On first hearing, the piano music of Peter Garland (b. 1952) creates a feeling of dislocation, then astonishment: It is so very different from the contemporary concert music we are familiar with. The composer’s intent, his emotional directness is immediate—despite the unusual sound world and different sense of time that these pieces exhibit.
The three pieces on this CD, The Birthday Party (2014), Blessingway (2011–12) and Amulet (After Roberto Bolaño) for 4 pianos (2010), are quite different in nature from much of Garland’s previous writing for piano, more lyrical than dramatic in feeling. The Birthday Party in particular is the work of an artist looking back—pensive, even nostalgic, open to musical associations. The Birthday Party is explicitly a study in both memory and loss; in Garland’s own words it is not just a “toast” to Aki Takahashi, the dedicatee, on her birthday, but also to “. . . those who are still with us [and to] our friends and loved ones who are no longer alive.”
Blessingway takes its title from a Navajo ceremony, but its use here must be seen as reflecting a purely personal association of some kind for Garland rather than any literary or musical connection to the ceremony in the piece. It is generally broad and sonorous in character, with subtly changing chordal melodies in the right hand over prominent bass parts with their own independent rhythmic profile; a resonant field is created between treble and bass not unlike that which one finds in much of his percussion music.
Amulet was written for Aki Takahashi. She herself consecutively recorded all four parts before they were mixed down. Garland’s original concept, explained in his introduction to the piece, was “. . . that these are not four separate pianos; but rather they form one big piano, the sum of their parts.” The title Amulet references to a high degree a novel of the same name by the Chilean/Mexican writer Robert Bolaño (1953–2003), particularly its last five pages. Amulet is in large part a humorous work, albeit one with a dark side. As Garland describes it, a comparison to some of the great comic actors of the silent screen era can help explicate some of the contradictions of his piece: “As the films of Chaplin and Keaton or the plays of Samuel Beckett show us, pathos can be the ‘other side’ of humor—which differentiates it from tragedy, which lacks that humorous aspect. So there is an element of humor and (restrained) melodrama in this music.”
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