Becomings (Das Werden) I-VII (2016-18)
Fragment (After Losses) (2003)
…still time… (1990)
Piano Moves (1990)
Ian Pace (piano)
Métier MSV28611 [two discs, 89’31”]
Producers / Engineers Will Goring, Sophie Nicole Ellison, Sam Hayden
Recorded August & September 2020 at City University, London
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
A major release of music from Sam Hayden (b1968), currently Professor of Composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance – the extent (thus far) of whose output for piano is featured here, and which makes for listening as engrossing as it can seem daunting.
What’s the music like?
It may be significant that, as if mindful of the reception that is nowadays accorded the more radical of today’s music, the composer’s own annotations seem intent on observing his music from the outside – as if to encourage objectivity on the part of those listening. This is by no means an unreasonable gambit for approaching his sometimes intricate, frequently oblique, and always provocative music which is made more so through the constant tension between the systematic and the spontaneous in his thinking. Not least with Becomings (Das Werden), whose notion – as has preoccupied philosophers from Heraclitus to Wittgenstein and beyond – of the state of ‘becoming’, as opposed to ‘being’, pervades the seven pieces at conceptual and semantic as well as musical levels; any tangible sense of finality remaining out of reach.
‘I’ functions as a prelude, but its textural dexterity and hectic passagework plunge straight in. ‘II’ takes this harmonic and polyphonic interplay much further as the intensifying waves of activity culminate in music of assaultive impact, whereas ‘III’ adopts a more improvisatory approach to formal elaboration. ‘IV’ assumes the guise of a central slow movement with its leisurely evolution and trill-permeated texture almost claustrophobic in its intricacy, while ‘V’ finds the superimposition of chromatic and spectral harmonic cycles at its most clearly defined. ‘VI’ unfolds as though a toccata of jagged expressive contrasts before it subsides into simmering anticipation, then ‘VII’ brings this sequence full-circle with its allusions to the opening piece as if a coda whose finality is pointedly offset by the desire to begin anew.
Of the other items, Fragment (After Losses) takes its material from an earlier orchestral piece as the basis for a short while eventful study in disjunct alternations of rhythm and timbre. As his earliest acknowledged work for solo piano, …still time… is audibly a statement of intent with its abrupt if methodical contrasts across the spectrum of pianistic facets; one whose debt to earlier composers (notably Stockhausen) is discharged via the constant pivoting between stasis and dynamism. Larger in overall conception, Piano Moves utilizes an amplified piano in music whose encroaching resonance and polyrhythmic intricacy gradually and inexorably saturate the sound-space; an extended ‘coda’ reducing previously dense textures to a hieratic succession of repeated chords such as sets the primary material at a vastly different remove.
Does it all work?
It does, not least through the unwavering focus of Ian Pace (who gave the complete premiere of Becomings two years back) in clarifying and articulating music whose complex textures never feel merely abstruse – thereby making for an experience seldom less than intelligible.
Is it recommended?
Indeed. These are fiercely committed readings, recorded with clarity and presence, making for a release worthy of attention from all adventurous and inquiring listeners for its dedicated and impressive music-making. Hayden’s chamber music (NMCD168) is also worth investigation.