Donald Martino



Donald Martino


Twelve Preludes


Impromptu for Roger


Piano Fantasy


Fantasies and Impromptus


David Holzman, piano






The Piano Music of Donald Martino




Much as an individual's character is formed relatively early and remains largely constant, a musical personality is recognizable throughout a composer's career. Yet, just as a trait can mellow or harden through one's life, so too a musical trait can grow harsher, soften, or recede largely to the background, other traits assuming stronger roles.




Donald Martino's complex musical personality has been a major part of my keyboard concerns for several years and, as I have grappled with his keyboard masterpieces, I have developed a feel for his musical character an exhilarating journey of musical discovery and a voyage of self-discovery as well.




Martino's art centers around two coordinate traits. First is an intensely expressive line. Harmony and polyphony serve largely to enhance a central voice and color (i.e. touch) serves structural and expressive ends as a backdrop or commentary. There is nothing "impressionistic" about this music. As David Burge wrote: "Martino's 'mysteries' are the fluctuating emotions of living, feeling souls."




In his three major works for piano solo, of which the last two are presented here, there is a gradual mellowing of line. The disjunct bravado lines of his monumental sonata Pianississimo (1970), (Albany Records, TROY168) which have roots in his earlier Piano Fantasy (1958)and are still present in Impromptu for Roger (1977) become less common in later work and the conjunct, fluid lines of Fantasies and Impromptus (1981) become symmetric phrases in some of the Preludes (1991). Martino's love of the Romantics, especially Schumann, is evident throughout his work from the climactic reverie of Pianississimo to the first Omaggio of Fantasies and Impromptus, whose meshing of melody and accompaniment is a token of affection for Dichterliebe, to small sections of many of the Preludes where, in the midst of complex passagework, a simple line will interrupt a memory of another time.




The other central trait of Martino's music is organic form. Martino describes his works as "narratives," and, in a narrative, one seldom does more than pause for breath or to emphasize one's point. Martino wraps the pure sonata structure of Pianississimo in a vast assortment of transitions cadenzas, recitatives, metric modulations, remembrances as a way of achieving structural fluidity. This becomes further mellowed in Fantasies and Impromptus where individual Impromptus slowly create transitions between the three poles of the work, each a complex metamorphosis of a classical form (sonata, variations, rondo). It is utterly convincing in an almost Joycean manner and creates an arch that is beautiful in itself.




In the Preludes, this means of transition is taken a step further something foreshadowed in a few of the Impromptus. Pieces proceed now by a kind of "emotional modulation." Moods are tints and one is carried along by emotional vagaries rather than by purely musical devices such as transitions or even cadences. The very first Prelude presents this clearly and gently.




Perhaps as a result of the above, formal elegance is accompanied by an emotional inelegance at times which is Martino's recognition of, and laughing at, the rather coarse world, musical and otherwise, which surrounds us all. Instead of the stately dance that forms the high point of the second Fantasy, or the elegant episode in the middle of the slow movement of Pianississimo, one finds in the Preludes echoes of jazz bands or Latin rhythms, and a feeling of waltz is pervasive.




The passion and fierce conviction of Pianississimo gives way to the more introspective and nostalgic Fantasies and Impromptus which, though equally brilliant and demanding, is rhythmically less complex and more purely pianistic. Finally, a decade later, introspection itself expands to take the world into its embrace. In the four works heard here one can trace Martino's creative search, over a thirty year span, for a wedding of the flamboyance of his gestures to the coherence of his often-complex shapes.




The Piano Fantasy provides an early example. Its four large sections (with a reprise of the opening) resemble nothing so much as Italian opera. The opening recitativo leads to a comic duet, one hand futilely stumbling after the other. The center of the work is a soprano aria whose strands gradually coalesce into the dizzy presto-finale which is perhaps nothing so much as jazz Rossini. A nostalgic glance back at the opening provides a lyric, if somewhat quizzical ending.




Impromptu for Roger (for Roger Sessions' 80th birthday), with its wide-spread "tickling" of all the keys, could on first hearing be perceived as "pointillistic." It is however, typically, one endless line, harmonically virtually unadorned but colored by harmonics and fast arabesques.




No work reflects Martino's concerns for line, fluidity of form and "stream-of-consciousness" more strongly than Fantasies and Impromptus (A Koussevitsky Foundation Commission). And no work of Martino's is so clearly rooted in his love of 19th Century Romanticism. All the sharp contrasts and rhythmic complexities of his earlier works are finally subsumed beneath the warmth of the harmonies and the personally expressive, richly vocal lines which veer continually towards the surface.




Despite the description of the three Fantasies in technically formal terms, the expressive volatility and organic form utterly overwhelm any sense of the vast thematic blocks of these movements. In the opening Fantasy the rhetorical heights of the beginning slowly dissolve via two way stations to the intimacies of the "second theme" and, after a slight premonition, to the dance rhythms that follow.




The first three Impromptus, with their openly melodic style (sequences and symmetrical phrases are not abjured) and idiomatic pianism, group themselves together to form their own fantastical structure whose colors and lines melt into each other without pause, forming a bridge to the central Fantasy. Martino described this pivotal movement as follows: "The centrally placed Fantasy begins as a meditation: time is suspended. But as the variation process unfolds, as time is filled with more and more notes, melodic fragments emerge, coalescing about midway into long melodic lines."




After a pause, the colors and emotions of the second bridge of Impromptus gradually converge to lead in a remarkably slow but certain stream towards the rhythmic and melodic delights of the ultimate Fantasy.




Twelve Preludes was commissioned by the Network for New Music and WGBH-Boston for several pianists, including David Holzman. While inspired principally by the Chopin Preludes, Martino's Preludes have an even more contemporary edge than the Fantasies and Impromptus. The 8th Prelude opens with a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders and the lyrical opening of the First Prelude is ironically contradicted within three measures. The artifacts of our culture are artfully subsumed into the work which is still technically demanding for performer and intensive for the listener (one hearing will probably not suffice


to recognize his allusions). The rhetoric of the 2nd Prelude (an harmonic leitmotif) is gradually transformed into a single voice not crying out in the wilderness, but attempting a feeble dance with enough hint of syncopation to show who is dancing. The waltz-like opening of the 3rd Prelude fans out in several directions from a slower and coarser folk-dance to the brilliant cadenzas with complex rhythmic interactions to the intense lamenting line which forms the climax. The 5th Prelude, which conjures up Chopin's G Major Prelude uses a structural technique common to all the works. But what was previously heard as transition is now heard as avant-garde jazz demanding a combination of delicacy and crudeness, formally complete within itself.




The "stream-of-consciousness" is still present but the more abrupt alterations of mood within each piece are largely muted. One senses a generally polite dialogue between two or, at times, three friends. As a result, the individual Preludes themselves form distinct colors which trace a two-part journey from the lyricism of the opening to the landler-like close. Preludes Part I are six different moods which impose themselves upon the previous mood, at times forcefully as 2 upon 1, or more politely as 3 upon 2. In Part II the process becomes ever-subtler as from 7 to 8, and one is virtually unaware of the slow motivic and expressive shift that connects the penultimate to the ultimate Prelude. While Chopin reaches a stormy apotheosis in his final Prelude, Martino returns to the pleasures and, at times, ironic wit of dance. Colorful guitar chords augment the Latin rhythms which veer onto the soundscape amidst the Viennese rhythms which provide the opening and close.




One must savor all of a person's life. The wit and neo-classicism of Fantasy is that of a portrait of the artist as a young man. The brilliance and intensity of Pianississimo is that of a creator recognizing himself and his worth. The lyricism and fantasy of Fantasies and Impromptus is that of a man turning inward. The Preludes are the work of a man whose inner search is full and who can now incorporate the mundanity he sees around him into his art. While one may feel closer to one work or another, we should be grateful for the transformation that allows us these diverse and individual masterpieces.




As a performer, Martino's music has confirmed my own values: intensity of expression and subtlety of motion are perhaps the highest musical good, and difficulty of execution is a blessing, hidden or not. Utter freedom of expression within such complexities is the nearest possible approach to musical "truth" and the effort entailed provides one with a wiser perspective on all of life's concerns.




David Holzman




Donald Martino




Donald Martino, born in Plainfield, New Jersey, May 16, 1931, began music lessons at nine learning to play the clarinet, saxophone, and oboe and started composing at 15. He attended Syracuse and Princeton universities. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, his many awards include two Fulbright scholarships, three Guggenheim fellowships, grants from the Massachusetts Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, the 1974 Pulitzer Prize in music for his chamber work Notturno, First Prize in the 1985 Kennedy Center Friedheim Competition for his String Quartet (1983), and most recently (1987) the Boston Symphony's Mark M. Horblit Award. He has taught at the Third Street Music School Settlement in New York, Princeton University, Yale University, the Yale Summer School of Music and Art, Tanglewood, the New England Conservatory of Music, where he was chairman of the composition department from 1969-79, Brandeis University, where he was Irving Fine Professor of Music, and Harvard University, where he is currently Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music Emeritus. Commissions for new works have come from, among others, the Paderewski Fund; the Fromm, Naumburg, Koussevitzky, and Coolidge foundations; the Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco Symphonies; and a number of musical societies and organizations. Elaine Barkin, Mr. Martino's biographer in the New Grove, says, "Martino's music has been characterized as expansive, dense, lucid, dramatic, romantic, all of which are applicable. But it is his abilityto conjure up for the listener a world of palpable presences and conceptionsthat seems most remarkable."






David Holzman




Prize-winning pianist David Holzman has performed the 20th century's most challenging masterpieces throughout the United States and abroad. He has premiered works by more than 100 composers from around the world.




Holzman studied at the Mannes College of Music in New York with Paul Jacobs and completed his studies with Nadia Reisenberg. Early in his career he was active as an ensemble musician, playing with most of New York's major ensembles under such conductors as Gerard Schwarz, Arthur Weisberg, and Charles Wuorinen.




He began his solo career in the 1980s and has earned consistent praise for his virtuoso performances. Andrew Porter, writing in The New Yorker, has described him as a "master pianist." Holzman's all-Martino recital was chosen by The New York Times as one of the highlights of the 1991 concert season. His first solo recording on CRI Records, featuring Stefan Wolpe's Battle Piece, was called "one of the great piano discs of the decade by New York Magazine. Richard Taruskin of Opus Magazine described the recording as "an experience you owe yourself. You'll never forget it."




Holzman has performed live radio programs on such stations as New York's WNYC. In May 1993, his recording of Donald Martino's 12 Preludes was chosen by WGBH as one of the first selections to be syndicated worldwide through American Public Radio's "Art of the States" program; the recording is already being heard on radio stations in more than 100 participating countries. His album of previously unrecorded works by Stefan Wolpe, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and Raoul Pleskow was released in 1994 on the Centaur label.




David Holzman has participated as both performer and lecturer at festivals including the first-ever Wolpe Festival, held in Toronto, Canada. In 1994, David Holzman traveled to Germany where he both performed and lectured as an artist-in-residence at the Darmstadt International Music Festival. He was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a recording of five new American piano works that will appear on the Centaur label.




Engineer: Joel Gordon · Assistant Engineer: George Kawamoto ·Recorded in 1994 at Paine Hall, Harvard University.




Twelve Preludes, Fantasies & Impromptus and Impromptu for Roger are published by Dantalian, Inc. Piano Fantasy is published by E.C. Schirmer Music Co.




Photograph of David Holzman by George Wachtel.






Donald Martino




David Holzman, piano




Twelve Preludes for Piano Solo (1991)




Part I




Adagio con moto, (1:10)




Drammatico (introduction): Doppio movimento, (1:10))




Andantino, (1:59)




Adagio sentimentale Adagietto (coda), (1:48)




Il più presto possible Meno (coda), (:56)




Presto Andantino Prestissimo; (1:13)




Part II




Poco adagio,




Allegretto, (3:01)








Allegretto (introduction): Allegretto, (4:23)








Allegretto gioioso Cantabile


Andantino Allegretto grazioso (codetta). (6:01)






Impromptu for Roger (1977) (2:06)




Piano Fantasy (1958) (5:31)




Fantasies and Impromptus for Solo Piano (1981)




Fantasy (Maestoso) (5:44)




Impromptu (Sospeso)




Impromptu (Giocoso) (2:54)




Impromptu (Omaggio) (4:19)




Fantasy (Meditativo) (8:18)




Impromptu (Tempo rubato)




Impromptu (Omaggio)




Impromptu (Tempo di cadenza)




Fantasy (Drammatico) (11:04)






TOTAL TIME = 61:47