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.