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Etudes (2011, rev. 2012)

for piano
duration: 22 minutes


Seven “studies” for piano, inspired by the great etudes I’ve always loved by Chopin, Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff with a little influence from Debussy and Ligeti too. Like most etudes, these are short works and of considerable technical difficulty. The set is dedicated to the memory of Lucille Dworshak, my wonderfully irrepressible first piano teacher, who introduced me to the Chopin etudes.

1. “Blue Jaunte” is a term (from the Alfred Bester novel The Stars My Destination) describing self-teleportation by mental process without knowing one’s ultimate destination, usually resulting in suicide. The etude, blue in its own way, features differing note groupings in both hands simultaneously, requiring putting one or both hands on autopilot.

2. "Counterfeits of the Past" takes its title from a passage in Les Misérables by Victor Hugo: "The counterfeits of the past take assumed names, and are fond of calling themselves the future." There are echoes of Chopin and Scriabin in this collage, sounding slightly out of place, old and new at the same time.

3. An homage in the form of variations to the great American composer Lou Harrison.

4. The Devil's Escalator - The title is an homage to György Ligeti's fiendishly difficult etude "The Devil's Staircase." Wouldn't it be just a little easier to have an Escalator, even if it occasionally starts and stops, reverses, or collapses like in the cartoons? The theme in the middle lyrical section is a source for some sections of the other etudes in the set, and makes an elaborate return in No. 7.

5. Thumbs & Thirds – pretty self-explanatory, although the thirds in the left hand frequently turn into tenths.

6. North Train - This etude, for its seeming simplicity, is actually very difficult, often requiring two hands to negotiate four simultaneous parts, while deftly using the sustain pedal to achieve a seamless effect during the cross-hand playing. The title recalls my feelings looking out the window riding the northbound train from London's St. Pancras station to Leicester every week to meet my teacher Gavin Bryars during my Fulbright year in England.

7. “I flew as in a dream…” – a beautiful line from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, I feel it captures the spirit of this etude, perhaps my favorite of the set. The romantic middle section elaborates on the lyrical theme first heard in the fourth Etude. I feel strong echoes of Chopin and Rachmaninoff in this concluding piece.

Listen & Watch

Etude No 1 "Blue Jaunte"
Rhonda Rizzo, piano
Live performance at the Coaster Theatre, Cannon Beach, OR.

Etude No 6 "North Train"
Rhonda Rizzo, piano
Live performance at the Coaster Theatre, Cannon Beach, OR.


Etude No 2: "Counterfeits of the Past" (MIDI)

Etude No 3: "Homage to Lou Harrison" (MIDI)

Etude No 4: "The Devil's Escalator" (MIDI)

Etude No 5: "Thumbs & Thirds" (MIDI)

Etude No 7: "I flew as in a dream..." (MIDI)

View Score