…einfach/schwer…?

Premiere: 11 December 2008 at Boston University, Boston, MA. Ensemble conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya

Duration: ca. 11′

Instrumentation: chamber ensemble (1(=af).0.1.0 – 1.0.0.0 – 1 perc (sizzle cym/wood chimes/marimba/4 tom-toms/vibes/ratchet/tubular bells) – pno – strings (1.0.0.1.0))

Score: View score

Critical Reception: “Ligeti’s influence was illustrated by Jonathan Blumhofer’s septet …einfach/schwer…?, conducted by Avlana Eisenberg: aviaries of extended techniques, nimbly woven together, occasionally coalescing into folkish, foot-stompable melodies—down-to-earth content launched into floating, sonic clouds.”

Matthew Guerrieri, New Music Box (28 September 2011)

Performance Note: The piece that became …einfach/schwer…? began in Prague in 2006 as a composition for voice and Pierrot ensemble that I intended as a memorial work for the composer Gyorgy Ligeti and the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, both of whom died that summer. After encountering a number of creative roadblocks, I put the project aside until autumn 2007, when I took it up as a doctoral student at Boston University. Even then, after a year away from piece, I was unsure about what form the work should take and what its musical content ought to be. A chance encounter, though, with Nicholas Maw’s Ghost Dances (for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano, all doubling percussion instruments) redirected my focus and the bulk of  …einfach/schwer…? was written in the winter months of 2007 and 2008; the score was then revised in 2011.

In terms of form, …einfach/schwer…? follows a pattern almost identical to my Lachrymae (2005) for string quartet, though this relationship is one I only realized in hindsight. The work, played without pause, is cast in two large movements, which are framed by three shorter sections; the opening and closing sections share material, so there is a sense of arch form in the piece reminiscent of Bartok. The primary melodic material of …einfach/schwer…? (which is heard in the introductory section and, prominently, throughout the first movement) is derived from the eleventh movement of Ligeti’s Musica ricercata, a fantastic collection of short pieces for solo piano. The eleventh movement, in particular, titled “Omaggio a Girolamo Frescobaldi,” features a melody that utilizes all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale in a series of canons. The elegiac tone of this movement had immediately suggested itself to me as appropriate for a memorial work of some kind, and it was with this that I had begun the earliest version of …einfach/schwer…? in the Czech Republic. In …einfach/schwer…? I adapted this chromatic melody by altering its rhythmic profile and composing a set of “transformations” that are heard throughout the piece.

The finished “…einfach/schwer…?” is among the most abstract pieces that I’ve written: there is the rustling opening section that channels Ligeti channeling Frescobaldi; a shifty, Stravinskian dance in the first movement; a wild interlude; a second movement that features a set of variations featuring alto flute and violin; and the closing section that brings back the material from the beginning. In that varied content (though not so much its overall harmonic language), “…einfach/schwer…?” is perhaps the most Ligetian piece I’ve yet written.

A word about the title: “…einfach/schwer…?” essentially translates into “simple/difficult.” I meant for the title to refer more to the work’s compositional process than anything else, though performers have brought to my attention that such a description might be aptly applied to the rhythmic complexity of work as well.