Runswick: Six Studies on b-o-u-l-e-z

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Study 1 (integral)

Study 2 (cantus firmus)

Study 3 (aleatoric)

Study 4 (scafra)

Study 5 (fractal)

Study 6 (troisième sonate)

Along with John Cage, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, the Beatles and Joni Mitchell (most now departed but in my youth living trail-blazers) Pierre Boulez was a pivotal figure in my life. The moment I heard of his death in January 2016 I took out a piece of manuscript paper and worked out a cryptogram of his name using the musical alphabet I invented for the Scafra Preludes. Amazingly all six letters produced different notes, and even better, turned out to be half of an excellent 12-note row! Complete luck, I know, but this demanded that a piece be written – this was fate. The present six short piano pieces are the result. They form a sort of compendium of the compositional styles I’ve used over the decades, some influenced by Boulez, some in spite of him.

Study 1 employs the ‘total serialism’ of the postwar modernists. Not only do the notes follow the row but the length of each note, its rhythm, how high or low it sits on the keyboard, even how loud or soft it is, all depend on the series.

Study 2, more conventionally written, uses the Boulez cryptogram and its transformations as both melody and harmony. A famous Polish composer seems to be peering in through a window at one point.

Study 3 is aleatoric, the player moving randomly around a graphic score containing six musical fragments. Each of these fragments can be played once or more than once.

With Study 4 we return to a more modernist sound-world. The piece was worked up from a free improvisation, then processed (in both the serialist and minimalist senses) using my scafra technique.

Study 5 is jazz-influenced. The accompanying bassline is a fractal structure, every layer of the form being a micro- or macrocosm of the others. The melody in the right hand is a reworked improvisation (though the player does not improvise).

Study 6 is a nod to the structure of Boulez’s Troisième Sonate. There is no set beginning, the player commencing at one of six possible places and looping back to the start when the music runs out. In addition certain passages can be either played or omitted (these omitted passages are then played at the end).

While I was writing the sixth Study the death of another composer, Peter Maxwell Davies, was announced. I knew him quite well at one time, worked with him and was advised by him: so I included in this Study, clearly audible in the slowest passage, the cryptogram F-sharp, A , D
– m a x.

Sequenced performance by Daryl Runswick

These compositions and recordings are covered by copyright.