de Stad is a Chamber Symphony in 6 parts, written by Oscar van Dillen in 2003.
The work was commissioned by the Museum Rotterdam (formerly Historical Museum Rotterdam), and realised thanks to the inspiring support of Prof. Dr. Paul van de Laar, the museum’s director and a visionary scientist with a warm heart for the Arts.
All works, the remastering, and the cover art of this album were created by Oscar van Dillen.
Release date for distribution is provisionally set after 18 August 2020.
Download the CD booklet HERE
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Originally released in a more surround sound type of mix, the time is ripe to now release a remastered version, much better suited for our present times and today’s streaming platforms used for listening. The composer himself has meticulously revised the original recordings, corrected and remastered these in his studio, and recreated a completely new take at his work with the help of the latest digital audio tools available.
The recording features Ensemble Gelber Klang, conducted by the composer:
- Thomas Reill – bass and contrabass clarinets
- Michael Peuser – bass trombone
- Merima Ključo – accordion
- Jürgen Kruse – grand piano
- Michael Kiedaisch – percussion
- Ulrike Storz – violin
- Marlene Svoboda – viola
- Scott Roller – violoncello
- Holger Philipsen – contrabass
- Oscar van Dillen – conductor
The composition de Stad (meaning the City, in Dutch) approaches the City as the very basis of Civilization, and muses about the musical as well as the several socio-historical and sometimes even the architectonical aspects this entails.
de Stad – the City
With the discovery/invention of agriculture some 12,000 years ago, the basis of human life as it had evolved since millions of years changed completely. This new method of providing food brought about a complete revolution in how humans survived and lived together, and it created a schism in the race: there are those who create and share freely, and those who protect and appropriate wealth. Next to farmers and artists/artisans a new and hierarchical caste of soldiers came into being, possibly at first to protect the farming area and the people populating it, but the latter caste eventually started to take power and rule. We humans became a divided and sedentary species, and are still frantically grappling with the consequences today.
We proudly refer to this period as the beginning of what we call civilization, today usually looking down on what we call mere cultures (in an anthropological sense) that existed before, and which are still said to exist alongside the so-called civilized world, in what are seen as “backward” areas. Civilization created a new type of society, based on the phenomenon of the City. Civilization is measured by its cities: where there is civilization, cities exist, where there are no cities, the people may have a culture but are basically regarded as uncivilized. The bigger its cities, the higher a civilization is considered to be. Such is the general consensus.
“What is a city? A city is people. A city is alive. It is a community which lives on a base of agriculture, so much richer than in a village, that it can afford to sustain every kind of craftsman and make him a specialist for a lifetime.”Jacob Bronowski
In our 21st century however it is becoming apparent that the bigger the cities, the more insurmountable their problems seem, and the less of these are actually resolved, often not even short-term any longer. Recent research shows that although cities have serious problems, they also offer the greatest opportunities, and surprisingly, the actual percentage of serious problems is often smaller the bigger the cities are: there are in general significant differences in our perception of the cities’ problems as compared to the actual problems. The city can therefore be regarded in both its aspects, on the one hand being both rich in opportunities, in mosaics of subcultures, containing a large variety of people, and on the other hand being rich in risks and dangers at the same time. All these considerations, as well as the City’s Janus Bifrons (or Dr. Jekyll – Mr. Hyde) aspects have been used in the music of de Stad.
De Stad uses a wealth of sounds and silences, so much so that listeners have been noted to ask if electronics were perhaps added? No, this is music fully written and performed live by musicians.
de Stad 1
In de Stad 1 the ensemble plays three “musics”, each with its own time signature of identical value but different structure, alternately telling episodes of its own story, adding to a developing common story, ending on a common chord all together at the end: the first time all 9 musicians play at the same time. The music is a searching for common ground, the 3 musics perhaps representing the trias politica, although since each has a different character, they are perhaps also various cultures seeking for ways to connect and merge. The City is the symbol for Civilization, which in itself is of a higher order than culture. Civilizations historically and presently always connect cultures into a higher coherence, and is by its very definition multi-cultural. Any movement away from multiculturalism therefore implies erosion of civilization.
The first music to appear is a soft music of high harmonics played by the trio of the higher strings; starting off with augmented chords, full of tension and with no inner root nor tonal centre to rest on, floating harmonies. This is perhaps the most ethereal of musics, its phrases gradually getting longer and more intricate, more melodic and more contrapuntal. This is also the music which in its transformed aspect has its last say before the common pianissimo closing chord.
The second music to appear is louder and has many accents, it is driven by a strong melodic and rhythmic character. Played by the quartet of contrabass, piano, accordion and percussion (various woodblocks), its phrases also develop gradually and get longer, and richer in expression.
The third music is very reflective, with long chords built of basic intervals, and with contrapuntally overlapping hoquet rhythms. It uses a wide range of dynamics including crescendi and diminuendi. It is played by the trio of bass clarinet, bass trombone and violoncello. These play a music consisting of two duos, the winds on the one hand and the intervallic part, a kind of internal dialogue, of the violoncello. The length of its phrases develops but also varies between short and longer; after its sixth, longer, phrase, there is a first new connection between instrument groups, connecting this music to the ethereal music of the harmonics, to which is added the piano while the accordion lengthens the piano’s sustain beyond normal durations, a technique the composer calls postsonance.
Although this part of de Stad is set to one tempo, each music has its very own structure and flow, feeling like several tempi rather.
de Stad 2
The second part of de Stad is the Chamber Symphony’s longest part, at 13 minutes. It is in fact a mini symphony all by itself, with three connected parts, slow-fast-slow. In the first and last part, the duo piano-accordion opens and closes the movement, first by use of postsonance and finally by a mirrored counterpoint duet. Three tempi have been indicated, but the first and the last are virtually similar, though counted, and musically felt, differently. The middle part is set to the very fast 168 bpm, whereas 72 and 144 bpm feature in the first and last parts respectively.
After an opening with loud block chords in the piano, of which the sustain is as before lengthened by the accordion, the strings take over and play together with the accordion. The string quartet violin, viola, cello and bass play only open strings, first sul ponticello and later col legno tratto, invoking something like the sound of an orchestra tuning before a concert. When the piano finishes this section in a small solo playing two part melodies, suddenly the fast music starts, the strings, in a presto 3/4, intersected with open strings hoquet sections alternated with a polyrhythmic piano section. The city, so to say, has come to life, there are many hints at various music styles outside classical music (seemingly Stravinskyan orchestral accents but using rhythmic patterns more related to Afro-Cuban music). References can be heard to jazz (bass trombone solo) , to pop (piano and bass sections) and to world and folk music (rhythmical open strings hoquets, as well as the ending section with piano accordion duo), as Ulrich Dibelius explicitly noted in his article in Musik Texte from May 2008.
de Stad 3
Conceived as a Requiem this is the slowest music possible perhaps. The unique tempo indication gives for the whole note the symbolic tempo 33 bpm, but this is a tempo which in music is practically impossible to maintain, because it is outside the living human heart beat range, and has to be counted at the double 66. The composer says “the only musically meaningful absolute ear is the one that perceives perfect tempo, not perfect pitch”.
The music for the low string trio is notated in what looks like Renaissance white mensural notation, playing an imagined Chorale avant-la-lettre. The complicated enharmonic notation uses double flats, intending pure intonation, and the microtonal tensions that result in performance and recording are intentional, as are the overtones heard as a result of the special mutes used by the strings. At the end of the chorale’s first appearance, the ambient sound of a very soft large concert bass drum evokes a funeral march, though impossibly slow. The low string trio viola, cello and bass now change from the metallic night sordinos to the normal lighter sordinos to play the chorale yet again. This time a second layer is added, mostly in the high register, using piano, and later bowed crotales and violin. The piano part here sounds calm and relatively simple but is rather tricky to play, as it invokes bell-like timbres by uncommon positions and counterpoint. The effect of the sustain pedal for the piano chords has been carefully measured and notated, and as a consequence the releasing of the sustain pedal can be clearly heard more than once by the attentive listener.
de Stad 4
After perhaps the slowest conceivable music, the third part uses perhaps the longest conceivable melody, 101 bars length, at a medium tempo, employing chromatic modal tone material based on F (second F below central C). The modulations used here are literally the originally intended change of mode, of scale, as the original Medieval theorists perceived them. The time signature is double ternary, a 9/8 consisting of three beats, each with three parts in them, which becomes audible gradually as the music plays.
The melody is played by the bass trombone, doubled an octave lower (!) by the contrabass clarinet, a very rare and special instrument, lowest of the largest family within the woodwind instruments. Meanwhile contrabass (pizzicato) and marimba (later adding tenor and log drums) join in, creating a light accompaniment to a low and heavy melody, using rhythmical patterns reminiscent of West-African music. After exploring the modal field, the melody overreaches the octave, by 1, 3, and 2 semitones, continuing to explore the depths. Counterpoint theory traditionally teaches how to use high points in melodies and how important they are. Less is known (and hence taught) about low points. In a music seeking applause and appraisal they are rare nor treated with care if they appear at all. Yet this melody now searches for the depths with these low wind instruments. Semitone by semitone a new lower point is marked out to find a whole octave below the already very low basic F.
The melody then climbs back up to its highest point at the last tone, and ends in bar 101, a very long melody indeed. Now the melody is being used in a contrapuntal way, acting as a subject for a 2 part fugue-like structure, in which the strings will play the second part. Meanwhile the other instruments join in one by one, gradually expanding the palette to full score. As befits a piece seeking for a low point, the composition ends on a quasi anticlimactic soft chord, in gesture similar to the ending chord of de Stad 1, but differently used. Here it is as if the composer went in to the sound listening ever deeper, exploring the sound in all its details, but then finally returning to a more modest reality, like a scientist absorbed in viewing life through a microscope, totally fascinated, ever discerning more detail, but eventually looking up and being back in his room. No applause.
de Stad 5
In one of his films, the Italian film director Fellini shows a catholic procession with a very richly dressed and decorated Mary idol, passing through the streets of an Italian town. Fellini keeps on filming as they pass by and then for quite some time clearly shows the backside of the statuette to the film audience, a part that was always there but nobody noticed: seemingly uninteresting carpentry to keep the image from falling, clumsy patchwork to keep the mantle in place etcetera. It is this other side, the backside of things, that de Stad 5 is all about. Visually one can also think of a nocturnal City. Shapes and forms slip and sneak through the night, hardly identifiable yet part of the whole as well, and these can hardly exist outside.
Though the backside of the instruments is not literally used, all instruments are employed in unusual ways, with special sounds and techniques. Such techniques are not uncommon in the 20th century repertoire, however these are seldom used in a way the audience can actually check if the musicians are playing correctly or are perhaps mistakes being made. Here all sounds used are very tightly composed together, one can perceive what follows what and how the sounds merge. The fast tempo of 144bpm throughout supports the sense of suspense created by the repetitive phrases in more abstract sounds.
de Stad 6
The final part returns to the fast tempo of 168bpm and uses a minimalist repetitive style of music, with very virtuoso play. “Silence is as important to music as is sound” is something we can hear in the pauses used, these are all different stops we hear. By law of exception they even emphasize the rule of the fast music. The piano plays ever lengthening pickup phrases, of which the very fast bass lines were inspired by Lennie Tristano’s use of recording to transform the sound in Line Up. These phrases introduce stable chords played by fast arpeggio’s. The percussion is used again for all it can do: producing accents, drive but also complex tones and sounds, with bowed crotales and special gongs along with a shaker playing unisono with the piano, which requires the utmost precision of timing. The music includes many partial and full stops, a hallmark to be found in many of the composer’s works.
Layer by layer the music is exposed to the ear, by creating gaps in the structure, and thus the duo piano violin exposes the second polyrhythmic layer of triplets, until the music finally stops at its loudest moment.
OIJ Records 001 – Donemus DCV 280