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Posts tagged 'Hans Werner Henze'

René Leibowitz on PSNY

René Leibowitz: world-renowned orchestral conductor; tireless advocate of the music of Schoenberg and Webern; surprisingly influential teacher of Pierre Boulez, Hans Werner Henze and Vinko Globokar; author of one of the first scholarly books on Schoenberg (coining the term 'Serialism' to describe his music); and finally: composer of some of the most interesting and under-performed serial-derived works of the mid-twentieth century. 

Born in Poland in 1913, Leibowitz and his family moved to Paris in 1926. He had all the makings for a child violin prodigy, though eventually his father put an end to that career path. But at age 17, Leibowitz found himself in Berlin, studying with Schoenberg and Webern-- a formative time in his life, for he would become Schoenberg's fiercest advocate in France, where he returned in 1933. Steeped in the European tradition, but fervently advocating for a modern break with tonality, Leibowitz occupied an interesting position: he started an international conducting career in 1937, only to have it cut short by the war. During those years, he was active in the French resistance, and wrote Schoenberg and his School, which was immediately translated into English, garnering a New York Times review by none other than Aaron Copland. 

Schoenberg and his School is a remarkable text, relentlessly pursuing the Adornian ideal of dialectical composition: music that bore the weight of the European tradition on its shoulders, but managed to cast off the shackles of tonality and embrace the utopian dream of pure, motivic, idealised Modern music. It is fitting that Leibowitz spent so much time conducting the Western canon. In championing Schoenberg's way forward through history, Leibowitz embraced the Canon wholeheartedly, uniting his political aspirations with his historical aesthetics. In a public editorial spat over Stravinsky (Serialism's favorite whipping-boy) on the pages of Esprit, a radical anti-totalitarian journal, Leibowitz used not Schoenberg as the idealized composer on the right side of history, but Beethoven. Positioning Schoenberg (and himself) on the side of the Western canon allowed Leibowitz to embrace his conducting career while simultaneously composing unabashedly forward-thinking Modern music.

Though his conducting career has been extensively documented, his career as a composer and pedagogue has been sadly neglected by scholars and performers alike. An influental teacher of Pierre Boulez, Leibowitz set the stage for the next generation of revolutionary European composers. Throughout his career as a conductor and pedagogue, Leibowitz stuck faithfully to Schoenberg's compositional methodologies-- through Boulez' "Schoenberg is Dead" article in 1951 well into the early 1970s. Though drastically removed form the public eye, Leibowitz's compositional output from this time bridges the gap between hard-line serialism and the next generation of experimenters, highlighting his sense for lyricism and drama.

In his works for solo piano-- for example, Three Pieces, Op.19 (1950), or Tre Intermezzi, Op.87 (1970)-- Leibowitz's melody and phrasing seems to come not from a machinistic, Serialist-derived arbitrariness, but rather from a fractured compositional voice, one which strives towards motivic unity while realizing the impossibility of that task. Leibowitz maintained this weighty sense of seriousness even in his "non-serious" composition from 1960, Marijuana (variations non sérieuses). This work, for violin, trombone, vibraphone, and piano, is an utterly strange, fascinating piece, mixing the sonorities of the trombone and vibraphone in almost cinematic interplay. 

We're extremely excited to have made fourteen of Leibowitz's works available for purchase through PSNY, including several solo piano works, string quartets, works for violin and piano, and even a work for solo vibraphone! Listen to excerpts of some of these works below.

 We hope to add more works and recordings in the near future; keep your eyes out for more from Leibowitz soon! 

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