Peter Garland's After the Wars, a resonant, sometimes clangorous four-movement piano solo, displays a unique sense of grace and a sincerity of expression that is quintessentially Garlandesque. In some ways it marks a slight shift of focus from his more overtly melodic and rhythmically driven material of the past 30 years.
Garland writes about the piece:
“After the Wars was commissioned by pianist Sarah Cahill as part of her A Sweeter Music project. The idea (I believe) was to focus on the idea of peace, rather than to protest war. I have only been partially successful in this regard. Because even if peace does come, war leaves behind scars that take a long time, if ever, to heal. And in this current era, I see no end to wars (and specifically our country’s involvement in them); so the only images of peace I can conjure up are personal (interior) and domestic (implying a sense of renunciation and withdrawal). Hence the emotional tone of this music.
“Each of the transparent and self-contained movements takes as inspiration a Chinese poem or Japanese haiku, and like in haiku collections I arranged the movements in seasonal order: spring, summer (the traditional season of war, so this is the most dramatic movement), autumn and winter. More than in most piano pieces of mine, I explore the quality of resonance in the piano: not just the notes played on the keyboard, but the sense of echo and fade produced by a very deliberate use of pedaling, and the sustaining and release of piano keys after notes and chords are sounded. These are techniques that are uniquely intrinsic to the piano, but are rarely exploited to the extent I have done here. It creates a sense of timbral color and acoustic perspective (proximity and distance) that gives these pieces their own individual character and conciseness. Each movement is like a single image, simply stated with relatively little temporal or thematic development—very much like the poems they are based on.”
“Somehow this seemed to be just the piece I needed/wanted to write…through the winter of 2007-2008, though I was not aware of that at the time of accepting this commission. I thank Sarah for this.”
“Harp notes trickling and tumbling like eddies in a stream; pianistic shell bursts interspersed with wounded reflection; chromium dreamscapes seeping out from resonant metal sculptures and steel guitars. In terms of style and content there’s little overlap in the music on these three new releases from the Californian label Cold Blue. Yet each emerges from a recognizable and distinctly American compositional outlook, sensual and approachable while also robustly individualistic and aesthetically self-determining…. Peter Garland’s After The Wars, commissioned and performed by pianist Sarah Cahill, alternates ruggedness and delicacy, oppressive weight fringed with luminosity in a powerful evocation of desolation and scarred hope…. Each of these three pieces lasts a little over 20 minutes and is issued by Cold Blue in the form of a CD single. Each lodges in the memory as sensation, rather than as realized idea or abstractable form, and the concise format suits that aspect of the music perfectly.”—Julien Cowley, The Wire magazine