Program Notes

Youth, the last composition written, and the last to be unearthed, fell out of a folder of blank manuscript paper. I have no memory of writing the last two thirds of it. The beginning was devised on my parent’s spinet piano pre-1974. It is based on an extremely uncomplicated motif repeated throughout, an accompaniment of broken chords played left-hand and right-hand, ascending and descending, mirroring one another. The piece is structured as a flashback: the opening minor section represents old age, after which the music guides us through a golden portal to the past.

The Travelogue is made of sketches from a barely begun sonata found in Mary Ellen Desmond’s piano bench. At the time I left it, I assumed the sections were too disparate, yet in 2016, as I entered them into the notation software, they strung together with little effort to form a complete work. I titled it Travelogue for its journey through the different parts. I remember attempting to compose in my head for the first time, rather than on the keyboard.

The Histories were written in the order in which they appear. The musical forms and titles are not to be taken literally, but are meant as playful, humorous interpretations, or pastiche.

Fond memories of a summer job playing in a band shell with the Springfield, Vermont Town Band left me with a strong impression of the marches of John Phillips Sousa. My March, a departure from the traditional form, is built loosely around a narrative. The first section, opening with a fanfare, signals we are in the military. Sousa’s marches typically included a subdued middle section called a “trio.” Its antecedents lie in baroque movements played by three instruments. My trio section has three “voices,” and is meant to portray the sleep of a single soldier whose dreams of home are interrupted by the echoes of calling trumpets. An alarm wakens him and a skirmish ensues, ominously drowning out the dream motif. The “marching” resumes.

Humoresque. Comic fluff. I love the term Humoresque, and wanted to use it to write something fast and light. I’m fond of dissonance and I use it throughout all the pieces for both dramatic and humorous effect, but here it is used strictly for the latter. A short passage, meant to be played badly as though by a child includes two instances of purposeful “wrong” notes.

The short Poem is an exercise in expressing the most emotion with the sparest brevity. It is dedicated posthumously to a dear friend who avidly followed this project from the beginning.

While the term Pastorale might suggest a peaceful idyll, I’m once again coloring outside the lines. Strictly speaking, a pastorale denotes a composition evocative of rural life. I imagined shepherd folk gathering on a hillside for an alfresco meal. But hidden in the trees is Pan, the ancient half-goat god of the wild, flocks, rustic music, and impromptus, who causes the unsuspecting group to erupt into a frenzied dance.

The Waltz I like to think plays at being a waltz. It is essentially a comic work. It contains several musical jokes, not the least of which is the opening, written in 4/4 time, rather than 3/4 waltz time. To my delight, this elicited a laugh from Tom Lawton when he first heard it. With the simplest of melodies, I wanted to see if I could sustain the momentum of a dance, keeping the ball in the air, as it were, throughout.

Passacaglia is an old musical form that is distinguished by a serious character, often based on a bass-ostinato, written in triple meter. Mine is mostly in 12/8, a compound, quadruple time signature with four strong beats in each measure. Like this: 1…&…a…2…&…a…3…&…a…4…&…a.

The Overture, appearing ironically at the end of the suite, was inspired by Leonard Bernstein’s Overture to Candide. It’s upbeat and funny, and contains tone clusters: chords played in the lower register with six adjacent keys, like with a fist, used as a percussive effect. Its uncomplicated ending, my favorite, wraps up the Histories with a question mark.

Largo is an Italian musical term used to indicate a slow tempo with a sense of expansiveness and breadth. I discarded mine long ago as too maudlin and cloying, but it has emerged as a favorite among many. It was left without a proper ending, which I scavenged from within the piece itself. I made only the slightest alterations in all the works, although in the Largo some impossible fingerings had to be revised.

Farce refers to the stage. “A comic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations” (The Oxford English Dictionary). It is my Frankenstein monster, a kind of conglomeration of foolish ideas built around the opening phrase, which repeats, introducing the different sections, and finally ends the work.