Twentieth Century Works for Percussion solo - Xenakis - Carter - Donatoni - Feldman

Iannis Xenakis
Rebonds, Psappha
Elliott Carter
Eight Pieces for four Timpani
Franco Donatoni
Mari due pezzi per marimba, Omar due pezzi per vibrafono
Morton Feldman
The King of Denmark

Florent Jodelet
Percussion solo


Iannis Xenakis 1922 - 2001

Psappha, for solo percussion 1975
Rebonds, for solo percussion 1987-1988

The Greece that the music of Iannis Xenakis always drew on was hardly the Greece of classical Antiquity but, to the contrary, that of the end of archaism, at the intersection between the mythical tales about the creation of the universe and constituted rationality, "the discovery of the mind", to borrow the expression of Jean-Pierre Vernant. Amongst the musician's explicit references were, in particular, the pre-Socratic philosophies of Pythagoras and Parmenides, as well as the birth of Western theatre and ancient tragedy with the Oresteia of Aeschylus.
François-Bernard Mâche emphasized the importance of the chthonian myth on the musician : "Xenakis's work is a meditation on the telluric and cosmic forces in their sensible aspect and not only in the abstract laws that govern them."Certain titles are even derived from ancient dialects.

"Psappha", or rather "Psapphô", is the authentic, archaic version of the name Sappho (7th - 6th century BC), according to the testimony of the poetess herself and Mytilenian coins. In the course of combats waged during the Resistance, in the 1940s, Iannis Xenakis had composed one of his very first works on texts by Sappho, taken from the Odes. Dedicated to Sylvio Gualda, who gave the first performance in London on 4 May 1976, Psappha pays homage to the daughter of Skamandrônymos, "the first to introduce changes or metabolae in the rhythmic formulas she used" (Iannis Xenakis), for her invention in the rhythmic domain of hendecasyllabic verse. Metrists also recall the Sapphic aeolian pentameter of fourteen syllables and the Sapphic antispastic tetrameter of sixteen syllables. Amongst the nine volumes of the edition current in the Hellenistic and Roman era, the first book of fragments naturally included the poems composed in Sapphic strophe, the strophe that Sappho had used with predilection and particular skill, so that it took on her name. The Sapphic strophe presents three hendecasyllabic verses, followed by a fourth verse of five syllables. The number of syllables is standard, and the modern rhythmic transcription of meters results in eleven bars, equal to the number of syllables in verses 1, 2 and 3.

Iannis Xenakis sought to write a work focussed not on timbre but on pure rhythm, and whose rhythmic unity, used in the five sections, is made up exclusively of two elements, the short and long syllables, borrowed from Greek metrics, and grasped in riddles stemming from the theories of Eratosthenes, in the development of independent lines and, according to the sketches, in tree diagrams. Mathematics and, particularly, intersection, union and negation, play an essential role in Psappha, a philosophic catalyst, a tool for the formulation of the sound edifice, as well as the liberating instrument of art. For while music was both rational and technical for Iannis Xenakis, it also unveiled another, more mysterious dimension, that of the immediate revelation, where the work eludes all science of aesthetics, "while allowing itself the caresses of the inferential and experimental".

Concentrated on the expressive force of the skins, Psappha opts for the most distanced, most abstract solution. Sixteen instruments of indefinite pitch are used in the work, divided into two categories of timbres (skins/woods and metals). Within each of these categories, the instruments are again divided according to their register (high, middle and low). Instructions include a list of instruments from which the performer can choose whilst respecting a distribution by register. Written in proportional notation, here used for the first time, the work resorts to neither Markovian chains nor an aleatory course and inaugurates a path that the composer will use systematically in his writing for percussion : the beat, with the superposition of asynchronous layers of accents. These accents have the senses of "greater intensity", "abrupt change of timbre", "abrupt addition of another sound" or "simultaneous combination of previous meanings". Iannis Xenakis thus creates an "auditory representation of the experience of time and psycho-acoustic limits of human perception of duration that can be understood on several levels". Sylvio Gualda, whose role was decisive in the genesis of the composition, described Psappha as a "tragic work", owing to the importance of silence, about which Iannis Xenakis wrote in Arts / Sciences Alliages that it was "banal", but which, here, gives particular relief to the sound.

Premiered on 1st July 1988 in Rome by its dedicatee, Sylvio Gualda, Rebonds is an immense abstract ritual. It is a series of movements and hammerings, pure music of increased rhythms. Organised in two pieces of unequal length that can be played a then B or B then A (the order chosen here), the work pursues the exploration of the beat as seen in Psappha and taken up again in Aïs (1980), Komboï (1981), Chant des soleils (1983), Idmen B (1985) and Okho (1989). But unlike Psappha, the work is devoid of dramatic dimension. Beat, periodicity, repetition, duplication, recurrence and imitation (accurate or otherwise) are the most obvious signs of change on a greater scale in the musician's writing. According to Makis Solomos, the beat symbolises an overall idea that is stated in three ways : order, which regulates the rhythmic universe through opposition to disorder; minimal periodicity versus aperiodicity; and discontinuity as opposed to continuity of a primary time presumed to be infinitely smooth. The same year he finished Rebonds, Iannis Xenakis wrote an article, "On Time", wherein we read : "Time is the blackboard on which are inscribed the phenomena and their relations outside of time of the universe in which we live. Relations mean structures, architectures, rules, yet, can one imagine a rule without repetition? No, certainly not. Moreover, a unique event in an absolute eternity of time and space would have no sense. However, every event, like every individual on earth, is unique. But this uniqueness is the equivalent of death, lying in wait at every step, at every instant. So the repetition of an event and its reproduction, as faithful as possible, corresponds to this fight against disappearance, against nothingness. As if the entire universe were desperately struggling to cling to existence, to being, by its own untiring renewal at every instant, at every death."

French composer, architect and civil engineer of Greek origin, born in Braïla (Rumania) on 29 May 1922, Iannis Xenakis began engineering studies at the Athens Polytechnic in 1940, and musical studies with Aristotle Kundurov. He participated actively in the communist Resistance against the Nazis. Suffering serious facial wounds in 1944, he resumed his studies the following year and clandestinely continued his Resistance activities, this time against the English, after earning his engineering degree (1946). Sentenced to death "on a political basis and as a terrorist", he fled Greece - where he did not return until 1974 - and eventually settled in Paris in 1947. He worked with Le Corbusier up until 1960, collaborating on the construction of the La Tourette convent (1954) and the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair (1958). A student of Milhaud and Honegger, he enrolled in Olivier Messiaen's class at the Paris Conservatoire (1950-52) and studied composition in Gravesano (Switzerland) with Hermann Scherchen. Pierre Schaeffer welcomed him into the Groupe de Musique Concrète at the French Radio-Television in 1957. In 1965, Iannis Xenakis was granted French citizenship and, the following year, founded EMAMu (Team for Musical Mathematics and Automation) in Paris, which, in 1972, became the CEMAMu (Centre for Studies in Musical Mathematics and Automation). In 1967, at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, he created the CMAM (Centre for Mathematical and Automated Music). He composed "polytopes", son et lumière spectacles, in Montreal (1967), Persepolis (1971), Paris (1972 and 1978) and Mycenae (1978). Professor at the University of Indiana (1967-72), researcher at the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research, 1970), professor (1972-89), then professor emeritus (1990) at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, professor at City University in London (1975), Doctor of Letters and Human Sciences (1976), he was elected a member of numerous national and international institutions, including the Institut de France (1983), awarded the Beethoven Prize (1977), and made a Commander in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1991). In 1980, he presented the UPIC (Polyagogic Computer Unit of the CMEMAMu), a computer system allowing for approaching composition through drawing. Amongst his writings are Musiques formelles (1963, translated as Formalised Music, published in 1971) and Musique-Architecture (1971). Iannis Xenakis died in Paris on 4 February 2001. 

Franco Donatoni 1927-2000

Omar, two pieces for vibraphone 1985
Mari, two pieces for marimba 1992

"I was quite academic : up to the age of 30 I copied Bartók; after meeting Maderna I copied Boulez; then I became interested in John Cage, I had my negative period... During the 1970s, I managed to get away from this negation, and, for me, starting over again went by way of automatisms. At last, in the past few years, I somewhat abandoned the process of automatisms for more inventive writing." Thus did Franco Donatoni sum up his itinerary as a musician, punctuated by multiple crises of language and ideas. Favouring no material, his casualness vis-à-vis history may be read in his references to the musical past : no quotations, no collages. Copying the old and modern masters, the composer was abolishing all precedence, indifferent to the notion of origin : Stockhausen, with three hundred and seventy three cells from Gruppen in Souvenir, a chamber symphony for fifteen instruments (1966); Schoenberg in Etwas ruhiger im Ausdruck (1967), for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano; and elsewhere, Maderna or Boulez. Franco Donatoni then transformed material that he had not composed, according to his own craftsmanship, subjecting the gesture to more or less precise rules, establishing a tension between a passive taking from the history of music and active operations within the composition.

The second trait of his art was his distancing himself in relation to the notion of a work as apotheosis of the ego. How to create a work when one is concerned with withdrawing from what one composes, when the ego's structures desert the musical writing? "Only the non-work succeeds in touching, for it is subjective, dies in its birth and, as a result, is all the more precious in its flight." Or else : "What constantly guides my thinking, without the help of my will, is doubt and negation." Negation becomes an aesthetic precept, under the combined influence of John Cage and, above all, Franz Kafka; then, subsequently, after 1972, in the subjection of the material to inexorable constraints, to mechanical processes or automatisms.

Salvatore Colazzo emphasized to what degree irony and theatricality were, beginning in the early 1980s, the two methods by which Franco Donatoni attempted to go beyond negation to the work of his previous phases, his narcissistic, elitist dimension and his incapacity to think out forms. Henceforth, the fine revolutionary gesture had no more sense, just like the idea that his existential experience was decisive. "Donatoni's irony comes from the fact that the musician feeds on profound doubts about the sense of his praxis : it is useless; he knows perfectly well that there exists no praxis that can be founded if not on the fact of existing; but he does not want to legitimate his own praxis with this conviction that it embodies the Value of art more or less than others. In other terms, he is perfectly aware of the contingency and fragility of his own action; but he believes in the positivity of praxis. He loves composing and composes." Franco Donatoni, ironical, ended up accepting that his art was futile, obsolete, driven by an agreed-upon contradiction. And his music, theatrical, haunted by ornament and filled with the theatrical potential of sounds, savours provocation, stages differentiated elements, establishing relationships between them in a constant play between writing procedures and sound contours, through a jubilation of the accidental and a re-evaluation of the sensitive, the obsolete, the ephemeral and the fragmentary. An instrumental composer, Franco Donatoni, with rigour and method, gives the illusion of vitality in the joyous, almost euphoric performances of a music that loves, if not recreates life. The natural, athletic virtuosity of his works, shot through with outbursts, unveils the active, fertile principles of evolution, the strength of the baroque imagination of a consciousness constantly in motion, balanced between negation and affirmation, suffering and joy : "The only law is movement, for whomever is able not to arrive. Moreover, all tracks are wrong, there is no track that is not wrong : whoever avoids them all indicates a wrong track to whomever is following. But it is necessary to get on the road, constantly turning round to wipe out the traces."

Omar and Mari fall within this new-found vitality amongst a series of works in diptych : Midi (1989) for flute, Short (1988) for trumpet, Rima (1983) for piano, Ombra (1983) for contrabass clarinet, Lem (1982) for double bass... Commissioned by the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Omar, two pieces for vibraphone, is dedicated to Maurizio Ben Omar, who gave the premiere performance. The first piece is divided into four sections, the first of which is made up of chords of four sounds, staccato, which come to a standstill over long resonances of three sounds. The second, slower, accentuates the last note or the last interval of figures of a few notes. Chords of three sounds interrupt the flow for a moment before new arabesques of ascending, then descending movements, of which the lines, horizontal, are derived from the harmonies just given. The third section is based on repeated intervals enlivened by ornamental gestures, fff. Finally, the fourth section is in two moments : in the first, repetitions still dominate, but of single notes here; the second gradually settles on a middle B, with an increasingly louder dynamic, and on which the piece comes to an end. This note will similarly conclude the second piece of the diptych symmetrically.

The moments of the second piece are defined by the tempos. The irregular initial ornaments are followed by descending intervals, repeated more and more, trills, figures, long runs leading to rich chords of four sounds, repeated harmonies in which other figures gradually interfere, a flow interrupted by short silences and soon absorbed in the purest ornamental. Here, ornamentation is possible only in a harmonic context that delimits what is ornamental and what is not, according to the occurrence. If the one were to lose all precedence, the other would no longer have to be resolved, abandoning its own expressiveness. Furthermore, the luxuriant ornament is superposed on itself, refusing to the gestures the faculty of stretching, to dissolve or suspend them in the momentary absence of any harmonic pre-eminence. More than in the asceticism of one note or one unaltered interval, the musical art of Franco Donatoni lies within the refinement of a geometry of situations, a topology, a space, an ornamental area.

Mari, two pieces for marimba, a commission from the Centro Musicale Gesualdo da Venosa, is dedicated to Ivanka Stoianova. The first piece is laid out according to the dynamics, following a crescendo, then a decrescendo, from pianissimo to forte and conversely. The dynamic arc underscores the moments, between the symmetrical if not inverse figures, the temptations of ascendance, the introduction of the interval, the ornament, the accents, symmetrical or not, and the conclusive absorption in the trills. The second piece is, to the contrary, a vast crescendo, from ppp to fff. After an introduction in seconds, thirds, fourths and tritones, the marimba lays out rising and falling figures that answer each other. The intermediary dynamics gradually lead to the high register. In fortissimo, the discourse again becomes choppy, based on minor seconds. Two notes, then three, simultaneously, trills, the insistence on a B flat octave tutta forza, and the piece comes to an end with chords of four sounds. Franco Donatoni wrote in his book, Antecedente X (1980), that it symbolised the "opposition or intersection between the diachronic and the synchronic, or the two fundamental dimensions on which the experiment is set out". These dimensions, vertical and horizontal, singularly run through Omar and Mari. "I live in the diachronic, in history, in the chronology that we can define graphically as a horizontal line. The vertical, on the other hand, is the image of the synthesis carried out in an instant, of intuition, of inspiration, of mystical moments, of unforeseen illuminations."

Italian composer born in Verona on 9 June 1927, Franco Donatoni began studying the violin at the age of seven, before becoming a student at the conservatoires of Milan and Bologna, where he obtained his composition diploma (1951), then at the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome, where his professor was Ildebrando Pizzetti. He next taught harmony and counterpoint in Bologna, then in Milan, and participated in the Darmstadt summer sessions as of 1954. Professor of composition at the conservatoires of Turin and Milan, the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, the University of Bologna and then, succeeding Goffredo Petrassi, at the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome, he exerted considerable influence on the younger generation of Italian composers. Franco Donatoni was, with Olivier Messiaen and Klaus Huber, one of the major figures in contemporary music education. Winner of a large number of composition prizes, he was invited to the DAAD in Berlin in 1972, before being awarded the rank of Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters in 1985. One of the last manifestations of his art was Alfred, Alfred (1995), an opera buffa composed after a diabetic coma of which the musician had been a victim in Australia. Franco Donatoni died in Milan on 17 August 2000. From the Bartókian and Stravinskian language of the earliest works to Boulezian serialism inspired by Maderna, from renunciation to the writing in the 1960s, and from aleatory to the "negativist" and "self-destructive" period influenced by Cage and Kafka, to the positive reintegration of historical material in scores where invention overturns the automatism of combinatory processes, the music of Franco Donatoni bears witness to a sinuous, multi-coloured itinerary.

Elliott Carter 1908

Eight Pieces for four timpani 1949-1966

At the end of the 1940s, Elliott Carter was attempting to find the elements of a musical thinking, to discover what the "fact of formulating musical statements" signified fundamentally, in particular in the Eight Pieces for four timpani (1949-1966), the String Quartet No.1 (1950-1951) and Eight Etudes and a Fantasy (1949-1950), for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon. One of those etudes, based on a single note, presents different types of attacks, forte and piano. Another is built entirely on a minor second, all the instruments successively transposing this interval… The limitation of material, in the image of a desert, constantly changes throughout the work, whereas the vocabulary and basic elements remain the same. "When I was writing a piece on a single note, I was seeking to give life to interrogations such as : what can be extracted from a single note? How to transform it into a piece of music? What can you do with a single chord? How is it that an instant of music has a sense?"And the choice of instruments, timpani or string quartet, implies further pushing the possibilities of dramatic contrast and interaction offered by their specific character. Thus all signification fits into a rhythm or a note.

The Eight Pieces for four timpani individualise a rhythmic approach. To the six pieces composed in 1949, two of which (IV and V) were published under the title Recitative and Improvisation, Elliott Carter added two new pieces, Adagio (III) and Canto (VI), with the help of percussionist Jan Williams, in 1966. The virtuoso writing, in counterpoint textures of crossed accents, essentially varies speed and accentuation with such complexity that these pieces were not at all intended for performance. But percussionists began to play them in public. "Hearing them, I was not at all satisfied, because I found they didn't succeed in making a clear distinction in pitches. Thus I went to Buffalo (New York) with a percussionist, and there, for three days, we carried out a quantity of experiments for succeeding in making the sonority more interesting." While Adagio and Canto call for pedal timpani, from the instrumental point of view, the musician diversifies the playing methods and uses the wooden handle of the timpani drumsticks (March, VIII), side drum sticks (Canto, VI) or sticks of felt and wood (Moto perpetuo, II). Saëta (I) is inspired by an Andalusian song, and Canaries (VII) by a dance from the 17th and 18th centuries.

By around 1944, Elliott Carter had become aware that "the interesting aspect in music par excellence was time, the way it passes". Acquaintance with the philosophy of Whitehead, literary works by Joyce, Eliot, Proust and Thomas Mann, Balanchine ballets, Eisenstein films and works by Charles Ives had a decisive influence on his thinking about time : "All technical or aesthetic consideration in music must really begin with asking the question of time." Various articles bear witness to this, in particular his analyses of works by Roy Harris, Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions and Charles Ives in "The Rhythmic Basis of American Music" (1955) and "The Time Dimension in Music" (1965) and finally "Music and the Time Screen" (1976), in which Elliott Carter writes about four aspects of time borrowed from Charles Koechlin : pure duration (or passing/flow), psychological time (or the duration relative to circumstances of life), measured time (by mathematical means), and musical time, creator of a counterpoint between measured time and the psychological time of illusion, projected into pure duration. The modulation of tempo, or metric modulation, introduced for the first time in the Sonata for Cello and Piano (1948), was to ensure a continuity between the conceptions of time, and the musical flux could constantly unfold and evolve in an apparently natural way. The Eight Pieces for four timpani are a step along the way of this metric modulation. The origin of this writing technique is found not in jazz but in the music of Stravinsky and the theories of Joseph Schillinger, who suggested the possibility of beating a four-beat bar as if it were in three and inversely, so as to obtain a sort of polyrhythm. Elliott Carter also mentions the works of Henry Cowell and Charles Ives, Chopin and Scriabin, but especially music of the Renaissance and the English composers of the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. At the beginning of the 17th century, John Bull, organist, virginalist and organ builder, inserted in his works seven notes in a three-beat bar, then, in an improvised manner, made another rhythm arise from those seven notes. In other words, the musician uses his polyrhythms as the starting point for other polyrhythms, thereby obtaining a rhythmic dimension in constant evolution, according to a process found in the variations of Beethoven's late piano sonatas. And Elliott Carter reminds us that the rhythm of our breathing differs from the rhythm of our heartbeat, and that each of them is subjected to change.

In his article "Music and the Time Screen", Elliott Carter takes an example drawn from the seventh of the Eight Pieces for four timpani, Canaries : "The left hand maintains a regular beat, not participating in the modulations, playing the low notes B and E at the slow speed of MM 64, while the right hand, on F and C sharp, goes through a whole series of metric modulations, which imperceptibly increase the playing speed. Beginning in the same speed as the left hand (MM 64 for the dotted quarter note), the right hand substitutes, as of the second bar, quarter notes for dotted quarter notes (MM 96). In the third bar, these quarter notes are accentuated by two, then change into triplets (MM 144). At the double bar, the notation changes in such a way that the quarter note in triplet in the previous measure now equals a quarter note, which then goes through exactly the same acceleration as in the previous three measures. We have thus gone from MM 64 to MM 216. In the twelfth measure, the process is repeated once more. The quarter note has arrived at MM 324, with a left hand, henceforth noted in sixty-fourth notes, which continues its beat at 64. The fact of maintaining two layers of rhythm - and in this specific case an unchanging beat against a gradual acceleration - will often reappear from my pen. But the essential thing is to note that, quite obviously, in a piece like this, constructed exclusively on four pitches, the important thing is, with such minimal material, to succeed in creating contrasts, building ideas capable of conducting a large phrase, and constructing a valid form."

Born in New York on 11 December 1908, Elliott Carter met Charles Ives in 1924. After studying music and literature at the Longy School and Harvard University (1926-1932), with Walter Piston, Gustav Holst and Edward B. Hill, he became a student of Nadia Boulanger and enrolled at the École Normale de Musique in Paris (1932-1935). Musical director of Ballet Caravan (1937-1939), he wrote criticism for Modern Music until 1946. From 1940 to 1942, he was professor of music, Greek and mathematics at St John's College, Annapolis (Maryland), and worked in the Office of War Information (1943-1945), before teaching successively at the Peabody Conservatory (1946-1948), Columbia University (1948-1950), Queens College (1955-1956) and Yale University (1960-1962), finally being appointed professor of composition at the Juilliard School of Music (1964-1984). At the same time, he participated in numerous seminars, particularly in Salzburg, Dartington, Tanglewood, Avignon and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Recipient of the highest international distinctions, including the Pulitzer (1960, 1973), UNESCO (1961) and Ernst von Siemens (1985) prizes, a Fellow of the Guggenheim and Ford Foundations and the American Academy in Rome, where he was composer-in-residence on several occasions, member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1956) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1963), the Berlin Akademie der Künste (1965) and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1969), doctor honoris causa of numerous American and British universities (Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Boston, Cambridge…), he is also a Commander in the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1987) and Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (1991). In 1998-1999, he composed What Next?, a one-act chamber opera on a libretto by Paul Griffiths.

Morton Feldman 1926-1987

The King of Denmark 1964

"I remember having written The King of Denmark on the beach, on the south shore of Long Island. I wrote it in a few hours, comfortably seated on the beach. I wrote the whole work on the beach. I can recall the circumstances of composition : the kinds of muffled noises of children, transistor radios and conversations of other beach-goers on their beach towels. And I remember that these noises played a role in the work. I mean these kinds of snatches. I was quite impressed by the snatches, by these things that don't last. What was going on around me became an image of the work. To underscore this image, I had the idea of using fingers and arms and getting rid of felt-headed drumsticks where sounds are only ephemeral, disappear and don't last very long. Everyone asks me about the title, The King of Denmark, but the title really came after the work. There was the idea of calm, of finiteness, of vague regrets that things don't last. I don't remember how the metaphor became more serious, The King of Denmark. One remembers that the king of Denmark went out into the streets of Copenhagen, wearing the Star of David that Jews had to wear on their arm. It was a real silent protest. He only walked and said nothing. I no longer remember the connection between the beach and this story, but there was a very close one in my mind at that moment."
Morton Feldman remembered his piece for percussion in these terms, in an interview with Jan Williams.

Vibraphone, glockenspiel, antique cymbals, cymbals, gongs, timpani, triangle… The choice of the other instruments, including chimes and skins, is left up to the performer. The instrumentalist plays exclusively with his body, without recourse to sticks. The score specifies the areas of registers for each sound (high, medium, low), the duration and occasionally the specific instruments. Soft, the dynamics must also be as equal as possible : one of the primary concerns in all of Morton Feldman's work was to maintain a flat surface with a minimum of contrasts. Thick vertical lines designate clusters, and Roman numerals call for sounds played simultaneously. Other figures indicate isolated sounds that must be produced in all the registers, for a free length of time. Shortly before the end, it is recommended to play the most different sounds. After a six-beat rest, the whole comes to an end on a chord noted precisely on the vibraphone, followed by a note on the glockenspiel. The King of Denmark encourages us persuasively to lend an ear, to the listening to a horizon, this signal from the distance, of a faraway sound, contrasting sharply with the virtuosity of most works for percussion composed at that time. Here, nothing remains but traces.

Diaphanous are his places, not of sound silences but silent, transparent sounds. Morton Feldman translates the profound continuity between one and the other, his music is always at the limit, on the verge of falling silent and the verge of saying, but it hardly falls silent and says almost nothing. "Silence is my substitute for counterpoint. Nothing against something. The degrees of nothing against something. It is something real, something that breathes." Every trait becomes a retreat, linking one absence to another. The musician thus points the ineluctable character of a language torn to pieces, earmarked for ruin, taken between its immediate nudity and a desire to purify or refine. The work falls silent, turned in on itself, preserving in ecstasy a mute awareness of the nothing, where each dynamic founders at the limits of silence. A rustling mosaic, translating the mirage of an immensurable totality, the work excludes all progression and linearity. The construction of the discourse proceeds neither from development nor from relation or evolution. It is on the order of enunciation and repetition, alliance and transmutation, infinitesimal displacement. Such writing could be related to the tradition of Talmudic exegesis, favouring the partial, the undecided, profusion, the unfinished, agglutination and precedence of the question over the answer. The musician, wandering, would then again find a word shattered by the rock, the tablets of Moses or the haggard flesh of Akiba.

Morton Feldman, author of enigmatic titles (I met Heine on the Rue Fürstemberg, The Straits of Magellan, The King of Denmark…), sought to liberate sound from its history, its symbolism, its illusory programmes and its musical rhetoric. Letting sounds be themselves in feeling and thought. "I believe I place myself at the service of my sounds, that I listen to them, that I do what they tell me and not what I tell them." His work oscillates between forgetfulness and memory. At the source of forgetfulness, haunting suspension of memory, is born the utopia of listening where each sound, simple and soft, unfolds, erasing the previous sound. Every note, motionless in the void, isolated in its desire to be heard, is a world that the whole illuminates with its timbres and animates from these shadows what Morton Feldman evoked à propos of Philip Guston's painting : a trace, a spectre, a residue, a dark area of a canvas, an attenuated form, a shadowy portion with an imprecise outline, a space where rays of light are henceforth intercepted by an opaque body... Through lights and shadows, Morton Feldman breaks the unfolding of musical time, the necessity of listening subjected to the diktat of structures, systems or methods which, with machine-like precision, choose in the composer's name. The work abolishes attacks and traditional concepts of contrast. It is a succession of images and colours as tender as possible. Everything is simply in the duration. Form becomes proportion between the different timbres, and rhythm dissolves in time.

"I can settle for continually rearranging the same furniture in the same room", wrote Morton Feldman who, fairly often, also mentioned Turkish rugs : if the Persian rug can be seen starting from each of its fragments, in the Turkish rug the design is visible only when transferred into the memory, excluding any overall vision, for constantly measuring the minuscule variations of its motifs and figures. Thus does music affirm itself in the moment of a timbre, in a "conscious desire to "formalise" a disorientation of the memory". And Morton Feldman liked diffuse reverberations, the goal-less time of resonance, in the tension of listening : "One of my favourite stories is the one about a young man who goes to see a Zen master. For seven years the Zen master gives him a broom. And for seven years, he is told he must sweep the house. So he sweeps the house. He is in a corner, and the Zen master is in another with a sabre. This guy is sweeping with a broom, and the Zen master cries, shouts and comes up behind him. The young man raises his broom. After a while, he listens. He hears him coming. He then turns around and waits. Or he lets him go past and stands in a corner. The game of listening, the art of listening slowly comes to him. At the end of the seven years, he is a past master in all nuances of listening, the preparation and natural positioning of the body. He is given a sabre, and the broom is taken back."

Born on 12 January 1926 in New York, Morton Feldman studied piano with a student of Busoni's, to whom he would dedicate Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety (1970). His earliest compositions were influenced by the style of Scriabin. Wallingford Riegger, in 1941, then Stefan Wolpe, in 1944, became his composition teachers. During the winter of 1949-1950, he met John Cage who encouraged him in an intuitive path, removed from any system. Tempted by the graphic writing he used in Projection 2, he renounced it between 1953 and 1958, then, definitively, in 1967 with In Search of an Orchestration, refusing that his performers misrepresent such notation in an art of improvisation. A friend of poet Frank O'Hara, pianist David Tudor, composers Earle Brown and Christian Wolff, and painters Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg, whose names are found in the titles of a number of his compositions, he was appointed professor at the University of New York in Buffalo (1973-1987), where he held the Edgar Varèse Chair. He died on 3 September 1987.

Laurent Feneyrou

Florent Jodelet


Born in 1962, Florent Jodelet studied percussion with Michel Cals then with Jacques Delecluse at the Paris Conservatoire, where he obtained a First Prize in 1983. He completed his training with Jean-Pierre Drouet, also receiving tuition from Iannis Xenakis at the University of Paris and from Michel Zbar (in electroacoustic music). His taste for creation has led him to collaborate intensively with contemporary composers, and his concert career has enabled him to play numerous works: concertos for percussion and orchestra; solo pieces and chamber music, both in France and abroad.

In addition, he has built up a discography of the contemporary percussion repertoire with discs devoted to Philippe Fenelon, Michael Jarrell, Maurice Ohana, Kaija Saariaho and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Since 1988, Florent Jodelet has been soloist with the Orchestre National de France and since 1998, assistant-professor at the Paris Conservatoire.



Iannis Xenakis 
Rebonds pour percussion solo
1 Jeu de Wood-blocks Kolberg 2 Bongos Sonor 1 Conga Delaporte 3 Tom-toms Ludwig 1 Grosse caisse Ludwig 1 Grosse caisse Capelle

Elliott Carter 
Eight Pieces for four Timpani 
5 Timbales Adams Symphonic 

Franco Donatoni 
Omar due pezzi per vibrafono
1 Vibraphone Yamaha YV - 3710 Franco
Mari due pezzi per marimba 
1 Marimba Yamaha YM - 6000

Iannis Xenakis
Psappha pour percussion solo 
1 Mokubio (wood-block japonais), 1 Jeu de planches de bois, 3 Gongs de l’opéra de Pekin, 1 Jeu de profilés metalliques, 1 Cloche metallique, 3 Bongos, 3 Congas Delaporte,
3 Tom-toms Ludwig, 1 Grosse caisse Ludwig, 1 Grosse caisse Capelle 

Morton Feldman
The King of Denmark 
4 Tom-toms Ludwig préparés, 3 Tambours sur cadre Sonor, 1 Grosse caisse Capelle, 2 Timbales Premier, 1 Berimbau (arc musical brésilien), 1 Gopiyantra (tambour à corde pincée indien), 2 Gueros, 1 Wasamba (hochet africain),
1 Caxixi (hochet brésilien), 1 Jeu de Cuillères en bois, 5 Cloches de vache, 3 Triangles, 4 Tubes métalliques, 2 Profilés métalliques, 1 Gong coréen, 1 Gong thaïlandais, 2 Gongs balinais, 1 Ressort, 5 Rins (bols de prières) japonais et coréens,
3 Cymbales turques Zildjian, 3 Cymbales chinoises, 1 Cymbale antique, 1 Crotale Zildjian, 10 Cloche-tubes Premier, 5 Cloche-plaques, 1 Kalimba (linguaphone africain), 1 Cymbalum,
1 Gender balinais (metallophone) 1 Vibraphone Bergerault


Iannis Xenakis 1922-2001

Rebonds pour percussion solo 1987-1989
Pièce b
Pièce a

Franco Donatoni 1927-2000

due pezzi per marimba 1992
Pezzo I
Pezzo II
Elliott Carter 1908

Eight Pieces for four Timpani 1950-1966 (première partie)
Improvisation (Piece V)
Moto Perpetuo (Piece II)
Recitative (Piece IV)
Canto (Piece VI)

Franco Donatoni

due pezzi per vibrafono 1985
Pezzo I
Pezzo II

Iannis Xenakis

pour percussion solo 1976

Elliott Carter

Eight Pieces for four Timpani 1950-1966 (deuxième partie)
Saëta (Piece I)
March (Piece VIII)
Adagio (Piece III)
Canaries (Piece VII)
Morton Feldman 1926-1987

The King of Denmark 1964
The King of Denmark
© 2018 Harmonic Classics