« Michael Byron: Dreamers of Pearl | Main | The Stroke That Kills »

Gordon Mumma: Music for Solo Piano (1960- 2001)

By Dan Warburton
Paris Transatlantic

Those of you who know Gordon Mumma only for his pioneering 1960s work with electronics – from the earwax-melting Dresden Interleaf 13 February 1945 and Megaton For Wm. Burroughs to the raw cybersonics of Hornpipe – ought to know that, prior to his groundbreaking work with the Sonic Arts Union he did in fact study "traditional" composition and performance in the 1950s with Ross Lee Finney in Ann Arbor and George Exon at Interlochen. A talented pianist, he's well versed not only in the contemporary repertoire – performing much of it in a duo with Robert Ashley back in the 60s – but also in Bach, Scarlatti, Haydn, Schoenberg, Webern and Bartók. This fine twofer from New World, beautifully produced and complete as ever with informative liner notes, may be entitled Music For Solo Piano 1960 – 2001, but only two of the works it contains date from the early 60s – the Suite for Piano (1960) and Large Size Mograph (1962) – even if seeds of the later piano music, notably 1997's Jardin, were planted back in the composer's formative years. The music is intimate, introspective and condensed – which could, once more, come as something as a surprise to those who only know of Mumma's work from the period of the ONCE Festival and the Sonic Arts Union – and reveals a remarkable ear for pitch and fondness for time-honoured contrapuntal techniques. But this is no exercise in neoclassical nostalgia: Mumma's take on serialism is as fresh in the Eleven Note Pieces & Decimal Passacaglia (1978) as it is in the thorny Suite, and when he chooses an extant work as a model – the Minuet from Haydn's Symphony No. 47 in the second piece of 1996's Threesome – there's not an inkling of postmodern irony. There's enough set theory in the Sushihorizontals (1986 – 96) to keep a graduate class busy for several months, and, best of all, you can really hear how it works. Dean Vandewalle's performances are terrific, at one and the same time meticulous in their exploration of dynamics and timbre and touchingly lyrical. Now there are two words I bet you never thought of using to describe the music of Gordon Mumma… get yourself a copy of this posthaste and think again.