Charles Camilleri: Celestial Harmonies
Product Code: 2-5012

Celestial Harmonies For Piano

Charles Camilleri (1931-2009), was Malta’s leading composer, an artist with an international reputation who has had his work performed by many of the world’s leading artists...
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Celestial Harmonies For Piano

Charles Camilleri (1931-2009), was Malta’s leading composer, an artist with an international reputation who has had his work performed by many of the world’s leading artists on all five continents from the 1950s to the present day. Since his earliest years Camilleri has had many “phases”, periods and styles. One could mention the sizeable amount of juvenilia that exists, as well as music from his so called “nationalistic” period (1950s), his cosmopolitan phase (196Os up to the mid 7Os) and his more spiritual pieces (late 70s to the present). It is music from this last period which is featured on this recording.

Virtually all of Camilleri’s work seems at least in part to be influenced by the folk music of Malta and the Mediterranean basin. Make no mistake, this is a composer who has always been aware of the music from his own ethnic background, as he states: “Paradoxically, we find our way out of historic cul-de-sacs onto the open roads of the future by rediscovering our roots. We can contemplate the prospect of a music universally accessible all over the planet by probing deeper into local well- springs”.

Camilleri went on to justify this remark in his book Mediterranean Music by listing some of the peculiar stylistic features of folk music from this part of the world: heterophony, clusters, polyrhythm, quarter tones, improvisation, non-tonal harmony, open forms and so on. It is extraordinary to note that this extensive catalogue (which runs to 32 points in Camilleri’s book), could well stand unaltered as a roll-call for many of the salient characteristics in so called “western contemporary music” itself!

Camilleri’s initial breakthrough towards individuality and artistic maturity came quite early on in his development (early 1950s), largely because he discovered an accurate means of notating the complexities inherent in Maltese folk music, particularly with regard to its wayward, almost improvisatory rhythms. He referred to this notation technique as the “atomisation of the beat”. Put simply, Camilleri’s solution to notating complex rhythmic groupings such as those used by local Maltese folk musicians was to break away from time signatures, forget barlines, and subdivide each individual beat into self- contained units, (frequently starting off with sextuplet and quintuplet groupings), which then became quite complex and almost improvisatory by way of added rests and subdivisions. The writing is such that although a regular pulse/beat! tactus is maintained, variety from performance to performance will always arise.

Naturally Camilleri was quick to incorporate his new technique for notation into his compositions, and though at first he adopted the technique for use with tonal and modal writing, he soon began to use it with an atonal pitch hierarchy as the norm. The resulting idiom is strikingly individual, though the composer does still enjoy writing simpler and more conventional compositions purely for pleasure. Such a work is the recently rewritten and published Paganiana (1968) for piano duet, a witty and short set of colourfully contrasted variations (played without a break) on Paganini’s celebrated 24th Caprice. It opens this disc with plenty of energy and fire, qualities which are certainly needed in super-abundance if space travel is desired With the four movement suite Astralis our extra-terrestrial journey has really began. Gravité is a wistfully poetic atonal ternary structure in which two part textures in the outer flanks contrast with a central chordal section. As is so often the case with Camilleri piano miniatures, the writing is at once both lean and masterfully idiomatic. Comet is entirely in two parts throughout, but its complete lack of chords does not prevent it from being both extremely exciting and strikingly colourful.

Constellations is possibly more significant for its profound silences than for its actual notes,(mainly exquisitely balanced chords and arpeggio patterns), though it does adopt interesting pedalling after the initial phrases. Explosé-Fixé manages to create dynamic momentum from the skillful juxtaposition of contrasted motifs in a static, mosaic structure. It closes the suite with a poignant trill, under which the opening of Gravité returns, bringing the work to a suitably balanced conclusion.

Cosmologies is the title given for an on-going series of big-boned movements which the composer will continue to add to. In this sense the movements will not be unlike the Etudes for piano of Ligeti, in the sense that the older Hungarian master continues to add to and edit his celebrated studies. At present there are four Cosmologies, of which we hear three. The first two were completed in 1999 and the third was completed in the 1980s and has stood therefore as a separate piece for some time. Listeners may note the connecting thread between the movements completed so far in that material from Cosmologies One appears in the second movement, Colours of Time. It, in turn, presents material which is used in Xnobis (the third movement). So will it continue!

Cosmologies One immediately establishes an extraordinary sound-world with its static, free chords and use of polyrhythms and bare, open fifths. The sense of forward movement it has is very evident, however, and this is accompanied by a gradual and dramatic increase in dynamics. The veloce section of the movement seems to evoke shooting stars and brilliant displays of fire/inter-galactic fury as sonorities paste the keyboard from top to bottom and back again. The open fifth chords remain, and the dramatic thrust of the piece leads to a wave-like pseudo-repetition of the shooting star” motif and its subsidiary development section. The opening chords are referred to at the conclusion in truncated form Colours of Time begins with gongs and a hypnotic rhythmic ostinato before the dour determination disperses in favour of a very sweet and endearingly melodic figure. Much of the structural energy of the piece centres around the alternation and juxtaposition of these two completely different ideas, though there is a central section in free, “atomised” rhythms which is completely contrasted from the rest of the work,(even if it is motifically related to it).

Xnobis contains in its outer sections perhaps the most stridently direct and angular music of the whole disc, but it is no less approachable for that. This is music depicting a kind of “organised chaos” such as might have been in evidence at the creation of the universe. Atonal chords and fantastically striking scalic runs are thrown around the keyboard with enthusiasm by the composer, but what is the aim? Gradually the inherent logic of the piece becomes, or rather feels, undeniably strong and inevitable, whilst the remarkable sense of peace and calm in the pianissimo sections at the work’s mid-point are deeply affecting. Ultimately Xnobis is a work which makes its impact through its exhilaration and energy.

Celestial Harmonies was published in 1998 and uses the minimum amount of notes to express a great deal indeed. Technically the pieces in this suite are well within the grasp of Grade 5 pianists, but artistically they explore so much in terms of musical spaciousness and colour. Vision-Prayer exploits the pentatonic scale firstly for right hand alone with no barlines. It then develops as an intimate two part canon between the hands, concluding as a four part chorale. Rolling Stars recalls Comet from Astralis, but remains rather more civilised and stable than the earlier piece. In Night-Sky there is an almost exact quote from the third movement of Astralis, whilst the concluding movement, Celestial Harmonies, functions rather like a space-age lullaby for inter-planetary infants, as well as being a most effective piece for very young and sensitive pianists.

Chemins (Pathways) was published in 1980 and uses a twelve note row as the basis for all of its movements. Inspace is written without barlines but the scope for expression via silence is wide. Machine Music is characterfully angular, like a Prokofiev Sarcasm with added dissonances. Just a thought contrasts deliciously free cantabile lines with the effective use of tapping on the wood of the instrument, whilst Rhythmic Kit presents the performer with nine scraps of material derived from the Suite’s note row. The music suggests that “the performer may begin with any combination,(any repetition and combination is possible). Tempo, dynamics, timbre and mode of attack are left to the discretion of the performer. Silence may be integrated according to the form and mode of the piece”. Finally, Shadows of Silence creates interesting textures and sonorities by the use of sound clusters in the bass register: the pianist is instructed to “Depress silently with left forearm” a group of semitones, holding them down continuously for 80% of the entire piece. The end result is spell- binding.

Noospheres for Piano
Commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Noospheres appeared in 1977-8. Its inspiration is drawn from the mystic philosophy of the Jesuit priest-scientist, Teilhard de Chardin,(1881-1955), and from that concept of the “Noosphere” first proposed by him in 1925.
The Noosphere was for Teilhard the sphere of mind that “encloses” human thought and love, “the Threshold of the Terrestial Planet”, a collective memory and intelligence, a milieu in which “individual men and all men think, love, create and feel together as integral members of one organism, Humanity”. Conceived on a large scale and both recollecting and developing aspects of keyboard technique and compositional method found in such works as African Dreams and the Four Ragamats, Noospheres divides into five movements. Sharing common material at the beginning and end, these duration ally accelerate towards an imploding central point. Noosphere One falls into a
quasi-palindromic five-part form that in many ways seems to anticipate and distil the perpetually creating, converging essence of the cycle as a whole, whilst A Gentle Spirit is an aurally simpler but structurally more terraced movement in which repetition and silence function as significant parameters in the overall scheme. Cosmic Dance is a ternary movement based on a passacaglia-like repetition of atwelve note melodic row which not only pervades the outer sections but also the middle episode,(a black and white tactile confrontation on the keyboard). A Free Spirit represents a mature development of a stratified idea-bass pedal points, a chorale idea in the middle, continuous semiquaver elaborations of irregular grouping in the treble- found in earlier works, notably the Chorale Prelude from Book 2 of the Etudes, and the Lontano section from Mantra. Noosphere 2 is the cyclotron of Teilhard’s memory: “I could not help feeling and perceiving, beyond and around this electromagnetic whirlwind. . .

Its structure is made up of a series of progressively more urgent overlapping, interlocking and spanning girders of self- containment, the totality underlined by six basic tempi. In the climax of the 18th and last main section, the movement’s energy is suddenly spent. Silence descends. The quiet, dark opening of Noosphere One returns, and the music comes full cycle.
Notes on Noospheres abridged from an essay by Ates Orga (1980)

"Music is a means to understand the complexity of Man and the simplicity of God. Music is a way to reach the Supreme Being. I have a feeling that there is a tremendous similarity between the Divine and Space"- Charles Camilleri

Total 6 result(s).
Listen to Track Camilleri: Paganiana
Listen to Track Camilleri: Astralis - Gravité
Listen to Track Camilleri: Cosmologies - Cosmologies 1
Listen to Track Camilleri: Celestial Harmonies - Vision-Prayer
Listen to Track Camilleri: Chemins - Inspace
Listen to Track Camilleri: Noospheres - Noosphere 1