Turbulent Times

Simon Rackham

‘Turbulent Times’, was composed in the early autumn of 2020, for two pianos. At the moment of writing the world was facing increasing Covid 19 infections, the US election was just around the corner and Brexit negotiations were entering a critical stage, so there was a high level of uncertainty both politically and from the point of view of health. The first piece could be subtitled ‘Spring’ where Covid 19 started introducing a new uncertainty. The second piece could be ‘Summer’ where for a while there was more optimism, and part three could be ‘Autumn’ with the problems caused by the virus rising again. The pieces are composed diatonically in B flat major, and all are in the same time signature of ‘six four’ (though with different tempo markings). Six four allows for many different divisions, for example 4 against 3, and in the third section the second piano is really playing in bars of five eight and seven eight against the first piano’s more regular beat. Throughout the music there is a constant interweaving of the material between the two pianos, and some elements are used across the pieces.

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One Equals One

Simon Rackham

‘One Equals One’ comprises two pieces for solo piano composed in the summer of 2020 with both pieces addressing the use of seconds, and both lasting the same time. The first piece is composed with one bar of music lasting one second, and the pulse is constantly present, though the bar may be divided in to one, two or three notes per second. The music is written diatonically but with an unusual scale of B, C sharp, D sharp, E, F, G, and A. The second piece ‘One Equals Sixty’ is composed with a beat of one second per note (60 BPM metronome marking), but the beat is not always audibly present which gives more sense of uncertainty about time. The piece has the subtitle ‘With Fairly Functional Harmony’, as although the piece is composed using a standard E flat major diatonic scale, I have (very unusually for me) used conventional chord progressions, though standard modulation into other keys doesn’t occur.

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Lockdown

Simon Rackham

‘Lockdown’ contains new music for solo piano composed in the period of the lockdown due to Covid-19 in Italy in March and early April 2020. ‘Sunday Every Day’ represents the feeling that every day now sounds like a Sunday with the general lack of familiar urban activity. ‘Waiting and Hoping’, expresses the longed for good news that things are gradually improving. ‘Only birds in the Sky’ is a reflection on the absence of aeroplanes from the skies. And ‘Lockdown’ is the overall feeling of the general restrictions on normal activities. While all the music is diatonic (using only seven notes), a couple of the pieces use slightly unusual scales, ‘Sunday Every Day’ uses a scale of C, D, E flat, F sharp, G, A, B, and ‘Only Birds in the Sky’ uses a scale comprising of C, D, E, F, G, A flat, B.

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A New Silence in the Cities

Simon Rackham

‘A New Silence in the Cities’ was composed for electric piano during the first week of the ‘lock-down’ due to the Covid-19 virus in Italy. Like everyone I was struck by the incredible silence of places normally thronging with people, and seeing pictures of cities across the world suddenly empty as each country imposed measures to tackle the outbreak was surreal. I look forward to the time when this doleful new silence of the cities is drowned out by the return of the usual sounds of the city with all the regular bustle and activity.

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An Anthology of Occasional Pieces, Pt. Seven

Simon Rackham

Various pieces for piano composed between 1988 and 2020.

‘Head’ was originally composed in 1999 for solo piano, but I added a second pianist in 2020, so is presented here in the new version for piano four hands. 'The Leap!' was originally composed in 1988 for piano and string quartet, commissioned by Bill Hopkins for a film adaption of his novel (originally published in 1957 under the title 'The Divine and the Decay'), which never got made. This is a reworking of the 1988 piano part with additional new material composed in 2020. 'Another Piano Piece' was composed for solo piano in 2003. (It was written on the 1st June and 'Are You Dreaming Now?' was written on the 3rd June, which is mildly interesting as they are almost opposite in all ways). 'Are You Dreaming Now?' was composed for solo piano (it may originally have been intended as a song, but I've lost the words) in 2003. I recently found the score and have reworked it a little bit. It seems to me to be the most 'normal' thing I can remember having written...a tune, with simple harmony. It is dedicated to (now my wife), Paola Paoletti. 'The End of The Line' was composed for piano (three hands) on 21st January 2020, ten days before the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union. I believe 'Brexit' to be an absurd self harming decision and wanted to use this opportunity to publicly proclaim my profound opposition to it. One may think I should write something sad, as sadness is easily expressed musically, (and it does make me sad) but how do you musically represent being ashamed of your country's collective decision? 'Double Bind' was composed in 1997, for solo piano. Double bind is a situation where someone is giving or receiving conflicting signals or messages. 'Art Music (for The Information Tango)', was originally composed in collaboration with John Miller under the title 'Trev' in 1994. We were commissioned by the Australian actor and performance artist Trevor Stuart to provide music for an installation he was making called 'The Information Tango'. John and I worked together to produce a structural framework for the piece and then separately I wrote this music and he produced a drum track, then the two independent pieces were put together. In this extended version of the piece I've omitted the drum track and original vocal part (that recited a list of artists), and have written another piano line, making it now for piano four hands. 'Drone Music (in Memory of a Bee)' was composed in January 2020, and is dedicated to a drone bee (a male honey bee) that we looked after for a couple of weeks when my wife and I found it with a broken wing. A drone in music is usually a long sustained note or tone (for example as used by La Monte Young), so here I have used a continuously repeated low B, (as our bee couldn't fly!). 'Absolute Zero' was composed in 1991 for solo piano and two drum kits, (playing in different time signatures).

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Monologue

Simon Rackham

Four pieces for piano composed in 2019 and an arrangement of a work from 1990.

‘The Process of The Process (For Robert Ryman)’ was composed in the autumn of 2019 for solo piano. Robert Ryman (1930-2019) was an American painter, best known for his series of white on white paintings. The piece is composed only using the white notes of the piano. ‘Monologue’ was composed in 1990 for viola, double bass and organ. This version for piano and organ was arranged in 2019. ‘Falling’ was composed in the autumn of 2019 for solo piano. From the beginning of each phrase the notes always go downwards. ‘Afternoon Tea in Valentines Park’ was composed in the autumn of 2019 for solo piano. In the summer of 2019 I spent a pleasant afternoon with my wife in Valentines Park, Ilford, Greater London. ‘Farewell Music (For Pattie)’ was composed in November 2019 for piano three hands on hearing the news of the death of my great aunt Pattie Orlandini.

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Alternative Arrangements

Simon Rackham

A series of pieces written in the 1990's for various instruments, arranged for piano or two pianos in 2019.

‘Alternative Arrangements’ comprises a series of pieces written in the 1990's for various instruments, arranged for piano or two pianos in 2019. In arranging the pieces I have occasionally changed the octaves in which notes appear and made other slight modifications. Originally composed for four ‘Cellos in 1990 under the collective title 'Call it Wildman'. This arrangement is for 2 pianos, with the subtitles: Pt. 1 - Call It What You Will, Pt. 2 - Call It How It Is, Pt. 3 - Call It How It Was. ‘Hourloupes’ was composed in 1991 for violin (or viola) and ‘cello, this arrangement is for solo piano. It is dedicated to Jean Dubuffet (1901 – 1985) who did a series of works called Hourloupes. 'Sfoggiando Albertina' was composed in 1997, originally for violin and piano, but here arranged for piano three hands. The piece is dedicated to Davide Minotti. ‘Even Stones’ was composed in 1991 for Violin, ‘Cello, and Piano under the original title of ‘An Arrangement of Even Stones’. Even stones is an anagram of seven notes, and all the music on this album is diatonic. This arrangement is for two pianos. In the original work the movements are joined together, but here I have separated them.

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Waves and Stillness

Simon Rackham

Two pieces of very clam meditative piano music.

‘Waves’ was composed in the late spring of 2019 for piano (one hand) and electric organ (one hand) and is intended to be played by one performer. The piece was inspired by sitting watching the waves lapping the shore on a day with a very light breeze. My music generally uses a lot of repetition, but with this piece there is no direct repetition, as each phrase is unique in the way every wave is unique. The organ plays very quiet sustained notes and over the top the piano plays (what is intended to sound as) a very improvisatory line. After the constant movement and undulations of 'Waves' comes 'Stillness', also composed in the late spring for solo piano.

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A Handful of Notes for Guido of Arezzo

Simon Rackham

Seventy one minutes of music for two pianos dedicated to the medieval monk who invented musical notation.

‘A Handful of Notes for Guido of Arezzo’ was composed in late February and early March 2019 for two pianos. One piano has the sustaining pedal held down throughout and plays longer notes while the other piano uses no pedal and only plays very short notes. The piece explores the relationship between these two piano sounds. It is composed using a hexatonic scale (B, C#, D#, F, G, A). Guido of Arezzo, (also known as Guido Monaco) was a medieval Italian Benedictine monk and music theorist thought to be the inventor of musical notation using a stave. Guido also gives his name to the ‘Guidonian hand’, a system to aid singers to learn new music.

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