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Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano Box set

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Product details

  • Composer: Conlon Nancarrow
  • Audio CD (8 Nov 1999)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 5
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Wergo
  • ASIN: B000031W5A
  • Other Editions: Audio CD
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 153,160 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Disc: 1
1. Vol. I: Study For Player Piano No. 3a
2. Vol. I: Study For Player Piano No. 3b
3. Vol. I: Study For Player Piano No. 3c
4. Vol. I: Study For Player Piano No. 3d
See all 10 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. Vol. II: Study For Player Piano No. 4
2. Vol. II: Study For Player Piano No. 5
3. Vol. II: Study For Player Piano No. 6
4. Vol. II: Study For Player Piano No. 14
See all 13 tracks on this disc
Disc: 3
1. Vol. III: Study For Player Piano No. 1
2. Vol. III: Study For Player Piano No. 2a
3. Vol. III: Study For Player Piano No. 2b
4. Vol. III: Study For Player Piano No. 7
See all 14 tracks on this disc
Disc: 4
1. Vol. IV: Study For Player Piano No. 9
2. Vol. IV: Study For Player Piano No. 11
3. Vol. IV: Study For Player Piano No. 12
4. Vol. IV: Study For Player Piano No. 13
See all 15 tracks on this disc
Disc: 5
1. Vol. V: Study For Player Piano No. 42
2. Vol. V: Study For Player Piano No. 45a
3. Vol. V: Study For Player Piano No. 45b
4. Vol. V: Study For Player Piano No. 45c
See all 10 tracks on this disc

Product Description

Product Description

Conlon Nancarrow - Studies for Player Piano, 5 CD?s and 140-page booklet
booklet writer: Amirkhanian, Charles
booklet writer: Tenney, James
interpreter: Nancarrow, Conlon
composer: Nancarrow, Conlon
Publisher: Wergo
"It is a dazzling experience to listen to this whole body of work - an experience not unlike the one many of us had some thirty years ago when we heard the first recordings of the complete works of Webern," writes composer James Tenney in his 1988 introduction to Conlon Nancarrow's "Studies for Player Piano".
All five volumes of Nancarrow's prize-winning recordings, with their impossible sounding and acrobatic complexities, in one CD package: 5 CDs with 140-page booklet in slipcase with the new WERGO design and more unpublished photographs.
"The 'Studies for Player Piano' by the American Conlon Nancarrow (born in 1912) show in a playful and virtuoso manner that the use of a mechanical piano need not lead to the automation of the music nor to a flow production by the composer. The CD-set is part of the first complete record documentation of the highly original life-work of a great entertaining musical outsider of our century, a gentle loner."
(The jury of the German Record Critics' Award on the occasion of awarding the CD-set "Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano" the International Record Award, Frankfurt 1991)
- CD 1:
- Volume 1: Studies No. 3, 20, 41, 44
- CD 2:
- Volume 2: Studies No. 4, 5, 6, 14, 22, 26, 31, 32, 35, 37, 40, Tango?
- CD 3:
- Volume 3: Studies No. 1, 2, 7, 8, 10, 15, 21, 23, 24, 25, 33, 43, 50
- CD 4:
- Volume 4: Studies No. 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 27, 28, 29, 34, 36, 46, 47
- CD 5:
- Volume 5: Studies No. 42, 45, 48, 49


To speak of Conlon Nancarrow's music for player piano shouldn't be mistaken to suggest some still broader range of musical output of which the composer's piano rolls are but a subset. Quite the contrary: Nancarrow's meticulous scores--generally unplayable, at least by most primates--are the body of his life's work. This five-CD set contains dozens upon dozens of his studies, each a fairly self-contained exploration of tempo, pitch, rhythm, counterpoint--and the interaction between pairings of those core musical categories. Certainly, this is "difficult" music, hard on the ears, off-kilter in a manner that both demands attention and may repulse listeners unfamiliar with experimental composition. After initial exposure, this collection is the sort of thing that sits on the shelf for some time, before your imagination breaks its internal code. Once that code is broken, though, the vast life inherent in this "mechanical" music becomes almost intoxicating. On some of the quieter pieces, the piano's tone is similar to that of a harpsichord. On others, the palimpsest of ragtime is undeniable. Yes, some pieces seem overly chaotic, but spend some time with them and you'll see, in your mind's eye, dozens of hands working the keys. --Marc Weidenbaum

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 May 2002
Format: Audio CD
I was introduced to Nancarrow during a lecture on music and have not been able to forget his works since. He spent months making 3 minute works on player piano that are impossible for a human to play. Yet with repeated listening these works explode into highly rewarding, beautifully structured, condensed works of brilliance. Perhaps not for beginners, but definately an absolute must for anyone who is interested in American minimalist music.
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Format: Audio CD
I wrote a detailed favourable review which Amazon's systems then lost when I pressed the preview button and I'm not wasting my time by rewriting it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
worship at the altar of the once lowly player piano! 14 Mar 2000
By Julian Grant - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
As Ligeti said in an oft quoted letter 'this music is the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives......his music is so utterly original, enjoyable, perfectly constructed, but at the same time emotional' - and this encomium should make one sit up and take notice. These recordings have been issued before - here they are packaged in one box and are available at mid-price. The 5 cd's are each arranged in chronological order - if you want to follow the progress from Study 1 to Study 50 in absolute order then you have to dot about from CD to CD - but I found this planning perfect as you get a variety of the evolving styles on each CD. It certainly is an encyclopaedic progess - and however strange, and clangorously unfamiliar the player-piano may sound at first, the variety, exuberance and death defying mechanical virtuosity, and sheer range that Nancarrow gets out of this medium is breathtaking - and one gets hypnotized. To start the journey, take the earlier studies - 1-12 as these are the most obviously based on blues, spanish idioms, ragtime or other jazz styles and are clearly tonal (or at least modal) - thus prepared, you are then able to take on, and follow the more abstract pieces that follow, which dabble in non-metric ratios and extraordinary feats of canon, which of course is possible as these are piano rolls playing - not technically fallible people. But 'abstract' is what this music never seems - however complex the compositional technique it is always precisely heard and can be enjoyed as exhilarating pungent sound for its own sake. Some of the later studies use two player pianos (overdubbed) and the references to jazz and spanish idioms re-appear in more obvious form - they are actually never quite expunged in the intervening studies.
The booklet that comes with this release cannot be recommended too highly - ranging from fascinating anecdotes about how to punch holes in pianola rolls and the problems of recording digitally all of the studies on one overworked player-piano, to complex compositional issues, resorting to diagrams to make some of the ratios and canons clear. It is a clearly written, user-friendly and a none too technical introduction to this unique, life affirming music. Explore!
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Dizzying experiments by a brilliant maverick 8 Jan 2004
By Bruce Hodges - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
A true compositional original, Conlon Nancarrow is best known for these mind-blowing pieces for player piano. Why this particular instrument? Because most of these short works are utterly unplayable by human beings, unless you are capable of say, depressing all 88 keys at the same time. While later in life Nancarrow also wrote a few small pieces for chamber ensembles, his work here is the core of his output and where his imagination truly took flight.
You may not be quite lucid after hearing something like Study No. 25, which has 1,028 notes in its final 12 seconds, or one of my favorites, the so-called "Canon X" (No. 21). It begins with two musical lines at opposite ends of the keyboard: the bass starts slowly and gradually accelerates, the treble begins in a super-fast blur of notes at the highest end and gradually descends, becoming ever-slower. In the middle of the piece, these two lines cross each other before they continue on their separate ways.
In study after study, Nancarrow explores complex relationships between meter and pitch, most of the time with absolutely astounding results. Some of these pieces are a bit more relaxed, with blues and jazz elements giving them an almost homespun quality. But soon the blizzard of notes returns, as the composer makes full use of the player piano's capabilities. You almost can't believe what you are hearing.
A word of caution: You probably don't want to program all five discs straight through. Well recorded as it is, the timbre of the instrument becomes wearing on the ear after awhile. Give your ears a break and to listen to something completely different, like Debussy, Copland -- or maybe Bob Dylan.
An essential collection for some -- I'm not sure whom! -- but something every listener should hear at least once.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
symphony of a thousand (pianos) 15 Nov 2004
By klangfarbenguy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Imagine for a moment that you have entered a room full of slightly beat-up upright pianos. These pianos begin to come to life by sputtering out unusual, irregular melodies. The melodies don't fit together exactly, but somehow they seem right sounding together. Before you know it, there are so many pianos playing that you can't keep track of them all and they begin to accrue into an impossibly dense spray of sound. Even if you had a roomful of humans playing these pianos they wouldn't get the overwhelming, unswerving independence of each individual line in each piano. The pianos stop playing and you wonder what just happened....

Hopefully this description will give you some indication of what you're in for with these wonderful studies for player piano. Because Nancarrow was working with these mechanical instruments, he could combine complex ratios of rhythms against each other. Some are so subtle that no human could replicate them exactly. This is not to say that the music is dehumanized. It has a great deal of warmth and humor. What Nancarrow gains from the very mechanical nature of these instruments is part of the appeal.

These studies are as rugged and individual as the composer and, as mentioned earlier, Ligeti's Etudes would never have been possible without Nancarrow's wonderful music.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Intriguing Ideas, Experiment upon Experiment 30 Dec 2000
By Robert H. Nunnally Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Conlon Nancarrow is one of those composers who could exist only in real life, as he would be too implausible for fiction. Nancarrow was a composer for player piano, who spent much of his life an expatriate in Mexico, composing music steeped in both early 20th C. jazz and "modernist" classical traditions, and yet music that is entirely individual.
For me, Nancarrow's work functions best when he illustrates the sheer possibility of the keyboard freed from the limitations of a human player or players. The player piano in Nancarrow's work is an acrobat, ready to twirl on wires from which human piano players are unable to dangle. I find least satisfying the experimental works which are centered less on the possibility of the player piano, and more on the synthesis of 30s jazz into a unique classical aesthetic. I freely confess to being a listener rather than a musician in my own right, and some of the experiments just don't keep me hooked.
Still, if you're longing for something quite different and of high quality, Nancarrow may be what you are seeking.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
fff - Fun Fun Fun 11 Feb 2000
By Sam Bloop - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Listening to Nancarrow is a must-do experience. Some might never actually "enjoy" this music but part of what makes it so special is that from the very first minute, like it or not, you are treated to this overwhelming and refreshing presence of an entirely new aspect of music. Nancarrow might remind one of Bach, and I think while this doesn't do justice to the wide range of sources noticeable in his style, there is the transparent utilisation of techniques that reflect Nancarrow's sharp understanding (what many would call "genius" or "natural"), similar to what Bach emits. This grasp of material is wonderfully presented in all sorts of ways and I believe you needn't be an old hand to contemporary classical music or clued up on mathematical composition in order to experience this quality. The amazon review mentions the breaking of internal codes of the imagination. Better to encounter such admittedly explosive music with a mind open to the arousal of expressions - maybe dormant, maybe active - constitutive of any imagination.
I don't own the box set, and I think if you weren't interested in splashing out for the 5 cds, then you should go for the first two volumes. I loved the pieces in them. Volumes 3&4 weren't quite as good, and I have yet to hear the 5th (thus only four stars). If you want to see another side to Nancarrow, check out the Arditti Quartet playing his 3rd quartet, which is different from the studies and will have you hoping for more chamber works to surface. There are also orchestral transcriptions of these piano studies which made clear the inherent diversity of instrumental gestures that Nancarrow breathed into the rolls of the player piano.
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