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