Roger Reynolds’ Piano Etudes


Roger Reynolds' Piano Etudes, commissioned by the Fromm Foundation, had its first performance by three pianists—Steven Beck, Stephen Gosling, and Eric Huebner—at Barge Music on Friday, April 11, 2014, in New York.

Roger Reynolds writes:
The Piano Etudes comprise two Books of six studies each. The first, Origins, involves simpler forms that are categorically limited (e.g., the bombastic Barrage) or simply meander (e.g., the darting Mercurial). Formally, these studies have fewer sub-sections that tend towards identical durations and symmetrical lay-out. The second Book, Extensions, uses more complex forms, where categories are freely extended or more intricately elaborated.
Each etude has a central “issue” (technical, musical) that requires a particular sort of attentiveness.
The set of twelve is laid out as follows:
Book I (Origins) contains Barrage, Alternation, Web, Persistence, Mercurial, and Fixities, while Book II (Extensions) will include Insistence, Fields, Rips, Concatenation, and Calligraphy.
As with many of my works since the 1989 Pulitzer prize-winning Whispers Out Of Time (which references Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Piano Sonata Opus 81a, and Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in a lineage of successive quotation), the Etudes also entail revisiting, borrowing, recontextualizing, and commenting upon other musics. Each etude engages either with my own earlier compositions for piano, or with particular etudes of Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, and Ligeti, as well as with other etudes within its Book, or all of the above. So that, while remaining idiosyncratic, each study is touched by relevant aspects of its technical and musical terrain, understood in a larger historical context. “External” references can be slight (as with a concluding reference to Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses in Barrage) or extensive. Fixities, for instance, is dominated by the gravitational pull of Chopin’s Op. 25, No, 7, its throbbing chordal regularities and the interstitial flourishes.
Each Book contains one study that can be fragmented and used connectively, binding together the other etudes in its Book. Mercurial serves this purpose in Book I. In any performance, the individual studies in the book can be performed in any order, and connected variably by indicated fragments from Mercurial. Mercurial, itself can be represented by extensive use as a linking agent as well as (or in place of) a full, unbroken performance of its content.
The performer is free to create a satisfying larger structure that can proceed as an unbroken whole (using Mercurial to connect). Such a larger structure might still be broken into larger chunks that include two or more etudes each. Etudes can be repeated. A straightforward performances in the numbered order is also and agreeable option. My hope is that the performer(s) will take the opportunity offered to allow the materials of individual etudes to become distinctively interactive in new ways for each performance.
Roger Reynolds

Roger Reynolds, Pulitzer-winning American composer, was born July 18, 1934 in Detroit, Michigan. He is known for his capacity to integrate diverse ideas and resources, for the seamless blending of traditional musical sounds and those newly enabled by technology. His work responds to text of poetic (Beckett, Borges, Stevens, Ashbery) or mythological (Aeschylus, Euripides) origins. His reputation rests, in part, upon his “wizardry in sending music flying through space: whether vocal, instrumental, or computerized”. This signature feature first appeared in the notationally innovative theater piece, The Emperor of Ice Cream (1961-62).
During his early career, Reynolds worked in Europe and Asia, returning to the US in 1969, to accept an appointment in the music department at the University of California, San Diego. His leadership there helped establish it as a state of the art facility – in parallel with Stanford, Ircam, and MIT – a center for composition and computer music exploration. He has addressed the tradition with three symphonies, and four string quartets, works that have been performed internationally as well as in North America. Reynolds won early recognition with Fulbright, Guggenheim, NEA, and National Institute of Arts and Letters Awards. In 1989, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for a string orchestra composition, Whispers Out of Time, an extended work responding to John Ashbery’s ambitious Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Reynolds is author or three books and numerous journal articles. In 2009 he was appointed University Professor, the first artist so honored by University of California. His work has been featured at festivals including Warsaw Autumn, the Proms and Edinburgh Festivals (UK), the Suntory International Series and Music Today (Tokyo), and the Helsinki and Venice Biennales. The Library of Congress established a Special Collection of his work in 1998.
His nearly 100 compositions to date are published exclusively by the C.F. Peters Corporation, and several dozen CDs and DVDs of his work have been commercially released. Performances by the Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego Symphonies, among others, preceded the most recent large scale work written for the National Symphony in honor of our nation’s first president: george WASHINGTON. This work knits together the Reynolds’s career-long interest in orchestral music, text, extended musical forms, intermedia, and computer spatialization of sound.
Reynolds’s work embodies an American artistic idealism reflecting the influence of Varèse and Cage, and his music has also been compared with that of Boulez and Scelsi. Reynolds lives with his partner of 50 years, Karen, in Del Mar, California, overlooking the Pacific.