Notes by yoko hirota
The 16 piano pieces on this album are all short compositions: from 31 seconds to six and a half minutes. However, the conciseness of these pieces does not imply that they are not important or unworthy of attention. Instead, they are extraordinary and they press out and extract the essence of each composer’s idiom in unique ways. These miniature piano pieces are not necessarily written for young performers, however; rather, they require advanced piano techniques and a mature interpretation to exhibit the most exquisite aspects of the composer’s musical universe.
This album is a re-edition of my second album “Small is Beautiful: Miniature piano Pieces” released by Phoenix Records in 2009.
Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke, Op. 19 (1911)
Among Schönberg’s five complete piano pieces, Op. 19 stands out exceptionally with its miniature format and its brevity. The first five pieces of Op. 19 express a profound universe of Expressionism; some of them are narrative and some are fragmental – almost parallel to characteristics of Romanticism. The sixth piece was composed after the death of Gustav Mahler. Only nine bars of its coloristic texture are mostly in pppp dynamics, and the expression “wie ein Hauch” (like a breath) on the final chord indicates Schönberg’s acute grief in mourning the death of Mahler.
Eight Piano Pieces, Op. 110 #1-8 (1946)
These eight short piano pieces are all written in Schönberg’s strict twelve-tone technique. “Toccata” has a character similar to the third movement of Schönberg’s Op. 11 but in concise format. “Nocturne,” in only 24 bars, expresses the hazy universe of Expressionism. A comprehensive analysis of Eight Piano Pieces can be found in the master’s thesis “The Evolution of Ernst Krenek’s Twelve-tone Technique” by James D. Houser.
Between the ages of 24-25, Ligeti wrote three miniature piano pieces: Invention and Capriccio No. 1 and No. 2. Invention already reveals the composer’s profound musical distinctiveness. In its highly chromatic context, two voices are constantly weaving through the texture. The characters of the two voices are defined only by the meticulous phrasing marks with staccato, tenuto, and accent signs. Dynamics are written only in the beginning mf, and at the end p.
Among his piano oeuvres, Berio wrote four distinctive piano pieces – Wasserklavier. Erdenklavier, Luftklavier, and Feuerklavier (Water, Earth, Air, and Fire). Erdenklavier is particularly beautiful but the most difficult piece that I play on this album. It employs only a single process of permuting sequences of pitches that are sustained and released for different durations by fingers at different dynamic levels. The damper pedal added to the texture creates a brilliantly luminescent resonance.
This sparkling piece of 90-second duration experiments with the resonance of the piano. Brin has no bar line and only one dynamic sign of pppp with several piano pedals in order to bring out the beautiful sound of a wind-bell. The piece pays homage to the composer’s friend, the young pianist Michel Ouder, who died at the age of 20. Just as in the sixth piece of Op. 19, which expresses Schönberg’s mourning for the death of Mahler, the high B naturals are constantly repeated in Brin and invoke church bells to convey Berio’s sorrow.
In Leaf, the first chord is sustained by the sostenuto pedal of the piano throughout the piece, and short staccato chords add to the resonances of the sustained chord. Leaf also pays homage to Berio’s friend, Michael Vyner, and the numerous chords of different durations at different dynamic levels with staccato, tenuto, and accent signs call to one’s mind seemingly solemn church bells.
Carter wrote this piece at the age of 86 to celebrate the 90th birthday of his admired friend and one of the leading composers in Italy, Goffredo Petrassi. Carter indicates in his Composer’s Notes on the score that 90+ is built around 90 notes. These 90 notes, of different duration, are often juxtaposed between two voices such as five against three. 90+ was premiered by Giuseppe Scotese in 1994 at the Pontino Music Festival.
This piece was written to celebrate the 70th birthday of Carter’s dear friend and the monumental French composer, Pierre Boulez, in 2000, when Carter was at the age of 92. Retrouvailles projects sparkling colour that is brought about by accented, staccato pitches in all keyboard ranges but in only 41 bars. The piece is rich in texture and full of events. Retrouvailles and 90+ are the basis of my pursuit in collecting miniature piano pieces of such astonishing music.
The Music Room (1951)
The Music Room is John Beckwith’s contribution to the collection Fourteen Piano Pieces, published in 1955. The collection was assembled at the impetus of John Weinzweig who gathered 14 Canadian composers to contribute to this first compilation of Canadian piano music. The Music Room reveals the composer’s attention to harmony and beautifully extracted radiant colour of the piano.
Fantasy (1964 rev.1967)
Fantasy is one of the composer’s early piano pieces. In our personal correspondence, Mr. Mather told me: “In this piece, I tried to integrate a sense of tonality and consonance into a highly chromatic language. The piece oscillates between B Major and C Major.” Some sections formulate 4 complex layers with a contrapuntal texture that is accentuated by the distinct use of 3 elements: register, dynamics, and rhythm. Fantasy was premiered by the composer at the piano as a CBC radio recital in Toronto on November 22, 1964.
Elegy for a Misty Afternoon (1976)
Although Elegy for a Misty Afternoon is only two pages in length, its sonority and timbres cast a revealing light on such a miniature piano piece. It is written with spatial notation with no specific meter, and silently depressed chords produce beautiful harmonic resonances.
CanOn Stride (1986)
CanOn Stride is the composer’s seventh piano work, written in two thirds of his 93-year life. The piece utilizes various ranges of the keyboard but has no melodic line. In addition, the rhythm is mostly in eighth notes and occasional sixteenth-notes, but the alternate movements and symmetrical passages of right and left hands add animations to the piece.
Traces (1991 rev. 2007)
“Traces for Piano is composed in a highly eclectic style. It combines tonal elements found in earlier musical periods with contemporary compositional idioms, resulting in a complex texture of sound. Fugal passages mesh with continuous tonal shifts and are contrasted with interspersed jazz figures against a backdrop of syncopated rhythms. The work highlights a number of influences from music of various origins (i.e. J.S. Bach, Chick Corea, and Arnold Schönberg) and traces back to artistic expressions that helped the composer shape his own musical language.” — Aris Carastathis
Two Pieces for Piano
Kulesha’s note on the score reveals that the composer wrote these pieces to experiment with an extremely mathematical form of the serial compositional technique. However, Two Pieces for Piano is a unique, expressive piano piece with many emotive expressions for each phrase, such as “pensive,” “aggressive,” “doubtful,” “yielding to doubt…,” “gathering momentum…scherzando,” to name a few. For the second piece, the composer indicates different dynamics for almost every single note, which again tests the pianist’s expressive control. The challenge for the interpreter is to realize the range of human emotions woven into the complex, formulaic texture.
6 Ushebtis (2003)
I commissioned these pieces from the composer in 2003, specifically asking him to experiment with six parameters in each piece: no meter, extended piano techniques, improvisational rhythms, counting practice based on the sixteenth-notes, the two extremes of the keyboard ranges, and the harmonic resonance with silently depressed chords. Though meant to be pedagogical pieces, the result was delightfully attractive miniature piano pieces that can stand alone in a concert situation.
Tanze vor Angst… Hommage à Paul Klee (2006)
“This piece is inspired by the painting Tanze vor Angst (Dance before fear) by Paul Klee (1879-1940). Klee was one of the most original masters of modern art who joined Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), an expressionist group that contributed much to the development of abstract art. His work influenced all later 20th-century artists and was a prime source for the abstract expressionist movement.” — Robert Lemay
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