The music of

David Lumsdaine

The music of David Lumsdaine

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Reflections on 6 Postcard Pieces

(to the Pianist)

In the days before e-mail, we often sent postcards to our friends and relations. They carried a message as well as a picture. If we were on holiday, the picture might evoke something of the flavour of the place we were visiting; or the image might serve as a reflection of our humour. The message itself might express the briefest greeting or ramble endlessly, in tiny scribbles, all round the back of the card, barely leaving space for address and stamp.

These particular postcards were written to my old friend, Anthony Gilbert. They are ruminations on gesture: musical gestures, gestures of movements by dancers, puppets, marionettes - evocations, responses, and, not least, the physical gestures of our hands on the keyboard as we play them. (These pieces won’t make sense unless performed with an expressiveness firmly based on precision of rhythm and dynamics.)

The first postcard is obviously a visit to a French overture. Most of it is very precise, but some of the beats are missing, some of the accents have become misplaced. There are several smudges, but that’s probably a signature in the last three bars. Can you read it?

The first bar of number 2 is missing; the metre wobbles in the third bar; and bars 4 and 5? What exactly is the pace of this piece? (It makes equal - but different - sense if played at crotchet = 126.) Clearly, somebody or something is learning to march. Maybe it remembers a visit to some Czech puppets.

As well as meaning an epic poem, rhapsody can mean an ecstatic expression of feeling, or an exuberant composition. What can it mean as the title of the third postcard? (Careful with those sudden changes of dynamic - and of course, the pedal.)

Nocturne - this opening suggests quite a long piece, but, I’m sure, having heard you play these two bars with exquisite precision, everyone will feel the mystery of the hour and sense the space opening out.

The Sonata is more problematic: it is, in the original sense of the word, ‘sounded’ as distinct from ‘sung’ (it might be as well to play it aloud - don’t just hum it). Is it possible the title makes any reference to classical sonata style? There’s that funny skipping music that comes from nowhere. (Paul Klee? Webern?) And the last three bars?

Fortunately, the last postcard in the bundle is brief, legible and records a happy visit to Ravel. Gesture is everything, right up to the signature.

These are the thoughts of the composer coming across a bundle of postcards held together with a rubber band in a shoe box at the back of an old-fashioned second-hand book shop. He thinks, ‘Why, those cards were once mine; I wrote them many years ago. What was I thinking of?’

Now you have found this bundle of postcards; what can you make of them?

DL July, 2007