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Sam HAYDEN (b.1968)
Becomings (Das Werden) I-VII (2016-18) [46:46]
Fragment (After Losses) (2003) [4:44]
…still time…(1990) [12:19]
Piano Moves (1990) [25:25]
Ian Pace (piano)
rec. August-September 2020, City University, London
MÉTIER MSV28611 [46:46 + 42:45]

Sam Hayden’s complete piano works are contained here and one should add the postscript that as these works span three decades, there should be more opportunities for further solo piano works to emerge. The major work Becomings (Das Werden) I-VII, after all, occupied him between 2016-18 and is, in size and conception, significantly larger than even Piano Moves of 1990.

Hayden studied with Martin Butler, Michael Finnissy and Jonathan Harvey and subsequently with Andriessen and Ferneyhough and won numerous awards. He’s currently Professor of Composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire. His piano music is formidably complex but seems always to have been deeply rooted in the promotion of powerful contrasts and in frequent destabilisations through the use of silence. His most recent work for the instrument, Becomings (Das Werden) I-VII, offers a kind of Haydenesque lexicon of these ideas, allied to his employment of IRCAM’s OpenMusic which introduces an algorithmic element to the compositional process. The opening movement of the seven is a kind of Prelude in which the music’s vocabulary is established, of extremes of texture - abrupt, unsettled and jagged elements that preface the work’s longest section. This is a near-ten-minute movement whose terse wave-like motion offers incessant polyphonic demands on the performer. Here Ian Pace, who gave the first public performance of the whole work in 2019, proves an exceptional interpreter, as he does throughout, clarifying, if that’s the right word, every element of Hayden’s contrasting demands. In the central panels the music becomes more subdued, deepening in introspection whilst continuing its sense of implacable direction before the fifth section - originally the finale before Hayden expanded the work - offers a resumption of more vertical and assertive momentum. The sixth movement is angular, brittle, and fast though preserves a spicy sense of projection, whilst the final section references the opening of the work. It functions as a culmination cum coda but even here offers restlessness and an unsated instability to the bitter end.

Hayden’s earliest solo piano works were produced in 1990. …still time…owes something to erstwhile teacher Finnissy and to Stockhausen. It’s also intriguing in this work, his earliest acoustic piano composition, to note how much more welcoming he was of silence and of the static and though there are invariably powerful eruptions in the music it’s not too much of a leap, as the composer himself writes in his booklet essay, to note the very real influence of Morton Feldman – perhaps, specifically, For Bunita Marcus, which had been composed in 1985. In 1990 Hayden also composed Piano Moves, for amplified piano. The music’s oscillations come increasingly close to a kind of barbarity though one that is followed by deftly subdued repetitions; the ensuing contrasts of density, speed, texture, and the exploration of crunching chordal patterns make this music both exciting and intense as a listening experience. It also contains the blueprint of much of his piano music to follow. Fragment (After Losses) followed thirteen years alter in 2003 and at under five minutes it offers pointillist elements as well as Hayden’s more dramatic visceral writing.

This is music of fearless intensity performed with exceptional technique and perception from one of Britain’s leading exponents of contemporary piano music – and there’s much more of Pace to be heard on this label, not least performing the music of Hayden’s erstwhile teacher, Finnissy.

Jonathan Woolf

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