Friedrich Goldmann – Trio (2004)

The Contemporary Hornist has a habit of harping on twin pitfalls of contemporary horn music: overuse of the high register and non-use (dare one say ignorance?) of the low register. Recent decades have heralded a number of new trios for horn, violin, and piano from established modernist composers that fall into these traps. But one that mostly avoids them is the 2004 Trio für Violine, Horn und Klavier by Friedrich Goldmann (1941-2009).

I. Goldmann and Trio

Born in former East Germany, Goldmann studied composition with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Rudolf Wagner-Régeny. Besides composing over two hundred works, he was also a noted conductor of new music. He co-led the Berlin Philharmonic in its recording of Stockhausen’s Gruppen, and he worked regularly with Ensemble Modern from its inception.

Goldmann’s Trio is relentlessly modern. It revels in abrupt shifts of dynamics and timbre and a preference for rhythmic complexity. But it also boasts a mesmerizing profusion of wit and continuous invention that leaves the listener alternately laughing or amazed. (And we are without doubt laughing with—not at—the composer.) One element of Goldmann’s skill is that he is a master of varying the texture, which often reduces to unisons. The result is that the ear never tires.

The composer is also quite adept with continuous variation form. Though fairly conventional for works in modern style, the composer turns it to his advantage in this piece by clearly delineating the different sections. The result is that the larger musical thread is easy to appreciate even on first listening and rewards repeated listening.

II. No Pain Equals Gain

While Goldmann does not hesitate to take the horn high, he knows how to make the high notes count. Ignoring the written D6 (more on that below), there are a couple of rips to C#6. There are also some Bb5’s and a climactic C6. But Goldmann primarily constrains the tessitura to a comfortable sweet spot, preferring to achieve timbral novelty through an array of effects rather than forcing the horn player to hang out in pain territory.

Goldmann almost ignores the low register. Low notes in this piece seems to have been a special project or an afterthought. They are limited to a single variation that comes about two thirds of the way through. And embedded in the score is a telling clue that suggests that some composers may ignore the low register more out of ignorance than choice. The lowest note (written Ab2) has an 8va ossia. One wonders how any composer, much less one of Goldmann’s experience and stature, might imagine a player capable of handling the rest of the piece would have difficulty with Ab2.

III. Buzz the Mouthpiece

One of the trio’s greatest charms is how it ends. Nearly all the pitched content drains away leaving only a congenial clicking and clattering. However, the last pitched element is the aforementioned written D6 with the instruction pp keinen genauen Töne mehr (“no more exact tones”). The score does not offer a specific technique. A commercial recording (produced by the composer) sounds as though the player buzzed it on a mouthpiece. On the linked video hornist Claire Lindquist seems to be singing through the instrument. Another possibility might be half-valving. (The 1st-valve Bb side on a Geyer wrap produces D6 with half-valve.) For players who do not sing soprano, this reviewer recommends buzzing. But bring along a spare mouthpiece as there is no time to remove the one in the horn.

Another passage which neither recording seems to capture fully is the quarter tones in bars 235-251. The score explicitly says “non gliss.” which would imply using quarter tone fingerings. But the players in both recordings use their hands to bend the pitch.

IV. Etc.

In addition to works for standard ensembles like woodwind quintets, Goldmann also included the horn in a number of other mixed chamber works. Perhaps most intriguing is Linie/Splitter 2 for clarinet, horn, accordion, piano, violin, and cello. A recorded excerpt is available here. Most of Goldmann’s works are available from Edition Peters, and the rest (including the Trio) are available by contacting the email address or contact form given on the composer’s website.

A commercial CD of the Trio is available as well. A PDF of the CD liner notes is available here.

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