Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Composer Robert Cundick has released "The Past Returns." The four pieces feature the strings and show little change in style.

"The past returns, the springs of time unwind /And all is present in the heart and mind."

So begins the poem "Commemoration" by Edward Hart. And for composer Robert Cundick, these lines encapsulate much of his most recent CD, "The Past Returns."

The compositions on the CD span roughly 50 years of Cundick's creative life. Chronologically, it begins with the Sonata for Violin and Piano, which Cundick describes as "the first chance I had to try my wings, composing outside of an academic environment."

Cundick told the Deseret Morning News, "I made the acquaintance of Richard Nibley, and he was a very, very gifted violinist. And so after I graduated, I determined to write a violin sonata. And he just lived down the street, so I would write, he would come in and play."

Several years later, at Brigham Young University, Cundick had the opportunity to write the Sonata for Viola and Piano after getting to know violist Harold Laycock.

It wasn't until much later, when Cundick was leaving for Jerusalem to serve as organist at the BYU Jerusalem Center, that he was informed he had received a grant from the Barlow Foundation to write a cello sonata — which he wanted to compose with the Dian Baker and Roger Drinkall duo in mind. "It waited until I got back (from Jerusalem), and the committee said, 'Where's the music that we commissioned?"'

The sonata was soon finished and recorded by the duo on the Tantara release, "Late Conversations" — the only work on this CD that has been previously recorded.

After writing the Sonata for Violincello and Piano, Cundick realized he had written for all of the instruments of a piano quartet individually, and he felt that a piano quartet was in order. So the next time he got the chance — which was about 10 years later — he pulled the three compositions together with a fourth one. "On this CD, you listen to three principal strings — violin, viola, cello — comparing them.

"It's a listener's overview of the string instrument sound," he said, adding that it works in a way similar to Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra," as an overview of the orchestral sound.

The Piano Quartet was finished in 2005 — 50 years after Cundick graduated from college.

Although the collection of pieces represents Cundick from the time he was a young composer to a more seasoned one, Cundick says there hasn't been much change in the style. "I feel that my style was established when I graduated, and I don't think it has essentially changed since then."

Roger Miller, who wrote the liner notes for the CD, says that while Cundick's style hasn't essentially changed, the application of that style has. Miller describes Cundick's earlier writing as "youthful, vigorous, inventive — the work of a man who is just delving into a trove of ideas." Whereas later compositions are more cohesive and unified throughout, reflecting "years of experience and devotion; he doesn't have to use up all of these ideas because he can be selective."

As Hart's poem says, "the springs of time unwind," and the order of the pieces on the CD reflects moving backward in time by beginning with the Piano Quartet and going back chronologically, finishing with the violin sonata.

In many ways, the CD also goes back in time in terms of musical trends. Rather than maintaining the experimentalism and dissonance that many academics expect in contemporary music, Cundick wanted to "to present the case for tonality in the 21st century" with this CD.

The primary reason for using traditional tonal language, said Cundick, is because he wants his music to communicate. "As a performer, as a listener, if it doesn't communicate, I don't want to write it."

And as a composer and performer, he has found tonality to be "directly expressive" to the listener and therefore his preferred musical language.


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