Three Solo Pieces

Lubomyr Melnyk: Three Solo Pieces on Unseen Worlds

Unseen Worlds LogoThe music of Lubomyr Melnyk (b. 1948) has enjoyed a resurgence of late. In 2007, the fantastic label Unseen Worlds reissued Melnyk’s 1978 debut album, KMH: Piano Music in the Continuous Mode, which helped spark new interest in this Ukrainian-Canadian composer. His most recent album, Three Solo Pieces, is a beautiful example of his so-called Continuous Music, a style he developed in the 1970s while in Paris. In the little time since I first purchased this album, I have played it, well, almost continuously. It is stunning, and should be purchased as quickly as you can navigate away from this page.

Lubomyr Melnyk

Lubomyr Melnyk

Before delving into the music on this album, it is worth saying a few words about Melnyk and his Continuous Music. While Melnyk credits the influence of Riley and Reich on his style, he seems to eschew any connection to the term minimalism. His own website describes it as, “a fantastic new language” and states that, “This highly specialised piano technique entailed totally new physical AND mental capacities.” Still, the educated listener will quickly make associations with other composers. The way that Melnyk draws overtones out of the piano through rapid playing is not unlike Charlamagne Palestine, and his harmonic movement, at least in this album, is reminiscent of several movements in Hans Otte’s Das Buch der Klänge.

Moreover, it is clear from interviews that Melnyk does not shy away from either the spiritual dimension of his work or the incredible demands required to play it. In an interview for Fifteen Questions (well worth the time to read in full), he states that:

My music is so different from any other piano music that has happened before that I feel I can safely say that people have no idea what’s happening or what it’s like to play Continuous music. It’s like turning your body into a jet or flying like a bird. Your flesh alters substance continuously and your mind is in hyper-speed as the world whirls around you like a hurricane with the piano as its vortex, yet you remain perfectly still.

Later he adds:

I know for fact that there is no pianist in the history of piano playing who could even attempt to perform one of the larger pieces I do. The work is just too damn difficult. Neither their mind nor their fingers could even start to play these big pieces.

No matter your reaction to these statements, it is evident that Melnyk is someone who has dedicated himself wholly to his concept of Continuous Music for decades, and the results are magnificent.

Three Solo Pieces CoverMarginal Invitation opens this album, and while there is clear focus on simple melodic material, the overtones produced become almost overwhelming. Within 30 seconds it is clear that a proper listening requires the best sound system at your availability, and I have to extend a congratulations to those involved in the recording, editing, and mastering of this album. The music itself is extremely passionate, at times sorrowful and mourning, and at others ecstatic and joyful. The mere eight minutes of music go by quickly, and yet seem to contain so much more, as the best of minimalism often does.

Corrosions on the Surface of Life is a welcome departure from the opening track. Centered in the lower register of the piano, it is aggressive and does not shy away from dissonance. The pedaling is less constant, and those passages which are played without remind me of the Prokofiev sonatas, that is if Prokofiev were to linger on harmonies and figures for a much longer stretches of time. Still, it seems that Melnyk can never escape the consonant for long, and the gradual resolution to what was a tense opening is as beautiful as it is musically satisfying.

The 35-minute album concludes with Cloud Passade No. 3, itself just over 18 minutes long. Here the artistry of Melnyk shines. From the beginning of the piece, the mood is one of simple joy. As I listen to it, I find myself struggling to avoid more ethereal descriptors. Rather than writing something trite or cliché about the heavens opening, let me instead say that Cloud Passade No. 3 is simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve had the pleasure to hear. More impressive, though, is Melnyk’s capacity to sustain interest. It is music like this that makes me love minimalism. On one hand, I know that the harmonies present are neither innovative nor complicated, but I cannot help but get lost in them; I am caught up despite myself, and I want to stay lost in this space for as long as possible.

There will be those for whom this album is simply too much minimalism redux, but for anyone that has even a cursory interest in the style will find Melnyk’s Continuous Music a pleasure. This is one of the best albums I’ve heard in a while, and I have a feeling it will remain on heavy rotation for years to come. My hats are off to Tommy McCutchon and Unseen Worlds for producing this gem and for making it available on vinyl in addition to CD and lossless download.

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