MICHAEL FINNISSY (b.1946): First Political Agenda, Beat Generation Ballads.
Catalogue Number: 07S069
Label: Huddersfield Contemporary Records
Description: As he gets older, Finnissy says, all his music is increasingly about nostalgia, because it's all about memory and re-examining his life from a retrospective point of view, rather than anticipating it. This is key to the processes at play in Beat Generation Ballads. Its opening four short movements juxtapose reminiscences of important discoveries from the composer's teenage years, when he was seeking out and making sense of countercultural art and modern music, or disruptive art and music throughout history. So late Beethoven rubs shoulders with Webern and Bill Evans, an Irish protest song (the IRA were very active in those years) and with a planned score for a pornographic film (finally legitimising the 'History of pornography in sound' jokes that have been in circulation for some years). The much longer fifth movement is very recognisably variations on the preceding material, re-examined from different points of view in the way that memory treats past experiences, and in the way traditional variation form works. As has become characteristic of Finnissy's more recent music, this piece is easier on the ear than the early 'complexicist' scores; now the complex layering is more subtly presented, the episodes of extreme keyboard histrionics few and far between. The 'found objects' still tend to be subsumed in an overall framework in which their pitches, tempi and rhythms are altered or overlain with other material, and the result of course remains atonal except in passing, but the greater patience with the unfolding of the material - especially in the variation section - greatly enhances the comprehensibility of the argument. First Political Agenda is an apt coupling, as this earlier work is also rather autobiographical, and it turns out to be the composer's agenda that is explored in sections entitled 'Is there any future for new music?' which quotes Beethoven, and the serene, very slow study in suspensions 'You know what kind of sense Mrs Thatcher made' which weaves Parry's 'Jerusalem' into its texture, predating the satirical and parodic content of the later work. Philip Thomas (piano).