|The Waltz Book is an impressive achievement by any standard. Andrew Ford has composed a set of 60 waltzes to a commission from pianist Ian Munro, and has written and organised them so that they are exciting and make a coherent whole. The music contains oblique and overt references to other piano music, and parts are inspired by Finnish folk music and childrenís stories. Many of the individual waltzes are dedicated to Andrew Fordís friends and their children, celebrating their birthdays and other significant events.|
The Waltz Book has already been performed by more than a dozen different pianists and played around Australia, Canada, Finland, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Because this is such an unusual project, an interview with Andrew Ford, offering insight into the music, is included on a special bonus data disc than can be played in all computers. A selection of 10 works are also given as PDFs on the data disc so that they can be printed out and played.
This project has been funded by the Music Board of the Australia Council for the Arts.
The interview with Andrew Ford can be viewed on UTube in two parts at
part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRK9cVw6Rcc
part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LA1sE51Ap20
|As a collection of piano miniatures, Andrew Ford's Waltz Book may be unique even if the initial idea is not. It consists of 60 one-minute waltzes that are grouped together in such a way that they form one continuous larger musical structure. Chopin's Minute Waltz (in D flat major, Op. 64) is clearly a starting point, as Ford himself declares in an accompanying interview included on a bonus data disc with this Tall Poppies release. However, no waltz composer has gone quite this far: Ford uses the genre to construct a giant tableau of exquisitely turned miniatures of precisely matching duration.|
It might be that the idea of a family photo album triggered him too, because most of the pieces are dedicated to the composer's family and friends, including children, Some are lovingly wrought portraits, some are whimsical free inventions, while others are storybook creations or miscellaneous mementos ~ one is a wedding present. The result is an amiable, intimate walk through Ford's life in the years 1998-2002, the period in which he composed this collection.
They are highly accomplished, ear-catching little pieces that, for their extreme brevity, exploit a remarkably full range of the piano's possibilities. Ford is a master of pithy melody. Many carry wistful, semplice melodies, at times redolent of Satie, and are often accompanied by gently rolling arpeggios or delicately fragrant chords. Others take you by surprise with their unbridled ferocity (numbers 8, 9 and 12 are torrential), but they have their place too in creating a larger landscape that makes The Waltz Book an indivisible whole. Cleverly also, many of the pieces are framed around particular constructional ideas, which may be intervallic or motivic, lending them an essercizi character. Few are waltzes in any overt literal sense, although numbers 5 and 14 ('Waltz for Jasper' and 'Life in a Shell') certainly are. For others, the waltz connection is elliptical and not obvious other than by their title.
It is the large-scale structure that Ford is able to generate that makes The Waltz Book impressive. Often the same musical character will flow on between individual pieces: two or three may be directly linked in mood or character, and segue connections ensure a continuity that avoids any stop-start junctures. Additionally, seven 'invocations' sharing a unifying, atonally angular theme are scattered through the collection to help bind it neatly together.
This is the first time the set has been recorded. Munro is poetic in his approach and exercises beautiful control in his pliant moulding of phrase. He successfully unlocks the secrets of each piece, showing in particular a superb control of silence, which is integral to Ford's writing, All come in remarkably close to the minute mark, typically just a few seconds either side. Individually these are superb little pieces, and together they form a Pandora's box of delights. The Waltz Book is to be counted amongst Ford's finest writing.
© Graham Strahle
Music Forum Vol. 17 No.4, Spring 2011
Yvar Mikhashoff tells us that when he conceived the idea of the International Tango Collection he wrote to a number of composers and asked them to write a piece, of no more than 3 minutes duration, in any style, and call it a tango. Thus he received upwards of 50 pieces ranging from Michael Sahlís Exiles Cafe Tango, through Zoltan Jeneyís Philip Marlowe Tracks Down Yvar's Lost Tango to Richard Rodney Bennettís Tango after Syrinx. The range was phenomenal.
Andrew Fordís The Waltz Book reminds me of Yvarís collection in that we have a collection of exquisitely turned miniatures which make a satisfying whole, with the difference that every piece here is by the same composer.
Liverpool-born Andrew Ford has lived in Australia since 1983, at which time he moved to Australia to join the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong. He has an impressive catalogue to his name, in all genres, and is well known as a broadcaster Ė heís has presented The Music Show each Saturday morning on ABC Radio National since 1995, and he is the author of seven books on musical subjects. His language is easy to assimilate and he isnít afraid to pop a joke or two into his works, when the situation demands it.
The Waltz Book consist of 60 pieces each playing for approximately one minute which make up a very satisfying and entertaining piece. One is not conscious of there being so many separate works on offer for they follow one another with a logic and sure sense of progression. In the booklet, Ford gives a typically witty account of how the piece came to be what it is, and, like Yvarís Tango collection, the waltz is merely a concept on which to hang his musical flights of fancy. Thereís much melodic interest in these pieces but itís elusive and youíll have to listen for it for it is fleeting, but these pieces scream out for repeated hearings.
Together with the CD comes a DVD which includes an interview with Andrew Ford and PDF files of 10 Waltzes which are suitable to print out, and thus allow you to give a partial performance of the work. This is a very interesting jaunt down the Australian music road, and itís well worth the journey, for the host is so genial.
MusicWeb-International, December 2010
What began as a commission from pianist Ian Munro for a large scale piano work ended up as a series of 60 waltzes, each lasting only a minute. Andrew Ford's Waltz Book is a charming and surprisingly eclectic collection of miniatures; quirky, moody, enchanting and full of vitality, they provide a fascinating insight into Ford's extraordinarily wide-ranging musical palette. Central to the variety within this collection is the extreme contrast between the simpler, melodically driven, often folksy waltzes and the grittier, modernist representations of the form. Ford's craftsmanship is impressively consistent across this broad canvas of musical styles and while the pieces are all in triple time (of course) this is not always apparent to the listener. The waltzes are grouped in such a way as to bring a sense of internal organization to the set. In some cases, several waltzes based on the same material give the effect of a miniature set of variations within the whole. In this way, listening to a shorter selection can also be a satisfying experience, although the material works extremely well when heard in its entirety. Munro is a flawless interpreter, his playing full of imaginative colour and supple elegance. Ford is, of course, a well-known broadcaster and writer and his program notes are also very entertaining. A second CD includes an interview with the composer as well as PDFs of 10 of the simpler waltzes, giving the opportunity to print and play some of this delightful music.
The Australian, November 13, 2010
For four and a half years, composer Andrew Ford dedicated himself to a form that musical history left behind long ago - the humble waltz. a clever nod to Chopins Minute Waltz, Ford compiled a whole hourís worth of his own 'minute waltzes'. It's a great idea which makes for an engaging and surprisingly rich disc.
Like many of Australia's best composers there's an unresolved complexity in Ford's thinking. You can often hear his different influences competing openly with each other: English music, folksong, rhythm and blues, 20th century modernism. Perhaps ironically, a collection of miniatures such as this allows him, and us, to unpack these strands and gain a deeper understanding of what makes him tick. Spanning such a long period, the project became a kind of default diary. One speculates on the personal meanings behind each title, especially the Finnish ones (Ford met his Finnish wife during this time). The emotional and stylistic breadth is both The Waltz Book's strength and its underlying risk. Ford's approaches to the waltz vary dramatically, often from one piece to the next. The gorgeously tender It's Dark in Helsinki is tailed by the almost obnoxious Mad March Days. The interleaving Invocations are Webernian in their pungency compared to the neo-Romanticism elsewhere. My advice for first time listening is to savour the disc like a packet of chocolates - have a few now and save a few for later.
Pianist Ian Munro certainly had his work cut out for him and he handles it here with colour and flair, somehow shaping 60 distinct personalities in as many minutes.
Limelight, November 2010
Luckily English-Australian composer Andrew Ford did not face the time constriction for Aussie pianist Ian Munro's commission of a big piano piece, as was placed on G. F. Handel for his masterpiece Messiah.
Genius Handel composed the work for choir, orchestra and soloists in an incredible three weeks for its 1742 Dublin premiere. Ford sold Munro on the idea of 60 one-minute waltzes, instead of "something like a sonata", but no wellspring of inspiration came to his aid. The first waltz took two months and was "like getting blood from a stone". Ford studied examples from earlier composers, including the 1930s film The Great Waltz featuring waltzes written in a trice by another genius Johann Strauss, but sung by the "piping and irritating" soprano of Miliza Korjus. No. Ford's waltzes would be of sterner stuff, not for the likes of the awkward couple pictured on the disc's cover.
The three-beat rhythm remains, mostly, but it takes subtle shifts of mood. One waltz marks Jasper's birth, one refers to the number of composer Peggy Granville-Hicks' house. There is a waltz for a pig "with snout in the air", for ancient myths, a distorted lullaby, in all a topical music miscellany.
Munro relishes the craftsman's grinding, polishing skill that gave him the unusual, diverse product that has been performed by pianists the world over. With strong, clear technique, Munro's flair brings individual insights to his performance.
A bonus disc has an interview with Ford, and PDF files for student access to copies of 10 waltzes.
Brisbane Courier Mail, September 2010
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