STRING QUARTET IN G MAJOR
The idea of a quartet came to me, fledgling composer that I was, not because I decided to write one, but because some music manifested itself, emerged from within me, that was best served by this instrumentation.
Without wishing to appear arrogant, and simply using the best analogy available, the first theme in the 1st movement displayed a Schumanesque vigour, and an accompaniment that could only efficiently be played by string instruments.
Once started I could not stop.
The 2nd movement, named ‘serial fugato’, started as an experiment in maintaining recognisable tonality within a tone row, or twelve tone row, in which all 12 notes are sounded before being repeated in the same order. I added a countersubject that was subject to the same rules, namely a 12-tone row whose notes were only sounded once and in a particular order. I also applied the rules of counterpoint, as they exist for the best purposes and sustain a certain aesthetic.
This may sound challenging, but it was not done as an experiment.
Some may think that atonal fugal writing is more difficult than the tonal equivalent, but I can assure the reader that it is not.
Tonality has its own rules, and harmony is obviously an inseparable part of it. Were I to have disregarded tonality, I would have been free to use any combination of notes for the tone row as well as any subsequent harmonies or disharmonies that resulted.
The 3rd movement turned out to be a Menuetto with a lively midsection. The mood is somewhat elusive.
The 4th movement started with the question as to whether it was possible to write something that sounds Mozartian but does not borrow from any of the Master’s works. It is therefore not a transformation of anything Mozart wrote, nor does it contain a reference to any work that I know. There may be a fortuitous resemblance here and there, however.
As I have played many Mozart concertos and written quite a few cadenzas for the ones deprived of such, the Mozartian melodic style and use of counterpoint and harmony came relatively naturally to me.
The 5th movement is a moto perpetuo in 6/8 with a central fugato section, and modulates far from the base key, even as far as E flat minor, but only briefly, for which I hope the long-suffering interpreters will forgive me.
It will be premiered by Camina ( Quartet) on the 12th of August 2020 in Gstaad Menuhin Festival
WORK FOR PIANO DUET AND ‘CELLO
The Menuhin Duo, consisting of my wife Mookie Lee-Menuhin and me, needs new repertoire from time to time. It occurred to me that some ‘cellists with whom I love to play, Gary Hofmann for instance, might find the existence of a piece for four hands and ‘cello useful as a possible encore at the end of a concert involving two pianists and a ‘cellist. The piece is strictly contrapuntal but this should not affect any listener’s ability to hear it and enjoy it.
Structurally it consists of the following: an introduction, first theme, second theme, a bridge passage, first theme in elaborated version, third theme, second theme, bridge passage, first theme and short coda, all of which fits into 6 minutes. So its form is ABCBA, speaking very crudely. But little of this was deliberate, as I don’t set out to impose a structure on some potential music.
I write what I hear and allow a combination of improvisation plus use of existing material to guide me.
DOUBLE PIANO CONCERTO
E flat minor is a key that lends itself, undoubtedly, to music of a dark mood.
In the 1st movement, the harmony, underlying rhythm, and passage work came to me at once. The second theme has, perhaps, a Russian flavour. It is used to form the subject of a fugue that appears later and which leads to the recapitulation.
The 2nd movement is a set of 5 variations in the relative key of G flat major, with a middle section that is, in contrast to the calm nature of the main theme, rather unsettled. The 3rd movement is a 5/8 moto perpetuo, with a central section in 3/4.
The 4th movement is based on two 12-tone rows, sounded out in a specific unalterable order. The intention is as always to remain within the limits of tonality and never to venture into the no man’s land of atonality. The challenge is of course greater, because one sustains not only the tone rows, but simultaneously has to make tonal and harmonic sense. Its mood varies from brooding to convulsive.
The 5th movement is more celebratory, with an incisive second theme, and a third theme that has a syncopated element that suggests a Scherzo.
‘ It will be premiered by Menuhin Duo ( Jeremy and Mookie Menuhin) and Concerto Budapest Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by Gabor Takacs-Nagy on the 5th of February, 2021’.
CONCERTO FOR PIANO FOUR HANDS AND STRING ORCHESTRA IN THE BAROQUE MANNER
As I like the rigours of strict counterpoint, no tradition is more fulfilling than writing in the baroque manner. Four-hand concertos are rare, and one that is true to the Baroque tradition probably unique in the repertoire.
It is incumbent on me to repeat that none of my Baroque works owes any melodic material to any work from that period. The opening theme was difficult to orchestrate, as it does not lend itself easily to the challenges of harmonisation while maintaining the rules of counterpoint. The second subject has a lively and somewhat motoric element that propels the music forward. The movement ends on a Tierce de Picardie, common usage in those days.
The movement has a lyrical main subject accompanied by a constant quarter note bass line. The conventional movement of the 4 voices is deliberately undermined by some modulations that require more radical treatment, while staying as always within the rules of counterpoint. A central section introduces a dotted rhythm that contains a certain disquiet, to which the later addition of triplets induces a feeling of inevitability. When the recapitulation occurs, the triplets are maintained as an accompaniment to the original theme.
The movement starts in a Concerto Grosso style, everyone involved, at an energetic but measured pace. Soon after there is a short fugato passage, followed by another passage that abolishes any attachment to bar lines, so that one feels both free and a little disorientated. This brings one to a false recapitulation, followed by a third subject, based on the first theme.
ABOUR BRAHMS-MENUHIN TRANSFORMATIONS FOR 2 PIANOS (2015 and 2016)
I decided to improvise the repeat of each variation in my manner, nonetheless adhering strictly to Brahms’ structure. Obviously, the range of the piano allows many high and low notes to be sounded that cannot be heard on string instruments.
In the D minor movement of the First Sextet, I followed Mookie’s advice and used the theme from the variation in the major key to write a fugue.
ABOUT SUITE FOR TWO PIANOS IN THE BAROQUE MANNER (2016)
The titles of the movements coincided with the subjects, although, apart from the fugue, I did not set out to write a sicilienne or an invention.
A violinist friend, Henning Kraggerud, liked it enough to want to perform it as an encore after a performance of the First Sextet, so I rewrote it for six strings and added another variation.
FANTASY FOR 2 PIANOS ( 2017)
At first a somewhat gloomy introduction emerged, before the appearance of any main subject. All of a sudden a theme in F-sharp minor, sounding rather Russian, hove into view, followed by a second and a third theme, then a fugue based on the main melody with inversions of subject and countersubject, followed by variations of all three themes. The harmonisation of the second theme was problematic, and required much reworking.
VARIATIONS ON AN ORIGINAL THEME FOR FOUR HANDS ( 2017)
The repeated interludia provide relief from a melancholy atmosphere. They turned out to be baroque in style, despite the overriding 19th century harmonies of the main work. Towards the end of the last interludium I combine the two elements, the original theme and the baroque leitmotif.
FUGUE AND VARIATION INSPIRED BY BRAHMS SEXTET NO.1 IN B FLAT
I wrote this upon request of a friend, Henning Kraggerud.
He liked my transformation for 2 pianos of the Brahms Sextets, which include a fugue based on the variation in D major of the slow movement in D minor from the first sextet.
To this I added another variation, so as not immediately to subject musicians and listeners to a fugue. This variation contains a short leitmotif which might remind some aficionados of Mozart’s Concertante.