26 February 2016

Marius Baranauskas: The Molten Thought

This week after lots of pottering about, I decided it would be nice to discuss some of the work of Marius Baranauskas. Some may remember I wasn't won over by his work that was recently premiered in GAIDA, but I was still positive about his overall output. This post will discuss one of the works I feel really shows off Marius with a real strength.

As I have been slowly gathering my thoughts about the thesis I will write next year, I decided to talk to Marius more directly about his work and influences and so forth. Firstly we discussed on a grander scale which composers influenced him, and almost without hesitation he pointed towards Scelsi, Lutoslawski, and Kaija Saariaho. These influences are quite obvious in his works, not to suggest he is a cheap imitation but more a response to this influence. I had also continued this by asking if composers like Grisey, Murail, or Messiaen had any impact on him; especially as his work is in the same sphere as many composers following after the French spectral works. Marius pointed out they had some impact but not as strongly as the three giants previously mentioned.

I told Marius that the one of the main reasons I wanted to include him in my thesis is he and Juste Janulyte have become probably the two composer's whose success has been shaped by Lithuania joining the EU. Lithuania's membership to the EU is far more symbolic than political as it opened up Lithuania to the world and it also places Lithuania on par with its partners in the union, which will obviously continue to impact Lithuanian music making for many years to come. In light of this I asked Marius how much influence has his native Lithuania had on his output. I thought it was an especially important question to ask when the rest of his major influences are far from Vilnius. Marius pointed to a few composers he admired, mostly for their skill and craft like Osvaldas Balakauskas or Onute Narbutaite; but he said his strongest native influence is his native tutor Rimantas Janeliuaskas. Marius said that the influence and impact of Janeliauskas on his work is extremely strong, and has heavily shaped who is he today.

Which brings me nicely to his orchestral work The Molten Thought (2006). The work like his earlier piece Talking (2002) uses orchestral instruments to replicate phonemes, in turn the piece is almost a prose recitation of a text. As The Molten Thought came later, it is a more elaborate use of this device. We had discussed when using this way of composing, does he ever focus on a particular language. Marius pointed out how pretty much all languages uses the same phonemes, with the exception of languages like Xhosi, the only difference is in Lithuania the phonemes are expressed in a single letter whereas English could take five letter for the same sound.
In this piece, the text being drawn on is by Rabindranath Tagore. The text comes from his Song offerings:
I was not aware of the moment when I first crossed the threshold of this life. What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery like a bud in the forest at midnight! When in the morning I looked upon the light I felt in that moment that I was no stranger in this world, that the inscrutable without name and form had taken me in its arms in the form of my mother. Even so, in death the same unknown will appear as ever known to me. And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well. The child cries out when from the right breast the mother takes it away, in the very next moment to find in the left one its consolation. 

The text is very provocative and colourful, like many of the texts by Tagore. It is also fascinating to see how Marius and the late Jonathan Harvey have both drawn on similar ideas and influences (Speakings (2007/08) and Song Offerings(1985)). It is also curious they were both unaware both were doing similar things.  

The Molten Thought is a dark and brooding piece, which happily spends more time focusing on the phonemes it is trying to replicate. The result is quite poetic and colourful piece which has many parallels with Lontano by Ligeti. Both pieces were later uses of a new soundworld for the composer, but both have a much stronger elegance and purpose to it; due mostly to knowing how to get more out of the devices. Both move organically from one place to the next and just mesmerise with their use of colour and beauty. The Molten Thought does have the same raw impulse as Talking but there is just something about this work that grips me every time I listen. 

Enjoy the recording, and I'll be back with more next time!

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