China Variations: Viral Replications for Violin & Piano
China Variations: Viral Replications for Violin & Piano is a much expanded and renovated revisiting of the piece originally conceived for solo piano. The solo violin part is featured in a concertante style that is suitable for concert or recital programs. Composed during the quarantined lock-down of March 2020. With nothing to do, stranded in isolation, this music is the natural, even inevitable result of the viral pandemic that has seized the entire world in its grip. The variations sequence is conceived as a logical metaphorical representation of elements that are integral to the entire experience from its origins in China through the social upheaval and dislocation it has caused. The thematic subject is based on a pentatonic Chinese-sounding melody that has the atmosphere of a folk melody. This theme undergoes a sequential progression of transformations that replicate the melody at successive pitch levels that are reharmonized accordingly. This opening section is juxtaposed in sharp contrast against a harmonic kaleidoscope that is an onomotopaeic representation of the social, economic and political turmoil of events that have recently transpired.
Suite in G major for Violoncello solo The Suite in G major for Violoncello solo was composed in 2015 and comprises four movements patterned after the Baroque instrumental suites of Henry Purcell, J. S. Bach, G. F. Handel and others. The suite, intended for recital and pedagogical use, opens with a Prelude adapted from the first guitar suite, followed by a Badinage, which roams through registral and harmonic realms. Next is a Menuetto that features a modern “swing” tempo, and the suite concludes with a Gigue en Rondeau that rounds out the cycle. The solo suites for violin and viola are sibling transcriptions of this set of pieces.
Suite in G major for Viola solo The Suite in G major for Viola solo was composed in 2015 and comprises four movements patterned after the Baroque instrumental suites of Henry Purcell, J. S. Bach, G. F. Handel and others. The suite, intended for recital and pedagogical use, opens with a Prelude adapted from the first guitar suite, followed by a Badinage, which roams through registral and harmonic realms. Next is a Menuetto that features a modern “swing” tempo, and the suite concludes with a Gigue en Rondeau that rounds out the cycle. The solo suites for violin and violoncello are sibling transcriptions of this set of pieces.
These two pieces for solo piano occupy a misfit place in the repertoire. They are quirky enough to be annoying but amusing enough to escape the Dumpster. The first is a kind of jazzy impromptu or improbable Scherzo that exploits a wrong-note displacement in an eccentric rhythm. The title Humoresque was considered, but Burlesque seems more descriptive of the character of the musical expression. The second number in the set is a solo piano arrangement of The Privy from the opera Luke & Sarah. This piece is similarly motivated by a sequence of wrong-note harmonies captured within an almost mechanical rhythm that propels the piece through its chromatic gyrations to completion.
The Second Suite, as the sub-title implies, is a curated encyclical compendium of a collection of dolls. Loosely linked by a narrative story composed by artist- raconteur Kathi Martin-Flood, each movement in the suite tells its own story.
In the doll shop, we are quickly transported to another time. Hundreds of lovely ladies are perched alluringly in multiple rows arrayed from ceiling to floor. The atmosphere is sentimental, demure, eyelashes fluttering in anticipation of romance. In contrast to contemporary women who are calculating, desensitized, bottom- lining and far less sensual than Victorian women here represented, the dolls are picturesque, statuesque, poised and graceful. Small things like ceremonies, symbolic intentions, and treats are very special. Each of these carefully detailed personages embodies a feminine mystique that is at once universal and unique. One doll in particular engages us with her bemused smile, and her longing gaze. Her thoughts reflect the thrills she feels at every little thing, nothing escapes her notice, and she communicates the soulful sensitivity of her feelings to us effortlessly with a non-verbal eloquence that can only be approached suggestively through the descriptive poetry of music. Her visage, like an actress, conjures up images of reality the clarity of which belies the careful artifice of her being. Some of these are memories, preciously guarded, some hopes and aspirations, full of exuberance and anticipation, and some are full of bittersweet, resigned melancholy for time that might have been.
1. PROLOGUE: The evening of the ball, Caterina Magdalena Blotista (these are but three of her many names and titles) enters the hall at the appointed fashionably late hour, and looking around, compares herself to others and wonders how people see her. She’s impatient, hopeful, and crisp, with lump-in-her-throat expectations. Cinderella she is not and therefore need not be in any hurry to choose among eligible suitors or to exercise her feminine prerogatives. She’s from a time before photography, so she realizes that her attention must be keenly aware so that she can relive this night all of her life. Oh, how she wants to remember it all! Not a wrinkle in her dress, nary a snag on her fingernails. She is living completely in the moment, posed for her part in a painterly scene, possessing a calm within her that reinforces the heartfelt grace that palpitates in the night. She knows that she will meet and know hundreds of people in her life, and is welled up with possibilities; whose presence will become irreplaceable? Who will matter, who will cause tears and laughter, who will gain her complete trust and loyalty? What about love?
2. NURSERY RHYMES: As she listens, the music underscores philosophies gained from stories heard in childhood, She especially loves the ones where children had privacy and went on adventures, like, for example, Little Red Riding Hood, when she paraded into the forest unescorted and unafraid. She’s not so keen on talking animals, as she’d rather have them just be animals...she’d prefer to watch them frolic, faint, and foam at the mouth as they wish instead of requiring them to self-consciously invent a human persona. Anthropomorphic deities swarm the annals of poetry, but early memories of childhood are bathed in the soft light of simplicity and faith. She loves to listen to nursery rhymes, eyes squeezed shut, spontaneous pictures popping in front of her, but HATES to look at illustrations, someone else’s interpretation. “Tacky, and invasive,” she thinks to herself. “Give me some credit,” she thinks, “to hold the magic and expand upon it.”
3. GAMES: She loves the orderliness of games, the absolute expected behavior, the elusive objective of fairness, the equalizing forces of chance and luck. To stop the world and be able to concentrate on sliding little pieces of wood over colorful cardboard squares, or squeaky toys, or buzzers, to announce a clever move. Parlor Games like Look-a-bout, Blind Man’s Bluff, Change Seats or Forfeits cause her to blush with enthusiasm. “Playing piano is a sort of game also,” she surmises. “Music is full of games that require skill but rely on chance.”
4. WALTZ: As they dance, she’s worrying about every aspect of her physicality – her earlobes, the curve of her elbow, the cowlick in the center of the nape of her neck. Wondering what’s most attractive about her as he holds her gingerly, if she is symmetrical enough to command admiration, if she smells like a lilac meadow or the underside of a carriage. She wants to keep her eyes closed in order to listen more carefully to the music. In fact, she resents his presence, intruding on her listening pleasure. She feels restricted, in the lock-step tradition of the swaying waltz, and yearns to swoon freely on her own, without the constricted harness of her corset, tightly laced under her bodice. “How many foolish girls (like me) are swept up in the romance of the waltz as it weaves its magic about the room? So many young women swoon as if bewitched by the music, seemingly entranced in its spell. Is it because they are overcome by emotion, or the giddiness induced at the first touch of a gentleman’s hand on her waist as he confidently guides her in the dance?” Another reasonable possibility suggests itself to her, “Perhaps a fainting swoon is merely a strategic affectation effected to produce admiration and at the very least, get attention.” She, laughs bemusedly to herself at the idea as she opens her fan and lets it flutter delicately.
5. REVERIE: She’s thinking about how she could have been born anywhere, and marvels at her fortune. She could have been an Ethiopian cobbler, a motivational speaker in Clackatic, Alaska, or a Chinese firecracker manufacturer. She thinks about the traveling she’s done and the roaming that lies ahead. There is some fear, but also an overarching confidence that no matter what happens, she will land on her feet. Her sweet little Victorian steps tiptoe along the shore, carrying flowers up rocky hills, stomping through the great cities of the world. She yearns to go everywhere, immediately, but not until she has had her afternoon nap.
6. SCHERZO: Proud of her sense of the absurd, she is quick to verbalize her observations and hopes to get a strong, approving reaction. When people take things too seriously or excess in any goofy direction, she delights in her homemade bombastic descriptions. With ten hours of heavy sleep and a mug of artichoke skin soup under her belt, she is ready to skip around town and watch the local oafs and village smoothies operate in the town square. The accordion player on the street- corner plays the instrument upside down for her amusement.
7. BARCAROLLE: The swaying of the gondola gives her the same feeling as the waltz, but the water makes a much better dance partner. She feels so tiny in the water, having the same fate as a stray leaf or a slithery little fish. Yes, nauseous, swaying somewhat unsteadily from side to side, and because the water never smells right, especially in Venice, always betraying an acrid, moldy pungency, but is full of abandonment and romance. The boat ride is a metaphor for life, as petals drop from the fading rose, leaving a drying stalk and thorns, the kind of frozen, unforgotten moment that makes you who you are. Across the lapping sound of the water, she hears echoes from the land warp in her ear, and she tries to decipher emotional conversations, the hellos and good-byes that travelers know well as the river flows onward, disappearing around a curve and away into the distance.
Based on the myth of Taliesin, the Ancient Scenes concert suite is made up of five piano solo arrangements extracted from the Legend complete ballet. These are the Invocation, Processional March, Fire Dance, Snake Dance (The Oracular Serpent) and Bacchanal. The music of the Invocation prepares for the reenactment of the myth of the Sun King, whose life and subsequent sacrifice is executed to placate the wrath of the Moon Goddess. According to legendary accounts, King Maelgwyn had determined to offer Taliesin as the sacrificial victim and led him off in chains to the cadence of the Processional March to the dungeon at Dyganwy where along with Prince Elphin he was imprisoned. The King caused a great sacrificial funeral pyre to be built, stacked high with wood and stoked by burning embers taken from a fir tree, still smoldering from a winter’s storm lightning strike. The people of Gwynedd leapt in a furious sacrificial Fire Dance as Taliesin was brought enmeshed in a wicker cage to the edge of the pyre. A great snake appeared before the fire, coiling threateningly, and rearing up with a fearful hiss, spoke to Taliesin as the Snake Dance unfolds: “Can you answer the riddle of the oracular serpent?” As soon as Taliesin answered the correct mysterious formula in secret words only audible to the snake, the flames of the pyre roared back into life, and the serpent disappeared into fire to the sound of drums pounding an inexorable rhythm. King Maelgwyn was seized by his own soldiers and thrown without ceremony on the burning maelstrom and led by the High Priest and the Council of Elders, Taliesin was proclaimed Sun King, who will reign for a period of seven years. All join in a great Bacchanal in celebration of the preservation of order in the universe.
This sonata is a solo transcription of the first movement of Domine’s Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat minor. The sonata begins with a slow introduction that juxtaposes two opposite harmonic realms represented by the interval of a diminished fifth. As the opening sequence drifts aimlessly through a cloud of amorphous sonorities, the principal theme is suddenly and aggressively thrust center stage by an angry theme marked Agitato. This theme wends its torturous way to the contrastingly quiet subordinate theme. An episode of melancholic discourse ensues, creating an air of confidential intimacy. The exposition ends with an elided dominant cadence which is left unresolved and that leads directly to the development section. Chord clusters built on hexachords provide a serialized variation on the principal theme. This tripartite antiphonal sequence works toward a culmination as the theme is expanded in rhythmic layers, finally reaching a cacophonic explosion. A retransition based on the slow introduction leads to the recapitulation, this time with alternating variations on the principal theme. After the lyrical restatement of the subordinate theme, the coda confronts us with a starkly bleak musical atmosphere that concludes with a fiery flourish. This transcription was made at the request of piano pedagogue Joanna Ezrin for Vera Weber, who has played it to great acclaim in numerous competitions and recitals.
Piano Sonata #4 in B minor Composed in 2008, the Piano Sonata #4 in B minor is a somewhat lengthier and more extended work than its predecessors in the genre. The principal theme is a march-like Pesante with an upward motion that reaches its zenith in a chromatic passage that swells up from the depths, subsiding into the flowing tranquillo of the transitional episode. The gentle warmth of the subordinate theme grows into a romantic rhapsody that fades away like a dream. The first section of the development is a sequence built upon the Pesante theme that erupts into an arpeggiated fantasia using the tranquillo episodic motive. The recapitulation is reached after a frenzied cadenza, and the sonata concludes in a dramatic if tragic mode. This sonata in orchestral garb serves as the foundation for the first movement of Domine’s Symphony #4 in B minor.
The Piano Sonata #3 in A minor was written as an expansion of a rock song entitled Wind of Time, composed in 1973 for the Molay Band, a group that regaled the bars and frat parties of Westwood during those tumultuous years that Domine attended UCLA as an undergraduate. The composer returned to the song to develop the harmonic peculiarities and improvisational qualities the Wind of Time theme offers. The tempo of the sonata is Allegro strepitoso and is cast in one movement following the traditional sonata-allegro form. The opening theme is characterized by a sustained rhythmic ostinato that is elaborated with unresolved suspended 2nd and 4th harmonies. This is followed by a contrastingly lyrical passage that unfolds through a series of sequential gyrations. The development is a fantasia that employs improvisational techniques associated with rock music and lends the piece a sense of freshness and spontaneity. The sonata returns in the recapitulation to the athleticism of the principal theme, concluding in a powerful unresolved suspension that seems to ask an unanswered question, the answer to which may someday be found in blowing on the Wind of Time. This sonata was first performed by fifteen-year old pianist Sarah Knauer in a contemporary music competition sponsored by the Music Teachers’ Association of California West San Fernando Valley Branch, in which she took first place. Ms. Knauer subsequently performed the piece in recital at Pierce College on April 13, 2008.