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Prelude Impressions
for solo piano
(2012)

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Prelude Impressions

These pieces were composed for a colleague, Gloria Ye, to perform on a faculty concert commemorating the 150th anniversary of Claude Debussy’s birth. They are therefore based on certain compositional techniques and aesthetic ideas that Debussy developed. My intent is not that they should sound like Debussy’s music, of course, but that they pay homage to Debussy for the profound impact his ideas had on the thinking of so many composers during the 20th Century. In fact, while composing these short pieces I sometimes had a feeling that I was looking at Debussy’s music through the distorting lenses of music that followed after him. Still, I think his influence is perceptible in “Prelude Impressions”, sometime even obviously so, but it is often reshaped in ways that would probably have seemed foreign to him.

I - Drifting Through Change
The beginning ideas for this piece are two separate rhythmic patterns. These patterns are of different lengths and create different meters, yet they appear together in short episodes throughout this composition. Their interaction creates the changing rhythmic relationships that inspired the title “Drifting Through Change”. Contrasting music then appears between these episodes creating still more change. To me, it sounds as if one is floating through empty space, but occasionally drifting past various objects or passing through various situations.

II - Building Clouds
The opening of this piece begins with an idea that, in my mind, takes the opening gesture of Debussy’s “Nuages” and slowly turns it inside out. However, this piece is not about slowly drifting soft, lush or noble clouds. They may be wispy at first, but they soon grow turbulent and result in music that would most likely be far to dramatic for Debussy’s tastes.

III - Moonless Heath
In terms of harmonic color and general composition technique, this piece probably has more obvious links to Debussy than the other two. It begins with a simple melody, not completely unlike Debussy’s prelude “Bruyére”, after which an ostinato gently moves the music forward. Like walking through a quiet dark night outdoors, though, we can’t be sure what we might be passing by. Structurally, this piece is a melodic palindrome. Starting in measure 33, the center of the composition, the primary melodic line is played in retrograde inversion back through to the end at measure 66. The melody that is heard at the very end is, of course, the retrograde inversion of the one which began the composition. Now, however, its relationship to Debussy’s music may be a little more clearly understood.

(performance duration ca. 10-11 minutes)

A performance of Prelude Impressions can be heard on YouTube:

I - Drifting Through Change
II - Building Clouds
III - Moonless Heath