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Brian Ferneyhough Author(s): Jonathan Harvey Source: The Musical Times, Vol. 120, No. 1639 (Sep.

, 1979), pp. 723-728 Published by: Musical Times Publications Ltd. Stable URL: . Accessed: 21/03/2011 18:58
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Brian Ferneyhough has now (1979, and at the age of 36) a published list of some 20 compositions behind him. It is a fascinating corpus from many points of view. Although we may safely say that the later works are better than the early, that there is a satisfying sense of organic development to be observed, the early works are not only rather original, they are astonishingly advanced for their time, especially when one remembers (which is sometimes difficult, for profound cultural reasons) that the composer is English. Although the general path of Ferneyhough's progress has been clearly traced by Andrew Clements,' a word about what was seminal in these early works for later usage may not be out of place here. In his late teens, Ferneyhough acquired his first real familiarity with new music, in particular Schoenberg, Stockhausen's Gruppen,Boulez' Second Piano Sonata and the Sonatina for flute and piano. This familiarity met with a more conventional familiarity-Hindemith and Bart6kwhich was already there. Ferneyhough says that there now occurred a pitched battle between Hindemith-Bart6k expressivity and Gruppenlike textures-a schizophrenia; but little of this is to be seen in the published scores. (It occurred mostly subcutaneously and the latter force prevailed to all appearances.) Ferneyhough's gaining of musical consciousness at just the point in history when an older generation was finishing with 'fifties serialism' or total serialism is significant. His overthrow of the chromatic remnants of the tonal system needed to be significantly less puritan; the crusade was over. Nevertheless, Ferneyhough did not fail to understand the implications of the crusade; it seems he lived the experience of Boulez' and Stockhausen's total serialism while starting at the next stage, the first loosening of the straitjacket. He apparently absorbed the discoveries of total serialism to a profounder degree than almost anyone else of his generation, without actually subscribing to its orthodoxies (such as the veto on octaves) in his music. These discoveries, as they hit the ear rather than as they left the composer's pen, were revealed to be a kaleidoscopic contrapuntal vivacity resulting from pattern-determined rather than gesture-determined voice-leading. Gestural sophistication alone could never have thrown up such splendidly mad counterpoint, where discontinuities in register and dynamics led the ear on pathways
1Music and Musicians, Nov 1977

through the musical data probably not consciously suspected by the composer, yet supplying gratifying testimony to the acute ear's ability to follow lines so new in style and articulation that they lay well beyond what were thought to be the limits of musical imagination at that time. Ferneyhough took this new, complex type of voice-leading and used it consciously together with its natural extension of the sixties-melodic-gestural enhancement. That is to say, without losing any of the contrapuntal multiplicity of serial pointillism (where each element is serially and separately determined, giving rise to a labyrinth of connections even beyond the serial ones), a further dimension was added which extended some of these many rudimentary 'voices' into full-blown expressive melodic gestures. In the Sonatas for String Quartet of 1967 this is particularly evident; indeed it is perhaps what the piece is 'about'. Originally, Ferneyhough wrote two movements, one in the strict total serial style, the other in an intuitive, expressionist style reminiscent of pre-serial Webern. Sensing, perhaps, that the drama of the historical moment lay in their interaction rather than in their successiveness, he chopped the movements up and dispersed the fragments throughout the 24 sections, allowing them to affect each other, allowing the more fertile 'intuitive' music eventually to form its own laws of renewal and burgeon in a manner denied to the hermetically-sealed totally serial music. Both types of music are affected by superimposable 'texture-types'-these being repeated notes (or tremolos), harmonics, pizzicato attacks, glissandos and a chord. These generalized characteristics form their own climaxes of occurrence as a third structural determinant at a higher level than the material from the two original movements; they are sufficiently general to be able to subsume them. Amidst a seething profusion of material, they form identifiable repetitions; this is very necessary in a work which, at 45 minutes, is much longer than either the purest totally serial works or the expressionist compressions of Webern. Complete sections also recur (transformed but of similar shape and length) and other elements such as a four-note melodic shape (see for instance bars 102, 110, 195, 237, 248, 319 and 355). It is a measure of the achievement of this work that it finds a way out of both Webern's impasse of around 1920one of his greatest periods but not one in which 723

he could have dwelt indefinitely, especially if he had wanted greater extension-and out of the impasse of total serialism of the 1950s, without following any of the existing exits, and in an entirely uncompromising way. It does not regress to conservatism: it is 'authentic' in Adorno's sense, lyrical without mask, posture or parody. As one looks at Ferneyhough's list of works one sees, as might be expected, works for piano solo and flute solo at the beginning of the list, but less expectedly one also sees that works for solo instruments, and in most cases monodic instruments, predominate in the second half, long after the triumph of the Sonatas for String Quartet, for instance. The first of these, Cassandra's Dream Song for solo flute, gives a clue as to the importance of such an apparently limited medium in Ferneyhough's thought. It is in places extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, though that can never be said with certainty since there is nothing that is mechanically unplayable. There are often several things to be done at the same time, though by no means as many as in later pieces such as Unity Capsule for flute or Time and Motion Study II for cello, where the cellist also operates two foot pedals, sings, etc, according to the instructions of five systems of








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Brian FERNEYHOUGH Robin HOLL..OWAY Tona SCHERCHEN-HSIAO( Thomas WILSON in all intensive week of CONCERTS, SEMINARS and OPEN REHEARSALS to include:

Terreest un homme Fernevhough- L.a



Wilson - Svmphon\ No 3

- Concerto tor Orchestra No 2

Brian Chapple - Piano Concerto Scherchen-Hsiao - .'nvitation au Vo\ age and tel\ e premieres of selected compositions I, seminar iarticiapnts. (The four (ompositiiions adriudge best ?will share the Chandos Awards wNhich have a total \alue of 12751.
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TWO BRITISH PREMIERES Fernehough - Time and Motiol Stud\

e ( . pISlrds, phonte or X\riltvt( ornlpomitonII (iraham G;riffirhs. S\O. Freeposl, (;lisgor\

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notation. The player must obviously be highly motivated and willing to subject himself to the discipline of practising one layer of actions at a time, only gradually superimposing them. There seem to be two important results of this degree of performer virtuosity. The first is that the virtuosity becomes objectified. The subjective nature of the virtuoso personality cult draws attention to the ease with which the star gets round his instrument. As if in protest against the complacent self-congratulation of such performers, who generally make use of music of exclusively past ages for their purposes, here is a living composer 'outrageously' demanding an even greater virtuosity; so great indeed that attention is drawn to the difficulty with which the performer copes. Ferneyhough hopes that by presenting him with almost insuperable difficulties he will suppress his subjectivity and any personal desire to interpret the music-there simply would not be time or concentration left while struggling to comply with all the notated instructions-and that, as the flautist-dedicatee of Unity Capsule says, after an initial practice period of near-hysteria he eventually 'loses himself'. It is this transcendence to a loss of ego, loss of self, which is interesting and, in this particular compositional guise, highly original. Stockhausen's Spiral, for instance, aims to get the performer to transcend 'the previous limits of [his] skill and the known capabilities of [his] instrument/voice'. But this is essentially an expressive gesture, transcendence by means of subjectivity and, as Maconie2 suggests, a release from the rigorous instructions of the piece: in short, the exact opposite of Ferneyhough's means of transcendence. No-one familiar with the literature of Joyce, Eliot, Beckett, Kafka or the like will fail to recognize the same spirit of self-fragmentation or negation, our time's reaction to the over-confident world-views and all-too-fallible mythologies of the self typical of the 19th century. This is a truly clear example of the same general tendency, though it is empirical rather than spiritual, Buddhist rather than mystical. Ferneyhough wrote in the preface to Cassandra's Dream Song: A 'beautiful',cultivatedperformance is not to be aimed at: some of the combinations of actions specified are in any case not literally realisable (certain dynamic groupings) or else lead to complex, partly unpredictableresults. Nevertheless, a valid realisation will only result from a rigorous attempt to reproduce as many of the texturaldetails as possible: such divergencies and 'impurities' as then follow from the natural limitationsof the instrumentitself may be taken to be the intentionsof the composer.No attempt should be made to conceal the difficultyof the
2Stockhausen (London, 1976), 265

I BR 041 -332


music by resortingto compromisesand inexactitudes (i.e. of rhythm) designed to achieve a superficially more 'polished' result. On the contrary, the audible (and visual) degree of difficultyis to be drawn as an integral element into the fabric of the composition itself. The second result of this degree of virtuosity is that we, the audience, become aware of a change of musical perspective. A piece for solo monodic instrument is seen to be almost as full of events and processes as an ensemble piece. We listen to the way the dynamics are working, the occurrence of fluttertonguing, of vibrato, almost as if these were separate layers. Indeed in some instances that was the way in which they were composed, as separate layers yielding a polyphony of parameters. If the piece were just one of several simultaneous lines in a work for ensemble, we would be too attentive to the structure of the polyphony between voices to



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notice the structure of the polyphony within a voice. So we have in these solo works a thing rarely seen in music, a microscope photograph blown up to 'normal' size. In the later ensemble pieces themselves the performers are not asked to strive for the performance of the 'unperformable', but their parts remain fascinatingly intricate and manifest the same polyphony of parameters. It is this that gives these works such depth of perspective. A simile of Stockhausen's springs to mind: he likened a piece to a tree, whose branches, twigs, leaves, fibres, cells, molecules, atoms and subatomic particles all have related interlocking structures, loosely or severely symmetrical. However closely you listen to the details of these works there is structure of roughly the same degree of sophistication as that which plans the large-scale events. You can focus in and out at will, and with greater familiarity contain all focussing in the one integral perception. It is

this above all that distinguishes Ferneyhough from most of his contemporaries: the occurrence of significantly greater structural depth. In addition to all this, since about 1970 Ferneyhough has come to see composing as an opportunity to draw together cultural and philosophical ideas which interest him. He has called some of these works a 'cultural meeting place'. So often such enterprises have been clumsy-'relevant' texts tacked on to unyielding music-but with Ferneyhough the extramusical deliberations are virtually inextricable from the music, it is as if he has seen how the currents in music itself reflect questions of our existence, and how these 'abstract' currents need only a little verbal gloss before they appear to us as extramusical cultural phenomena with which we are familiar. For example Transit (1975, for six solo voices and chamber orchestra) makes clear the dialectic between de-humanized science and humanism in terms of the musical world's reaction against total serialism. At the very outset the voices are given freedom in their choice of tempo to sing six rhythmic cycles, their pitches relatively fixed to one pitch each. The effect is of a calm, timeless, lyrical community of sound. Simultaneously against this there is set a scheme of serial durations in five phases: 'clocktime', essentially mathematical in concept, for timpani. So by means of voices and timpani the human and the sinister undermining rigidity of dehumanized science are imaginatively juxtaposed. Towards the end of this passage, both transform into directional processes-the voices expand pitch repertory and register, the timpani get louder, etc, and they move closer together. This is typical of the piece's 'mediation between extremes'. A little later there is a section, 'Voices I', where the strings, marked 'Giusto ed analytico', play rather cool and schematic serial sounds, and the voices, in a most striking manner, make gestures with varied phonemes (particularly in the 1/8 bars) suggestive of directly expressive utterances-heightened speech, as it were. Such contrasts make for great depth of perspective. The three short texts used are all embedded in the musical texture so that there is little sense of a musical 'setting'. It is as if they rose to the surface of the music, propelled up from the depths by the sheer energy of the purely musical expressivity. They form a progression, and are taken from Paracelsus, about alchemical transformation of matter, from Heraclitus, about transformation of the cosmos by fire, and from Hermes Trismegistus, about mystical transformation of the soul. Also drawn into the 'cultural meeting place' is a pastiche of a Renaissance woodcut of a 725

magus breaking through the last sphere which separates the mortal from the divine, the transitio referred to by the title. This is printed at the beginning of the score. The seating arrangement of the ensemble reflects the structure of the woodcut. In the first semicircle, at the front of the stage, are the six singers and three woodwind (flute,' oboe and clarinet with various doublings), all nine amplified; these represent the 'normal' human world. In the next semicircle are piano (four hands), cimbalom, guitar, harps and light percussion; these represent the stars above the human landscape. In the next semicircle are the strings, representing the intermediary darkness, and in the outermost one are the heavy brass, representing the music of the spheres itself. These enter only in the second half of the piece, just as in the woodcut the 'heavens' occupy roughly the top part of the design; one 'reads' the picture upwards following the transitio of the magus. The orchestration is largely selective, articulating clearly the 11 sections, or, more precisely, these sections' subsections. Tutti I after the above-mentioned initial section for voices and timpani, falls into five divisions. The first, second and fifth give the three amplified woodwind soloists a strong rhythmic unison chordal

line, set against turbulent dialogue between piano and muted trumpets; other instruments sustain. The third and fourth divisions use trumpets and strings to sustain, respectively, while turbulent figurations are shared between tuned and untuned struck instruments, including piano. The woodwind are absent in the third division, present in the fourth. In the fifth section everybody plays (without singers) and together thrice make the 'turbulent movement/ sustain' gesture characteristic of the vertical texture-but now successive, horizontal. It is this kind of elegant balance which gives the masterly sense of control over intensely energetic material. This Tutti I is followed by Voices 1, the first of four such sections placed third, seventh and ninth in the order of the 11 sections of Transit, in which the 'science/ humanity' dialectic is carried on, as described above, by voices and strings only. Next comes Verse 1, the first of three such sections placed fourth, eighth and tenth in the general scheme. Each verse features one of the woodwind soloists. It is a statement from the 'human' semicircle, in a sense less human than the human voice, but in another sense more human in that the statement is highly soloistic and individualistic, which is something the more communal voices never quite are. Each of these





Two of this composer's works are now available on record. TRANSIT, referred to by Paul Griffiths in The Musical Times as 'music of extraordinary power', and SONATAS FOR STRING QUARTET 'filled with a driving intellectual passion' in the words of Desmond Shawe-Taylor

in The Sunday Times. Sonatas

We publish scores of both works Transit P-7219 ?28

P-7118 ?9.50

and performing material for each is available on hire.

From all good music shops and:

Peters Edition Ltd., 119-125 Wardour Street, London W1V 4DN Wholesale only: 10-12 Baches Street, London NI 6DN


verses is surprisingly symmetrical in form. They have an A section which always consists of five passages, alternately strict and free in rhythm. They have a B section which always consists of the same music twice, but with some notes omitted and others added the second time; and they have a C section which always consists of basically the same music three times, again with things added or subtracted. The B and C sections start sparsely and then build, so they are valuable points of aural reference in a generally dense work. The repeated music is often performed differently the second time round, so repetitions (except for the metrical structure) are never exact. The repetition may be selective within a line, or may trope a line, or may add together in the third version the music of the first two versions (as in the clarinet verse, C). These structures are not sufficiently obvious to be immediately striking, but are sufficiently strong to become real foreground-background relationships on repeated hearings: again, something not all that common in much advanced music. Verse I is the bass flute's. A is for trumpets and percussion, B for bass flute, percussion and piano, and C for A and B instruments combined. The other two verses, for clarinet (E) and Bb) and oboe (and d'amore) respectively, bring in new forces for the C section. The oboe verse is an extraordinary baroque fantasy with harpsichord and cimbalom resonating around and embellishing an extravagant Holliger-like concertante part. The central Tutti I, the sixth section, is a dangerous leap of Ferneyhough's volatile imagination. Taking the idea of rhythmic cycles played in one's own tempo from the voices at the beginning, he allots such cycles to the woodwind and gives 20 other players semideterminate rhythms within a succession of spans of four to eight seconds, on which to place freely chosen pitches. As at the beginning, the rhythmic scheme is broadly canonic. For a composer with as fastidious an ear as Ferneyhough, this is a symbolic act: he is demonstrating a ne plus ultra. He says about it: 'The idea of this middle section was, as it were, to write a real anticlimax. It wasn't just perverse of me. I wanted to avoid putting the climax of the piece where it ought to be; it was really to show you the magma of the material, the idea of everything being in flux, in the sense of the Heraclitean theory that you can't step into the same river twice'.3 However, it leads directly into Voices III, the visionary moment where the 'illuminating instruments'-the heavy brass---enter, and one glimpses suddenly a deeper power, both in
3BBC transcript of public rehearsal of Transit, London, 1977 Nov

sound and metaphysical symbol. It is the complement of the palindromically related Voices II (just before the central Tutti) which was an exquisitely delicate section for female voices and plucked and struck tuned instruments. The next two sections, Verse II (clarinet solo) and Voices IV (all voices and light untuned percussion) continue the palindromic section scheme. However, in content, Voices IV is nearer to the opening section of the work as the voices are extremely still on fixed pitches while the cymbals, tambourine, temple blocks and bongos perform the previous function of the timpani, but lightened of the sinister undermining effect and no longer threatening. The text here is from Heraclitus; it concerns the transformation of the world by fire, fire the symbol of purity, movement and continual change. The now partly transformed human consciousness is able to contemplate flux from a still centre. This is followed by the last of the verses, for oboe, and then the final movement. The movement is subdivided into a tripartite 'Intonatio' ('Eternity maketh the cosmos, time maketh generation') and a tripartite 'Transitio' ('The substance of eternity is identity and sameness . . . of time is change . . . etc') built on the Hermes Trismegistus text. The 'Intonatio' is a progressive crescendo to a series of 'transcending' climaxes in the 'Transitio' sections. 'Transitio I' avoids climactic overkill by the skilful alternation of three tuttis with three interludes of simpler, less dense material. 'Transitio II' leads directly into 'Transitio III', thus forming the only really long passage of overpoweringly continuous density and violence in the work (even so only 26 bars long). During 'Transitio II' the 'illuminating' heavy brass transform into a static chord-each instrument stuck on and microtonally around one note, rhythmically animated by similar-speed groups of attacks of varying lengths. At this point a battery of tamtams and gongs enters for the first time. So finally a connection is made with the opening: those static voices which gradually gained a sense of direction and moved out of their dream-woven gyrations into the piece are complemented by the 'music of the spheres' which does the reverse and moves from the piece into the static, timeless cyclic material for the final 'Transitio III', an extreme climax, but scored only for the amplified voices, heavy brass and tam-tams. Although 'illumination' is involved, Ferneyhough directs this ending to be 'detached from all close association with human frames of mind or emotional states. Impersonal, coldly violent, implacable'. And the last sound is of the baritone shakily and feebly falsettoing the word 'Eternity' (ending with the claves stroke 727

that set the voices off at the beginning). It is slightly shocking, perhaps, to have transcended from the timeless dreams of humanity at the beginning to this intensely powerful vision of a cosmos totally indifferent to human feeling. Indeed, the magus in the woodcut looks somewhat amazed that it turned out like this; whether he is pleased or shocked we cannot tell since his face is turned away. '. . to make palpable the positive structure of doubt' is how Ferneyhough described his aim. 'Doubt' is uncomfortably expressed by the final structured violence. But what is positive? The piece itself is unanalysably 'positive' in that the music convinces utterly. One has to acknowledge its authenticity; one cannot hope to deny its power; indeed it is undeniably great music which draws one back to its truths again and again. It cuts deeply into an age of analysis and unbelief. It is this tension between the unanalysable musical positiveness and the philosophical scepticism which makes for the strange originality of Ferneyhough's music and its relevance to the deep obsessions of our time. (Compare the atheist moved by the Missa solemnis or Parsifal.) It is even more clearly seen in a work like Time and Motion Study III (the very title indicates the tension of the 'efficient' against the 'human') for 16 voices with electronic amplification (again note the polarity!) and untuned percussion. The differences between passages with such markings as 'Jovial, carefree' and 'Icily precise; like a typewriter'are expressed within the unitary world of the human larynx and so beg comparison all the more clearly. Like Transit, it is a work of extraordinary range; no stone is left unturned in the experience of an existential crisis. This tension is at the root of Ferneyhough's composing technique. One pole sets up the system for the generation of structure. The other pole 'cheats', disobeys the system, doesn't bother to make it clear to the listener. Systems are allowed to 'decay', to be forgotten as the composer progresses, and new systems have to be constructed to achieve the same sort of effect that the previous, now, 'decayed', system in

combination with a differently constructed layer was generating. Neo-cortex and 'old brain', conscious and unconscious, brain and heart, intellect and imagination, thought and feeling . . . the descriptions are endless-but few contemporary composers have known how to harness this double-nature in such a fertile way. Both poles are charged with extraordinary duties. The systems are intricate and allembracing, the imaginative onslaught on them is violently inventive. Often the mutual 'infection' is audible, when layers are kept at an auditory or temporal distance from one another. Other times the 'infection' is concealed as part of the composer's craft; for instance, as he usually composes one layer first, the second layer, perhaps structured by a different system, will be modified, and will modify, as it is laid on top of the first so that it 'fits' to the composer's satisfaction. Similarly with the third and other layers. The ability to believe in a system, knowing you are going to destroy it, represents a truly Kierkegaardian tension within the soul. The exploitation of this tension is the substance of the music, the quest for its release is its


Ferneyhough's'La terre est un homme', a BBC commission,is to have its premidreat a Musica Nova concertby the SNO underElgar Howarthin be Glasgow on September20; it will subsequently heard at the Donaueschinger Musiktage (October) and in the USA, given by the Chicago SO under ClaudioAbbado(February).
PRINCIPAL WORKS Sonatina, 3 cl, bn (or b cl), 1963 Four Miniatures, fl, pf, 1965 Coloratura, ob, pf, 1966 Epigrams, pf, 1966 Sonata, 2 pf, 1966 Three Pieces, pf, 1966-7 Prometheus, fl/picc, ob, eng hn, BI/E5 cl, hn, bn, 1967 Sonatas, str qt, 1967 Epicycle, 20 solo str, 1968 Missa brevis, 12 solo vv, 1969 Cassandra's Dream Song, fl, 1971 Firecycle Beta, orch, 1969-71 Sieben Sterne, org (2 assts), 1971 Time and Motion Study III, 16 solo vv, perc, tape, 1974 Transit, 6 solo vv (with amplification), chamber orch, 1972-5 Unity Capsule, fl, 1975-6 Time and Motion Study II, vc, tape, amplification (3 assts), 1973-6 Funerailles, 2 vn, 2 va, 2 vc, db, harp, 1969-77 Time and Motion Study I, b cl, 1971-7 La terre est un homme, orch, 1976Principal publisher: Peters

FeStival PlanS
Salisbury Festivities, Sept 6-19: LSO (Fischer), RPO (Handley), Academy and Chorus of St Martin-in-the-Fields (Heltay); Allegri String Quartet, King's Singers, Hilliard Ensemble; Ashkenazy, Ortiz, Birch. Details from Box Office, Salisbury Playhouse, Malthouse Lane, Salisbury. North Wales Music Festival, St Asaph Cathedral, Sept 23-9: new works by Hughes, Mathias, Blake Watkins, Lewis, Elliott; Richard Hickox Singers and Orchestra (Hickox), BBC Welsh SO (Hughes), Halle Orchestra (Loughran); Landini Consort, Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields Ensemble, Chilingirian Details String Quartet; Lill, Kirshbaum, Fergus-Thompson. from the Festival Office, High Street, St Asaph, Clwyd, North Wales. Benson & Hedges Music Festival, Snape Maltings, Oct 1-8: Gabrieli String Quartet, Esterhazy Baryton Trio; Curzon, Brendel, Pleeth, Tuckwell, Baker, Perahia. Details from Box Office, High Street, Aldeburgh, Suffolk IP15 5AX.

23rd International Festival of Contemporary Music, Warsaw, Sept 14-23: Lutoslawski, Baird, Xenakis, Penderecki, Halffter, Ives, Feldman, Schafer, Davies, Stockhausen, Ligeti. Details from Festival Office, Rynek Starego Miasta 27, 00-272 Warsaw, Poland.