Christian Wolff: Long Piano

Christian Wolff: Long Piano

by Thomas Schultz


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Christian Wolff: Long Piano

In 2004, the Music Department of Stanford University made an unusual commission to composer Christian Wolff on behalf of pianist Thomas Schultz for a piano work lasting an hour that was not subdivided into individual movements, in the manner of cycle, collection, or sonata. This was quite a challenge for Wolff, a onetime acolyte of John Cage, who has a preference for working in short forms; sometimes very short: the eighth piece in his "Keyboard Miscellany" (begun in 1988 and continuing through November 2009) runs just 17 seconds. Nevertheless, Wolff accepted the commission and spent a year composing "Long Piano," which Wolff produced through the development of 93 patches of various lengths; a final, 94th patch was added as a kind of a preamble to the whole when Wolff decided that the overall piece was still a little too short. He has also added "Long Piano" to his series of "Peace Marches," which he began in 1983; this is designated as "Peace March 11." The preamble added last is one of the most engaging parts of this long work and really throws down the gauntlet; it is like a dense and complex Ivesian gesture that is slowly separated, like someone pulling apart a slinky. There is some measure of modeling and quotation used in the work, which Wolff happily admits to, but that is just one among a number of strategies both notational and artistic employed in "Long Piano"; from the standpoint of notation alone, Wolff ranges from straightforward, fully written out passages to others where only the rhythms are indicated and pianist Thomas Schultz is required to hang the notes onto them. "Long Piano" has a great sense of variety, yet a sense of forward trajectory and storytelling, as well. Part of that effect can be attributed to Wolff's sense of texture; he tends toward relatively skeletal textures of one to three voices that are occasionally punctuated by chords, and in terms of his harmonic ideas, atonal and tonal sequences live side by side. "Long Piano" often feels like a long melody is spinning forward without retracing its own path as a melody typically does. There are moments of subtle humor, as well, for example in track 6 where at one point a Schoenbergian-sounding outpouring of chromatic counterpoint is briefly interrupted by a tango-like rhythmic figure. Schultz obviously appreciates the return on the commission and gives it his best effort in this recording. Obviously in works where the performer is partly viewed as collaborator there is an extra incentive to play it as well as you can, and though it doesn't always work out that way, in this case Schultz puts his best foot forward. As the old adage goes, "Tall oaks from tiny acorns grow"; "Long Piano" is a tall oak grown from tiny acorns that will serve to stand prominently in the forest of music that constitutes Christian Wolff's legacy.

Product Details

Release Date: 11/10/2009
Label: New World Records
UPC: 0093228069928
catalogNumber: 80699-2


  1. Long Piano, for piano ("Peace March 11")

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