Still Life in Four Movements

Still Life in Four Movements (2019 rev. 2021)
for piano (11′)

The title of the work comes from the piece’s overall aesthetic attitude which treats musical ideas as “objects” to be repeated, varied, juxtaposed, and developed.

The four movements are:

I. Improvisation
II. Cantus firmus
III. Intermezzo
IV. Spiral

The first movement juxtaposes two main thematic areas, each made up of distinct musical objects. My initial inspiration for these objects came to me while attending a concert of Morton Feldman’s music. It uses idiosyncratic musical techniques, like uneven note lengths and irregular phrasing, as well as note clusters to create a rough, even brutal, character. The movement has a feeling of ‘playing around’ with the ideas (hence the title), starting by primarily focusing on one area before moving on to the second, until finally going back to the first area at the very end.

The second movement is based on a long cantus firmus (G–D♭–F–A–G♯–D♯–A–…), played rubato, meant to contrast with the forceful rhythmic character of the first movement. After an initial statement, the cantus firmus is played again, this time embellished, with an expressionist melody in the right hand. This melody is written spacially and marked a piacere to indicate that the embellished canbus firmus should be played as a fixed melodic line—though still somewhat rubato—with the right-hand melody playing against it. During this time, the hands are not coordinated.

The third movement is based on a technical idea: I wanted to create a harmonic system, analogous to the tonal system, that uses the pitch set (0, 1, 6) (e.g. F–C–G♭), rather than major and minor triads, as the basic harmonic material. This led me to create a “circle of fifths” of sorts for the octatonic scale, relating “triads” to one another in a “circle of fifths” based on shared common tones. The form is highly repetitive and in an unusual meter, giving it a strange, quasi-dance character.

The fourth movement, in ABCBA form, uses the diminished triad as the basis for all three sections. The A section evokes a feeling of “spiraling” as more and more notes are gradually added to the arpeggio, thus gradually increasing its density.