Monday, December 14, 2015

The 12 Works of Christmas - 3. Thomas Adès's Fayrfax Carol

You'd be hard pressed to find a contemporary composer with more swift and total a rise to glory as Thomas Adès.  He had scored a multi-CD contract with EMI, a rare feat for any classical composer, while still in his 20's and his works keep getting high profile premieres and tons of acclaim.  I've been a big fan of his for years, ever since I heard stuff like Asyla and Traced Overhead as an undergrad, and his solo piano CD is among my favorites, introducing me to the works of Alexei Stanchinsky, György Kurtág and Niccolò Castiglioni.  His music hits that triumphant sweet spot between unique technical achievements and audience appeal, featuring advanced stuff like bizarre meters, exquisite arrhythmic overlays, microtonality in accessible, entertaining packages, and this Christmas season is as good enough a time to feature his preciously surreal Fayrfax Carol.  I wasn't able to find a full score for the piece but I do have a watermark-heavy first page to give you...because it's Christmas.

If you squint enough you can see how the basic melody is used to create a cascading canon, sliding the harmony around like water droplets melting off an icicle (always the first image that comes to mind, I'm sure).  The effect is richly modal, actually highly reminiscent of Michael Nyman's music to the films of Peter Greenaway in its harmonies and line interplay, though much less bombastic.  The "B" section is more like standard hymn material, a simple melody lilting across a mostly static lower register, though not without some surprising harmonic shifts.  The "A" section returns with deeper fervor and sadness and everything returns to the hushed, hallowed mood of the best Christmas music.  I'd also check out January Writ in a couple weeks.


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