Piano Trio No. 5: Red is the Rose
Piano Trio No. 5: Red is the Rose
For Violin, Violoncello, and Piano (2018)
Premiere: 12 February 2018 / The Prometheus Trio / Wisconsin Conservatory of Music
Dedication: to the Prometheus Trio
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The Piano Trio No. 5 uses the story of the mythological character Icarus to explore the rapidly-changing emotional and psychological inner life of a person coping with bi-polar disorder. In psychology, there is discussed what is called the Icarus complex with respect to the alleged relationship between ambition and achievement; bi-polar disorder encompasses the pendulous swing from ecstatic highs to depressive-lows. The first movement, Rupture: Intensive Care, was commissioned in 2011 as part of "the Folktale Project" by the Phoenix Concerts in New York for premiere performances by the Beijing New Music Ensemble, the Finisterra Piano Trio, and the Entelechron Trio. Each of the fistful of composers tapped was asked to relate in music a folk tale that figured prominently in their own personal mythology. I chose the Icarus myth. The form of the movement is that of a mobile, with each musical idea a separate element, all the elements in constant, Varèse-like motion. There are four elements: the "heart monitor" ostinato idea (an emphatic fortissimo pizzicato, doubled with a martellato piano stroke) originates in the scene from my opera Amelia where Icarus and his father Daedalus are reimagined as a contemporary father and son who has "fallen from a great height." The "S-O-S" "rhythmic tattoo" originates in my choral song cycle of Amelia Earhart settings entitled Flight Music, and represents Earhart-as-Icarus-figure's electronic calls for help. The "piano roulades" originate in a song called "Coming," from the cycle Larkin Songs (2001). The "lyrical tune" began as the subject of a memorial symphony (1983) that I wrote (conducted with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, and then immediately withdrew, its purpose fulfilled) when my best friend in Philadelphia, Norman Stumpf, took his life.
The second movement, Recollection: Red is… was commissioned in 2017 by The Phoenix Concerts for "the Folk-Tune Project" and first recorded by Entelechron (Roger Zahab, violin; David Russell, violoncello, and Robert Frankenberry, piano) for GPR Records. Dedicated to the memory of Tommy Makem, the movement consists of seven variations on the traditional Irish tune "Red is the Rose," which Tommy recorded, as did the Chieftans, and the High Kings, among many others. In the context of this trio, it is presented as Icarus’ memories of (and feelings about) flying prior to his fall.
The third (very sad) movement is the trio’s emotional nadir. Called Reverie: Just Once, it is based on my 1981 setting of Anne Sexton’s ruminative poem (from which I take the title) about walking along the Charles River at night.
The finale, Renewal: …is the Rose, consists of eight more variations on the Irish tune and a coda. It’s music swings manically from the ecstatic flight music of the second movement to the stunned heart monitor music of the first; from the music of the depressive third movement to new, hyper-emotional, operatic displays of emotion just prior to a final, soaring recapitulation of the finale’s opening. The coda, with its recollection of the heart monitor, ends with a tart reminder of reality. Piano Trio No. 5 is dedicated to the Prometheus Trio, faculty ensemble in residence at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee.