Wolfgang von Schweinitz: Plainsound String Trio ‘KLANG auf Schön Berg La Monte Young’
Goeyvaerts String Trio
Louth Contemporary Music Society LCMS 1903
Imagine a slab of gold, gleaming faintly with reflected light from some unseen source in what is otherwise total darkness. It floats there, yet is solid. It is solid, but nevertheless alive with movement: turning a little, having slow oscillations pass through it, and quicker tremblings.
Perhaps this is something like the experience of listening to Wolfgang von Schweinitz’s string trio, in which chords very gradually turn into other chords through a span of almost three-quarters of an hour, the instruments moving and sliding individually into place. Just intonation rules (‘plainsound’ is the composer’s term), and as an instrument reaches its goal there may be beats, quickening to a standstill. The gentler backward-forward motion of chords comes from how the piece proceeds, as if rocking on its feet as it prepares the next steady step. It also has twin supports in the two composers mentioned in its title: Schoenberg for the harmonic progression, taken from an example in his Structural Functions of Harmony, and La Monte Young for the slowness, the tuning and the glow.
One effect of the deceleration is to release modal flickers from Schoenberg’s exercise, and for that reason – as also for the sustained aura somewhere between melancholy and exaltation – the piece could be placed alongside a mass by Guillaume Dufay.
To quote the sleeve note: ‘There are moments of great calm, of sudden beauty, of agitation, of distress, of startlement, all in a place like nowhere else.’