Lockdown Tape #57


Carl Rosman about Evan Johnson's “indolentiae ars”, a medium to be kept:

There has already been plenty of writing about this piece. Its gestation was documented in detail by Emily Payne for her article Repurposing the Past? The Historical Basset Clarinet in Creative Collaboration, including copious interview material with both Evan and me collected while the piece was in progress; Evan’s typically eloquent programme note is here; there’s a fair bit on it in my own PhD research (still in progress); I’ve even already written a little snippet for an Ensemble Musikfabrik blog entry, back in early 2016 on the occasion of the premiere. So I hope you’ll excuse me if I keep this anecdotal.

This is not in any way a showpiece. As Evan’s performance notes point out: “[t]he space of “indolentiae ars”, a medium to be kept is the air directly in front of the performer’s body: it is not a space shared with the audience… Whatever reaches the audience should be as if overheard”. (Perhaps that’s worth emphasising here, since recording such a piece necessarily involves a more intimate kind of eavesdropping than a concert audience has a chance to indulge in.)

The instrument isn’t exactly a standard model, at least not in the orchestral sense: it’s a best-guess historical replica, by Peter van der Poel, of the (lost) instrument on which Anton Stadler performed Mozart’s concerto and quintet. So, neither a standard-issue instrument nor a one-off, but a model with both individual, interesting characteristics and particular historical importance, all of which played a part in Evan’s compositional process. (For historical-clarinet nerds: the low written B is a pitch of particular importance, and Evan being Evan there are multiphonic trills involving the low B hole, which, as this hole does not possess a key, require the shaking of the entire instrument.)

This isn’t an obvious choice for a youtube clip: at 23 minutes it’s anything but bite-sized. On top of that, it requires careful attention—but I think it rewards it as well, and just possibly an advantage of this medium is that gives you a chance to enjoy the piece’s very individual rhetoric (and lack of it) at close quarters, at the time and in the surroundings of your choosing, free from the fidgeting of fellow audience members. In any case, there’s plenty of bite-sized material out there already.

Carl Rosman, September 2020