“Transfiguration” Trio – modes of continuation (1)

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the ‘gesture-moments’ in Nicolas’ “Transfiguration” Trio

are more often than not linked via various tactics of continuation on the surface level (I’ll have to get down to work on a characterisation of these…).

There is something seemingly innocuous about Nicolas’ ‘gesture-moments’ (characterised as ‘resonant’, ‘fluid’, ‘hocket’, and ‘dancing’ gestures respectively)  – innocuous insofar as they hardly jump out at you sonically as would the materials in a piece by Hector Parra, for instance. They also sound ‘dated’, in the same sense. Did Nicolas simply miss the spectral-textural revolution? Did he miss the explosions of New Complexity? We can discuss this later. For now, I might simply say that, once you get inside a piece like the Trio, these concerns largely drop away.

It is not really the gestures-moments but the ways in which Nicolas cuts across them that are particularly interesting. As I said in a previous post, there are many ways of undermining the discrete nature of these moments: harmonic fields that group into larger sections; four contrasting “subterraneous” rhythmic layers; a global process of unification of the instrumental forces; and, simply, modes of surface level continuation, which stitch together the moments at the their seams.

Seeing as the continuity-discontinuity binary is obsessing me of late (how to have a discontinuity that is not a work of fragmentation, how to have a continuity that does not descend into an expression of absolute ‘tarrying with the negative’ on the one hand, nor a false totality on the other?), and seeing as the question of how to continue is also a chief concern, I figure I’ll try to get a sense of these particular modes of continuation, and then (eventually) the way they interrelate with the other, deeper, ways of undermining the discrete moments.

So, an attempt at categorising Nicolas’ cadences is in order, essentially. Below are some initial thoughts that I jotted down about a week ago, dealing with the first half of the work. As with this entire blog, this post is or my benefit, so if you don’t like the wanky names of the categories, too bad. Funnily enough, I made these remarks before actually going through and identifying the sequence of gesture-moments themselves, so my partitioning of the work is slightly different to the way Nicolas conceived it, but it’s pretty close. (I have since gone through and identified the moments. A rather more boring procedure). Each note identifies whether the cadences is, at least at first sight, a break, an enjambment (final note(s) of one phrase becoming initial notes of the next), or an elision (avoiding a clear point of discontinuity).

  • Uncanny double disorientation. Bars 23-24. Break. Cadential figure interrupted by an unexpectedly soon mutation (condensation and repeat) of its own material (in the same voice), and an another unexpectedly soon mutation into the new phrase. Both are discontinuous to the previous – marked by a rest. After this double disorientation, the new phrase seems all the more uncanny since it uses much the same pitch material as the previous cadence.
  • Preresonance. Bars 34-36. Break. Pitches, register, instruments, dynamics, tempo of the two main instruments of the continuing phrase stealthily enter at the cadence of the previous phrase. Continuing phrase marked by a discontinuity and constitutes a different moment-geste.
  • Obscure rupture. Bars 45-46. Break. Wild unprecedented gesture ruptures with previous phrase brings in a varied repetition of much earlier material (nomadic violin). Previous phrase hangs on a little and part of it is subsumed into the resonance of the rupturing gesture. (This is a little problematic, as the previous bar could also be viewed as building up to the rupture. In that case it would not so much be an unforeseen rupture, but an explosion of building energy from the previous phrases).
  • Rupture-closure. Bars 54-55. Break. Slight variation on the rupturing gesture that brought in the previous idea is used (in only a slightly less rupturing way) to provide its absolute closure. Its previous status as obscure rupture undermines its new function as absolute closure. The fact that it is a solo piano cadence and a solo piano continuing phrase also undermines this absolute rupture. (Note a repeat of the last dyad of the rupturing gesture is inserted neatly at the end of the following subphrase.
  • Carry-over. Bars 70-71. Enjambment. Single figure of striking piano chords vaguely present in the previous phrase is used as the basis of the continuing phrase, under which a sustained idea in the other instruments can grow. Largely discontinuous from preceding phrase except that the striking chords are used at once to  (Compare with preresonance).

NOTE: as with the rupture-closure, the repetition of modes of continuation, or the consistent use of similar modes of continuation in itself changes the structure of closure and of continuation.

  • Blurred Elision. Bars 75-77. Elision. A rapide piano arpeggiated gesture in the piano introduces a discontinuity, made stronger by the abrupt cut-off in the clarinet. It is, however, undermined by the continuation of violin line over the top, as well as the continuation of the piano resonances from the previous idea. In any case, it is a feint: it is not taken up as the new idea, nor does it seem to have an immediate effect on the musical discourse. The real new idea is then presented in the violin and piano, but its discontinuity is also undermined by the continued clarinet idea which remains, as a fading recollection of the previous idea. Notice how the fortississimo in the piano at bar 75 articulates the C-nat in the clarinet so that the clarinet now comes to considerable prominence, despite the more obvious violin line. This prepared prominence of the clarinet helps the elision to function.
  • Traumatic rupture and redoublement. Bars 94-95. Break. The return of the F-B tritone in the violin (with crescendo to forte), absent from the preceding phrases, has the effect of a return of a traumatic object, which causes the piano and clarinet to unleash an ascending/descending gesture of closure. In fact, this is a variation of the arpeggio figures from the preceding phrase, but converted into a violent gesture. The low A in the violin creates a confusion regarding the discontinuity of the new moment: is the violin note a consequence-resonance of the rupturing gesture in the clarinet and piano, or is it a continuation of the preceding violin phrases? There is a redoubling again here, as with the blurred elision and the uncanny double disorientation: The piano plays another short staccato figure that is a variation of the rupturing gesture from previous cadences (B6+F1) as though it continues on from the clarinet and piano gesture (however unrelated it is thematically – in fact, it sounds as though it could begin a new idea, but it doesn’t). The new idea starts in the piano and clarinet with considerable break from the previous idea. The continuation of the low violin A throughout this also undermines the discontinuity of this new phrase.
  • Cadence-Transference. Bars 104-105. Break. Clear cadential gesture of the preceding phrase with obvious break enacted by Bartok pizz. The new commences immediately, with little relation to the preceding, except that the prominent G5 in the clarinet in the cadence has been transferred into the prominent starting note of the nomadic violin. (Notice how in the continuing phrase, this logic of transference between clarinet, violin and piano is a key element).
  • Prefigured cadence. Bars 112-120. Elision. Throughout the phrase from bar 113 to bar 116 numerous moments of repose occur quite naturally – piano is left to hold its harmony for a longer period of time. Each of them could act cadentially but none are allowed to; all are interrupted by an abrupt continuation in the piano. After some development in the violin part, the piano has a much longer moment of repose. Into this a completely new figure enters in the violin, marked comme une cadence. The structural status of this violin cadence is immensely ambiguous.
  • Obsessive cadence (Retroactive) Transition. Bars 116-131. Elision. These bars emerge from the prefigured cadence. In fact, the prefigured cadence could be seen as the beginning of this section. Essentially, so many attempts at a cadence are made, but none of them are properly successful, it seems that the cadence itself becomes fetishised and undead and continues long after it was supposed to (note the similarities with the piano of the uncanny double disorientation). The fetishisation transfigures the idea and when the idea at bar 131 arrives, the whole previous passage is retroactively seen as a transition of the violin idea into the tremolo figure.
  • Obsessive cadence…again! Bars 135-143. Break. Despite the status of the ‘dancing gesture’ from bars 132-135 as something like an idea unto itself, its embededness in the previous flow of obsessive cadential movements undermines its autonomy. The quasi-cadence at bar 135 brings about a new cadential figure in the violin, in some ways equivalent to the double-stop comme une cadence figure in the prefigured cadence section (this time a slow, sweeping ascending figure). Its affirmative varied repetition (interrupting the violin) in the piano and then violin undermines its cadential status, until, at bars 141-142, a held not is reached in both the violin and the piano, which the piano then cuts off with an arpeggio. This seems to create the first total discontinuity of the piece except that the new idea is a variation of the final cadential figure.
  • Cinematic transition. Bars 179-180. Elision. As the violin loses its rhythmic specificity and becomes liquidated, the piano emerges from the neutralised zone with a sweeping arpeggiated figure that seems cadential, even throughout the first part of bar 180. The effect is something like a transition or pan from one scene to another via way of a mysterious arpeggio. However, it is quickly revealed that this piano figure is not quite so neutral and in fact provides the main line for the next section. Note that the low F at bar 183 along with the staccato A in the clarinet could be seen as marking a point of closure, immediately re-opened by the continuation of the idea at bar 184. In which case bars 179-183 (the piano line especially) could be seen as a complete cadential moment unto themselves, with a Brahmsian style linkage technique providing the means to continuation for bar 184 where the real beginning of the idea is stated.

Next steps would be to cover the next half of the piece; compare with the structure of gesture-moments; identify essential continuation techniques (a more abstract categorisation); and then begin looking at harmonic and rhythmic structures, before tackling the global form.

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