Listen to “Five Poems, Four Hands – Inside Work (for Pandit Pran Nath)” from 5:4
W. A. Mathieu, composer, piano
Kirk Whipple, piano
Marilyn Morales, piano
The album title means several things. The primary meaning refers to the harmony of major thirds, the sweet spot of our musicial ear. Major thirds give music some of its juiciest nourishment, its most affective resonances. In such a harmony, the higher tone vibrates five times for every four times the lower tone vibrates. This relationship is expressed numerically as the ratio 5:4.
There’s a personal meaning as well. For some time I’ve had the impulse to compose a piece in honor of my teachers, a kind of musical thank you reflecting some aspect of each teacher’s influence on my work. Writing a four-hand suite for piano presented itself as an ideal opportunity, and when I counted up the teachers’ pieces there were five — with four hands to play them.
One more reference. In duo piano playing, a primary aesthetic comes from the intrinsic nature of the act itself: two people sitting closely together, their arms and fingers intimately coordinated, their entire beings in harmonic resonance — not unlike those rich 5:4 harmonies that permeate the music presented here.
Five Poems / Four Hands
The first movement, It Takes Two, is dedicated to Easley Blackwood, with whom I studied intensively in the early 60s. With great generosity he guided me to a sense of discipline and a love of craft for which I’m continually grateful.
The second movement, Ancestors, is for Hamza El Din, whom I met in the early 70s. Although I was never his formal student, over the years I was able to receive, heart-to-heart, his ancient and celebratory way of making music. Every note he played and sang was inclusive of his Nubian lineage, his family, his village, his people, and the people of the world. I spent many long hours listening to him play, knowing that it would be enough for me to learn to make music from such a connective space.
Inside Work is dedicated to Pandit Pran Nath, my formal teacher of raga. I studied with him from the early 70s until his passing in 1996, and took initiation as his disciple in 1986. He gave me the deepest understanding of harmony, the kind that begins with tones and radiates throughout the world. He would often say, during a lesson, “This is inside work.” Afterwards, we would sit simply, in the silence of our hearts.
Since the early 60s I’ve had a deep admiration for the wild discipline of Cecil Taylor’s music. His solo performances unfold as if he were always considering various values against another, and the resulting dialectic draws you in. Hence the title of the fourth movement, Weighing the Question.
Terry Riley and I have known each other since the early 70s and have shared our music and our big and little views frequently over that period. I think he is one of our greatest composers, and the music he plays and composes has become my guide and my delight. Musical invention aside, he is a model of Jupiterian, inclusive joy, and so The Whole Village is for him.
Five Poems / Four Hands relies on the strategies of modulating modal harmony — modes (often less familiar than conventional major and minor) that intermingle with one another in ever-surprising and affective ways. Cross rhythms are abundant, as are many contrasts between polyphonic and monophonic textures.
– W. A. M.
When we first read through the manuscript of Five Poems / Four Hands, we discovered an epic tapestry of styles, harmonic and modal invention, world rhythms, a deep attention to form, and the great arc of the work. We immediately agreed to premier and record the piece. Kirk and Allaudin coordinated a performers’ edition. In 2010 we were on the jury of the International Piano Duo Competition in Valberg, France, and premiered the piece to an engaged and enthusiastic audience.
As performers, we find Five Poems to be one of the most rewarding musical challenges of our career. The complexity and craft in this work will challenge any advanced professional duo, yet the musical reward is most extraordinary. W. A. Mathieu has raised the bar for composers of piano ensemble music in this century, and we are proud to have helped him bring this masterpiece to life.
– K. W. & M. M.
The Poet Variations
We composers who love harmony more (almost) than ourselves recognize one another, and ever since I first heard his Piano Concerto, I’ve honored Schumann as one of my most revered Harmonic Ancestors. The urge to compose a set of variations on a Schumann theme has merged with the urge to write a piece for the copious romanticism of Marilyn Morales — let Marilyn herself tell the rest.
– W. A. M.
At the same time that Kirk and I were premiering Five Poems / Four Hands in Valberg, I told Allaudin how much I love Schumann. He turned to me and said that he was going to write a piece for me on a theme by Schumann. As I learned the piece, I was delighted to realize how Allaudin placed his highly original signature upon this lovely theme, The Poet Speaks. I feel that he has captured many facets of Schumann’s spirit in the variations, each of which has its distinct personality. The opening variation feels like poetic metaphors of the theme, dancing around the original message like a first date. The middle variation is childlike in its playfulness. And the last variation is heartfelt without being indulgent — romanticism at its best. The Poet Variations is a joy to play, and I look forward to every opportunity I have to share it with audiences.
– M. M.
Four Improvisations / Twenty Fingers
Since Kirk and I are both improvisers and composers, we recognize how compositions benefit from sounding spontaneous; we also enjoy the heady rewards of compositional improvisation. We find extemporizing with four hands at one keyboard to be the very definition of high times, and have accordingly included a few improvisations as a digestif for the serious art that precedes them.
– W. A. M & K. W.
Kirk Whipple, born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, won second prize in the international 2013 A. G. Bakhchiev Piano Ensemble Competition in Moscow; was awarded the prestigious 2007 State of Florida Music Fellowship in Jazz Composition; and received first prize in the (San Francisco) Bay Area Keyboard Artists Competition. He studied piano with Darlene Bradley-Garza, Frances Kelly, Mark Wetch, Roy Bogas, John Browning and James Barbagallo; African drumming with Kwaku Daddy; and has studied and collaborated extensively with W. A. Mathieu. He has performed in solo recitals and concerts throughout the United States and Europe.
Marilyn Morales, a native of Havana, Cuba, has a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Boston University and an associate’s degree from Miami Dade College. She studied piano with Maria Clodes Jaguaribe, Roy Bogas, Linda Byrd, and Bela B. Nagy, and has taken master classes with Michael Tilson Thomas and Claude Monteau. She has performed in solo recitals and concerts throughout the United States and Europe. (Please visit the duo online at Facebook.com/WhippleMorales)
Kirk Whipple and Marilyn Morales, duo and solo pianists and composers, are on the Kennedy Center Approved Artist Roster; and are the executive and artistic directors of The Unconservatory, a national nonprofit musical organization; and Cranberry Coast Concerts, an annual summer music festival in Cape Cod. They have concertized extensively throughout the United States and abroad, including concert tours throughout the French Riviera and, with pianists Frédéric Chauvel and Mark Solé-Lerís, with whom they formed The United Nations Piano Quartet. (Please visit Unconservatory.org)