R. Andrew Lee

William Duckworth: The Time Curve Preludes

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William Duckworth's The Time Curve Preludes (1977-1978) stands with Frederic Rzewski's 1976 The People United Will Never Be Defeated as among the most significant and appealing and large-scale American piano works of the late 20th century. The 24 preludes obviously allude to J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues, even though Duckworth's pieces don't have the systematic tonal organization of Bach and Shostakovich. His harmonic language is broadly tonal, but more often modal with chromatic inflections. Duckworth's use of patterns repeated and varied, a steady pulse, and essentially tonal harmonies place the work in the tradition of minimalism, but critic Kyle Gann describes The Time Curve Preludes as "the first major work that sounded minimalist but refused to satisfy minimalist expectations," in other words, one of the first examples of post-minimalism. For anyone susceptible to the attractions of minimalism, Duckworth's preludes are likely to be beguiling and intriguing. Duckworth doesn't set up processes and let them unfold (like Reich) or rely on repetition and additive patterns (like Glass); his music may have a minimalist sound, but he develops his material with close attention to constantly shifting variations, sometimes subtle and sometimes surprising, that does indeed subvert the conventions of minimalism as it had been practiced up to that point. Most of the preludes are warmly lyrical with seductive melodies and harmonies. Duckworth's signature gesture is an oscillation between minor and major modes that can give the music either a playful, gently irreverent or a gently wistful character. The preludes don't tend to be virtuoso showpieces; while they are certainly not simple, most of them fall naturally under the fingers. R. Andrew Lee plays them with sensitivity and obvious affection. He sticks to the composer's very precise metronome markings but plays with a shapely flexibility that never feels stiff or metronomic. His version lasts almost 10 minutes longer than the premiere recording with Neely Bruce, made under the composer's supervision. The difference lies not in the tempos the pianists take, but Lee allows a very long fade at the end of each prelude that lasts until the final sustained note has died away entirely. The sound is clean, warm, and present. Highly recommended for any fans of new music for piano.

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