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Ian Pace, piano recital


B.A. Zimmermann: Capriccio: Improvisation über Volksliederthemen;

Konfiguration: Acht Stücke für Klavier

Boulez: Sonata no.3 (Trope, Constellation–Miroir)

Henze: Variationen

Otte: Tropismen I

Stockhausen: Klavierstück X


Great Hall, King’s College London, 4 February 2009


After giving an overwhelmingly detailed lecture on the personal and political continuities that underpinned the establishment of Germany's new music institutions after the Second World War, Ian Pace went on to present some of the aesthetic implications of his discoveries in a recital of avant garde piano music from the postwar years.


The two halves of the concert ran approximately in parallel, moving from a work of the immediate postwar era to an established avant-garde classic, with one lesser-known item in between. The approach, emphasising continuities between the precursors and descendants of the high modernist heyday, might have been overly didactic were it not for the complexity of the story that emerged.


Zimmermann's 1946 Capriccio cannot have been entirely innocent in its collaging of German folk melodies, and it wavered uncomfortably between ironic distortion and outright bombast. It was impossible not to hear this piece in the context of later Zimmermann collages, such as Photoptosis, and here is where the difficulties of pronouncing political judgment on a composer due to his technical methods began. Presumably one would wish to draw a line between the quotations of German folk melody in the Capriccio and the quotations of Beethoven in Photoptosis, but where is that line?


Pace offered no clear answers (do they exist in such matters?) and a second Zimmermann piece, my discovery of the evening, offered further complexities. Konfiguration sounds at first very much in the mould of early 1950s integral serialism. It is sparse, pointillistic and highly fragmentary. However, through its translucent gauze one could hear the faintest echo of the romanticised gestures that characterised the Capriccio. As the eight pieces progressed they slowly took on a greater identity from one another without, it seemed, sacrificing the purity of the underlying aesthetic. This was in no sense a pastiche or parody work, but something in familiar colours was subtly underpinning and organising the bleached surface.


The contrast between Henze's Variationen and Otte's Tropismen I was even more stark. The Henze was rather heavy-handed and unmemorable, but offered a valuable context. Otte is much better known as a composer of beautiful minimal collections, such as Das Buch der Klänge (Part 11 of which Pace gave as an encore), but as an avant gardist he went as far as many of his peers in the exploration of compositional technique and notation. Tropismen I is one such example, a graphic score in which individual musical units are notated on a large grid, which the performer is free to navigate according to a short set of rules. In contrast to other, better-known, examples of freely-organised piano music – among which I include Boulez's Third Sonata – it had an immediacy of expression and clarity of free associative form that impressed me very much. Otte learned more from Cage than some of his colleagues, and in this work I think it showed.


Aside from that Otte encore, the concert concluded with Klavierstücke X by that most problematic of all German composers, Stockhausen. Pace's supreme performance left no one in doubt as to the aesthetic virtue of this singular piece but, as had been suggested throughout the evening, if we dig deeper into the historical continuities between fascism and the postwar avant garde, at what cost does that achievement come?


Tim Rutherford-Johnson