BEACH PEBBLES vol. 1, 2, 3
op. 65 a, b, c
Beach Pebbles are a large collection of character pieces composed in the spirit of Robert Schumann’s short piano works or Felix Mendelssohn's numerous Songs Without Words. Some of them are truly simple, while others require an advanced technique. They are personal works that remind me of the small rocks I love to collect at the beach, where a certain pattern, color, or texture arrests attention to beauty, if only for a moment.
The 31 preludes are divided into three volumes.
Volume 1 (easier pieces)
Volume 2 (intermediate technique)
Volume 3 (Advanced technique)
Though I have put thought into this division, the Pebbles may be played in any number or any order that makes aesthetic sense.
1. Summer Dream
3. Short Story
9. Child’s Play
2. Lost Frontier
3. Music Box
6. Perotin's Aura
8. Birds at Dusk
9. Autumn Brooding
10. Tidal Hymn I
12. Triad Dance
1. Prelude: Sea and Foam
4. Harbor Seals
5. Aspen Brook
6. Deep Blue
8. Tidal Hymn II
11. Postlude: Foam and Sea
SEQUOIA SONATA (3 MOVEMENTS)
Duration: 20 minutes (3 movements)
Instrumentation: Solo Piano
Steinberg's Piano Sonata had some of the same musculature as the big Romantic concertos, but with nothing "neo" or meretricious about it. To these ears the floating, luminous music of the middle movement was also the heart of the piece.
A reviewer for the Boston Globe remarked on the "musculature" of this sonata. I guess that is part of what I had in mind when trying to evoke the spirit of the massive redwood trees in Sequoia National Park. The first movement is a world unto itself with a meaty length (about 12 minutes) built around the idea of a rising arpeggio and trills. In fits and starts, it gropes towards several moments of power. In contrast, a hazy glow of chords and quiet melodies imbue the second movement with a hovering sensation, as though we are suspended in the tops of the trees. A quick scherzo concludes the sonata, spitting out sharp chords and fanfares in an explosive rendition of material from both previous movements.
FOUR PIECES FOR PIANO
These four tonal piano pieces make a short character suite, two lively pieces, a toccata and light-hearted bagatelle, frame two expressive pieces, a berceuse and intermezzo.
Desert Stars is a set of three improvisatory fantasies that I conceived during nights stargazing in Death Valley. In the first movement, harmonies pulse and bleed together through the held piano pedal. A quasi lullaby is ripped apart in the second movement, unable to hold together in the vastness of space. The last movement is a gentle and nostalgic reinterpretation of the pulsing chords from the first prelude.
All three Floating Preludes for Piano glow with an upper register resonance. The wispy phrases of “Clouds” unfold and float along in the extremes of high and low registers. Within the miniature world of "Clocks” is a kind of mad ticking that courses through an angry cosmos. "Elysium" is a nod to the special sonic worlds of French composer Maurice Ravel, but with my personal quiet treble resonances.
AMAZING GRACE VARIATIONS
Amazing Grace Variations was actually a composition assignment to produce stylistic variations on this famous hymn tune. The first variation plays the tune upside down in the style of Erik Satie's Gymnopedies, the second variation sets the tune in an impressionist blues style, the third uses tone clusters alla Bartok, the fourth is atonal and spacy, and the fifth transforms the hymn into an Americana style chorale.
FIVE FINGER PIECEs (Easy)
5 Finger Pieces for Piano are dedicated to a dear group of adult composition students. I tried to compose the simplest music I could imagine for them. Each piece requires both hands to remain in a particular "five finger" position.
The last piece, "Jim," is my shortest composition. Jim Bishop helped me produce a recording of my first symphony and contributed creatively with his graphic talent to my AudioMaps of the Beethoven Symphonies. How horrible and ironic that just a year later Jim's life was cut tragically short in an automobile accident. We all miss Jim exceedingly; the world is different without him.
JOY IN SEA
Joy in Sea is an exuberant and playful piano prelude. The title is a pun on its tonal center (C) and inspirational origin: I had just moved near the ocean in Pacific Palisades, CA. It's motive —C-B-G—recurs in many of my pieces as a hazy C7 sonority that opens a door either to C major or B major.
The arches and ornaments of my Arabesque are inspired by two famous classical piano pieces of the same name, one by Robert Schumann and the other by Claude Debussy. I have also transcribed this piece for small orchestra.
MAUI SLACK KEY PRELUDES VOL. 1 AND 2
OP. 46, 69
RECORDING IN PROGRESS
FIVE PRELUDES FOR GUITAR
The Five Preludes for Guitar are romantic pieces for classical guitar, clearly influenced by my affection for the 19th, early 20th century repertoire that legendary guitarist Andrés Segovia made so popular in his concerts. The first is a short, soft soliloquy of yearning. The gentle second prelude, "Daffodils," is dedicated to a next door neighbor, Karen Whalen, who confided that one night my music had turned her from suicidal thoughts. The third is a romantic prelude in G major. The fourth is played entirely with natural harmonics (the left hand fingers only touch the strings lightly without pressing down to create bell-like sounds). The fifth is a lighthearted waltz.
Prelude #2 "Daffodils"
Prelude #3 in G
Prelude #4 "Harmonics"
Prelude #5 "Waltz"
WHITE CRANE STUDY
White Crane Study began as a short character piece for the violin which was to evoke some of the extraordinary qualities of the crane, a bird that inspired a famous style of Chinese martial arts (Pai Huo). Though relatively small and unaggressive, the crane can generate sufficient energy through its powerful wings to break branches, maintain balance in even the strongest winds, and emit a high, piercing cry which carries for miles.
My materials quickly unfurled in unexpected directions and I found myself writing a much larger work. The piece generates energy with powerful rhythmic gestures and a variety of effects which extend the string sonority in many directions, some quite "birdlike" incidentally. The first movement is characterized by a 'growing' energy, ascending in flight if you will. Once a high pinnacle is achieved, a transition leads to a scherzo originally conceived as a battle between the crane and a snake. The third movement is a slow reflection of previous motives , especially a tremolo which resembles distant crane calls. After an eerie slide down the entire length of the violin's D string, these tremolos rebuild energy to a vigorous recapitulation of the opening melody in the brilliant final movement.
NOT YET PREMIERED
Cello Tropes is an extended sonata for unaccompanied cello in which an evocation of synagogue chant embarks on a series of variations that ultimately transforms it into Appalachian-style fiddling.
Cello Tropes was begun in Tel Aviv as part of a grant from the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity founded by John Rauch. The piece grew from a suggestion from composer Joseph Dorfman (then the director of the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University) to explore the cells of cantorial music in the context of a solo instrumental work. With great passion, Dorfman described how the great cantors in Jewish tradition were star performers not any different from today's classical virtuosos. He felt that Jewish tropes deserved highly virtuosic settings, which he himself did masterfully in his own solo violin and cello works.
I became interested in the cells from "Onochi Adonoy," a complex cantorial prayer that is part of the Anthology of Jewish Music by Chenjo Vinauer (published by Edward Marks Corp. in 1953). I was particularly struck with the sense of developing variation in this prayer, as well as its haunting and folk-like pentatonic quality. I began to imagine a cello representing the Chazzan, first intoning a dark and lyrical prayer, but finally culminating in a joyous music that suggests the flavor of fiddling tunes. I suppose this vision represents my "American" perspective to these ancient chants. The piece is actually written in four movements, but with no break in continuity between the sections.
Cello Tropes is dedicated to Professor Joseph Dorfman, who coached me extensively on revisions of the piece while visiting Los Angeles in 2006.
Clarinet sonata (solo)
NOT YET PREMIERED