(reposted, with edits, from January 28, 2010)
THE EARLIEST PIECES of mine that I still like to think of, Three Pieces for Piano, were written in October and November, 1963, and February 1964. At the time we were living on a small grant from Edith Fitzell, a gentle, enthusiastic widow who took recorder lessons from me, and who volunteered at KPFA, the listener-supported radio station in Berkeley. She sensed my need to devote an unbroken year to musical study, and enabled me to quite my day job. (I was then a laborer for the City of Berkeley, working mostly on the sidewalk crew, breaking up old sidewalks and laying new ones.)
I spent that year studying composition with Robert Erickson and conducting with Gerhard Samuel, and listening to as much music as possible — much of it on the radio, for KPFA broadcast a great deal of new music in those days.
The first and last of the three pieces were written slowly and intuitively, at the piano. They are centered on soft dynamic levels and smoothly phrase lines, and meant to be played very softly. The middle piece was added later, for contrast, pitched on a much louder level, and alternates violent and rapid gestures with ringing sonorities. It uses only pitches omitted in the outer movements; otherwise the composition follows only intuitive principles of structure, not conventional tonal or serial concepts.
Much of the music in the outer movements is essentially unmeasured and meant to be played quite freely, and the third movement ends with a performer's choice between two possible approaches to the close.
In 1964 I orchestrated the music as a Small Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. No new material was added; I simply assigned some of the notes to rather large orchestra, including a harmonium in the wings, a pair of Wagner tubas, and alto flute among the more usual instrumentation. In this form the music was premiered in August 1965 at the Cabrillo Music Festival, with Nathan Schwartz as soloist and Gerhard Samuel conducting. It was the first time I heard my music played by an orchestra: a very delightful experience.
(The solo pieces waited for their premiere until March 1993, when the late Rae Imamura played them at Annie’s Hall, Berkeley, on an instrument tuned not in equal temperament but to Kirnberger 3.)
The orchestral score of the Small Concerto for Piano and Orchestra is available now, either in print (8.5x11, 8 pages, saddle-stapled) for $12 or as an e-book, at Lulu.com. The Three Pieces for Piano are available at Frog Peak Music.
Sound files of the three movements of the Small Concerto are available online:
First movement (2:02; 3.5 MB)
Second movement (2:33; 41.1 MB)
Third movement (1:56; 3.4 MB)
A PDF of the score can be downloaded here (10 pages; 600 kb)