for solo piano
Monochrome Accumulation (Ultramarine Blue) and Piano Flamboyant
In 1999 I wrote a piece for Louisville pianist Denine LeBlanc, who commissions, performs and records many new works, especially but not exclusively by composers in the Louisville area. That virtuosic toccata, entitled Piano Flamboyant, was inspired by a work of French-American artist Arman (born Armand Pierre Fernández in 1928). Although Arman worked in traditional media, he is probably best known for his pieces with found objects, or by using artist’s materials in non-standard ways. He was particularly fond of using musical instruments, and quite a few of his works involve instruments manipulated in different ways, including various manners of deconstruction and destruction. Piano Flamboyant, the title of which means “burning piano,” was indeed made from a burned-out piano. (Although the idea of deliberately destroying musical instruments makes me cringe, I can only assume these were probably old, beat-up instruments salvaged from pawn shops and attics, and the uses he puts them to are endless fascinating.)
In 2016 Denine asked me for another piece. She suggested something that could be played on its own, but also combined with Piano Flamboyant to make a two-movement set. I immediately thought of looking again at the works for Arman for inspiration.
Another of his obsessions was a series he called Monochrome Accumulations. These consist of numerous tubes of a single color of oil paint, squeezed partially out, and either applied to canvas or embedded in clear Plexiglas. Despite the use of only one color of paint per accumulation, the effect is anything but static. To begin with they are almost sculptural in the way the surface is worked, with deep valleys and high peaks. Moreover, the paint color actually varies constantly from point to point, and shifts according to the light and observer’s perspective, as well, although obviously within a limited framework. This piano piece is inspired by one of these accumulations, and like them, attempts to extract maximum interest from minimal source materials. There are only a few basic ideas here, but they are worked extensively to show a different facet each time a given idea recurs. Where Piano Flamboyant is fast, loud, and, well, flamboyant, Monochrome Accumulation (Ultramarine Blue) is slow throughout, and while it does have its dramatic moments, is primarily meditative.