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The Essential Martin Bresnick

Released: 11/10/06





Martin Bresnick

The Essential Martin Bresnick


  1. String Quartet #2 "Bucephalus"
  2. Trio for Piano, Violin, and Violoncello [ MP3 ]
  3. The Bucket Rider
  4. Be Just
  5. The Gates of Paradise (bonus track available via digital download & on accompanying DVD)


Cantaloupe Music celebrates the 60th birthday of one of America's leading composers and educators with this definitive set of recordings featuring his music.

Martin Bresnick has been a leading figure in the education of an entire generation of American musicians, having served as spiritual advisor to many of our most innovative and active composers, including Michael Torke and Evan Ziporyn as well as Bang on a Can's own Artistic Directors Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe . As a composer's composer, his music - subtle and intelligent, thoughtful and meticulously crafted - has been heard around the world, and with a flurry of activity in 2006 (including this major CD/DVD release, his 60th Birthday Celebration, and his Carnegie Hall concerts on December 5 with the Bang on a Can All-Stars and his own on December 9), The Essential Martin Bresnick aims to spread his name to a new and larger listening public.

The Essential Martin Bresnick contains performances of his greatest works by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Flux Quartet, and Jupiter Trio. The DVD contains a new work, "For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise," performed by Bang on a Can All-Star pianist Lisa Moore and featuring animated images from Puppetsweat Theater. This remarkable video project, for piano with projections of deeply affecting and intensely bright drawings by the English poet William Blake, includes a video essay on the work by legendary Yale professor and best-selling author Harold Bloom, who calls Moore's performance "inspired, precise, subtly modulated and eloquent."

Notes From the Composer

String Quartet #2 "Bucephalus"

String Quartet #2 "Bucephalus" (1983-84), commissioned by the Alexander String Quartet with support of Chamber Music America and the Connecticut Commission for the Arts, String Quartet #2 was written in honor of Gy?rgy Ligeti's 60th birthday. The titles of the five movements were drawn from a number of events, real or imaginary, in the lives of Alexander the Great and his war horse Bucephalus. The concluding movement "The New Advocate" is based on a Kafka short story. Kafka imagined Bucephalus today in the quiet lamplight of law school.

From A Country Doctor by Franz Kafka

"We have a new advocate, Dr. Bucephalus. There is little in his appearance to remind you that he was once Alexander of Macedon's battle charger. Of course, if you know his story, you are aware of something. . .even a simple usher who I saw the other day on the front steps of the Law Courts... was running an admiring eye over the advocate as he mounted the marble steps with a high action that made them ring beneath his feet. In general the Bar approves the admission of Bucephalus. With astonishing insight people tell themselves that, modern society being what it is, Bucephalus is in a diffiuclt position, and therefore, considering also his importance in the history of the world, he deserves at least a friendly reception. Nowadays - it cannot be denied - there is no Alexander the Great. There are plenty of men who know how to murder people; the skill needed to reach over a banqueting table and pink a friend with a lance is not lacking; . . but no one, no one at all, can blaze a trail to India. Even in his day the gates of India were beyond reach. . . So perhaps it is really best to do as Bucephalus has done and absorb oneself in law books. In the quiet lamplight, his flanks unhampered by the thighs of a rider, free and far from the clamor of battle, he reads and turns the pages of our ancient tomes. Every page a victory. Who cooked the feast for the victors? Every ten years a great man. Who paid the bill? So many reports. So many questions."

About "Trio for Piano, Violin, and Violoncello"
I. Semplice, Inesorabile
II. Leggiermente, con accenti diversi (Cat's Cradle)
III. Parlando, Affetuoso
IV. Ardente, Sperduto

Martin Bresnick's Trio is four movements, each with a suggestive title reflecting the spirit of the movement. The first movement "Semplice, Inesorabile" translates as "Simply, Inexorably." The second movement,
subtitled "Cat's Cradle," makes reference to the children's game in which the players pull symmetrical string patterns from each other's hands - a kind of folk calculus. "Leggiermente con Accenti Diversi" refers to the lightness of the movement as well as it's varied accentual patterns. The third movement, "Parlando, Affetuoso," Spoken, Tenderly, ends with a piano cadenza that leads without pause into the fourth movement. In this final movement, marked "Ardente, Sperduto," Ardently, Lost, aspects of the first three movements, now transformed, are recalled as the composition moves towards an ambiguous conclusion. Trio was commissioned by and is dedicated to the Monticello Trio - Tannis Gibson, piano; Mark Rush, violin; and Mathias Wexler, violoncello.

The Bucket Rider and BE JUST!

The Bucket Rider and BE JUST! were both written in 1995 and are the seventh and eighth pieces from a group of 12 called Opere della Musica Povera, which means "works of a poor music." The Bucket Rider is the title of a Kafka story about a man who is so poor and wasted away he can ride on his empty bucket to the coal dealer to beg for coal. In Kafka's story, In the Penal Colony, an explorer goes to a prison camp that has an exquisite, aging apparatus that imprints on the flesh of a condemned man, by means of thousands of needles, whatever rule or commandment he has disobeyed. In this way, though the prisoner is ignorant of his sentence, he will learn it bodily. The officer in charge (who is also the judge) tells the explorer, "Guilt is never to be doubted," and places the prisoner into the machine. The explorer is unimpressed.

Infuriated, the officer changes the original sentence from "HONOR THY SUPERIORS!" to "BE JUST!" and climbs into the apparatus himself. Kafka had a very complex sense of the political. He was also a pretty weird guy, and I wanted to get some of that weirdness into the music. I give myself permission to do anything in my work so long as I have a palpable structural integrity that grants the various musical utterances plausibility. That's been my goal, to get as free as I can about the means and genres in which I write, while holding them together with an internal coherence. The Opere della Musica Povera pieces reflect a politics of "Witness," a kind of personal report on my state and the nation's. There's a bit of the Three Penny Opera in them, "an opera written with the splendor that only a beggar could imagine," as Brecht said. That's part of it - to create something out of very little material and make it seem splendid: an invitation to the necessary pleasures of austerity.

Commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard. World Premiere by the Bang On A Can All-Stars, May 1, 1995, Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.

For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise (2001) is an extended work for solo piano accompanied by Puppetsweat Theater's computer animations of William Blake's (1757-1827) drawings and illuminated manuscripts designed and executed by Leslie Weinberg and directed by Robert Bresnick. Blake's emblems and their associated texts, originally entitled For Children: The Gates of Paradise, were first published in a limited run in 1793. He later changed the title to For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise, and added several more drawings as well as a preface and concluding verse, publishing this version in 1818.The seventeen emblematic drawings and their commentaries depict the life of man from birth to death: passage through the four elements (water, earth, wind and fire), hatching as a child from the "mundane shell," encountering women ("What are these! Alas! the Female Martyr, Is She also the Divine Image?"), reaching for the moon of love ("I want, I want"), falling into Time's Ocean. After several other episodes he finally arrives at the death's door with Job's words: "I have said to the Worm: Thou art my mother and my sister." There a female figure is "Weaving to Dreams the Sexual strife, And Weeping over the Web of Life." Blake concludes the cycle with verses addressed to Satan, in his role as the fallen Lucifer:

Truly my Satan thou art but a Dunce
And dost not know the garment from the Man
Evry Harlot was a Virgin once
Nor canst thou ever change Kate into Nan
Tho thou art Worshipd by the Names Divine
Of Jesus & Jehovah: thou art still
The Son of Morn in weary Nights decline
The lost Travellers Dream under the Hill

For more information about the composer, please visit the artist page for Martin Bresnick.