Thursday, Apr 17, 2014
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ONCE Group: Donald Scavarda


Donald Scavarda

Donald Scavarda b. 1928 completed his Master’s degree in 1953, Scavarda received a Fulbright Scholarship to study composition in Hamburg, Germany. In 1954, he was awarded the BMI First Prize for his Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra in the prestigious Student Composers Radio Award competition. He returned to Ann Arbor in 1955 to pursue a doctorate with Ross Lee Finney.

Groups for Piano 1959 was performed at the first ONCE Festival. Groups extends the idea of the serial, strict, and economical nature Scavarda explored in earlier haiku set, In the Autumn Mountains. In this work, Scavarda poses and answers his own question, which, in itself, seems to comment and react negatively to the avant-garde compositions Scavarda was studying as a student: “How short can a piece be and still be perceived as complete and coherent?” In describing the piece Scavarda says: “The five groups have durations respectively of seven, eight, ten, eight, and seven seconds with specified silences between them. Total duration is 55 seconds. To create a sense of spatial depth every note is given its own specific dynamic, frequently with dramatic contrasts.”

Matrix for Clarinetist 1962 is probably Scavarda’s most well-known piece because it is the first published work that includes clarinet multiphonics. The piece was published in May 1962 in Generation magazine with Groups for Piano and was premiered in East Lansing, Michigan at a ONCE Friends concert. According to Scavarda, “Matrix explores the acoustical properties of the clarinet and makes a clean break with the past.” Scavarda’s “discovery” of clarinet multiphonics occurred while working with clarinetist John Morgan. Morgan’s clarinet squeaked while he was warming up and Scavarda heard multiphonics in the sound. Morgan and Scavarda continued to collaborate to develop consistency in producing the sounds and a way to notate them in a musical score.

Matrix reflects Scavarda’s search for new sounds and development of new ways music can be expressed to a performer other than the traditional score. The piece continues Scavarda’s interest in non-metrical music in that each cell in the matrix occupies one full breath. By using a mathematical matrix, Scavarda allows the performer to not only determine the length of each note by his breath capacity, but to determine the length of the piece, as long as he follows the directions for proceeding around the score. Matrix can be a few seconds or a few days long depending on the route the performer chooses to follow through the catalogued sounds. The discovery of new ways of producing sound and new ways of organizing music, as in Matrix, was indispensable to the ONCE festival, after the first year. This “newness” kept the festival exciting, presented new challenges to the performers, and was expected by audience.

Sounds for Eleven 1961, for flute, oboe, clarinet in B, clarinet in E, bassoon, piano, vibraphone, guitar, percussion 2, and conductor Scavarda’s chamber work for winds and percussion, Sounds For Eleven 1961, reflects his interest in the possibilities of pure sounds to be expressive. To achieve this effect, Scavarda removed other elements - mostly melody and rhythm - from the music. The music has large silences between sounds - up to eighteen seconds is permitted - for two purposes: to separate each of the sounds the ensemble creates and to ensure that a sense of rhythm is not accidentally being established.

The woodwind parts, instead of using a time signature, are notated in full breaths or fractions of one full breath, allowing for natural, human variance in breath lengths between performers. Solid lines extending from the staff indicate a sound’s shape. A convex curve beginning and ending at the bottom of the staff indicates a crescendo and diminuendo, for example. Various sized sinusoidal waves correspond to vibrato amplitude. All percussion instruments are supposed to decay until complete silence, and also have lines extending from the parts approximating the time to achieve this effect. A dot at the end of the line indicates indeterminacy, allowing for variances in breath size and instrument differences.


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