PIANO (2010)

Mezzo soprano and sinfonietta (8’) on text by D.H. Lawrence. Commissioned by the Georgina Joshi Foundation.


Piano (1918)

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;

Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see

A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings

And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.


In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song

Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong

To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside

And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.


So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor

With the great piano appassionato. The glamour

Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast

Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.


Shortly after I was notified of this opportunity to compose a work for the Georgina Joshi Foundation, I came across a beautiful D.H. Lawrence poem that so poetically described the illusory nature of memory and our relationships to the past that the music for this piece practically leaped off the page.

The image of the poet’s mother at the piano is rendered here like a memory that is initially fleeting and incomplete and eventually comes into focus throughout the piece. Augmented arrangements of the piano’s music as it becomes more intelligible are passed through the ensemble, creating a type of dream state in the middle of the piece. Throughout the work, spatial arrangements are used to symbolize the past and the present—the mezzo-soprano, for example, begins on a platform on the outside of the ensemble to represent a kind of distance from the act of remembering the past.  As her memories become more vivid, she moves to the center of the ensemble and, overcome, doesn’t return to the removed position again. Further illustrating the relationship between these spaces, the English Horn occupies the platform position when the opening music returns at the end, and accompanies the mezzo with all of the mezzo’s music from the first third of the piece. Similarly, Violin I presents a recurring “reminiscing” theme that, as the music of childhood becomes clearer later in the piece, the “reminiscing” theme is played from farther away.


Live performance by Roger Kalia (conductor), Laura Thoreson (mezzo) and the Indiana University New Music Ensemble, 05/2010.