Wind Sextet: "Cantillations"
Choose a track to play
00:00 / 00:00
No Work Selected
Achron wrote his Wind Sextet (op. 73), subtitled “Cantillations,” for a rather unconventional chamber ensemble combination of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, and trumpet. It is divided into four movements, marked as follows: (1)“Contemplatively”; (2) “With Graceful Motion”; (3) “Fanfare, Pendulum”; and (4) “Dance Improvisation, Very Fast and Joyously.”
The sextet was written in Los Angeles in 1938, during what Achron’s biographer, Philip Moddel, has identified as his third and last artistic period, embracing opera 60 to 74. While other works of that period in the composer’s life do, as Moddel suggests, reveal a turn toward a more cerebral and more studied approach than he entertained in his earlier pieces—especially those composed through the 1920s—and a sometimes ill-advised quest for modernity in harmonic as well as formal structure, this sextet does not reveal much of that direction. To the contrary, it exhibits an overall freshness, retaining the spontaneity, wit, and charm that characterize many of his early and even middle-phase compositions. There are even moments that reflect his early interest in the work of the French impressionist composers. At the same time, the piece is not completely devoid of an abstract aura, as if to demonstrate the composer’s familiarity with some of the more advanced procedures of his time, but abstractions never obscure the clarity here. The idiomatic properties, articulations, and sonorities of each of the instruments are judiciously exploited throughout in their linear as well as contrapuntal development of the material.
The subtitle refers to the composer’s reliance on a variety of motives from traditional biblical cantillation systems. These systems serve both as basic material for numerous individual moments and statements—which are often fragmented even in their initial exposition, and then developed—and as inspiration or models for much of the instrumental ornamentation. Achron has drawn on a host of cantillation motives from the Torah, the Haftorah, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Esther, and the Song of Songs—as well as from assorted Yemenite and other Near Eastern traditions. There is, however, no programmatic parameter underlying the choice of motives or their ordering. Phrases and whole sections of movements often begin with a reference to or a fragment of some cantillation motive, which then becomes artistically manipulated and interwoven contrapuntally with others. But without technical analysis they are not necessarily always audible as specific or known motives, especially as they frequently serve primarily as points of departure, and it is in this sense that an abstract characterization might apply. But the material and its development are easily followed by the listener.