COMPOSERS & WORKSCOUNTERPOINT

Václav Tomáš Matějka

Counterpoint is a compositional technique that came to life in Western musical tradition many centuries ago. It was adapted and modified by different periods and styles, and was never totally abandoned. The basic idea of counterpoint is to reach a musical dialogue through repetition, using structural motifs or phrases that could be replayed (sometimes ad nauseam…) in a way to create a complete and coherent musical work. This technique has been used and updated in different historical times, particularly in 16th and 17th centuries, when counterpoint was the most generally applied compositional technique, usually called ‘fugato style’. Counterpoint has reached great heights with Bach, who used the technique as the main means to realize his musical genius, and many other composers through the centuries have incorporated it as a way of adapting to new trends in music without losing touch with tradition.

Czech composer Václav Tomáš Matějka (anglicized to Wenzel Thomas Matiegka) was born in Bohemia and moved to Vienna at the beginning of 19th century to work as composer, piano teacher, and guitarist. In the artistically prolific Viennese environment Matiegka worked as a Kapellmeister in the suburbs, and took part in a group of artists, composers, and wealthy amateurs who contributed to the recognition of his work locally and abroad. In fact Schubert is known to have added a cello part to Matiegka’s Notturno op.21, which has been for a long time attributed to Schubert.

Matiegka is considered by many guitarists the ‘Beethoven of the guitar’. Apart from some rather ingenuous misconceptions such a comparison might raise, the composer’s style does share with his contemporaries some attributes that undoubtedly make him one of the most impressive composers for the guitar of his times. One of these attributes is his absolute musical and technical control of counterpoint applied to the guitar, followed by impressive technical feasibility on an instrument that was already a challenge for composers in those times. One of the works that best exemplify Matiegka’s technical mastery is his Sonata op.23, also called Fuga, Minuetto, e Rondo. Particularly in the first movement, Presto-Fugato, Matiegka demonstrates an impressive conduction of a counterpoint texture through a wide range of instrumental and compositional resources, which deals elegantly and with great efficiency with the technical limitations of the guitar. Sometimes we can indeed hear echoes of Beethoven in his music, while the guitar still imposes a more concise way of dealing with musical structures making even Romantic sonatas written for the instrument rather economic if compared to those for piano and other instruments. Matiegka, however, through the use of compositional techniques such as hidden voices and a crystal-clear form, make any simplistic approach to his guitar music deceptively wrong, as behind apparently simple ideas lay great intentions and echoes of one of the wealthiest periods in music history.

Lucas Jordan

Lucas Jordan is a composer whose own life is a kind of ‘fugato’: Brazilian-born; educated in Brazil, United States, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom; and holding Italian nationality. All these cultural breakups create quite naturally an image in his compositional identity that most of people would strive to achieve, a way of summing up this mosaic of cultures and experiences into a unique musical personality. Jordan, who is also a very accomplished flautist, has been involved as composer and instrumentalist in many exciting and innovative projects in all countries he lived. One of these projects was ‘Wenn sich gestern mit heute vermischt’ (‘When yesterday mixes with today’), in which a group of musicians developed a concept they called ‘Stück-Idee’ (idea of/behind the work), a kind of hardwired improvisational technique that makes even completely improvised music sound as a closely knitted composition.



This conceptual work has created in Lucas a great interest in the theory and practice of improvisation, and continues to echo in his works. One good example is his preludiofuga I, for viola da gamba, in which the concept of Stück-Idee is used as a composition technique in the Prelude; by inverting the original intent of Stück-Idee, Jordan makes a pre-composed piece sound as an improvised one:

In his explorations on music composition and performance, Lucas Jordan has also recently flirted with new media to create new ways of expression. The idea of his three miniatures, for example, is to have the music working together with short films from the inception of the work, premiering it in a digital format instead of a live performance.

After a period of studies together at the Royal Academy of Music, in London, Lucas Jordan and Fabricio Mattos started working in many innovative ideas, from house concerts to aesthetic experiments with poetry and dance. Following both musicians’ interest in theoretical and practical aspects of performance, the current situation of concerts, and the problems of music notation, came the idea of working together under the conceptual roof of WGC to try something new: to mix together their experiences and interests into a new work for solo guitar. The result was preludiofuga II, a natural continuation of the work for viola da gamba abovementioned. The guitar work, composed with the Stauffer guitar in mind, offers a wide exploration of the limits of instrument and performer as well as gestural aspects involved in music performance, a theme cherished by both. The concept of Stück-Idee is also generally applied here, but within a concept created by two of Fabricio’s requests: to somehow relate the general structure and/or technique to Matiegka’s Presto-Fugato op.23 ; and to insert or dissolve in a fugato or quasi-fugato manner two of the main themes of the song Onde está você? (Where are you?) by popular Brazilian composer Zezum, into the whole piece:

In Jordan’s work the title of Zezum’s song indirectly acts as a way of challenging the listener to find this theme within the piece, in a the same manner that happened in Fugues from other periods, which were often preceded by a Prelude. Here, however, the existing inner coherence of Prelude-Fugue doesn’t work quite in the same way, as the composer explains below:

"Preludes set the key to the following Fugue. In other words they create the ground rules of what will follow – they establish something. In Fugues, a theme is presented and elaborated, while another version on the same subject is presented. In other words it discusses a subject in depth looking simultaneously at different perspectives – they elaborate on something."

In preludiofuga II the Prelude fails to establish anything and dissolves into the Fugue. The Fugue is confused and tries to help the Prelude establish something by showing varying perspectives on possible subjects – in the same way of one’s frustration in trying to discuss a complex topic in a language they do not know very well.

In search of an unobtainable solution such frustration gradually transcends the musical barrier and forces itself out of the performer through gestures. Not knowing what else to do, both Prelude and Fugue leave it to the gestures to decide their musical end.

The work was composed thinking closely of its live performance, with the inclusion of gestures in the final score, showing the composer’s attention to both technical and visual aspects of the work’s performance to various audiences. However, even though the piece was thoroughly composed with the clear idea of its live performance in mind, there is an audio-only version of it, in which physical gestures have been converted into digital ones. For that purpose the thoughtful use of digital effects by sound engineers Beto Japa and Dirceu Saggin, from WGC partner Estúdio Trilhas Urbanas, was crucial.

The extreme conceptual and technical complexity of preludiofuga II is overshadowed by how organic it results when listening to its recording or watching it live. It signals towards exciting new ways of making new music on historical instruments; in the end, rather than mere objects destined to dusted shelves and frozen approaches, these could also be our partners ready to be molded to expressive needs of our times.

LUCAS JORDAN’S WEBSITE