Concerto for Amplified Piano and Wind Ensemble
Paul Barnes, piano
Indiana University Wind Ensemble
Ray Cramer, conductor
3. Running with Scissors
Available on Signals: Instrumental and Electroacoustic Music of Jeffrey Hass (from the IU Marketplace and online retailers)
The Concerto, commissioned by Indiana University and supported by a Faculty Fellowship grant, was completed in early 2001. Why "amplified piano?" It doesn't take many wind instruments combined to cover a traditional piano's voice-its solo presence would inevitably be lost against anything but the lightest scoring. Using modern means to put the piano on an equal footing allowed for a more complex interplay between soloist and ensemble through the entire dynamic spectrum.
I. SIGNALS: I must confess a certain fondness for the epic score of Richard Rodgers and arrangements of Robert Russell Bennett for the 1952 documentary Victory at Sea. The series depicts the naval action of World War II, frequently through silent black-and-white footage, which required the scoring not only to evoke the drama of combat and but also to provide a musical post-production of sound effects. My most lasting memory of the music was the quasi-synchronization of high winds and percussion to the flashing semaphore lights between ships, often shot in a panoramic view, capturing many such signals in counterpoint. The rhythmic scoring of these messages, which would become the archetypal code accompaniment for film composers over the next forty years, suggested itself to me as a model for a complete concerto movement-a mode of communication between the soloist and various groups in the ensemble, and ultimately the listener. The movement opens with both trumpet and xylophone soli marked "quasi Morse Code," a style indication that runs throughout. While I have always had a fascination with code, be it Morse or computer programming, I can assure the listener that no intentional secrets messages are embedded, tempting as it was at the time of composition. The attentive listener may, however, hear signals from the past, such as a famous horn call, stealing into the musical fabric.
II. REMEMBRANCE: This movement took shape in the months following the death of my father, and it reflects my discovery as time went by that, with each recollection, memories of our time together were stripped of their unimportant detail. The movement is characterized by simplicity and repetition, on both a large and a small scale: the opening wind chorale, anchored by pedal tones at the very bottom of the tuba range, is answered by a simple canon in the piano where the imitative voices move at varying relative speeds, and chorale and responses reappear in slightly different guises with each iteration.
III. RUNNING WITH SCISSORS: Titled for the precarious metric and rhythmic mesh that holds it together, the movement begins attacca (without pause) after the preceding one. The scherzo-like figurations of both soloist and ensemble constantly pull at one another, creating a tension between duple and triple meters that alternate frequently. True to the title as well are various taunting gestures in the brass and woodwinds. The several cadenzas of the piano and calls for virtuosic effort from all parts certainly put the musical progression on treacherous footing-but as most children have discovered, it is much more fun to run with scissors than to walk!