Piano Trio No. 6: Horszowski
Piano Trio No. 6: Horszowski
For Violin, Violoncello, and Piano (2018)
Premiere: 28 November 2018 / The Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, PA / The Horszowski Piano Trio
Dedication: To the Horszowski Trio
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The trio begins with a raucous movement entitled “Cantina at the Gates of Hell.”
In my 20s I feared that the music I heard all the time was going to drown me. It was crazy! I tried to mute it, but remained in constant motion, hyper-aroused and present but distracted by the sheer din. In time, I learned to make better decisions and to move the surging flow of music in my head to the side, so that now it is as though I stand next to the stream of sound, rather than in it. Now, I lean over, dip in to that stream, savor it, feel grateful and slightly in awe of its lack of beginning or end. That’s why it was such a shock when, a few weeks ago, my sons, aged six and nine, snuggled in my armpits, rain falling gently without, as I sat on a wooden bench in the Maverick Recital Hall in Woodstock, New York, listening to the Horszowski Piano Trio perform my Piano Trio No.2—an uncompromising, gnarly knuckle-buster of a work written in 1986 that is really difficult, and consequently rarely-played—the entirety of my Piano Trio No. 6 simply showed up in my mind, unbidden.
Rieko Aizawa had, as a member of the Amelia Piano Trio, premièred and toured with my triple concerto, Orpheus and Eurydice, in 2007. As I watched her perform with the Horszowski Trio, an image of her playing an enormous, mushroom-cloud-like cluster came to me, and the title of the first movement—Cantina at the Gates of Hell coalesced as a quick rondo alternating a heroic fanfare, a shocking cluster whose plume consisted of shards of octatonic melodies, and a tweaky, out-of-tune barroom piano tune (mis)remembered from my recent Charlie Chaplin-inspired score to his silent film, “A Dog’s Life” coalesced. At one point, she plays dampened strings inside the piano, as though those keys are busted.
Next, a famous advertisement that reads For sale: baby shoes, never worn came to mind. A few years ago, I set a poem by local Woodstock rock star Jaik Miller to music wherein he described a revelatory moment of intimacy between two lovers. My song, devoid of words, played in my head as a binary form trio movement, with additional harmonies and an intensely-personal overlay of emotions associated with a long-ago miscarriage in Nicaragua that make it a little elegy.
The performers take turns singing snatches of “The Internationale” during the movement entitled “No doubt they’ll sing in tune after the revolution.”
Mel Rosenthal, activist photojournalist and admired comrade, had been ailing for some time. Our last telephone conversation touched on the scene from the film Doctor Zhivago in which Komarovsky dines with Lara in a posh restaurant surrounded by Russia’s oligarchs as, outside, the proletarians sing the Internationale. “No doubt they’ll sing in tune after the revolution,” quips Komarovsky, slicing through the tension. In this second rondo, I take a few bars from my Three Silent Things and alternate them with variants on the busted pianola from the first movement and fragments of the great worker’s song to paint the scene myself. At one point, the players sing a few bars of the tune themselves before being swamped by a hyper-romantic, decadent waltz. The movement is dedicated to the memory of Mel, who died in November 2017 as I was notating it.
For Christmas last year, I built my six-year-old son Seamus—a profoundly spiritual and prescient child—a treasure chest. He has turned it into a place called Seamie’s Reliquary where, as he explained it, “dreams, visions, precious objects, and love” are stored. I titled the movement because, as I played it at the piano while notating it, he came up to me, placed his small hand on my shoulder, and told me that the music I was writing would go along very well with an examination of his treasures.
Pennywhistle Jigeánnai is in 14/8 time. It is a third rondo combining the rattling jig-tune from the first tune, snatches of the second movement’s ostinato accompaniment plushly harmonized, and a return of the opening of the trio as a whole flowing into a generous, glowing swatch of the romantic tune from the third movement, before subsiding into a tender rumination on a plagal cadence from Seamus’ treasure chest.
I bound up on the stage after the Horszowski Trio finished their concert and, for the first time in my life, simply took their hands in mind (with no commission or fee ever in my thinking) and told them that I had in my mind a new trio for them. Their immediate, genuine affection in return, and their quick assent, moved me to write down the piece that their performance had inspired, and so it is not lost downstream but, instead, available to the world.
Cantina at the Gates of Hell
For sale: baby shoes never worn
“No doubt they’ll sing in tune after the revolution”
Banner photo credit: Picture of Miecio Horszowski. Dawid Mazur from Lemberg († 1916) - Sport und Salon, 08 February 1902, Public Domain