After reading the blog of composer/violinist/violist Sakura Dixon, I got the idea to make some of my music musings about the “cool stuff I’m listening to,” as she says. In this way, I can share with others my excitement of experiencing the new, amazing music I find.
This week, in doing score study for the String and Percussion piece I’m writing, I stumbled upon Elliot Carter’s “8 Pieces for Four Timpani.” I had a library score for it and, thanks to YouTube, I found a mass of wonderful performances of all the movements. (There are some really amazing percussionists out there!) It’s not to be played as a suite, and I think it would be draining on any professional percussionist’s endurance to do so. The piece does not seem easy, with its compound rhythms that literally create new tempos and its use of extended timpani technique. However, the effect is truly amazing. Carter manages to elicit different colors through use of various mallets/sticks, hitting the drumhead on various places of the drum, calling for timpani mutes, and demanding various stroke styles within the same riff. One of the most intriguing movements is the one entitled “March,” in which the player imitates two different performers by playing one mallet/stick the normal way and using the butt of the other mallet. The way it’s notated, it really does look like two separate lines layered over one another to create very interesting counterpoint between the two.
Disclaimer: A lot of Carter’s music is really weird and hard to get your mind around. However, this “8 Pieces for Four Timpani” is truly amazing and must be heard by percussionists or anyone writing for timpani. In fact, I’ve started mentioning it to all my percussionist friends, and I’m hoping they’ll play it soon!