Spontaneous D-Combustion by Stefania de Kenessey, who shocked the sensibilities of the avant-garde at the beginning of the 21st century with her “Derriere Guard” movement, is true to de Kenessey’s purposefully backward-looking compositional aesthetics which provocatively reject most of the musical advances of the 20th century. But it’s not without some quirks. It is a series of seven short movements, but players can play as many as they wish in any order. Ernst chose three, ending the set with a manic Vivace in septimal meter that is not the kind of thing you’d typically hear in the 19th century.


By Frank J. Oteri on April 22, 2014



Keeping Time
Mary Kathleen Ernst, piano








DE KENESSEY Shades of Light, Shades of Dark Magic Forest Dances. The

Passing. Shades of Darkness. Traveling Light Andiamo

C Ens; Stefania de Kenessey (pn) · NORTH/SOUTH N/S R 1023 (74:03)


This is going on my next Want List. This comes as a complete surprise, I will

freely admit. In a straightforward case of listening with my eyes, I read that de

Kenessey is the founder of a traditionalist group of artists in all fields called The

Derriere Guard. At their first festival, the keynote speaker was none other than Tom

Wolfe, whom I consider to be a self-serving, Philistine ass and a boring novelist to boot.

Well, it just goes to show that while artists may indeed draw fire and inspiration from

the oddest sorts of isms and schools, it does the critic no good to have an agenda, however

well intentioned. This disc has flummoxed me in a number of ways. A firm

modernist lover of new music (including that by de Kenessey’s major teacher, Milton

Babbitt), I find myself giving over completely to new music that has not a note that

could not be by a contemporary of Brahms. Brahms is the major influence on the music

in terms of harmonic language, although all the music dances in a way that is entirely

the composer’s own. Her melodic style is rich and entirely uncliched, the themes sing in

the manner one associates with great songs, and everything, fast or slow, has an amazing

rhythmic life that propels the music forward.

The opening clarinet quintet Shades of Darkness, for example, is fully worthy to

share a program or disc with the masterpieces by Mozart or Brahms. Structured in three

movements, each named after a color, this was the work that had me listening

open-mouthed. The music simply soars in a way that I associate with the greatest

masterpieces. It was very much like being introduced to Brahms chamber music way

back when, felicity following felicity. The following single-movement piano trio,

Traveling Light, is of comparable quality and one’s only regret is that it is a

single-movement work of around 10 minutes, as opposed to a multimovement,

full-scale concert work. The Passing, created as the soundtrack to a silent film of a

story by Hans Christian Andersen, is for flute quintet. I would love to see the film since

the music is so good. The last work, Magic Forest Dances, is a big suite for oboe and

piano in six movements. The extended structure allows the composer more range than

the other pieces, including some genuine slow music, which is rather at a premium elsewhere.


I am always hesitant to proclaim this or that a masterpiece, since only time can

really assign such a lofty designation on any work of art. I am, however, willing to say

without hesitation that each of these pieces could share a platform with the very best

music for their particular scoring and not seem out of place. Performances seem

wonderful, and the recorded sound does full justice to the music. Urgently recommended.


John Story, Fanfare