Performance | Special Effects | Contemporary | Classical
The twentieth century has seen a wealth of special effects employed in music, in much the same way as they are used in film, beginning with the intonarumori (‘noise-intoners’) invented by Luigi Russolo. A football rattle (called a ‘bird scare’ by the composer) was required by Havergal Brian (1876–1972) for his Gothic Symphony No. 1 (1927). The sound of dragging chains is called for in Schoenberg’s mammoth choral work Gurrelieder (‘Songs of Gurre’, 1912). The typewriter has made several musical appearances, for instance in Satie’s Parade (1917). Ibert’s Divertissement includes a role for police and sports whistles. Milhaud required a saw to be struck with a beater in his Cinq Etudes op. 63 (1920) for piano and orchestra. His Les choéphores (‘The Libation Bearers’, 1915) demands rushing wind created by a barrel cranked round at speed inside a canvas loop; other wind machines are to be found in Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote (1896–97), Schoenberg’s visionary Jakobsleiter (1917–22) and Vaughan Williams’s bleak Sinfonia Antarctica (1953).
The last work began life as a film score (Scott of the Antarctic, 1952) and certainly the rise in importance of the special effect is linked to the central importance of music theatre in the twentieth-century repertory. The percussionist in any production of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites (1953–56) is likely to find him- or herself visiting the local builders’ yard in search of the means to produce the sound of the guillotine. After emigrating to New York, the radical Franco-American composer Varèse wrote for a battery of unusual percussion effects in his seminal Ionisation (1933), including chains, anvils and wailing sirens.
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