Leonid Hrabovskyi

Bio and music

Author: Leonid Hrabovskyi
Editor: Roman Yakub

Leonid Hrabovsky (born 1935) is one of the those pioneers opening modern epoch in Ukrainian music of late 20 century. 

Making, at the end of 1950-s, his starting point the idiom of late Romanticism – early post-Impressionism with folkloric roots (Four Ukrainian Songs, 1959), H. soon turned to post-tonal techniques – free dissonant style aka Prokofiev/Bartok/Hindemith of early 1920s (Symphonic Frescoes, 1961), then to 12-tone procedures (Four Two-Part Inventions and Five Character Pieces for piano, 1962) and shortly after that, H. opened the series of compositions based on mixtures of isolated, contrasting atonal and modal pitch sequences, irregular sonic elements including approximately notated (clusters and extremely rapid passages), non-pitched noises, partial aleatory of rhythm, and free space notation – Trio for Piano, Violin & Double Bass, Microstructures for solo oboe, From Japanese Haiku for Tenor, Flute Piccolo, Bassoon & Xylophone, Pastels for Female Voice, Violin, Viola, Cello & Double Bass to the poetry by Pavlo Tychyna, and Constants for 4 Pianos, 4 Percussion Groups & Solo Violin (all 1964). Next two years (1965-66) had seen two more short compositions in this style – Rilke Epitaph for Soprano, Harp, Celesta, Guitar & Tubular Bells where the inscription on Rilke’s grave served as the text, and Marginalien zu Heissenbuettel for Reciter, 2 Trumpets, 2 Trombones and Percussion using 3 short poems of German avant guarde poet Helmut Heissenbuettel.

In the same 1964, H. began preparations to composition of the melodram La Mer to the texts of Saint-John Perse, which was designed for reciter, mixed choir, and large symphony orchestra including considerable percussion section, organ and 2 pianos. As the base for his 20-minutes work H. selected a special row of 11 pure fifths (a0 – d7) with its various transformations, a number of them sounding mellow consonant ones – on one hand, but also the chromatic scale as one else result of these transformations which might serve the “legal basis” for including clusters in the orchestral web, on other hand. As the preparative actions included selection of fragments of the huge, almost 190 pages poem & their translation into Ukrainian, La Mer had seen its completion much later – in the summer of 1970.

When composing all these scores influenced by music of new Polish school (Krzysztof Penderecki – Witold Lutoslawski – Henryk Mikołaj Górecki and particularly Kazimierz Serocki who created one of most consequent systems of partial aleatoric rhythm notation), H. began feeling rather unsatisfied with the patch-like coloristic approach to the composition concept. He was finally persuaded that, like in painting, the accent on color patch with the diminished role of contour, of drawing may – and do – limit the viability of his music. Looking back at the 12-tone dogma in its classical implementation, H. saw its potential leading to monotony and kind of discoloration as the outcome of steadily equal presence of all 12 pitches in the music fabric. Especially harmful role H. attributed to all-interval series so in-fashion at heydays of dodecaphony –  that might even aggravate the problem, he sensed.

In search of the way ahead, H. reflected on remarkable figures of the time like Olivier Messiaen and his disciple Iannis Xenakis. He anticipated that the modal principle based on diatonic origins might be more fruitful than total chromaticism, and the music of these masters was seen as persuading patterns in that sense. At the same time, H. ran into Polish almanac Res facta with an article on probability and methods of its usage in decorative and painting art. While H. initiated construction of all possible 7-pitch scales using all flats, naturals and sharps, it gave him 365 such scales subsequently chained into 104 large non-octaviated tone rows covering the piano pitch space from a0 to c8. (Some theorists named it meta-series).

So, the question arose – how and where to start with that entire huge ocean?

Like in Second Viennese school practice of breaking 12-tone series into hexachords, tetrachords and trichords, the logical idea was to cut, out from these rows, segments 
of such or other length and turn them into vertical, diagonal or linear building blocks of music texture. But which principle has to be set to determine starting and ending points and lengths of these?

H. found it in basic mathematic axiom of unambiguous correspondence – that is correspondence between a random number and a music atom, here – the start and end pitches. Thus, the probability was introduced and incorporated into the compositional process that has to produce unambiguously notated scores. Carefully determined domains of random numbers continuum were established as ruling determinants of music flow allowing both sharp contrasts and step-by-step evolutionary processes that, slow or at various speeds, change these or other characteristic features of developing sonic constellations.

The very first project experimenting with this new method was the Homoeomorphies I-III for 1 and 2 Pianos (1968-69), and Homoeomorphy IV for Large Orchestra followed (1970). In all these compositions, H. used mostly single rhythm ideas – equal flow of 16ths (I), some proportional space notation with single units of 1 to 60 lengths (II), equal flow of 3 different durations – 32ths, dotted 16ths and double-dotted 8ths (1, 3 and 7 lengths, III), and superpositions of vertical tone blocks built in 3 sections of orchestra –winds, pitched percussion and strings (density 1 to 49 pitches) with respective, highly variable lengths from few 16ths to several whole notes – tied, dotted & double or triple-dotted, or expanded otherwise (IV).

In 1972, H. developed the list of 2042 rhythm figures (based on 1/16 duration) using simple logical deduction way. The 3 large sections were created – that of differently tied units (from triplets up to undecaplets), of syncopated ones (including number of diverse direct and Lombardian syncopes – from triplets to noneplets) and broken (several 16ths within the group that are broken into 2/32 or 3/32 – also from triplets to noneplets). 
There exist the possibility of making hybrid figures by merging two figures of equal length, but of different sections, into one – but even at the computer level, the Lisp programming of today does not have the ready idea how to break this merger process into comprehensive single steps. So H. did it by hand in “For Elissa” on few selected figures’ pairs.

The ways of development of the whole work from initial materials in H. method might be generalized in a notion of total variability and preferable asymmetry. H. put as his general principle the non-repetition – accordingly to the maxim of Arnold Schoenberg – and as the subordinate one, partial or reduced repetition – in well known of 12-tone basic series forms Original, Retrograde, Inversion and Retrograde of Inversion, further – in applying Gothic Talea and Color technique, and evolving ostinato in form of steady expanding a sequence from 2 to 3 to 5 to 8 etc. elements (Fibonaccization) or the opposite process of reducing it (de-Fibonaccization). The Fibonacci series might be substituted or transformed by adding to its members a constant coefficient. The one and the same rhythm line might be repeated with different pitch sequence, or vice-versa.
Additionally, the computer function or even a function in Microsoft Word may make instant replacement in a rhythm – all 8-ths by 16-ths, 4-ths by 8-ths, 2nds by 4ths etc., or more paradoxically – to turn 16ths into 4ths and vice-versa but preserving 8ths – that completely turns one rhythm picture into quite opposite, literally - positive into negative. In pre-computer epoch, that operation, now instant, might take hours of petty handwork. Thus, it seems that the old music theory and practice, while knowing of simplest double increase and decrease of a fugue or canon theme, just could not come to this incomparably more exquisite technique of theme transformation.

So H. created the base for his method of algorhitmic composition that much later was upgraded to computer-assisted one, after burning necessity of speeding-up the slow hand-picking routine processes has become more than obvious.

“Für Elise” (“For Elissa”) piano piece (1988) has been the first outcome of implementing this imposing vocabulary including both 104 pitch-chains and 2041 rhythm figures.
“Temnere mortem” for a cappella chamber chorus (1991) continued the line, this time with rhythm language reduced to septuplets of 4ths with the aim to create the allusion at ancient Orthodox chants. 

In parallel, two scores for singer and chamber ensemble were written outside of algorithmic method and become a continuation of 1960-s mixed technique – “Kogda” for Mezzo-Sopran, Violin, Clarinet, Piano and additional Percussion (1987) and “And It Will Be” for same ensemble with pianist also playing on CASIO-100 synthesizer (1993). Several sections of the symphonic poem for 3 orchestral groups “Vorzel” (1992) were, again, composed by algorithmic method application.

In 2010s, the implementation of some 50 both ready and newly written functions of computer programming language Common Lisp allowed H. not only to greatly increase the composing productivity, but also let him, first, to expand his pitch-chain repertory from one early 104-set by adding 21 new ones, also with 104 pitch-chain in each. They all are multi-unit sets of endlessly variable sequences of intervals: from 1-2-1-2 (mix of minor and major seconds) through 2-3, 3-4, 1-2-3, 2-3-4 etc., up to 1-2-3-4-5-6 –  obtained by mixing together different quantities of each interval in various proportions. This upgrading step brought into H. composing practice even more finely differentiated nuances of consonances & dissonances proportions in harmony and most variable intervallic content in linear domain.

Secondly, by a simple operation of substituting values in rhythm figures lists, the original 2041-figures set was quadrupled by H. into 8164, including now 8th-, 4th- and 2nd-based sections. Free mixing of figures picked-up from different groups constitutes limitless rhythm vocabulary for usage in coming up compositions.

In addition, some simple Common Lisp functions gave the composer another else possibility of building rhythms by freely mixing and re-mixing many times selected groups of elementary values (for example, 5 eights, 7 dotted eights, 9 sixteenths and 3 quarters put in a row and shuffled like cards) thus obtaining most capricious flow of their highly changeable and volatile combinations.

With computer assisted algorithmic method, H. resumed composing of essential instrumental music and added, in recent years, 6 new works to his list:

12 Two-Part Inventions for Harpsichord (2016), 
“Tetragon” – Symphony-Capriccio for 4 Guitars & Strings (2017),
“ARRY” for String Orchestra (2018),
“Credo” for Brass, Strings, Percussion, Piccolo Flute & Four-Hands Piano
“EQVIN” for Violin & Piano (both 2019)
“STR-O-r-GAN for Organ (2020)
Author: Leonid Hrabovskyi
Editor: Roman Yakub