For piano

Duration: ca. 34 minutes

 

The 5 x 5 Short Intermezzos for piano (two hands) were written between 2. January 2011 and 25. July 2012. This composition is an important and integral part of the work designated as op. 22, which is (in Staar’s own words) »despite its formal diversities, my personal contribution to a modern Theory of Harmony«. See also: Metamorphoses of a Labyrinth op. 22a, Vanished Dreams op. 22c, La Fontaine de Sang op. 22b, Hammabbul op. 22g, etc …

The 25 pieces became the harmonic experimental field for Time Recycling. Due to the underlying harmonic structure, this cycle was divided into 5 times 5 sections. A chordal combination system is systematically explored and dissected in each section. The challenge consisted of forming meaningful musical ideas and forms out of abstract material. Programmatic ideas, indicated by the use of titles, also supported this compositional activity.

The content and substance of these pieces becomes visible through these titles—in the same way in which Debussy provided titles to his Préludes. The strongly-emphasized focus on the programmatic content prompted the composer to choose this method of labelling. The balance between a structural experiment and differentiated musical ideas is very delicate, and requires an accurate and careful mixture of the two.

Minicycles of 5 to 8 minutes add up to a complete cycle of about 34 minutes, whereby each individual piece can also be played on its own or as part of a smaller or larger cycle. Some of the composer’s suggestions are given below. The first minicycle is dedicated to the pianist Johannes Marian, Staar’s longtime partner at concerts of the Ensemble Wiener Collage.

 

I. Dedicated to Johannes Marian
1. Waking out of dreams 1'14''
2. Manipulated man 3'52''
3. Fleeting moment 1'10''
4. Stretching muscles 0'42''
5. Attempted escape 1'02''
Total duration: ca. 8 minutes

The first mini-cycle explores the combinatorial possibilities of a five-part chord (consisting of four superimposed intervals: 2 minor sixths, a minor third and a tritone) through a variety of processes such as transposition, inversion, and re-arrangement. In the first piece, the musical ideas appear vague and are interrupted by pauses, and the piece proceeds in a reflective manner—hence the title »Waking out of dreams« because the piece serves both as an introduction and a program for the entire mini-cycle. The spring-like character of this short piece also serves as a justification for the presence of titles. The playing with mechanical, robot-like elements informs the foreground of the second piece (»Manipulated Man«). The composer uses here his technique of rhythmic tempo relations, which he had already developed in the Bagatelles op. 14/3a, as a means of contrast, and in order to differentiate the back-and-forth motion of pulsating rhythmic pulses. The title of No. 3 — »Fleeting moment« — already provides the character of the composition, in which a driving aspect remains always in the foreground, with the piece ending as abruptly as it had begun. An orgy of chords and power dominates the fourth piece, entitled »Stretching muscles,« while the last piece is dominated by the – musically-expressed – futile attempt to free itself from its constrained condition; hence it is entitled »Attempted escape.«

 

II.
1. (6) Ephemeral domination—carved in stone 1'20''
2. (7) Uncertain moments 0'42'' ~ 1'26''
3. (8) Sudden remembrance of … 0'36''
4. (9) … new shores 0'38'
5. (10) A jump over the cliffs 0'20'
Total duration: ca. 4 minutes

The second mini-cycle is shorter than the first, and is based on variants of a different five-part chord that consists of a major third, a perfect fourth, a tritone, and a minor sixth. The longest of the pieces is the first. Its rhythmically erratic structure is reminiscent of the stelae upon which the deeds of Pharaohs and other Near-Eastern rulers were chiseled; this impression is also reflected in the title. The piece consists almost completely of homophonic five-part chords, which are mainly composed of different sequences of short long and short notes (like in Morse Code) – the repetition of chords serves here as a musical code representing the chiseling of information on stone. 

The second piece is constructed out of the strange aimlessness of two complementary musical lines. The piece can – but does not necessarily need to be – repeated transposed either by a whole tone up or a whole tone down. In this way the uncertainty of the piece is further emphasized, a trend that continues in the third of the three short Intermezzi of this cycle. A memory appears to be established, only to be repeatedly interrupted, since we have not clearly understood what we are trying to remember. This game of vagueness runs through the entire cycle. Even when we seem to have reached a new shore in the fourth piece, the bizarre nature of the fifth piece reenacts a jump over a precipice.

 

III.
1. (11) … Vacuum … 1'40''
2. (12) Hopelessly tender 1'25''
3. (13) Remembering moments of happiness 1'08''
4. (14) New yearning—new tenderness 1'57''
5. (15) Clown in love (secretly stalks away) 0'30''
Total duration: ca. 6’40”

The operating five-part chord of the third mini-cycle consists of a minor second, a tritone, a perfect fifth, and a minor sixth. The first piece consists of long-held chords appearing in different ranges and different dynamics, and separated by pauses. The pauses suddenly disappear, only to resurface at the end of the piece and interrupt a sequence of two chords. The title of the second piece, »Hopelessly tender,« applies only to the end of the piece, and especially the last five bars, while the majority of the piece consists of unwieldy repetitions of chords derived from the original chordal configuration. On the other hand, the title of the third piece implies a reference to baroque ornamentation, which have been variously constructed in such a way that the listener is unaware of their ornamental nature. The fourth piece is characterized by broad musical lines and a resulting playful push forward, while the bizarre, self-deprecating style of the last of the five pieces of this cycle refers to the clown himself and his own not-quite-seriously-taken infatuation, which is expressed with bizarre-sounding gestures. The clown exaggerates his own feelings in order to conceal them behind a quasi-absurd comedy. The resulting melancholy caused by vain, unrequited love is subliminally expressed especially in the last six bars of the piece, hiding behind his seemingly exaggerated actions so that no one notices his pain …

 

IV.
1. (16) Shy approach 1'18''
2. (17) … wedding bells … 1'20''
3. (18) »Anticipation« 2'20''
4. (19) Nervous need 1'10''
5. (20) Certainty and doubt 0'43''
Total duration: ca. 7 minutes

The fourth mini cycle is harmonically determined by combinations of the two chords that formed the basis of the first and second mini cycles. Processes of consolidation of linear musical figures to homophonically ascending tones prevail in the first piece. The ascending phrases that characterize this rather quiet piece appear very volatile at first and settle towards the end into a very quiet and gently ascending figure, as if one regards someone with great affection. Love in general is the theme of this fourth mini cycle, but this theme is only present in a subliminal form. The magnificent, bell-like celebratory mood of the homophonic chords of the second piece suggests the typical bells of a Dutch church. Between the duo of the soprano and bass lines of the third piece, the remaining three notes of a five-part chord express the exciting anticipation of two lovers. This anticipation is further amplified in the fourth piece, with the pair now acting in a nervous and hectic manner, while the calming effects of trust in the fifth and final piece cannot completely suppress a very subtle doubt that resurfaces at crucial points in the piece – all this can be interpreted as the first day that a young couple spend together. The titles of this mini cycle may this be regarded as more important than those of the other small cycles of these intermezzi.

 

V.
1. (21) Quofu reminiscences 1'10''
2. (22) Babbling 1'25''
3. (23) Choleric envy (portrait of an office worker) 1'45''
4. (24) Modern dance without choreography 1'50''
5. (25) … ascends to the sun … 0'25''
Total duration: ca. 7 minutes

The harmonic basis of the last mini-cycle is formed by chordal combinations derived from chords used in the first and third mini-cycles. Whereas the fourth cycle dealt with the love of a young couple, the fifth cycle is about the joy of life, although the envy of this joy of life is also registered as a small disturbance in the third piece. The dance is the defining element of the first piece. The contrast of duplets and triplets informs the Habanera – this contrast is presented in a 5/4 scheme in »Qoufu reminiscences,« whereby the duplets are centrally located on the third quarter of beat, while all other beats are triplets. The entire piece is composed in five-part homophony. The pleasure of non-binding conversation with little content is reflected in the formal lack of commitment of the second piece. Choleric envy, arising from under-informed office clerks cut-off from the decision-making process, determines the course of the third piece and extends from internally accumulated hatred all the way to the eruption of poisonous discharge from the envious individual. The dance element becomes active again in the fourth piece, but in this instance it appears as concurrent dance elements that are slightly unsynchronized in relation to each other, finally uniting in common five-part sounds at the end of the piece. The title of the last piece refers especially to its last four bars; the remained of the piece is dominated by cheerful and playful rhythmic figures. 

 

Despite the seemingly programmatic structure of the pieces, all the Intermezzi are basically experimental grounds for the harmonic combinations from which I then selected the basic material for my orchestral piece Time Recycling op. 22n (commissioned by the Vienna Philharmonic). 

Total duration of the minicycles: ca. 34 minutes

Here are some possible combinations suggested by the composer:

2 – 6 – 10 – 14 – 23

Or

3 – 7 – 9 – 11 – 20

Or

5 – 8 – 21 – 22 – 24

Or

15 – 17 – 1 – 25

The composer also authorizes other arbitrary or intentional combinations of the pieces.