Thursday, January 21, 2010

On The Dominant Divide

"Grand Pianola Music... started with a dream image in which, while driving down Interstate Route 5, I was approached from behind by two long, gleaming, black stretch limousines. As the vehicles drew up beside me they transformed into the world’s longest Steinway pianos…twenty, maybe even thirty feet long. Screaming down the highway at 90 m.p.h., they gave off volleys of Bb and Eb major arpeggios. I was reminded of walking down the hallways of the San Francisco Conservatory, where I used to teach, hearing the sonic blur of twenty or more pianos playing Chopin, the Emporer Concerto, Hanon, Rachmaninoff, the Maple Leaf Rag and much more."
The words of American composer John Adams speaking of his triumphant piece, Grand Pianola Music, scored for double woodwind, double brass with one tuba, three percussionists, three wordless female singers, and two pianos.

It's a favorite of mine. Listen to the third movement!

I can still remember being transfixed, transported, by this piece, on a warm August evening many years ago in Northern Ireland, with a live broadcast -- its London premiere. This is at first a delicate piece of music as it wends like a gentle river through movements 1a and 1b. In the third movement -- called, not 1c, but titled instead "On The Dominant Divide," it becomes a piece of pure ecstasy, and gives
"birth to a melody. This tune, in the hero key of Eb major, is repeated a number of times, and with each iteration it gains in gaudiness and Lisztian panache until it finally goes over the top to emerge in the gurgling C major of the lowest registers of the pianos. From here on it is a gradually accelerating race to the finish, with the tonalities flipping back and forth from major to minor, urging those gleaming black vehicles on to their final ecstasy."