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Michael Nyman (b. 1944)


Piano Concerto
I. The Beach
II. The Woods
III. The Hut
IV. The Release

Michael Nyman was born in London on 23 March 1944 and studied at the Royal Academy of Music, of which he is a fellow, and at King's College, London. Aside from composing, his musical career has involved collecting folk music in Romania, editing baroque and new music, writing an opera libretto, music criticism, performing and lecturing.

Since 1977, Michael Nyman has composed for his ensemble the Michael Nyman Band as well as for a wide range of media and artists. His catalogue includes orchestral, chamber, vocal and choral works, operas and music for dance, television and film. The latter includes 18 soundtracks for Peter Greenaway, notably The Draughtsman's Contract; The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover and Prospero's Books, and The Piano for director Jane Campion. The latter was awarded the Palme d'Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival and won 3 Academy Awards.

About The Piano Concerto Michael Nyman wrote .... "The definite article in the title is significant: this concerto for piano and small 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 of Lille, was composed in spring 1993 and first performed by Kathryn Stott with the Orchestre national de Lille on 26 September 1993.

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 strings and saxophones), and to write a more taxing piano part than was suitable for the film (a part which combines with, rather than confronts, the orchestra, however)".

The concerto is a single movement work of four distinct phases, three of them featuring 18th and 19th century popular Scottish songs which form the basis of Ada's music in the film. After a four bar introduction, the piano enters with the rippling arpeggios which are such a feature of this work. After a rhythmic, rock-tempo section, a quieter episode leads into a 12/8 section featuring the Scottish tune 'Bonny winter's noo awa'. After a complex rhythmic section, the first phase ends with a fast driving passage with unexpectedly variable bar lengths. An abrupt slowing leads into the second phase, which is shorter and slow. The central part of this phase has a funereal tread to it. The third phase features two Scottish tunes, and begins with a fast, boogie-style section. This is followed by a slower cello tune, which leads into a chorale-like passage. The fourth and final phase is mostly quick. The piano develops the boogie tune from the third phase; another slower, sustained section then leads into a fast and definite close.

Note that the four phases connect seamlessly into a whole of about 30 minutes duration; it is not easy to recognise the joins, particularly on a first hearing!

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