Listen to “A Wedding Sonata for Two Pianos (Movement 3)” from Three Compositions for Piano

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Gourd Music

Gourds have a fond place in my heart. When used for musical instruments, they provide a resonant space that amplifies the sound and reminds you of hollow growing things. Two instruments that rely on gourds to speak for them have changed my musical life: the tamboura of India and the mbira of Africa. A tamboura is a long-necked instrument with a large gourd resonator, strung with four strings and used for the ever-present drone of Indian music. Mbiras, which are played recessed within the cavity of a large gourd, are thought of by some westerners as a kind of hand-held piano — indeed, we have named them “thumb pianos.” I sometimes think of my piano as a large mbira with the sound-box acting as a giant gourd: a grand mbiano.

Shiva Weather

I’d thought to make a long dovetail multitrack piece quickly, so as to preserve an improvisational feel, and then doctor and clean up the tracks carefully until voila! I would have a spontaneous-sounding piece full of polyphonic and textural detail, which is an enduring compositional ideal of mine. The experience reminded me that when you’re making art, both creative and destructive forces appear unexpectedly and blend into one another like changes in the weather. The title is a bow to Shiva, god of what arises and of what falls away.

A Wedding Sonata for Two Pianos

There is something about the aesthetic of typical piano duo literature that bothers me — too many notes, especially octaves, too awkward sounding, noisy, overwritten. For A Wedding Sonata, I tried to orchestrate the piano parts like a dialogue between true friends, where accommodation is always being made. As in the other pieces on this album, mbira-type cross-rhythms and modulating modality are prevalent in A Wedding Sonata. The form follows roughly the three-movement form of the classical sonata allegro, with interrelating, developing, and recapitulating themes in the first movement. The second movement is a song-like spinning out of orchestrated melody. The third movement is a rondo-like capricious dance.