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Tom Johnson: An Hour For Piano

Lee,R. Andrew
Release Date: 10/30/2010 
Label:  Cd Baby   Catalog #: 5637722626  
Composer:  Tom Johnson
Performer:  R. Andrew Lee

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

JOHNSON An Hour for Piano R. Andrew Lee (pn) IRRITABLE HEDGEHOG 001 (60:00)

Hopefully most know by now who Tom Johnson is, and not just his important historical role as one of the finest critics of new music from the second half of the 20th century (he was the one who first applied the aesthetic category “Minimalism”). In fact, he’s an entirely original composer whose work I think will grow in influence. As I pointed out in a recent review of his Rational Read more Melodies ( Fanfare 33:5), Johnson is a composer who combines a logician’s rigor with a wag’s wit. Higher mathematics plays a role in his music, which can be extremely process-driven, but there’s also a sly humor that simultaneously subverts overseriousness. It’s a bit Poincaré meets Satie.

In a sense, the title says it all. This 1973 solo piano work is one hour long. It involves a series of basic motives (the notes say six, and due to its hypnotic effect, I can only believe them, rather than give a precise analytic confirmation). They continually recycle, but their recurrences are never anticipatable, and there are constant micro-variations within them. One hears a G sounding somewhere throughout the entire piece, but its harmonic context shifts, as it combines with different modes and harmonies.

The effect is hypnotic, but never dulling. In fact, I found my attention increasing as one moves through its performance. The various motives become old friends, and their return is welcome. This work is less “algorithmic” than some of Johnson’s pieces I know; there’s not specific theorem being illustrated, as far as I can tell. One might call it a sort of dry surrealism. My listening companion commented she liked it very much, and I asked why. She said is was very clean and pure. I think that’s about as good as one gets in trying to describe it.

R. Andrew Lee plays beautifully. Of course one needs control, elegance of touch, and enormous stamina to project the “infinite pacing” of the piece. But to these I’ll add his ability to clarify the various repeating layers of the different textures, not so different from delineating Bach’s counterpoint.

Above all, I salute this uncovering and return to the repertoire of a gem of early American Minimalism.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

An Hour for Piano by Tom Johnson
Performer:  R. Andrew Lee (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971; USA 

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