Finnissy’s huge and nigh impenetrable opus suggests that music may comment only upon itself. Despite the Romantic age’s after-effects, music is just notes – intent and understanding are transient, perhaps irrelevant. A photograph purports to be a fixed moment in time, whereas Errol Morris’ recent essays explain that some photos are anything but factual. Performed music spans time. Upon reflection, one realizes how strange it is that we routinely accept something written days, months or years ago as timely. In other words, attend to Finnissy’s gigantic opus (49:11 + 59:32 + 74:18 + 67:42 + 76:18) with an open mind.

To best get into the work start at the beginning. Le démon de l’analogie (28:29) and Le réveil de l’intraitable réalité (20:39) function as a prelude. Both titles derive from writings by Roland Barthes. Movements titled in English, French, Flemish, etc., are just one of the methods Finnissy employs to create an air of impenetrability. Le démon ‘s half-hour is unexpectedly plain. Le réveil winds up a bit more, just barely. The pace is slowed and the ears should be open. There are short, tightly controlled phrases or gestures to which Pace provides value.

The meat of the work starts with North American Spirituals (23:41), a mammoth ramble through folk tunes and their impressions. There are moments when the music stops and prompts uncertain glances at the player. Complexity gears up in My parents’ generation thought War meant something (35:49).

Entering the third disc with Alkan-Paganini (13:37), Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets (34:11) and Eadweard Muybridge-Edvard Munch (26:29), we are in the thick of complex, spluttering difficulty. This is where Pace’s 90-plus-page essay helps, if only to suggest the signs we should be looking for. I find it agreeable to consider the process much like watching someone flip through an album: It unites photography with the suggestion that Pace is merely perusing pages of an anthology. Some of Finnissy’s techniques (inversions, reversals) suggest browsing, especially as pages may be read backwards or upside down, with notes printed on the other side perhaps bleeding through.

The biggest chapter, the 67:42 Kapitalistisch Realisme (met Sizilianische Männerakte en Bachsche Nachdichtungen) , occupies the fourth disc’s entirety. Despite its unwieldy size, it is not difficult to navigate. From the outset we anticipate that Finnissy will appropriate Beethoven. The opening Fate gesture recalls the Fifth as well as Ives.

Similarly, Wachtend op de volgende uitbarsting van repressie en censuur (17:01), halting at first, makes sense as a reflection, with its recurring fade-in, fade-out or crescendo-diminuendo from nothing, sounding a bit like someone fussing with the volume when in fact Pace amplifies gestures only to suddenly back away. Here too the analogy with album browsing seems appropriate.

The sources and methods of Unsere Afrikareise (30:35) aren’t markedly different from the North American visit. The 11th and final movement, Etched bright with sunlight (28:40), opens with glittering activity. The movement and entire cycle end without even a modest flourish; nearly half an hour of complex activity suddenly breaks off.

Pace’s longer 291-page illustrated book on the opus can be downloaded here. His insight and devotion serve to make the work as much his own as Finnissy’s.

—Grant Chu Covell