Composing for the Piano

88l8telyI was assigned a graduate composition seminar this fall at my day job, and decided to make composing for piano the focus. I further decided to plan a few recitals and talks relating to the course, under the title “Eighty-Eight Lately”, and with the support of a generous grant from Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, the following roster of events has taken shape, all on the Penn campus:
September 29, 2015: “The Spectral Piano” – a colloquium with Dr. Marilyn Nonken of New York University – read more below.
October 28, 2015: piano recital by Gregory DeTurck and myself. Greg will play works by Crumb, Perle, and Dutilleux, and I will offer the Berio Sequenza IV. UPDATE: this program has been postponed until February 17, 2016.
January 27, 2016: Marilyn Nonken will return to campus for a recital including pieces she mentioned in her talk this past week. The list of composers may bet tweaked a little, but the plan is for her to play Rakowski, Murail, Carrick, Dufourt, and Kuehn. The Carrick and Kuehn works will be premieres.
February 24, 2016: Matthew Bengtson and I will share a program. I’ll play one or two movements from the Martino Fantasies and Impromptus, and Matt will play Carter, Ligeti, Nancarrow, Bolcom, and Melinda Wagner. Mindy will give a talk on her music earlier that day.
The class so far has only met a few times. In these first meetings we have been spending time with some early 20th century classic, but the main focus of the class will be post-WWII. So far we have looked at:
– Debussy: various Preludes
– Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit
– Copland: Piano Variations
– Ives: “Concord” Sonata
– Barber: Sonata
– Bartok: Sonata
– Schoenberg, Six Little Piano Pieces
We will look at the Webern Variations next, with Messiaen to follow.
Marilyn Nonken’s talk this past Tuesday drew upon her elegant and thoughtful book The Spectral Piano, and she talked about the spectralist attitude, with sound itself, – its overtone content and its characteristic attacks and decays – as the stuff of a composition rather than pitches or motives. She discussed the music of Murail, Grisey, Dufourt, and Edmund Campion, as well as playing for us a short work by Joshua Fineberg. You can see a video of the lecture here.

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