Brian Ferneyhough is an English composer who is known for his complex compositions. His works are known for their “notational overload” and are very difficult to perform. He has been called one of the founding fathers of “New Complexity” in the post-modern musical era. Ferneyhough’s solo piano piece Lemma-Icon-Epigram is scary just to look at. Rhythms that look impossible plus weird tempo markings might scare away a performer. But when played, Ferneyhough’s pieces prove to challenge listeners as well as the performers.
As previously stated, Ferneyhough’s compositions are known for their complexity. When looking at the score for Lemma-Icon-Epigram, it can seem very daunting. First the pianist has to play a group of 11 “hemi-demi- semi-quarter notes” in a time of seven where the quarter note equals 50 (www.theguardian.com). And that is just the beginning of the piece! There are plenty more complex rhythm and subdivisions throughout the entire 14-minute work. There are many trills and leaps throughout the whole piece and everything Ferneyhough wants the performer to do is notated in the score. This is so Ferneyhough can achieve the results he wants from each of his compositions. Sometimes the piece sounds like a bunch of random notes and rhythms put together with no meaning but when looking at the score one can see that is not the case. The notational complexity shows Ferneyhough’s musical style as well as pushes the limits of what contemporary music can be like. Lemma-Icon-Epigram embodies what contemporary music strives to be with its notational complexity, fast rhythms, and not having an obvious tonal center.
When comparing Ferneyhough’s Lemma-Icon-Epigram to another piece of this time, John Adams’ Lollapalooza (1995) one can hear many differences. First off, Lollapalooza is FAR less complex than Ferneyhough’s Lemma-Icon-Epigram in notation as well as rhythms. Lollapalooza also has a tonal center and a drive towards a cadence while Lemma-Icon-Epigram does not. Lemma-Icon-Epigram feels like Ferneyhough just randomly put down notes and rhythms together and that was that while Lollapalooza sounds like it has a musical meaning and has a fun “feeling” to it while being performed. Comparing the two, Lollapalooza is easier to listen to and understand while Lemma-Icon-Epigram is much more complex to listen to and do score study.
I had never heard of Brian Ferneyhough before this project. While I respect his creativity and how complex his compositions are, they are too complex for me! I didn’t enjoy listening to his works and I didn’t enjoy looking at his scores because I just couldn’t understand it. I can see why some performers strive to play his music because of the challenge, but I would never personally want to.
A Guide to Brian Ferneyhough’s Music. “The Guardian.” Accessed May 2, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/music/tomserviceblog/2012/sep/10/contemporary-music-guide-brian-ferneyhough
Brian Ferneyhough: Biography. “Edition Peters.” Accessed May 2, 2014. http://www.edition-peters.com/composer/Ferneyhough-Brian
“Brian Ferneyhough: Lemma-Icon-Epigram (with score).” Youtube Video. Posted by “Michael Nelson.” Uploaded September 1, 2010. Accessed May 2, 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJwxKxJVps4
“John Adams- Lollapalooza.” Youtube Video. Posted by “burr123456789.” Uploaded May 19, 2011. Accessed May 2, 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DXWMVfFdPY