Mary Jane Leach (Vermont, 1949) joined the New York avantgarde in the 1980s and
a unique persona, that used complex techniques (particularly the human voice)
to produce simple music, a sort of angelic minimalism that is more focused on
the acoustic properties of sound than on its structural composition.
Her compositions often focus on sounds (or, better, acoustic events) that are
not produced by a performer but arise from the way she manipulates the
Celestial Fires (XI, 1993) collects four works for a-cappella sopranos
and other works.
Bruckstueck (1989), possibly her masterpiece, uses a bit of the adagio
from Bruckner's eight symphony. Eight sopranos engage in an angelic
polyphony, passing the melodies among them at a pace that changes continuously.
The effect is both disorienting and mesmerizing.
A Monteverdi madrigal inspired both
Green Mountain Madrigal (1985) and
Mountain Echoes (1987), both scored for eight female voices.
The former is another haunting exercise in interlocking sustained tones.
The latter has more dynamics and the voices intone brief operatic shrills.
Ariel's Song (1987) is a sophisticated antiphonal puzzle in which
half of the voices move in opposite directions from the other ones.
The effect is almost psychedelic.
Feu de Joie (1992) employs the drones of six bassoons as a background
radiation, and then a solo bassoon that stands out for both dissonance and
melody. The piece ends up assuming a theatrical quality, despite the fact that
its polyphony is mostly a confused orgy of musical fragments.
Trio for Duo (1985) is a droning piece for two alto flutes (one live and one taped) and a voice pitched to sound like a third alto flute.
Ariadne's Lament (New World, 1998) contains compositions inspired
by ancient European music.
What is most impressive about the interplay of the female choir and the string
quartet of O Magna Vasti Creta (1997) is the gentle shift of focus and
emphasis. The general pattern is one of cooperation between
superimposed or alternating melodies and sustained instrumental tones.
But the specifics of that cooperation change all the time, albeit without
destabilizing the overall "shape". The result is to enhance the emotional
content of the fundamental melody.
Again, Monteverdi is a major influence.
Call of the Dance (1997), for a-cappella female chorus and solo soprano,
sounds like a deformed madrigal, with the angelic soloist intoning a prayer-like
melody and the chorus releasing delicate breezes of sustained tones.
Monteverdi's own Ariadne's Lament (1993) is rendered for an a-cappella female choir, whose clockwork interaction is synchronized like a metronomy.
The role of the choir is taken by a tape of voices in
Tricky Pan (1995), while a countertenor recites a rather elegiac melody.
The effect evokes medieval liturgy.
Song of Sorrows (1993) is a more conventional composition for mixed choir,
but the "game" played by the voices is even more intricate, and over a broad
range of tonalities.
The album also includes chamber music that is not quite related to the
album's title and theme, but Windjammer (1995), a trio for oboe,
clarinet and bassoon, ranks among her most spirited compositions, and
still slightly reminiscent of renaissance polyphony.
Other Leach compositions include:
Held Held (1984) for alto flute and voice;
4BC (1984) for four bass clarinets;
8 x 4 (1985) for alto flute, clarinet, English horn, and voice;
Pipe Dreams (1989) for organ;
Sephardic Fragments (1989) for soprano;
Lake Eden (1986) for open instrumentation;
String Quartet (1998) for string quartet;
Ceremony of the Bull (1998) for mixed chorus and string quartet;
Minos (1999) for tenor soloist and mixed chorus;
I Sing of Warfare (2001) for tenor soloist, men's chorus and string quartet;
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