Today is the 75th birthday of one of the UK’s most consistently remarkable, bewildering, surprising and moving composers, Brian Ferneyhough. By way of a miniature celebration, here are two recordings of his shortest composition, Fanfare for Klaus Huber for two percussionists. It’s a piece i feel somewhat connected to: composed in 1987, the first performance took place in December 1989, at the Musikhochscule in Freiburg (by Ensemble Recherche), and the UK première was organised by myself, given at the Birmingham Conservatoire on 12 December 1996, by Thallein Ensemble (whom i was directing at the time). The work lasts for only a minute, and is concerned with presenting ‘unique sonorities’ as Ferneyhough describes them, each of which is only heard once. From a timbral perspective, this means that each performance of the Fanfare is likely to sound entirely unique, though structurally it falls into five clear sections.
These two performances of the piece were given by the Guildhall Percussion Ensemble as part of the Barbican’s ‘Total Immersion: Percussion!’ day in January 2015. The range of sonorities used rather wonderfully gives the impression that the players were wielding the innards of assorted clocks and timepieces, an impression strengthened by the way Ferneyhough progressively slows down the durations in several of the sections, which here sound like clockwork mechanisms winding down. Much of the writing is very delicate, occasionally punctuated with loud accents, manifesting in these performances via crash cymbals, some particularly strident toms and a rather spectacular whistle.
Contemporary music could do with more works on this kind of scale, especially when they contain such an array of tiny wonders.
Happy Birthday, Brian!
Fanfare for Klaus Huber was composed in 1987 as a birthday greeting for my most important composition teacher. Since it lasts little more than 45 seconds a lengthy programme note would be grotesque: suffice it to say, therefore, that this little squib was important to me on a number of levels, and prepared the way for the composition, four years later, of my more substantial percussion piece Bone Alphabet, where a similar liberty is afforded the performer with regard to the choice of instruments. As well as specifying full complements of familiar instruments, Fanfare demands the invention of a whole range of ‘unique sonorities’, each of which is heard once only.