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Barbara Kolb

 b. 1939Photo credit: Carlo Carnevali

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An introduction to Kolb’s music by Peter M Wolrich

The music of Barbara Kolb. with its interwoven textures and intense climaxes, most often finds its source in particular poetic ideas or visual images rather than preconceived mathematical models. It is emotive and evocative—the progeny of Ravel and Debussy with occasional reminiscences of American jazz.

Interwoven textures. Kolb’s harmony is atonal without linear movement or traditional resolution, but the elision of harmonies and a shifting sense of harmonic gravity give the impression of tonality freed from directionality. Millefoglie, as the name implies, redistributes layers of chords to create a range of melodic and harmonic variations.

Intense climaxes. Kolb’s works explore in the contemporary idiom the geography of movement to climax. In Soundings, an orchestral piece, it is reached by the progressive superposition of horizontal layers. The Point That Divides The Wind achieves its peak through calculated repetition of melodic units and dynamics increasing to the boiling point. The culmination in the final section of Yet That Things Go Round is achieved by a progressive diminution to silence followed by a fortissimo violent coda. Grisaille’s climax is a piling up of a rhythmic intensity while that of Looking for Claudio is one of rhythmic modulation.

Poetic ideas. Many works set poetry to music. In some, like Chromatic Fantasy and Songs Before an Adieu, the texts are sung or spoken. Appello, a piece for piano solo and Three Lullabies, for solo guitar, are musical counterparts without words, of specific poetic images.

Visual images. The structure of certain pieces has been suggested by purely visual images. Grisaille makes musical use of the Renaissance painting technique by creating a series of overlapping musical textures which undergo gradual coloristic changes leading to the violent climax which obliterates the underlying material. In a recent work, Extremes, for flute and cello the image of opposition dictates the structure of the piece.

American jazz. Homage to Keith Jarrett and Gary Burton as well as Chromatic Fantasy make use of jazz inflections in an entirely contemporary context.

French sources. All of Barbara Kolb’s music is infused with French impressionistic sensibility which has been distilled, atomized and overlaid. Layer upon layer, current under swell, soundings of the sea—leading to a climax which dissolves or frightens, transforms or disturbs.

Peter M Wolrich, Paris, 1989

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