Click here to buy ON LIGHT WINGSKandinsky Trio: On Light Wings (OmniTone 15219) 
Program Notes for On Light Wings by Gunther Schuller
 
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      Natural Bridge by John D'earth
      Silent Faustus by John D'earth
      Piano Quartet ("On Light Wings") by Gunther Schuller

My Piano Quartet is one of many recent works in which my primary concern is with the forging of a recognizably personal harmonic (melodic) language.  For it seems to me that the rediscovery of a readily identifiable language, which can communicate all aspects of human expression, is what is most lacking in late twentieth-century music.  To me it borders on the miraculous that composers such as, say, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Dvorak, all using the same harmonic vocabulary (i.e., the same repertory of chords, for example), could nevertheless create a totally personal language, whereby one can never confuse one bar, one phrase of any one of these composers with one of the others!

Whether we can rediscover such personal vocabularies — dialects, accents, if you will — in our time remains questionable.  But that is out task, I believe, and whether audiences, after a seven-decade-long onslaught of a mostly amorphous impersonal atonality and innumerable detours of neo-movements of one kind or another (neo-classicism, neo-romanticism, neo-tonality, etc., etc.) would recognize and appreciate such a personal language nowadays is an even greater question.

The answer does not lie in neo-solutions.  I am not interested in "returning to tonality," for example.  Nor is "minimalism" a viable response to the problems of contemporary music, for it excludes too much.  I am interested in reclaiming many of the values and qualities of the past.

I think we must find our personal identity within the total existing pitch language, acquired over some seven hundred years of Western music history, including but not limited to that of atonality — just as Brahms and Tchaikovsky worked with the fullness of the acquired language of their time.  The answer lies not in reduction (as with the "minimalist" school) but in selectivity: the best choices out of a vast multiplicity, perhaps even infinity of options.
Thus the music in my Piano Quartet results not so much from "experimentation" or any kind of radical attempts at "originality," but rather from an urge to identify a personal language which will be recognizable (i.e., distinct from others) and also capable of communication to a relatively sophisticated audience.

The tempo markings of the Quartet’s four movements — Impromptu, Scherzo, Fantasia, Bagatelle (With Swing) — give a clear indication of the different moods and characteristics intended for each.  These are further modified by the over-all title On Light Wings, a metaphor for the work’s generally light character.  The last movement attempts once again to bring the strings into the world of modern jazz — an idiom to which this category of instruments (and instrumentalists) has been curiously resistant.

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