Paul Nauert: Memory and Music

Paul Nauert (1966-2019)

My lovely wife Marilyn Nonken will present Paul Nauert: Memory and Music (1966-2019), a tribute to the composer who passed away earlier this year, at Spectrum in Brooklyn on Sunday, October 27. (She’ll be presenting the same program at Brandeis University on October 19.) Her program features music written specifically for Marilyn by Nauert and his friends and acquaintances, along with “farewell pieces” by other composers. It will include:

  • Olivier Messiaen: Cloches d’angoisses et larmes d’adieu (1929)
  • Richard Carrick: La touche sonore sous l’eau (2015)
  • Yu-Hui Chang: Lonebird (2006)
  • Eric Chasalow: A Solution in Search of a Problem (2015)
  • David Rakowski: Billie Sizzle (2013), Solid Goldie (2009) (these two etudes were written specifically for our daughters)
  • Paul Nauert: Episodes & Elegies (2010)
  • Michael Levinas: Les larmes des sons (2012)

You can read a brief obituary about Paul Nauert at the Columbia University web site.

I was honored to attend the premiere of Episodes & Elegies when Marilyn (for whom it was written) performed it at NYU in 2011. The composer was in attendance. By then, Nauert had been living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) for two years and was confined to a wheelchair. The diagnosis had a profound effect on Nauert’s compositional style. He wrote:

My music changed in response to the disease. I explored new ideas, new techniques, and points of contact with other music I love (Mel Powell, Harrison Birtwistle—J.S. Bach, in far more abstract terms) out of a sense that these things couldn’t be postponed until later. My customary algorithmic techniques gave way to more intuitive processes, and elaborate compositional designs were replaced by patterns I could retain fully in my memory, as the physical act of composition grew slower, and as my external workspace became limited to my view of the computer screen positioned in front of my eyes by an assistant. No more sketching on paper!

In the album notes for A Distant Music, Amy Sohn continued:

Nauert was impressed with what he has called Nonken’s fearlessness “in the face of complex rhythms and finger-tangling passage work,” and as a result, he wrote “an uncharacteristically dense and extroverted score.” For the new piece, Nauert placed a greater emphasis on lyrical writing, in order to highlight Nonken’s “equally brilliant abilities as a colorist”—while sacrificing none of the virtuosic demands of the earlier work. Episodes and Elegies, Nauert writes, “is structured around two relatively somber elegies. The first of these is spun out of long, expressive lines, and it suggests a mood of quiet resignation. The second is pieced together from much more fragmentary material, and it offers glimpses of anger and defiance. Four shorter and generally livelier episodes are distributed before and between the two elegies, and a prologue and epilogue frame the entire cycle. These shorter movements often play with different rates of pulsation and with contrasting textures and types of keyboard figuration.”

Spectrum has no advance ticket sales; tickets will be available at the door on the evening of the performance, which begins at 7:00 p.m. It’s located at 70 Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn.

Below, Marilyn plays Elegy I from Nauert’s Episodes & Elegies, which she recorded for his album A Distant Music. Amy Beal’s full album notes can be found here.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.