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Opus 4: Episode 1 – The Counterpoint Coven

Opus 4 of the Counterpoint Coven…Club (no witches here, this is a completely serious, no-fun-allowed production), begins with an enchanting episode about the spookiest and creepiest aspects of classical music. Sarah and Brandon share a conversation about macabre chamber music written by Franz Schubert, George Crumb, and others. Willie discusses how to make otherworldly sounds on your instrument using extended techniques. Our guest interview is a special surprise, but no spoilers! You’ll have to listen to discover the secrets of our four guest composers, whose music has truly made them immortal. And finally, all four members of Skyros share a chat, discussing their favorite music from movies and television, and the vital role that music plays in storytelling.
History Segment
Album CoverIn this “spooky” installation of our history segment, Sarah and Brandon explore the forbidden forest of chamber music, highlighting some of their favorite pieces from the repertoire that evoke dark, and downright scary moods, images, and stories. Sarah introduces listeners to the intense 20th-century work by George Crumb, called ‘Black Angels,” which uses extended techniques (non-standard ways of producing sound on an instrument) in order to create the effect of everything from the sound of bones to attack helicopters (referencing the Vietnam war). This piece challenges performers to get out of their comfort zone. For example, Crumb asks the quartet to do everything from play wine glasses to whisper in several different languages at the same time!

After this exploration of the macabre and bizarre, Brandon shares one of his favorite creepy pieces, Der Erlkönig (The Erlking) by Franz Schubert, based on the poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Brandon discusses the technique of “text-painting” or “tone-painting,” where a composer uses musical elements like key, register, repetition, and dynamic to conjure an image or mood that supports the meaning of the text. For instance, in the opening scene of “The Erlking,” Schubert uses repeated notes in the bass to represent the sound of horse’s hooves, as the father rides hurriedly through the stormy night with his sick child in his arms. If you want to know how the story ends, you’ll have to listen to the full episode, which includes a dramatic reading of the English translation of the poem!

Recordings used in this episode

Black Angels by George Crumb
Performed by the Miró Quartet
Bridge Records 9139

Der Erlkönig (The Erlking) by Franz Schubert
Performed by Michael Jackson
Creative Commons License 3.0

Technique Lesson
In the technique segment, Willie explores extended techniques. As a cellist himself, Willie was only able to demonstrate a few of his favorite cello- and string instrument- specific techniques. However, there are fascinating and wild extended techniques for literally every instrument. Here are some of Willie’s favorite pieces featuring these unusual sounds for a variety of instruments:

William O. Smith – Variants for solo clarinet, performed by Liam Hockley

John Cage – Sonatas Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 5 for prepared piano, performed by Agnese Toniutti

This is a prepared piano, which has been filled with all sorts of fascinating screws and other tidbits, which are attached directly to the strings to make the interesting sounds you are hearing.

Arnold Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire, performed by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

This piece requires the vocalist to use a technique called sprechstimme, which is a technique somewhere between speaking and singing.

Pascal Dusapin – Watt, Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra, performed by the composer and the Orchestre National De Montpellier

Krzysztof Penderecki – Capriccio per Siegfried Palm, performed by Wassily Gerassimez

TCC WorksheetDo you have another favorite piece of repertoire that uses extended techniques? Drop us a recommendation in the comments below. We’d also be delighted to hear some of your reactions to the five pieces above!

Are you interested in incorporating extended techniques into your music-making? Use this worksheet to continue more in depth research into specific extended techniques and notations for your instrument.

Guest Interview
Mystery GuestOur guest interview is a special surprise. Rather than give away who spoke in this roundtable discussion, we’ll leave it to you to figure out who these composers are as you listen to the episode. If you have any questions for one of these composers, please let us know in the comments below. We do have their contact information (it’s not public and very hard to get a hold of), so we can pass along your questions, comments, and best wishes and send you their responses.

Can you identify the extended techniques used in this episode’s transition music? Leave us a comment with your guess!

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