|After recent extraordinary releases of music by Feldman and Cardew, pianist John Tilbury pays homage to another friend and mentor, Christian Wolff, with this outstanding double CD (Wolff himself and percussionist Eddie Prévost help out on the second disc). Christian Wolff started studying music with John Cage when he was just sixteen in 1950, and 'For Prepared Piano' (1951) is an affectionate nod towards the rhythmic aspects of his teachers early music, its four short pieces each following a predetermined 25 bar (5x5) structure. In 1951, at Cage's suggestion, Wolff visited Pierre Boulez in Paris while the latter was working on his epochal 'Structures' for two pianos, and 'For Piano I' is a rigorous workout of nine pitches (frozen In register), nine dynamic values and thirteen durations. As if in reaction to this piece's frosty rigor, 'For Piano II' (1953) sets out to use all 88 notes of the piano, but it's still a challenging listen, with its sounds "dissociated, scattered and thrown into irregular configurations without regard for linear continuity" (to quote Michael Parsons' excellent and highly informative liner notes), In the 'Suite (I)' (1954), where "Wolff is working with discrete preselected elements, juxtaposed and superimposed by means of intricate structural schemes not directly accessible to the listener", you'll also have to come along prepared to think.
In 1957, Wolff began incorporating elements of Indeterminacy into his scores (see the two 'Duos for Pianists;), leaving performers free to choose certain specified sounds and insert them into time brackets of varying durations (Cage returned to the time bracket Idea In his late "numbers" pieces). In 'For Pianist' (1959), Wolff attempted to involve a single performer In unpredictable situations, specifying various activities to be executed - sometimes simultaneously - with precise instructions to be followed depending on the outcome. Though still disjunct and angular, there are more surprises in store - from the occasional slamming of the piano lid to the odd unadorned dominant seventh, In the 'Duet I' for piano (four hands) and 1961's 'Trio II' (adding percussion), Wolff developed systems of cueing to specify event order and duration, attack and release. As his work developed during the 1960s, text began to replace musical staff notation, but anyone imagining that following Wolff's Instructions Is child's play Is well advised to listen to John Tilbury: "You are so Involved with actually making the sound that you have no opportunity for emotional indulgence; you have a job to do and takes all your concentration to do it efficIently - i.e. musically. WIth this music you learn the prime qualities needed in performance: discipline, devotion and disinterestedness".
Signal to Noise May 2003
CD1. Solo (Tilbury)
1. For Prepared piano - 1951
2. For Piano I - 1952
3. For Piano II - 1953
4. Suite (I) - 1954
5. For Piano with Preparations - 1957
6. For Pianist - 1959
CD2. for two pianists and a percussionist (Tilbury, Wolff, Prévost)
1. Duo for Pianists I - 1957
2. Duo for Pianists II - 1958
3. Duet I (for piano four hands) - 1960
4. Trio II (for piano four hands and percussion) - 1961