Anni

Anni, for Nina is dedicated to my wife Nehal El-Hadi on her birthday, as we enter our second year of marriage and anticipate the birth of our first child.

The piece is for solo piano in three movements; the first and last a prelude and postlude, respectively, to the longer and more developed middle. I have posted the audio for this movement only.

The first movement simultaneously references the music of Steve Reich in its interlocking patterns – here between the left and right hands, as opposed to separate instrumentalists – and Philip Glass in triads that shift via neighbour tones. Each hand plays a different triad opposite the other to create a six-note harmony overall. There are no melodies per se. The movement begins and in D major and shifts to D minor (there is a neighbour-tone motion in the top voice as the keys change). The rhythm is in five beats, then seven, then seven plus five.

The key of the second movement is ambiguous during the opening chorale, then settles into A major/F-sharp minor. It is based around an ostinato – once again the hands are interlocked – that varies both metrically and melodically. There is a distant relation to J.S. Bach’s famous C major prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier (a relation hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces could claim). Later in the movement, a simple two-voice counterpoint appears above the ostinato. Finally, the ostinato emerges as a playfully additive melody in two voices.

The third movement is in A major. It begins with another chorale, references a melodic shape from the second movement, then returns to the interlocking chords from the first. The chords for the most part expand or contract symmetrically, and the intervals of each chord are arranged symmetrically. The final two six-note chords are the ones from the opening of the first movement.

Anni was played live straight to master without a mixer or recording software; the outer movements in a single take each, and the inner with two edit points.

Composed and recorded October 2012

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2012

Dream Decade

Tuesday, September 11, 1991

(Journal entry)

My late grandfather was actually Igor Stravinsky with a changed identity. He did not die in 1971 but continued on in a secret life. When he did eventually pass away in 1986 (as my grandfather did in real life), I was shocked to learn his true identity and was angry at my mother and grandmother for keeping it from me. I was disappointed that I had missed out on a great musical legacy but felt that it somehow explained my influences and habits as a composer.

Cage Centenary

August 12, 1992

(Journal entry. Transcription by Nehal El-Hadi, September 4, 2012)

John Cage died today at 79. I have somehow been expecting this news, as if it were confirmation that a certain era of progressiveness or revolution was truly now over. Cage, more than any other single figure in the arts, was one to bring about change in Western culture. And I wonder what effect his passing will have on art and music, if there is one to be felt.

He was a person who was mysterious to me, and I knew only some of his music and writings, but what I felt for him was something approaching worship. His ideas on music and life were some of the most profound I have yet encountered. I am sure that it will be many more years before I can really appreciate or understand the person or at least his ideas.

The music, however, has always communicated to me almost instantaneously. I am affected not merely on a cerebral or spiritual level, but on a highly instinctualized one. His prepared piano pieces give a feeling which is new and alien and perfectly “logical” at the same time. His reaffirmation of rhythm was so much more thorough and fundamental than either Stravinsky’s or Bartók’s. Through the innovation of prepared piano (even if it wasn’t his) and his writing for unique grouping of percussion, he reasserted the primitive in our music. This was long before rock ‘n’ roll or minimalism or new age; these genres owe a lot to him even if it has never been acknowledged.

His willingness to accept the total sound spectrum, including noise, as full of musical potential – not just tempered pitches and orchestral timbres – put Cage (along with Varése and Ives) at the forefront of musical innovation in this century. This was his gift to us: the whole world of sound.

The man who gave us “Music of Changes” realized there was inner music in outer silence, and inspired a whole community of performers to explore it. He legitimized his non-conformity.

I find it interesting that he eschewed conventional temporal and harmonic structures early on, and spent the rest of his life rediscovering the role of time in music, and later, the context of non-music.

I can think of no better goal than searching for the same answers that he was through his music – to learn about this world through art (not to exploit art for shallow ends). When we are confronted with silence in the not-too-distant future, after the media maelstrom, we will find Cage waiting, listening.