Skip to main content

'God Save the King' and 'The Red Flag' mixed to create a third state

Avant-garde composer, Christopher Fox, Professor of Music at Brunel, has released a new CD with pianist Philip Thomas that includes seguing two politically opposite national anthems.

Republican Bagatelles where Beethoven's 'God Save the King' bleeds into the socialist anthem, 'The Red Flag' (from the German carol, O Tannenbaum), is the final composition on his compilation, Works for Piano, which has just been released.

"I was having some fun mixing up the variations of these two pieces," says Fox. "'The Red Flag' emerged as the darker of the two. It ends up in quite a strange place." He says the result is "a little bit" of a political statement. "It won't bring down Her Majesty. She might be entertained by it, though," he remarks.

The album, which he describes as "a love letter to the piano" contains four very different atmospheric pieces that run at varying lengths.

The opening composition, L'ascenseur (17:10 min) is a continuous piece that uses all 88 strings in ascending order from the bottom to the top register. The physical structure of the different strings is experienced by the listener in both the striking of the chord and the reverberating aftersound. "Each register has very particular characteristics," commented Fox.

The second piece, at the edge of time (15:49 min) involves one note, e-flat, in the middle of the piano, played over and over again with different kinds of tuning. Fox added: "If one puts wedges half-way into a string it produces a very different kind of note. It's what piano tuners do to make sure that the piano is in tune. The note changes colour."

The third piece, Thermogenesis (10:13 min) involves the pianist playing the work, first with mittens with gloves underneath, then removing the mittens and playing with just the gloves, and finally performing the piece with his bare hands.

"The ensemble who commissioned the piece suggested that I wrote something to do with a landscape, a travelogue. So I chose the Antarctic, inspired by Captain Scott, with the idea that it would be about a pianist trying to get his fingers warm.

"So it's a very vigorous piece, hence the mittens, then the gloves; in all he plays the same piece three times. In performance it looks like the pianist is doing a series of physical jerks."

Professor Fox regards the over-arching theme of the collection as offering "four different perspectives on what the piano can do. "The modern piano is such a feat of engineering. Even if we're hearing the same model of a Steinway, say, they are of different ages, situated in different rooms, looked after in different ways."