Five Etudes

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for piano (2001)
Commissioned by Winston Choi
Premiere: New Music Marathon at Northwestern University by Winston Choi – May 2002
Duration: 18 minutes

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Five Etudes for Piano is a set of character pieces labeled etudes more for the severity of their technical demands and obsessive nature than the idea that each one explores a specific pianistic issue. The idea was to produce a set of pieces that would contain a high level of contrast in character and pianistic approach from one piece to the next as well as within each piece. At the same time, I wanted to create links that would connect these contrasts in an organic way. The solution was a formal approach I refer to as “virus,” in which a steady state idea is interrupted by an anomaly that reappears with more frequency as the piece continues until it finally takes over and hence the music becomes transformed. For example, the first etude begins in a somewhat sinister manner where a steady stream of triplets in the left hand serve as a grid over which various rhythmic gyrations in the right hand take place. Soon after the piece begins, faster four-note groupings are heard within the context of the steady triplets. At the same time, a short two note descending motive played at a sudden soft dynamic is heard as an interruption of the rhythmic gyrations in the right hand. Within the context of the overall relentless character of the opening section, these anomalies seem like small glitches in a machine-like process, but toward the end where these musical fragments dominate, they yield a very different, almost ethereal music. There are also some obvious and other more subtle motivic connections between the pieces that serve as points of departure and ultimately yield very different results in the different contexts.

Another issue of central importance to these etudes is the use of pedal in relation to harmony. In these works I tried to create a sense of slowly metamorphosing harmony by utilizing various pedaling techniques in conjunction with subtly changing harmonic fields to produce what in essence sounds like a melting process. This can most easily be recognized in the third etude titled “Melt.”

Ultimately, these pieces were written in an attempt to capture the awe inspired by the briefest of moments; the splash of a rain drop in a quiet pool, the slow changing form of a candle as it burns down, the mystique of the butterfly hovering in a single spot as the world moves around it. Five Etudes for Piano were written for and are dedicated to Winston Choi.

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