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Four Pentagrams; Paeans; Granites; Prophetic Rite

Reviewed by Robert Reigle

1-20. Four Pentagrams (1924-26, revised 1971-74)
21-23. Paeans (1927)
24-28. Granites (1929)
29. Prophetic Rite (circa 1934)

Ron Squibbs, Steinway D piano

Aucourant Records, Aurec-1302
Published 2013
Total time 79:38

Dane Rudhyar (1895-1985), one of the most unjustly neglected composers, may finally be getting his due.  Acknowledgment of his work seems to be growing: a couple of excellent websites offer most of his published writings on music along with some wonderful recordings, and Deniz Ertan has published the first book, other than Rudhyar’s own, about his music, ideas, and art (University of Rochester Press, 2009).  During the last century, only a handful of recordings of Dane Rudhyar’s music appeared, but the new millennium has already seen fine recordings by Richard Cameron-Wolfe (Furious Artisans, in 2003), Steffen Schleiermacher (Hat Art, 2004; MDG, 2005), and Richard Zimdars (Albany, 2009).  Now comes the world-premiere recording of “Four Pentagrams,” composed in 1924-26 and revised in 1971-74.  Originally released in 2009 with one less piece, this 2013 reissue adds another world premiere, “Prophetic Rite” (written circa 1934).  

What splendid music!  Free-flowing, clusters, ritualistic, repeated notes, floating tones free from Eurogenetic common-practice major-minor system, mystical, unique, contemplative, emotional.  Rudhyar’s music sounds like nobody else’s, and yet some of the sounds demonstrate an ethos that overlaps that of free-thinkers like Edgard Varese and Henry Cowell.  At age 18, Durand published Rudhyar’s book about Debussy, though they did not include the mystical section of his manuscript.  Rudhyar has influenced a number of composers, in both the United States and Europe. 

In his dissertation on Giacinto Scelsi, Gregory Reish demonstrated the profound influence Rudhyar had on Scelsi.  Both composers delved into the inner components of tone.  One of the vehicles for those explorations was the idea of bells and gongs, whose sounds are very complex.  In each of the “Pentagrams” and in “Paeans,” as pointed out in the liner notes by pianist/scholar Ron Squibbs, Rudhyar evokes these inharmonic sounds.  Likewise, Scelsi does so in his piano compositions and first string quartet.  Of course, many composers have imitated bell sounds with instruments such as the piano, and Charles Ives called for actual “distant church bells” to be played at the very end of his third symphony (which can be heard in Harold Farberman’s recording on Vanguard). 

What is unique about Rudhyar’s approach is his profound understanding of tone.  Although completely unremarked in the literature on “spectral music” (a term coined in the mid 1970s), it was Dane Rudhyar who had composed the very first spectral score, notating specific overtones as early as 1922, for the first time in the history of score-writing!  The Musical Quarterly published it in that year as an unpaginated foldout accompanying his article “The Relativity of Our Musical Conceptions.”

The four “Pentagrams” make a complete suite, lasting 56 minutes, whose individual components gain meaning and power when heard together.  While these are the first recordings of “Pentagrams I, II, and IV,” the “Third Pentagram” has been recorded three times before, by Michael Sellers (under Rudhyar’s supervision), Steffen Schleiermacher, and Richard Zimdars.  “Paeans” (1927) and “Granites” (1929) have been recorded twice before.  I like all of the recordings, and Ron Squibbs’ faster tempos in “Paeans” provide a new and convincing perspective on that remarkable composition (Squibbs: 5:22; William Masselos: 7:00; Steffen Schleiermacher: 9:05). 

Ron Squibbs’ performances are emotional and powerful, and engineer Robert Scott Thompson’s recordings of the Steinway D sound luscious without sacrificing clarity.  The album design is beautiful, featuring insets from, as well as a full image of, Rudhyar’s painting “Meditation on Power” (1948).  This is the way to make an album: world-premiere recordings, beautiful and meaningful graphics, excellent sound, extensive and well-written liner notes, passionate performances, fully packed disc (79:38), and above all, wonderful music.  Kudos to Ron Squibbs for his dedication to Rudhyar’s music, and to Aucourant Records for investing in a beautiful and perfectly-documented package in this age of virtual-music delivery. 


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