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Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano

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Album Review

Continuing this label's brilliant series of records devoted to the music of Conlon Nancarrow, this album features such brain squashers as Study No. 27 and Study No. 18, as well as a Study No. 36 that is so frantically paced it has been known to run mice populations out of old houses entirely, if played loud enough. With the growing interest since the '80s in this unique composer of player piano music, there are several different choices in terms of documentation of Nancarrow material. The 1750 Arch series was created under the composer's supervision and was recorded utilizing his own player piano equipment, and so has certain claims to authenticity. For most listeners, the reaction to this music will be sheer awe, rapidly transcending quibbles about composer participation and so forth. One of the most common comments about this composer is of course the fact that his compositions are considered impossible for a human being to play, something that might have been said about an individual piano roll in the past, but certainly would not apply to the entire player piano repertoire. In terms of music history, this gives him something of an edge over so many composers who created piano music that, although intensely difficult, can indeed be mastered by human beings who can rise to the challenge. It also places his music in a singular genre, that of music that can only be performed by machines. A wonderful aspect of Nancarrow's music is that in the end, the entire discussion of the machine is irrelevant, as the music itself is too vivacious to allow any relevance to machine references. It is ultimately a celebration of the human spirit, of sheer individuality, and of the infinite potential of human thought. And it is music of such great quality that this volume, like all the others in each collection of Nancarrow's music, comes recommended without reservation.


Born: 27 October 1912 in Texarkana, AR

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Nancarrow composed some of the most rhythmically intricate music ever written, almost all of it for the player piano. Indeed, his music is so dense -- with multiple lines of counterpoint, contrasting tempi, and time signatures -- it's virtually inconceivable that it could be played by a single human pianist. Nancarrow did his work in isolation, away from the musical establishment, and was unrecognized for his achievements until very late in his long life. As a teenager, Nancarrow played trumpet in...
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