Monday, February 2, 2009
RIP Lukas Foss
Lukas Foss, 86. I am posting enough RIPs lately I am compelled to concoct a grisly format for them. Here is his NYT obituary.
There was a short but very sharp time in my music-intensive college years that the above recording of Lukas Foss' Time Cycle conducted by Leonard Bernstein was my favorite album. I had just seen the light in John Cage's aleatory music, feeling that any restrictions one would put on the elusive spirit of sound were tantamount to a ball and chain, yet (like now) I could never really get into recorded versions of Cage's music. I got Cage's landmark Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra and after three listens of not being able to really grasp it, I flipped it over and played Foss' Baroque Variations and was transfixed by these dreams through Handel, Scarlatti, and Bach. I sought out anything I could find by this guy.
It was shocking what would wind up in a used record store back in the late 80's. His Time Cycle was sitting undisturbed in the one nearest to campus and I spent surely the contents of my bank account to get it. It was a tone poem about time - if I remember right, ticking clocks even made an appearance through the percussion but the piece was deeper and dreamier than that, largely due to Adele Addison's thoughtful reading of the existentialist texts to which Foss set him music. The real excitement for me was in between each movement, where the orchestra was granted an aleatory section allowing them to do whatever they wanted. These moments were, as one would expect, muddled contemplative segments, more dense and gaseous than the parts Foss composed, but it completely, totally worked. The composed and non-composed parts balanced each other out and drove home the greater message about time, how it is relentless despite the level of control we exhibit over what goes on during its passing. I copied it to cassette and it stayed implanted in my little busted Walkman and walking consciousness in exclusivity for a week or two. I was sold.
Evidently, so was Leonard Bernstein, who, when he conducted the premier was so taken with it that he had repeated it during the same concert.