About this Recording
8.559665 - ZAIMONT, J.L.: Piano Music - Piano Sonata / Nocturne, "La Fin de Siecle" / A Calendar Set (Atzinger)

Judith Lang Zaimont (b. 1945)
Sonata • A Calendar Set • Nocturne: La fin de siècle


Despite early success as a concert pianist, Judith Lang Zaimont quickly discovered a passion for composition and has since written over one hundred works for the solo, chamber, and orchestral mediums. Widely praised for having a distinctive and unique artistic voice, she has won over 25 awards including a Copland Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and her music is the subject of a dozen doctoral dissertations. In addition to having taught at the Peabody Conservatory, the University of Minnesota, Queens College and Adelphi University, she remains active as a composer, clinician, adjudicator, and presenter.

Dating from 1999–2000, the Sonata is one of Zaimont’s most extensive and demanding works. Given its première in 2000 by Bradford Gowen, the piece focuses on creating diverse musical atmospheres through variances of keyboard touch. Although the piece is decisively tonal throughout, Zaimont explores numerous textures over its course. Contrapuntal first movement material is balanced by a mixture of chorale style writing and French impressionism in the second movement. Yet perhaps the most dramatic writing of all comes in the third movement, as frequent strands of single-line material epitomize the virtuosic Toccata entitled, Impronta digitale. Motivated by past Toccatas of Schumann, Ravel, and Prokofiev, Zaimont offers her own challenging tour de force, full of thorny passagework, frequent meter changes, numerous hand crossings and sudden phrase endings, all of which are to be taken at breakneck speed. Impronta digitale was the featured work at the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and remains a popular choice among pianists today.

Another of Zaimont’s most frequently performed works is also one of her earliest, the Nocturne: fin de siècle, dating from 1979. As Zaimont states, the work is a “personal valentine to the great pianist-composers of the Romantic Era”. The piece is constructed in a traditional three-part form, with a middle section that combines sudden starts and stops of motivic fragments with technical bravura and extreme dynamic contrasts. Marked as “impetuous” and “fleeting”, this interior material also offers a stark contrast to the tranquil and sublime outer sections that couple long soaring melodic lines with subtle yet poignant twists of harmony.

Fascinated by nature, the seasons, and the outdoors, Zaimont has written several compositions that make musical connections to the environment around her. One such piece is A Calendar Set, dating from 1972–1978. As the title implies, the collection is a musical commentary on the months of the year, with each prelude being written during the month it depicts. While Zaimont wrote the collection initially for her own personal use, critical acclaim and publication came in 2005 when the piece was selected as the winner of the Jabez Press Composition Invitational Competition.

The piece places a high priority on contrasts of mood, temperament, and character. For example, the stern and relentless frigid nature of January, reflected in the combination of drum-like mordent figures and stark vertical chords, comes in contrast to the docile unfolding of charming lyricism that permeates June. As scholar and pianist Elizabeth Moak points out, transitional seasons of fall and spring feature more virtuosic material, highlighted by September which is filled with the winds of change, and May which musically depicts the exuberance of life and rebirth. There are also instances of quodlibet, a form of musical quotation, as Zaimont offers her own unique slant on familiar songs and carols that appear in the July and December preludes. While Zaimont states that individual preludes can be effectively programmed separately, the collective benefits of the work champion the cyclical nature of the world in which we live.

Christopher Atzinger

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