Contributed by Ilysia Tan (BMUS2, YST) and Ding Jian Han (BMUS4, YST)
Enno Poppe is a German composer born on 30th December, 1969. His music education began with conducting and composition studies at the Hochschule de Künste Berlin. He also studied sound synthesis and algorithmic composition at the Technische Universität Berlin as well as at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe.
Poppe’s music consists of small fragments of sound usually derived from the idiomatic qualities of each instrument. He uses abstract mathematical and algorithmic processes, mostly derived from mathematical models that describe simulations of how plants grow. He also uses small sub-thematic cells that he normally derives from instrument specific gestures. Simple beginnings in his music give way to small changes that become noticeable as the piece zooms in on these idiosyncrasies.
Even from the first listening of Enno Poppe’s Brot for 5 instrumentalists (Trumpet in Bb, Horn in F, Trombone, Piano and Percussion, which is an extended drumset), one hears rather complex textures, rhythms and its stark modernism. This contemporary sound is a result of the idiomatic use of microtones in the horn and glissandos of the trombone, as well as the manipulation of musical material to create long sequences of micro-variations.
Despite this contemporary sound, one can hear the subtle references to jazz. Firstly, the 3 brass instruments could be emulating the horns of a big band. Together with the piano and the drumset, they reference an extensive rhythm section of a jazz ensemble. At the two-thirds mark of the piece, there is a highly irregular 16-bar French Horn solo punctuated by short gestures by the trombone. Perhaps this specific number of bars is a reference to a typical jazz solo.
The opening melodic material consists of the minor third interval. This minor third idea occurs incessantly throughout the piece, but also develops by expanding and contracting intervallically, at different points of the piece. The minor third interval and the minor second interval heard later on are characteristic of the Blues scale. The second material which Poppe uses extensively in the piece is the natural overtone series of the French Horn. At times, it sounds as though the microtonal notes from the horn’s overtone series are the expressive inflections of sung Blues notes. As mentioned earlier, Poppe likes to create his musical material in instrument-specific ways, and in our opinion, he uses that jazzy nature of the brass instruments as the ‘heart’ of Brot. Other references to jazz would be the short, staccato stabs in the piano chords, which can be likened to jazz comping.
However, as mentioned earlier, the jazziness of Brot is merely an undertone. The piece still maintains its very modern flair. The reason for this is Poppe’s very skilful handling of musical material and its development. His method of developing variations was inspired by composers such as Morton Feldman and Hanspeter Kyburz. Through his choice of material and its organic development, the jazzy quality becomes blurred within the brilliant complexity and the wildness of his sounds. Yet, it never disappears, lingering on to the very last minor third gesture of the French horn. This culmination results in his signature aesthetic.