Toy Box (2020)
Toy Box: 15 pieces for piano
Duration: circa 40 minutes
There is no programmatic intention in what unfolds as sound in this collection of piano pieces: any or no relationship to the title and the sounding music is forged at the discretion of the composer and listener. Despite this statement, there is an unfolding of material that manifests through contrasting sections of music to hopefully provide the listener with a compelling experience even without programmatic intent. It is the interplay between and within these sections that is the narrative content of the composition.
‘Toy [toye]: An unpretentious piece for lute or virginals, simple in form and light in texture. More than 50 examples survive in English sources from about 1590 to about 1660. Named composers of toys include, for keyboard, Bull, Gibbons and Tomkins (but not Byrd), and, for lute, Dowland and Francis Cutting. Most, however, are anonymous in the sources. There are over a dozen such toys in Jane Pickering’s Lutebook (1616 ; GB-Lbl Eg.2046), and of the five pieces called ‘toy’ in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, three are anonymous.’*
*Alan Brown. ‘Toye’, https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com
I make no claims as to the pretention or otherwise of these pieces nor the simplicity of their form or lightness of texture. I do, however, very much enjoy the image of a compositional toye created for a musician (in this case, the pianist Geert Callaert) to unpack and play.
As with all my compositions, titles are found for pieces after they are written. Titles are associated with various pieces in relation to the resonances I find within them. Resonance is a very personal matter and the subjectivity of these choices often defy explanation. Nevertheless, I shall endeavour to explain my thinking.
Examining the ‘toye’ analogy further, the somewhat mechanical and occasionally dark, passionate, beautiful and playful nature of these pieces reminded me of certain experiences I would have when playing with a selection of toys as a child rather than any specific toys themselves. Some toys were broken or functioned intermittently, others were shiny and new, and some inspired great journies of imagination into strange, sometimes frightening or beautiful new worlds. I would like to think that this selection of pieces resonates with, in part at least, some of these vague memories now transmitted as sound. Having said this, the music should be enjoyed in its own terms and not necessarily in relation to this title.
The material for Toy Box stems originally from self-borrowed and transformed materials found in pneuma (March 2020), a piece for solo contrabass recorder that was subsequently transformed in the solo piano piece Conrad’s Toye (April 2020), composed immediately before nearly all my poems are letters to you (May 2020) for solo harp and the trio for viola, bassoon and piano that follows its composition, territories unknown (May 2020). It is the transformed materials from nearly all my poems are letters to you and the piano part from territories unknown that are found transformed here.
The material that runs through all the compositions stemming from pneuma comprises of rhythmic units built primarily from four quavers in a 4/8 bar simultaneously overlaying seven quavers in the same 4/8 bar illustrating the polymetric ratio between the two of 7:4. In other transformed materials, this ratio is expressed in bars of 7/8 where the 7:4 tuplet has become seven quavers in a 7/8 bar and the pulses previously signifying four quavers in the 4/8 bar are equivalent to four groups of seven semidemiquavers, differentiated by changes in dynamic, accent or tessitura from the seven groups of four semidemiquavers that constitute the quavers in the 7/8 bar.
It is this polymetric relationship that helps connect all these pieces, making them part of the same material family.
Toy Box A: Light and rhythmic | 2:05
Toy Box B: Fast and playful | 1:48
Toy Box C: With a sense of urgency | 1:55
Toy Box D: Gracefully | 1:50
Toy Box E: Tempestuously | 1:03
Toy Box F: Contemplative | 3:40
Toy Box G: Intrepidly | 2:21
Toy Box H: Obsessively | 1:57
Toy Box I: Beautifully (at times) | 5:31
Toy Box J: Prancing | 2:40
Toy Box K: Dreamily | 4:16
Toy Box L & M: Maniacal then joyful | 3: 26
Toy Box N: Meticulously until . . . | 4:27
Toy Box O: Mechanically | 1:28