20 September 2009

Distant Episodes

This is a newly available composition for two pianos. I wrote it over the last year or so, in response to an expression of interest from duoDort in a little piece named Portrait, listed in my catalogue as dating back to 1989, for two pianos, duration three minutes.

Not only did such a miniature seem an embarrassingly small offering to hand anybody, but when I searched for the old manuscript I could not find the final page. After spending hours looking for it I decided it would be easier to rewrite the final page than to search on. How wrong I was. Did I not know, after so many root-and-branch revisions of past efforts, that it is impossible - for me at least - to go back to an old piece without changing it? And change it I did, but to an unsuspected degree.

The experience of trying to transport myself to the old 'me' of 1989 called to mind one of my teenage readings, Herman Hesse's Knulp: Three Tales from the Life of Knulp, known to me in the 1970s by its Spanish title, Tres momentos de una vida. In it Hesse returns to the same character, Knulp, to show us snapshots of three very different periods of his life.

Here I was, in 2008, working hard to replicate the musical logic that must have ruled my thinking twenty years earlier. The experience felt so much like a dialogue between the then and the now that the idea grew in my mind that I could make a virtue of this time dislocation, and frame the little Portrait with something even earlier to come before it and something of the present to follow it.

The idea would have not gone anywhere if I had not remembered that my Cantata de Navidad y Epifanía of 1978, for baritone, children's choir and two pianos, contained an interlude for two pianos. I went back to it and found that it could work, with the necessary adjustments, as a movement in a longer instrumental work. This provided the very early past, Portrait being the distant, but not quite so early past.

For the finale I resorted to my then most recently completed work, the String Quartet No. 1, 'Montes'. For this, remember, is not me looking at myself as I was long ago, then not so long ago and then now, but me looking at the music I composed in these three moments of my life. A form of meta-composition, you might call it.

The finale, then, is a second look at the movement out of the string quartet I find most intriguing, least completed, leaving the most to be said: the third, 'Music and Land'. From a purely compositional angle, I was curious to see how the rhythmic instabilities would work between two players rather than four, and to what extent the sharper definition of the piano's mechanism would enhance the clarity of the rhythmic contradictions and juxtapositions. I am thrilled with the result.

Although I took so long to complete the work, and I came up with fifteen minutes of music when they were only asking for three, it seems that a première by duoDorT is still a possibility. Meanwhile, I have posted up a computer demo version on MySpace and on last.fm.

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