What Becomes/Was wird for piano (2009)

Commissioned by the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO)
WP: 13.11.2009, New York (USA), Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall, Starr Theater (USA) “Pictures Reframed” | Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Robin Rhode (video artist)

Parabolic Bikes
Scherzo – Don’t step on the Regenwurm – Schisma
Paper Planes

Programme note
I knew from the beginning that I had to write a piece for unprepared piano (or at least only slightly prepared), because the piece will be presented in a programme without an intermission. It would have been awkward if the Mussorgsky Pictures had to be played on an instrument, which had become out of tune while being prepared.

One could say that it is very natural to write for a ”natural“ piano – yes, maybe, but for me this had not been natural for many years. Exploring new things and sounds sometimes also has to do with not wanting to face the status quo, hiding oneself in a so-called future. In many of my earlier pieces I had fled into preparing the piano, wanting to avoid hearing the natural piano sound, which I knew too well and with which I had lived for forty years. I had always found it extremely difficult to say something personal, maybe even new with this sound.

But this time I had to face the piano as such and try to make something interesting.

I began by composing the piece Parabolic Bikes, referring to an older Robin Rhode animation on the one hand (today you will see a new one added to this music) and to the jazzplayer Lennie Tristano on the other. The line with which the movement begins comprises many sub-lines and rhythmic models. This is why the line is divided between the left and the right hand very carefully. In the course of the piece this voice-leading becomes even more important and evident, the tempo gradually slows down, the atmosphere becomes more melancholic …

I added the introduction Wertfrei, a ”fluegelhorn“ melody. This explores sounds IN the piano with the help of the pedal, one of the inventions that made the piano a piano – a whole world opens up inside the instrument.

After having written these parts I was very uncertain how to go on, but then I heard Leif Ove Andsnes playing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. This magnificent, daring, precise and radical piece gave me enormous inspiration to use MY instrument and simply invent, invent and invent …

Very simply, I could see that with my first part (Wertfrei) I had also created a kind of ”promenade“, and I could go on then, with another promenade and after that with what I call a ”big scherzo“, or as Leif Ove has called it, a ”scherzo diabolique“.

This movement is the heart of the piece. I wanted to create a complex, energetic, not to say aggressive piece with ordinary major/minor chords: observing my own pieces I can very clearly see a tendency to write very quiet, subtle tonal passages on the one hand and very motoric, loud and fast atonal passages on the other hand – and I wanted to break through this cliché. I could do this (and at the same time I could not), as the ”trio“ (Don’t step on the Regenwurm) is of course one of those slow, beautiful things. The reprise (Schisma) adds the element of the lines (as in Parabolic Bikes, but very much transformed) to the chords and this causes the piece to burst apart.

This movement (Scherzo) will not be accompanied by animations but in a way is extending the animation: here the conflict, the drama and the horror, which you may suspect when you see Robin Rhode’s animations, is named. I had to make it explicit, I had to shout it out.

A further promenade (Isaac, referring to the great Renaissance composer) leads to the end of the piece (Paper Planes) where the subtle playing inside the piano and on the keyboard reminds us of the beginning, being a big contrast to the vivid images you will see on the screen gliding by.

Thomas Larcher