A Women Who Plays Piano
Epiphany | Pain | Movement
Master of Music Final Project at Trinity Laban Conservatoire
*Awarded for the best creative final project, academic year 2017/18
Piano | Mahsa Salali
Assistant Performer | Anandi Casanova
Sound Technician | Matthew Watt
Assistant Technician | Markas Michmel
Edward Jessen | Ten Bellows
for theatrical pianist, assistant performer and auxiliary audio (2015)
Ten Bellows explores a relationship between two female characters, whom within the scene form a connected pairing. The performer (a woman who plays piano and frequently moves within a preserved routine of activity) propels herself along a route in a purpose-filled rowing gait, through use of a walking stick. The assistant (younger) is a devoted servant who is beholden to the woman. The woman’s inner life, revealed though her piano playing provides the reason and incentive for the assistant to serve these routines. The pair become a whirl of coordinated movement and objects, tied by walking and playing, trays and marbles, sticks and cables. The assistant prepares the routes and provides the trays, ultimately preserving the sound of it through the recordings she has been accumulating. These sounds become fragments of the woman that the assistant might take away. © E.Jessen
Douglas Finch | Epiphanies
Reflections on Alice Munro - for speaking pianist (2016)
II. A moment of peace
III. Her Surroundings
Epiphanies is a set of four pieces for speaking pianist, reflecting on Alice Munro’s writings. ’Epiphany’ is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: “sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking; an illuminating discovery, realisation, or disclosure; a revealing scene or moment”. In her masterful stories, Alice Munro’s writing seems so simple and unadorned that it is often difficult to understand why it has such a strong psychological effect. The composer states: “...as with Paul Klee’s assertion that “the paintings look at us”, it seems to me that Munro’s stories invite us to open and reveal ourselves as we experience them.” (D.Finch, 2016)
The second piece in the set, A moment of peace (text from Alice Munro’s “Post and Beam”, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, 2001) is about the central character Lorna’s need for escape, comfort and withdrawal. In the third piece, Her surroundings (text from Alice Munro’s “Meneseteung”, Friend of my Youth, 1990) a nineteenth Century small-town poetess Almeda Roth, after taking laudenum for her nerves, imagines the objects in her dining room: “charged with life, ready to move and flow and alter. Or possibly to explode.” This movement ends with a song, set to one of Almeda’s poems, “White Roses”, about death.
Galina Ustvolskaya | Piano Sonata V (1986)
“I put my heart and soul into my work, therefore my music must be heard in a different way; listeners also have to work hard. I think that musicologists and performers must search for and experience all the suffering that is contained in my works in the same ways as I did [...] My music is very difficult to understand and to perform.” (G. Ustvolskaya 1994)
Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) has remained one of the most enigmatic and least understood composers in musical history. Her distinct stylistic identity and aesthetic isolation earned her a reputation as a grand Russian original. Musicologists and critics remark on the mysticism and spiritual intent of her music, while still others speak of Ustvolskaya as a composer who, even before Cage, managed to de-aestheticise music, and referring to her music, pose the question: ‘Is it art?’ (E. Nalimova 2012)
Ustvolskaya’s fifth sonata is in ten short movements, each oriented around an ever-repeated D flat. Utterly unforgiving in its insistent secrecy, this pitch holds an almost absurd sway, and remains locked into its register throughout the sonata. On a larger level the entire sonata rotates on the axis of its fifth movement - the longest of the movements, it consists of only two elements, the single pitch Db and a diatonic cluster repeated 144 times on fffff. Ustvolskaya’s directions - that the pianist should hit the cluster with the knuckles, so that the bones audibly smack upon the keys - suggests that the performer must prove her own devotion through pain, through sheer traumatic endurance.
The seemingly non-communicative nature of Ustvolskaya’s music was a direct reflection of the composer’s asceticism. Some claim that her music, like a form of autism, does not have an addressee and exists in its own confined universe; others believe that her music contains a message which can only be ‘decoded’ by people of future generations. Yet it seems that her intense focus on suffering and inner belief are a kind of salve for our troubled and confused times.