The composers of the Wandelweiser movement are having something of a moment right now, or at the very least I seem to keep reading and hearing about them. From what I’ve heard peripherally, this music is slow, long, and quiet. Today, I decided to take a listen for myself and check out Jürg Frey’s Extended Circular Music, written 2014-15. This is a set of 10 pieces for various ensembles (it rotates among solo piano, piano quartet, and 3 or 4 saxophones). I listened to pieces 1-3 and 5-7 in the set, which is what appears on the album Jürg Frey from Musiques Suisses CD with the Mondrain Ensemble and the Konus Quartett (not to be confused with the Kronos Quartet), which can be accessed on Spotify.
The pieces consisted of repeated, soft harmonies in either homophony or simple, repeated patterns. From this literal description it’s difficult to convey how and why this music is so lovely. As Frey is working almost exclusively with harmony and timbre, I was most drawn to the pieces with the intersection of the harmonies that I enjoyed the most and the timbres I found most pleasing — this turned out to be the 2nd piece, for solo piano, and the 6th, for saxophone trio. Not coincidentally, these pieces began with an almost-identical (it may have been identical, I’m not entirely sure) minor 7th-ish chord (which is, in technical terms, my jam).
I’ll readily admit that I was not prepared to enjoy this music as much as I did. My attention span tends towards the short side (which has been part of the motivation for undergoing this project of focused listening) and I thus often have a difficult time listening to long, non-active music. I usually feel trapped and restless. This music, though, provided nothing but comfort and the ability to wallow in the warm hug of Frey’s sounds. Admittedly, my comfort likely had a lot to do with the relative short length of these pieces, which were, except for the 7th piece, only 3 or 4 minutes long. Regardless, this has been a heart-warming and nap-inducing first taste of Wandelweiser. My next step is to calm my pulse and dive into one of the more marathonic selections.