TERRY RILEY PIANO WORKS.
Terry Riley. The Walrus in Memoriam: For Piano Solo. New York: Associated Music Publishers. [Score, p. 1-5. Print on demand (price on requei from G. Schirmer Rental Library: http://www.schirmer.com).]
Terry Riley. Be Kind to One Another (Rag): For Piano Solo. New York: Associmed Music Publishers. [Composer's note, 1 p.; score, p. 1-15. Print on demand (price on request from G. Schirmer Rental Library: http://www.schirmer.com).]
The keyboard has long held a central position in the music of Terry Riley. in addition to the role it plays in his compositions, Riley supported himself financially throughout much of his early career .by playing ragtime, blues, and jazz standards at the piano in various clubs. Though many of Riley's works--especially those from the late 1960s and 1970s--use electronic keyboards, there are an increasing number of his works for acoustic piano that are becoming more readily available in printed form. Examining keyboard pieces from various stages of Riley's career provides useful insight into how his style has evolved, and points us to some constant threads as well. Keith Potter notes that while Riley is still best known for his 1964 composition In C and the role it played in the development and proliferation of musical minimalism, it can be argued that Riley's interest in minimalist ideas per se ended around 1975, and that changes in his compositional style can already be observed in the works following In C (Keith Potter, Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Music in the Twentieth Century, 11 [Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 20001, 92-93). Early works such as the Keyboard Studies nos. 1 & 2 have many consistencies with the style of In C for which Riley is renowned, however, and thus serve as a relevant point of departure for this review.
Riley's compositions are especially difficult to date because his music and his life philosophy both revolve around the notion of being in the moment, an approach that is at odds with keeping accurate records of the past. Potter recounts an enlightening anecdote in which Riley had decided to throw out a lot of his old tapes and scores, but his wife persuaded him at the last moment to keep them when she suddenly realized what he was up to (p. 93). An early version of Keyboard Study no. 1 was premiered in the same November 1964 concerts as In C, implying that the ideas for these works originated at virtually the same time; Riley now dates the whole set of Keyboard Studies from 1965 (pp. 122-23). Keyboard Studies nos. 1 & 2 serve a valuable purpose for music historians and librarians as representations of Riley's early style. The printed versions of these two. Keyboard Studies that have recently become available for on-demand printing from Schirmer/Associated Music Publishers are facsimiles of handwritten scores "re-copied" by Riley in December 2005 (which seems to imply that the original copies .of the pieces have been lost).
In a vein similar to In C, Keyboard Study no. 1 is made up of a series of modules to be played in sequential order. The sixteen modules that comprise Keyboard Study no. I divide the piece into three sections, each of which has one "continuum figure" (figures I, 7, and 11) that is combined with a series of "repeating figures" (figures 2-6, 8-10, and 12-16) in a way that creates a rhvthmic interlock between the two parts as the continuum and repeating figures are consistently notated on offbeats from each other. Other notable similarities to in C include constant pulsation, a long list of performance instructions that accompany the score (the score and performance instructions each take up two pages), and the fact that the piece opens with a very small number of pitches which are gradually added to as the piece progresses. El, serves as a sort of tonic or pitch center. Figures 1-6 use only the notes EL B6, and D; figures 7-10 then consist of the notes C, Ab. Bb, and Eb while figures 11-16 use the notes Eb Ab B6, D6, and C. Though the piece features a very modal sound, the change from D to Db (and the fact that there is never a third above the Eb, tonic) create .ambiguity about just which mode is being projected at any given time. Riley provides performers with a certain amount, of freedom; the tempo should be as fast as can be comfortably played, figures that were originally repeating figures may substitute as continuum figures if rhythmically realigned, and the number of times each figure repeats is not specified. Potter notes, however, that the common stereotype of In C as a "free-for-all" overlooks the fact that the piece is still to a degree controlled (p.112), and a similar admonition applies here because the three sections of Keyboard Study no. 1 are to be played in sequential order, and a continuum figure must be present at all times.
Keyboard Study no. 2 is similar in layout to Study no. 1--one page pt score is followed by one page of performance instructions. There are fifteen figures to be repeated and combined with one another, and the pitch palette is initially limited before becoming more expansive. Study no. 2 is again modal, but is less modally ambiguous than Study no. I. Aside from a Db, in two of the middle figures, this study contains only the notes of an F Dorian scale. Study no. 2 also includes 'occasional sustained notes, and the figures line up rhythmically instead of being offset from one another. Study no. 2 is arguably more controlled than Study no. 1, as Riley specifics a tempo, directs the performer to play the figures in sequential order, and notes that (me of the first three figures must be present al all times. Study no. 2 also features more directed pitch motion as figures gradually rise in register until the final figure ends up exactly one octave above the first figure.
Keyboard Studies nos: 1 & 2 present an interesting challenge for performance as the pianist must negotiate many close overlaps among the interim king pitch patterns, a technical challenge not unlike that posed by John Adams's China Gate., (1977) and Phrygian Gates (1977-78). The changing array of pitch combinations that. arise out of what seem to be simple repeating figures also anticipates similar ideas found a couple of years later in Steve Reich's Piano Phase (1967). Riley's Keyboard Studies are not as well known as the aforementioned works by Reich and Adams, but this is certainly due in part to the fact that they went unpublished for so long. Keyboard Studies nos: 1 & 2 are historically significant because they contribute to the repertory of minimalist piano works, reflect, the compositional style of Riley's In C, and predate some of the ideas found in: later piano works by Reich and Adams. For these reasons, they would be very welcome acquisitions for music libraries.
The Walrus in Memoriam (1993)--dedicated to the memory of John Lennon--reflects the evolution of Riley's compositional style. As his career progressed, Riley became increasingly interested in improvisation. and many of his later composed works seem to have grown out of improvisations. As its title indicates, the piece is based on the song "I am the Walrus," the song by John Lennon recorded by the Beatles on Magical Mystery Tour (Capitol SMAL 2837 , LP: and subsequent CD and video issues), though it begins as much more of a "free fantasia" in ragtime style than a literal imitation of the Beatles original. The only audible reference to "I am the Walrus" in the opening sixty-one measures are a louse allusion to the E--D#; interplay of Lennon's vocal melody and art occasional relerence to the descending bass progression from A to E that features in some of the original song's verses. Measures 62-80 are much more referentially overt, as here Riley very closely imitates the melodic and harmonic progressions from the interlude and back into the chorus of "I am the Walrus" (compare to the original song starting front die lyrics "Sitting in an English garden. ...").
The final portion of The Walrus in Mentoriam is its most striking in terms of musical interest and ingenuity. Beginning in m. 93, Riley introduces a repeating D-C#-A pitch pattern (seemingly drawn from Lennon's vocal line on the lyrics "I'm (cryin ") that overlaps with statements of itself in various registers. Though the initial passage lasts only four measures. it returns in a much more expansive statement in rum. 124-37. This later fourteen-measure passage not only alludes to Riley's earlier minimalist style, but also expands the pitch palette to include the notes A, C#. D. E, and G. producing an uncanny resemblance to his A Rainbow in Curved Air (1968). Immediately following, the piece's final twenty measures duplicate (with some added arpeggiations) the wedge-like chord progression that ends "I am the Walrus." The final thirty-four measures of the piece thus exquisitely coalesce into a musical passage that is very Faithful to the Beatles original, Intl simultaneously projects Riley's own style. In a work that begins so differently, it is intriguing to hear Riley'so.t. 1 I er style emerge in such a remarkable Manner at the end.
A noteworthy aspect of The Walrus in Memoriam, one that makes it somewhat difficult to search for, is Riley's spelling of "memoriam" in the title as "memorium." Schirmer/AMP has corrected the spelling to "memoriam" on the cover and the title page, while Riley's original spelling remains in the title on the first page of the score. The Telarc recording by pianist Gloria Cheng-Cochran (Piano music of john Adams and Terry Riley, including Riley's The Walrus in Memoriam and The Heaven ladder, Book 7, Telarc 80513 , CD) uses Riley's spelling on the cover. Measure 157 in the score seems to contain an error, notating F#s Where F#s would be consistent with the Beatles version and with Riley's own notation in the preceding bars. Cheng-Cochran apparently agrees, as she plays the notes in question as F#s on the Telarc recording. The Walrus in Memoriam is a worthwhile acquisition for music libraries due to its significance as a tribute to John Lennon and as an illustration of how Terry Riley's compositional style evolved while still maintaining some continuity with his earlier works.
The most recent piece surveyed here is Riley's Be Kind to one Another (Rag, First composed iii 2008 for the pianist Sarah Cahill's A Sweeter Music project, in which she commissioned eighteen composers to write new works envisioning peace. (Some other notable composers who produced works for this project include Frederic Rzewski. Meredith Monk, Yoko Ono, and pauline oliveros.) Riley responded to this commission by adapting what began as an improvisation into a longer composed piece. The version currently available for on-demand printing from Schirmer AMP was revised in December 2010, meaning that Riley may currently consider it more of a work-in-progress than a finished piece (the score also looks less official than the two other works surveyed here, since its cover lacks the Schirmer/AMP logo). The notation of Be Kind to One Another also seems to betray the work's improvisational origins, as there are almost no score indications until the final two pages. The piece is not without certain charms, as a repeating two-bar riff is set up at the opening and then gradually subjected to greater ornamentation and pleasing key changes as sources of variation. On the whole, however, I find the piece less convincing than the other works reviewed here. In much of Riley's earlier work (including Keyboard Studies no. I and 2 and The Walrus in Memoriam), repetition serves a specific purpose, but here the melodic repetition and relentlessly square phrasing are less effective. It remains to be seen whether Be Kind to One Another will enter the repertoire of many performing pianists (and whether Riley may again revise it), but for now the Keyboard Studies nos. 1 & 2 and The Walrus in Memoriam make more persuasive cases as additions to music-library collections.
University of Northern Colorado