Steve Re­ich is one of the larg­er fig­ures in Twentieth-century “New” (as in non-pop) mu­sic, and has done well be­cause his works are tune­ful, dreamy, and en­gag­ing. Sex­tet is my per­son­al fave be­cause, along with all those oth­er things, it’s got loads of en­er­gy. It’s 25-ish min­utes long; the five min­utes of the last move­ment are the high­light and a re­al­ly great in­tro­duc­tion to Re­ich, if this is new ter­ri­to­ry to you.

Sex­tet is in five move­ments for six play­er­s, two pi­anos and per­cus­sion with lots of hock­et­ing. It’s dreamy then flashy; I loved it the first time I heard it and still do.

Yale Percussion Group plays Reich’s Sextet

I caught a Steve Re­ich tour some­time last cen­tu­ry and it opened with a piece called Clap­ping Mu­sic, for two play­ers clap­ping, one of them be­ing Re­ich him­self, a sim­ple rhythm shift­ing slow­ly and en­ter­tain­ing­ly against it­self. It was a nice way for a com­pos­er to wel­come you to an evening of his mu­sic, and then I got the gig­gles, be­cause when they stopped clap­ping the au­di­ence had to start clap­ping for the clap­ping. Any­how, they played Sex­tet that same evening and it was a thrill to hear.

I men­tioned “hocketing” above; that’s when two play­ers play al­ter­nate notes of a mu­si­cal phrase. Re­ich does it a lot and in Sex­tet it’s end-to-end.

My fa­vorite record­ing of this is on Sex­tet / Six Marim­bas from 1985. While I’m link­ing to the fi­nal move­ment for its flash and in­ten­si­ty, the ear­li­er parts have a swoony, dreamy char­m, pro­duced in part by ap­ply­ing bows to vi­bra­phones.

If you like the sound of this and want to check out more Re­ich, I rec­om­mend Te­hillim and Muic for 18 Mu­si­cians.

This the 136th in the Song of the Day se­ries (back­ground).

Links · Spo­ti­fy playlist. Sextet’s last move­ment on Spo­ti­fy, iTunes, Ama­zon. And here’s a fab­u­lous live per­for­mance by the Yale Per­cus­sion Group, who play with­out mu­sic; I’m in awe. Watch the vibraphonists’ ham­mers and the pianists’ hands and see the hock­et­ing.

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May 16, 2018
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