What with the whacky titles
and notes - clever wordplay or irritating whimsy, take your
pick - I had a dire suspicion that the music might intended
to be humorous in some way. I tend to have trouble with ‘funny’
music even though I often smile at some particularly felicitous
phrase or device. Take Haydn, for example; silences, sudden
fortissimi … hardly hilarious by today’s sophisticated standards
of humour. Even if I didn’t think that Haydn is one of history’s
most overrated composers, I don’t think I could raise more than
the faintest titter, and only once at that.
I needn’t have worried.
Whatever words one uses to describe Noland’s piano music on
these CDs – intriguing, irritating, meandering, distinctive,
inventive, structureless, subversive, all of those and more
came to mind at least five times – funny isn’t one of them,
unless I have had a major sense of humour bypass recently. But
then I realised that the verbal trickery of the allegorical
stories in the notes wasn’t intended to be funny either and
the music is very much an analogue of that. Noland subverts
the words – ‘Harvard Buffooniversity’, ‘wacademic’ – and that’s
what he does with the music. It is never what you expect. You
hear all sorts of styles and influences – Beethoven, ragtime,
Nancarrow, stride – often in very quick succession and often
in apparently arbitrary order.
And that is my basic problem.
It is seldom that a piece seems to lead anywhere or finish because
it is logically over. It flows along, one pianistic device after
another, until the time to terminate arrives. But that may be
exactly Noland’s point. I had the strange feeling with many
of these pieces that, about half way through, I had got fed
up with them but I was then sorry when they finished. Sorry,
and relieved, because some of the repetitive trickery can get
very wearing. Sometimes the music seems rhythmically very plain;
it could do with some swing, some jazz influence. On and off,
there is a fair bit of ragtime - Noland has apparently got a
big reputation for his contemporary rags - but ragtime is a
four-square style a long way from jazz.
You can hardly be indifferent
to Noland’s music and so I would urge you to try it. In spite
of my frequent irritation, I will certainly be returning to
it and seeking out examples of Noland’s chamber works and multimedia
compositions. Music aside, speaking as a cat-lover, I feel an
instinctive sympathy with the composer depicted on the front
cover of the Interludes fondly embracing his cat. Illogical?
Well, yes; I think this music really has got to me after all.