GUITAR MUSIC (the bottom of the iceberg) (1975)
SOUNDS HEARD: SERGIO CERVETTI—Nazca and Other Works.
An excerpt from a New Music Box/New Music USA online review from July 17, 2012 written by Frank J. Oteri.
I was delighted when earlier this year when Navona Records released Sergio Cervetti’s NAZCA and Other Works, since it was finally an opportunity for me to hear an entire disc of music by a composer whose music I have been intrigued with since the early 1980’s. Thirty years ago I fell in love with a 10-minute piece for solo guitar called Guitar Music (the bottom of the iceberg) that I heard at the Columbia University Music Library when I was an undergrad there. It was on an LP issued by CRI, a label which then had a reputation for primarily releasing austere modernist pieces by composers based in academia. (This was a decade before CRI launched the Emergency Music Series, which redefined the label in its final years.) I religiously listened to everything put out on CRI even though most of it was very different from the music I personally wanted to write. But Guitar Music (the bottom of the iceberg) was music I very much wanted to write—its relentless minimalism felt inevitable as well as a bit subversive, although admittedly the latter was heightened by its appearing in the same catalog alongside Roger Sessions, Seymour Shifrin, Mario Davidovsky, et al. Who was this composer, Sergio Cervetti? There was an additional piece of his on the same side of that LP which involved a multi-tracked solo clarinet in textures that can best be described with decades of hindsight as proto-ambient. But, as far as I could tell, nothing else of his had ever been recorded. The notes on the LP offered very little information, not even a photo. He was born in Uruguay in 1940, moved to the United States in 1962 to further his composition studies, and his recent music explored “restricted pitch classes.” (How’s that for a serial explanation of minimalism?)
Fast forward several decades. I briefly met Cervetti at some composer gathering in New York City and told him how much I loved that guitar piece. Not long after that he very kindly mailed me a score of it. Returning to the piece so many years later, after all the uptown vs. downtown battlegrounds had lulled to a cease fire at least in my own personal purview, it still stood out and sounded every bit as exciting as when I had first heard it. (An audio file of the piece is on our online library.) … Madrigal III is also the earliest of Cervetti’s works on the present disc (NAZCA and Other Works); it was composed in 1975, merely one year after that solo guitar piece of his that first intrigued me about his music. It is clearly also the by-product of his then minimalist sensibility. When a full assessment of the breadth and depth of the minimalist movement in music is made one day, hopefully Cervetti’s important contributions will not be overlooked. Now that there is finally some adequate documentation of his music we can be hopeful.
AMONG THE BEST
El PAIS, Montevideo, Uruguay, September 23, 1987 written by Washington Roldan. Ciclo de Conciertos CITIBANK 1987 in El Teatro Alianza on September 18, 1987. Guitarist, Jose Ignacio Fernandez Bardesio.
The recital ended with the performance of the technically exhausting Guitar Music (the bottom of the iceberg) by Sergio Cervetti, an hypnotic work which was first performed in Montevideo in 1985 in the Casa del Teatro on the occasion of a concert dedicated to works by this Uruguayan-American composer. Fernandez Bardesio has further enriched the performance of this work whose roots are engrained in an orthodox minimalism upon which subtle timbral variations are slowly added to the textures. It is a somewhat long and intense “motto perpetuo” that could cramp the best trained fingers. Fernandez Bardesio never lost its rhythmical accuracy and gave the atmospheric suggestion that was needed.
LATIN COMPOSERS HEARD IN CONCERT
Los Angeles Times, January 9, 1983 written by Terry McQuilkin reviewing Monday Evening Concerts at the County Museum of Art on January 8, 1983. Guitarist, Stuart Fox.
Sergio Cervetti’s minimalist “Guitar Music (the bottom of the iceberg)” (1975) is one of the more effective works in this style. One had to admire Stuart Fox for steadily and flawlessly plucking a 10-minute stream of 16th notes.
November 1977 written by P.F. Review of American Contemporary New Trends: Consoli/Cervetti. CRI SD 359 LP. Guitarist, Stuart Fox.
The sensuousness of pure sound is capitalized upon by Cervetti (who) dispenses with emphatically temporal orientation, the forward motion traditional to western music. Instead, Cervetti works his sound out gradually, prompting his instruments to dwell on a note or sequence that expands slowly and after much centripetal repetition. This structure is not arithmetically exact the way, say Steve Reich’s or Phil Glass’ usually are, but it does operate on the same modular principles, and to much the same hypnotic, sonorously enveloping effect. In fact, the structure serves to emphasize the sound of the instrument playing, divesting the music of inflection, melodic interest (despite the glimmer of melody in Guitar Music), and other factors to which sonority is normally harnessed. Cervetti does not create relentless drone pieces a la LaMonte Young…Guitar Music, as spirallic and slowly unfolding as it is, is a veritable country dance. Guitarist Stuart Fox (is) dogged and clear.
INTERNATIONAL MUSIC GUIDE, November/December 1977 written by R.M. Review of American Contemporary New Trends: Consoli/Cervetti. CRI SD 359 LP. Guitarist, Stuart Fox.
Some tougher stuff, showing a rare degree of instrumental feeling by Cervetti: Guitar Music really evoking the sense of touch one associates with flamenco.
EL RÍO DE LOS PÁJAROS PINTADOS, Bandoneón and Electronics (1979)
DIARIO 16, Madrid, Spain, October 21, 1987 written by Tomas Marco. Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, Spain. Bandoneón, René Marino Rivero.
Marino Rivero offered the first performance in Spain of “El Río de los Pájaros Pintados” an excellent work by Sergio Cervetti, one of the best South American composers, blending very well the sonorities of the bandoneón with a suggestive, beautiful and perfect electronic tape.
BEAUTIFUL WORK BY URUGUAYAN COMPOSER
El PAIS, Montevideo, Uruguay, September 23, 1979 written by Washington Roldán. Teatro del Centro on September 18, 1979. Bandoneón, René Marino Rivero.
El Río de los Pájaros Pintados is not only a poetic title. All the music conceived by Cervetti has the undulating fluidity of a majestic water current. There isn’t anything imitative in this evocation of the River Uruguay. It is simply an impression, a remembrance that comes from the distant past and it is helped by the composition techniques used here and the perfect blend of the acoustic instrument and the electronic tape. There is no counterpoint but an amalgam of these two mediums. The minimalist base, which is still evident in some of Cervetti’s latest works, assures here an endless continuity but without the mechanical repetitions so typical of other minimalist creators. What remains is a homogenous flow of miniscule musical cells propelled by a constant rhythmic pulse, the sonorities of which are simply beautiful.
WITH ADMIRABLE IMPULSE AND SONORITIES
LA MAÑANA, Montevideo, Uruguay, September 20, 1979 written by Julio Novoa. Teatro del Centro on September 18, 1979. Bandoneón, René Marino Rivero.
As a premiere, Marino Rivero offered a composition from 1979 for bandoneón and computer-generated tape by Sergio Cervetti, El Río de los Pájaros Pintados, dedicated to Rivero and inspired by the ever flowing Río Uruguay. Cervetti proposes a “continuum” in which the bandoneón sonorities and the tape are seamlessly blended as a single instrument, creating a cosmic atmosphere and releasing tension within a fluid texture that never uses cheap effects while also never reminding one of its electronic origins. There is something of a secret pleasure distilled in this River of Painted Birds that makes it one of the most fascinating pieces that we have heard. It was a tour-de-force for the composer as well as Marino Rivero, his interpreter.
RITMO, Madrid, Spain; Sergio Cervetti Interview, July/August 2014 (No. 876)
The composer Sergio Cervetti is one of the most dedicated exponents of contemporary music composition. In 1962 he left his native Uruguay in order to study composition in the United States. In 1966 he attracted international attention when he won the chamber music prize at the Festival of Music in Venezuela. After studying with Ernst Krenek and graduating from Peabody Conservatory, he was invited to be a composer-in-residence in Berlin. His work is the result of approaching composition with a maximum of independence and expressive freedom that takes advantage of his accumulated experience from diverse sources such as his South American heritage, European tradition, 12-tone, minimalism and electronic music. Tradition and innovation are evident in his recent recorded works, UNBRIDLED released by Navona Records, that he describes here.
Going back to your beginnings, how were you first contacts with music?
My musical vocation began at an early age. In our Waldensian Church in Uruguay we always sang hymns based on chorales by Bach and Luther which I tried to play by ear on the piano at home. Noticing my interest in music, my father who was a clarinetist in a local band made me take piano lessons when I was five years old.
You graduated from the Peabody Institute in the United States after studying with Ernst Krenek and Stefans Grové. How did their teaching influence your artistic development and the creation of your own language and style?
At the beginning of my career, being in contact with two important, contemporary composers was a tremendous impetus and hard work. Both of them were, at the time, interested in 12-tone music, and especially Krenek was into total serialization. Although I applaud the discipline acquired by this technique, in my final year I felt restrained like in a straight jacket. I couldn’t wait to graduate and compose in a freer style. The liberation came after being invited to Berlin by the DAAD as a resident composer in 1969-70. There, in contact with composers such as Penderecki, Dallapicola, and Ligeti, I could see other horizons and new ways to create. It was after returning to the U.S. in 1970 when my present aesthetics began to be defined after a decisive contact with the minimalist movement on taking residence in New York City.
What aspects define your present composing technique?
Some years ago after the premiere of my Concerto for Harpsichord, Las Indias Olvidadas during the Music Festival of Alicante, the composer and critic Carlos Villasol wrote in RITMO the following: Cervetti’s Concerto for Harpsichord is an impressive and seductive work, full of light and exuberance…within a style we can call “savage” Cervetti does not make a distinction between folk elements, European tradition and minimalist aesthestics, they are all fearlessly and deftly blended together in a music that defies classification.
This wonderful praise accorded me by Villasol encapsulates my present aesthetics. It is evident in my recent Concertino for piano, woodwinds, and timpani, in Tres Estudios Australes for piano, and Plegaria y Danza to mention a few of my works. Perhaps my opera, Elegy For A Prince, partially produced by New York City Opera in 2007 lends itself to a more melodic and harmonically standard texture, avoiding recitative abused by many contemporary composers.
In your catalogue of works we notice chamber music above the symphonic, choral and operatic work. It goes without saying that the chamber music prize from the Festival of Music in Venezuela, with which you were distinguished in 1966, was a “before and after” in your artistic career. Which work is the most satisfying for you?
My string quartet, Unbridled, along with the piano trio Mémoires du Paradis are two important works in my production. But my greatest capolavoro in chamber music is the Concerto for Harpsichord and 11 Instruments commissioned by the Festival of Contemporary Music of Alicante in 1992, premiered by María Teresa Chenlo to whom it is dedicated, and the Grupo Instrumental under the baton of José Luis Temes. It returned in 2011 during the Festival of Alicante and the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid interpreted by the same soloists and the superb JONDE conducted by Jordi Bernàcer. Along with other works of mine, this Concerto was recorded by the same players for the Colección Compositores Españoles y Latinoamericanos de Música Actual on the VERSO label underwritten by the Fundación BBVA, but the foundation has frozen funds and this project is presently suspended.
Let’s now address your recent activities. Your latest CD, UNBRIDLED, has been released by Navona Records. Speak briefly about each of the works that are included on this CD.
Unbridled for string quartet, composed in 2013, is a rumination on the devastating economic blunders caused by financial institutions. Aesthetically I can place it as my latest post-minimalist work. The piano trio, Mémoires du Paradis is inspired by lithographs by Salvador Dali which in turn were inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Plegaria y Danza dates from 1996 and is my only work for solo violin. The chamber work …from the earth… is an historic recording. This work composed in 1972 was my first minimalistic composition. All of these works were created in collaboration with the players, especially with the Uruguayan violinist, Israel Chorberg.
What are you working on now and what projects for the immediate future?
Presently I am putting the finishing touches on Concertino for piano, woodwinds and timpani that will be recorded in September in Boston by Navona Records. At the same time during the PARMA Music Festival II in Portsmouth this August a recent chamber work will be premiered. In October I travel to Caracas to attend the Festival of Latin American Music where Candombe for Orchestra will be performed. In addition I am preparing a work for soprano and orchestra with poems by the Uruguayan poet, Delmira Agustini.
RITMO, Madrid, Spain; Review of UNBRIDLED, October 2014 (No. 878)
Sergio Cervetti (b.1940) is a markedly independent composer. Almost an “outsider.” From Uruguay, but with North American training (one of his teachers was Ernst Krenek), he is capable of straddling apparently distant musical worlds that range from the most formal serialism to repetitive music without disdaining a healthy influence of folklore.
Four works make an exceptional calling card for those who do not know him (the composer is better-known on the other side of the Atlantic). Unbridled (2013) for string quartet introduces us to his musical world in an immediate fashion. It is a personal vision of the minimalist world, but also an undeniable suggestion of Bartok. In Plegaria (1993) he leans on a certain lyricism with post-serialist roots. Perhaps his most introverted piece. But Cervetti is capable of transporting us to other musical worlds of distinct originality and poetry. Memorias del Paraíso (2012) is his best example.
A boundless creator. Nevertheless also challenging. No listener will remain indifferent. Highly recommended.
–J.B., RITMO, October 2014, No. 878, Madrid, Spain, pg 64.
UNBRIDLED. Works of CERVETTI (Unbridled, Plegaria y Danza, Memorias del Paraíso, From the earth).
Varios solistas y Cuarteto New England. Navona Records, NV5958. DDD. 61’. Dist. Ind. ****M
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