b Riding East: Opus 2: Piano Preludes

Friday, August 25, 2006

Opus 2: Piano Preludes

Opus 2

I'm not sure these are preludes so much as intermezzi. I use the term prelude loosely so as to focus my attention on development versus categorization for now. The influence of Schumann and Brahms is clear. I'm studying a number of their works and attempting to understand, better, their approach.

I played a lot of Brahms with my teacher Adolph Baller. He passed away around 1994. I'll never forget playing the Beethoven first concerto with him at his home in Palo Alto. I wrecked my car (yellow '79 Honda Civic) driving back to campus one day -- I was still singing the end of the second movement of this masterpiece and was distracted (or perhaps more accurately not on the road driving my car at the time). Baller taught me Brahm's Opus 118 and 119. I wish we had done 117 also, but I'll take what I have.

I'm studying the Schumann Fantasy, Op 17, with Dr. George Barth right now. Just finished practicing some on the second movement -- Trophies. What a poet. I love Schumann's Kinderszenen, a true masterpiece. I've been reading that lately as well, in addition to some Ravel, including the Borodin Waltz and also his Sonatine. I sense that Ravel must be related to Chopin. Still a strong basis in dance with beautiful harmony and color. I suspect Chopin was more adept at improvisation (but not the more gifted at orchestration!). Dr. Barth seems to be one of the few people I've known who is not only an exceptional pianist, but also an exceptional musicologist. Now, how can one claim to understand musicology unless one can play?

How can you write piano music unless you know how to dance and sing? I'm learning how to sing. Perhaps I need to learn how to dance. I recall playing in a Master Class with the St. Lawrence String Quartet. These guys are unbelievable. I remember Geoff Nuttall trying to explain the meter to a girl, Tracie, who was performing a Bach Toccata. Geoff offered to dance to the implied meter to illustrate, of course wearing bright red shoes. Singing, Dancing, Pro-creating -- Bach certainly understood humanity.

Prelude #1
Prelude #1 Score

This simple piece, obviously influenced by Chopin's E-minor prelude (which I played as a boy of course, who didn't?), was improvised more or less. I've attached the original score I scratched out -- noting that I lacked any formal theory instruction at the time. I was trying to make a tone cluster imply different harmonies with subtle changes. I'm also attached (too attached) to the juxtaposed tonic/subdominant (I think I was profoundly influenced by the second movement of Schumann's piano quintet).

Prelude #3
Prelude #3 Score

Dedicated to Giancarlo Aquilanti. Winter Quarter, Music 22: establish the tonic! I should have taken another day to get the return of A in my fingers -- I rush the variation a bit. At some point in my life, I'll wrestle a lot of the anxiety to the ground, and have more control over my performances. I'm convinced the rushing has little to do with my performance and more to do with inner conflict that remains unresolved.

Prelude #6
Prelude #6 Score

I need to record this again. My interpretation has changed somewhat. Plus, this performance is a little sloppy. Strange how I spend all of my time practicing Schumann, Bach, Debussy, etc., but little time on my own stuff.

I modeled this piece after Brahms Intermezzo Op 76 No 4 and Schumann's Des Abends Op 12. I played the Intermezzo as a boy in a piano competition in Utah and choked. My brother Greg and I also played the Poulenc Double Piano Concerto, and played it well (unlike the simple Intermezzo). My brother and his partner Keith took my wife Tina and me to see the goofy Labèque girls play the Poulenc with the San Francisco. Bright red and bright purple dresses. Red had a spasm every few bars, and I'm surprised she managed to return to her piano bench after each 'gesture'. Whiplash?

It's all about voice leading in the end, I suppose. I wrote this piece in a hotel room down at Disneyland. I'd neglected spending time with my kids as I was so caught up in music studies and writing. After Tina and I put them down, I developed the structure, motifs, and harmonic framework to this piece. Of course I can't really finish it until I play around on the piano. I'm only capable of hearing so much without the piano. The piece is for my kids, Noah and Charlotte.

Prelude #8 Piano
Prelude #8 Piano Score
Prelude #8 Orchestration Score

I wrote this piece after learning of the unusual circumstances surrounding my Grandmother Evelyn's death.

My goal was to build a tonal duet (A theme) that was a flash-back. Periodically the piece moves to the transcendental present (B theme). As the piece progresses, time moves forward to the present (B theme dominates). The tonal structure erodes, survived by only motifs and ultimately ending with an unusual cadence.

Prelude #12
Prelude #12 Piano Score

The piece is developed on the major seventh, with a basic ABA structure. I'm trying to imitate some techniques of Ravel, where a dissonant harmony can work with some (but not too much) repetition. Of course my definition of dissonance here is a 19th century one! I try to suggest in the piece that a major seventh chord is in fact poly-tonal.


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