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Bryan Johanson : Hearing The Thing Itself : DOz

Bryan Johanson

Les Productions D’Oz: 28 pages

American guitarist/composer Johanson has produced here one of the most remarkable pieces I have ever seen or heard for solo guitar. For example, when did any of you come across a one movement guitar piece lasting 30 minutes? No, not me either! Now of course length doesn’t necessarily mean quality, as it could easily have been 30 minutes of sheer rubbish, but it isn’t. It’s a stunning piece of writing.

Apparently he wrote it in between finishing his 6th Symphony, and starting his 7th, and I can see how this piece here, was written , surrounded by two symphonies, because it has the feel of a one movement symphony for guitar.

It begins was an Adagio Misterioso with long held Bottom Es to be played Tasto, and each separated by a rest. Incidentally there is no time signature in this piece which is barred throughout, but the bars are sometimes different lengths from each other, so you really have to watch your timings. Then there are some long – held enigmatic chords in between the low Es that seem to ask a question that you can’t yet answer. After a little while this leads into a three voiced idea where two re held on, and the middle voice drops a tone. This then leads into a two note hammer -on idea that repeats constantly throughout the piece in various forms. Everything though is long – held and very slow and tonal but in a slightly odd way, that you can’t pick what key you’re in, which is presumably why there is also no key signature to the piece.

Ideas come and go in this immensely long work, too many to give you all a blow by blow account of it, but the main feeling in this first section (which goes on for a considerable time) is aching clashes of harmonies, amongst little runs, each time with just enough variety so that you don’t think that the length of the piece is anything to do with repeat after repeat. This is not the case. The music has a constant flow of ideas that are always slightly varied from before, so that you go along with it, waiting to see where it all leads.

After several minutes the piece, without any speed change turns into smaller notes and with a bit more happening on every beat. Again there are many hammer-ons and pull- offs almost all the time in the middle of other notes and also many places where unusual arpeggio shapes , littered with open strings in the middle , move up and down the fingerboard sometimes with 6, and other times 7 notes to the bar.

Then in spite of all this being Adagio, at page 15 (bar 389) there is a Meno Mosso where everything calms down, with long chords and gentle writing, often in two voices when chords are not involved. This considerably sized section eventually becomes Brioso where everything speeds up, and the general effect isd is one of repeated notes often in the middle of gentle clashes but still running around in mostly semi – quavers. This really gathers momentum after a while and then the writing becomes much trickier with multiple arpeggio patterns, many accidentals on the notes and, after a considerable but gradual climactic section, that at first feels like this could be leading up to a ‘slam-bang’ coda, suddenly and unexpectedly turns to Tempo I and the opening long low Es here the piece has a lengthy and varied reiteration of the opening section. There are some new elements here too but finally the coda intervenes where the final part is a ‘Calmato , sempre trattenendosi’ and the piece dies away to nothing finishing, as it started , on the long low Es.

This is an incredible piece of writing, definitely not for the faint – hearted, but should any players be intrigued by my description I can only say that they will get a great deal from it, but just a thought to finish on; it could be a really tricky piece to put into a recital, being 30 minutes as it is. It is a brave player that would do that, I feel, not that it isn’t worth it, because it is!

Chris Dumigan

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