Through Shadows for piano (2014)

Duration: 14 minutes
I originally conceived Through Shadows as a kind of companion-piece to my Nocturne. The Nocturne is largely euphonious—even rapturous—and I intended Through Shadows to be about a different facet of the Night Mind: the racing thoughts, the anxieties, the irrational fears. As I began working, I found that the tension within the musical material demanded a broader canvas; what developed is a piece on a large scale, similar in scope to a one-movement sonata. The piece moves through a shifting series of developments and variations, and its affect ranges widely—although the harmonies always retain their astringent edge.
In Through Shadows, the piano rarely stops resonating; but the particular color of the resonance is carefully controlled through the nearly constant use of the middle “sostenuto” pedal, which allows some notes to ring while others are dampened. These resonances are like shadows of the sound; also shadowy are the low, dense chords characteristic of this work, and the ephemeral nature of its various sections. In my imagination was a passage from George MacDonald’s “The Golden Key,” part of which I set in an early song. MacDonald’s fairy tale is about a quest, and this is one of the things the two travelers encounter:

Looking down, they could not tell whether the valley below was a grassy plain or a great still lake. They had never seen any place look like it. The way to it was difficult and dangerous, but down the narrow path they went, and reached the bottom in safety… It was no wonder to them now that they had not been able to tell what it was, for this surface was everywhere crowded with shadows. It was a sea of shadows… As they walked they waded knee-deep in the lovely lake. For the shadows were not merely lying on the surface of the ground, but heaped up above it like substantial forms of darkness, as if they had been cast upon a thousand different planes of the air.

I think of my harmonies in Through Shadows as “substantial forms of darkness,” especially as they build into clusters towards the end of the piece. But, like the shadows in MacDonald, these are not necessarily sinister—some may be, but others are poignant, even tender.

Click here to view the first four pages of the score

Premiere: Kilbourn Hall, Rochester, NY — October 2014 by the composer