About this Recording
8.559805 - ADOLPHE, B.: Piano Music - Chopin Dreams / 7 Thoughts Considered as Music / Piano Puzzlers (Grante)

Bruce Adolphe (b. 1955)
Piano Music


Bruce Adolphe’s music often addresses subjects ranging from human rights to neuroscience, and is performed throughout the world by leading soloists, ensembles, and orchestras, including Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, the Brentano Quartet, the Beaux Arts Trio, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera Guild, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the IRIS Orchestra, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Human Rights Orchestra, the Zürich Philharmonia, the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa, and others.

Adolphe’s works include two full-length operas that were performed at the 92nd Street Y in New York—Mikhoels the Wise (about the Jewish actor murdered by Stalin) and The False Messiah (about Shabtai Zvi). Adolphe’s opera about Marian Anderson, Let Freedom Sing, with a libretto by Carolivia Herron, was premièred by the Washington National Opera and Washington Performing Arts Society. He has also composed an oratorio on Holocaust texts and melodies, Out of the Whirlwind, and a song cycle, Ladino Songs of Love and Suffering, both recorded on a GRAMMY®-winning Naxos CD (8.559413). Adolphe’s violin concerto I Will Not Remain Silent, inspired by the life of Joachim Prinz, a leader of the Jewish community in Berlin during the Nazi period and later in the United States an outspoken civil rights leader and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., was premièred by violinist Sharon Roffman with the IRIS Orchestra conducted by Michael Stern, and given its European première with violinist Ilya Gringolts and the Human Rights Orchestra conducted by Alessio Allegrini.

Composer-in-residence at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC in Los Angeles, Adolphe has composed several works based on the writings of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. Self Comes to Mind, written in collaboration with Damasio, was premièred at the American Museum of Natural History in 2009 with soloist Yo-Yo Ma, and released in 2014 as a download featuring cellist Efe Baltacigil in concert in Alice Tully Hall. Adolphe’s other works based on Damasio’s writing include Memories of a Possible Future, commissioned by the Virginia Arts Center, Obedient Choir of Emotions, commissioned by the New York Virtuoso Singers, and Musics of Memory, composed for the Brain and Creativity Institute.

In 2015, Bruce Adolphe composed the score to Einstein’s Light, a film by Nickolas Barris, released in 2016. The film addresses Einstein’s violin playing and his love of Mozart and Bach, and Adolphe’s score features music for violin based on phrases from Bach’s Sarabande in D Minor from Partita No. 2 and Mozart’s Violin Sonata, K. 378. The soundtrack is available from Sony Classical, featuring violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Marija Stroke, who have also performed it live, including at UNESCO in Paris for the opening ceremony of the International Year of Light 2015 and at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of General Relativity.

In July 2016, Carlo Grante was the soloist in the world première of Adolphe’s Piano Concerto, with Fabio Luisi conducting the Zürich Philharmonia.

In addition to composing, Bruce Adolphe is the founder and director of the Meet the Music! family concert series and resident lecturer at The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; creator/performer of public radio’s weekly Piano Puzzler on Performance Today; composer-in-residence at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC in Los Angeles; co-artistic director of Off the Hook Arts in Colorado; and founder and creative director of Learning Maestros. The author of several books on music, Adolphe has taught at Yale, The Juilliard School, and New York University. The second edition of his book The Mind’s Ear: Exercises for Improving the Musical Imagination was published by Oxford University Press in 2013.

Chopin Dreams

I spend a lot of time, nearly every day, at a piano and have done so for about 54 years now. I may be improvising to get into the composing zone, playing jazz, reading through Bach for inspiration, or looking for odd musical connections to use in my piano puzzlers. It is not uncommon for my hands to be playing something while my mind is completely elsewhere.

My relationship to the piano, which began when I was six years old, is one of exploration: exploring the inner workings of the great piano repertoire; exploring the infinity of sensuously resonant harmonies; discovering my own deepest thoughts through dreamlike improvisations that continue to evolve over the years, like a giant chronicle of my subconscious.

A few composers have defined the way the rest of us use the piano—the way fingers move, how the instrument resonates, what its textures are, what the pedal is for, and even the way we think about what music for the piano means. A very short list of such seminal piano composers would have to include Chopin, the master of nuance, of delicate filigree and beguiling harmonies—the creator of the unique musical mixture of nobility and vulnerability, available only in his precious, pedaled perfume.

As the public radio piano puzzler on Performance Today—the Peabody Award-winning radio show—I have disguised over forty familiar melodies in the style of Chopin and also merged quite a few popular tunes with actual piano pieces by Chopin. But composing Chopin Dreams has nothing to do with piano puzzlers. This was not a matter of using Chopin’s works for crafty comedic combinatorial composition; this instead was the far more intense process of communing with Chopin’s art for the purpose of composing my own personal statements about this extraordinary music. Chopin Dreams is not a tribute to Chopin, but something more emotionally charged. To compose this work, I imagined Chopin alive today, living in New York, perhaps making some money at a jazz club rather than teaching so many students.

Chopin’s enchanting cascades of notes that fall in graceful rhythmic independence over a steady bass are very like an inspired jazz pianist’s fluid melodic ornaments hovering over a groove. Did Chopin ever play a blue note, as it is called in jazz?

To answer that question, I turn to a description of Chopin improvising at the piano, written in the diary of the painter Eugène Delacroix, one of Chopin’s closest friends:

“Little by little our eyes become filled with those soft colors corresponding to the sweet modulations taken in by our auditory senses. And then—the blue note resonates and there we are, in the azure of the transparent night.”

Whether that particular blue note was a jazzy flatted third hanging out over a dominant seventh chord we will never know, but it may well have been, because the exact same blue note of jazz music does in fact exist in Chopin’s music. It usually appears as an appoggiatura leaning on the minor ninth above a dominant seventh chord in a minor key. For a simple example, take a look at the very first bar of the G minor Mazurka, Op. 67, No. 2. That little F natural is a blue note. And that sort of thing helped inspire my Chopin Dreams to go much further.

In composing Chopin Dreams, I used several approaches:

I used particular works of Chopin as models and source material for three of the movements: Brooklyn Ballad uses Chopin’s G minor Ballade as raw material; Jazzurka is based on the A minor Mazurka, Op. 17, No. 4; Quaalude is modeled on Chopin’s Prelude No. 3.

I imagined Chopin as a jazz pianist playing a new kind of nocturne for New York Nocturne.

I picked two dance forms Chopin never heard of to create Piano Popping (based on some hip-hop rhythms) and Hora (I wondered what Chopin would play at a bar mitzvah.)

Finally, it was inspiring to imagine Carlo Grante playing the music as I composed it, bringing his penetrating virtuosity and precise pianism to every phrase. It is my pleasure to dedicate Chopin Dreams to maestro Grante.

Seven Thoughts Considered as Music

Seven Thoughts Considered as Music is dedicated to Helen Heslop and Carlo Grante.

The idea of this piece is, as the title suggests, to musically depict seven provocative and profound statements. I have been careful to select thoughts that are intellectually stimulating and emotionally charged, and—of particular importance—that use imagery suggesting musical parallels.

In the first thought (Heraclitus), music itself—harmony both obvious and hidden—is used as imagery, so music can express the idea naturally. In the second thought, Rilke contrasts surfaces with depths, another harmonically vivid image. Kafka (No. 3) contemplates a point of no return, which suggested to me a musical structure that I would otherwise not have imagined. Emerson (No. 4) talks of the power in nature, which I chose to portray in terms of restrained music that evolves and eventually explodes. Waking and dreaming (Novalis, No. 5) are natural subjects for music, and to “dream that we are dreaming” is a wonderfully musical image. Thought No. 6 (Chief Seattle) is different from the others, not only in its length, but also in its social, historical, and political significance. Chief Seattle’s phrase “memory is only a story” is deeply musical, as is the tone of the speech, with its ghosts crowding the living. The final thought of the set, Shankara (No. 7) draws attention to the problem of art itself as compared to nature (the moon)—which also applies to music as compared to birdsong, a howling wind, or a crack of thunder—and so it is a fitting end to this philosophical musical journey.

Piano Puzzlers

As a kind of sorbet after Chopin Dreams and Seven Thoughts Considered as Music, we return to Chopin as an inspiration, but now in the form of light-hearted piano puzzlers. I have been writing and performing piano puzzlers for the syndicated public radio program Performance Today, hosted by Fred Child, since 2002. The puzzlers are a mix of familiar melodies and classical styles or, in some cases, actual pieces by classical composers. On the radio program, brave music lovers call in and guess the tune and the style in which it is disguised. For this Chopin-centric recording, all the puzzlers are in the style of Chopin, so rather than a musical game we have a set of encore pieces. The folk song My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean is set to the rocking-boat rhythm of Chopin’s Prelude No. 13, and the nursery tune London Bridge is Falling Down remains in a major key while it crumbles chromatically in an “unabridged” version of Chopin’s beloved E minor Prelude. The Hebrew melody Havenu Shalom Aleichem (Peace Be Upon You) appears in the left-hand in a setting based very closely on Chopin’s Prelude No. 6. I have composed nearly 500 piano puzzlers in the 14 years since the show started, and Fred Child commented that if the puzzlers were played end-to-end, it would be longer than Wagner’s Ring cycle. It is a great pleasure to hear Carlo Grante play them!

Bruce Adolphe

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