Personae IV - VI


by Nicholas Maw

Commissioned by the 1986 Bath International Festival with funds provided by South West Arts
First Performance
7.6.86, Assembly Halls, Bath: Peter Donohoe

Score 0-571-50964-9 on sale

Programme Notes

Nicholas Maw Personae IV, V and VI For piano solo (1985) These three pieces were written in the autumn of 1985. Commissioned by the Bath International Festival with funds provided by South West Arts, these are an addition to a continuing series of piano pieces with this title, the first three of which were written in 1973. The first performance of Personae IV, V and VI took place at the Bath Festival in 1986. If anything, in their treatment of the instrument these pieces may be said to bypass the piano writing of a great deal of the music of the last thirty years and take up where the ‘old’ pianism left off. In general, they take the piano not as the purveyor of virtually a single timbre – as is the case in so much recent music – but as a kind of solo drawing room orchestra put at the disposal of a virtuoso player. They are written with the physical characteristics of playing the instrument very much in mind; the act of touch, how the hands move on the keyboard, the shape and feel of a chord or note-cluster under the fingers, the archetypes of keyboard accompaniment figures, the control of a legato line – or, to put it another way, the metamorphosis of song – on an instrument that functions through a percussive mechanical action. The first piece is largely an exercise in legato, though there is a violent contrasting episode towards the end. It begins and ends in a harmonic area fairly close to B major, and is characterised by a regular pulse within a rather irregular metre. The second piece inhabits something of the same world as the piano music of Prokoviev. It is constructed around a nervous line (usually played by both hands at two octaves distance) that moves through a continually varying metre so as to destroy any real sense of pulse. Further dislocation occurs when the line splits into two parts and is ‘attacked’ by a seemingly random series of sforzato cluster-chords, but as the music moves towards a climax a sense of pulse is established. The climax itself is explosive (containing, among other things, a double forearm cluster), and is approached by a leaping four-part ‘fugato’ marked furiosamente. After this the music moves in reverse through its initial processes until it speeds up and disappears into thin air. There follows a short meditative Envoi. The main substance of the third and last piece is fluid in both feeling and texture, it is a kind of lyrical continuum of placid motion. A first contrasting episode consists of a simple song-like idea that returns at the end in juxtaposition with the opening material. A second episode – piu scherzando – perhaps might exist under the surface calm, a restlessness that eventually propels the music into a fast moving cadenza. Nicholas Maw

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