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Exotic Impressions
Flute Works of Karg-Elert

These three works for flute and piano represent three distinct compositional styles. Sigfrid Karg-Elert's considerable contribution to the flute literature is one of the most exciting and least explored areas in the repertoire. The reasons this music has remained largely unknown for most of the twentieth century may be attributed to a combination of factors, including French domination of the flute repertoire, availability, and performance difficulty. Karg-Elert himself is so strongly associated with organ literature that his other compositions have been eclipsed. In his introduction to the well-known 30 Caprices Op. 107, Karg-Elert provided an overview of his works for flute.

"These Caprices, as well as my other works for flute, composed between 1915 and 1918, owe their inception to the eminent artist Carl BartuZat, principal flutist of the Leipzig Theatre and Gewandhaus-Orchestra at whose side I played the oboe in a good military band during the war.

"The 30 Caprices originated from the urgent need of forming a connecting link between the existing educational literature and the unusually complicated parts of modern orchestral works by Richard Strauss, Mahler, Bruckner, Reger, Pfitzner, Schillings, Schoenberg, Korngold, Schreker, Scriabin, and Stravinsky; and the most modern virtuoso soli....Besides this, the Caprices explore new and untrodden paths in technique; a technique which may be required from one day to another in some new impressionistic or expressionistic work."

Impressions exotiques, Op. 134, written after Karg-Elert's self-described "Spiritual Collapse," consists of five distinct miniature movements. There seem to be moments of Albert Roussel and even Berlin cabaret-like harmonies. Of special interest is the middle movement for piccolo and piano, Colibri (hummingbird), which at times borders on atonality. The Asian references (Lotus, Hommage à Brahma) are typical of the art and music of the time, and truly "Exotic" to the Europeans. Lotus plays with the element of suspended time in music. Brahma's weight and power enter in the middle of the movement at a point where the flute score indicates octaves more as a multiphonic than as separate notes.

Sonate in B dur, Op. 121 (Sonata in B-flat Major) has a neo-classical flavor and is in sonata form with a development and recapitulation, but the continuous flow from movement to movement and dense harmonic language is clearly from the late romantics. Emotions are more evident than in his other flute works. Without a program title or named movements, his images still come from a deeply colored pallet. The piano maintains melodic material in the treble staff almost continuously, which made this piece a logical candidate for Karg-Elert's arrangement entitled Trio Bucolico Op. 121b for flute, violin, and piano.

Jugend, a complex chamber piece in one continuous movement, incorporates effects such as flutter-tongue in both clarinet and flute and requires technical acrobatics from all the instrumentalists. The piece opens with a lilting theme in the lower voices with complex counter melody in the flute. A surprising unity of thematic material emerges from phrases that seem spontaneous rather than constructed. The piano shares equal responsibilities throughout the piece. The composer has devised a notation to indicate which instrument has the primary theme at all times in the piece, in addition to the regular dynamic markings. This piece was also arranged by the composer in 1919 as Op. 139b for clarinet, violin and piano.

Suite pointillistique, Op. 135 seems to find its home with German Expressionism. Intensely bright harmonic colors and the crazed titles - The Sick Moon; The Devil and Innocence; and the finale, a strange Hymn in 5/4 time - hint at Dr. Freud and psychoanalysis. This piece dates from 1919, showing us Karg-Elert's ever changing musical style moving away from Webern and Schoenberg.

-Doug Worthen



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