Sonata No. 4 for oboe, French horn and harpsichord was created by two composers. Claude Debussy (1862–1918) planned to write a work scored for this unusual instrumental ensemble, but failed to do so. His music is characterized by the same style as that of the late 19th-century Impressionist painters and Symbolist poets. This means capturing colors and moods and moments of beauty and life indescribable by words at the expense of adhering to established rules, and filling old forms with new, unsettling content. Debussy succeeded in translating the artistic endeavors (not to draw but to evoke an atmosphere) into musical language. Debussy’s music radiates delicious beauty, tenderness and sadness, emphasizing delight and excitement, changeability and intensity: all this not using images, but sonic colors. Although Debussy did not found a clearly defined school of composition, he remains almost exclusively a representative of Impressionism in music. We can only guess how Sonata No. 4 from his loose series of sonatas for various combinations of instruments would have sounded. Debussy did not leave any sketches of this composition, intended in 1917. However, the sonata does exist. It was reconstructed, or rather written in its entirety in 2011, by the American musicologist and harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper (1941–2021), a renowned early music soloist as well as a frequent performer of contemporary works, artistic director of the Berkshire Bach Ensemble, and teacher at several prestigious art colleges in the USA. In order to create this sonata, Cooper has combined three original piano pieces by Debussy. The first movement is an excerpt from the ballet La Boîte à joujoux (The Toy Box), which exists only in a piano score; the second movement is an arrangement of Étude pour les notes répétées; and the third movement is based on the finale from Debussy’s Images. The sonata is probably the most challenging for the horn player.
Kaija Saariaho (born 1952), a Finnish composer who has lived in Paris for four decades, writes music known as “spectral”. Spectralism has developed since the 1980s as a creative alternative to the rational serialism represented by Pierre Boulez. Rather than ordering and alternating tones, the then young composers wanted to deal with unstable and changing sounds with transitions between timbre and harmony, rhythm and frequency, or rhythm and intensity, i.e., with the transformations – the analysis and reverse synthesis – of the tonal spectrum over time. In this sense, Kaija Saariaho puts together live music with electronic and computer music. The Czech public in Brno had the opportunity to attend Saariaho’s internationally acclaimed opera L’Amour de Loin (Love from Afar), which is a compellingly lyrical piece conjuring with sounds and their colors. Its building blocks are not so much musical motifs and themes, but rather entire surfaces and layers. The plot of the opera is a magical parable. In the program notes to Mirrors, Saariho explains that it is a chamber composition for two to five musicians, or rather a music joke from 1997. She wrote Mirrors for a CD-ROM (an optical recording medium that stores computer data) entitled Prisma, dedicated to her music. The piece allows for different resulting forms, that is, the user/performer can create his own version from the given fragments: the rhythm, the timbre, the instrumental gesture of the music, its intensity... These are all variable parameters and Saariaho explicitly allows for “mirroring” of one or more of these dimensions simultaneously, horizontally and vertically.
The American composer Elliott Carter (1908–2012) was famous not only for his long life in which he was still very productive, but also for his ultra-modernist style, which in reference to specific string quartets was described as “such complex music that it is very difficult for the human ear to perceive”. Indeed, after a Neoclassical phase, Carter eventually arrived at atonal music, a quite distinctive musical language that placed him among the ultra-modernists. Sonata for flute, oboe, cello and harpsichord from the early 1950s stands at the beginning of this stylistic transformation. Carter’s teachers included the British composer Gustav Holst who attained fame with his Planets, and the renowned Parisian teacher Nadia Boulanger, who influenced a wide range of musicians from composers George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Astor Piazzolla and Philip Glass to conductors Daniel Barenboim and John Eliot Gardiner. Carter himself has few notable pupils.
Jörg Widmann (born 1973) is an outstanding German composer, prominent clarinetist, principal conductor of the Irish Chamber Orchestra and teacher at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin. His music often appears on the programs of major symphony orchestras such as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, as well as in the projects of contemporary music specialists such as the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris and the Klangforum Wien in Austria. He has produced many orchestral works and instrumental concertos, a whole series of chamber pieces, the full-length opera Babel, avant-garde pieces such as 180 bpm (180 beats per minute), but also compositions that turn to the past. One of his favorite composers is Carl Maria von Weber, during whose opera Der Freischütz Widmann experienced initiatory moments as a child, and more recently, Ludwig van Beethoven. Widmann is a true child of his time. His compositions are full of intricate gestures and deliberately inaccurate quotations, as well as other amusing references to existing music. Air for solo horn was written in 2005 as a compulsory piece for the 54th International Music Competition of the ARD in Munich. Requiring highly virtuosic technique, it is based on the sound material containing various natural harmonic rows and micro-intervals as well as changes of open and muted playing. Despite all its complexity, also based on the closeness and distance of sound, the piece is oriented towards melody, as the logic of its title suggests.
The British composer Thomas Adès (born 1971) is a multifaceted figure in contemporary international music. His works are characterized by great sonic imagination, an impressive musical language, colorful themes and a distinct style. They have been performed by orchestras, at festivals and in opera houses around the world, often under his direction. However, Adès also appears as a solo pianist. This is how he is remembered from his Janáček piano recital in 2018 in Brno. In the Czech Republic, Adès as a composer was presented, among others, by the Czech Philharmonic, which a few years ago performed his almost brutally sounding piece for baritone, mezzo-soprano and orchestra entitled Totentanz (Dance of the Dead), inspired by German medieval texts and murals in Lübeck Cathedral partially destroyed during the Second World War. The National Theater in Brno featured his Powder Her Face, a provocative chamber opera dealing with the sexual exploits of Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, whose disclosure caused a real scandal in Britain in the early 1960s. Commissioned by the British BBC and premiered in Birmingham in 1994, Sonata da Caccia is the work of a 22-year-old young man. This piece brings the concert program back to the beginning. Indeed, Adès too was inspired by Debussy’s unrealized sonata for oboe, horn and harpsichord. But rather than an homage to the French Impressionist Debussy, Sonata da Caccia with its detailed ornamentation and complex structure is paying tribute to the French Baroque composer François Couperin, wistfully looking backwards at him. In fact, the score even allows for the use of the Baroque oboe as an alternative.