Intermodulation Ensemble, Tomkins Vocal Ensemble, László Tihanyi, Béla Faragó + Béla Faragó: 353 days – “Mass”

BMCCD023 1999

The duration of life on earth is measured differently by everyone. Compared to the mammoth tree, which measures time in thousands of years, the giant green turtle with its 150-200 years seems but a child. And what does a beetle feel, that lives no more than a couple of days, or perhaps a few moments only? Everything is relative therefore, and this is of no importance, for some things are Eternal. And there is one who lived only 353 days, that was all the time he spent with us. I dedicate this mass to Him, and to those who were likewise granted so short a stay on this Earth.

Béla Faragó


Intermodulation Ensemble (1-7)
Conducted by László Tihanyi (1-7)
Tomkins Vocal Ensemble (1-7)
Béla Faragó - piano (8, 9-12)
László Simai - trumpet (8)
Gellért Tihanyi - clarinet, bass clarinet (9-12)

About the album

Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Hungary
Recording producer: Ibolya Tóth
Balance engineer: János Bohus
Digital editing: Veronika Vincze, Mária Falvay
Recorded at the Hungarian Radio.
Recording producer: Péter Aczél
Balance engineer: Károly Horváth

Design: ArtHiTech

Produced by László Gőz


Piano Wereld (dutch)

Széphegyi Arnold - Café Momus (hu)

3500 HUF 11 EUR

Béla Faragó: 353 days – “Mass”

01 I. Kyrie 4:43
02 II. Gloria 2:19
03 III. Credo 2:20
04 Crucifixus 2:43
05 IV. Sanctus 2:15
06 Benedictus 2:03
07 V. Agnus Dei 3:11

Béla Faragó:

08 Epitaph 2:00

Béla Faragó: Gregor Samsa's desires

09 I. Gregor Samsa's desires 7:51
10 II. Grete and Gregor 3:58
11 III. Gregor's Dream 3:49
12 IV. “Good Morning, Mr. Samsa!” 5:54
Total time 43:04

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353 days – “Mass” (1995)

Both the number of musicians and the length of the piece were limited, and in addition I learned I would have no choir at my disposal - nevertheless, I was resolved to compose a mass. Consequently, I set my work in a period - at this point in time, perhaps not so difficult to imagine - when!where the human voice is no longer suitable for singing, or perhaps has simply passed into oblivion, and music (if it exists at all) is provided by machines, automatons. Some instruments, mechanical devices that can be sounded, still remain however - and the desire of the people assembled in the wilderness, who, having lost that other, ethereal world for ever, still yearn to be able to address it at least. That is the mass - and this is that music.

It was self-evident that I would assign the words to the instrumentalists whose representation of the concept - given that they were not singers - would be authentic. After thinking over how much the human voice was capable of, besides singing - potentialities unexploited by composers, particularly in masses, particularly during the last thousand years - I asked myself whether it was not a “sacrilegious” idea to have the words of the mass whispered, shouted, spoken in the form of rhythmical speech, a quasi-melodic declamation, recitation similar to sprachgesang, even using whistling? The answer was of course negative in so far as we accept the notion that the phonetic form of the word, the phoneme in itself is capable of expressing true meaning - the essence of the image it evokes in us. This is doubly true in the case of holy texts, prayers and mantras.

My main object and starting point was therefore to serve the Latin text in the sense of creating dramatic music by taking the phonetic form of the words as a basis, by recognizing and displaying the characteristics, the duration of the phoneme. This means that both the sounding of the words and the mode of orchestration - the choice of instruments and timbres - would be adapted to the phonetic form of the words. With this decision made, I did not need to rack my brains about how to mark out the individual movements - the text did this for me. At the same time I was given another, equally important device: in a musical environment, the spoken text can be very dramatic. To say nothing of how suggestive it is - because of being so unusual - to hear instrumentalists speak.

The next question to be resolved was the length of the text: I did not want to have the whole mass recited in the given space of time. I settled on the technique of fragmenting, which was not far removed from the spirit of the piece. (This fragmentedness is the reason for the quotation marks in the title.) Certain parts of the text in this way became damaged, but in these places the music and musical metacommunication attempts - where it is possible - “to speak” in the most intelligible way.

It is evident that the presence of a number: 353 in the title will influence form, content and orchestration. The composition consists of five movements, and eleven musicians (the total of 3+5+3) are needed to perform it, including the conductor. I divided the instruments in the spirit of the Holy Trinity into groups of three woodwinds, three brasses, three strings and one percussionist. Taking a closer look at the groups of instruments it becomes clear that this unusual grouping is suited to produce a balanced sound-image (four high-, four low-, and one medium-pitched instrument - plus the percussions.

Woodwinds Brasses Strings
oboe (high) trumpet 1. (high) viola (medium)
clarinet (high) trumpet 2. (high) double bass 1. (low)
bassoon (low) trombone (low) double bass 2. (low)

The program contained in the title, the content elements of the “magic number” have bearing primarily upon the consonance and the structure of notes.

As a basic approach:
3 = minor- and major third
5 = perfect fifth / diminished fifth (tritone)/augmented fifth = enharmonic minor sixth
3+3+5 = minor- and major sixth (minor sixth = enharmonic augmented fifth) at the same time sixth stands for the inversion of the third interval
3+5 = 8 = perfect octave, etc.

In this way, when combining the notes, I could use a system that was very much to my liking: “whatever” I did, the use of fifths, thirds and octaves made possible a balanced acoustic structure. By piling up thirds I acquired third and fifth chords of different character (major, minor, diminished, augmented), inverting them, further combinations became possible. By playing the notes of the chords separately, I created various melodies and melody-fragments, and by repeating these, using for example a canon structure, new chords were born.

In the Kyrie movement, I was guided by the triple phrasing of the text. The movement opens on a low note, with the bass drum and the choir whispering the words (Kyrie eleison...) in varied rhythm, using throat notes and with emphasis on the consonants 'k' and 'r'. The words addressed to Christ (Christe eleison...), more personal, rendered like a recitation, are divided among the three groups of instrumentalists using the hoquetus-technique, and accompanied by the cymbals imitating the 'ste' syllable of Christe. Then the whispered Kyrie eleison accompanied by drums returns three times, diminished (in a faster tempo), each time given to a different group of instrumentalists.

The next, instrumental part of the movement opens with the slow, descending unisono sigh of the choir (Kyrie eleison...) After the forte entry of the instruments, the homophone chords quickly fade away and are replaced by a canon - later a double canon - created by breaking up a major/minor third chord, accompanied by the broad melody of the trumpets (“the sunshine”) moving back and forth between thirds and fifths. In the instrumental part of Christe eleison, accompanying the staccato of the high-pitched woodwinds and the spoken passages, the canon of the viola and the later entering bassoon (made up of augmented and/or diminished third-chords) can be heard. Finally, after recalling one bar of the canon from the instrumental Kyrie section, the movement closes with the Kyrie eleison sigh of the choir.

There is only one chord in the Gloria movement. The idea behind this came from the slightly “bubbling” sound of the 'glo' syllable. In order to demonstrate this suitably, the choir divides the words into syllables, and correspondingly, the orchestral parts, divided into pairs, keep repeating the note they began the movement with. The speed of repetition varies with each pair - in the polymetric texture thus created, proceeding downwards from the percussion part (crotal) which plays the top of the chord, the length of the notes increase. The order of entry follows this same, descending course, each section closed by the slower, low-pitched instruments symbolizing the earthly fate of celestial thoughts. Conversely, the words of the choir (Gloria in excelsis Deo) ascend towards the peak of “Pax”, so that, after the closing cry of “Glo-ri-a“ following the somewhat quieter part of “et in terra...hominibus bonae voluntatis”, the “celestial” repetition of the crotal can rise one note higher.

Credo is the central point of the mass, the movement that is most personal in tone, written in the first person singular as it were. It is the only part of the mass in which we hear a soloist singer in the traditional meaning of the word. The confession of faith heard in the Gregorian intonation (Credo in unum Deum) is continued in the oboe part. The melody of the words “unum Deum”, a minor third surrounded diatonically by a perfect fifth (3 in 5!) is perfection itself.

This melody (= faith) is built, elaborated by the intimate melody in 3/4 of the oboe, made up of expanding intervals. This is repeated four notes lower down in the bars of the bassoon in 5/4, accompanied by the chromatic counter-part (= doubt) made up of long notes played by the high-pitched woodwinds.

The next part is that of the viola playing the extended version of the Credo melody opening with fifths and stretching the intervals even further. The two counter-parts join in, proceeding in fourths and in mirror-inversion. At the central point of the movement the 1st trumpet enters in 4/4 with the motif-repeating variation of the original oboe melody transposed by third, and the diminished variation of the same melody played a fifth lower by the 2nd trumpet. (This time the fourth moves of the counter-parts are heard as a canon.) The chromatic trumpet-viola part (doubt) returns, enclosing the dull, thump-like fifths of the double bass. Finally, in the last section, a “synthesis” is created: the clarinet plays a crab-mirror inversion of the phrases of the original oboe melody, this is imitated by the bassoon in fifth moves, and as the last notes of this texture are sounded, the oboe enters with the Credo leading theme, together with the crotal echo accompanied by a viola-pizzicato.

Crucifixus is an independent movement within the Credo, of shame, indignation and despair (“the fading of the sun”). Of the chords formed according to the 3-5-3 principle, the most complicated are to be found here. The sentence spoken by the choir (Crucifixus etiam pro nobis) repeated five times, increasingly loud and ending on a cry, is followed by the canon (later double canon) melody played by the low-pitched instruments made up of thirds, and subsequently by the cold chords of the woodwinds proceeding slowly above them. The held notes grow louder and higher until at the culminating point they give way to the almost unpleasant squeal of the held, high-pitched minor third (e3-g3) of the oboe and the clarinet remaining in the company the double bass 'E'. With this background the words sung by the Gregorian soloist to the melody of the Credo ( expecto resurrectionem mortuorum et vitam venturi saeculi, Amen) are a solace.

The Sanctus movement belongs to the winds, the most important role is given to the brasses. They have the two treble parts of the “choral” for four parts in 5/4 made up of fifth parallels in conrary motion, interrupted at times by the recitation of the choir and the percussion (3/4). In the interlude following the rhythmic first recitation (Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth) the orchestration changes: the melody played by the trumpets and the bassoon-trombone, moving parallel in dotted minims will serve as the counter-part to that of the high-pitched woodwinds, first ascending in fourths, then descending (more slowly, and with longer held notes) in fifths. The second recitation of the text (quasi as a trio) is dominated by the long 's' sounds of the choir accompanied by the cymbals, sounding above the freeze-framed “choral” of the muted brasses and bassoon.

The fourteen bars of Hosanna, with its quick rhythm continues the fifth parallels of Sanctus with the difference that here the six wind instruments are divided into three pairs, the double bass moves in octave and the viola in thirds by way of complementing it. After the instrumental part - similarly to the sentences of Crucifixus - the text (Hosanna in excelsis) is spoken “a capella”, but is moderate in length, befitting the shortness of the movement.

The peaceful devoutness of Benedictus is ensured by the softly, but rhythmically chanted, finely tenuto recitation of the text (Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini), full of pathos, the lines of the phrases inflected slightly downwards. The wind instruments rest while the eight-bar, flautato sequence of chords of the strings, repeated several times, is accompanied by held, whistled notes. In the meanwhile we hear the pizzicato solo of the double bass, abounding in fifth leaps, representing the passing of time.

The closing movement, Agnus Dei, opens with the augmented third chord fragmentation of the viola part, with the high-pitched woodwinds accompanying it, descending in seconds. This theme returns several times, in several forms, arrangements and transpositions, alternating with the high-pitched oboe-clarinet crotal, made up of minor seconds moving back and forth, and the recitation of the choir (Agnus Dei...) In the course of this the ten independent parts that make up the canon-text merge into five, then three parts, until, as the choir reaches the last word of Dona nobis pacem, they finally fuse into a single part and the word is sung unisono. When this happens, the trends are reversed, the tendency to descend is replaced by a tendency to ascend. To the chord-fragmented double bass canon motif familiar from the Kyrie movement (A flat major / f minor) is added the ascending theme of the woodwinds, coming to optimistic rest in the closing second inversion of the F major chord, which, together with the double bass- pizzicato F accompanied by a soft beat of the bass drum marks the conclusion of the movement and of the piece itself.

Epitaph (1983)

The two-minute-long composition is the ninth in my series Musica Ficta. However, it is often performed as an independent concert piece. The acceptance of death and pain are both present here. The former is obvious in the objective synchrony of the dominant and subdominant mantra-like chords, blending into each other above the continuously repeated tonic organ-point in the length of 4- ,5-, 6-, 7/4 lengths. In the case of latter, the doggedly repeated ornamentation (launched from e2) of the arced melody of the muted trumpet is used to deny the unacceptable, against which resignation is the sole remaining weapon.

Gregor Samsa's Desires (1987-91)

This four-movement composition, requiring considerable instrumental skills, was written at the request of clarinetist Gellért Tihanyi. The title refers to the principal figure of Franz Kafka's narrative entitled Metamorphoses. “One morning when waking up from his troubled sleep, he found himself in his bed metamorphosed into a miserable worm.” This extraordinary form of existence inspired me to write the piece, which is based on the individual timbres and unique sounds of the bass clarinet and clarinet.

I. Gregor Samsa's Desires (bass clarinet - piano)
After the short chordal introduction, the eighth moves of the piano part starts the movement, reminiscent of a sonata form, the themes of which go round the f- and b flat minor keys, evolving from each other. At the end of the movement the notes of Gregor Samsa are sounded by the bass clarinet.

II. Grete and Gregor (clarinet - piano)
The music of a brother and sister, man and woman. It is a variational rondo, in which clarinet and piano move along with minimal rhythmic- and note sliding, meeting for a moment at the end of the movement.

III. Gregor's Dream (bass clarinet - piano)
It is a piece of music that develops and changes almost imperceptibly, evolving towards improvisation, in which the high-pitched scale passages and the excessive leaps of the clarinet represent a nightmare for the performer as well.

IV. “Good Morning, Mr. Samsa!” (clarinet - piano)
A movement proceeding from the slower forms of motion towards the faster ones, suggesting a certain kind of optimism but at the same time, with the increase of the number of notes, a feeling of inevitable helplessness and inertia overwhelms us. This feeling is further strengthened by the fading away of the Coda, sounded in half tempo in comparison to the antecedens. At the very end the perfect fifth (B flat - f) is sounded twice fortissimo, as if Gregor were gathering all his strength to say: “Don't give up!”

Béla Faragó

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