Many Many Women

27.6.2022, 18:00–00:00, Jiří Myron Theatre

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Many Many Women
Vocal-instrumental composition, 1975–78

Music: Petr Kotík
Libretto: Gertrude Stein
Director, stage design: Jo Fabian

Performers:
S.E.M. Ensemble

Singers:
Jen Wu, soprano
Ana Caseiro, soprano
Padraic Costello, countertenor
Felix Heuser, tenor
Harald Hieronymus Hein, bass/baritone
Nicholas Hay, bass

Instrumentalists:
Petr Kotík, Malgorzata Hlawsa, flutes
Sam Jones, Adam Richter, trumpets
William Lang, Jen Baker, trombones

World premiere of staged version, 360'

In English language


Many Many Women by Petr Kotik is a composition of extended duration. It is based on Gertrude Stein’s novella by the same name. Stein's text is part of her book G.M.P. - Gertrude, Matisse, Picasso, which was published in 1910 in Paris and re-published by Dick Higgins’ Something Else Press in 1972. In 1971, Kotik began composing for voice as a result of his close collaboration with the composer and singer Julius Eastman. From the first piece he composed for Eastman, Kotik was using the writings of Gertrude Stein. Many Many Women (1975–78) is the culmination of his series of Stein-related works. Composed for voices and instruments, it includes two sopranos, a counter-tenor, tenor, baritone, bass, 2 flutes, 2 trumpets, and 2 trombones. The twelve musicians perform continuously for six hours (there is also a possibility for a shorter version for a smaller ensemble). The duration of the complete piece is the result of Kotik's use of the whole text of the novella.
Kotik's music is based on a concept of a variable "situation" without a clear beginning or ending. The music does not follow a narrative form and does not have a dramatic character. The idea of creating a continuous, non-dramatic "situation" emerged in the early 1950s in works by John Cage, Morton Feldman and others. Instead of a narrative progression – known in music as the Sonata form - there is a continuous, almost Beckettian "situation" that although changing, remains stable and consistent. This idea is elucidated in Feldman’s comments on the libretto Samuel Beckett provided for his opera Neither (1997): "…there's something peculiar about the text. I can't catch it. Finally, I see that every line is really the same thought said in another way. And yet the continuity acts as if something else is happening. Nothing else is happening. What you're doing, in an almost Proustian way, is getting deeper and deeper saturated into the thought."

The score of Many Many Women consists of 173 sections across 378 pages. The sections are distributed among all the performers, who shape the piece during the performance, improvising their entrances, creating a musical flow of unpredictable configurations. The poetic nature of Stein’s text suggests images that could lead to a musical theater. Despite its open form, Many Many Women is traditionally and exactly notated. The performance at the NODO festival will be the first staged performance.

Although, as a composer, Petr Kotik is self-taught, he undertook rigorous musical training both in Prague and at the Akademie für Musik in Vienna. In Prague, he took private lessons with the Czech composer Jan Rychlík. Rychlík has been a source of inspiration and admiration for Kotik throughout his life (similar to Philip Glass's admiration for Nadia Boulanger). Rychlík's work and ideas were far ahead of his time. In the late 1950s, he began to work with phase music based on African drumming, similar to Steve Reich's music more than a decade later. Rychlík's early beginnings as a jazz player as well as his scholarly research into music practice led him to understand and appreciate the significance of improvisation, almost half a century before it became part of the avant-garde. It is possible that the unconventional openness of Rychlík, together with the writings of Cage, which Kotik discovered at the age of eighteen, may have influenced the composer's way of thinking at his very early stage.

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