Near the end of his career, Erik Satie wrote five pieces for piano designated as nocturnes. Contrary to most of his oeuvre, these five pieces lack the satire, wit, and non-conformity Satie usually exhibited. Still, they are unmistakably Satie: soothing,floating, and very French. This work is a straightforward arrangement of Satie’s 4th Nocturne, applying the color and dynamic ranges of the orchestra to his piano writing while maintaining the enchanting dance-like character of the original work.
The Hellroaring Plateau is a landmass on the northeast extremity of the Absaroka mountain range straddling the Montana-Wyoming border. Its relatively flat topography and high elevation lead to intense winds and unpredictable storms bestowing the plateau’s colorful moniker. Contrary to the title, the music reflects a compilation of impressions from multiple visits over a decade’s time, gathered with my son’s first-hand reports of overnight stays, rather than a single day’s experience. My original objective for the music was to portray the stark and stony landscape alternatively caressed and buffeted in a stew of breezes and gales, sunshine and storms. However, as I was writing the piece it became apparent the true theme of the music is rather a daily high-altitude drama between light and darkness, a drama staged on the plateau’s rocks, meadows, streams, and lakes depicting a perpetually shifting kaleidoscope of distinctive lighting unlike any I have experienced elsewhere. The transparent, thin air reveals indigo blue skies and scalding-white clouds overarching stunning vistas stretching a hundred miles or more. The landscape glitters under the radiance of high-latitude sunlight. The only word I can think of to describe the golden glow of sunbeams slicing through a summer snow squall is ethereal. The utter absence of artificial light makes for the darkest night skies and brightest stars one can experience on earth.
Of course, it is impossible, or at least beyond my meager skills, to capture all of this in a few minutes of music. Still, the lasting impression this singular example of creation has made on my heart compels me to make the attempt. I hope the result lets you experience at least a touch of the sensation of being there.
Fingal’s Fantasy is built on three synthesized, seven-pitch scales derived from the first three variations of the opening theme of Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, better known as Fingal’s Cave. Each scale is developed in its own section to build a three-part work of contrasting styles. Mendelssohn’s original motive can be clearly heard in the first development but appears more heavily disguised in subsequent sections. Despite the use of synthetic scales, the piece ends with a strong declaration of B-minor in homage to Mendelssohn’s selected key for Fingal’s Cave. Fingal’s Fantasy is only moderately difficult but will engage even advanced performers with an excursion into 21st century composition. It is suitable for concert or recital repertoire.
First Impression: On Second Thought is an excursion into the impressionistic world of French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel with seasonings borrowed from 20th Century pioneers such as Charles Ives and Paul Hindemith. It is set in a rondo structure where the adventurous and tonally unstable ‘A’ sections surround distinct, sweet, and lyrical passages. The work is not particularly difficult but it allows the adventurous pianist to explore unique artistic expressions that are still accessible to the casual listener. Suitable for concert stage or recital hall.
Here’s Alfred Situmorang performing First Impressions: On Second Thought
Some would say Oh, Shenandoah is the quintessential American folk song. But almost everything about the song is clouded in confusion and obscurity. When was is written? No one knows. It was first published in 1882 but is almost certainly much older than that. What is it about? Many people associate it with the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia but its lyrics repeatedly refer to the Missouri River which is hundreds of miles from Virginia. Many think that Shenandoah was an Indian chieftain and the song is about a love-sick frontiersman pining for the chieftain’s unnamed daughter. Whatever the case, it’s a song Americans love to hear and to sing. So, when looking for a traditional American tune to arrange for trombone quartet, Oh, Shenandoah was a very natural choice. Listen to this colorful and emotive arrangement for trombone/low brass quartet and see if images of the American countryside don’t spring to mind!