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Honest Music (2002)

for Lisa Liu
Violin & pre-recorded CD

On the page, the violin part for Honest Music looks something like Terry Riley’s In C, insofar as it’s a collection of discrete, modular phrases to be recombined in “performance,” or in this case, by the electronic manipulation of the recording–but these aren’t Riley’s musical Lego blocks; most of these are long, expressive, idiomatic gestures, combining Nico’s soaring English-choirboy diatonicism with Romantic, violinistic leaps and slides up and down the fingerboard. As these figures pile on top of each other, the close-miked, aberrant fiddle timbre comes to seem, as per the title of the piece, brutally candid.

The other fragments, imitated in character by the sputtering harp and percussion of the accompaniment, sound more like scraps swept from a cutting-room floor somewhere – all false starts, warm-ups and afterbeats – and the glitchy, staticky noises in the background contribute to the sense of something rough, half-finished. The result is to suggest that all of Honest Music is an out-take, a rehearsal for another, wholly imaginary piece. But the gravity and authority of the harmonies (and the low drones) lend the makeshift nature of the piece an authentic drama in its own right: the sad beauty of things coming together and things falling apart.

Performance Notes
The irregularities in the tuning of the pre-recorded organs are intentional and should be loosely followed; in general, however, the spirit of the solo “live” part should be much more aggressive and forward than the pre-recorded violins.

[audio:03 Honest Music Excerpt.mp3]
Lisa Liu, violins
Monika Abendroth, harp
Nico Muhly, keyboards

picture-1.pngHonest Music is recorded on Bedroom Community Hvalur 001 (Nico Muhly Speaks Volumes).

Una plays Honest Music in Rotterdam

Una Sveinbjarnardóttir plays Honest Music in Rotterdam, April, 2007


  • Helena Nicholls, London
    February 3rd, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    I’d love to hear more of this piece. Is there any way I could get hold of a pre-recorded CD and the score?

  • Hi Nico
    I am looking for a piece for violin for my son to play for a public exam (HSC).
    Is the Honest Music published with a CD?
    Is there anything you wrote for solo violin or violin and piano? We love Honest Music.
    My son plays grade 8+ standard.
    We love your music.