Simple Lines of Enquiry

Eve Egoyan

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Simple Lines of Enquiry Review

by Stephen Eddins

Canadian composer Ann Southam (born in 1937) has written primarily in small forms, so the hour-long, 12-movement Simple Lines of Enquiry is, for her, a large work, and like much of her music, it is scored for piano. Although Southam doesn't apply the term to herself, the music has a minimalist feeling. Apart from the isolated instances when two notes are simultaneously struck, it consists of a single melodic line, so its harmonies are only implied by the pitches of the melody and by the sonorities created when the sustain pedal is held over the course of a phrase. Southam uses a twelve-tone (or twelve-interval) row as an organizing element, but it is virtually impossible to perceive it in the music, which is chromatic, but which has enough repetitions to create a feeling of tonal centeredness. The 12 movements are remarkably similar in length (all the movements except the last are very close to four and a half minutes long), volume (very quiet), tempo (very slow), and rhythm (the melodies consist mostly of notes of equal value, but they are to be played with extremely flexible rubato). The melodic phrases are of varying lengths, with the last note sustained, and their contours are always shifting. The effect is one of blissfully unhurried serenity. While the music doesn't exactly come across as static, neither does it convey any particular sense of development or direction. It creates a gently floating sensation that is satisfying enough that it's easy to let oneself go and just be carried along by its graceful lines. Eve Egoyan, a frequent collaborator of the composer's, plays with great delicacy and sensitivity to the shape of the music. According to the program notes, "This music is intended to be quiet. Please adjust your playback level accordingly," but it is recorded at a very loud level, so the adjustment needs to be drastic.

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