Philip Maneval on his “Piano Quartet in C-Sharp”

Philip-ManevalPhilip Maneval’s contribution to next Thursday’s concert of music by students of Richard Wernick is a piano quartet. Like Yinam Leef, Philip was my fellow student at Penn in the graduate composition program more than thirty years ago. In the years since, rather than hold an academic position, Philip has worked for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and the Marlboro Music Festival. This constant contact with the chamber music repertoire over a lengthy period has naturally led to a body of compositions in which chamber music predominates. In fact, the new Quartet is part of a set of chamber pieces, alongside sonatas for piano and each of the string instruments in the quartet. While there is a sense in his music of Philip’s love for that chamber music repertoire, he does not slavishly imitate neoclassical models. He has found a non-doctrinaire, quite personal harmonic language, consistent yet varied, and capable of wide emotional range. The “in C-sharp” portion of his new piece’s title reminds me of how George Perle once spoke of how he considered called his Toccata for piano a Toccata in D, but felt that would be too provocative at the time – 1969. Today such a gesture feels rather less controversial. Still, it will be intriguing to see how Philip’s piece projects his personal approach to “post-tonal tonality.”

Here are Philip’s reflections on Dick Wernick, as well as a program note for the new quartet:

On studying with Richard Wernick:

Often it is the teacher who is the hardest to please who ends up giving us the most.  When I began studying with Dick Wernick in the graduate program at Penn, like many young composers, I had a swagger, a high degree of confidence in my abilities.  It took just a few lessons with Dick to realize how far I was from achieving the goals I had set out for myself.

Dick dissected my works in those early sessions.  In his autopsies, he spoke about those characteristics of composition that seem to exist in successful music in all eras and regardless of style:  clarity and consistency in the use of materials; rhythmic vitality; a strong profile; clear architecture; strong voice leading; meaningful expression; and that elusive yet critical trait, ‘integrity.’  In each piece, he insisted that all of the aspects of craft work together in support of its dramatic and expressive intentions.  Nothing less would satisfy him, and earning his respect became an enduring goal.

Today, decades later, these lessons remain as guideposts in my work.  While I have had the considerable pleasure of knowing Dick as a close friend, a colleague in this city’s musical life, and a composer and lecturer for PCMS, I continue to value greatly his reactions to my music.  His shelves abound with my scores, and I eagerly await his thoughts on each new piece.  His wise counsel and insights never fail to inspire me.

I can only hope that by aspiring to his standards, I have given back to this amazing man and teacher at least a small part of all that he has given to me.

On Piano Quartet in C-Sharp:

This is the final piece in a set of four works that I composed in 2011, the others being duo sonatas with piano for violin, viola and cello.  While this piece employs a variety of classical and contemporary techniques, my intention was for a well-blended and distinctive new language and rhetoric.

As I composed the work, my harmonies began revolving around C-sharp.  I recalled Dick Wernick’s assertion that dissonant harmony and a strong sense of tonality are not mutually exclusive, and I began to cultivate this gravitational pull.  Despite the highly chromatic harmony, C-sharp stubbornly remains as a point of reference, arrival, remembrance and return.

Melody, and the Brahmsian approach of continual motivic variation also play key roles in the organization of this piece.  I have sought to create clearly shaped melodic lines that re-emerge in various ways, such as with different pitches or rhythmic embellishments, to provide places of reference that help to unify the form.

I have always believed that each new piece is but a point on an artistic continuum, both emerging from the past and showing a way forward.

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