For solo piano duration approx. 2 mins 40 secs. Composed Summer 2013.
This piece is based on and is a transformation of “Le Vent Dans La Plaine”, the third piece in Book 1 of the Preludes by Claude Debussy. The dynamics and contours of the piece are retained, but some of the gestures have been amplified and the harmony transformed.
The idea for making a piece like this had been in my mind for many years. There are precedents: Berio’s “Sequenza VI” for solo viola, gradually expanding as the “onion layers” are added in successive pieces – “Chemins II” for small ensemble and then the orchestral “Chemins III”; but also, and more influential, the painter Joan Miro’s transformation of the Dutch old master Hendrik Martenszoon Sorgh’s “The Lute Player”.
My Dad, Frank Parker, Concert Pianist manqué, whose professional career consisted of performing music for variety theatre, musicals and ice skating shows, used to play Debussy on the piano to me when I was a child: “La Cathedrale Engloutie”, “Danse Sacree” and “Danse Profane” in piano transcription; “La Plus Que Lente”; “Jardins Sous La Pluie” and “Children’s Corner”. Then as a teenager my school music teacher Len Sartin would hold one spellbound not only with his prodigious pianistic abilities (he performed “Feux D’Artifice”, the notoriously difficult final Prelude of Book 2, in a school “Speech Night”, to the utter bewilderment of assembled parents), but his comprehensive knowledge of the art, poetry and literature that each Prelude was alluding to: Baudelaire, Mallarme, Chinoiserrie, Arthur Rackham, etc. This in a comprehensive school for boys in Liverpool.
Debussy’s music for piano, especially from the two books of Preludes, went in deep for me and stayed there.
The feeling of a kind of kinetic sculpture in sound, involving a synthesis of harmony and sonority, a precise choreography of pianistic gesture, all bound together by an amniotic envelope created by the subtle use of the pedals – “like a kind of breathing”, as Debussy himself described it – these are the alchemical elements that have been infusing in my mind over the decades.
The fingering shapes – centrally, the sequence of left and then right thumb, followed by right fourth, fifth and then fourth fingers and again thumb, leaving right index and middle fingers free to play those restless “nested” melodies – I have retained, played with and expanded upon, and sometimes mirrored symmetrically in the left hand.
The four-note minor 6th and 7th chord inversions, signifying the loneliness of the homeless howling wind, have mutated: they are similar to the original, but the two hands are transposed and in contrary motion.
The thunderclaps are angrier, closer overhead, and more immediately threatening than in the original.
This piece is difficult to play. The recording I have made of it is – I hasten to admit – a bionic, computer enhanced performance recorded at a slower speed. However, nothing in it is physically impossible. Any difficulties – for example, of maintaining the feeling perpetual motion; of achieving continuity of phrasing; and moulding the dynamic contours – can be readily addressed, I believe, by studying the Debussy.
There may be more: one could foresee a series of Debussy transformations (or “Busygames”!): “Snowgames”, based on “The Snow Is Dancing” from” Children’s Corner”; “Raingames”, based on “Jardins Sous La Pluie”; “Soundgames”, based on “Les Sons Et Les Parfumes…” from Preludes Book 1; “Chordgames”, based on “Pour Les Chordes” from “Pour Le Piano”…
It may take me a while.