When I consider the type of music I’d heard from Mauricio Kagel
(1931-2008) prior to hearing his “Trio in drei Sätzen,” or “Trio in
Three Movements” on this CD, “Schwarzes Madrigal,” I must say
that I was quite surprised by the opening thoughtful and
deliberate, slow movement of this piece. Considering Kagel’s
penchant for unusual aural “effects,” this movement was
amazingly “normal.” With the exception of some prepared piano
notes toward the end, there were no other sounds that were
out of the ordinary. In fact, parts of this movement almost
sounded like the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).

Sonically speaking, the second movement was a sort of
Scherzo and was more adventuresome. From a compositional
standpoint, it served its purpose as a jarring contrast that
was sandwiched between two calmer movements. It’s good
to remember that much of Kagel’s music is humorously theatrical,
hence the often unusual methods of sound production. Although
this trio is loosely linked to his musical epic, “The Oral Treason,”
this piece was conceived by the composer as “absolute music.”

The final movement is the longest one in the piece, and uses
minimal “sound effects.”  It is actually rather polystylistic,
ranging from an astringent to a tonal realm. However, the
trademark Kagel “humor” is rarely far away!

The three musicians from the Schönberg Ensemble performing
this Trio were violinist Marijke van Kooten, cellist Hans
Woudenberg and pianist Marja Bon. They performed this
27-minute Trio in an exemplary fashion that was well recorded
by the sound engineers. To date, this is the most “normal” work
by Kagel that I’ve heard. It was composed during 1984 and 1985.

The second piece on this disc was the title piece, “Schwarzes
Madrigal,” or “Black Madrigal” which dates from 1998 and 1999.
This is a 24-minute choral piece with percussion, trumpet and
tuba. As the composer indicated in the CD liner notes, the words
sung by the choir are primarily names of places in Africa with a
few German words thrown in for good measure, which is why it
is entitled “Black Madrigal.” Once again, when compared with
my past listening of Kagel’s music, it was not outlandish. Much of
the singing was in a tonal idiom and Kagel’s use of rhythmic
elements and percussion were almost reminiscent of Carl Orff
(1895-1982) or Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). Even without a
storyline or libretto, a sense of theater is quite evident in this work.
Apparently, Kagel wanted to emphasize the phonetic reproduction
of the words, stressing each syllable. An interesting counterpoint
to the choral singing is provided by an unusually muted trumpet
and a tuba.

This piece is all over the place emotionally, ranging in moods
from overt celebration to solemn ritual. It was a fascinating
work and in the final analysis, it reinforced my impression
that Kagel must have been a funny guy!