INKPOT#56 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: STOLARCZYK Symphony for 96 Pianos and Percussion (Danica)
Willy STOLARCZYK (b.1945)
Symphony for 96 Pianos and Percussion
“Earth, Air, Fire, Water”
Lots and lots of pianists, four percussionists, and a sound effects specialist conducted by Jos Ribera
DANICA DCD 1996
Unique recording made at 19.96 hours (7:57pm?), May 2, 1996.
This unique concert took place and was recorded in the southern wing of the restored Koldinghus castle, Denmark. The date: 2nd May, 1996, at “19.96” hours; and the occasion: the opening of Kulturby 96, presumably an arts festival of sorts. The instruments: 96 grand and upright pianos arranged in four levels, plus an array of percussion instruments handled by four percussionists.
Within this gigantic orchestra (just think of the number of strings involved) is a group of four out-of-tune pianos, three prepared grands and a toy trumpet in E-flat. All the grands play without lids. The score was carefully constructed so that all the 96 pianists have solo parts, although no single player stands out. In addition, the work took advantage of the anticipated acoustic delay ( second) between the pianos furthest apart. The Symphony lasts exactly 1996 seconds. Even the CD catalog number is “DCD 1996”!
The composer, Willy Stolarczyk (b.1945) is a member of the Danish Society of Composers. He is the composer-in-residence at Holstebro, and cultural manager in the Veljle County, where Kulturby 96 took place. His other compositions include works for choir and orchestra, chamber music (often for unusual ensembles), concertos and music-theatre. This is his first composition for 96 pianos.
By the way, as the notes are minimal, all interpretations of this piece of music are based purely from my perspective. The complex rhythms and harmonies give the Symphony a Gamelan-like character, while the inclusion of off-key pianos and percussion add more variety. The use of a player piano, with its forlorn and withdrawn tone, feels like a lonely solo in a dysfunctional world.
Left: Just 14 of the 96 pianos.
There are different perspectives of the world, and I have chosen the “cubist” angle for this piece. Within, conflicts occur between the Order of the melodic pastoral tunes and the Chaos of the “urban-mechanical” sections. Alternatively, these conflicts could be seen as the many creative forces of the earth struggling for power and space, with contrasting big bully and small gentle voices. The pianos sound like a thronging mess of jangling strings, but the interludes of percussion outbursts actually seem to keep things in order.
The second section, Air, exploits the highest notes on the pianos. This is soft and quiet music, ominously tranquil, depicting the “nocturne” and “starry sky.” Watch out for the thunder of the impending storm. You can hear the birds (bird whistles) getting ready to go to their air-raid shelters.
The next section is Fire, beginning with the “Storm of Fire” hinted at in the thunder heard previously. The lightning has apparently ignited the fire, but there is no sign of water yet. An absurd sense of humour returns cheekily, with the player piano walking nonchantly onto the scene. Intrigued and mystified, the fire and storm watch quietly. A tango erupts, like two giant metal beings trying to dance, or two humans in full plate armour trying to tango. The rhythm of the tango is fully exploited, matching the passion of the music in a dance of fire.
Finally, Water appears with its rippling pianos and synthesized water sounds. The “Mermaid Ballet” is not exactly serene, but more like a sort of solemn mock-ballet. Even though the style is distinctly modern, many of the quiet player-piano bits are very reminiscent of the kind of music which was used to accompany those old Charlie Chaplin silent films. Thus, humour and seriousness are combined together, blurring the line between lunacy and sanity.
In the triumphant and melodic finale, everyone joins in a reprise of the work’s main motif. Even among all the noise and chaos, the melodies spring out clearly. Living in a too-urbanised world has caused me to yearn for wide, open spaces of nature, but this symphony has shown me otherwise – my world is also capable of moments of and the space for beauty and peace.
226: 28.6.98. up.10.6.1999 Ren Chia