Canadian born, U.S. composer Colin McPhee (1900-1964) studied music and composition in Canada before traveling to France to study with Paul Le Flem in Paris (1924-26) and relocated to New York to study with Edgard Varèse, a.o. McPhee lived in Bali from 1931 to 1935 with his then wife, anthropologist Jane Belo, where he immersed himself in the island’s musical world and conducted extensive research on vernacular music. He later wrote an influential book on this experience, A House in Bali, 1946, published 1964. Of the many 20th century composers inspired by gamelan, from Debussy to Benjamin Britten to Lou Harrison, McPhee was the first to get a first hand experience of how the music sounded in situ.
Below, a silent film shot by Colin McPhee in Bali:
When he composed Tabuh-Tabuhan in 1936, for orchestra and percussion inspired by Gamelan music, McPhee was living in Mexico. The piece was premiered by Carlos Chavez and the National Orchestra of Mexico City that same year, but a U.S. premiere only occurred in 1953 at Carnegie Hall, thanks to conductor Leopold Stokowski. A record ensued in 1956, the present Mercury MG-50103 (not to be confused with the Roger Sessions: The Black Maskers, c/w Colin McPhee: Tabuh-Tabuhan LP, Mercury, ref. SR 90103). Tabuh-Tabuhan‘s first and last movements are based on repetitive motifs on percussion, mostly played on piano, celesta, xylophone, marimba and glockenspiel. The enchanting, dreamy central movement incorporates a flute melody heard in Bali. You can hear an excerpt from a 1998 version of the piece on Acousmata. Fellow blogger Pliable did a comprehensive post on McPhee and Bali in 2007.
Based on the Greek myth of Theseus in the Labyrinth, Elliott Carter‘s The Minotaur is the incidental music to a ballet conceived in collaboration with George Balanchine, premiered in 1947 in New York by the Ballet Society, with Leon Barzin conducting. Elliott Carter (born 1908) later wrote a version of the score for two pianos which was published in 1956. On this LP, a few sections from The Minotaur‘s original orchestral score were set aside to accommodate with the LP side length’s limitations. The Minotaur belongs to Carter’s early compositions, after he studied with, among others, Walter Piston in the US and Nadia Boulanger in France, 1932-35. In 1947, his style was still under the influence of Igor Stravinsky and Medieval music. Horns, strings and percussion are used to convey an atmosphere of tragedy, speed and anxiety, as befits a play about murder, bereavement and pain.
Colin McPhee – Tabu-Tabuhan (1936)
01 Ostinatos (6:31)
02 Nocturne (5:13)
03 Finale (5:04)
Elliott Carter – The Minotaur (1947)
04 The Minotaur – Suite from the Ballet (26:25)
The Eastman-Rochester symphony orchestra
Howard Hanson, conductor
Total time 43:13
LP released by Mercury, ref. MG-50103, USA, 1956