Music of Rolv Yttrehus

Symphony no.1
My Symphony No 1 is in a single movement, subdivided by tempos as:
Moderato - Adagio - Allegro - Moderato - Adagio.

The piece begins high in the violins, with a crescendo, moving
quickly from very soft to very loud. It then drops to a forceful
attack on a middle register dissonance to which the woodwinds respond
with frenetic activity as the violins continue for another 5 measures.
This same crescendo gesture returns a minor third higher in measure
26, at about one minute and eleven seconds on this compact disc,
(1:11) and then again (Track 2), yet another minor third higher,
joined this time by its inversion in the lower strings ascending in
contrary motion as the music slows while making a transition to the
next section.

The Adagio begins in a quiet, espressivo manner, in muted strings,
with solos in the French horn and woodwinds, which leads into a
passage called The March of the Minor Thirds, or the C Major
Substratum of the World (Track 3), a highly disguised, remote allusion
to the most basic of all chord progressions in tonal music, the
descending circle of fifths.

The Allegro section (Track 4) contains The Procession of the
Trichords, in which dissonant three-note chords are passed between
trumpets, woodwinds, and trombones. This is followed by a section in
which Harmon muted trumpets contribute a stifled, suppressed, and
smoldering atmosphere to the delicate textures heard here. A cantus
firmus in tuba and piano follows (1:40). A quick, ascending four note
motive appears first in the lowest register of the piano (3:01), then
a bit later, low in two muted trombones (3:13). Finally in the second
Moderato section, The Grand Crescendo (Track 5), the motive appears
very softly in two low register clarinets, ending on the notes which
launch the next section, The Grand Crescendo. This section corresponds
somewhat to the development section of the classical symphony. It
begins as a lengthened, highly intensified restatement of the
crescendo motives heard earlier in the violins, now beginning with the
softest of clarinet notes, at ppp making a massive crescendo as it
gradually accumulates all of the instruments of the orchestra, to a
ffff with a fermata. After an explosion, the orchestra continues with
the dyads heard in the opening violins, this time in bass register
instruments, with woodwinds, brass, and string instruments, and
percussion scampering about in jagged and disjunct contrapuntal
activity. A large share of the developmental and exploratory fury of
the work takes place in this section. Two cantus firmus generated
passages follow. The first is a Parallel Ninths Cantus Firmus in
horns, violas, double basses, contrabassoon, and piano (Track 6),
followed by a Mirror Canon Cantus Firmus in trombones, tuba, and piano
(Track 7). These C.F.s serve as foils, against which the rest of the
orchestra can bounce, clash and ricochet with fierce abandon.
In Track 8, an eight note phrase (4+4) is heard in the tuba, ending
on a low E - preparation for the low D to follow later. The drive to the climax
is led by three high-register trumpets. After the climax, occasional
afterbursts are heard, the last of which (Track 9) precedes the
arrival at low D, which is held as a pedal point for eight measures.
This is a structurally important arrival point, comparable to the
arrival on the tonic in a tonal work. The transition to the Coda
follows (16:45), one section of which restates the four-note xylophone
figure (Track 10) heard early in the piece. The music gradually
settles down to a sustained and quiet ending, a notable feature of
which is a subdued ppp four note melody heard in three low
register flutes in unison, fading to pppp.

Gradus ad parnassum
Nietzsche claimed that one must have chaos inside oneself if one is
“to give birth to a dancing star.” I suppose I took this to heart when
I made a series of taped improvisations in which I “sing” and play the
piano in a wild, orgiastic, and gleeful manner. Two of these
uninhibited recitations were edited and transcribed to become the
Lieder Recital of the Dionysian Muse, Numbers I and II (1:21 into
Track 12 and 1:53 into Track 17). They are manifestations of the raw
energy of art - the Dionysian fury - sometimes joyous, sometimes
fearsome, present in the human psyche - the chaos Nietzsche refers to.
Such was the germination for my piece Gradus Ad Parnassum
On the other end of the spectrum is the Apollonian power, the power
to constrain these Dionysian forces, and with great
intellectual-artistic energy, bring them under control, to produce the
balance, restraint, and clarity needed for a work of art. Nietzsche
again: “ must organize the chaos in that these two
art impulses are compelled to develop their powers in strictly mutual
proportion, according to the law of eternal justice” (Track 18).
The Nietzschean portions of the text are taken from Thus Spake
Zarathustra, The Birth of Tragedy, and Thoughts Out of Season. The
Latin portions and the title, Gradus Ad Parnassum are taken from
Johanna Joseph Fux’s famous treatise on counterpoint of 1725. From
this work are taken certain words of inspiration to young composers,
and complaints about the lowering of standards and the diminishment of
artist ideals that Fux witnessed in the early 18th Century, and which
we all witness today. In the section called, The Master’s
Inspirational Message (Track 14), there appears a passage which states
Fux’s well known cantus firmus (D F E D G F A G F E D). in a version
camouflaged by registral expansion. Against this the soprano sings the
passage beginning with “Indefesso studio...”(2:04 into Track 14).

The two appearances of The Dionysian Muse are announced by the
gothic tolling of the tubular bells - D F the first time (within
Track 12), then much later - F# A (within Track 17). I like to think
that these heraldically clanged bell tones subconsciously imply a
motion from D minor to a triumphant D Major!

The descent to the Dionysian Substratum of the World (Track 15) is a
achieved by synthesizer of the taped portion of the work, picking up
from the lowest B-flat of the contrabassoon, then descending below the
lowest notes of the piano to the nether region where the ear begins to
hear fast pulses rather than sustained pitches (Track 16). The fast
pulses gradually slow down until one finally hears a low “G” of 6.1
cycles per second, the pulses of which then determine the tempo for
the next section. (A new low point in melodic writing—the world’s
first sub-audio melody!) Immediately after this, the soprano begins
singing, “Labor meus...”.

The raving fury of the Dionysian Muse returns again (Track 17)
pushing ever more frantically against the limits of artistic
expression with the orchestra taking over to reach a climax, the chaos
of which is gradually quelled, beginning with five blows on the
timpani, after which is heard the Apollonian Admonition (Track 18).
Things settle down to a calm and quiet ending with Friedrich
Nietzsche’s Synthesis of the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

Music for winds, percussion, cello & voices
This piece is based primarily on a familiar four note figure - C D F
G and its “answer” - G F D C (“I got rhythm/I got music”). These
figures are heard throughout in varying forms, from slow, long-note
melodies, to fast, short-note motives. By means of transpositions and
juxtapositions, totally chromatic textures of varying densities are
maintained throughout the piece. There is an Introduction and
Antecedent Section - C D F G (Exposition), an Adagio Section, and then
a Consequent Section - G F D C (Recapitulation) (Track 20). A
grotesque event takes place (Track 21) when the Voices (on tape)
enter stealthily, at first masked by a French horn note, becoming
gradually louder, and descending, cataclysmically glissing downward in
a vertiginous, macabre fashion, landing on a loud, low E, stirring up
trouble as it hits bottom. This low E is later picked up by the
trombone in its seventh position, and eventually drops into the nether
region near the bottom of the trombone. In this manner, the Voices
have departed, and, metaphorically speaking, the terror has subsided.
Things gradually calm down and settle into a quiet and reposeful Coda
(Track 22).

Angstwagen for soprano and percussion
This piece explores the relationship between the soprano voice and
percussion instruments. The soprano part is written in the traditional
manner of representing in musical terms, the thoughts and feelings
expressed in the text. In addition, the text and its retrograde are
used as sound sources for a textural and timbral interplay between
voice and percussion. For example, the unvoiced “ssssssTi” (with a
crescendo to a loud “Ti”) matching a small, choked cymbal, the buzzing
of “Uzzzzzz” with the buzzing rivets of the sizzle cymbal, and the
soprano’s Wu-Wu mimicry of the vibraphone tremolo. The text in its
straight, unmodified form is heard only at the end, where, after a
melismatic “Angst,” the remaining syllables are reiterated on a low
A-flat as the instrumental textures thin out and fade away.
Here is the text with its modified retrograde on the right:
Angstwagen Negav tsnya
Geht Langsam Masnyal theg
Immer Zu Uz remy
Anguish wagon moves slowly, ever onward.
(Text by the composer)

Rolv Yttrehus , born March 12th, 1926, in Duluth, Minnesota, U.S.A.,
holds degrees from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the University
of Michigan, and in 1962, received a Diploma from the Accademia Di
Santa Cecilia in Rome. He studied harmony with Nadia Boulanger, and
composition with Ross Lee Finney, Roger Sessions, Aaron Copland, and
Goffredo Petrassi. He regards Schoenberg and Sessions as his principal
influences. He has received numerous awards, including grants from the
National Endowment for the Arts, and the New Jersey State Council on
the Arts. His music has been performed on the Fromm Festival in
Tanglewood, the ISCM World Music Days USA, and frequently in New York
by such groups as The Juilliard Ensemble, the Da Capo Chamber Players,
The Group for Contemporary Music, Parnassus, and Ensemble 21. Speculum
Musicae recorded his Quintet (CRI SD 438). His Gradus Ad Parnassum was
given its first performance by Peter Leonard and The Louisville
Orchestra, with soprano Catherine Rowe. Yttrehus gave a lecture on
this work at the Internationale Ferienkurse für Musik in Darmstadt,
Germany in 1994. His Explorations was performed at Darmstadt by
pianist David Holzman and recorded by him on Centaur CD CRC2291. His
Espressioni Per Orchestra received critical acclaim after its
performance by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Augsburg, Germany in
October of 1996. The conductor was Peter Leonard. The Warsaw National
Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Joel Suben, gave the first performance
of Yttrehus’s recently completed Symphony Number One on the Warsaw
Autumn Festival in September, 1998. Yttrehus is Professor of Music Emeritus,
Rutgers University, having retired from teaching in the fall of 1996.