Rhythm Changes was composed in 2002 for Cologne-based duo lirico, who gave the premiere of the work in January 2003. My preceding works, Dialogues for viola and piano and LINES/ANGLES for orchestra, had been growing in harmonic and melodic complexity. Rhythm Changes represented a shift to a more lighthearted affect and an embrace of my American musical heritage. As the title suggests, it pays homage to Gershwin and to the jazz tradition of building new works on the harmonic progression (“changes”) from “I Got Rhythm”, though highly sublimated. Unable to resist the musical pun, the work is also an exploration of constantly shifting rhythms.
Dialogues was composed in between December 2000 and March 2001. As the title suggests, each of the three movements explores a different dialogic relationship between the two instruments. The outer movements are each based on dramatic dialogues from plays: Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party serves as the source material for the first movement, while the third movement is drawn from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. The middle movement explores the mythical dialogue of Echo and Narcissus.
Piano Trio No. 1 was composed between March, 1998, and June, 1999, in Charlottesville, VA. It was commissioned by the Guild Trio and the Southwest Chamber Music Society. The first performance was given by the Guild Trio in Hamilton, NY, on April 2, 2000. The first movement begins slowly and quietly with the piano alone, answered by the strings in octaves. The opening melody contains the germ from which every idea in the movement evolves. The three instruments gradually build to a climax and then subside, closing off the introduction. The main body of the piece begins in a moderate tempo with the strings alone, playing a variation of the opening melody. The piano joins in and builds to a climax where it takes the main theme. As this subsides, the piano introduces a new theme, which is answered by the cello (accompanied by the violin playing an inverted version of the theme). As this reaches a climax, the piano introduces a third theme: a dramatic series of chords. This is answered in the strings and gradually dissolves into string cascades, leading to a cadenza for the cello alone. As the ‘cello winds down with inverted fragments of the opening theme, the violin enters in answer. This motive is elaborated, becoming an accompanimental figure against which the strings recall a theme from the introduction. This theme is then extensively developed and transformed, building to a triumphant return of the main theme. This leads directly into the third theme which, as it subsides, leads into a reminisce of the second theme in the strings alone. A hint of the introduction brings the first movement to a close. The second (and final) movement begins with an aggressive and brilliant unison statement of its jazzy main theme. A lyrical theme follows in the cello, followed in turn by a playful theme in the piano. The strings take up the playful theme pizzicato then offer a sultry variation on it. This variation is interrupted by aggressive interjections that eventually take over. The piano introduces a new variant, which the strings answer in imitation, building to a return of the main theme. The lyrical theme returns, but this time the violin comments on it with fragments of the sultry theme. These jointly wind down, leading to a brilliant fugal coda based on the main theme.
Sonata for Viola and Piano was composed between January and April, 1992, for my good friend John Pomeroy. Completed just before my 22nd birthday, it is my first extended work and owes much to the great classical tradition of chamber music, in which I was immersing myself at the time. The form and style of the piece reflect these influences, though they are played with in subtle ways throughout.
The first movement, a broad sonata-allegro, begins with the dramatic first theme in the piano. The viola answers with an intimate, ornamented version of the theme, which is repeated by the piano against a singing viola counterpoint. This transition leads to the second theme, heard in the piano, bringing the exposition to a close. After a repetition of the exposition, the development begins with a tranquil cadential theme. This theme is then taken up in counterpoint between the viola and piano, after which the ornamented version of the first theme is developed in stormy counterpoint. The second theme also makes an appearance, building to a climax. A sudden calm introduces a retransition based on the first theme. The recapitulation begins as a viola cadenza on the first theme, balancing the initial piano statement. The transition returns, this time with the piano leading and viola answering. The second theme now appears triumphantly in the viola, and the movement ends with the cadential theme stated quietly against viola harmonics.
The second movement begins with a dark lyrical theme in the viola over a rolling piano accompaniment. The piano answers, then the two join together, building to a climax and subsiding. A new theme emerges in the viola, intertwining with a piano countermelody. The piano answers with a highly ornamented version of the melody, against which the viola intones a new countermelody. This leads to a third theme in the viola that is based on the first theme. The piano again answers with an ornamented version, leading to a cadence. A shortened restatement follows, with the two instruments presenting the themes together instead of alternately.
The third movement follows attacca with a jaunty, dance-like theme. A contrasting section featuring a lyrical theme based on the second theme from the second movement follows. After a brief development, the first theme returns, though in a more somber guise. A second contrasting section features a third theme, based on the first theme of the second movement. As this theme winds down, a hint of the first movement is heard, leading to the return of the jaunty theme, now in a rhythmic fugato section. A brilliant coda brings the movement and the sonata to a close.
Paraphrase was composed in January 1996. It was first performed on July 23, 1997, by the Onyx String Quartet. As the title suggests, Paraphrase is a reworking of my earlier Two Pieces for Chamber Ensemble, which is scored for flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello, piano, and percussion. The translation between these two media was something that interested me greatly, the challenge being to create something that was completely idiomatic for the strings even though it was not originally conceived for them.
The piece is cast in two movements, the first of which is a slow passacaglia (ie. a piece based on a repeated melody or bass line) framed by an explosive introduction and conclusion. Over the course of the passacaglia, the entrances of the theme speed up and overlap, becoming a series of mensuration canons. The second movement releases the explosive energy of the first movement, spinning out as a lively and virtuosic romp.