Saturday, April 4, 2020

Persistent Memory

Persistent Memory was written in 1995-96 in memory of Lily Auchincloss, who sponsored my Rome Prize. Accordingly I started it while in Rome (since I wasn't that good at doing like the Romans) and I wrote a long elegy movement emanating from the opening five note melody in cellos.

The piece was commissioned by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and the contract specified exactly how many players in each string section: 5-4-3-3-1. That gave me the idea of melodic lines with "split ends", as in melodies that cadence, however strongly or weakly, on chords that emerge within each section, depending on how many players were available. The elegy is split up into all strings, all winds, all strings, and finishes on a 16 note chord — the number of string players.

The elegy goes attacca into a kind of scherzo movement, cast as four variations (on the elegy music), a scherzo in compound time plopped right there in the middle, and four more variations. Weird form, huh? The fifth variation, the one right after the scherzo, recaptures the slowness of the elegy music, and gives the first horn a high, difficult melody before resuming as fast music. That is the "persistent memory" of the title (as well as the obvious "in memory of"). I wrote the second movement at Yaddo in 1996, more than a year after I wrote the elegy, because teaching and kid's ballet to write. You can view the complete sketch for the piece here.

The piece was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. The recording is tracked, even though the movements are designed to be attacca.

Winged Contraption

This is my second non-student orchestra piece, dedicated to Martin Boykan at 60. I had been invited to a birthday celebration for him, but I couldn't make it, since I was at the Djerassi Foundation in California at the time (writing my first non-student orchestra piece), so I promised to write him a piece for his birthday. I wrote all of it at Yaddo in the summer of 1991, on a schedule of two pages per day. Why that? The conceit is that the piece for a 60th birthday would be 60 pages in orchestral score. Also, it's all copied by hand, so I was both composing and copying daily, occasionally joining some of the Yaddo group at a dance club in Saratoga Springs (She's Homeless was the popular jam at the time).

The opening cello melody is extracted from a Boykan piano piece, and a few other quotes from Marty are in there as well.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Préludes Book 10

Préludes Book 10 was started in December, 2019 and finished in June, 2020. The titles are fragments of well-known proverbs.

Two in the Bush (#91) is rhythmically like quick swing eighths, though it's usually not particularly swingy. The left hand plays only on the beat and the right hand plays only off the beat. Towards the climax, some hesitant stride happens and then fades away. Here is MIDI.

Where There's Smoke (#92) is a fairly fast piece built on only major triads and repeated notes. MIDI here.

More Than You Can Chew (#93) starts with fast broken octaves, breaks them into chords, settles on repeated notes, and then busts out. MIDI.

What You Can Do Today (#94) mashes very wide-spaced bebop licks (five octaves apart) together with syncopated chords and rather fast, and brief, comping. MIDI.

While The Iron Is Hot (#95) puts fits of thick chorale chords against a broken octave walking bass. Hier ist midi.

Eggs in One Basket (#96) was prompted by me remembering the surprise boogie woogie near the end of Yehudi Wyner's piano concerto, and it's based on that common left-hand pattern all messed up and blown to pieces. MIDI here, with the right hand getting pretty soft in two places.

Don't Fix It (#97) is derived from a texture of overlapped broken octaves, and the pun is obvious. MIDI here.

What Goes Around (#98) develops a terse quick repeated-chord figure, interrupting in the middle with some slow swing eighths. MIDI.

With A Single Step (#99) is the one from Book 10 that I can play. It's a serious slow chorale adapted from my song cycle The Mystery of Deep Candor. Here is some serious midi.

All Good Things (#100) is a manic piece based around a 7-6 figure, and quotes Étude #1 E-Machines three times. MIDI.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Solo piano music (non-étude non-prélude)

I wrote Blue Horizon for the New Music National Artist Competition (Chicago) in 2013. The competition didn't happen, so the piece floated around and I saw a score for sale in the music store in Lexington (Peters had never sent me a copy). And put a picture on twitter. Holly Roadfeldt saw the picture, learned the piece, and premiered it at Lafayette College. This lovely and echoful performance was at the Avaloch Foundation in New Hampshire, where she and her husband Kirk were resident.

I wrote Sara in 2002 for Jim Goldsworthy, and in memory of Sara Doniach. The two of them had premiered my Crackling Fire for piano four hands about a decade earlier. Jim asked for it to be easy enough so Sara's piano students could play it. Having only the opening major sixth at hand, I asked Rick Moody to write the first chord. He said B-A-D because it was how he felt at that moment. I sharped the D.

I wrote Hotfingers for Nick Phillips's American Vernacular project. It's in three movements and is played spectacularly by him here. Hotfingers is a brand of glove, and Peters had been cold for a while after Hurricane Sandy; so I bought Gene Caprioglio, my guy at Peters, some Hotfingers gloves for work, and dedicated the piece to him.

I wrote Crackling Fire in 1990, rather quickly, for Jim Goldsworthy and Sara Doniach. After the premiere, I hadn't thought of it for almost 30 years (and I couldn't find my score, so Jim had to send me a copy of his), and Sarah Bob programmed it on New Gallery Concert Series. Here are Geoff Burleson and Marilyn Nonken doing it in October 2019.

Saturday, June 15, 2019


I was commissioned by the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition to write a piece for their brand new Grossman Ensemble, and on its first concert. The instrumentation is flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, horn, two percussion, piano, harp, and string quartet — with all the customary doublings included. When I saw (bass) clarinet and (baritone) saxophone on the list, I resolved that it was finally time to write an in memoriam piece for Lee Hyla, who was one of my best friends — as that's the instrumentation of We Speak Etruscan, one of the coolest pieces ever written by anyone. The piece puts things that resemble Lee's licks together with things like my licks ("Self-Portrait as Lee Hyla"), and this is how it turned out — the story of the first movement is Lee-like licks encroaching into my licks, become more complete each time, and taking over the climax. The ending of the movement is a root position D major triad, in reference to Lee's Violin Concerto. Also at 18:18, the bari sax and bcl duo thing happens again. What a fantastic performance, and, wow, multiple cameras. The conductor is Ben Bolter.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Préludes Book 9

Préludes Book IX was begun in April, 2019. Titles in this book are names of flora in my yard.

Ailanthus (#81) takes off from uneven repeated notes played contrapuntally and against/with falling figures. Here is the MIDI crapfest.

Hydrangea (#82) is based on a figure from an academic memo -- members of a committee I am on were listed as Appointed or Elected, and there was a column that read AEAAEAE. I was challenged by the Provost, Lisa Lynch, to write a piece on those notes. So I did. Arabesques are followed by broken octaves are followed by parallel fifths, while that pitch sequence evaporates, comes back little by little, and are briefly the basis of an ostinato. Here is that crapfest midi.

Virginia Creeper (#83) is based on repeated notes ornamented with grace notes in the middle register with chords and some vigorous low register stuff around it. The persistent repeated note thing made Beff say it was about a vine, and so I found out what that five-leaf thing that so dominates the foresty sections of our yard is called: Virginia Creeper.

While we were looking for the name of the Virginia Creeper by googling "invasive vines northeast," one of the hits was the Mile-a-minute vine (or Mile-a-minute weed), with triangular leaves, which we have some of in a small garden. Thus was Mile-a-minute Vine (#84) born. Obviously it's fast, and gets progressively more tangled (one of them made 27 turns around a short mint plant). It starts high and progresses downward, and lo, broken octaves under arpeggations. Here is the crapfest midi.

Beff suggested that one prélude in Book 9 be called Rhubarb (#85), and so that's what I called this one. It's got a fast rising figure in double octaves counteracted by swing eighths figures, and over the course of the piece they become a little more like each other. Crappy midi follows.

Rhododendron (#86)consists of a stream of eighth notes arpeggiating chords, with an indication to be flexible and expressive. It moves slowly and requires intelligent pedaling, so I haven't put the MIDI here.

Oriental Bittersweet (#87) is the vine that grows everywhere, climbs up trees, infests bushes, etc., and I have done a lot of unraveling it and removing it, especially from bushes. One thing it does a lot is grow beyond the edge of the plant it is in, with sprouts simply reaching into the air. The piece tries to capture some of that, particularly the part where the vine make spirals around the branches. This is the crap MIDI, and the tempo is very fast.

Stinging Nettle (#88) has sharp chords posing as stings, and some fast notes posing as the tingling feel of stinging nettle. The crappy MIDI follows.

Queen Anne's Lace (#89) features complex sonorities accumulated with Pedal down, and then fingered chords emerging when the Pedal clears. Midi not here because so many ties in the score are just repurposed slurs, and the articulations aren't right.

Crocus (#90) is a slow one and the one from this book that I can play. It's built around descending dyads that melt into pedal points and then become both ascending and descending ones. The MIDI for this is too bad to put up here.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Music for multiple pianos

I have exactly one piece for multiple pianos, and it's for two pianos eight hands. Eighters Gonna Eight was started in February, 2017, backburnered, returned to in July, 2018, and finished in August, 2018. It's a project originated by Sarah Bob to play with Marilyn Nonken, Donald Berman, and Geoffrey Burleson. It was finished a day before this post, so what I have is crappy MIDI.

There are four movements, taking 21 minutes to play. The MIDI of three of the movements is embedded below.

The first movement is slow to develop, and is originally about hocketed E's passed between the pianos, and the upbeat figures that slowly develop to become the main material.

The second movement is about fast swing eighths and is jazzy.


The third movement is a slow movement, and slow piano music in MIDI sounds about as bad as anything in MIDI sounds, so I haven't included it here.

The fourth movement begins with dorky middle register stabby stuff that resonates on the low strings of the piano, which the secondo players depress silently -- the resonances are not in the MIDI. The stabby stuff eventually acquires a low bass partner that becomes a bass line somewhere between walking bass and funk; at times there are stabby parallel fifths in the bass as well, in tribute to John Mackey. The hocked unisons return as a third element, and at the ending, the resonances return. Bye.