(bnr Turin, 1922; d New Jersey, 15 Aug 1991). Italian tenor. He studied in Turin with Pertile, then at the opera school of La Scala, where he began his career in small parts. He then progressed to major roles in the Italian regions before achieving success at the Metropolitan in his début there as Pinkerton in 1958; thereafter, until 1962, he was admired as Edgardo (to Callas’s Lucia), Don Carlos, Faust, Rodolfo (La bohème), Radames, Enzo Grimaldi (La Gioconda) and the Italian Singer (Der Rosenkavalier). He sang to acclaim at the Vienna Staatsoper from 1958 and took the title role in Don Carlos at the Salzburg Festival (1958, 1960) under Karajan. Walter Legge asked him to sing Calaf in Callas’s 1957 recording of Turandot and he also recorded, in 1959, the Verdi Requiem under Serafin. His singing on disc reveals a ringing yet plangent tenor and a fine sense of phrasing.
(b Coventry, 16 Jan 1943). English composer.
His first formal studies were at the Birmingham School of Music (1961–3); a Prokofiev-like Sonatina for three clarinets, now withdrawn, dates from this period. From 1966 to 1967 he studied at the RAM, where his teachers included Lennox Berkeley; he became musical director of the Academy’s New Music Club, and founded and conducted the Arradon Ensemble, which specialized in contemporary music. During this time he produced his first characteristic works, one of which, the Sonatas for string quartet, was awarded third prize at the 1968 Gaudeamus Music Week (in the next two years, prizes also went to Epicycle and the Missa brevis). In the same year a Mendelssohn Scholarship enabled him to study with Ton de Leeuw at the Amsterdam Conservatory; the next year he gained a City of Basle stipend to study with Klaus Huber at the Musikakademie, where he stayed until 1971. In 1973 he was awarded a scholarship to work at the Heinrich Strobel Stiftung of South West German Radio; in that year he also took up a teaching post at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg (where Huber was the senior composition professor), which he retained until 1986.
The mid-1970s brought a marked rise in Ferneyhough’s continental reputation. In 1974, two earlier works – Cassandra’s Dream Song and the Missa brevis – were first performed at the Royan Festival. The following year saw premières of two major pieces: Time and Motion Study III (at Donaueschingen) and Transit (at Royan); a gramophone record of the latter piece was subsequently awarded a Koussevitzky Prize. From that point he became widely regarded as one of the most significant European composers of his generation. From 1976 to 1996 he was a regular lecturer at the Darmstadt summer courses, where he was co-ordinator of the composition class from 1984 to 1994. In 1986–7 he was principal composition teacher at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague; in 1987 he moved to the USA after being appointed professor of composition at the University of California, San Diego. Still much in demand internationally as a teacher, he began directing the annual composition course at the Fondation Royaumont in 1990, also teaching in the Cursus Informatique at IRCAM, Paris. He was made Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1984, was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize in 1995, and was elected to the Akademie der Künste, Berlin in 1996.
Despite various periods of institutional study, Ferneyhough is essentially self-taught. The compositional methods of the early compositions such as Coloratura and the Sonata for two pianos, were extrapolated from personal study of works by Webern, Boulez and Stockhausen. In the case of the two last, Ferneyhough’s response was to the surface and ethos of works such as Boulez's Second Sonata and Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke I–IV; he had no more than a general awareness of the technical methods they involved. Their underlying high modernist, transcendentalist aesthetic nonetheless remaned a cornerstone of his work. From the Sonatas for string quartet, many of Ferneyhough’s pieces are extremely ambitious, both in their aims and their dimensions. The Sonatas set out to demonstrate the possibility of extending the intensity of Webern’s ‘miniaturist’ style to a sequence of 20 movements lasting 45 minutes, employing a deliberately non-climactic, discursive structure, which Ferneyhough compares to a walk through a wood. The subsequent Epicycle for 20 strings, the first of several works to embrace ‘cosmological’ models, seeks to collapse this kind of structure through superimposition.
The various references to medieval and Renaissance thinking in Ferneyhough’s early works (for example, in Epicycle, Firecycle Beta and Transit), and certain aspects of their formal layout, are reminiscent of Huber’s work in the 1960s. However it would be wrong to infer from this that Ferneyhough shared his teacher’s mystical inclinations; rather, he refers to such ideas as ‘complete, in principle dismountable thought systems, well adapted to comparisons or contrast with parallel unfolding musical processes’ (Boros and Toop, eds., 89). The compositions relating to them are conceived not as illustrations, but as often partly sceptical investigations of propositions; an external sign of this is the use of ‘logical positivist’ numbering (I.1.i., I.1.ii, I.2.i. etc.) to delineate the sections in Transit, and subsequently in Unity Capsule, the Time and Motion Study trilogy and Funérailles II.
Some of the works composed around 1970 include indeterminate elements, either in relation to form (Cassandra’s Dream Song) or the musical material (Sieben Sterne). However, this was a relatively ephemeral occurrence in Ferneyhough’s output, with the last significant examples occurring in certain passages of Transit; and by the mid-1970s, ‘justified imprecision’ had gained a different focus. Ferneyhough’s earlier music had sometimes been criticized for what was perceived to be its extreme difficulty. In Unity Capsule and the Time and Motion Study pieces, the investigation of performer capacity became a primary compositional and aesthetic focus. These pieces call for total corporeal involvement in the realization of tasks which lie on the boundaries of possibility, both physically and mentally: in Time and Motion Study II for cello and live electronics, the soloist not only executes a very demanding solo part calling for unusual independence of left and right hand, but also operates two foot-pedals and, at times, vocalizes. Here, as later, the composer’s attitude to technology is extremely equivocal; the electronic equipment offers both the enlargement and enslavement of human capacities.
Though these compositions represent an extreme of difficulty, subsequent ones have consistently made enormous demands of their performers – there are no easy Ferneyhough pieces, nor even moderately difficult ones. However, the typically dense and intricate textures of his music – which have led some commentators to categorize it as ‘maximalist’ or ‘complexist’ – do not arise from a fascination with virtuosity per se, but reflects the transcendentalist concerns which have always been a central factor in his work. These are particularly apparent in those pieces which set out from visual imagery. The first of these was the orchestral La terre est un homme, inspired in part by a painting by Roberto Matta, but perhaps even more by a dream of a desert landscape in which each grain of sand seemed to have a tangible weight: it led to a utopian concept of the orchestra as an intricate network of, in this case, 101 complex individual parts. This quasi-alchemical ‘conjunction of opposites’ recurs as a central motivation in the solo piano piece Lemma–Icon–Epigram, whose extra-musical sources also include Andrea Alciato and Walter Benjamin. However, such sources never have illustrative or programmatic outcomes: they inspire new approaches to musical form, and the handling of compositional materials.
A visual trigger also underlies Ferneyhough’s major work of the 1980s – the Carceri d’invenzione cycle, inspired by the dungeon etchings of Piranesi, and specifically by their impossible architectures and the way in which ‘lines of force’ seem to extend beyond the boundaries of the picture. The unusual layout of the cycle is characteristic of Ferneyhough’s ‘problematizing’ of musical form. There are seven pieces: three for various large chamber ensembles (Carceri d’invenzione I-III), three for solo instruments, and a song cycle for soprano and four instruments (Etudes transcendantales). The flute is a linking presence throughout, descending in register from the opening Superscriptio for solo piccolo, through the flute concerto Carceri d’invenzione IIto the concluding Mnemosyne for bass flute and tape, on which there are a further eight bass flute tracks.
Since the early 1980s, a recurrent theme in Ferneyhough’s work has been a dialectical wrestling with tradition, and particularly with the legacy of Austro-German music from Beethoven to the Second Viennese School. In later chamber works, such as the Third and Fourth String Quartets and the String Trio, this has involved various investigations of multi-movement forms. The use of a soprano in the Fourth Quartet signals a direct engagement with ideas stemming from Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, not in terms of a stylistic homage, but as a frankly sceptical reinvestigation of music’s ‘speech-like’ qualities, and the possibility of establishing meaningful relationships between words and music (already raised as an issue in the Etudes transcendantales, and subsequently pursued in On Stellar Magnitudes). Another major group of works initiated in the late 1980s is a series for various solo instruments and chamber ensemble: La chute d’Icare, Terrain, Allgebrah and Incipits. Each of these explores a different kind of relationship between soloist and ensemble: at the start of La chute, for instance, the ensemble echoes the solo clarinet’s material, while in Terrain the solo violin’s material is utterly distinct from that of the ensemble.
3. Composition techniques.
Though the compositional procedures of Ferneyhough’s work have their origins in European serialism of the 1950s and early 1960s, his aims and practice have become very different. He attaches no importance to systems in themselves, preferring to describe the numerous algorithmic devices used in his work as ‘grids’ – not just as constraints, but as a sort of transcendental obstacle course through which musical invention has to squeeze its way in a similar manner to the late works of J.S. Bach. The notoriously complex rhythms of the later pieces, with their nested layers of irrational values (fig.2) often arise from a complex system of regular pulsations which are transformed and filtered, for instance by systematic removal or tying-over of individual pulses. The pitch structures rarely use 12-note materials (Superscriptio is an exception) but do involve quasi-serial procedures such as the interlocking of different set forms (e.g. Lemma–Icon–Epigram; see Toop, 1990). Microtones, which make a momentary first appearance in Epicycle, become a constant presence in later works, both as inflections and as discrete steps in quarter-tone or, much more rarely, eighth-tone scales; semitonal sets or harmonic fields may also be compressed into microtonal ones. These procedures do not constitute a consistent method; they are reconsidered and redefined from one work to the next, and in recent years Ferneyhough has made use of a computer program (Patchwork) to expand and refine them.
Another important feature is the use of ‘texture types’: characteristic combinations of gesture and timbre whose capacity for significant transformation gives them much the same function as themes and motifs might have in articulating formal structures. The cello part at the beginning of Song 2 from Etudes transcendantales presents five ‘texture types’: tremolandos alternating low glissandos and harmonics; glissandos with left hand pizzicato; microtonal snap pizzicatos; espressivo single notes; ‘motifs’ combining triple stops, microtones and harmonics. The many ‘extended techniques’ found in Ferneyhough’s virtuoso instrumental writing are usually allied with such texture types; in contrast to that of composers like Globokar or Lachenmann, Ferneyhough’s use of such techniques nearly always retain some audible pitch element, however fleeting. His formal procedures are harder to categorize. However, a recurrent feature is the use of two or more contrasted or innately contradictory elements – a plot and sub-plot, so to speak – which engage in a process of mutual transformation or erosion. A clear example of this is the String Trio, in which a series of initially rather marginal ‘interventions’ comes to dominate the latter part of the work, largely undermining its notional four-movement structure.
Orch: Epicycle, 20 solo str, 1968; Firecycle Beta, 1969–71; La terre est un homme, large orch, 1976–9; Carceri d’invenzione I, 16 insts, 1982; Carceri d’invenzione IIa, fl, 20 insts, 1985; Carceri d’invenzione III, 18 insts, 1986; Maisons noires, 22 insts, 1998
Vocal: Missa brevis, 12 solo vv, 1969; Transit, S, Mez, A, T, Bar, B, chbr orch, elecs, 1972–5; Time and Motion Study III, 16 solo vv, perc, live elecs, 1974; Etudes transcendantales, S, fl + pic + a fl, ob + eng hn, vc, hpd, 1982–5; On Stellar Magnitudes, S, fl + pic, cl + b cl, pf, vn, vc, 1994: see Chbr [Str Qt no.4, 1990]
Chbr: Sonatina, 3 cl, bn/b cl, 1963; 4 Miniatures, fl, pf, 1965; Coloratura, ob, pf, 1966; Sonata, 2 pf, 1966; Prometheus, fl + pic, ob, eng hn, cl + E cl, hn, bn, 1967; Sonatas for Str Qt, 1967; Funérailles I and II, hp, 2 vn, 2 va, 2 vc, db, 1969–80; Time and Motion Study I, b cl, 1971–7; Str Qt no.2, 1980; Adagissimo, str qt, 1983; Str Qt no.3, 1987; Fanfare for Klaus Huber, 2 perc, 1988; La chute d’Icare, cl, fl, ob, vib + mar, pf, vn, vc, 1988; Allgebrah, ob, 4 vn, 2 va, 2 vc, db, 1990–96; Mort subite, pic, cl, vib, pf, 1990; Str Qt no.4, S, str qt, 1990; Terrain, vn, fl + pic, ob + eng hn, cl + b cl, bn, hn, tpt, trbn, db, 1992; Str Trio, 1995; Flurries, pic, cl, hn, pf, vn, vc, 1997
Solo inst: Epigrams, pf, 1966; 3 Pieces, pf, 1967; Cassandra’s Dream Song, fl, 1970; Sieben Sterne, org [with 2 assistants], 1970; Time and Motion Study I, b cl, 1971–7; Unity Capsule, fl, 1975–6; Lemma–Icon–Epigram, pf, 1981; Superscriptio, pic, 1981; Carceri d’invenzione IIb, fl, 1984; Intermedio alla ciaccona, vn, 1986; Kurze Schatten II, gui, 1988; Trittico per Gertrude Stein, db, 1989; Bone Alphabet, perc, 1991; Kranichtänze II, pf, 1997–8; Unsichtbare Farben, vn, 1998
El-ac: Time and Motion Study II, vc, live elecs, 1973–6; Mnemosyne, b cl, 2-track tape, 1986 [version for 9 b fl]; Carceri d’invenzione IIc, fl, tape, 1987: see Vocal [Transit, 1972–5; Time and Motion Study III, 1974]
MSS in CH-Bps
Principal publisher: Peters
A.Clements: ‘Brian Ferneyhough’, Music and Musicians, xxvi/3 (1977–8), 36–9