I first thought of writing a set of waltzes for the Guild trio after rehearing Brahms’ lovely set of Waltzes for the piano, op. 39. My set begins with an unabashed homage to Brahms, but the movements that follow explore many of the other stylistic guises and expressive meanings the waltz has assumed over the past 150 years.
Waltz II is a postmodern “deconstruction” of the basic oom-pah-pah beat, with nervous interjections that turn out to be deranged quotations from a well-known 19th-century waltz. Waltz III is an atonal bagatelle in which the gestures of the waltz are rarified to a point where they can hardly be detected. In Waltz IV the interval of a third -- an interval that is important throughout the set -- generates intense, augmented harmonies. Waltz V features the cello in a brooding, introspective solo, gently shadowed in canon by the violin. Waltz VI, a slowly unfolding melody embellished with virtuoso figuration, serves as an extended introduction to Waltz VII. This waltz is, in a way, another homage to Brahms, with its combination of contrapuntal rigor -- it is a double retrograde-inversion canon -- and heartfelt romanticism. Waltz VIII is the only truly nostalgic piece in the set; it should sound like the distant memory of a music box heard in childhood.
The final waltz, which begins with an image of butterflies in a late-summer garden, ends by drawing together ideas from all of the earlier waltzes in the set.
These waltzes were commissioned by the Guild Trio -- Janet Orenstein, Brooks Whitehouse, and Patricia Tao. They premiered the work at Stony Brook University on April 19, 1997. A New York premiere followed at the Danny and Sylvia Kaye Playhouse on June 8, 1997. The performance heard here was recorded at Stony Brook University in 1998 by Ann-Marie Hoffman, violin, Sally Singer, cello, and Molly Morkowski, piano.
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