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  • Swiss Music to Watch (and Hear)
  • Philipp Blume
David Philip Hefti. Ph(r)asen: Streichquartett Nr 1 (2007). Adliswil/Zurich: Edition Kunzelmann, 2008. [Pref. matter (introd. by the composer), [End Page 405] p. [ii–iii]; Erläuterung zur Notation = Explanation of the notation, p. [iv–v]; score, p. 1–32, and 4 parts (9, 9, 10, 10 p.). Pub. no. GM 1849. $70.]
David Philip Hefti. Rosenblätter: Liederzyklus für mittlere Stimme und Klavier, nach Gedichten von Rose Ausländer (2007). Adliswil/Zurich: Edition Kunzelmann, 2008. [Pref. matter (history of work, composer biography), p. [ii]; texts of poems, p. [iii]; Erläuterung zur Notation = Explanation of the notation, p. [iv–v]; score, p. 1–32. Pub. no. GM 1848. $47.]
David Philip Hefti. Schattenklang: Adagio für Klavier (2006). Adliswil/Zurich: Edition Kunzelmann, 2007. [Pref. matter (history of work, composer biography), p. [i]; score, p. 1–8. Pub. no. GM 1841. $14.95.]
David Philip Hefti. Schattenspie(ge)l: Trio für Violine, Violoncello und Klavier (2006). Adliswil/Zurich: Edition Kunzelmann, 2007. [Pref. matter (history of work, composer biography), p. [ii]; Erläuterung zur Notation = Explanation of the notation, p. [iii–v]; score, p. 1–47. Pub. no. GM 1843. $62.]

It is easy to dismiss the music of David Philip Hefti (b. 1975) on the grounds of a well-rehearsed argumentation in the German modernist vein—using, for example, the rhetoric of Helmut Lachenmann and his notion of “dialectical structuralism,” or of proponents of the “second modernity” such as Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf. Hefti’s music seems indeed to exhibit no particular interest in, for example, the “extension” of instrumental technique in the service of a material-oriented expressivity. In this composer’s hands, unusual performing techniques are almost exclusively rendered for the sake of some extramusical effect. The well-worn phrase “extended technique” has no place in a critical description of these pieces, as the composer makes no effort to deconstruct—seems to have no interest in deconstructing— musical gestures, thus failing to make an argument for them as extensions of “normal technique.”

One particularly dismaying example among many for the modernist’s ear and sensibilities is Hefti’s use of so-called “seagull” string effects in the piano trio Schattenspie(ge)l and the first string quartet Ph(r)asen. This gesture—Hefti prefers to label it a “shooting star”—consists of the rapid high-to-low sweep of a gradually contracting “artificial harmonic” fingering across the length of the fingerboard. It is the resultant cascade of brief overtone glissandi, reminiscent of certain seabirds, that gives the effect its name. In order to successfully evoke seagulls, however, this is practically the most “constructed” musical gesture in the string player’s arsenal: it requires just the right amount of rapidity, a precisely calculated change in the distance between the fingers of the left hand, a specific bow speed and bow position which afford the clearest elocution of harmonics, and a controlled dynamic envelope that includes both an imperceptible initial attack and a gentle release.

The modernist’s objections to Hefti’s implicit rejection of materialism herein are at least twofold: first, by declining to deconstruct these gestures he banishes them from the material discourse and thus renders them permanently inexpressive of anything but their extramusical connotation; and second, by (perhaps unwittingly) subsuming these gestures into a sound-world in which the compositeness of performance parameters remains unquestioned, and thus embracing the model of the “virtuosic” performer who has domesticated his métier, the possible revolutionary import of these materials is rendered trivial and harmless.

But all these things need not be of immediate concern to the composer, let alone to [End Page 406] the library acquisitions professional. To the more immediate question of whether the pieces are any good when judged upon their own merits, by their own implicit standards, the answer is resoundingly positive. Hefti’s works make for an engaging listening experience, they are worth closer study, and are surely both a pleasure and a challenge to perform. The influence of his teacher, Wolfgang Rihm, is amply in evidence, though without drowning out an original voice, while the evocative manner in which effects are employed is...


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