Why George Perle’s Music is Not Serial by Paul Lansky
George Perle’s musical language is not derived from serial methods in which the order of events is predetermined in some way, but rather from tonality in which harmonic contexts and collections are referential.
Perle’s 12-tone tonality operates on the principal that a harmonic vocabulary of chords that are related to each other in a special way can interact and proceed just as chords do in tonality. The relations between these chords are ultimately derived from symmetry and different ‘keys’ exist in the sense that different pitches can act as the centers of symmetry. In a given ‘key’ his music moves in unordered (i.e. not serial) ways from place to place in a harmonic landscape according to his whimsey. George was even able to improvise in it to a certain extent.
What his system owes to serialism is really only the idea that he is using a 12 pitch-class system of some sort. It is much closer in some ways to Bartok, Scriabin and some Stravinsky, than it is to Schoenberg.
28 October 2011
Bridge Records 30th Anniversary Concert Review
The Daedalus Quartet offered the most arresting performance of the evening, of Molto Adagio (1938), an early work by George Perle (1915-2009). At 23 years old, Perle was already crafting his Berg-inspired and highly individual approach to harmony. The ensemble finessed the piece’s inexorable, gradually unfolding chromatic lines with poise and sumptuous tone. If this kind of playing is an example of what Bridge may have in store for us over the next 30 years, the future looks bright indeed.
17 August 2010
Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood
Festival Has Familiar Faces, if Not Always Music, for an Anniversary
Ensemble works with soloists were also hot items, and the festival could not have wanted a more inviting opening than George Perle’s vigorous, at times surprisingly Beethovenian, Concertino for Piano, Winds and Timpani (1979), in a powerful performance conducted by Mr. Macelaru and played by William McNally.
17 April 2010
eighth blackbird: New-music ensemble melds technique, drama
George Perle’s Critical Moments 2 offered a panorama of contemporary compositional techniques. The piece proved not only fascinating but engaging. The Columbus Dispatch
13 January 2010
Eighth blackbird returns in fine form
George Perle’s “Critical Moments 2” (2001) was a stark contrast. More in the musical language of Schoenberg, its instrumentation relates to “Pierrot Lunaire,” with the percussion taking on the vocal part.
It was an exploration in subtlety and economy. Each of its nine movements unfolded like a miniature character piece, as snippets of themes bounced between instruments like so many sparks. Each note was delivered with passion and split-second precision, and nothing was mechanical. Cincinnati Enquirer
16 November 2009
eighth blackbird cause to celebrate
Indeed, one of the works heard Sunday — George Perle’s deftly wrought, nine-movement piece “Critical Moments 2” (2001) — echoed an earlier account by eighth blackbird. Hearing the group’s remarkable facility with this succinct, lightly pointed score testified anew to the composer’s pristine ear and the ensemble’s skill at making the densest instrumental textures clear and revealing. Louisville Courier Journal
Eighth Blackbird and Gloria Cheng Wow L.A. Crowds
Playing the music memorized and therefore free to roam around the hall, the performers finessed the carefully constructed miniatures of George Perle’s “Critical Moments 2.”
Annenberg Digital News
24 September 2009
Eighth Blackbird flies high with Birmingham audience
George Perle, the esteemed American composer who died in January, wrote “Critical Moments 2” for Eighth Blackbird in 2001. With its intricate weavings, periods of intrigue and repose, rhythmic delicacy and a colorful variety of textures, the nine-movement work taps into the sextet’s sound world with great ease…. The Birmingham News
26 February 2010
Sextet x 2: eighth blackbird, Curtis group play together
Though the Curtis musicians were a bit tentative during the Perle piece, performances were well in hand technically – no small thing in a modern-music program. As for eighth blackbird, its central strength lies beyond the notes, in the ability to project the most enigmatic musical gesture with a sense that plenty of meaning is there if you just look for it. Some musicians believe their job is to answer questions posed by the music; eighth blackbird encourages the listener to do that.
-David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 2010
28 January 2010
Remembering George Perle, With Humor
George Perle could seem a model of compositional sobriety: a composer of complex but poetic works, influenced by serialism but not wedded to its techniques or accents, and a theorist who wrote with clarity and passion about thorny aspects of contemporary style.
The Da Capo Chamber Players showed a different side of him at Merkin Concert Hall on Tuesday evening, just days after the anniversary of his death. In four of his works written for the ensemble or its individual players, lyricism and structural ingenuity remained at the core. But the real focus was Perle’s sense of humor and fascination with virtuosic display, qualities that pull him away from his academic moorings. These works were not just the illuminating or provocative essays you expect at new-music concerts; they were also fun.
“Nightsong” (1990), which opened the program, is a reconsideration of a movement from Perle’s Sextet for Piano and Winds (1988), with the ensemble reduced to a quintet and rescored for strings, winds and piano. The playful bounce of the wind version remains intact, as does the give and take among the instruments. But the new, more expansive palette lightens the textures alluringly.
The three-movement “Triptych” (2003) is packed with witty turns of phrase and high-wire technical effects, and is the kind of piece you would expect violinists to jump on. Perhaps this revival by Curtis Macomber, for whom it was composed, and Blair McMillen, who played the piano part with a vitality that matched Mr. Macomber’s on the fiddle, will put the score on violinists’ radar. It deserves a berth in the repertory.
That can also be said of Cadenza and Allegro (1985), a colorful cello piece with just about everything: scampering and slides; long, convoluted lines and pithy melodic cells; and rich double-stops and brisk running figures. André Emelianoff and Mr. McMillen gave it the polished, high-energy performance it demands.
Compared with the rest of the program the Sonata a Quattro (1982) may have seemed abstruse, at least in its angular opening. But as in so many of Perle’s works, brash passages melt into beautifully involved writing with a natural flow. Here the wind and string lines wrap themselves around one another, creating depth, movement, atmosphere and an implicit drama.
For perspective Mr. McMillen contributed streamy renderings of Scriabin’s Five Preludes (Op. 74), a set Perle regarded as influential. Patricia Spencer, the flutist, gave an appealing account of the Third Fantasy (2007) by Leo Kraft, whose music balances chromaticism and melody in ways similar to Perle’s. And the full ensemble played “Odd Moments” (1999, revised 2009), an accessibly tuneful, thoroughly tonal quintet by Paul Lansky, a former student of Perle’s who found a very different path.
-Allan Kozinn, New York Times, January 27, 2010
3 November 2007
New Music in the Rose
“It would take a heart (or ear) of stone to resist George Perle, whose two pieces, written in 1946 (the “Lyric Piece” for cello and piano) and 2004 (the solo “BassoonMusic”), were the highlights of the evening, both sophisticated and, in the case of “Lyric Piece,” outrageously gorgeous. The pianist Gilbert Kalish and Priscilla Lee, a cellist ardent and clear, gathered in reams of silky sound with little silver tacks of crisply placed dissonance.”
-Anne Midgette, New York Times, November 3, 2007
George Perle: A Retrospective
“At 91, American composer George Perle remains one of the great unsung modernists, a writer of expressiveness and wit who has never let his idiosyncratic devotion to the 12-tone system stand in the way of lyricism or rhetorical clarity. Local music lovers will remember his stint as the San Francisco Symphony’s composer-in-residence from 1989 to 1991, but this handsome collection of his music, spanning nearly a half century, offers a gratifyingly fuller picture of his legacy. The offerings range from the Quintet for Strings of 1957-58 to the elegant BassoonMusic, written just two years ago for the Symphony’s Steven Dibner. In between come the delectable Nine Bagatelles for Piano, the Second Piano Concerto and Brief Encounters, an extended suite of short pieces for string quartet. The performances can be a little rough, but the beauty of Perle’s music shines through.”
–Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, December 11, 2006
George Perle: A Retrospective
“This double album is a stimulating survey of the music of an American composer, now 91, who is probably better known as a theorist, but whose creative work brims with vitality. Perle is a pioneering interpreter of Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique, but his own music combines that approach with a use of tonality that emerges with unadulterated sweetness in Two French Christmas Carols, performed by the New York Virtuoso Singers. Richard Goode is a persuasive soloist in the deft Serenade No. 3 for Piano and Chamber Orchestra, played by Music Today Ensemble under Gerard Schwarz, while the pianist Horacio Gutierrez sparkles in the Nine Bagaetelles. Three stars.
–Paul Driver, The Sunday Times, January 21, 2007
George Perle: A Retrospective
“Perle’s gems collected for a set that’s a shining example of a composer portrait. In his liner-notes, George Gelles tries to shine light on the nonogenerian composer George Perle as a theorist, performer and scholar. Making such a case for Perle as a thinking individualist seems a tad redundant, since any composer in the past 50 years who’s written complex music that people actually want to listen to has had to chart his own path. Gelles’s Perle is clearly a “complete musician”, but I wonder why Gelles stops there. Any composer who commands such gravitas in thorny technique while keeping emotional depth and lightness of wit demonstrates the completeness of all humanity.
Much has been made of Perle’s spiritual connection to Alban Berg, though the range of material on this two-disc collection shows just how much Perle has made of those influences. Just listen to the two earliest pieces here – the charmingly crafted harmonizations of Two French Christmas Carols and the darkly expressionist Quintet for Strings, both from 1958 – and it’s hard to conceive of these as coming from the same mind, to say nothing of the same year.
A comparable range exists even in his works for solo instruments. Although Perle himself credits his impetus in solo works to avoiding harmonic structure in a post-diatonic world, there’s no mistaking his sonorous feel for the bassoon in Three Inventions (1962) and its lighter follow-up in BassoonMusic (2004), his last completed composition. His Solo Partita for violin and viola (1965) and Triptych for solo violin and piano (2002) likewise show a kindred relationship not only with the instrument but with the individual performer in mind.
This latter connection revelas itself most directly in Perles works for piano, where the range of his musical expression has palpable roots in his writing for specific musicians. Horacio Guttiérrez’s playfulness in the Bagatelles is everywhere apparent, whereas Shirley Rhoads Perle’s poetic lyricism pulls a profound depth from the Adagietto con affetto from Chansons Cachées.
The best example of this comes in the contrast between the Piano Concerto No.2, which rounds out the first disc, and the Serenade No.3 for piano and orchestra, which opens the second. Pianist Michael Boriskin (for whom the concerto was written) gracefully negotiates a difficult piece, asserting a soloistic presence with the Utah Symphony despite his own description of the concerto as having a “chamber-music ideal work[ing] collectively toward a common goal”. Richard Goode (who premiered the Third Serenade) offers a truly chamber-music collaboration withe Music Today Ensemble under Gerard Schwarz, who collectively refract a full spectrum of musical colour from Perle’s crystalline shapes.
Ultimately, the Serenade No.3 (reissued from Nonesuch) and the Second Concerto (reissued from Harmoni Mundi) make more than serviceable anchors to this collection, which offers probably the best performances and recording quality any composer could hope for.
–Ken Smith, Gramophone, August 2007
“George Perle is a remarkably gifted composer who consistently manages to delight the ear while simultaneously stimulating the intellect. His music is immensely rewarding both as an aesthetic experience and as an object of structural, musical discourse: it is both well made and beautiful. The seemingly effortless balance achieved between these two aspects of his music is not easily accomplished; that he so consistently manages it suggests not just mastery but genius.”
— Richard Brooks, Notes, March 1995
27 January 2003; Premiere
Performed by Speculum Musicae
Triptych for violin
“…Mr. Perle’s astringent atonal voice spoke through textures and gestures of Haydnesque grace and lucidity.”
-Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, January 31, 2003
“George Perle is a sensational composer … His music is strong and witty … Even a novice approaching these works will find them intriguing and elegant and will hear immediately that they make sense.”
— G. Gelles, Ovation, July 1989
6 May 2002
Perle leads Chicago Chamber in eloquent tour of his favorites
“The Chicago Chamber musicians and the Museum of Contemporary Art could hardly have chosen a stronger program with which to launch the second year of their spring Composer Perspective series than the one presided over by George Perle…
…The concert’s title, “Schoenberg and Us,” had to be interpreted loosely. It was difficult, if not impossible, to trace a line of influence leadkding from Arnold Schoenberg through all six of the pieces Perle selected. One must assume he simply chose works that appeal to him and would make for a nourishing, widely ranging 2 1/2 hour program of recent chamber works.
Almost four decades separate the Perle pieces heard at either end of the concert – Woodwind Quintet No.1 (1959) and Critical Moments (1996) – yet their harmonic grammar is the same. Each is characteristic of Perle in it’s beautifully enameled sonorities and deft, good-natured instrumental interplay. The newer piece – six aphoristic movements for six winds, strings, piano and percussion – suggests a witty, capricious Anton Webern…”
-John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, May 8, 2002
“Genuinely and deeply moving music.”
-Oliver Knussen, Tempo, London, June 1981
Paul Lansky reflects on George Perle’s life in music.
11 March 2002
Performed by Eight Blackbird
Critical Moments 2 (Premiere)
“…the ensemble also gave the premiere of George Perle’s absorbing and beautiful Critical Moments 2, the work of a master…Nine movements that employ his distinctive 12-tote tonality (an atonal equivalent to tonal consonance and dissonance). This was music at once delicate and thorny, by turns rigorously contrapuntal and breezily atmospheric.”
-Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, March 11, 2002