James MacDonald – Pieces for Solo Horn

James MacDonald - Pieces for Solo Horn LP front cover
James MacDonald - Pieces for Solo Horn LP back cover
James MacDonald - Pieces for Solo Horn LP side 1

Canadian French horn player James Mac Donald, born 1945, was educated in Ontario and Europe. A York University teacher, he is also a member of various symphonic and chamber ensembles (see Canadian Encyclopedia entry). In the 1970s, Mac Donald commissioned several pieces for horn and electronic or tape by international composers, like Barry Truax’ Aerial, 1979, or Hildegard Westerkamp’s Fantaisie for Horns I & II, for horn and tape, 1979 (listen here), as well as works by Norma Beecroft or David Keane. Several of these pieces are gathered on this Music Gallery LP. Mac Donald also played or composed for film, television and radio broadcasts. He’s the organizer of the International Horn Day 2012 at York University, to be held on February 10, 2012.

♫ The disc starts with Monty Floyd’s wonderful elegy for horn and piano inspired by blues music and brass bands, but also reminiscent of Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Springs – yet, the result is more minimal than these references would imply. Monody, by Finnish composer Jarmo Sermila, is a colorful dialog between varied percussion instruments and horn. In Canadian composer Harry Freedman‘s Mono, the use of extended techniques (open and close horn, valve manipulation and knocking with a ring on the instrument) expands the horn’s range for a music which is both authoritative and exploratory in style.

The B-side brings in more electronics and electroacoustic sound treatment by experimental music composers. Pairing field recordings, electronic sounds and tape effects, Barry Truax‘ composition is more akin to a sound environment of which the horn is only one constituent. The unmissable addition of echo effect and ring modulation on New Zealand composer John Rimmer‘s Extro Intro brings echoes of European avantgarde (think Stockhausen), but the horn’s timbre eventually survives the radical treatment. A member of the Canadian Electronic Ensemble, James Montgomery devised an elaborate set up of effect pedals and synthesizers to be played and triggered by two horn players. The piece has some touching moments despite this complex configuration.

  1. Monty FloydBlues, 1977 (5:27)
    Monica Gaylord, piano
  2. Jarmo SermilaMonody, 1975 (7:12)
    Russel Hartenberger, percussion
  3. Harry FreedmanMono, 1977 (7:28)
  4. Barry TruaxSonic Landscape #1, 1970 (5:02)
    Barry Truax, tape
  5. John RimmerExtro Intro, 1977 (9:33)
    John Rimmer, amplification, echo & ring modulation
  6. James MontgomeryChaser, 1978  (8:42)
    James Montgomery, French horn, tape, random voltage generator, percussion

Total time 43:24
LP released by Music Gallery Editions, ref. MGE 21, Toronto, Canada, 1979

Download option 1

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7 Responses to “James MacDonald – Pieces for Solo Horn”

  1. 1 Rainer February 4, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Thanks Continuo,

    I seem to recall that you’re a fan of Andrés Lewin-Richter. Don’t suppose you could post his ‘Musica Electroacustica’? I needn’t tell you, that would make my day… Cheers, Rainer

  2. 2 continuo February 4, 2012 at 8:51 am

    Hi, Rainer. I don’t have this record and I’m not that familiar with Lewin-Richter either.

  3. 3 alfred venison February 13, 2012 at 5:40 am

    dear friend
    thanks for this “artifact” from a bygone avant-garde golden era – the music, from your review, sounds really intriguing and i’m looking forward to hearing it soon.
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  4. 4 continuo February 13, 2012 at 8:29 am

    Hope you’ll enjoy the music, Alfred. Thanks for your comment.

  5. 5 alfred venison March 6, 2012 at 9:29 am

    dear continuo
    i did enjoy the music very much, thank you. i’ll enjoy it again sometime in the future, too. and i must say that cover is a sheer pleasure in its self, isn’t it?
    yours sincerely
    alfred venison

  6. 6 Jon May 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Hi — Jon from switchedout.blogspot here. Thanks SO much for this post! Been wanting to hear this John Rimmer piece — have been trying to find this LP! I may use his work on a compilation at some point. Your site is amazing — keep up the good work.

  7. 7 continuo May 3, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Hi, Jon. More John Rimmer can be found on your blog, along many other jewels by New Zealand composers. Thanks for your kind words.

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