About this Recording
8.557015 - SILVER: Piano Concerto / Six Preludes
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Sheila Silver

Sheila Silver

Piano Concerto • Six préludes pour piano, d’après poèmes de Baudelaire

Sheila Silver is an important and vital voice in American music today. She has written in a wide range of media, from solo instrumental works to large orchestral works, from opera to feature film scores. Her musical language is a unique synthesis of the tonal and atonal worlds, coupled with a rhythmic complexity which is both masterful and compelling. Again and again, audiences and critics praise her music as powerful and emotionally charged, accessible, and masterfully conceived. [“Silver speaks a musical language of her own, one rich in sonority, lyrical intensity and poetic feeling” Chicago Tribune.]

            Born in Seattle Washington in 1946, Sheila Silver began piano studies at the age of five.  Upon receiving her Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Berkeley (1968) she was awarded the George Ladd Prix de Paris for two years’ study in Europe, where she worked with Erhard Karkoschka in Stuttgart and György Ligeti in Berlin and Hamburg. She earned her doctorate from Brandeis University in 1976, where she studied with Arthur Berger, Harold Shapero and Seymour Shifrin. Her compositions have been commissioned and performed by numerous orchestras, chamber ensembles, and soloists throughout the United States and Europe, and honours include a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship (1978), the Rome Prize (1979), and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Composer Award (1986). She has twice been the winner of the ISCM National Composers’ Competition, and other awards and commissions include those from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, MacDowell Colony, New York State Council of the Arts, the Barlow Foundation, Paul Fromm Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Cary Trust. Sheila Silver’s full length opera The Thief of Love, featured in New York City Opera’s 2000 Showcasing American Composers, was given its fully staged world première by the Stony Brook Opera in March 2001, and she is collaborating with filmmaker John Feldman on a series of MusicVisions, unique “classical music videos” for one or two instruments, video, and tape track.  She is Professor of Music at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and her music is published by MMB Music and Studio 4 Productions and is recorded on various labels.

            Sheila Silver’s Piano Concerto, scored for full orchestra and piano, was composed between 1993 and 1996 at the request of Alexander Paley. It was funded by the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition and commissioned by a consortium of four orchestras, the American Composers Orchestra, the Richmond Symphony, the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, and the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. The world première was given in March 1997 at Carnegie Hall by the American Composers Orchestra with Paul Dunkel conducting, to a standing ovation. The second performance by the Richmond Symphony, conducted by George Manahan, was also enthusiastically received. About the Piano Concerto the composer writes:

“Conceived as a symphony with piano solo, the Piano Concerto deals with the theme of struggle and transcendence. Each of the three movements has different material, but the chant-like melody in the strings which opens the entire concerto serves as a leitmotif, occurring at various moments throughout the piece. The image of the first movement is that of a young man marching off to meet his fate, full of fear and courage, arrogance and naiveté. It concludes with a marching tune - the immigrant fleeing to a better world with hope and determination. The second movement evokes the intimacy of prayer and the image of being “broken and crying.” In ABA form, fragments of the marching-tune are heard in the middle section. The third movement opens with a recitative-like dialogue between piano and orchestra: “Master of the Universe” the man asks, “What are you doing to me? What is happening? Where do I go from here?” After this the “dance of life”, a melody in the tradition of the Hasidic nigun, begins. It starts as a simple melody in the right hand of the piano cast over the opening chant music and grows until the entire orchestra is dancing wildly.”


            The Six préludes pour piano, d’après poèmes de Baudelaire, were written in 1990 while Silver was in residence at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, a small picturesque Mediterranean fishing-village nestled under the magnificent cliff, Cap Canaille. It was here that Silver and Paley met and their fruitful collaboration began. The Préludes were commissioned for the opening concert of the art exhibition: “Baudelaire: The Poet and his Painters,” (Heckscher Museum, Huntington, New York, October 1993).

            About the Préludes Silver writes:

            “The first prelude, La mer à Cassis, is inspired by Baudelaire’s poem La musique, in which the poet’s experience of listening to music is likened to a sail boat carried by the wind on the sea - sometimes gentle, sometimes stormy.

            The second prelude, La pendule, comes from Rêve parisien, in which the poet describes his dream of a city built of marble, metal and crystal, brilliant and surreal. As the clock strikes noon, he gradually awakes from his dream, peers around his tawdry garret apartment, and reflects with disillusionment on his life. The prelude begins with festive music, during which the clock striking noon is heard as interruptive chords. The music between the chords is gradually transformed as the poet moves from his exhilarating dream to his dismal waking state.


            The third prelude, La descente vers l’enfer, comes from the poem, L’irrémédiable. In it the poet describes a descent into hell, down a long spiraling staircase, with goblins and creatures jeering at every turn. At the end comes “Judgement.”

            The fourth prelude, Dans la fôret, demi-brulée, takes its title from my frequent walks in a Mediterranean pine-forest which had just suffered a devastating fire turning everything black. Gradually, within weeks, a new growth of green carpeted the forest floor and wildflowers began to bloom. Baudelaire’s poem, Bohémiens en voyage describes a similar image: La tribu prophétique wandering in the desert. At first everything seems bleak as they trudge along, heads bent, but gradually they begin to notice streams of water flowing from the rocks, birds singing, and flowers blossoming, as if by magic.

            The fifth prelude, Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, Luxe, calme, et volupté, is the refrain from L’invitation au voyage. It reflects the poet’s dream of escaping to an exotic place where all is bliss and perfection. The opening melody of the prelude is a setting of the actual words and evokes the simplicity and calmness of the poet’s fantasy dwelling.

            The last prelude, Vers le paradis de mes rêves comes from Le vin des amants and invites the reader to lose his sorrows in wine and soar the heavens on winged horses, leaving all cares and troubles behind.


Laura Kaminsky

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