Album of the Day: Terry Riley, "Salome Dances for Peace"

Album of the Day: Terry Riley, “Salome Dances for Peace”

Terry Riley
Salome Dances for Peace (Cd Elektra/Nonesuch 979217-2)

One of the largest string quartet compositions of the 20th century, the “Salome Dances for Peace” by Terry Riley (among the main founders of musical minimalism) unfold throughout their hour and a half of music a complex and fascinating journey in which they summarized all the interests that catalyzed the inexhaustible curiosity of this composer.

Harmonic and melodic repetitiveness, Indian ragas, scales from the non-European tradition, jazz and blues influences superimposed on classical Western models and much more: in the hands of a composer less gifted than Riley, all this is
would be transformed into an incoherent and botched jumble, while this composition, despite some moments of creative tiredness, ranks among the most successful in its author's vast catalogue.

Riley manages to unite a myriad of different compositional fragments into a compact mosaic thanks to a series of continuously recurring figures (trills, glissandi, rhythmic ostinatos), which act as a compass within this vast musical landscape in which the sensation of getting lost is almost inevitable but no less interesting.

The work probably does not benefit from continuous listening, especially since several sections (such as “Good Medicine” and “Half Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight”) can be performed independently of the complete cycle.
Listening to one part at a time allows you to better concentrate on the infinite details of Riley's quartet writing, refined and full of different techniques that deserve careful and prolonged listening in order to appreciate its many expressive nuances.

A work of this size subjects the performers to heroic efforts to be able to perform it: in this exemplary recording the Kronos Quartet provides one of their best performances as interpreters thanks also to the natural empathy that the musicians have with Riley, their supporter since the beginning.

European critics have naturally treated this music with disdain, treating Riley as a naive frequenter of
noble quartet writing. Artists such as György Ligeti and Steve Reich have instead paid due attention to this Opus Magnum by Riley, whose architecture recalls the long improvisation concerts that the author himself held for years using keyboards and recorded loops.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.