Time Tracks

As a pianist who performs contemporary music and works directly with composers as colleagues and friends, I have become increasingly intrigued by the issues with which composers contend in the musical expression of their thoughts. In extending this approach to music of previous generations, I have been inspired to discover the ways in which composers of traditional repertoire dealt with these same issues and ultimately employed compositional methods that also stretched the boundaries of what was considered possible to create a unique universe in each piece.

This approach has not only allowed me to view every piece as "contemporary", but has also affected my choices in programming. Searching for works that complement each other has repeatedly revealed kinships between pieces and composers that initially seemed unrelated. I have often found that composers, though from different eras and places, grapple with the same issues, often resolving them in similar ways.

The primary issue behind this collection of piano works is the structuring of time, hence the title Time Tracks. Its repertoire incorporates two extreme approaches to time: one, the approach that transcends it, as seen in the Beethoven and Curran, the other that specifically defines it both rhythmically and historically, embodied by the Granados and Nancarrow.

Both Beethoven and Curran are composers reckoning with mortality—Beethoven with his own, Curran with his recently deceased friend, Cornelius Cardew. Both pieces ultimately resolve this reckoning with a state of transcendence, and while one employs the late classical style and the other late 20th century minimalism, they share a surprising number of elements.

Beethoven structures the Sonata Op. 109 in three movements. The first movement alternates between two themes, one that ripples along, the other that interrupts with strange harmonic and dynamic outbursts, as if creating a dichotomy between the search for harmony in the universe and the struggle with life and its emotional dissonance here on earth. The second movement cots the first movement short, giving in completely to the severity and struggle hinted at in the first movement. It isn't until the third movement, beginning with a hymn-like theme followed by a set of variations, that Beethoven makes his way back to the calm that will lead to spiritual peace. When the hymn reemerges as the final gesture of this work, it is truly with a sense that Beethoven has achieved a connection with the sublime.

Like the Beethoven, Alvin Curran's Far Cornelius (1983) has three sections. The piece begins with a bittersweet melody (reminiscent of Cardew's later piano music) which emerges haltingly as it occasionally drifts off to strange harmonic and arhythmic asides. This sets the stage for Part II, in which the harmonic and rhythmic elements completely dominate, as consonant pulsating chords create a wash of sound that suspends time rather than tracks it. The chords start not being largely based on A and F# minor triads hot become increasingly dissonant until there is a breaking point both musically and emotionally. This phenomenon is similar to that found in Beethoven's third movement, in which the last variation culminates in long pedal points and swirls of sound through trill passages that ultimately transcend time. As Beethoven does in returning to his hymn-like theme after his finale reaches its breaking point, so does Curran follow his finale with a hymn that provides consolation after the dissonance. In it, he reiterates the main harmonic progression from A to F# minor, but ultimately returns to A, allowing closure for both the piece and the grieving process.

The Granados and Nancarrow also share many elements. Both of these pieces establish a strong rhythmic underpinning that is rooted in real time and conjures up images of specific times and places. The strong rhythmic definition for both stems from the influence of Spanish music and its steely adherence to strong metrical patterns.

In the Goyescas, the Spanish romantic composer Granados looks to the paintings of Goya for inspiration. As Goya powerfully depicts Spanish life in his paintings, so Granados captures images in sound, incorporating the melodies, harmonies and rhythms of his native folk music into lush pianistic writing. In Lament or the Maiden and the Nightingale, Granados depicts a solitary woman alone in the evening, with only a nightingale to which to reveal her despair. The Fandango by Lamplight is also a night scene, using the characteristic rhythm and bassline of the popular Spanish dance as its basis, from which it episodically strays but to which it inevitably returns.

Although Conlon Nancarrow was born in America, he was influenced by Spanish themes at an early age and chose in 1937 to fight in the Spanish Civil War. He then returned to live in Mexico where he still resides. His rhythmic integrity originated from his Spanish and jazz backgrounds. To afford himself greater freedom in exploring complex rhythmic patterns, he composed primarily for the player piano at that time, bypassing the need for the performer. While the Two Canons for Ursula (1981) are written for human hands, there is a sense, as the canons unwind, that the pianist is part machine. These pieces are jazzy and witty. Part of the wit comes from each hand playing the same tune as the other but moving at different rates of speed, as indicated by the ratio next to the title. It almost becomes a riddle to see and hear how the hands do or don't match as these differing tempi occur simultaneously.

Regardless of when or where a musical composition is conceived, every composer faces the question of how to structure sound in time. Although this particular program seems at first glance to be half traditional and half contemporary, as the individual characters emerge, the truer grouping is that each traditional piece has a contemporary companion, and each traditional/contemporary pair is defined by almost opposite uses of time.

—Jeanne Golan

Pianist Jeanne Golan has become known for her performances of 20th-century music and innovative programming that combine classical and contemporary works in unique ways. This CD is one such typically atypical project.

Actively involved in the fostering of works by new composers, Miss Golan has commissioned and premiered Waterlilies by American composer Tom Cipullo. She has also given premieres of works by Chris Culpo, Theodore Wiprud, Nancy Goon and Richard Cornell, as well as promoting the works of Daron Hagen, Bruce Saylor and Frederic Rzewski.

In New York, Miss Golan has worked with the Philip Glass Ensemble on Einstein on the Beach and is a regularly featured performer on WNYC Radio's Around New York and with the Friends and Enemies of New Music. She has played with the Lark Quartet at the Danny Kaye Playhouse and in a live radio broadcast on WQXR from the Kosciusko Foundation Chamber Music Series. Additional chamber music appearances have included concerts with the Cavani and Harrington Quartets at the Yale-Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, and collaborations with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Miss Golan's other engagements have included solo appearances with the Greenwich Symphony Orchestra and the Hunter Symphony in Manhattan and recitals throughout her native New England. In Europe, she has performed at the Yale Club of London and at the Rotterdam Conservatory in The Netherlands.

Miss Golan earned her Masters and Doctorate of Musical Arts degrees from the Eastman School of Music. While at Eastman, she worked extensively in the studios of the Cleveland Quartet and the late Jan DeGaetani. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University where she graduated with Distinction in Music. Miss Golan's guiding forces at the piano have been Patricia Zander and Claude Frank.

A gifted and dedicated teacher, Miss Golan has served on the faculties of Hunter College, The New School, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and Third Street Music School. From 1988 to 90, she directed the Chamber Music Program of the New York Youth Symphony. Miss Golan is currently Professor of Music at Bard College in upstate New York.


P.O. Box 5011, Albany, NY 12205

Tel: 518.453.2203 FAX: 518.453.2205


Box 12, Warton, Carnforth, Lancashire LA5 9PD

Tel: 0524 735873 FAX: 0524 736448


© 1996 Jeanne Golan