Wind-Up Bird Preludes

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On this specially curated week of Hammered! we spotlight a new album of piano music by New York-based composer Ryan Anthony Francis. The record features Bang On A Can pianist Vicky Chow, who, with Francis, joins Hammered! throughout the week with insights on this exquisite new body of piano music.

◦ Tune in at the top of the 11 am/pm hour Monday through Thursday for single works from the album with introductions to each piece by Francis. On Friday we'll offer a full audition of the album en total

◦ The remainder of each day is filled with works specifically chosen by Francis that complement each of his piano pieces. Read Francis's daily programatic walk-through below, along with more detailed notes on his own music.

◦ We'll also feature additional performances at the end of each program by pianistic powerhouse Vicky Chow of brand new piano works by Andy Akiho, Evan Ziporyn, Eliot Britton and Daniel Wohl.

The Piano Music Of Ryan Francis: Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday

Wednesday: Wind-Up Bird Preludes (2005-2010) 

By Ryan Anthony Francis

Wind-Up Bird Preludes engages in some pretty head-spinning musical and literary referencing. The title of the set comes from Haruki Murakami’s massive novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Murakami’s novel itself is divided into three separately published parts, each named after classical pieces, respectively Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, Schumann’s Bird as Prophet and “Birdcatcher” in reference to Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Jazz music also plays a central roll in the musical backdrop of the novel. I was always impressed by the sophistication and depth of meaning in Murakami’s choices of these pieces and thought it would be an interesting project to bring these presences of to Rossini, Schumann, Mozart, and jazz full circle as fleeting presences in a set of pieces that respond to the form of his novel.  

Throughout Chronicle, the titular “wind-up bird” is heard—though never seen—by various characters, and its appearance often coincides with, or even prophecises, the onset of some calamity. That role of the bird in his novel seems to draw a clear line to that of the magpie in Rossini’s opera, whose thieving ways create the central dramatic conflict. In a more earthbound reference, the novel’s protagonist is searching for his wife, with the parallels to Papageno being obvious.

There are other strange musical allusions in my set as well. One prelude, Empty Guitar Case, depicts the violent confrontation of the novel’s protagonist with a jazz guitarist. I couldn’t help but think of Claude Debussy’s own piano prelude Interrupted Serenade, which depicts a guitarist in a café struggling to be heard over loud interjections of conversation by café patrons. I often wonder if that prelude came to mind as Murakami wrote that scene in his novel. He doesn’t explicitly draw the connection, but I believe it is there.

It’s also difficult to escape Olivier Messiaen's influence when writing piano music about birds, especially if you include musical material approximating naturalistic bird sounds (or totally faked naturalistic sounds, as I do) but I was rather satisfied that this set of preludes includes such a mélange of other musical references that his towering figure wouldn’t overshadow my piece. He has plenty of company here!