"An Hour For Piano" by Tom Johnson and other works of similar duration
Monday, May 16, 2011
Despite fitting neatly inside a sixty minute timeframe, the works on this week's program live far outside the conceptual box. Tom Johnson's under-the-radar minimalist masterpiece An Hour For Piano kicks off a five day survey of five piano works cumulatively lasting exactly five hours.
Johnson isn't kidding about the title to his 1971 epic and dispels any suspicion you may have of his compositional seriousness by giving the score a tempo marking of quarter note = 59.225 beats per minute, which, if adhered to with metronomic precision, will produce a duration of exactly 3600 seconds.
The piece is deceptively simple with six basic textures floating whimsically to and from the musical surface. As transitional passages become progressively more embedded into each textural shift, past and present too become increasingly irrelevant and the listener is ultimately confronted with an almost eternal present.
Without question there are certain types of expression that can only be realized through sustained temporal structures. Take a look at the rest of the week for an idea:
Tuesday we have La Monte Young's The Well-Tuned Piano Three (mind-bending), John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano on Wednesday (revolutionary), Simple Lines Of Inquiry by Ann Southam on Thursday (meditative), and conclude with a truly epic performance (we said epic already) of The People United Will Never Be Defeated by composer-pianist Frederic Rzewski, who also made the first-ever recording of Johnson's Hour For Piano (though his performance only lasts 54 minutes).