Cardew Parsons

Performed by Tania Chen


Notes by Michael Parsons

Pieces by Michael Parsons

Piano Piece 1962 was written while I was studying composition with Peter Racine Fricker at the Royal College of Music. It reflects my interest in the music of Schoenberg,  Webern and early Boulez (eg. Piano Sonata 2).  It uses a form of serial technique in which the 12-note series is divided into symmetrical 3-note groups (as in Webern’s Concerto for 9 instruments, op. 24). These   groups are treated flexibly, used initially to form short, angular rhythmic motifs, which overlap, intersect, and then dissolve and recombine in diverse ways, regularly and irregularly. 

Piano Piece 1968 is fully chromatic, but not serial.  In response to the music of Varèse, Cage, Feldman and LaMonte Young,  I had by this time become more interested in exploring an extended field of sonority and timbral resonance, rather than motivic structure and development as such. This piece mediates between extremes of sound and silence, consonance and dissonance, using single tones, vertical aggregates and brief linear sequences which are presented discontinuously, some recurring unchanged, others in varied form. The space between these events is ‘coloured’ by extended harmonic resonances, created by using silently depressed keys to release dampers on strings in the lowest register of the piano. 

Jive was written in 1996 at the request of Ian Pace, as one of a collection of pieces by various composers to mark Michael Finnissy’s 50th birthday.  In Afro-American slang, ‘jive’ means to mislead, confuse, deceive in a playful way; ‘jive-talk’ is light-hearted fooling around, exaggeration, throwing off the scent etc. This piece is alternately capricious and reflective, with fleeting allusions to jazz phrasing and syncopation (eg. Thelonious Monk). The underlying pulse is implied rather than overtly stated; a sense of momentum is suggested, only to be interrupted, contradicted, held in suspense.

Piano Piece August 2001 is one of a series of pieces which use a form of time-space notation, leaving many aspects of interpretation to the performer (including dynamics, articulation, duration of individual sounds and linear continuity). The music is written on open staves without bar lines, and consists of an irregularly spaced sequence of contrasted chords and single notes, derived from the chromatic array by a permutational process, and ordered in time by a chance-determined procedure. As in some of Feldman’s piano music, the sounds are allowed to float freely in space, their length dependent more on listening to the way resonance decays than on counting exact durations. 

Cornelius Cardew: Piano Sonatas 1, 2, 3

Cardew’s first two sonatas were written in 1955 and 1956, when he was a 19 year old student at the Royal Academy of Music. The First Sonata is in a freely atonal, Schoenberg-influenced style. There are two movements: 1) Andante – poco piu mosso  2) Allegro Comodo (Fughetta). 

Whereas the writing in this first sonata is generally linear in its thematic and harmonic development, the Second Sonata is athematic and disjunct, clearly revealing Cardew’s interest in Webern and post-war serialism (particularly Boulez, of whose Structures (Book 1) he and Richard Rodney Bennett gave the first British performance while they were students at the Royal  Academy).  In this single movement, the texture is exposed and spatialised, characterised by the use of isolated pitches and chords with wide contrasts of register and highly differentiated dynamics and durational values.

The Third Sonata (1957-58) is a much more accomplished and exuberant essay in virtuoso pianism, in which Cardew finds his own voice as a pianist-composer. It was completed in Cologne, where Cardew had gone to work as an assistant to Stockhausen, and where he first came into contact with John Cage and David Tudor. The work is two movements, and exhibits a sophisticated grasp of time-articulation in its use of widely contrasted kinds of movement and density. It represents the high point of Cardew’s early involvement with the complexities of European serialism, as well as an awareness of the possibilities of exploring new piano sonorities as revealed in the music of Stockhausen, Cage and the American experimentalists. Much later, when his aesthetic ideas had changed completely and he had rejected his earlier music on political grounds, he wrote of this work:

“As for the content, this word was not part of my vocabulary at the time. Why was the Third Sonata written?  Out of a vigorous spirit of experiment and adventure, and a boundless faith in the ability of David Tudor to make music out of anything.”  

  1. Michael Parsons - August 2001 (3:40)
  2. Cornelius Cardew - Piano Sonata 1, 1955 (8:06)
  3. Michael Parsons - Jive, 1996 (2:09)
  4. Michael Parsons - Piano Piece 1962 (2:40)
  5. Cornelius Cardew - Piano Sonata 2, 1956 (7:52)
  6. Michael Parsons - Piano Piece, 1968 (3:55)
  7. Cornelius Cardew - Piano Sonata 3, 1958 (15:59)

Recorded live.

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