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Yale Percussion Group Performs Mauricio Kagel's "Dressur"

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Published on Feb 14, 2011

German-Argentine composer Mauricio Kagel is one of the most intriguing composers of the 20th century. Many of his diverse works contain undercurrents of surrealism and anarchism in an effort to shed light on—and often confront—the musical tradition. His film Ludwig Van refashions Beethoven scores as furniture; his chamber work Der Schall employs cash registers and household appliances as its main instruments; and in his opera Staatstheater, members of the chorus perform overlapping solos, soloists sing in a chorus, and non-dancers present a ballet.

The half-hour percussion trio Dressur (1977) is rooted in Kagel's concern for how audio recordings have altered the tradition of audience experience. "In the 19th century people still enjoyed music with their eyes as well, with all their senses," Kagel has expressed. "Only with the increasing dominance of the mechanical reproduction of music, through broadcast and records, was this reduced to the purely acoustical dimension. What I want is to bring the audience back to an enjoyment of music with all senses. That's why my music is a direct, exaggerated protest against the mechanical reproduction of music."

Like many of the other works in Kagel's "instrumental theater" idiom, Dressur therefore combines the visual element with the auditory, the theatrical with the musical. Using over 50 instruments and non-instruments, Kagel creates sound out of theater (such as when a percussionist slams a chair on the ground several times), and theater out of sound (such as when castanets mimic the sound of a typewriter). The percussionist is a particularly fitting conduit for the visual-aural convergence: even in the most traditional works, his or her striking a variety of instruments, often while clearly visible behind several seated performers, seems to possess an inherent theatricality.

Interestingly, Dressur has become some - what of a YouTube hit lately, with a handful of videotaped performances (many by Yale's own performers) totaling several thousand hits. If technological advances in the 20th century resulted in audiences listening without seeing, those in the 21st may help bring us "back to an enjoyment of music with all senses." —Jacob Cooper

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