Études is a set of eight short and extremely technically difficult piano pieces. The piano étude has a long and fascinating history; études originated in the early nineteenth century as pedagogical pieces, before being elevated, principally by Chopin, to the status of concert pieces, in which form they have continued to be written up to the present day. My Études were conceived as a contribution to – and a dialogue with – that tradition.
The ‘even-numbered’ études are all based in different ways on études by other composers: ‘Fanfares’ is modelled on the Ligeti étude of the same name; ‘Scales, Chromatic and Otherwise’ refers to Chopin’s chromatic scale étude Op. 10 No. 2; ‘In which major 2nds feature prominently, among other intervals’ is inspired by Scriabin’s Études Op. 65, which focus on dissonant intervals in the way that conventional études might focus on, say, 3rds or octaves; and ‘d’après Monsieur Debussy’ pokes fun at Debussy’s étude ‘Pour les quartes’ in the same manner that Debussy’s étude ‘Pour les cinq doigts’ pokes fun at Czerny’s études. The ‘odd-numbered’ études do not channel such specific referents: ‘Notes, Repeated and Otherwise’ is, as the title suggests, an étude on repeated notes; the extremely slow ‘Bell Song’ is an exploration of piano resonance; ‘Two Lines’ is a musical game in which the left hand plays the three notes of an A flat major arpeggio throughout while the right hand attempts to disguise this fundamental stasis; and ‘The Weeds and the Wilderness’ is an evocation of the Scottish landscape, its title a quotation from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem ‘Inversnaid’.
The études are free-standing pieces, and can be performed separately. I hope, however, that they also form a cohesive whole, and when performed as a set become more than the sum of their parts. Indeed, the structure is broadly teleological, with the artless serenity of the first étude gradually giving way to the virtuoso fireworks of the final two études.
‘freakily hypnotic’ (Ken Walton, The Scotsman, on Two Lines)
Commission: Two Lines was commissioned by the London Sinfonietta with the support of Stephen Morris.
Étude 1: Notes, Repeated and Otherwise
Étude 2: Fanfares
Étude 3: Bell Song
Étude 4: Scales, Chromatic and Otherwise
Étude 5: Two Lines
Étude 6: In which major 2nds feature prominently, among other intervals
Étude 7: The Weeds and the Wilderness
Étude 8: d’après Monsieur Debussy
26th November 2023
Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre
3rd February 2022
Hall 2, King’s Place
Two Lines, presented in film version by Farah Esset, Rico Xie, Amber Jiang, Arisa Wang and Vicky Wong
12th August 2021
Scotsman Sessions, www.scotsman.com
23rd June 2021
London Sinfonietta YouTube Channel, broadcast from King’s Place
13th May 2020
London Sinfonietta YouTube Channel
20th November 2018
The Octagon, Queen Mary University of London
20th April 2018
St. John’s Smith Square
29th November 2017
1901 Arts Club, Waterloo