Qualities of Light
Qualities of Light
for piano (1999)
(Banner photo: Bruce Brubaker)
- Premiere: 21 January, 1999 / Weill Recital Hall, New York City, New York / Jeanne Golan, piano
- Instrumentation: solo piano
- Duration: 24'
- Built Up Dark
It is interesting to note that in this composition lay seeds of musical ideas that would, over the years, grow into a bouquet of other Hagen works. The second movement serves as the original musical sketch of Hagen's orchestral work Built Up Dark and in turn, the wind ensemble work Night, Again and, ultimately, the Profanation from Symphony No. 3. Hagen's 1998 evening-long opera Bandanna (in which the metaphor of characters living either in morally "light," "dark," or "twilight" states drives the drama) appears to represent the composer's final thoughts on the musical ideas first advanced in 1983 when he began sketching Qualities of Light. In fact, this work serves as the same sort of compositional primordial soup for Bandanna that the brass quintet Everything Must Go served for the opera Vera of Las Vegas.
The second movement (composed during December of 1994 in New York City) was commissioned by Bruce Brubaker who first performed it at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. on 26 March 1995. The outer movements were composed during August of 1998 at Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, New York. First performed on 10 January 1999 as a completed work by Jeanne Golan at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia on Rittenhouse Square, the composer made several minor changes to the work in consultation with Ms. Golan prior to its formal premiere at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall in New York City on 21 January 1999 by Ms. Golan. A recording of the work by Ms. Golan is available on the Albany label (Troy 324).
Qualities of Light is a dazzling piece of impressionism by pianist-composer Daron Hagen that should prove a welcome addition to the repertory. It will please audiences with its colorful accessibility and pianists for its virtuosic writing. The harmonic range is wide, from the dark dissonance of II to the unabashedly tonal romanticism of the big tune in the middle of the finale. The opening, Dusk, is spare and lonely, in a style that seems highly personal; the other two movements recall Messiaen in their modal harmony, wide-spacing voicing, percussive pass, and brilliant showers of notes raining down from the treble. In her intelligent liner notes, Golan sees the long, benevolent shadow of Ravel in Hagen's harmonies and voicing. The piece certainly sounds French, in a thoroughly seductive way.
--- Sullivan, American Record Guide November/December, 1999
The Hagen piece, in three sections, is far from a sentimental musing on stereotypical night sounds. It expands on a line made of widely spaced intervals, probes internalized images through a long, unhurried bass melody and finds some idea of night terrors through big playing at the ends of the keyboard. A big chordal section late in the work reminds listeners of Mozart in that the dynamic levels, chord by chord, are sharply contrasted. The progress of the three sections -- Dusk, Built Up Dark, and Gloaming -- supply an atmospheric form for a work that speaks clearly and often songfully about night.
--- Daniel Webster, The Philadelphia Inqurier 1/12/99
Pianist Jeanne Golan entitles her recital on Albany American Tonal, and complements Barber selections with very recent work by the 38 year old Curtis-trained Daron Hagen. This is my first exposure to Hagen's music, and he appears to be an interesting postmodern voice reminiscent of no other composer except, perhaps, Olivier Messiaen. Clearly, Hagen's notion of tonality is a far more vague concept than Barber's. Qualities of Light is a 23 minute work in three movements, rather dreamlike and mysterious in tone. The central movement was composed first, and seems to be a rather elaborate set of variations, while creating a somewhat nightmarish effect. The two short outer movements are more peaceful and serve as a sort of frame.
--- Walter Simmons, Fanfare Magazine, July, 1999
Qualities of Light contains movements titled, Dusk, Built Up Dark, and Gloaming, which evoke images of darkness or the transition between light and dark. ... The short first movement features a lyrical melody to be played in one long, spun line, accompanied by various harmonies. The second movement, commissioned as an independent piece, is more substantial in length and difficult than the others. It features a slow tempo, chord clusters, complex rhythms, and a highly contemporary harmonic idiom. The third movement is minimalist in its use of repeated patterns and tonal harmony, with a fast tempo. The first movement is at the late-intermediate level, and the latter two are advanced.
--- Clavier Magazine, June, 2000
Is there a Curtis school of composition? Jeanne Golan seems to suggest as much by packaging Hagen's Qualities of Light with Barber's Sonata for Piano (Op. 26) and his Nocturne (Op. 33) and Ballade (Op. 46). Although the composers studied at Curtis 50 years apart, they share a philosophy that uses dissonance as a reserve for special moments. Hagen's three-movement Qualities of Light, premiered here in January by Golan, isn't typical sweet night-music. Tonal is the word to describe Dusk, the work's first movement. But if Built Up Dark is a case of the night terrors that ends badly, Gloaming comes as the gentle antidote.
— Peter Dobrin, Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/9/99