Kyle Gann: Surrealities (2012-13)

For my 57th birthday my wife gave me a three-octave toy piano (F to F). I was in the mood to work out some ideas within extreme limitations, so I wrote these pieces for it - plus, I wanted an upgrade from my last toy piano piece, Paris Intermezzo of 1989. Here each movement is based on some idea, or juxtaposition of ideas, that shouldn't work, and I wanted to make it work regardless. Bitonality is common, and the French composer Darius Milhaud was much on my mind. The seven pieces are:

Axioms of the Wind
Deep Denial
Disaggregated Harmonies
Circling the Horizon
Unaccommodating Polka
Incommensurate Quantities
Mistimed Adieu

For "Axioms of the Wind" I came up with a series of rapid figures that I could play quickly on the toy piano, despite its rather clunky mechanism. In "Deep Denial," the left hand is in A major, but the disbelieving right hand flips truculently between F# major and C major, and in desperation tries out E-flat at one point. "Disaggregated Harmonies" is a canon at the major seventh, in which the complete harmonies result from the collision of the two lines; the main idea bears a certain resemblance to a piece from Schoenberg's Op. 19, but no homage was intended. Likewise, "Circling the Horizon" is not meant as a reference to the karate move of that name; one hand goes through the entire range of keys while the other stays put in B major. The "Unaccommodating Polka" is bimodal, with C natural minor pitted against C Lydian, and the tune tries to maintain a fragile symmetry against shrinking meters of 13, 11, 9, 7. "Incommensurate Quantities" is a bitonal canon at the diminished fourth that nevertheless manages to obey the strictest rules of counterpoint. And "Mistimed Adieu" wafts through sad melodies that are never in the same meter as the ostinati that accompany them.

The piece is dedicated to Nancy.

- Kyle Gann

Duration: 17 minutes

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