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A NEW DAWN? THOMAS ADÈS AND THE CASE OF MUSICAL SIMPLICITY

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 October 2021

Abstract

Demonstrating an ability to both subscribe to and question aesthetic and formal conventions, the music of Thomas Adès has become synonymous with a particular brand of complexity; various multiplicities – stylistic, temporal, semantic – characterise the discourses that both pervade and surround his works. This might help explain the fractured critical response to Dawn, a ‘chacony for orchestra at any distance’, premièred at the 2020 BBC Proms: a seven-minute unfurling passacaglia of stark simplicity. Mixed reviews have presupposed rationales ranging from bold aesthetic choice to deadline-induced haste. This article considers Dawn within Adès's continuing exploration of the different formal, aesthetic and semantic roles that musical simplicity can play. Here, his previous utilisation of simplicity at points of formal crux allows a reframing of the work as a compositional response to real-world crisis that, beneath its surface, presents an intriguing affinity with – and recontextualisation of – fundamental aspects of his compositional character.

Type
RESEARCH ARTICLE
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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References

1 Richard Bratby, ‘Couldn't the BBC Have Filled at Least Some of the Seats? First Night of the Proms Reviewed’, Spectator, 5 September 2020, www.spectator.co.uk/article/couldnt-the-bbc-have-filled-at-least-some-of-the-seats-first-night-of-the-proms-reviewed (accessed 16 November 2020).

2 Bernard Hughes, ‘BBC Proms Live Online: Uchida, LSO, Rattle Review’, theartsdesk, 31 August 2020, https://theartsdesk.com/classical-music/bbc-proms-live-online-uchida-lso-rattle-review-%E2%80%93-eclectic-concert-makes-good-tv (accessed 16 November 2020).

3 Adès, Thomas, Dawn: Chacony for Orchestra at Any Distance (London: Faber Music, 2020)Google Scholar.

4 Ivan Hewett, ‘Proms Live 2020: LSO and Simon Rattle, Review’, Telegraph, 31 August 2020, www.telegraph.co.uk/music/what-to-listen-to/proms-live-2020-lso-simon-rattle-royal-albert-hall-review-vapid/ (accessed 16 November 2020).

5 Ivan Hewett, ‘Proms 2013: Thomas Adès, Review’, Telegraph, 18 July 2013, www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/proms/10187948/Proms-2013-Thomas-Ades-review.html (accessed 16 November 2020).

6 Simon Cummings, ‘Proms 2020’, 5against4, 13 September 2020, http://5against4.com/2020/09/13/proms-2020/ (accessed 11 February 2021).

7 Whittall, Arnold, British Music after Britten (Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, 2020), p. 255Google Scholar.

8 Edward Venn, Thomas Adès: Asyla (London: Routledge, 2017), p. 154.

9 Hughes, ‘BBC Proms Live Online’.

10 Alastair Williams, ‘Between Modernism and Postmodernism: Structure and Expression in John Adams, Kaija Saariaho and Thomas Adès’, in The Routledge Research Companion to Modernism in Music, eds Björn Heile and Charles Wilson (New York: Routledge, 2019), p. 343.

11 Venn, Thomas Adès: Asyla, p. 29.

12 John Roeder, ‘Co-operating Continuities in the Music of Thomas Adès’, Music Analysis, 25 (2006), p. 122.

13 Emma Gallon, ‘Narrativities in the Music of Thomas Adès’ (PhD thesis, Lancaster University, 2011), p. 6.

14 Ibid., p. 4.

15 Daniel March, ‘Beyond Simplicity: Analytical Strategies for Contemporary Music’ (PhD thesis, University of York, 1997), p. 5.

16 Josiah Fisk, ‘The New Simplicity: The Music of Górecki, Tavener and Pärt’, Hudson Review, 47, no. 3 (1994), p. 402.

17 Ibid., p. 411.

18 Neil Fisher, ‘Prom: LSO/Rattle Review’, The Times, 31 August 2020, www.thetimes.co.uk/article/prom-lso-rattle-review-epic-and-intimate-2wwc9222t (accessed 16 November 2020); David Gutman, ‘Prom 3: Rattle, Uchida and the LSO’, Classical Source, 31 August 2020, www.classicalsource.com/prom/prom-3-rattle-uchida-and-the-lso/ (accessed 16 November 2020).

19 Chris Garlick, ‘A Phoenix from the Ashes: Rattle and the LSO Reunited at the BBC Proms’, Bachtrack, 31 August 2020, https://bachtrack.com/review-video-bbc-proms-rattle-uchida-london-symphony-august-2020 (accessed 16 November 2020).

20 Andrew Clements, ‘Proms 2020: LSO/Rattle Review’, Guardian, 31 August 2020, www.theguardian.com/music/2020/aug/31/proms-2020-lso-rattle-review-mitsuko-uchida-albert-hall (accessed 16 November 2020).

21 Mark Swed, ‘Ode to Couperin the Great’, Los Angeles Times, 23 May 2008, www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2008-may-23-et-chamber23-story.html (accessed 11 February 2021). See James Donaldson, ‘Topics, Double Coding, and Form Functionality in Thomas Adès's Piano Quintet’, this issue, for a semiotic consideration of Adès's relationship with canonic figures in terms of marked and unmarked compositional features.

22 Tom Service, ‘Solving François Couperin's Les Barricades Mystérieuses’, Guardian, 14 January 2010, www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2010/jan/14/francois-couperin-barricades-music (accessed 11 February 2021).

23 Philip Stoecker, ‘Paths, Spirals, and Extraordinary Cycles: Chaconnes in the Music of Thomas Adès’, in Thomas Adès Studies, eds Edward Venn and Philip Stoecker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

24 Joseph Sowa, ‘The Art of Transformation: The Heraclitian Form of Thomas Adès's Tevot as a Critical Lens for the Symphonic Tradition’ (PhD thesis, Brandeis University, 2019), pp. 22–24.

25 Scott Lee, ‘Narrating the Dance of Death: Ekphrasis in Thomas Adès's Totentanz’, Thomas Adès Studies, eds Edward Venn and Philip Stoecker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

26 Ivan Hewett, ‘Thomas Adès: Almost a Great Composer’, Prospect, 11 April 2017, www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/thomas-ades-almost-a-great-composer (accessed 11 February 2021).

27 Drew Massey, Thomas Adès in Five Essays (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021), p. 146.

28 Massey, Thomas Adès in Five Essays, p. 48.

29 Edward Venn, ‘Thomas Adès and the Spectres of Brahms’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 140, no. 1 (2015), p. 211.

30 Lee, ‘Narrating the Dance of Death’.

31 See Edward Venn, ‘Adès and the Sonata’, this issue, for further analysis of overlapping melodic figurations in the opening movement of the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2018).

32 Edward Venn, ‘Thomas Adès and the Pianto’, in Proceedings of the International Conference on Music Semiotics in Memory of Raymond Monelle: University of Edinburgh, 26–28 October 2012, eds Nearchos Panos, Vangelis Lympouridis, George Athanasopoulos and Peter Nelson (Edinburgh: International Project on Music and Dance Semiotics, 2013), pp. 309–17.

33 Thomas Adès and Tom Service, Thomas Adès: Full of Noises – Conversations with Tom Service (London: Faber and Faber, 2012), pp. 172.

34 Ibid., p. 3

35 Massey, Thomas Adès in Five Essays, p. 60.

36 Adès himself utilises a ‘kaleidoscope’ metaphor to describe elements of repetition in his opera The Exterminating Angel (School of Advanced Study, Thomas Adès in Conversation with Drew Massey, online video interview with the composer, 10 April 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ng5jIUtiLZk (accessed 17 February 2021)).

37 Faber Music, ‘Thomas Adès’ Dawn to Premiere at 2020 BBC Proms’, 6 August 2020, www.fabermusic.com/news/thomas-ad%C3%A8s-dawn-to-premiere-at-2020-bbc-proms06082020 (accessed 17 February 2021).

38 School of Advanced Study, Thomas Adès in Conversation with Drew Massey.

39 Adès's implied evocation of the hours in a day invites contrast with ‘The Twenty-fifth Hour’, the extratemporal final movement of his string quartet The Four Quarters (2010), an altogether different work, which nevertheless also closes with a major triad; Whittall considers this relationship in ‘Adès at 50: Precarious Poise’, this issue.

40 Adès and Service, Thomas Adès, p. 44.

41 Picking up on the parallels Whittall (‘Adès at 50’) draws between Dawn and the ‘In Paradisum’ of Britten's War Requiem, it is worth noting that Britten too underlines the tonal centre with recurring timpani gestures (RN 133–36).

42 Whittall, British Music after Britten, p. 267.

43 The composer's stand-alone arrangement for string orchestra was published by Faber in 2019, and in the same year a choral arrangement by Jim Clements setting text by William Blake was recorded by vocal group Voces8.

44 Hutchinson, Mark, Coherence in New Music: Experience, Aesthetics, Analysis (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), p. 46CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

45 Mark, Christopher, ‘Simplicity in Early Britten’, TEMPO, 147 (1983), p. 10Google Scholar.

46 Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès: ‘Roots, Seeds & Live Cultures’ – ‘Kirill Gerstein Invites’ @ HfM Eisler Berlin, online video interview with the composer, 18 June 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0kHP_npxJA (accessed 12 February 2021).

47 Adès and Service, Thomas Adès, p. 162; Gerstein, Thomas Adès: ‘Roots, Seeds & Live Cultures’.

48 Arnold Whittall, ‘Adès, Thomas’, Grove Music Online, 2001, www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000046023 (accessed 18 February 2021).

49 ‘Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO’, BBC Proms 2020, BBC4, 30 August 2020, television broadcast.

50 Gerstein, Thomas Adès: ‘Roots, Seeds & Live Cultures’.

51 Skempton, Howard, ‘What Next for Art Music?’, TEMPO, 68, no. 267 (2014), p. 52CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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