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Seria Ludo: Program Notes

Updated: Jun 27

The following liner notes were published in Seria Ludo: Piano music by Graham Lynch (Divine Art Records, 2021).

Seria Ludo, with its focus on new piano works by Graham Lynch, came to life through a

series of happy coincidences. In early 2018, I’d been working with colleagues in

developing a colloquium on Sappho, bringing together classicists, poets, and musicians to

celebrate Sappho’s living legacy. A performance of my song cycle on Sherod Santos’

translations of Sappho’s poems - which I’d dedicated to my wife, Kayleen, as a wedding

gift many years before - would be part of the final event. We’d invited Dr. Diane Rayor,

one of the world’s foremost translators of Sappho, to be the keynote speaker at that same

event, and when she learned that music would be central to the festivities, she informed us

that Graham Lynch had just composed a song cycle on her own Sappho translations. I

wrote to Graham, and he graciously shared the score and offered Kayleen and me the

opportunity to premiere Sappho Fragments at the colloquium. Kayleen and I were

immediately struck by Graham’s compositional voice: poetic, evocative, nuanced,

aphoristic. We performed the world premiere in February, and sent a recording of the

performance to Graham, who received it favorably. Thus began a lively and ongoing

correspondence on music, art, poetry, philosophy, and life.

In June, with the momentum of the successful Sappho Fragments debut still fueling our

discussion, Graham and I were in contact about the possibility of his composing solo

piano works for me. Graham suggested a third White Book, and, having listened to the two

then-extant White Books, I was delighted at the prospect. Just a few months later, at the

2018 San Francisco International Piano Festival, my New Piano Collective colleague

Albert Kim performed the United States premiere of Graham’s White Book 2. Albert’s

performance, not surprisingly, was moving, insightful, sensitive and powerful. I

approached him about the possibility of recording some of Graham’s piano music on a CD

together, and including both White Book 2 and also White Book 3.

Graham sent the first drafts of the first movement of White Book 3 to me in March of 2019,

and in September of 2019, the first sketch of the complete work. In March of 2020,

Graham shared the score of The Couperin Sketchbooks, and in April, the first version of

Absolute Inwardness. The two works seemed to be a natural fit alongside White Book 2

and White Book 3, and so we decided to include them on the upcoming album. Given our

shared interest in Spanish music, and in flamenco and cante jondo, in particular, Graham

and I were very keen on including one of his earlier works, Ay!, as well. He continued to

make minor adjustments to White Book 3 all the way up until the week of the recording

sessions, in June of 2020.

Graham’s music speaks for itself, and in these recordings I’ve done my best to do justice to

his work and at the same time to share my own understanding as interpreter. In case it may be of some interest, however, I’ll share here a bit of my perspective from the pianistic

standpoint. Graham’s piano writing is detailed! An example from measures 7–9 of Seria

Ludo may be illustrative. The right hand in these three measures has three distinct layers:

the top voice is comprised of a lilting figure presented in two-note-slur groups, and this

voice often crosses the middle voice; the middle and bottom voices are non-legato, and

move in slower note values than the top voice; the bottom voice is often tied while the top

two voices move. Voicing - the act of deciding which voice will be most prominent at any

given moment, which will be least-audible-yet-still-present, and which will be in the middle ground - is a technical challenge in this dense texture. The voice crossing within

the right hand, in conjunction with the conflicting articulations, requires a tangled web of

finger substitutions, all moving at breakneck speed. The left hand, meanwhile, is also

comprised of a three-voice texture: its top voice is often tied over the two lower voices,

which move more frequently; the bottom two voices are detailed and constantly shifting in

articulation, moving between staccato, non-legato, and legato markings under the tied

notes of the top voice. In these three measures, the various articulations of one hand

almost never coincide with those of the other hand. Detailed dynamic indications are also

present, and, of course, most importantly, the pianist’s job is to execute the composer’s

writing in a manner that makes sense and is musically convincing. This level of detail is

typical of Graham’s piano writing.

Graham is a master of his craft, and so all of this detail is integral to the music. Technical

challenges abound in his writing, and often stem from the detail, as the same notes could

be played in much simpler ways if not for the requirements of the specific articulations

and complex layering so integral to his music. Virtuoso passagework, in a more traditional

sense, is also part of his writing, but is never present merely for show, for its own sake.

Rather, it always serves a musical purpose, and is all the more effective for it.

Part of the great joy - and also the challenge - of learning new music is in exploring

something that has previously only existed in a composer’s mind. We have no tradition to

guide our interpretation, and so questions as basic as structure and phrasing are often a

mystery to be wrestled with. In many moments, these questions have obvious answers, but

in others, only a process of experimentation leads one to an understanding which, one

hopes, is convincing (and may or may not be what the composer actually had in mind!).

The Rhine, the fourth movement of White Book 3, is a densely constructed, highly

textured, monstrously detailed work requiring both the utmost delicacy and also the most

ferociously invested pianistic intensity. Its labyrinthine structure remained shrouded in

mystery to me for many weeks, but its ways were slowly revealed as I grappled with its

many pianistic challenges arising from the work’s intricate layers, its virtuosic passagework

and arabesque filigree.

While Graham’s music is often highly complex, every note is vital and every marking

essential. All has purpose, all comes together to create art that has been distilled to its

essence. While the five movements of White Book 3 are integral to the work as a whole,

Landscapes with Angels, the final movement, is perhaps its spiritual heart. From a pianistic perspective, Graham has given me the opportunity to do my two favorite things at the piano in this movement: to explore color with sound, and to embark on an impossible-to-attain-yet-worthy-of-the-attempt poetic journey to a transcendent dimension. His work is a vast landscape rife with possibility; his angels are apparitions of terrifying aspect,

inspiringly beautiful yet beyond our capacity to understand. Only a true genius, a master

composer, could create a work of such numinous quality and profound meaning. I’m

honored to share this new music by Graham Lynch with the world for the first time, and to

be a part of its story.

— Paul Sánchez

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