TABLEAU TEMPEST & TANGO refers to 3 musical personalities brought together by their love of creating images in music. The popularity of Modest Mussorgsky’s timeless masterpiece belies its breathtaking conception and astounding originality, both in structure and material, all the more amazing when one realizes that Mussorgsky had almost no formal training. A book could be written on the many angles this work can be approached from: ethnic Russian materials, key relationships, textural innovations, emotional narrative, the grotesque and fantastic of the folk tale, the triumph of God over evil, as well as the merging of subject with object - as the self-portrayal of the Promenades becomes part of the images. Beyond all these things, it is truly music of the people. Mussorgsky’s heroic celebration of the ordinary person grows out of his love for them, as well as his empathy for their hopes, fears, sufferings, and dreams.


David Finko’s music is rooted in his experience of living in the Soviet Union, with its dramatic history of extremes between defeat and triumph, and great ethnic variety. His art is one of great contrasts, often tempestuous, even violent, but tender and contemplative by turns. His engineer’s mind is always present in the tight control of structure and relationships.


Richard Brodhead is a master of weaving original textures and colors from the piano.  The night, both as a complement to the tango dance, and as a stream of consciousness experience, is a pervasive image in these two wonderful works. It is my enduring joy to bring them to life in performance.


- Clipper Erickson



Fantasia on a Medieval Russian Theme


O Russia, Mother Russia,

You know no rest,


You see no way,


You are oppressed,

You are wronged,

And yet you shelter and protect us all.



- Modest Mussorgsky (Act I, choral scene)


The history of Russia is full of blood, despotism of cruel rulers, and other calamities. One of the darkest periods was the Tatar-Mongol Yoke (1240-1480). In 1960, I came across a folk song, a

lullaby in Old Slavonic, from those dark times. In English translation:


Lullaby! Hush thee, Oh Tatar Child;

Rockaby! Calm thee, Oh Boyar offspring!

Thou art a little Russian boy,

But art thou also a Tatar brat!

Oh, but thou art flesh of my flesh,

Oh, thou art my dear grandson,

Oh, thy mama was my darling girl

Kidnapped by Tatars when she was seven;

For ten years I mourned until

I, too, was taken prisoner.

There I met my girl, ----


From a unique mole on her left breast I recognized her.



Fantasia on a Medieval Russian Theme

Only a few notes of the song survived through oral tradition. They are used as the basis for 18 variations, evoking such images as cavalry pursuit, tramping of feet, clanging of arms, slashes of swords, church alarm bells, sobbing of people, silent Russian landscape and fire-ravaged remains. There are also visions of wanderers making the sign of the cross and the prediction of future triumph. At the end there is a “March to Nowhere” which indicates everlasting troubles for Russia. At the very end of the work is an ironic sneer of the Icon, as its benumbed face expresses a pity on the destiny of Russia and her people.


Sonata no. 1 was inspired by the Yiddish Jewish world and its culture – particularly by the Moscow State Jewish Theater and its leading actor Solomon Mikhoels (1890-1948), who was assassinated in 1948 on Stalin’s orders; his body run over to create the impression of a traffic accident.


In 1962, I watched a documentary video of the 1935 production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” with Mikhoels in the title role and was deeply impressed. On the one hand, the show was ridiculous; it was in Yiddish with distinctive exclamations, sobbing, moans, face expressions, and body language. On the other hand, the rendition was very unusual, expressive, and powerful. In 1965, the sonata was awarded the First Prize of the Leningrad Conservatory Contemporary Composition Contest. The first movement is full of Jewish gestures and speech intonations. The second movement expresses cheerfulness and vehemence. The third movement is a tender, sad song with a dramatic, tragic middle section. It was conceived while hiking on peaceful hills near a town in Lithuania. I was told later that mass graves of Jews executed in WWII were underneath them. The closing movement has brilliance and vigor.


Sonata no. 2, written for and premiered by Marcantonio Barone, expresses the acute feelings of a sensitive intellectual who goes through several stages of personal sufferings and struggle. The first movement is a musical expression of a paroxysm of mental disorder. It is a set of variations on two contrasting themes: the first a spasmodic, terror-stricken outcry, the second a haunting lament. This hallucinatory trauma leaves the second movement in a state of dazed exhaustion. A gentle but poignant chorale; it is like a mourning procession or a deep psychic swoon. At one moment, a tender, child-like waltz echoes through the chorale as a subconscious reminiscence of happy, by gone times. The third movement is a propulsive gleefully sinister scherzo expressing a painful collision with the rigidity and cruelty of everyday life and the era of advanced technology. The final movement’s materials originate in the other movements, cast in turns, “imploring”, “in fright”, “with irritation.” The climactic coda restates the chorale, interrupted by furious references to previous themes as reminders of past anguish, growing into a hymn of hope, joy, and glory and leading to an ecstatic peroration.


Sonata no. 3, written in 2009 for Clipper Erickson, is one movement based entirely on a single melodic theme. In the beginning of the piece, this theme sounds like a very emotional and agitated human verbal appeal to the Universe. The theme sounds against the background of astringent and tense chords. These chords later become “frail”, “crystal and cold” (like in open Space) clusters. The music sometimes sounds as a slow enchanted dance or a somber procession. There are the outbursts of anger and terror. On the whole, the music expresses the 21st Century human’s attitude to the world, which is full of dangers, and acute and alarming feelings of the loneliness in the abyss of the open Space of the Universe.  (Notes by the composer)


Sonata Notturna, written for Clipper Erickson, is cast in a single movement consisting of a series of “night images” to be performed attacca. From section to section there are marked changes of tempo and mood – ranging from contemplative to violent, lyrical to percussive; however, as with much of my recent music, all of the contrasting sections are based on the same underlying musical material. This material, which can be heard most clearly in the slow opening section, centers on alternating major and minor thirds and imbues the work as a whole with strong elements of variation and fantasy; at the same time, elements of sonata form can also be heard -- especially in the recapitulation of earlier material at the end of the piece. The work both unfolds organically and takes listeners on an adventurous musical journey.

(Notes by the composer)


I composed my Una Carta de Buenos Aires – Tango Sonatina for Piano (A Letter from Buenos Aires) toward the end of 2011 for Clipper Erickson. When Clipper approached me about writing the piece, he asked for a work that might speak to the diverse cultures that are now a part of our contemporary musical life. This meshed beautifully with my own ongoing fascination with Argentine tango, a rich musical and dance tradition that is now flowering in communities all over the world.


The sonatina is a one-movement work, in multiple sections, with a musical narrative that resonates with dance. Throughout I have strived to evoke the elegant movements (ocho, cruzada, molinete, gancho, etc.) and improvisational flourishes of this cultural genre.

(Notes by the composer)



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