Abstruse Bagatelles: Music for solo piano by Christopher Fox

Philip Thomas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Despite the relatively small number of written discussions about Christopher Fox’s music, it has already become something of a cliché through these and in verbal discussions over the years to cite Fox as a composer who inhabits no single stylistic abode. Philip Clark’s profile of Fox begins with the caption ‘a British composer whose music is impossible to categorize’ and goes on to slyly suggest ‘He’s a minimalist, maximalist, central European, conceptual, pastoral, German, English composer/sound artist’.1 Ian Pace, in the first major article on Fox’s music, wrote ‘It is near-impossible to talk of a “Fox-style”; his music stands at a distance from styles and genres, interacting with many but embracing none’.2 Fox himself has written:

I have always been suspicious of ideology, which is one of the reasons why I resist the categorization of my music. In the 1980s, I suffered the possibly unique distinction of having my work critically pigeonholed as both ‘minimalist’ and ‘complex’ and, more recently, I have found myself labelled as a ‘microtonal’ composer. Terms like these come into existence because initially they provide a helpful shorthand in critical debates, but they also have a limited useful life, usually less than a decade, after which they are as much a hindrance as a help to constructive discussion.3

Two of the major solo works, both composed for the author, form the focus of this study and serve to illustrate the disciplined and uncompromising nature of the composer. Fox is undoubtedly one of the most original, inquisitive and bold composers working in the UK at the time of writing.

The first part examines L'ascenseur, one of Fox's most systematic and rigorous works. The compositional processes will be presented in detail and how these relate to Fox's wider structural concerns.
The second large part of the discussion will focus upon Republican Bagatelles, which demonstrates superbly Fox’s craftsmanship and compositional methods, as the technicalities of merging music by Ives and Beethoven are readily apparent but the compositional vision and dramatic urges guide the techniques in unpredictable and brilliant ways.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerspectives on the Music of Christopher Fox
Subtitle of host publicationStraight Lines in Broken Times
EditorsRose Dodd
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781315600222
ISBN (Print)9781472428240, 9780367027094
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016


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