Freight Train Bruise (1972/1980) by Michael Finnissy
for piano

Michael Finnissy revised many of his dance improvisations to become concert piano pieces. Freightrain Bruise appears in a collection of his piano pieces whose titles attest to his involvement with dance (Mazurka, Two Pasodobles, Kemp's Morris, and three Strauss-Waltzer), and it was one of many pieces written for his dance colleagues — in this case, Charlotte Holtzermann. As might be expected, his music has a highly improvisatory, unpredictable and utterly mind-boggling character. It is technically demanding, yet clearly indicative of his own extraordinary keyboard facility.

Freightrain Bruise makes clear reference to jazz keyboard style (extrovert Blues), a type of improvisation I used to accompany Matt Mattox's jazz-dance classes, and which I found and appropriated from the recordings of Errol Garner, Thelonius Monk, Art Tatum (one of Leopold Godowsky’s favorite pianists!), and plenty of others. The harmonic distortions and awkward gaps in the textural flow do not stem from this tradition though, and constitute — fancifully perhaps — 'bruises' on its surface, places where the ripe fruit of jazz hit the cold floor of late twentieth century 'angst'!

The "harmonic distortions and awkward gaps"” Finnissy refers to in his piece occur in Judith Weir's piece as well. The silences provided by long rests in both pieces are startling and uncomfortable.

Both pieces exhibit reverence for, joyful embrace of, and finally, a poke in the ribs, at well-established precedents. It seemed fitting to pair these pieces together.

— K. R.    

[from program for March 22, 2010 concert]