two pianos
Two Pianos

Commissioned by The Park Lane Group

First Performance
13.12.1975, Purcell Room, London: Roger Smalley/Stephen Savage

Score 0-571-50285-7 on sale

Programme Notes
During my first visit to Australia in early 1974, as Composer-in-Residence at The University of Western Australia in Perth, I had the opportunity of playing a great deal of music for piano duet and two pianos with Anne Hanrahan, to whom the present work is dedicated. This experience made me reconsider a project which had been in my mind for over ten years (ever since I used to play Busoni's Fantasia Contrapuntistica with John White, my composition teacher at the Royal College of Music), that of writing a large-scale work for two pianos. I actually began to compose Accord in June 1974 after returning to England, and the piece was finished by March 1975. It was commissioned by the Park Lane Group with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain. The first performance - by the composer and Stephen Savage - was given in a Park Lane Group Concert at the Purcell Room, London, on 13 December 1975.
Accord plays continuously for 43 minutes. It falls into five large sections (I-V) each of which is subdivided into two unequal parts (a/b). The limits of these sections are generally blurred, so that they flow imperceptibly into one another, and each section illuminates different aspects of the same basic material.
The work opens with a gesture (which I thought of as the equivalent of the curtain going up in a theatre) in which the pianists slowly unfold two versions of the chord (both containing all the eleven intervals possible within an octave) on which the entire piece is based (A-chord - in German, Akkord). During the remainder of section Ia various segments of these chords are exposed in a variety of generally slow, quiet and static figurations. A short-lived fortissimo outburst shooting to both extremes of the range begins Ib, in which the same material is repeated in a varied form, this time flowing in and out of a series of 'duets', each of which focusses on one particular pair of intervals from the basic chord (minor 2nd + major 7th, major 2nd + minor 7th etc.). This is rather like the cinematic effect of first seeing a vast landscape and then focussing on one particular feature of it (for example the series of zooms into the hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona, which opens Hitchcock's Psycho ). I think these ideas also relate to my impressions of Perth where the piece was conceived. Perth is a large town, but seen from the sea or from the park overlooking the city it becomes merely a small fragment of a much larger landscape taking in the huge Swan river estuary, the Indian Ocean and the endless bush.
IIa begins with long and loud single notes overlapping contrapuntally in the bass and very gradually rises and accelerates until suddenly broken off at the point of maximum speed (the first 'dramatic' silence in the piece). IIb then takes place (with the exception of a few deep bass notes) entirely in the top two octaves of the pianos, reaching a furious climax before dying away to a scarcely audible trilling. Throughout IIIa these high figurations slowly descend, incorporating several 'duets' on the way, until they come to rest on a held cluster just below middle C. A brief but concentrated funeral march disturbs this restful moment only to sink down exhausted to the beginning of IIIb, the 'still centre' of the work (very slow, long silences, brief dabs of sound in the extreme bass).
From this point the work begins to retrace its steps in a considerably modified reversal of the events of the first half. The music climbs gradually upwards once more, this time in a predominantly chordal texture, to IVa. This is the antithesis of IIa, beginning very slowly in the treble (cluster-like chords and carillon effects) and descending, disintegrating and accelerating until it becomes a furious toccata-like passage in the bass. This forms IVb which, being the registral opposite of IIb, takes place (at first) entirely in the bottom two octaves of the pianos. However, the passages of violent chords thrown between the two pianos gradually expand to cover the entire range and lead to the main climax of the work - huge chords slowing down and accelerating, whirling arpeggios expanding and contracting until finally dying away in the middle range. Va returns to the mood and (similar) materials of Ib. As the work draws to a close (Vb) the distinctions between the two pianos become blurred in a long chain of trills which finally resolve at the first and only moment in the entire piece when the two pianists play exactly the same sound simultaneously.
(RS 1975 rev. 1982)

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