In Your Head
New music for piano four hands
This recording was inspired by the highly successful premiere of Dreamworlds, commissioned of long-time friend and colleague Lewis Spratlan for our recital at Mount Holyoke College in February 2016. Colleagues Donald Wheelock and David Sanford agreed to compose works for the album as did Matthew St. Laurent, a former piano student. Lew introduced us to composer Daniel Asia in Tucson where we recently relocated. In the early 1990's, colleague and friend John LaMontaine coached us on his Sonata, which completes the playlist. Except for Sonata, all notes are by the respective composers.
– Dana Muller, Gary Steigerwalt
MIND GAMES (2017) responds to Dana and Gary's initial project theme “In Your Head.” While many of my pieces have suggestive titles, and titles of non-vocal music often involve (loosely speaking) metaphors, this one presented a challenge. On one hand, everything is in your head—where else? On the other, the sort of musical metaphor this would entail needed some thought.
The first thing that came to mind was After-Images a set of ten orchestral miniatures written for the Five College Orchestra in 1989. Its first movement, “High Expectations,” seemed to represent a state of mind. Perhaps I could transcribe that and others for piano four-hands. While “High Expectations” did make the cut with much elaboration and extension, no other movement could be made to work. As with any title, only the composer may know which came first, title or music. I can say, however, titles for “High Expectations,” “Panic,” and “Abandon” generated the music for their respective movements as did “Cogitation”, in that music might represent a calculated, almost autonomous thinking, working out a difficult puzzle, for instance. The fourth movement, “Reflection”, had several titles relating to the state of contemplation, as required for composing a quasi-fugue with a complex subject in a highly introspective, baroque-inflected musical language. All are tonal pieces except “Panic”, which is very chromatic and dissonant—think of the feeling you’d have halfway to the airport, realizing your passport is in your desk drawer at home. Still, except for “Panic”, the music of Mind Games is pretty traditional. Which is not to say that cheeky moments of dissonant intrusion don’t make their way into other textures, as in “Abandon”, a movement constructed along the lines of a perpetuum mobile. I don’t have periods of abandon myself, but this is what they might feel like if I did. And let me not forget to say the project was a challenge and a pleasure, especially working with Dana and Gary, for which I owe them many thanks.
– Donald Wheelock
DREAMWORLDS (2015) probes the dreams of three very unlike figures: St. Francis of Assisi; Hitler; and a nameless bureaucrat. Each movement emerges from some primordial, universal dream tissue, within and against which the actual dreams play out.
St. Francis dreams repeatedly of his quest for holiness and service to the church, represented here as fragments of Gregorian chant, and his engaged conversation with his bird friends, some of which, e.g. the white-throated sparrow, make solo appearances. He dreams of his charmed empathy with wolves, who lie down in peace beside him, and of his visit to Egypt, where he attempts to persuade the Sultan to end the bloodshed of the crusades. But his dreams return always to the search for piety and penitence.
Hitler dreams of power, conquest, and appetite, and of holy German art – Beethoven and Wagner and Haydn’s Deutschland über alles. But world domination through the sacrifices of war increasingly dominates his dreams. The movement closes in the gas chambers of the “final solution” as life seeps out of the six million and out of der Führer’s dreams.
Our poor bureaucrat is just trying to be good and efficient, but she’s not well prepared and makes embarrassing mistakes that frustrate her, in her dreams, to entropy and paralysis. Round two: she’s stuck in a repetitive chore that drives her crazy – she’s too good for this – but she keeps at it until the inevitable explosion occurs. In the third episode pleasant dreams lead her to indulge her romantic side and ultimately to all-out romantic passion, which all too quickly subsides. She stays in bed a bit late. Finally the dream tissue melts away and she’s left to go back to work.
DREAMWORLDS is fondly dedicated to Dana Muller and Gary Steigerwalt, two dear old friends whose dreamy collaborations have been a big part of my listening pleasure for many decades.
– Lewis Spratlan
SONATA FOR PIANO, FOUR HANDS, Op. 25 (1965) illustrates diverse elements of LaMontaine’s piano writing, including neoromantic lyricism, neobaroque polyphony, and 20th-century serialism and jazz. In 1994, LaMontaine remarked in an interview that, although he had “no regular procedure for composing”, for a period of time he wrote “a series of works which would make the maximum use of a particular interval” and claimed his four-hand sonata was based on the interval of a perfect fourth.
Preamble opens with declamatory tripled octaves in the Secondo, intensified by double-dotted rhythms and powerful accents. The Primo answers with imploring phrases harmonized in perfect fourths and/or their inversions, perfect fifths. These lyrical passages, to be played in a flexible (rubato) tempo, contrast with the rigidity of the Secondo’s opening gestures. A pianissimo second theme of rising melodic perfect fourths is introduced in the Secondo, then imitated in the Primo. Tempo and dynamics intensify until the Secondo reiterates the opening theme's dotted rhythms. The movement ends quietly with truncated versions of both themes repeated to the point of exhaustion.
The visceral Scherzo begins with jagged, heavily punctuated melodic lines in the Primo, provoked by hammered major and minor thirds in the Secondo. After a brief halt, the Secondo creates a wholly new momentum with repetitions of a jazzy three-beat ostinato spread unevenly over measures of 4/4 meter while the Primo plays a chirpy, sharply syncopated tune in the high keyboard register, possibly a reminder of LaMontaine’s affinity for bird calls. The movement is made wilder through fluctuating meters and frequent interjections of accented eighth notes in triplets featuring the interval of a fourth in the Primo. By the final three measures, the quarrel between Primo and Secondo devolves into staggered fortissimo canonic gestures of a four-note motive derived from the movement's opening.
The frenzied canon segues attacca into the final movement, Fugue, based on a gnarly subject furthering the composer's preoccupation with perfect fourths and spanning a minor ninth that, in a nod toward serialism, encompasses all twelve semitones of the chromatic scale. Performers are instructed to play deciso molto, gradually increasing the tempo of the fugue over the first thirty bars. As the three upper hands play subject-related material, Secondo’s left hand doubles higher voices at the distance of an octave or underpins the contrapuntal activity with chromatic and diatonic scale figures. Alternating scales in perfect fifths and octaves signal the fugue’s climax and an abrupt return to the weighty opening of the first movement, made conclusive through the punctuation of carillon-like chords.
– Dana Muller, Gary Steigerwalt
IRIS (2017) is in three movements. The first is mostly lighthearted, but always threatening to grow darker, or fall off the tracks, as it were. A lyrical mid-section is followed by a return to the opening material that includes an almost metallic climax. The movement ends as it began, offhand and whimsically.
The second movement is a bit darker in mood, ruminative perhaps. It moves slowly at the start, as it works to gain momentum. Episodic in nature, it features a cadenza-like section as well, before it returns to its opening bell-like sounds.
The third movement is motoric in rhythm and sound. It is all about unbridled energy, but of a kind that is somewhat allusive. This material is occasionally interrupted by lyrical moments reminiscent of the first movement’s simplicity, while the ending also refers to that movement’s closing gesture, albeit with a final flourish that brings the entire work to a triumphant close.
– Daniel Asia
OVERTURE FOR A LUCID DREAM (2017) What is it like to control your own dreams? I have long been fascinated by this question, and was excited and challenged by the artistic opportunity to explore it through music for this album. The concept of lucid dreaming is intriguing; when you become aware you are dreaming and can influence your journey, a world opens. Though I'm not among the lucky group who has experienced them personally, I was inspired to create a soundtrack that would be fitting if I ever found myself wielding such power in my mind.
The piece starts timidly as the dreamer first registers what’s happening, then takes the listener along on an exploration of several musical themes. These weave in and out as the dreamer’s ability to control the narrative gets stronger. It culminates with a fully-realized, grand reprise of the main theme, underscoring the feeling that physical laws no longer apply in this world, then quietly ends as the dreamer wakes from their adventure, always a moment too soon.
– Matthew St. Laurent
THE SILENT HEARTH (2018) I am honored to have been commissioned by Ms. Muller and Mr. Steigerwalt who were – and remain – such a large presence in the musical community of the Pioneer Valley and beyond for many, many years. In December of 2013, the Boston Globe featured an article about Steinert Hall, the former concert hall built in 1896 that remains in a dilapidated state some 40 feet below a piano showroom on Boylston Street near Boston Common which is still used for recordings due to its unique acoustics. Not long after reading the article, I learned from Gary that he and Dana had in fact recorded there; Gary described in vivid detail the dark, cavernous, debris-strewn space that visually echoed the numerous concerts from before its closure as a public concert venue in 1942. Having been the fortunate occupant of the office next to Gary’s in Pratt Hall, Mount Holyoke College’s music building, I was immediately inspired by the idea of the music from those many practices and rehearsals continuing to resonate through the years, at Steinert Hall, and at the college by extension. Accordingly, the four-hand version of Schubert’s Overture to Fierrabras (D. 798) which Gary and Dana recorded at Steinert Hall, forms the harmonic and melodic foundation of The Silent Hearth.
– David Sanford
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