In December of 2009, I presented a concert of solo improvised piano at the Bloomingdale School of Music. Here are the program notes from the event. I have posted a few mp3’s from the evening, as well.
Unlike the magician’s art which is betrayed by divulging its secrets, the improviser thrives on listeners who are ‘in’ on the game. One of my main sources of musical pleasure is in experimenting with different ways of improvising. Here are the rules and parameters I’ve set up for myself for this evening’s concert.
The Bach Partita that I am using (No. 1) has six separate movements or sections, and I will improvise my way through them in their original order. They are written using the form, style and rhythms of particular dances popular in the Baroque era. I will attempt to follow Bach’s basic harmonic plan (with an occasional straying here or there), and hope to gather melody, motif and phrase along my walk. Though I do aim to retain the basic feeling of the original dances, I allow it to be filtered through my own rhythmic language and musical experiences. Sometimes as I move through the piece I feel as though I am wandering from room to room in a fantastic old house, and I occasionally find myself compelled to improvise a transition from one room to the next, perhaps reflecting on what I have seen. For those keeping track of my progress, I will attempt to make clear where I am in the house at any given moment!
I have chosen five Debussy preludes, all from book II, for the next part of the program. These are highly evocative pieces which employ the full range of the piano’s possible dynamics, timbres, and textures. I have abstracted certain rhythmic, register, and intervallic information (you will notice me reading music) which I will use to create my own narrative in the spirit of each prelude. Because the harmonic language will be my own, these improvisations will be more of a departure from the original than the Bach.
The program will conclude with 4 original compositions. Though they do exist in written form, these short pieces have stubbornly refused to be played in any one particular way, and so it seemed appropriate to include them. Tempo, dynamics, meter, texture, orchestration are all up for grabs. Some days they seem to become a showcase for my left hand, all too busy with other chores to be allowed to make melody itself! These pieces share a certain harmonic elusiveness, influenced perhaps from contemporary jazz composition. Jazz tends to favor the ‘theme and variation’ form of improvisation, but I will play through the form of these pieces several times with melody largely intact. Sections may expand or contract, interludes may occur, but hopefully the theme itself will give the listener something to ‘hold on to’.
1. Improvisation based on the gigue from Bach’s Bb Partita for keyboard: Gigue
2. Improvisation based on Feuilles mortes, the second prelude from book 2 of Debussy’s preludes for piano: Leaves
3. An orginal composition: Four Square