From Maximal Minimalism to a New Romanticism
by Frank J. Oteri
by Frank J. Oteri
I first became acquainted with the music of Andrew Violette when Innova issued his massive three-hour long Piano Sonata No. 7, which blew my mind.
Violette's seamless balancing of the seemingly contradictory aesthetic impulses of minimalism and maximalism in the same work shouldn't work, but resoundingly does.
Of course, once I knew about Sonata No. 7, which was paired on innova's 3-CD (Innova 587) set with his spare, almost Webernian, merely fifteen-minute-long Sonata No. 1, I had to hear 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (Innova 641). I also had to track down the score, a meticulously handwritten (in these days!) knuckle-buster that ultimately put me as much in awe of Violette the pianist as Violette the composer.
But there's a long history of amazing keyboardist-composers: from Sweelinck, Buxtehude, and the Bachs (mostly J.S. and C.P.E.); to Domenico Scarlatti, Seixas, and Soler; to Chopin, Liszt, and Gottschalk; to Amy Beach, Busoni, Godowsky, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Medtner, and Samuil Feinberg; to Blind Tom Bethune, Scott Joplin, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, and Elmo Hope; and to Cecil Taylor, Terry Riley, Charlemagne Palestine, Blue "Gene" Tyranny, and Frederic Rzewski in our own place and time. Many were well-rounded composers for whom the keyboard provided an outlet for their most personal utterances. But others were so keyboard centric their other music, if any, somehow lacked the same drive.
So it was with great trepidation that I first approached Andrew Violette's latest composition, Rave, a multi-movement yet continuous 75-minute chamber work which blends acoustic and electronic instruments. But Violette ups the ante and then some here.
Equal parts Messiaen and prog rock, if you can imagine such a co-mingling, Violette's new sound world is simultaneously restless and strangely comforting. Indeed the piano is a major player here, but so are the other instruments: everyone is a virtuoso. Indeed, perhaps this is indeed the real departure point for a new romanticism: music that is as new as it is romantic.
Frank J. Oteri, a New York-based composer, is the American Music Center's composer advocate and the Founding Editor of its web magazine NewMusicBox