About this Recording
8.559751 - PANN, C.: Piano's 12 Sides (The) / The Bills / The Cheese Grater (Hastings)

Carter Pann (b. 1972)
The Piano’s 12 Sides


In the summer of 2011 Joel Hastings and I were talking on the phone (our seasonal call) and I proposed the idea of writing a book of twelve solo works for him to perform as a set sometime in the near future. The idea struck me in that instant as one of the best musical ideas I’ve had, for Joel is a consummate musician/pianist. I don’t mean that Joel is a very good pianist, I mean he is a rare species in the music world—possessing huge helpings of raw piano talent, musical soul, and world-class refinement in perfect combination.

I have worked closely with some truly marvellous pianists over the years, but this was an idea in which I was hoping to collaborate with a single artist over a great expanse of music. It was a true moment for providence when I think back to that phone call. I am one lucky composer for knowing Joel—and for knowing those for whom each of the pieces is individually dedicated.

I. Silhouette to Maria Fernanda Nieto Pulido

This large poem for piano found its place at the beginning of the set as it embodies many of the qualities and contains the representative ingredients to be found throughout the entire set. The piece opens somewhat nebulously, and it is only when the verse first appears is it apparent that everything before was introductory. The piece is strophic and the original verse does return, but only acts to ground the listener after such indulgent departures are heard as the work unfolds. Nearing the conclusion brings about a dominant pedal of nefarious character before the tonic is driven with greater and greater persistence to the end. For the final gesture the performer is asked to play a brilliant upward scale in the right hand against a glissando in the left, to bring the music to its conclusion in a register rarely heard throughout the piece.

II. Figurines to Peter Collins

On the surface, it appears that there are two separate, unrelated musics presented in Figurines – hyper-virtuosic, upper-register “flourish” music and a Perpetual March. There is something attractive to my composer inclinations about this presumed disparity. However, upon a further and deeper delving one can extract the glue that relates the two elements to one another. This piece is marked as a “virtuosic improvisation,” and the pianist is forbidden from the very beginning to indulge in certain human musical tendencies: “rubato and agogic are illegals.” There is a joie de vitesse to Figurines that no other work from the set embodies. This piece is for the fearless musician—the pianist who is willing to control the instrument to serve his/her whim from start to finish. There is nothing elegant about the Perpetual March which serves as the centrepiece for the work. You must push yourself through to the other side (and your left hand had better be up to the task).

III. Legend to Rob Auler

This introspective andantino piece is a modal study in tight voice-leading. The opening 3-note scalar motive (GF#-E) is an adhesive that keeps the work from unravelling. The ending presents its darker sibling (G-F-E), droning as the beginning. The very last gesture of the piece shows this dark version of the motive turned upside down and in the Dorian mode. Overall there is a foreign, somewhat exotic sentiment about this small two-page expression.

IV. White Moon Over Water to Avguste Antonov

The title refers to an experience I had on the Damariscotta River in Maine, summer of 2010. I took a one-person kayak out on the great, wide river in the middle of the night. Not a cloud in the sky, my only companions were a blinding full moon, an imposing pale-white Venus, and thousands of visible stars. I am not used to creating the kind of musical expression this piece demands, so the process was both inescapable and thrilling. Without a melodic line to anchor oneself on, I am asking the pianist to use the instrument like a canvas over which many different colour combinations are applied evenly throughout. The amount of restraint required to achieve this is formidable. The work’s interior (“The Celestial Canopy”) pulls one into a timeless realm. In this section no tempo should be felt by the listener—only a sense of eternal suspension.

V. Le Branle to Ryan MacEvoy McCullough

Defined in Encyclopedia Britannica:

12th-century French chain dance adopted (c.1450–c.1650) by European aristocrats, especially in France and in England, where the word branle was anglicized as “brawl.” Named for its characteristic side-to-side movement (French branler, “to sway”), the branle was performed by a chain of dancers who alternated large sideways steps to the left (frequently four) with an equal number of smaller steps to the right. Thus the chain, usually of couples intertwining arms or holding hands, progressed to the left in a circle or serpentine figure. Branles were danced with walking, running, gliding, or skipping steps depending on the speed of the music, which was composed in 4/4 time.

Composed in 12/8 time, this fast Branle is a moto perpetuo wherein the direction to the performer is, “More drive, less swagger.” As this weird motor piece pushes further and further ahead there is that sense of a brawl instead of a dance. Two elements are in argument throughout: the opening material and a repeated-note section. The second occurrence of the repeated-note section sounds as if it is sweetly pleading to win over the stern insistence of the first theme. Too bad… it doesn’t. The work closes with a playful but goading whistle of the original theme.

VI. Classic Rock to Jack Gaffney

I met Jack Gaffney when he had just turned twelve years old. We started working together on music theory lessons at the time, and these transformed quickly into song writing lessons. Jack is a natural songwriter/pianist. His talent is undeniable. This young man (now fifteen) has books full of original songs with original lyrics. He and I have had some great moments together working to tighten up certain verses, craft better choruses, choose better words, shape better hooks, etc. Many, many songs and two albums later Jack is now writing songs on a whole different level. I’m filled with pride just thinking about some of the work and growth we were able to accomplish together. I’ve learned a lot from Jack, and the sixth piece of this set is dedicated to him as an expression of my gratitude to him and to his parents and siblings, all of whom constitute the consummate family. The opening and ending are unmistakable nods to a past composer, but aside from that it’s all classic rock.

VII. She Steals Me to Kristin Kuster

This song, subtitled intermezzo, owes some of its concepts to Schubert and Stravinsky. The work is cast as a plaintive Appalachian waltz in A-flat major with occasional passionate chorale-like proclamations. There is a real introverted sadness about a few of the moments in this piece, while at other times there are descriptive words and phrases on the page as “…a rocking chair on the porch,” and “snowing…” Whenever I play through the piece I come terribly close to tears in all the same spots. The softy in me could not resist preserving these moments, even at the expense of obvious sentimentality.

VIII. Soirée Macabre to Nikki Melville

A piece of haunted salon music, imagine a cadaverous Vincent Price playing this ragged ghost waltz to an audience of zombie socialites milling about at the grand escalier, a monstrous old chandelier hanging sentinel above the fray. The harmonies are blood-soaked and often imbued with hidden malevolence, mixing extravagance with the sinister.

IX. Orion to Hsing-ay Hsu

Giving the pianist an opportunity for pure, uninterrupted listening, the opening is a single flowing line for the right hand. As each version of the opening single line progresses the range expands, the quantity of notes increases, the tempo brightens. As in IV. White Moon Over Water this piece inhabits a cosmic realm. Time signatures are missing throughout, and there are no bar lines—only notes to be brushed over with fleeting moments of tension followed obligingly by release. The more I play this piece the greater becomes its likeness to a yet-unwritten Debussy prélude.

X. Cradle Song to Marina Lomazov

A dark lullaby, the rocking begins and the melody enters on a third stave (acting as a vocal line over piano accompaniment). Often times the vocal line gets intertwined with the rocking and the pianist must take care to preserve the line accordingly. This little piece is a study in voicing as lines of varying importance sometimes land on top of each other.

XI. Grand Etude-Fantasy to Winston Choi

Every element of this piece is ambitious. Only a masterful pianist familiar with the quick juxtapositions found in more contemporary works can hope to pull it off. I know I will never be able to perform this piece, and that fact fills me with frustration. I recently talked about this work as being a bitonal exploration of Bachian frenzy. The description is apt. There is a small melodic fragment of a certain shape that represents spinning out of control (i.e., two adjacent pitches expanding melodically, getting further from one another quickly), and this ingredient pervades much of the work, though there are departures into wholly different sections. The form of this piece could be characterized as a loose Rondo, though I believe Fantasy is a better, more sympathetic fit as the previously mentioned juxtapositions are less in keeping within the more rigid, traditional Rondo form.

XII. An Irish Tune to Barry Snyder

The composer’s own arrangement of the traditional Irish Tune from County Derry, or Londonderry Air, the mood is hushed giving a sense of finality to the set. At the climax of the second verse the pianist might imagine a gospel choir at the height of glorious pronouncement.

The Bills

The Bills was written in September 1997 when I was studying composition with William Albright. As a composition student at the University of Michigan I was most influenced by Albright and William Bolcom. Not only did they both write ragtime music (Bolcom continues to do so), but they often use elements of the American vernacular such as jazz, popular music, hymns—and even American anthems. As a young pianist in my early teens there was never a time when I wasn’t playing Scott Joplin’s rags. I was instantly attracted to them and would often perform them next to Chopin and Bach. It was only natural that I would have the desire to write my own rags as a composer in such close proximity to these two great composers of ragtime.

William Albright is a slow concert piece which follows a very common form inherent in many of the rags from around the turn of the century. Its serious elegance points in the direction of Scott Joplin’s concert waltz, Bethena.

William Bolcom is a playful two-step. The piece is cast as a traditional piano rag; however, certain foreign (contemporary) gestures start to seep into the music. Before long it becomes apparent that the form extends itself beyond the norm. The pianist must jump over several technical hurdles before crossing the finish line. This piece was inspired by certain works of William Bolcom’s which appear to take on a devil-may-care attitude as they race to the end.

The Cheese Grater

The Cheese Grater is an adrenaline-driven, mean two-step. I wrote this piece on pianist Barry Snyder’s Hamburg Steinway in 1996 over a long and very loud weekend. The title is inspired by not-infrequent accidents I had with this kitchen utensil, and it was following two particular occasions of bloody knuckles that it came time to write something. In the piece, after some racing (and sometimes Gaspard-like ragtime) the grater gets going with quick rolled chords up and down the keyboard.

Your Touch

Your Touch (1997) is the piano solo movement at the centre of my first Piano Concerto (Naxos 8.559043). The mood is extremely laid-back, evoking the smoke-filled lounge of a dark jazz club. During the interval between high-powered sets, a pianist’s fingers croon on the keys.

Carter Pann

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