Friday, June 13, 2014

CCC 105 - Tigran Mansurian

Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian is the subject this week of the Consonant Classical Challenge. Mansurian is a well-respected composer who enjoys an international reputation. He's won several artistic awards in his own country, and his choral work "Monodia" was nominated for two Grammy Awards in the field of classical music.

My goal with this series is to show that there are still living composers who have not completely abandoned classical traditions; composers who can create meaningful works of art using tonality. But there are many ways to use tonality, and the truly creative composers will push it in sometimes unexpected directions.

Tigran Mansurian is one such composer. His music has an emotional honesty about it, and he uses the tension between the consonance of triads and the grinding dissonances of minor seconds effectively and efficiently. Tonal music doesn't always have to sound pretty -- if it did, I wouldn't have started this series. What's the point of profiling the musical equivalents of Thomas Kincaid?

Mansurian's "Requiem" is a major work that contains all the basic elements of his style. The work is tonally based, though it may sound exotic to Western ears. Mansurian uses tetrachords as his scalar resource rather than major/minor keys. Tetrachords are a series of four notes (such as B-flat, C, D, and E-flat). The final note is the foundation of the next tetrachord and so on. The result is a "scale" that goes well beyond the eight notes of a major or minor scale, allowing for much richer melodic patters and chords. Both Armenian folk music and religious music is based on tetrachords. Mansurian's composition is actually quite traditional at heart, while simultaneously sounding modern and original.

Mansurian uses a similar process for his cello concerto. His orchestral compositions sound quite different than his choral works. The harmonies are much thicker, and the melodies move in less of a step-wise motion. Although the complexities of the melody weaken the sense of tonality, Mansurian provides long pedal points to help the listener find a frame of reference.

Ragtime is a good natured work that shows Mansurian can write a simple, straight-forward melody when he wants to. Of course, this work keeps it brash and sassy spirit by not always going in the most conventional direction, but that's part of the fun, I think.

String Quartet No. 3 strips down Mansurian's music to its essence. Long chromatic lines weave about through polyphonic chords and complex counterpoint. This short work is very tightly structured. Easily identified motives are repeated and return, giving the listener an aural road map of the work.

Tigran Mansurian has created an impressive body of work in all fields; orchestral, chamber, solo instrumental, choral. He's also written several film scores as well. And his music enjoys (relatively) frequent performance and recording. Still, it's more likely for one to hear his work performed in a concert program in Eastern Europe than here in America. And that's too bad. I think audiences who relate to Arvo Pärt and Bela Bartok might find Tigran Mansurian's music well-suited to their taste.

Recommended Recordings

Quasi Parlando


Hayren - Music Of Komitas And Tigran Mansurian

String Quartets

No comments:

Post a Comment