Michael Nyman

The Piano Concerto /MGV

The Piano Concerto /MGV

The Piano Concerto /MGV

Argo CD 443 382-2
1994

The Michael Nyman Band
Michael Nyman: piano
Alexander Balanescu: violin
Clare Connors: violin
Anthony Hinnigan: cello
John Harle: soprano saxophone
David Roach: soprano / alto saxophone
Andrew Findon: baritone saxophone / piccolo
Nigel Barr: bass trombone
Martin Elliott: bass guitar

Royal Liverpool Philharmionic Orchestra
Kathryn Stott

The Piano Concerto - The definite article in the title is significant: this concerto, for piano and smal orchestra, is based entirely on material selected from my soundtrack for Jane Campion’s film The Piano. That score was written in two phases: the solo piano music was composed for Holly Hunter (who played Ada, a pianist in the film) in the autumn of 1991; the orchestral score, partly derived from the piano music, after the film was completed in the summer of 1992. The Piano Concerto, commissioned by the Festival de Lille, was composed in spring 1993 and first performed by Kathryn Stott with the Orchestre National de Lille under Jean-Claude Casadesus on 26 September 1993, along with the peremier of MGV.
This ‘reconsideration’ of the film soundtrack enabled me to achieve (at least) three goals: to create a more coherent structure out of often short, self-contained film cues; to build more elaborate, dynamic textures than were called for in the film (with its more limited palette of string orchestra and saxophones), and to write a more taxing piano part than was suitable for The Piano (a part that combines with, rather than confronts, the orchestra however). The Concerto is a singe movement work in four distinct phases, three of them featuring eigteenth- and nineteenth-century popular Scottish song tunes which formed the basis of Ada’s music in the film. The first phase in A minor is derived largely from ‘Bonny winter’s noo awa’; the second, harmonically more chromatic, has no Scottish-based material; the third (in G/D major) features two Scottish tunes -‘Flowers of the forest’ (cut up and speeded up) and ‘Bonnie Jean’ (massively slowed down, the tune, on cellos and trumpet, as the bass to divisi violins), and a non-Scottish melodic sequence, based on harmonies heard in the opening section, acts as a transition to the final section which reprises ‘Flowers of the forest’ and ‘Bonny winter’s noo awa’.
MGV - MGV (Musique ? Grande Vitesse - High-Speed Music) was commissioned by the Festival de Lille for the inauguration of the TGV North-European line and was first performed by the Michael Nyman Band and the Orchestre National de Lille under Jean-Claude Casadesus on 26 September 1993.
MGV runs continuously but was conceived as an abstract, imaginary journey; or rather five interconnected journeys, each ending with a slow, mainly stepwise meoldy which is only heard in its ‘genuine’ form when the piece reaches its destination. This thematic ‘transformation’ is a key to MGV as a whole, where musical ideas -rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, motivic, textural- constantly change their identy as they pass through different musical ‘environments’. For instance, the opening bars establish boith a recurrent rhythmic principle -9, 11, or 13-beat rhythmic cyles heard against the regular 8 -and a harmonic process- chord sequences (mainly over C and E) which have the note E in common. (Coincitentally, MGV begins in C and ends in E.) A later scalic, syncopated figure (again first heard over C, E and A) begins the second section, featuring brass, in D glat. And so on: the topography of MGV should be experienced without reference to planning, description or timetables. Tempo changes, unpredictable slowings down, bear no logical relation to the high speed of the Paris-Lille journey, while the temptation to treat MGV as a concerto grosso, with then Michael Nyman Band as the ripieno, was resisted: more suitably the Band (amplified in live performance) lays down the tracks on which MGV runs.

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