Herbert Henck JOHN CAGE Sonatas and Interludes HERBERT HENCK Festeburger Fantasien

“As well as being a superb technician,” wrote The Guardian last year, “Herbert Henck always puts together his discs with great thoughtfulness.” Viewed collectively, Herbert Henck’s recordings for ECM have added up to portrait gallery of some of the most fiercely independent spirits of 20th century music: the Spanish Mompou, whose “voice of silence” was inspired by St John of the Cross; the Russian Mosolov who found poetry in the hammerings of the iron foundry; the French composer Barraqué, whose massively complex Piano Sonata has defied all but the most gifted contemporary interpreters; the German composer Hans Otte, whose “Das Buch der Klänge” proposed “a new consciousness of sounds”; and, on “Piano Music” a double-portrait of two American mavericks, Conlon Nancarrow and George Antheil, whose music drew influence from early jazz and ragtime and the soundscape of the machine age.
“Locations”, however, gives the most complete indication of Henck’s musical range thus far. Although he is heard once again as a nonpareil interpreter of modern music – turning his attention to that “inventor of genius” (to quote Schoenberg), John Cage – he also appears as a most convincing improviser. And more than this, he shows his listeners how these aspects of his artistry are integrated, and how one impacts upon the other.
Disc One of this 2-CD set is devoted to an impeccable and creative account of John Cage’s seminally important “Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared  Piano”. Written in 1946-48,the “Sonatas and Interludes” revolutionized piano music, in several ways. First of all, there was the transformation of the sound. As “prepared” by Cage, with screws and bolts and erasers, the piano offered a vast range of new timbres, taking on the sonorities of a percussion orchestra – its shimmering gong-like sounds suggested the Gamelan ensembles of Indonesia. The new colours reflected an interest in oriental philosophy and also in what Cage called “considered improvisation”.
“Sonatas and Interludes” remains one of the most attractive of Cage’s early works, its character profoundly meditative. At the time, Cage subscribed to the Indian definition of the purpose of music, “to quiet the mind and render it susceptible to divine influence.” He went further: this music was “an attempt to express the ‘permanent’ emotions of Indian tradition: the heroic, the erotic, the wondrous, the mirthful, sorrow, fear, anger, the odious and their common tendency toward tranquillity.” His work for prepared piano anticipates the music of the music of the Minimalists of two decades later. It is pattern music, gentle pulse music, and it opens doors to music beyond Western art music. At the same time, as Cage scholar Richard Kostelanetz once noted, in its insinuating  prettiness it also has qualities in common with the music of Erik Satie, one of Cage’s formative enthusiasms.
On Disc Two, Henck offers two “freestyle extensions” of his work with composed music. His two sets of “Fantasies” are improvisations taped immediately after his recordings of Cage and of Mompou. Henck: “Though there were some good practical reasons for this, it also released me from the somewhat contradictory undertaking of having to be spontaneous and inventive on command, in other words at fixed times on predetermined days. The improvisatory ‘addenda’ relieved the tension and, in my opinion, benefited the preceding interpretations, with what might be termed the ‘school figures’ being followed by a ‘freestyle’ section offering greater and different freedom.”
Both cycles were recorded in the Evangelische Festeburgkirche in Preungesheim, a district of Frankfurt am Main.
 “The piano preparations were based on the requirements of Cage’s ‘Sonatas and Interludes’, which I had played shortly before. But unlike Cage, who did not use all the keys and also left certain notes unprepared, I wanted to modify the timbre of all the strings. For the higher registers I used screws and bolts of various sizes, for the copper-wound bass strings, mainly small rubber wedges. The metal preparations, which tended to produce sounds ranging from (cow)bell- and xylophone-like chiming to the occasional slight jangling, frequently obscured the original pitches. On the other hand, the rubber preparations inserted close to the end of the strings left the original pitches largely intact, changing only the timbre and duration of the notes. As in Cage, the prepared pitches were microtonally out of tune, producing unexpectedly shimmering, vibrating, sometimes even distinctly pulsating timbres. Even if the tone colours themselves were predetermined, they were not deployed according to a fixed plan; like so much else, they arose in the course of play, out of a sudden idea and spontaneous decision.”
A feature shared by the two series of improvisations is their use of glissando at extremely high speed. This is particularly prominent in the second duo of the first series, which also belongs to a set of glissando studies begun in 1990.
Herbert Henck has been playing improvised music for almost four decades. “Locations” is the first of his ECM recordings to include his improvisations. “I gained access to the field on my own, “ he says in his liner notes, “through the sheer joy of music and my delight in the opportunity to invent piano sonorities and deploy them according to my judgement, not to mention my need to communicate an emotional message in my own artistic medium.” (ECM Records)

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