To Keep the Dark Away

To Keep the Dark Away

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Program Note
from the composer

To Keep the Dark Away is a solo piano piece inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Both the title and each of the five movement names are drawn from lines of her poetry. The piece was commissioned by Ms. Ellen Waldo for pianist Gayle Martin, to whom it is dedicated. Both shared my enthusiasm for Dickinson’s poetry. I composed To Keep the Dark Away while awaiting surgery and the images of all five poems felt especially apt: from the first, with its singing to keep the dark away to the internal glee of the second, the dark strength of the third, the ethereal light of the fourth and the flight into music suggested by the fifth. The lines that serve as movement titles are given below, with the numbers associated with them.This is the third piece I composed for Gayle Martin, who has been the muse for my piano compositions since we were students at The Juilliard School. Previous pieces include my piano concerto, The Passion of St. Cecilia, and a solo recasting titled Fantasy on St. Cecilia.


1. #850 To Keep the Dark Away
2. #326 A Glee Possesseth Me
3. #686 An Actual Suffering Strengthens
4. #1577 The Auroral Light
5. #500 Whose Spokes a Dizzy Music Makes

“…it is the intricately beautiful new music of Judith Shatin and Gayle Martin’s playing of it that which makes this album so very special. The composer finds her inspiration for the intriguing opus that gives this CD its title in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Structured as five brief pieces whose titles yield clues to the tone of each one, To Keep the Dark Away is effortlessly original and most intriguing….”

All About the Arts (Rafael de Acha)


Background on To Keep the Dark Away
from the composer

I first became acquainted with pianist Gayle Martin Henry at the Aspen Music Festival in the early 1970’s, and our friendship developed while we were both at Juilliard in the mid-70’s, and she has been by piano muse for decades!. An astonishing talent, she won the Juilliard concerto competition, and was the only American to make it to the finals of the Tchaikovsky competition in Russia that year. Since then, she has performed around the world, and has developed a passion for fortepiano as well as traditional and contemporary repertoire. We collaborated on a number of pieces, and I composed my piano concerto, The Passion of St. Cecilia, for her. She performed one of the movements with the Minnesota Orchestra, during my composition residency, and also performed the entire piece with the Denver Symphony, as well as here in Charlottesville. She later asked me to adapt it for solo piano, for a performance at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC. When Ellen Waldo heard her perform the solo piano version in New York on a program presented by the Leschetizky Foundation, she determined to commission a new piece for Gayle.

I had a wonderful time discussing the project with Ellen. It turned out that she, Gayle and I were all fans of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. I started browsing my complete collection of Dickinson’s poetry, and in the process decided to compose five short movements, each inspired by a line from one of Dickinson’s poems. The title of the piece and the first movement had a special relevance. At the time, I was suffering from an allergic response to a metal-on-metal hip replacement, which had led to fever, pain, and inability to lift my leg. It took quite some time for the doctors to figure out what was going on, and I was composing the piece during that period. As so often, composing did indeed provide a way ‘to keep the dark away.’ It turned out that this was just the prelude to a cascade of related medical issues, resulting in multiple surgeries and difficulties, but happily composing has continued to serve as both a distraction and a healing element.

I was not able to attend the premiere on 4/16/11, at which actor Charles E. Gerber narrated the poems between movements, though it can be viewed on on Vimeo.

First Perfomance
4/17/11 Gayle Martin, piano Tenri Cultural Institute, New York, NY


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solo keyboard
Music by women
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