The Realm of Mark Hagerty

November 23rd, 2012 Uncategorized

Notes for my upcoming release of “The Realm of Possibility” and “After Duchamp” by Mark Hagerty, on the Meyermedia label.

The character and argument of The Realm engage me. The work’s emotional narrative exteriorizes an autobiographically authentic psychological history that, though sometimes refracted through scientific metaphor, ultimately roams a varied inner human terrain to intersect with natural processes and phenomena remote and beyond.

The opening Outburst invites multiple possibilities for interpretation. Maybe what we have here is a mosaic of dissociated elements cemented together onto a condensed surface area. Each little tile repels against the one(s) next to it, infusing the overall image with dynamic energy that radiates from the interstices. Or, perhaps this is a table of contents written like a ransom note with letters of different size, shape and color cut from magazines and pasted in. The text is a series of incipits from the pieces that will follow, a sort of thematic catalog. Then again, this could be a temper tantrum – a clock quietly ticking, then a rude, injurious kick followed by an explosion of vehement rage, notes flailing about until pinned to a static fermata, and so on as the brief scenario unfolds. However, the most curious feature here seems to me the repeat sign, the fact that the composer reiterates the initial sequence of events, making the point that it should be heard as a thematic unit in itself. This I feel is cinematic. Imagine a projectile multi-angle video camera launched at the moment of the Big Bang filming the first phases of cosmic formation. It captures the pulsation of distant frequencies, the propulsion and collision of enormous bodies of fiery matter, passage through asteroid showers, the cooling of planets. This footage then exists to be replayed, the episode stands as a chapter in the evolution of time, to be analyzed and understood. We can freeze-frame anywhere, and investigate and theorize about each event in however much depth and at however great a length we desire.

The idea of stars twinkling, of asteroidal “sharp edge-eyed rocks” shining brightly, carries over into Patterns. Mark spoke of crystals; an artwork in his collection that resembles constellations strewn upon a flexible swath of universe adds to the inspiration. Eclogue, Mark says, is a nod to my own (much earlier) composition of the same title. Maybe there are similarities between the two, but in my view Mark’s is really akin to a Chopin nocturne, which genre by definition refers to the rotation of the earth. I particularly enjoy the stratification of triadic outlines vs. dissonant elements, and although it is quite pianistically idiomatic, I go for a harpsichord sound in certain stretches.

Corona further extends the celestial motif. In the opening I feel that we’re looking up at the moon on one of those occasions when it appears in the clear blue daylight sky…looking up with child’s eyes. The music turns to introspection and yearning. Again the quiet repeated notes, here paraphrasing Schumann’s Mondnacht, one of the songs in Liederkreis, Op. 39, which Mark and I used to work on many years ago. That song, on a poem by Eichendorff, has these repeated note pulsations all throughout. Its astral, spiritual imagery speaks of the moon silently kissing the earth, the wheat gently wavering, the wings of the soul spreading into homeward flight. In Mark’s “version,” I sense not religious allegory (although the melody will indeed appear later as a chorale) but that an urgent brooding is being recalled, a longing to free oneself, as a young adult, from the social influences that had shaped you (or tried to) growing up. I love bringing out the harmonic changes of intense shadow and glow.

What a gem, this Irrational Number. I am a huge fan of sustained/legato tones against staccato, and there are conspicuous examples of this here. The way the phrases unfold or truncate is humorous, even wry, the dynamic contrasts result almost in caricature, and asymmetrical meter playfully prevails.

Meditation presents a four-part Bach chorale style statement of the sehnsüchtige Melodie from Corona. The progression of harmonic intensities reflects highly personal control of color and line, the inner parts masterfully constructed. Penumbra juxtaposes moods of innocence (the infant in his crib looking up at a mobile) with a recurrent spinning figure initially pastoral but later very ominous. (I hear echoes of Mussorgski’s Promenade motif throughout.) Facets is a kind of “romp through Rio” – Mark is often in Brazil, and has ongoing collaborations with musicians there. He says that some of the material here is descriptive of me, both personally and as a player.

In Fields you might say that the repeated notes that we heard at the very beginning of The Realm, then in Corona and elsewhere, are slowed down in the extreme to become a powerful A-flat pedal point throughout this movement. Against its tolling, Mark builds pyramids of vertical sound, starting from a central point and expanding outwards in either direction – if you turn the score sideways you can visualize them –, the far greater percentage of which are off the beat. Again the interstices are highly charged.

Combustion – what can I say? It takes the Chopin b-minor Scherzo to the next level of insanity. The ratcheting, fricative repetitions at a peak moment suddenly uncoil in a scorrevole passage in invertible counterpoint that is brilliant both in itself and in its rhetorical placement.

Huge masses of vertical sonority articulate the landscape of Formations. These are the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. Triads of e-flat minor and C Major, c minor and A Major, a minor and F# Major collide like architectonic plates. In complement to this, Mark introduces a balmy theme in two-note slurs (which in fact will reappear in the Duchamp set in altered form), and with it, the meditative chorale returns, this time as a prayer for the planet.

With the exception of #1, the pieces in After Duchamp contrast reverie with facetiousness. Rock/fish, autumnal tableau, Möbius strip, and the unquestioned answer all belong to the first category, and Werk ohne Opus, the two Shiva pieces, frammenti fugaci and encore the second. Rock/fish for some reason makes me think of New Orleans on a calm, lazy day – definitely aquatic, and downbeats just float. The Lydian tinge of autumnal tableau contrasts with chordal writing that recalls the Meditation chorale in The Realm – this is where the two-note slur theme from Formations is reworked with the parts flipped around. Möbius strip is another transformation of Mondnacht – here Mark reinterprets the descending arpeggio motif representative of moonlight shining down. It’s not Schumann, but Schubert who is referenced in the unquestioned answer – his B-flat Major piano sonata, opus posthumous. This piece convinces me that the “answer,” to which any “questions” pale in irrelevance, is the credo of Novalis: Die Welt muß romantisiert werden. So findet man den ursprünglichen Sinn wieder. [The world must become romanticized. Thereby does one discover the original source again.]

On the jocular side, Werk ohne Opus is a hilarious, domestic “battle of the bands” number. Teens are trying to figure out their vamp in one room of the house, retuning their guitars, adjusting the amp, and so on, while their classical keyboardist parent is attempting to play the Goldberg Variations in another. Now I know Shiva is a Hindu deity, but what comes to my mind when I play these pieces is entirely automotive – she “revs up” her 1950 Chevy 1500 pickup, clicking and clacking in #5, and drives it to Dover Speedway to watch (and hear) the NASCAR race in #6. The “fleeting fragments” (#7) remind me of an interlude in the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, which always reminded me of the gods on Mt. Olympus looking down on human conflict with laughter. And in the encore, a paraphrase of Couperin’s Le barricades misterieuse, I envision a traffic cop in Paris on Friday, directing the flow but mentally occupied with commencing his well-deserved weekend in the country. As for bird/anger, I go back to my score and see what I wrote in after talking with Mark about how I might interpret it: measure 3, “insult;” measure 13, “inflamed;” measure 21, “wrath;” measure 31, “poison.” Remember the Monty Python bit when Beethoven shoots the mynah?