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Lillian Hellman in her memoir describes “Pentimento”: “…Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea…. The paint has aged now, and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.”
I wrote this latest work of mine after celebrating my sixtieth year. It is both a memory piece and one that says, “Here is where I am today.” The work moves on two planes inexorably related to each other. The first plane speaks in a language I use today, and have since 1975. It begins with strong rhythmic delineation. And then on a different plane, after some fifty-two measures, the first memory is revealed: the second theme of a woodwind quartet written when I was twelve. This was the first piece of mine I ever heard outside the improvisations at the piano. The woodwind quartet jolts the musical thrust of the initial music as it reacts to this memorable moment. Again and again memories will intrude. In succession they are: the opening of my first Piano Concerto, written in 1940; the Liepzig Symphony of 1945; the introduction to the Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra of 1951, and then the scherzo theme of the third movement of the same work; the coda of the fourth movement of the Sonata for Flute and Piano, 1957; Peggy’s melody from “Goodbye to the Clown,” an opera in one act written in 1959; the second theme from the first movement of String Quartet No. 1, 1960; and lastly a chorale from Twenty-Five Preludes for Organ of 1974.
During these recollections the work never comes to a halt. As in a dream the breathing is sometimes quiescent, sometimes rapid. The orchestra seems at times to almost, but not, be suspended, subsidiary to, accompanying, apart from the memory itself. The orchestra never intrudes upon or competes with the memory. Little by little these memories move closer to the esthetic attitude my music expresses today, until at a particular moment memory and today’s reality are barely distinguishable.
Each memory included in the piece was an extraordinary moment of my musical life. It was when I performed my Piano Concerto at a concert in the High School of Music and Art that I knew I could do no other than be a composer.
The Leipzig Symphony was written in Germany immediately following the city’s liberation. It was my return to writing music after a period of three years in the army. The Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra was begun after meeting a lovely young woman; the scherzo was written when I realized we would wed and spend our lives together. The Flute Sonata is the earliest work of mine that I will allow to be done in public; Peggy’s melody from “Goodbye to the Clowns” staggered me when I saw that many were moved to tears; my first String Quartet, a form that was to stay with me throughout my creative life (as of now I am somewhere in the middle of writing my eighth string quartet), was where for the first time I moved in and out of tonality; and finally, that watershed work of mine, the Twenty-Five Preludes for Organ, which changed my musical thinking and has been the source of all the music I have since written.
These memories, each musically significant, interplay with the shifting drama of the score. The memories showing my early musical influencesMozart, Shostakovitch, Wagner, Bartok, and othersare encapsulated within the fabric of the work itself. The layers which I have bared move ultimately toward the cohesion that reflects my music today. The drama of the work lies in the memory of time past jostled into recognition for a fleeting moment and then disturbed by that recognition, reacting to it. The music’s statement… this is what it was… this is the reaction to it… what now, what yet… demands a response, and, as you will hear, is one ultimately of intense affirmation.
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