From the Book of Longing - Ian Wilson (RVRCD65)
The works on this album span ten years of my life, a period during which my ideas about and reasons for composing changed considerably.
BIG (1991) is one of the earliest pieces I still recognise, written originally for myself to perform and obviously betraying the post-Minimalist influence so favoured for a time by a number of composers of my generation. The opening phrase provides the impetus for the subsequent four sections, each one being an expansion of some idea or motif found there. This stylistic approach was continued in Drive (1992) although within a less rigid formal scheme, its lyricism almost bordering on the overtly romantic once or twice. I have always liked to assign certain roles or territories to instruments in my pieces, so in Drive the violin is always the linear/melodic element, and the piano always the vertical/harmonic.
from the Book of Longing (1996) was the first piece I wrote for Catherine Leonard (the other two violin works on this disc are arrangements of works for soprano saxophone [Drive] and alto flute [Spilliaert's Beach]) and her playing encouraged me to write a work that is part showpiece and part mini-tone poem. Inspired by the Biblical account of the Temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan, I chose to write a series of tangos (framed by two processionals) in order to achieve a certain stylistic distance from the subject, while keeping an element of sensuality to the music - the core of all good temptation. This was one of the first works I wrote after completing my organ concerto Rich Harbour (1994-5), where I explored the concept of instrumental virtuosity for the first time in any depth. The marriage of instrumental technique and musicality has been a preoccupation ever since, even when, as with For Eileen, after rain (1995 - a private commission that eventually took its impetus from the Fernando Pessoa poem Raining), the request was for a more easily performed piece. A Haunted Heart from late 1996 is a more personal work evincing a new development in my approach to melodic and harmonic writing, now more fluid and flexible, a quality mirrored in the rhythmic writing.
After a break of three years I returned to concerto writing in 1998 with a series of works for cello, piano and saxophone, and the genre still exerts a strong fascination for me. Lim is essentially the solo part from my concerto for piano and strings from that year, Limena, written for Hugh Tinney. As that part was written complete before the orchestration was added, I always felt it should be able to stand alone. The flow and flexibility found in A Haunted Heart is developed here through use of a more clearly defined tripartite structure and large-scale thinking. The generally hushed tone perhaps emphasises the requiem-like feel of the central section in particular, the Omagh bomb atrocity having taken place during its writing. Balancing the careful structuring is a Joyceian stream-of-consciousness notion that shows itself in the micro-structure, from phrase to phrase. This concerto was followed soon after by my first violin concerto Messenger (also written for Catherine Leonard), which in turn was succeeded by my fifth quartet …wander, darkling, and all three works illustrate that part of my musical personality drawn to exploring dark and troubling aspects of life. A distant echo of this kind of writing is found in Spilliaert's Beach (1999), a little soundscape I wrote having seen Leon Spilliaert's painting from 1908, Moonlit Beach. Taking the simplest of elements and keeping them in a state of barely-developed flux, the piece attempts to capture the monochrome character of the painting, which has a single bright spot.
The novel compositional approach I took in Verschwindend (2001) makes it a rather different kind of piece altogether. Based on a short (nine-bar) improvisation I played and recorded, the piece reworks that phrase again and again in a process not unlike developing variation. The rhythmic fluidity of Lim is here replaced by a motoric, almost jazzy element that is particularly demanding in its execution, perhaps unsurprisingly as it was commissioned as a test piece for a piano competition.
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