An Hour for Piano

Monday, 19 November 2018 Time: 1pm


Branka Parlic – piano

Tom Johnson (b. 1939) – An Hour for Piano (1971)

Serbian pianist Branka Parlic is one of the world’s finest interpreters of the music of minimalist and post-minimalist composers from the second half of the 20th century (and early 21st century), including Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Wim Mertens, Arvo Pärt and others. She is also a specialist in the music of French fin de siècle composer Erik Satie, and has made several recordings of his work and performed concerts such as Satie and Beyond at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2015. In Aarhus, Denmark, in 2016, she organized and participated, together with pianist Natasa Penezic, in the very first integral performance of Erik Satie's proto-minimalist piece Vexations.

Composer Tom Johnson was a student of Morton Feldman and studied at Yale University. His pieces are most often based simply on mathematical and logical processes, such as tiling, which he attempts to make as clear as possible. His works include: The Four Note Opera, An Hour for Piano, Rational Melodies, the Bonhoeffer Oratorio, Organ and Silence, Riemannoper, and Galileo. His 1971 piece An Hour For Piano began as a series of short, improvisatory sketches in 1967 when Johnson was accompanying a modern dance class at New York University. Johnson gradually expanded these sketches and added transitions between them, writing a piece that is to be played in exactly one hour. Achieving this goal requires an absolutely steady tempo for the duration of the piece, which Johnson has set at quarter note = 59.225 beats per minute.

An Hour for Piano is deceptively simple, with six basic textures that come and go at the composer's whim. There is no order to these textures, and the transitions between them blur significantly the boundaries between them. Kyle Gann writes, "It never deviates from the key of G, though some dissonant motives wash through from time to time. The pedal is held constantly, and 99 percent of the notes are in or just above the treble clef." The effect is one where the past and present become irrelevant and the listener experiences an almost eternal present.

In 1974, Johnson also wrote program notes to accompany the piece. These notes are meant to be read while listening to the work, and they encourage the listener to "not to allow the program notes to distract you from concentrating on the music. They are intended to increase your ability to concentrate on the piece, and not to distract from it." These lengthy notes mirror the composition in certain ways, with sentences and entire paragraphs that return frequently and with subtle alterations to the text.

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