THREE BAGATELLES for solo piano
Program notes by the composer
My Three Bagatelles was written in 1963 and revised in 1971. Its three movements are based programmatically on legendary lovers appearing in Boccaccio's Decameron and compositionally on some twelve-tone techniques I was studying at that time. It was my original intention to complete twelve bagatelles, with ten based on the ten characters of the Boccaccio novel and the remaining two musical portraits of the married friends of mine, piano students at Juilliard at the time, who had asked me to write the work. For whatever reason (economic hardship?) my friends split up and divorced soon after I had completed the third movement. This event forced me to rethink the work in terms of a three- movement structure. Each of the three movements treats my original twelve-tone row in a different way.
The Decameron is a collection of one hundred stories told by a group of ten young Italian aristocrats -- seven ladies, three men -- who were forced to flee Florence during the 1348 plague and seek refuge in a country house for ten days, where they whiled away the time telling stories (ten days X ten persons = one hundred stories). At the end of each day, one of the ten characters sang a song detailing his or her attitudes toward life and love. It was my intention that the songs they sang would furnish not only the over-all character of each of my bagatelles, but serve as a guide to its form or structure as well.
Thus it was that the first movement, Emilia, describing a young woman twittering about her egocentric love for herself, might easily twitter as well, and could be cast in the so-called bar form A-A-B which, by definition, includes -- heaven forbid -- a long repeated section (rarely found in any twelve-tone after Webern), the better to describe her self- centered infatuation.
Lauretta, the second of the three movements, describes a young woman bemoaning the mistake she made in trading her single blessedness for the married state. This movement is strophic in design (verse-refrain-verse-refrain, etc.) with each verse (based on linear interpolations of the row) expressing Lauretta's more and more hysterical recitatives, the unchanging refrain (a harmonic treatment of the same material, decorated with Landini-type figurations) describing the six-voice "there, there" comfortings of the remaining ladies.
The third movement, Pamfilo, is a portrait of a young man so consumed by love's fire that it threatens to annihilate him. Here the twelve-tone row appears as the roots of a chordal progression serving as background to a rather diabolical chorale prelude in which the "chorale tune" is actually provided by a medieval drinking song from the Glogauer Liederbuch, "In Feurs Hitz," its accompaniment a gypsy-like cembalom texture out of whose turgid swirling densities surfacing from time to time such melodic fragments as "In a Persian Market," "Old Joe Clark," and the ever-popular "There's a Place in France . . . ," each partitioned by repetitions of a familiar melodic fragment occuring in works as diverse as Enesco's Rumanian Rhapsodies and Heifetz' Hora Staccato.