Etudes Book II

Etudes Book II

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piano solo


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Etudes Book II
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This is the second of a two-volume collection of piano etudes dealing with compositional rather than technical concerns. Each piece reflects certain locales to which I have visited (e.g. Springfield Illinois, New Orleans, Toronto Ontario, Timaru New Zealand, Paris France and in Mississippi USA). Each work melds a variety of styles from New Orleans Jazz to bitonality, Puccini, Bruckner, to name a few.

Pad Thai and Sala (1993) is named after a favourite dish of mine at ‘The Magic Kitchen’, a Thai Restaurant on the outskirts of Springfield, Illinois. Pad Thai is a peanut vegetable dish and Sala is sweet red syrup well suited to dulling the effects of the spiciness of Thai Food. The style of the work is a ‘Tango-Rag’ – a hybrid form influenced by music of the south Americas developed in sch pieces as Ferdinand ‘Jelly-Roll’ Morton’s The Crave, or Jess Picket’s The Dream, in which octaves and tango rhythms predominate. I attempted to meld this style with bitonality and chromatic melodies – elements of a different era.

Pleasant Point – Rag Verismo is the second version of a piece with this title, the first being an embarrassingly youthful effort. Pleasant Point is a very small township (consisting mostly of cottages) just outside of Timaru, a small town on the southern end of the South Island of New Zealand. It was here during summers that I often spent what were my happiest memories of living in New Zealand. I stayed with one of the friends of my mother, Myra Vance, who became a sort of surrogate Grandmother. Everything in her house was historical; the house, the wind-up gramophone, the books and bookshelves, the harmonium, the beds, furniture and garden. At Myra’s cottage (in Pleasant Point itself) there was another wind-up gramophone with some old Enrico Caruso records; arguably one of my first musical experiences. For that reason, the entire melodic and harmonic foundation of this rag is based on the Vesti la Gubbia arioso from Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci (which I have never heard Caruso sing, but it is nevertheless the arioso with which he is most strongly associated) and you will hear quotes and references to it everywhere, especially in the second section. Myra Vance, like Grandma Moses, started painting late in life, and though now in her eighties, has had several exhibitions, some internationally. This one is dedicated to her.


VooDoo Queen is named after Marie Leveaux, the famous nineteenth century VooDoo Queen of New Orleans, who exerted a powerful influence over many citizens. This work is a collaborative rag. I asked Alabama-born Brooklyn-resident Ragtime composer Donald Ashwander whether he would be interested in writing a collaborative rag. He was very enthusiastic, so I sent him the title and idea, and the first two sections with the repeat of the ‘A’ section is what he came up with. Although what follows (which was written by myself) is very different style, it could not exist were it not for the previous sections; almost all of the melodic material is derived from the first part composed by Donald Ashwander. For this reason it remains a coherent work, despite the apparently convergent styles. It also harmonically does a full circle of minor thirds – starting in C minor, moving in the ‘C’ strain to E flat minor, moving to F sharp minor (enharmonically re-interpreted G flat minor), to A minor, back to C minor. 

400 Roncesvalles Avenue is the address of the Revue Cinema, a historic movie-house in a historic area of Toronto, Canada. The way to approach the theatre from downtown is to take the subway eastbound to Dundas West station and from there to take a streetcar to the theatre. These are depicted at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the piece. The third and fourth section of this work also quote fairly extensively from the Adagio movement of Bruckner’s 8th symphony. The reason for this is that it was while I was resident in Toronto that I became familiar with and recognised the genius of this composer. I regret to say that I have no recollections of ever seeing any interesting films at the Revue Cinema. It is dedicated to Salvatore Martirano, who expressed a liking for the piece.  

Le Penseur or The Taylor Road/Tupelo/Faulkner Alley/Hore Dolinecku/Charters Stomp No. 5 is a composite of many places and influences. The phrase ‘That’s All’ at the end of the piece is a reference to Annette Hanshaw, a recording star of the twenties who concluded most of her songs this way. It gets a bit tiring to listen to after a while. When I visited the church at Chartres, outside Paris, I visited one of the many glitzy souvenir shops in which I found a ceramic Gargoyle. A woman who worked in the shop asked me in French whether she could help. I replied, in the French that I could muster up, that I liked the Gargoyle very much ad was wondering what I was called. “Le Penseur [The Thinker]” she replied. “Il s’appelle ‘Le Penseur ‘ parce qu’il pense! [He’s called The Thinker because he thinks]” and she demonstrated by putting her head into her hands in the same gesture as the ceramic Gargoyle.
Taylor, Mississippi (about eight miles north of Exford, home of ‘Ole Miss’ University) has one of the best Cat Fish restaurants in all of Northern Mississippi at the Taylor Grocer and Restaurant, a dilapidated old building at the end of the eight mile long Taylor Rad. A sign inside the restaurant had been changed from ‘Fried Cat Fish’ to ‘Fried Cat Shit’; nobody had bothered to changed it back.

Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley and is east of Oxford, Mississippi. The Tupelo Museum is a wonderful storehouse of old local artefacts, and includes a wide-angle photograph of the devastation left by a Tornado in 1935, hence the chord clusters in the second section.
Faulkner Alley is next to the Harvest Restaurant, an outstanding vegetarian restaurant in Oxford, Mississippi. The building originally housed a Pharmacy that William Faulkner used to go into all the time to review his own manuscripts.
Hore Dolinecku is the name of a Czech folk song in a collection of Czech folk songs entitled Cesky Zpevnik (published by state Publishing House, Prague, 1959, edited by Karel Plicka), although the Czech folk song that the pianist is instructed to sing, whistle or hum aloud is Hory, hory, hory cerne. Both the songs used in my work are Czech courting songs. I had the good fortune to study this beautiful language for a semester, but unfortunately the course was an accelerated one, and I was the only person in the class who was not either a Slavic Language major or a native Czech speaker. My professor said to me that I could pronounce it very well. It’s just everything else (i.e. grammar, comprehension, composition) that was a problem.
So why the Stomp No. 5 at the end of the title? Some of the material in the piece is vaguely influenced by an early 78 rpm recording of Rob Cooper’s West Texas Drag No. 2. So why “No. 5”? While composing the work, someone I knew had just finished reading a biography of Coco Chanel.  Evidently, the reason Chanel named the famous fragrance ‘No. 5’ is because she rejected the elongated romantic titles of most fragrances of her day. She wanted something short, simple, elegant; so – why did I choose such a long title…?


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