Making the World Safe for Seduction

I’m writing a piece for piano four hands. The first four movements are already 25 minutes, and I’m adding at least one more. They’re sort of sketches for pieces I’ve been wanting to try, and because they’re not particularly related, I’m using the generic title A Book of Music. It’s for a couple of students who have a piano duo, but it’s also a project I’ve wanted to work on for more than a decade. I’ve always had a soft spot for two-piano, or four-hand, works, and it’s rather remarkable the number of such works that are either my favorite, or near-favorite, work by that composer:

Ligeti’s Monument – Selbst-Portrait – Bewegung

B.A. Zimmermann’s Monologe

Stockhausen’s Mantra (my favorite pieces by all three composers)

Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica

Satie’s Trois morceau en forme de poire

Wallingford Riegger’s Variations Opus 54

Kevin Volans’s Cicada

Tenney’s Chromatic Canon

Bach’s The Art of Fugue

Years ago I wrote a two-piano piece, I’itoi Variations, which was a huge, ambitious, take-no-prisoners monument of tremendous ensemble difficulty, not the sort of thing that two pianists can sit down and breeze through in an odd moment. Since then I’ve always wanted to write something more approachable, closer in spirit to Trois morceau en forme de poire. It’s a great medium. It shares with solo piano music that you can set tone color aside for the moment, yet it also frees one from the limitations of ten fingers, and opens up the entire range of the instrument for simultaneous use. No wonder it’s the chosen medium to substitute for the orchestra in a thousand transcriptions.


My students will premiere A Book of Music this fall, and then I’ll make it generally available. It’s refreshing to write a little gebrauchsmusik, thinking at least as much about the enjoyment of the performers as that of the audience. I love playing four-hand music myself, and one of the best things about it is that it offers such opportunities for seduction. What better association for musicians to have with my melodies than that they were prelude to an evening of unexpected passion?

UPDATE: That working title was too dull to impose on a piece I’ve come to like as much as this one. The new title is Implausible Premises.


  1. Ethan Iverson says

    In No. 13 of Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder, “Nein, Geliebter, setze dich,” the right hand of the lower pianist plays above the left hand of the upper pianist, resulting in a rather explict intertwining.

  2. says

    Pleasant surprise to see Mantra on your list of favs. It’s mine too. I never could get into this piece (as a listener) until I found the score. There’s actually quite a lot of humor in it, which isn’t quite so apparent until you look at the score, which, in many ways, is impressive on its own.
    Unfortunately, without the score in front of you to follow, it can seem to be a long, boring piece of music.

  3. David Carter says

    I share your fascination with music for two pianos/pianists.
    Stravinsky’s Concerto for two solo pianos and the Sonata for two pianos rate highly and of course Bartoks’s music for two pianos and percussion (that can count can’t it?)
    Also anything by Sorabji whilst of course written for one piano almost always sounds (and looks) like it is for four hands!

  4. Richard says

    Nice to see someone else is a fan of the great “non-Pulitzer prize winning” composer Wallingford Riegger!
    KG replies: Hey, Riegger’s Study in Sonority out-Schoenberged Schoenberg, his Canon and Fugue in D is a neoclassic gem, and his Concerto for Piano and Wind Quintet is one of the most lovable 12-tone works around. I also seem to be the second leading authority (after Don Gillespie) on the fifth American-Fiver, John Becker. I knew Becker’s widow in Chicago, and she talked about her embarrassment when Riegger would write Becker letters beginning, “Dear Comrade.” “We weren’t communists,” she’d say, “we were good Catholics!”

  5. Richard says

    Your right on with regard to Riegger, I’ve long felt a kinship with him, as I also have published my share of “potboilers”. I love his very American empirical approach to 12 tone technique (I remember hearing one anal-retentive type complain that Reigger was a “primitive”who didn’t follow the “rules”) I wish somebody would champion his 3rd symphony, which, aguably, is the “Great American Symphony”.