Anthony Braxton – For Four Orchestras

Composition for Four Orchestras

Anthony BraxtonFor Four Orchestras Arista A3L-8900 (1978)

The most notorious — some would say infamous — release from Anthony Braxton’s tenure on Arista Records.  It is a composition rooted in a multi-orchestra form similar to Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s works like Gruppen and Carré and as it goes on resembles early works of Iannis Xenakis.  Brief passages even resemble the minimalism of Morton Feldman and Steve Reich.  This was recorded superbly, and the musicians perform well considering they were students and given only three hours to rehearse. But just like Ornette‘s Skies of America this recording was definitely under-rehearsed and Braxton had to omit part of the composition to fit it onto two LPs.  There is always a kind of nagging issue with grandiose works like this that the composer is really just trying to garner social prestige by demonstrating an ability to summon resources (four orchestras are fairly expensive and capital-intensive to assemble) rather than to make any particular musical statement.  The producer Joe Boyd‘s memoir White Bicycles talked about how in Hollywood prestige was measured among insiders not by critical accolades or commercial success with audiences but rather by the amount of budget a person controlled.  Listeners should decide that for themselves if that applies to this album too.