Rain and thunder ignite my imagination. I hear a clarion call to action, not sleep. Fleeting fragments of sound bites create a cinematic kaleidoscope. Beginning with the fortississimo two against three, the kaleidoscope encompasses the full range of the keyboard and strings of the piano as I travel through atonality and tonality. As the storm subsides, I relax. The lyrical wind eases me into a restful sleep.
I find it easier to express my emotions with music instead of words.
Variations on Shenandoah was commissioned by Nancy Bogen for the video Of Wandering Forever. Although the variations occasionally include the entire melody, most only include a section of the song. If you listen carefully, you will only hear the melody of the word “Shenandoah” repeated. It will be easy to silently sing along with the music at times whereas it will be a challenge to follow other variations. (Hint: The first variation is in retrograde.)
Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,
Look away, you rollin’ river.
Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you.
Away, we’re bound away
‘cross the wide Missouri.
Preludes: In Memoriam
Prelude 1. Audrey Hepburn - elegant; classic; nostalgic
Prelude 2. Amelia Earhart - flowing; flying; whimsical
Prelude 3. Winston Churchill - solid; stoic yet compassionate; emotions are buried deep
Prelude 4. Jane Austen - restrained passion that occasionally bursts through
Prelude 5. Henry David Thoreau - introspective; contemplative
Prelude 6. Lewis & Clark - seeking; questioning; unsettled
Prelude 7. Sylvia Plath - poetic; passionate; troubled
Prelude 8. Anna Pavlova - graceful; disciplined; poetic
After Nancy Bogen commissioned me to write variations on this folk tune, I discovered that it was used as a victory song in World War II. In a Warner Bros. cartoon, Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny sing “O Susanna, don’t you cry for me. I’m gonna dig up lots of gold, ‘V’ for Victory.”
Blue – While sitting beside the Boat Pond at Central Park, I listen to a guitarist entertaining tourists.
Quiescence – On a peaceful walk through Central Park, I appreciate the beauty of nature.
Ebullience – The archaic definition of “boiling” aptly describes this piece. Rapid triplets and chromaticism, with only a moment of rest, create fire on the keys.
This piece was commissioned by Margaret Mills for the celebration of her birthday. The opening is large and slowly paced, with persistent use of deep bass octaves and treble chords, along with fortissimo, to produce a striking announcement of grandeur. After the impressive opening, the music shifts into a segment that draws on sounds from American Blues with the addition of polyrhythms.
The music becomes more dissonant, the mood more introspective and serious. A new section emerges that is more mysterious and unsettling. This mood yields to another contrasting expression that is more serene. The underlying major and minor harmonies, peppered with “blue notes,” evoke a jazz flavor.
A suddenly chromatic transition leads to a much more dissonant section that retains folk-like melodic fragments. The mood is contemplative, getting away from the charm and peacefulness of the folk song. The dissonance intensifies, along with increasingly complex rhythms as the music comes into the final section. “Blue notes” are intensified with strong dissonances and a persistent triplet rhythm, conveying a driving excitement as well as a feeling of agitation. The melodic shaping in this final section moves up and down considerably. The final measures slow the rhythm and return to the chordal sonority of the opening.
Celebration Prelude takes us through a wide range of emotional expressions: grandeur, serenity, mystery, reflection and excitement. It is not only a celebration for a person, but also of music and of life. — Richard McKee
Let your imagination take over as you listen to Illusions. Dynamics, phrasing, tone decay, pedaled staccatos, and half pedals create a variety of sonorities in this miniature suite.
I wrote Illusions after learning that my piano professor would not be returning the following year. Awaking in the middle of the night, I wrote the piece from beginning to end without a single erasure. Although I heard the music in my head, I did not play it until the next afternoon.*
This piece began my interest in composition.
*I utilized the extra notes of the Bosendorfer piano in Restless Time and Dawn. The notes were changed for performance on a Steinway.
— All notes, except Celebration Prelude, written by Betty Wishart
CONNECT with Betty R. WISHART
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