Moscow composer Vyacheslav Artyomov, born 1940, was quite marginalized in the 1960s USSR official music scene, as he did not adhere to the so-called Soviet avantgarde, and rejected traditional music forms like symphony and sonata. He had collected a considerable amount of Russian folk instruments from the Caucasus, Georgia and Northern and Eastern Russia, and in his compositions from the mid-1960s to the mid-70s, he was looking for a fantasized, idealistic folk music where spirituality prevailed over allegiance to the Communist regime. In 1975, he founded the Astreya trio with Sofia Gubaidulina and Viktor Suslin, occasionally joined by Mark Pekarsky and Valentina Ponomareva during some improvisation sessions. Astreya’s improvised music made extensive use of Artyomov’s collection of unusual folk instruments – see post-scriptum below. In the mid-1980s, Artyomov’s music incorporated classical forms (requiem, elegy, Ave Maria) and an overtly religious dimension. See detailed bio here.
♫ This immaculate disc pairs two of Artyomov’s compositions from 1978 and 1983, a period when he was blacklisted by the Union of Composers for organizing unauthorized concert performances of his own music. The saxophone, harpsichord and piano trio playing the rather cheerful 1st short movement of Hymns of Sudden Wafts actually seems to come from nowhere, but the atmosphere radically changes in the 2nd part, which is rather slow, meditative and mostly based on resonances and sustained notes from saxophone and piano. While close to Morton Feldman, the music definitely retains more mystery and magic, and often sounds like written for a secret ceremony of some kind or another.
The highly restrained Sonata of Meditations is composed for a percussionists quartet and includes glockenspiel, vibraphone, triangle, gongs, timpani and drums. A palpable Neopagan atmosphere prevails throughout the work, yet the music remains fairly minimal. If this is any indication, the 4 movements’ titles are inspired by Indian raga music (morning raga, evening raga, etc). Though the array of percussion recalls Morton Feldman’s The King of Denmark, 1964, the Sonata‘s sparse music is more in the style of The Viola in My Life, 1970, or For Frank O’Hara, 1973. Artyomov described what he intented with Sonata of Meditations as “the melodization of the percussion instruments” (quoted in Valeria Tsenova‘s Underground Music from the Former USSR, published 1994-96). Sonata of Meditations uses percussion instruments in a kind of spiritual quest, and tends to avoid demonstration, rhythm or noise. It is interesting to compare it with Sofia Gubaidulina’s recent percussion symphony titled Glorious Percussion, composed 2008. A live recording was posted on the StateWork blog last November 2010.
Hymns of Sudden Wafts (1983)
01 Part 1 (3:06)
02 Part 2 (23:12)
Sonata of Meditations (1978)
03 Morning Meditation (8:07)
04 Afternoon Meditation (5:22)
05 Evening Meditation (9:56)
06 Midnight Meditation (5:02)
Igor Abramov, soprano & tenor saxophone
Alexei Semyonov, harpsichord
Yuri Smirnov, piano
Mikhail Arshinov, percussion
Valeri Groshev, percussion
Evgeni Vishnyadov, percussion
Nikolai Lgovsky, percussion
Mark Pekarsky, conductor
Total time 54:45
LP released by Russian Disc, Russia, 1991
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Post-scriptum on the birth of Astreya:
Artyomov, an enthusiastic drummer, went on a number of folkloristic excursions to Central Asia and the Transcaucasus and always returned with a small collection of folk instruments. A visit to his studio apartment in Fili, at the southwestern outskirts of the city, was therefore always delightful. Besides a variety of drums and a few “civilized” instruments, Artyomow owned an Uzbek-Tadzhik dutar (a two-string instrument with a pear-shaped body and a long neck made of mulberry wood), a panduri and a chonguri (plucked instruments from Gruziia, or Georgia), an Armenian kanon (a large, zither-like instrument), as well as a few salmuri (whistle flutes from Gruziia). It was fascinating to touch or blow these instruments ever so softly, to hear their strange sounds, and to sense their fine acoustic qualities. One fall day in 1975, Artyomov, Gubaidulina and Victor Suslin happened to sit on the floor improvising together, but within the next few months this casual event turned into a serious improvisation and research project […]. These three composers longed for something closer to life and played with instruments not commonly used in traditional orchestra.
From Michael Kurtz, Sofia Gubaidulina, A Biography,
Indiana University Press, 2001.