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Nigel Keay - Variations for Piano (1985)

Variations for Piano - Score, 8 pages, PDF (243Kb) (computer-set) Duration: 9' 47"
Original hand-written manuscript, 11 pages PDF (914Kb)

Performed by Terence Dennis. Recorded in 1986.

This single movement work is written using a darker, harmonic language. It is an abstract work that is constructed in an arch form with a brooding opening and closing and a rhythmically active central section.

First Performance (with review)

Variations for Piano was first publicly performed by Terence Dennis, who had previously also recorded it for national broadcast by Radio NZ. This work was awarded the Philip Neill Memorial Prize in Music in 1985 by the University of Otago, New Zealand.

Nigel Keay's Variations for Piano premiered by Terence Dennis at the University of Otago. Reviewed by Peter V. Adams.

  Otago University's Music Department lunch hour concerts have provided three opportunities this year to hear the music of Mozart Fellow Nigel Keay. Two works have been premiered, the latest being his Variations for Piano (performed on July 7), which won the 1985 Philip Neill Memorial Prize. With such a brilliant, highly charged and sympathetic performance given by Terence Dennis, the listener was able to confront the composer's musical intention directly and confidently. This was no under-rehearsed student performance. As with the Piano Quartet (1986) and String Quartet (1983), which were both performed in the first term, the Variations for Piano is carefully constructed with crystalline clarity. Indeed, the rigorous logic of Keay's music, with its string motivic working in a free atonal language, is a stylistic feature.
  The influence of late Stravinsky and Schoenberg is there, but Keay's music is clearly his own. Its busy surface with motor rhythms and repetitions, its patient, cumulative approach to climaxes and its consistent harmonic language all show a mature craftsman who knows what he is about. Keay's music is abstract and absolute. That is, there are no programmatic overtones and there is nothing particularly "New Zealandish" about his work. Instead, his music continues from the contemporary European tradition and can be appreciated in its own terms without any external terms of reference.
  The Variations for Piano is about eleven minutes in duration and has a clear arch shape. Beginning and ending with a stalking chordal sequence in which an important rising-third, falling-tritone is outlined, both rhythmic freedom and dynamic and registral space are increased as the work reaches a central climax of great tension and pianistic virtuosity. The coherence, immediacy and drama of this work make it an impressive addition to the New Zealand solo piano repertoire.

photo of Terence DennisTerence Dennis is widely regarded as one of New Zealand's finest musicians, and has an international reputation as a highly-sought accompanist. His performances throughout New Zealand and overseas have received high acclaim, and he regularly partners leading resident musicians and distinguished visiting artists in recital and recordings (German cellist Maria Kliegel, American violinist Ian Swenson, American soprano Alessandra Marc, American mezzo-soprano Kathleen Kuhlmann, Scottish soprano Margaret Marshall, British mezzo-soprano Sarah Walker, and the German baritone Eike Wilm Schulte.)

Terence Dennis is the William Evans Executant Professor in Piano at the Department of Music, University of Otago, New Zealand. He has taught in masterclasses in Australia, Japan, Korea and Taiwan and since 1991 he has been the official pianist for the finals of the Mobil Song Quest.

Many of Terence's students have achieved high success in tertiary training in New Zealand and abroad, and have been prizewinners in all the national piano competitions.

For other solo piano works by Nigel Keay, see: the dancer leads the procession, Little Tango Suite, Interlude, & Four Piano Pieces.