Dance Works for Two Pianos by Steve Martland
The late lamented Steve Martland wrote the first version of Dance Works in 1993 apparently as part of a collaboration with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre. The piece was scored for an amplified ensemble featuring alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, flügelhorn, trombone, keyboard, violin, electric guitar and bass guitar. Martland subsequently wrote a version for two pianos and as good as the first version is, I think the second is the more effective – it’s leaner and packs a real punch, helped considerably by the interplay of the two pianos acting as two equal forces.
The piece is in the Minimalist style with strong elements of jazz and rock and is dominated by a strong – and, at times, pounding – rhythm throughout. Overall the piece has a tonal feel but consonant and dissonant harmony constantly do battle which adds to the excitement of the piece. The influence of Steve Reich is easy to discern but Martland had his own personal style and this is no pale imitation but a unique and distinctive piece in its own right.
It is in four parts – the first is relentlessly optimistic in mood with driving bass lines and mainly rising motifs above. The second part is slower, quieter and more reflective; it’s built around a motif in the minor mode which Martland plays with throughout without ever altering its character completely – a very subtle piece of writing. Part three is also built around a motif – this time of two rising notes which appears mainly in the bass but also briefly in the treble. A melody is overlaid on top, interspersed with short motifs, and overall this part has an almost world weary quality contrasting nicely with the previous and following parts. The piece ends in a very positive mood – Martland juxtaposes a number of different but related motifs punctuated by a thumping bass note: the tone is celebratory and joyful and the piece ends on a very high note.
Overall I think this is a tremendous piece of modern music which, like a lot of the genre, deserves to be more widely performed. The whole piece can be viewed on YouTube.
The performers are Anna van Nieukerken and Laura Sandee – two very accomplished pianists from the Netherlands. The playing is, I think, superb and gives the piece the required energy, verve and precision: well worth a listen !
Martland wrote many other pieces of course and an excellent showcase of his work can be found on the double album ‘Martland’ issued by NMC Recordings.
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Photo: Steve Martland by Co Broerse