Silhouettes is the first release from Sonic Crossroads featuring composers from across Asia - from Kosaku Yamada's set of Seven Poems from 1914 to Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky's set of Silhouettes from 2001 taking seven iconic composers of the twentieth century as his inspiration. Complete liner notes are provided below. Listen to sample tracks here.
Liner notes by Kathryn Woodard (2008):
I have been fascinated by the idea of musical exchange and sonic representation at the piano since I began studying Debussy's evocations of Indonesian gamelan about a decade ago. About the same time I started researching piano music from Turkey and became intrigued by the work of composers beyond Europe particularly in Asia, who use the piano as a tool to evoke particular sound worlds. In the intervening years I have amassed quite a collection of piano works from across the Asian continent, including my own transcriptions of music I have heard and studied. This album offers a glimpse of that collection and of the piano's role in musical globalization throughout the twentieth century and continuing into the twenty-first.
Muammer Sun (b. 1934) takes folk idioms of Anatolia as his inspiration for Pastoral Colors and crafts simple yet elegant interpretations of dances and lyrical forms from rural Turkey. The pieces on this album are from the first of four sets of Pastoral Colors that Sun wrote for piano. As a student of Ahmed Adnan Saygun, Sun followed the precepts for musical reform in Turkey promoted in the 1920s and 30s, which called for a blending of Turkish and Western elements. Another influential teacher for Sun was Kemal Ilerici whose method for composing in quartal harmony can be heard throughout these pieces.
In Seven Poems: For Him and Her Kosaku Yamada (1886-1965) creates a unique set of character pieces reminiscent of the early cycles by Robert Schumann. He draws on scales and sonorities of his native Japan alongside the dissonances and dance tunes that he must have been exposed to during his studies in Berlin from 1910 to 1913. The contrasting characters of the pieces could be references to "Him" and "her" from the title, hinting at the historically Western usage of 'masculine' and 'feminine' to characterize themes. However, Yamada does not specify which pieces fit each designation, leaving it to the listener to imagine a dialogue between protagonists, and cultures.
Ji No. 3 by Qu Xiao-song (b. 1952) is the composer's arrangement of an original work for the zheng, a Chinese zither. The subtitle "Silent Mountain" describes the work's expansiveness created through extended melodies. The emphasis on single tones, which is characteristic of much traditional Chinese music, is carried over to the piano version of the work. With a long history of increasing virtuosic demands behind the piano, Qu seems to reduce the instrument to a simple set of strings and hammers again. The player is called upon to approach the instrument like a large zither and to consider the rich sonic results from each struck string.
I made this arrangement of Spiritual Gathering after hearing a performance at the 2002 SMithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. Dedicated to cultures of the Silk Road that year, the festival was a veritable feast of musical experiences. The Tajik vocalist and ghijak player Umar Temor performed this original song and dance along with an ensemble from the Badakhshan region in Tajikistan. I was drawn to the music for its soulfulness, expressed in the Tajik-Persian lyrics that conveyed love for the divine and a joyful sense of community. I was also intrigued by the intricate drumming patterns in both 4/4 and 7/8 meters, which I sought to capture through prepared piano techniques first developed by American composer John Cage.
Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky's cycle of Silhouettes complement a global consideration of piano music by offering tributes to some of the most prominent composers of the twentieth century. A native of Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1963 to a Russian-Jewish family, Yanov-Yanovsky has composed numerous works that draw on traditional elements of Uzbek music. However, with this set and previous works for the piano, such as the Bagatelles, he reminds us that to sit down at the piano as a classically trained composer means to confront its long history and sizable repertoire as a centerpiece of European music- no matter where one sits on the globe. At the same time he chose to pay homage to several composers from Soviet Russia and the United States, demonstrating the primary roles that those countries played in expanding pianism in the twentieth century. It is also striking to see and hear these tributes in a single set, possibly as a post-Soviet musical jab at the Cold War's cultural isolationism.
Kathryn Woodard: Silhouettes is available at Amazon.com