The Art of Touching the Keyboard (1983) by Judith Weir
for piano

This work was commissioned by William Howard with funds provided by the Arts Council of Great Britain, and was first performed in the Wigmore Hall, London on 31 May 1983.

The title of this music is an over-literal translation of the title of François Couperin's harpsichord tutor of 1716, L'art de toucher le clavecin. This single movement (fast-slow-fast) piano sonata explores the range of piano 'touch' from the gentle stroke to the violent assault.

— J. W.

Michael Finnissy and Judith Weir have carried on a musical dialog since the late 1970s, sharing a deep appreciation of ancient through modern history, and both western and world musics, as well as a great sense of fun in their musical responses to their influences and to each other. There is no particular relationship between the two pieces on tonight's concert, but there are, nevertheless, some resonances.

Weir numbers The Art of Touching the Keyboard among several pieces she composed for her friends that she continues to enjoy hearing. Indeed, the piece explores not only the gamut of 'touches', but also compositional techniques: rhythmic augmentation and diminution, contrapuntal inversion, scales and their harmonizations; keyboard effects; and a seemingly arbitrarily applied kaleidoscope of dynamics. At times the piece sounds like a fractured version of Czerny’s School of Velocity. And always, there is much wit in evidence. Dominant seventh chords suddenly appear, bringing floating phrases to abrupt and crude-sounding cadence, but technically correct, as the required penultimate chord in a musical phrase (except that Weir/s dominant sevenths rarely resolve). Weir seems to be making light of musical tutors of every kind, demonstrating emphatically that mere knowledge of music fundamentals and skills is no guarantee of musical understanding or expression.

As Weir noted, the piece is cast in three continuous movements, but the division is somewhat masked by the surface texture which is constantly changing. There is, however, a chorale-like passage which concludes both the first and third "fast" sections. The "slow\: second movement broadens and expands the chorale material to include a funny little central scherzo-like section, then returns to the chorale, culminating in a cadenza punctuated by glissandi. The piece begins and ends on repeated B naturals, separated by irregularly measured silences.

— K. R.    

[from program for March 22, 2010 concert]