Contemporary Notation Project: Richard Glover

Logical Harmonies

These are the first three systems of Logical Harmonies (1) (2011) by Richard Glover. From the preface to the score:

“Letters represent major triads, which may be played in any inversion. RH is top line, LH is bottom line.
Aim to keep chords within a two octave range centred around middle C, although don’t let your hands cross.
Choose inversions close to each other.
Maintain a comfortable, steady pulse (no slower than 30 chords per minute) throughout the entire piece, including system changes.
Moderate dynamic, sensitive (and wholly consistent) pedalling.”

The first things that strike you – and I think are the fundamentals of the piece – are the systematic process (two series of chords that slip out of phase with one another, one step per system); the pseudo-tonal basis in triadic harmonies (using letter names, no less!) and a cycle of fifths; and the neutral, grid-like layout.

But at the heart of this piece I believe is a tension between an almost banal idea (and notation) and a surprising wealth of allusion and historical context.

The piece’s conception – systematically devised chords arranged ostensibly in regular rhythms – resembles Tom Johnson’s Chord Catalogue. However, the respective mechanisms of the two pieces are quite different, giving rise to considerable differences in voice-leading, texture, form … And those too shape the rhythmic impression of the piece, through unpredictable suspensions, repetitions and so on. In both pieces this is all possibly accidental, but emerges as definitive, an interesting by-product of our inevitably historicised listening.

(Performance by Sebastian Berweck.)

The use of a standard font (Helvetica, I think), without even the introduction of special characters for flat signs, gives the score a utilitarian, didactic feel whose roots lie in Cardew’s Schooltime Special, or some of the text pieces of the English 70s (I’m thinking of Bryars and others here). There’s a humility to it, I feel.

Michael Pisaro, in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music, has spoken of the function of the grid in experimental music (eg. Cage, Feldman, Ablinger and Pisaro himself). Of early Feldman he writes:

“The visceral impact of a good performance of these pieces (by, for example, John Tilbury) is related to the directness of the score: one can in a very direct way play the surface features of pulse and density, without the unnecessary mediation of the staff and time signature.”

The overall effect of Glover’s piece, however, belies the rigid austerity of its score. Instead of gridded formality, Logical Harmonies sounds an amorphous, pantonal slither, always threatening familiarity, but never quite delivering it. There’s that tension between an almost pedagogical notation and a depth of allusion and expression.

“The covered market of Les Halles, by universal consent, constitutes the most irreproachable construction of the past dozen years … It manifests one of those logical harmonies which satisfy the mind by the obviousness of its signification.” Victor Fournel, Paris nouveau et Paris futur, p.213, quoted in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p.194.

As it happens, Philip Thomas will be performing Logical Harmonies (1) at St Paul’s Hall, Huddersfield, this Thursday. Concert starts at 7.30pm, and also features works by Christopher Fox, Marc Sabat, eldritch Priest, Martin Arnold, Linda C. Smith and Bryn Harrison. A portrait disc of Glover’s music, featuring Logical Harmonies, is due to be released on another timbre in summer. Glover has spoken a little about his music, and this piece in particular, in two posts on Lauren Redhead’s blog: 1, 2.

Find previous entries in this series under the Contemporary Notation Project tag, or via the Secret Music page.

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10 comments

  1. Is this piece specifically “scored” for piano? (seems to be from the instructions given). It strikes me that it would be very effective on the organ. It almost sounds like a hymn accompaniment for the first few chords. On the organ of course the player would be free to choose an orchestration (within “moderate dynamic” of course) and give the piece more of a shape perhaps. Or would that defeat the point…?

    • I guess the whole point is that the piece is “semi-improvised” (performer has to figure out the voicings himself), but – indeed – some of the bitonal harmonies would sound great if played by an ensemble.

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