William Sweeney: Chelovek [download]
Sonata for bass clarinet and piano.
Commisisoned by SCAW (Sarah Watts and Anthony Clare) with support from the PRSF and was first performed on 17 October 2013. Revised 2017.
Computer typeset score (33p) and clarinet part (16p) saved as pdf for immediate download.
Tate Modern’s ‘Futurism’ exhibition of 2009 contained a few surprises: amongst the energetic, male-chauvinist manifestos, militaristic posturing and steam-driven industrial imagery, it was the work of two young Russian women that captured the imagination. The paintings of Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962) and Liubov Popova (1889-1924) seemed to have borrowed the revolutionary essence of cubo-futurism, but invested it with wit and humanism.
In Popova’s painting of 1913: Chelovek+Vosdruh+Prostranstvo (Figure+Air+Space), the central human figure seems to be both the product and animator of rhythmic linear vectors, often originating (or suggesting destinations) beyond the edges of the frame. The colour range reflects and combines skin tones with metallic graininess and the landscape suggests industrial vitality. (The Russian word ‘Chelovek’ is often translated as ‘Man’ but it is not actually gender-specific (just look at the picture!), neither does it simply mean ‘Figure’, but implies ‘the Person’, perhaps ‘a Guy’: probably all of these at once.)
The musical processes and materials are not direct attempts at a translation of the physical nature of this ‘object of contemplation’, but are experiments with what one might call affective parallels. For example, melodic/pictorial figures may both arise from and dictate the variant course of motivic grains, and the perspective-creating juxtapositions of vectors might find parallels in the intersection of revolving rhythms and evolving metric cycles. The work also experiments with the range of technical and timbral possibilities of the bass-clarinet, incorporating some of the latest multiphonic possibilities researched and indexed by the work’s commissioner, Sarah Watts. These sounds are integrated into the asymmetric narrative of the work besides heightened timbres, ‘noise’ and more familiar modes of performance. The relationship with the piano tries to parallel the ambiguities of Popova’s work, interweaving contrasting gestures and contextualising landscapes, the human form both incorporating its industrial setting and dictating its formation.
There are two movements, the first beginning quizzically and ending ‘misterioso’ after alternately vigorous and reflective episodes. The second movement opens ‘furioso’ and takes the work to its darkest point, but contrasts this with an early-jazz elegance. It ends, again, rather quizzically: a personal commemoration of that moment when these young female artists so deliciously deflated Marinetti’s posturing.
Chelovek+Vosdruh+Prostranstvo (Figure+Air+Space) can be viewed here: