The purpose of this site

This is a collection of brief analytic essays on modern, postmodern, avant-garde, and experimental solo piano music.

There is a lack of serious criticism of recent and contemporary “classical” music. There are many reviews of CDs and performances, but very little analysis of individual pieces.  (One reason for this is that the few reviewers usually don’t have scores when they hear the music.) Among the few exceptions are occasional essays in scholarly journals such as Perspectives of New Music. As a result, criticism of contemporary experimental music lags far behind criticism in the visual arts or in fiction and poetry.

The notion here is to behave, in relation to contemporary “experimental” “classical” music, the same way a critic would behave in relation to visual art or writing: that is, to pay attention to the work’s historical context and its detailed form, without relying on generalities.

I include notes on playing the pieces whenever possible—whenever I have played them—and I don’t write about music unless I have the score. I have about 1,000 scores and 1,800 more as pdfs. (Sorry, I no longer trade scores: I try to support publishers by buying originals.)

All comments are welcome.

James Elkins

John White, Piano Sonatas (1956 – )

Tristan Murail, “Terrritoires de l’oubli” (1978) and Nonken’s “The Spectral Piano”

Anthologies of modern and contemporary piano music (1940-2015)

Salvatore Sciarrino, Piano Sonatas (1976-1994)

Beat Furrer, “Drei Klavierstücke” (2004)

Ann Southam, “Soundings for a New Piano” (1986)

Anton Webern, “Variazionen für Klavier,” Op. 27 (1936)

“Grotesque Album for Piano” (“Grotesken Album”), edited by Carl Seelig (1922)

Valery Zhelobinsky, “Six Short Etudes” (1933)

Richard Taruskin, “Music in the Late Twentieth Century” (2005)

Sebastian Currier, “Scarlatti Cadences and Brainstorm” (2005)

Alfred Schnittke, “Fünf Aphorismen für Klavier” (1990)

Lowell Liebermann, Piano Sonata no. 2 (Sonata Notturna) (1983, published 1993)

Lowell Liebermann, “Gargoyles” (1989)

“13 Ways of Looking at the Goldberg,” edited by Lara Downes (2011)

Tristan Murail, “Cloches d’Adieu, et un Sourire” (1992)

Santiago Lanchares, “Dos Invenciones” (1997-99, CD by Ananda Sukarlan, 2005; score published 2006)

Brian Ferneyhough, “Opus contra naturam” (2000)

Shostakovich, 48 Preludes and Fugues (1951)

Hindemith, “Ludus Tonalis” (1942)

Donald Martino, “Pianississimo” (1970,  published 1977)

Lei Liang, “My Windows” (1996-2007)

5 responses on “

  1. Ernest So

    Hi James,
    I am a pianist and a fellow collector of scores. I just went through your essay on anthologies – we both share a very similar collection! I am much less eloquent and have only occasionally written about these on my Facebook page. Well done, and I hope you will keep this up!

    (I have a bunch of anthologies too, including Russian (Muzgiz and Muzyka) ones.)

    1. Thanks! If you have pdfs of those Russian anthologies maybe we could trade. (Anything that’s out of copyright. I gave up the pdf-swapping habit, because it robs presses and composers…) Best, Jim

  2. Jan van Dijkhuizen

    Many thanks for these informative essays. I’m going through pretty much all of them, discovering lots of fascinating new music and enjoying your analyses. In case you don’t know them, some recent piano works which I’m currently listening to are Pascal Dusapin’s Etudes, James Dillon’s Book of Elements and Chris Dench’s Piano Sonata.

    Best wishes,

    1. Let me know if you find interesting writing on Dillon! Thanks, Jim

  3. Have you come across Ronald Squibbs’ writings on Xenakis? He wrote an essay on Mists, published in Contemporary Music Review, vol 21, no 2-3, (2002). He’s written essays on a few of Xenakis’ works. Chris Villars, who runs a Feldman website in the UK, has also written on Morton Feldman’s piano music, for example Last Pieces:
    I found these by trawling the internet during lockdown. I also found some very good writing by MA music students at the University of Florida, on Feldman and others. I have very much enjoyed your books on Photography and Six Pictures etc and am looking forward to the novel.                          

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