Edward Cowie: 24 Preludes
- Featured: Philip Mead
- Release Date: 8/19/2008
24 PRELUDES FOR SOLO PIANO Memory plays an important part in all our lives. I have traveled and lived in many parts of the world, and my memories of landscapes and places in some of those far-flung habitats are as strong as ever, no matter how long ago they were first visited. My 24 Preludes for solo piano were composed between 2004/5. Nearly always, it seems, I have written a music that derives from a direct and 'on site' interaction with wild places; the 'voices' of the natural world. So these preludes have arisen as a result of my recall of 24 distinctive yet sometimes related and interconnected locations. But in addition to writing music(s) of recall, I also wanted to re-explore the 24 major and minor key regions, because I have always been interested in an interplay between what could be called tonality and atonality. There is of course, a precedent for this, the Preludes and Fugues in the collection of 48, by J.S.Bach, being the first of course! To be honest, I sense that there is something (also) alchemical about making music. Consequently, I divided the entire set of preludes into 4 'books' with 6 preludes in each. Though each prelude is inspired by a single landscape (or phenomenon), each book is grouped within ideas shaped by a form of 'sonic meditation' on the 4 elements, Water-Air-Earth-Fire. Then there are those wonderful preludes that followed from Bach, especially those of Chopin and Debussy! But there is more (behind and in my preludes). At the time when I was composing this work, I was re-reading Wordsworth's great Prelude. This, too, is a work of memory, but it is also a work that treats on narrative in a way that seems to me to be a delicious fusion between fixedness and improvisation. This flux between precision and playful freedom has always intrigues and delighted me. It plays a key (pun intended!) role in both the notation of the 24 preludes and the way in which they should be played. For many years, I have preceded the 'act(s)' of composition with acts of drawing and mark-making: often in colour. Drawing remains an essential primer for me in the exploration of forms, lines, harmonies and dynamics in time and space. So I do hope that the listener will not only hear what has been imagined, but (at times) also see what has caused and guided the flow of the music, one into and beyond another. The 24 Preludes are dedicated to the pianist Philip Mead, who commissioned the entire cycle and whose invaluable and richly insightful collaboration with me is entirely responsible for making this project happen in the way it did. I owe him more than mere words, for all that he has given to me and to this music. Edward Cowie EDWARD COWIE Edward Cowie was born in Birmingham, England in 1943 and spent most of his early life in rural countryside, Suffolk and the Cotswolds in particular. These early years in quiet natural landscapes were major influences on a life that has always been deeply affected and influenced by the forces of Nature. Cowie studied the violin and piano whilst at school and by the age of thirteen was already composing. Even during his studies for a first degree in Physics in London, he continued studies in music. In 1964 Cowie began serious studies in composition with Alexander Goehr whilst studying painting at the Slade in London as an external student. By the late 1960's, Cowie was working mainly as a composer and some of his early works were finding their way onto professional platforms such as The Edinburgh Festival of 1969. In 1971, the composer was awarded a Chopin Fellowship to study under Witold Lutoslawski in Poland, and at the same time came under the influence of Sir Michael Tippett, the latter remaining a close friend and mentor. Cowie's career as a composer was firmly established with the premiere of his BBC Prom Commission, Leviathan, which was premiered by the BBCSO in 1975; from then on, his music began to appear in major Festivals all over the world. In 1983, Cowie was awarded the first Granada Composer Fellowship with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. He remained with the orchestra for three years and worked with them as both composer and conductor. Since that time, he has worked as a conductor with several major orchestras and ensembles in Britain and Australia (BBC Philharmonic; BBC Singers; symphony orchestras of Queensland, Sydney, Adelaide and Tasmania; The Australia Ensemble; The Seymour Group). Simultaneous with his rise to prominence as a musician, Edward Cowie has exhibited internationally as a painter, and his works are in public and private collections in more than 20 countries. He has also made several television films, including his acclaimed BBCTV2 film on Leonardo, of 1986. In 1988 and 1989, he wrote and presented two major radio series commissioned by ABCFM, Australia. After spending 12 years in Australia, Cowie returned to England to live in 1995. The following year he was appointed Professor and Director of Research at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, a position he still holds. In 2002 Edward Cowie was appointed as Artist in Residence for the RSPB for a three year term. In the same year he was made the first ever Associate Composer to the BBC Singers. When this appointment finished in 2005 he was honoured with the unique position of being their first Composer Laureate. June 2006 saw the World Premiere of a BBC Radio 3 Commission entitled National Portraits: 9 Sonic Portraits which will be premiered at the National Portrait Gallery in London and 2006 also saw the World Premiere of 24 Preludes for Piano, the first book of which has been commissioned by the British Contemporary Piano Competition for use in the final. Cowie's earlier works are published by Chester and Schott London and since 2003 he has been exclusively published by United Music Publishers. A selection of his works are available on Hyperion, Metier and ASV. Edward now lives in France with his Australian visual artist wife, Heather Cowie. PHILIP MEAD Philip Mead studied at the Royal Academy of Music and became an international prize winner in contemporary music. Since then, he has been actively involved in the contemporary music field for many years and has performed throughout the world. Philip has worked closely with an array of distinguished composers: Stockhausen, Reich and Tippett are just three, and has also commissioned many new pieces. Mead has been at the forefront of developing a repertoire for piano and electronics working with all the major electronic composers including Jonathan Harvey, Denis Smalley, Javier Alvarez, Horacio Vaggione, Daniel Teruggi, Simon Emmerson and Stephen Montague. He has performed this repertoire extensively particularly in the group Montague/Mead Piano Plus, and with the Groupe de Recherches Musicales in Paris, and a number have been recorded. Since 1997 Philip Mead began has researching the possibilities of combining the piano with various brass and percussion ensembles; in this context he has commissioned works from Diana Burrell, Nicholas Sackman and Geoffrey Poole. These works feature on a recent CD issued by NMC. Philip Mead is a regular performer for BBC Radio 3. He took part in the complete performance of the Haydn Sonatas and has had his own series called 'keystrokes'. Philip has performed with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at both the Proms and at the Barbican Centre in London as well as with the American Symphony Orchestra at the Lincoln Centre, New York. He has made many CDs, the most recent of which, 'Southern Lament', was awarded the International Piano CD Prize for 2006. Philip Mead is Founder and Artistic Director of the British Contemporary Piano Competition, a past director of the Society for the Promotion of New Music, and is a research fellow at the University of Hertfordshire investigating the relationship between 'extended' piano sounds and electronically synthesised sounds. He was Head of Piano at The London College of Music and a Supervisor for Cambridge University. He has recently been awarded two honorary degrees by the Royal Academy of Music and the London College of Music and honorary membership of the European Piano Teacher's Association.
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