Christian Wolff

Christian Wolff Early Piano Music

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This outstanding two-CD survey of the piano music of Christian Wolff comes courtesy of the composer's longtime friend, pianist John Tilbury, with a little help from Matchless label boss (and fellow AMM mainstay) Eddie Prévost and the composer himself. Wolff's studies with John Cage began at the tender of age of 16, and "For Prepared Piano" (1951) is an affectionate nod toward the rhythmic procedures of his teacher, who sent his student off to the hotbed of avant-garde Europe that same year to meet Pierre Boulez. If the influence of the Frenchman's "Structures" is evident in the frozen pitches of Wolff's "For Piano I", the Artaudian violence of Boulez's early total serial work is replaced in Wolff's music by a frosty asceticism that makes "For Piano II" (1953) still a difficult listen today. In "Suite (1)" (1954), where the composer is working "with discrete preselected elements, juxtaposed and superimposed by means of intricate structural schemes not directly accessible to the listener" (to quote Michael Parsons' excellent and informative liner notes), listeners will have to come along prepared to think. From 1957 onward, Wolff's music began to incorporate more elements of indeterminacy -- its use of time brackets predates Cage's late number pieces by nearly three decades -- which makes the extended techniques of "For Pianist" (1959) and the duos and trio on the second disc slightly more accessible, but, to quote Tilbury: "With this music you learn the prime qualities needed in performing: discipline, devotion, and disinterestedness." That applies to listening, too.

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