b Riding East

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Étude-Tableaux No. 4

I finally finished my next work in the set of Études-Tableaux piano pieces I'm composing and performing, modeled after Rachmaninoff's own sets. Here I continue my study in polytonality, except this time use whole tone scales throughout. It seems whenever anyone uses whole tones it must be a reference to Debussy? In this case, no, although Debussy's works are often present in my mind. Instead I was attempting to manage the perception of time, noting that whole tone scales float somewhat. The absence of semitones creates challenges of harmonic structure and progression, the motion towards a goal perhaps. Yet that was the point of using the whole tone scales -- avoiding the progress towards a given "goal". I do use ambitus to suggest soft modulations. The piece opens with both whole tone scales together before moving in and out of diatonic harmonies that eventually and finally resolve to the implied theme in A-minor.

I recorded the piece at my home here in Fairview, Wyoming on a Yamaha S400 piano. It snowed again last night.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Bach take ii + Chopin and Janáček

More piano recordings. I worked on the 4th and 18th Preludes and Fugues from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1. I also recorded a Chopin Etude and the second movement from Janáček's Sonata 1905. All of these works were shared with my piano studio at Stanford, where we continue to meet virtually to discuss and perform music together.

Bach Prelude No. 4 in C sharp minor


Bach Fugue No. 4 in C sharp minor


Bach Prelude No. 18 in G sharp minor


Bach Fugue No. 18 in G sharp minor


Chopin Etude Op 25 no. 1 in A flat major


Janáček Piano Sonata 1.X.1905 - Smrt

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Bach Prelude and Fugue No. 4 in C sharp minor, BWV 849


Relative to San Francisco, it's very quiet here in Fairview, Wyoming, especially in the early spring, as the aspen's don't yet have leaves to rustle in the wind, and the forest birds are just arriving from their winter sojourn. There were no jets flying over the valley this afternoon, and I heard no coyotes -- they only howl at night.  However, I did hear Peanut snoring again.

Amidst this mostly quiet afternoon, and following recordings of the Prelude and Fugue No. 18 in G sharp minor from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier Book 1, I worked on Bach's Prelude and Fugue No. 4 in C sharp minor, also from Book 1.  I love the Prelude, so lyrical and inquisitive.  A real gem.  The Fugue is a tough -- one of the more complex pieces I've studied.  I imagine it will take time to truly understand the piece, all of the lines, the five voices in counterpoint, the masterfully developed and contrasting subjects, creating the fugue's austere, tender, yet tormented character.  It continues to grow on me.



We always learned in music theory class that you should prepare a dissonant note or chord, perhaps with a suspension, thoughtful voice leading, passing tones, etc.  Yet Bach, despite being the reference standard for tonal music theory, doesn't seem to care for such rules and uses unprepared dissonance throughout this fugue, starting with the second note of the subject -- B-sharp, the leading tone, which doesn't resolve to the tonic.  True to form, as we encounter the final cadence in bar 112, following a big dominant chord, we get a jarring and once again unprepared dissonant chord.  While Bach often uses the Picardy third to end a minor piece in the major key, here he introduces the E-sharp four bars early in a deceptive cadence, an augmented A-major chord (VI7+), first inversion.  Not expected.  When you look at Bach vertically, to me his music often seems more dissonant than, say, that of Ives.  Yet typically, within the context and horizontal flow of the piece, nothing sounds dissonant, as Bach manages to take our ears to many foreign lands that don't seem so foreign.  But not this time.

Here is the prelude, followed by the fugue.

Prelude No. 4 in C sharp minor


Fugue No. 4 in C sharp minor

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Bach Prelude & Fugue No.18 Book 1 WTC in G sharp minor BWV 863

While sheltering in place here in Fairview, Wyoming, I recorded the Prelude and Fugue in g-sharp minor, no. 18 from J.S. Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, Book I.



It's been such a difficult month -- my heart goes out to all those who are suffering or are sacrificing for the rest of us.  I can only imagine what it must be like to be working in the ER in NYC or in a distribution center or as a grocery clerk.  I feel very thankful for all of these people.

I'm also thankful that we can turn to music at such times.  I see so many people singing around the world on Smule.  It warms my heart.

I recorded the prelude and fugue on a Yamaha S400 piano.  It's soft and seems to work well for Bach.  I've actually been playing a lot lately, including quite a bit of Brahms.  I'm just trying to find the time to sit down, breath, and record.  The iPhone mic isn't great but will have to do.  Stay safe everyone.







Sunday, January 07, 2018

Chorale No. 5

Remembering my father, again, I was reflecting with a close friend today on music I wrote years ago, including this piece, set to Psalm No. 6.  The piece was both dedicated and directed to my mother.  I'm not certain she cares for the piece as much as I do.

Here are the score and a piano recording of the chorale, which I just recorded tonight.

Chorale No. 5 (score)
Chorale No. 5 (piano)

I also include the text to Psalm No. 6.  The music is set to only the first six lines of the Psalm, which possibly makes some sense (or not) when you consider the change in tone and perspective of the Psalm after the sixth line.

Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long?
Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies' sake.
For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.
Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.
Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.
The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer.
10 Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Adagio Cantabile from Beethoven Sonata Op. 13 in C minor, “Pathetique”

After spending more time with Brahms and Bach this past year, I'm coming back to the early Beethoven sonatas, including Op. 7, Op. 10 No. 2, Op. 14 No. 2, as well as this treasure. I was probably inspired by my friend Andrew Rangell's new CD, a Bouquet of Beethoven.  BTW, do we still call them CDs?


I spent some time on this piece this week.  I didn't realize how fast I was playing until I listened to the recording.  Hardly an Adagio, it's difficult to "sing" at this tempo, but unfortunately, so is life for me.  I've been trying to slow down for the past few decades and haven't yet succeeded.  I dream of not rushing one day-- while playing Beethoven, while walking to Caltrain, while spending time with my children...

When I think about the frenetic pace of my life, I'm reminded of the time in 2005 when I stepped down from job/career and focused on composing full time.  One of the first pieces I wrote, before formally beginning my graduate studies at Stanford, was an orchestral set based on Dante's Purgatorio, which allowed me to explore this theme of life and time.  Lacking an orchestra, I used Cubase and "virtual instruments" to create recordings, which didn't seem so awful back then (oh might was I wrong).  Here are a couple pieces from that set, including "Calliope Arise" and "Femmina Balba II", which I more or less improvised on a keyboard that was plugged into Cubase to synthesize the cellos.

The Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, I, 1:12

    Per correr miglior acque alza le vele
1
To run its course through smoother water
omai la navicella del mio ingegno,
2
the small bark of my wit now hoists its sail,
che lascia dietro a sé mar sì crudele;
3
leaving that cruel sea behind.
    e canterò di quel secondo regno
4
Now I shall sing the second kingdom,
dove l'umano spirito si purga
5
there where the soul of man is cleansed,
e di salire al ciel diventa degno.
6
made worthy to ascend to heaven.
    Ma qui la morta poesì resurga,
7
Here from the dead let poetry rise up,
o sante Muse, poi che vostro sono;
8
O sacred Muses, since I am yours.
e qui Calïopè alquanto surga,
9
Here let Calliope arise
    seguitando il mio canto con quel suono
10
to accompany my song with those same chords
di cui le Piche misere sentiro
11
Whose force so struck the miserable magpies
lo colpo tal, che disperar perdono.
12
that, hearing it, they lost all hope of pardon.
PurgatorioXIX, 10:14


    Io la mirava; e come 'l sol conforta
10
I looked at her, and as the sun revives
le fredde membra che la notte aggrava,
11
Cold limbs benumbed by night,
così lo sguardo mio le facea scrota
12
so my gaze gave her a ready tongue
    la lingua, e poscia tutta la drizzava
13
And then in very little time
in poco d'ora, e lo smarrito volto,
14
straightened her crooked limbs


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bach Goldberg Variation No. 13

The first thing I did when I arrived in Fairview, Wyoming today was to open the gate to the outer pasture, hopefully persuading the horses to come and visit so it will be easier to catch them tomorrow.

The second thing I did, after arriving, was play the piano. It's such a treat to be able to play while watching the wind blow through the quaking aspens as the sun is setting on "Big Ridge" to the west.

I think a lot about the sacrifices my ancestors made for me.  This land was my great-grandfather's, Robert Hillstead, an immigrant from England.  On the ridge of the mountain, nestled near the Bridger Nat'l forest, this "dry farm" (not irrigated) would support grazing the dairy cattle during the summer months.  My grandfather and his brothers would take turns making the trip to the ridge from the valley each evening.  They would round up the cows, milk them, spend a night in a little shack (quite near the corral in the photo), and then repeat the exercise for the morning milking the next day.  After, they would take the milk down to the valley and sell it.

I remember many summers here in Star Valley with my Grandpa Joe.  His heart never left this valley.  I think my heart will never leave Star Valley either.