Visionary Duos







Barbara Leibundguth, flute


Carl Witt, piano




Works by:




Olivier Messiaen


Vaclav Nelhybel


Carl Witt


Sigfrid Karg-Elert


Henk Badings


Pierre Boulez


Arthur Honegger









Barbara Leibundguth, flute


Carl Witt, piano


Many of the works in this album are as yet under-appreciated or unknown to the majority of flutists, so this will serve as an introduction, and an invitation for further performances. Spanning eight decades of musical revolution and upheaval, this group of duos gives a sense of the enormous variety of styles coexisting since the onset of modernism. Quite a few of the composers could be considered mavericks or outsiders, operating from deep personal conviction apart from any external force, and determined to follow their expressive vision. Accordingly, the motivations and human qualities of each composer are highlighted in the following notes.




Olivier Messiaen (French, b.1908, d.1992)


Le Merle Noir (1952); Alphonse Leduc


Messiaen was one of the great composers and teachers of the modern era, yet he freely declared, “I am not ashamed of being a romantic.” Enraptured and “dazzled by the infinity of God,” Messiaen's spiritual devotion permeates his compositions. He was the organist at Trinity Church in Paris for almost sixty years, where he shocked many listeners with his experimental improvisations. As a child he was fascinated by stained glass, and throughout his life he visualized combinations of colors which corresponded to musical sounds, becoming physically ill if the wrong color were matched to a certain chord. To Messiaen, music could only be classified as chromatic (“colored”), or not. To find new timbres he created special modes and “invented chords” or “complexes of color,” which were like precious stones to him, shimmering with natural resonance. Messiaen was greatly influenced by ancient Hindu rhythms, and for him, if music was “square or repetitive” it was not truly rhythmic, but “anti-natural.” He described the natural world as “a nirvana, a great force in which to lose oneself, a marvelous teacher.” Messaien was a fervent ornithologist and went birding on all his trips, writing the birdsongs down while his wife tape-recorded them, then going home and comparing what he had written to the tape and making changes accordingly. The birds' vocal organ called the “syrinx” allows for very small intervals, rolls, and extremely fast notes, so Messiaen had to transpose this to a “human scale.” Some of the songs are quoted verbatim in his music, and some are “malleable material.” Birds meant so much to Messaien that their songs express every shading of life in his compositions. Le Merle Noir (The Blackbird) has a basic form of ABABC: the A sections are unaccompanied birdsong, and the B sections are marked tendre, exhibiting Messiaen's penchant for irregular rhythmic structures. The last section consists of a wild avian outburst.




Vaclav Nelhybel (Czech, b.1919, d.1996)


Suite for Flute and Piano (1966); General Music


When the esteemed composer/conductor Vaclav Nelhybel emigrated to America in 1957 he planned to stay for only a few years, but after attending a music educators' convention, he was astonished by the high level of the children's performances that he heard. Fascinated, he began to visit schools and listen to bands, meanwhile changing his mind about leaving the U.S., and becoming renowned for his subsequent compositions for wind ensembles. Nelhybel's heartfelt mission became opening the minds of young people through music, so they could experience deeper, richer lives. He greatly admired the students' total dedication to collective music-making, and believed that it made them capable of phenomenal artistic communication in their performances. In person, Nelhybel was not flamboyant, according to Dr. Paul G. Fisher, former Chairman of the Music Department at Millersville University, who watched Nelhybel conduct on numerous occasions. “He didn't crack jokes on the podium; instead, he just concentrated on the music. He was without question a fine musician who knew what he wanted from the players.” Nelhybel has described his compositions as “panchromatic,” relying on strong “gravitational centers” to create rapport and unity as they are felt together by the composer, performers, and listeners. The Suite for Flute and Piano is small-scale, pure, and clear in texture and mood, and with this work Nelhybel fearlessly wrote a picturesque, tonal piece in the 1960's when that was very much out of style. Much of the Suite features playful counterpoint between flute and piano, which invites occasional jazz elements. The first movement is something of a `medieval dance'; the second movement is a simple, lonely melody taken up by both instruments; the third movement is Bartok-like with its Eastern European harmonies and rhythmic ostinatos; the fourth movement, a flute cadenza, contains even more folkloric elements; the driving last movement uses syncopations and percussive staccatos to set up the final `ultra-cool' riff.




Carl Witt (American, b.1959)


Duo for Flute and Piano (1996); Heon Music (


When composing, Witt allows for a “fluid” process, remaining open to ideas from the performers themselves. Witt finds that even though a great performance may not exactly follow the score, if the music comes alive he is tempted to change the score to match the performance. Because of Witt's interest in the collaborative process, a performer receives the rare treat of having questions and fine points of interpretation discussed by a living composer as the piece is conceived, and is able to have input into the final version of a work. The composer has the advantages of learning how to write most effectively for the instrument involved, and of having another musician influence the piece in a unique way. In Witt's experience, “Collaboration is a birthing process. Transformative art has its source outside conscious understanding and control; working with new material requires that we be stretched, our need for control undermined, our understanding deepened. It can take tremendous resolve to stay with this often difficult process.” For Witt, the mutual creative effort leads to the presence of “an otherness-a field or sensibility that is not quite potential, not quite actuality…a sort of ether in which initiation and response are both intensified and accelerated, like sound in water.” Written over a period of ten months, the Duo is joyful and exuberant for the most part, with ringing, consonant harmonies and complicated rhythms overlapping at every turn. Many short contrasting sections develop the main motif throughout one continuous movement. Suddenly, near the end, the music shifts to the utmost in stillness and sostenuto, ultimately fading away with luminous gestures reminiscent of the beginning.




Sigfrid Karg-Elert (German, b.1877, d.1933)


Sinfonische Kanzone (1917); copyright 1921 by Julius Heinrich Zimmerman, Leipzig/Musikverlag Zimmermann, Frankfurt am Main (Germany)


As a young man, Karg-Elert studied with Reinecke at the Leipzig Conservatory, and was supported and encouraged as a composer by Reger and Grieg. He eventually succeeded Reger as professor at the Conservatory. Despite his early promise, however, Karg-Elert proved to be something of a misfit in many areas of his life. According to biographer and friend Godfrey Sceats, Karg-Elert had “a rebellious temperament…was a storm-centre within himself…[had] frequent outbursts of bad temper and clownish behavior,” and “this did him no good in a material sense.” Musically, Sceats characterizes him as “too expressive for Germans…too personal and introspective,” and in 1926 Karg-Elert wrote, “I do not understand the insufferably bombastic, bloated, athletic cultivation of force…if that be the German character, then I am not a `modern German'.” Although he did call himself a `modern' composer, Karg-Elert's style was late Romantic, freely expressive of genuine, deeply felt emotion. Near the end of his life he became demoralized and wrote, “My ideals differ radically from those which are fashionable among the youth of today…publishers only issue the most incredible barbarisms by the latest radical-moderns.” Like Messiaen, Karg-Elert was a masterful organ composer obsessed with harmony and color, and he wrote, “I like open and radiant colors…magical effects…like starlight, silver, and molten glass.” Sceats describes a sinfonische kanzone as “any movement or piece treating a tuneful melody at some length,” and this moody and dramatic work is full of warmth and yearning, with the restless nature of an orchestral tone poem. In his letters, Karg-Elert mentions that his students and associates copied his parts for him, and that “a few mistakes may have crept in.” This may explain in part the many inconsistencies and questions encountered in Karg-Elert's scores.




Henk Badings (Dutch, b.1907, d.1987)


Capriccio (1936); Donemus Amsterdam


Badings was mostly self-taught as a composer, being an orphan who was forbidden by his guardian to become a musician. Instead, Badings studied and taught mine geology and engineering for a few years. Even as a student, however, he began to receive major performances of his compositions, and in the early 1930's he became a full-time composer and music professor. In an article entitled “An Odour of Taboo,” Badings' former student Roland de Beer writes of his teacher's “patient, refined nature,” but also of the stigma attached to Badings as an accused Nazi collaborator during World War II. According to de Beer, Badings “accepted commissions in line with National Socialist cultural ideology.” After the war, Badings faced controversy and even public protest, and his compositions were “relegated to comparative obscurity in the Netherlands.” However, over the next forty years he went on to win many international prizes and honors. Badings wrote more than one thousand works, and he became known as “the epitome of a modern artist: punctual, efficient and technically and mathematically competent.” Dr. Paul Klemme, author of Henk Badings, 1907-87; Catalog of Works, states that “Badings wrote ferociously. Like Mozart, the music was already formed in his head before he transcribed it. Because he needed very little time to think, he was able to complete his commissions very quickly.” Badings wrote electronic and computer-generated music in the 1950's, and out of his strong interest in tuning and tonality he developed a 31-note scale. Badings' early work has been compared to Reger, Hindemith, and Honegger, and accordingly the Capriccio has a strong contrapuntal flavor. The fast sections contain many dotted rhythms and technically demanding configurations, and the slow passages highlight Badings' early use of long melodic lines and inventive harmonies.




Pierre Boulez (French, b.1925)


Sonatine (1946); © 1946 by Editions AMPHION by courtesy of Editions Max Eschig, Paris, France


Messaien attributed to his pupil Boulez “extraordinary electrical dynamism,” and the ability to “transcend the dogma of serialism with instinctive abandon.” In fact, Boulez speaks of musical notation as merely a code, which can take on the irrational elements of performance that may change a piece entirely. Also celebrated as a conductor and for his superb intellect, in person Boulez radiates an extremely poetic musical soul as he sings and talks about his music. The Sonatine is dauntingly complex and difficult, but above all it is rooted in emotionality. In 1946, with the Sonatine, a twenty-one-year-old Boulez began a personal battle against what he saw as the current stagnation and academicism of the contemporary music world. He deplored the mixing of styles in composition, as with neo-classicism, that for him resulted in a patchwork, where an old language attempts to express things that are beyond its vocabulary. Boulez' formal studies, most notably with Messiaen in Paris, were brief. While immersing himself in scores by Webern, Stravinsky, Debussy, Berg, and Schoenberg, Boulez decided to follow Schoenberg's example by writing the Sonatine as a single-movement work which paradoxically contained smaller movements within (as he characterizes them, a first theme, a version of a sonata allegro, two scherzos, a slow movement, and a finale). The first complete work in Boulez' catalogue, the Sonatine was a revelation, and is still shocking today in its daring intensity. As with many of his works, Boulez juxtaposes sections that are strictly in tempo with others containing very free rhythms, which he describes as being notated in a spirit of improvisation. The piece is unified by a twelve-note series, but Boulez develops it freely, and this brings about so many layers of material, and structures so rich, that they become almost impossible to assimilate.




Arthur Honegger (Swiss, b.1892, d.1955)


Romance (1952 or 53); International Music Company


In his book Arthur Honegger, Harry Halbreich writes that “Honegger was one of the first…to denounce the stupid irrelevance of identifying the level of dissonance with the level of modernity. He was neither a revolutionary nor a fossil, but he knew how to maintain the happy medium in a period characterized by excess and hysteria.” Honegger was a major figure in the unparalleled creative atmosphere of Paris in the early 20th century, but after his death his work was regarded as old-fashioned by many. With tonal music becoming popular once more, however, Honegger's music has gained renewed appreciation. Honegger himself observed: “A long chain links the old traditionalists to the most daring innovators. The latter noisily proclaim their contempt for the old masters in order to raise a bit of dust and cover up the shackles that are bruising their ankles.” Boulez, Honegger, and Messiaen admired each other despite their very different styles, and in fact, Boulez believes that “Honegger deserves our thanks for having given us the taste for adventure.” Like Messiaen, Honegger was a profoundly religious composer, and he speaks of “the magic, incantation, that sense of ceremony that should surround manifestations of art.” Ironically though, he was probably an agnostic, saying, “It is impossible to imagine eternity…the very fact that it escapes me prevents me from adhering to it.” Known as a man of common sense, humility, and tolerance, Honegger was at the height of his fame during World War II. He was honored by the French press as a “composer of the Resistance” because he spoke against the Nazis and chose to remain in his adopted home of France during the German Occupation. The Romance is probably Honegger's last composition, and it reflects his great affinity for the music of Fauré with its understated purity. In its poignancy it could serve as something of a prayer, or the summing up of a life.


Liner notes © Barbara Leibundguth 2001




All quotes used with the kind permission of the publishers.


Samuel, Claude: Olivier Messiaen: Music and Color (Amadeus Press, 1994)


Nelhybel, Vaclav: “The Talent is Here!” (They Talk About Music, vol. 2, Belwin/Mills Publishing Corporation, 1971)


Witt, Carl: “Common Ground: Working from the Gut” (Sounding Board, American Composers Forum, vol. 22, #7, July 1995)


Sceats, Godfrey: The Organ Works of Karg-Elert (C.F. Peters Corporation, New York on behalf of Hinrichsen Edition, London, 1950)


de Beer, Roland: “An Odour of Taboo” (Key Notes magazine #24, 1987)


Interview: Pierre Boulez: Conversations with Celestin Deliège (Eulenberg, 1976)


Halbreich, Harry: Arthur Honegger (Amadeus Press, 1999)




Barbara Leibundguth, flutist


Barbara Leibundguth is the Co-Principal Flutist of the Minnesota Orchestra, and since becoming a member in 1987 she has appeared as a soloist with the orchestra on several occasions. Previously she was Assistant Principal of the San Francisco Symphony and Principal of the Omaha Symphony and Opera/Omaha. She has also played guest principal flute with the Boston, Atlanta, and Houston Symphony Orchestras, and with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. A Chicago native, Leibundguth graduated from Northwestern University, and her major teachers were Walfrid Kujala and Donald Peck of the Chicago Symphony, Susan Levitin, and French flutist Marcel Moyse. She has performed as a chamber musician at the Marlboro, Blossom, and Grand Teton Festivals (the latter for eight seasons), and was featured on the Dame Myra Hess recital series in Chicago and on NPR's “Performance Today.” Leibundguth can be heard on Mosaic, a CD of flute, harp, and cello music, and as solo flutist with orchestras on the Telarc, Philips, and Virgin Classics labels. Leibundguth has performed with Carl Witt since 1994, and in 1996 she commissioned and premiered his Duo for Flute and Piano.




Carl Witt, composer/pianist


Carl Witt received his DMA from the Eastman School of Music, where he won the top composition award, the Howard Hanson Prize. Other honors include ASCAP awards, and grants and commissions from the Jerome Foundation, the American Composers Forum, and the Dayton-Hudson Foundation. Witt was the Co-Artistic Director of the contemporary music ensemble Zeitgeist, and has written extensively for dance theater. He was awarded both a McKnight Composer Fellowship and a Performing Artist Finalist prize in 1999, and as a pianist he has been heard on the nationally broadcast “Schickele Mix,” as well as in performances and recordings with members of the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Witt is a recipient of the 2000 Faith Partners Residency Award, working with a consortium of three diverse religious institutions in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Also in 2000, Witt released a solo piano CD of original, improvised music entitled Quiet Mind, and his 1999 flute concerto This Invisible World has received performances in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East.


Photos of Barbara Leibundguth: Kevin White


Photo of Carl Witt: Dani Werner




Acknowledgements and thanks to:


The Brannen-Cooper Fund: commissioning grant for the Witt Duo for Flute and Piano


The Upper Midwest Flute Association: commissioning grant for the Witt Duo


Maestro Pierre Boulez: coaching session on the Sonatine


The Minnesota Orchestral Association: the use of Orchestra Hall


Mrs. Dorothea Nelhybel: Nelhybel information


Dr. Paul G. Fisher: Nelhybel interview


Dr. Paul Klemme: Badings interview


Russ Borud:editing and mastering of recording


Fred Opie:additional master preparation














Barbara Leibundguth, flute


Carl Witt, piano




A collection of passionate and beautifully crafted works, featuring virtuoso counterpoint, radiant melodies, bracing intensity, jazz riffs, and gypsy flair: an intriguing and expansive view of the modern age.




Olivier Messiaen


1 Le Merle Noir (1952) [5:37]


Vaclav Nelhybel


Suite for Flute and Piano (1966)


2 1. Scherzoso [ 0:56]


Theme and two variations:


3 2. Cantabile [1:27]


4 2a. Allegretto [1:15]


5 2b. Quasi improvisando [1:54]


6 3. Leggiero marcato [1:14]


Carl Witt


7 Duo for Flute and Piano* (1996) [13:29]


Sigfrid Karg-Elert


8 Sinfonische Kanzone (1917) [10:47]


Henk Badings


9 Capriccio (1936) [5:31]


Pierre Boulez


10 Sonatine (1946) [13:01]


Arthur Honegger


11 Romance (1952 or 53) [3:15]


*premiere recording


Total playing time: 58:26


Recorded in Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, in 1997 and 2000


Producer: Steve Barnett • Engineer: Russ Borud


Barbara Leibundguth, Co-Principal Flutist of the Minnesota Orchestra:


“Inspired”- San Francisco Chronicle


“Bright, gleaming tone…evocative…both stylish and adroit”- Minneapolis Star-Tribune