Friday, January 16, 2009

Some Lilburn Music

I’ve been ranting a bit about Lilburn in this blog recently, so to make some amends to his memory, I did two things. Got a CD of his symphonies out of the library – the first one is very listenable, and rediscovered a book of Occasional Pieces for Piano that I’ve had for some time, but had forgotten about.
The book contains some twenty pieces, only one of them, I think, going for more than a couple of pages. It opens with the Four Preludes 1942-4. These are obviously early Lilburn, and are worth playing. The first is a lilting ¾ piece with real shape and a sense of forward movement. The next is an Allegro one page piece that again goes somewhere. The third is a sostenuto e quasi lontano, which I presume means that it’s supposed to have the effect of hearing something in the distance. For the most part it works, although it seems to me it gets a little lost in the middle. And finally there’s a left hand/right hand chase piece in which the two hands don’t quite imitate each other. So far so good.
Two Christmas pieces for L.B, 1949, follow. Both do a bit of pseudo-bell-ringing, but otherwise aren’t much to write home about. The Allegro from 1948 is good solid little one-page piece, and then we have another set of Four Preludes, this time 1948-60, which presumably means they were written over that long stretch of time.
The first is a lovely limpid kind of thing that unfortunately collapses at the end into several bars of chords shifting down the scale and neither appearing to have anything to do with what’s gone before, or going anywhere themselves. The second is eight and a bit bars long (it takes up one line of music in this edition), and seems nothing more than a sketch of an idea. The third, like the first, has a nice limpid melody and resolves reasonably well into its ending. And the fourth is a nice Andantino.
Next in line is the Rondino, one of the few pieces in the book to have any sense of the celebratory. It’s great, and I’ve obviously done so work on it in the past, if my pencil scribbles are anything to go by.
The Two Preludes from 1951 are dreamy, impressionistic pieces, and both work pretty well. An Andante follows which starts off fine, but like the first of the 1948-60 Preludes collapses into waffle before it finishes. The Poco Lento is another dreamy piece that works, but it’s followed by Three Bars for M.N, 1968.
I don’t know who M.N was, but I have to wonder what he/she thought of the three bars. Three bars? These are typical of the period when some composers were writing a scribble of stuff on the page that ranged over the breadth of the piano, lacking harmony, melody, rhythm or anything else that might indicate that the composer actually cared. I’ve played these three bars several times, but can’t get any musical sense out of them.
The Adagio Sostenuto has a kind of Prokofiev feel about (made more noticeable by the fact that I’m playing a bit of Prokofiev at the moment). Personally I don’t find it works very wonderfully: chords hammered out in one hand while the other goes up and down scales to no apparent great purpose.
The Andante Commodo is again impressionistic, using broken triads quite successfully, and Still Music for W.N.R., 1973 is a similar moody piece, though not particularly ‘still’.
My quibbles aside, there’s quite a bit of very playable music here. The ‘Three Bars’ give hints of things to come in Lilburn’s compositional career, and to me it’s a dead end that not a few composers headed into. (That and the electronic music, which cuts out the middleman – the performer.)
So, Lilburn can stop turning in his grave. I’ve found some good things to say about his work! LOL
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