Six volumes of six Impromptus each, for piano two hands

 

work in progress

 

An »impromptu« originally referred to a witty bon mot made up on the spot during a conversation. By the time of Schubert and Chopin, an »impromptu« also came to designate a particular type of Romantic piano music, that is, a piece usually in ternary form. However, the usage of this term within a musical context predates Schubert: it was first used either by the Bohemian piano virtuoso Jan Václav Voříšek (known in Vienna as Worzischek), who had already written impromptus five years before Schubert did, or by Schubert's publisher Tobias Haslinger. Later composers such as Smetana, Liszt and Scriabin, also called some of their shorter piano works impromptus, and sometimes added to that title a second descriptive word (Liszt: Valse-Impromptu; Skrjabin: Impromptu à la Mazur). Robert Schumann's Impromptus op. 5 on a theme by Clara Wieck, however, are actually variations.

I was searching for a title for a new collection of piano pieces in which I wanted to try out very specific intervallic and chordal relationships in a rather spontaneous and less formal manner. While looking through the piano literature of the 19th century, I came across the impromptu. In preparation for my work Time Recycling op. 22n, I had written the 5x5 Short Intermezzos op. 22j; likewise, the Impromptus should now show me the way to my next larger-scale work for chorus and orchestra.

In contrast to the short Intermezzos, this time I conceived a more extensive cycle of piano music. So while the Intermezzos were between 30 seconds and two-and-a-half minutes long (the entire cycle lasted approximately 35 minutes), the Impromptus would be 2 to 8 minutes long, and this time there would also be 6 times 6, in other words a total of 36 pieces. A diary (journal) of Impromptus in 6 volumes matured from an abstract idea to the beginning of the compositional process during the first quarter of 2020.

Each of the pieces is based on the development of a complex harmonic process, which consists of six variants of two series of five-voice chords. These are obtained by means of permutation from combining four times six (i.e. a total of 24) chords and their 24 possible combinations. The material is thus predetermined, but the form develops freely from improvisation or from playing freely with the material. The individual parts emerge almost intuitively from the harmonies, and impart to each of the impromptus an individual shape. The repeatability of individual structures is limited to the individual parts, while formal elements are not repeated. At best, analogies result in vague similarities between formal elements.

 

PREMIÉR CAHIER [First volume]


Pensées errantes dans le matin (duration: 8'15'')

Composed 2020, final fair copy 16.4.2022

The first two pieces of the first volume display an ambivalence between strong relationships within a part and a loose and constantly exploratory overall structure. The tripartite form of the first impromptu is articulated by the three basic tempo indications (I Modéré, II Mysterieux und III Vivant), which also underline the episodic nature of the piece.

With a duration of over eight minutes, the first Impromptu clearly exceeds the original temporal conception; this can be traced back to the complex development, which requires considerably more space for compositional elaboration. The piece ends on a ninth chord in close position, which is reached via a very idiosyncratic voice leading: the melody line descends chromatically from G to F (i.e. G, F sharp, F), while the bass line states a permutation of an augmented triad consisting of the notes E flat – B – G.

 

II Désir éternel (duration: 7'08'')

Composed 2020, final fair copy 22.4.2022

The second Impromptu consists of two main elements: on the one hand, floating spectral harmonic movements; and on the other hand, music reminiscent of a music box, interspersed with dotted rhythms. Although these two elements recur in a rudimentary form, they introduce thematic and harmonic material that cannot be identified either as a repetition or as a variation of previous material. The intention is rather that of continuous development, which results in the unfolding of new situations.

The voice leading that culminates in the dense final chord – it consists of a diminished triad with an added dissonant tritone – is noteworthy. The final chord in the melody is reached by a whole-tone ascent of , while the bass note A is chromatically reached via an A flat. The parallels of the concluding melody notes E – F sharp – G sharp to the harmony notes F – G – A, which are partially obscured by the voice leading, also contribute to this final effect.

 

III La façon dont il parlait et marchait, pensait et riait (in memoriam Michael Ingham) (duration: 2'40'')

Composed 2020, final fair copy 25.4.2022

A quiet entrance marks the beginning of this piece. Echoes of light swing rhythms develop from the opening secco chords. The memory of Michael Ingham's casual way of moving, laughing and speaking, as well as his intellectual and critical thoughts, have inspired the development of this piece as much as shared experiences.

 

IV Vagues scintillantes sous un soleil éclatant (duration: 4'16'')
 
Composed 2020, final fair copy 12.6.2022
 
The piece originates from a vision of a lake's rippled waves, glittering and refracted multiple times in the glistening sunlight. These waves are represented by rhythmic trills spanning a whole tone. These trill chains are connected by variously modulating five-note chordal structures, often remotely reminiscent of cadential effects in tonal music. A short march-like section appears in the third part as a contrast. 
 
 
V Sur une barque légère dans des canaux sombres (duration: 3'57'')
 
Composed 2020, final fair copy 3.7.2022
 
Vague reminiscences of Venice characterize the opening of the piece, a barcarolle that is meant to be performed very fast. The middle section of the piece, reminiscent of a Romanian hóra, mirrors the morbidly absurd atmosphere of carnivalesque celebrations in a doomed city. 
 
 
VI Dans les abysses de l'âme ( Dauer 4'46'')

Composed 2020, final fair copy 21.7.2022

The peculiar meter of 15/16, resulting from the combination of 3/8 + 3/16 + 3/8, immediately guides us towards an inner exploration of a maze of acoustic events. Reinforced by striking tempo changes, harmonically ambivalent through progressions that are both dissonant and tonally unstable, and increasingly intense persistent note and chord repetitions, the piece contains many unexpected twists. In doing so, it pushes open doors and provides gateways to secret realms. The piece thus becomes a search for one's own path, one's own language, perhaps also one's own identity, only to discover that this too ultimately remains unattainable.