FOUR PIANO PIECES (1976)
for piano - 5 min.
1. MM: 76
2. MM: 76
3. MM: 80 (very)
4. MM: 76
FOUR PIANO PIECES (1976) was premiered 9 May 1977 by Diane Guernsey at SUNY - Stony Brook, where we were both graduate students. There have been around 100 subsequent performances by various pianists in the United States, MEXICO, AUSTRIA, ROMANIA, SPAIN, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, UK, etc., and of course the piece is included on the Albany Records recording of all my piano music by Junghwa Lee.
Music in its smallest form can be very visual. These four pieces are approximately a minute each, and, at that length, can be swallowed in a single gulp. So, unlike longer pieces of music, the beginning of a very small composition is still fresh in our memory as we hear each piece’s conclusion. We can more easily make sense of the whole, or translate it, or whatever we do when we listen to music.
As a student in New York, this piece was a breakthrough for me. I had been searching for many years for my language. As a kid, I had swept through pop and jazz , that while inarguably part of the esthetic, seemed too repetitive, simple, and limited for me. And then, while still a teenager, I heard Beethoven for the first time, and immediately my musical goalswere transformed to the grander and through-composed esthetic of so called “serious” “art” music. There would be no turning back.
I consider Four Piano Pieces to be my first composition. It was preceded by perhaps 100 pieces, finished and not finished, that taught me how to compose, but this was the first one I consider my first statement. It was written in 1976 while studying for a Masters degree at SUNY Stony Brook. My teacher at the time was the late David Lewin, a mathematician, composer, pianist, and one of the most respected Music Theorists in history. David became my mentor, because, under his wing, I seemed to finally, make some music. Since writing Four Piano Pieces, I have - from time to time - actually thought that maybe I am a composer. I certainly miss the man. He had a frightening intellect – just so very smart. And like other friends and teachers I have known, whose intellect has been above the norm, David was a “regular Joe” – fun to be around – not at all pompous or haughty.
Around then, for the heck of it, I had been trying learn something about that silly music that flits around in the background of "Laurel and Hardy" films. At a concert reception one evening, I asked David if he happened to know who wrote that silly Laurel and Hardy music. For the first and only time in my relationship with him, he seemed angry with me, dismissing me and walking away. I wondered what I had done. I was baffled by his reaction, so much so that I asked him the same question about 6 months later – and got the exact same reaction. Much, much later, after David’s premature death of heart failure at age 69, I figured out why he reacted so insulted and even outraged by my "Laurel and Hardy" question: It may have been the only question to which he DID NOT know the answer!
Amazingly coincidentally, David’s father was head of Psychiatry at Belleview Hospital in post World War II New York City and was, in fact, my father’s mentor/teacher, when pop was a Psychiatry resident in the 1940’s. When we discovered and verified this, David Lewin and I were rather startled by the coincidence, that gave us an interesting bond.
So this little group of tiny statements was my “coming out” piece. They became my Christmas present (cheapskate!) that year to my girlfriend, Nancy Jefferson, another smarty-pants, who became the mother of our five children. It was performed on her birthday in 1977, 4 days before we eloped in upstate New York.