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Peter Willis: Auras - AUDIOEmbedded audio
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The title 'Auras' refers to the fields of energy around sounds. The three movements evoke different aspects of auras. The first and last movements explore piano harmonics while the second movement explores the 'shadow' effect of using the sustain pedal. Influenced by Debussy, I have given each movement a suggestive 'title' at the end: haloes, shadows, white light.
Performer note: The first and last movements require some piano keys to be held down silently at the beginning. This may be achieved through use of the middle (sostenuto) pedal, if this is available. Alternatively, objects may be placed on the keys. These should be of a length to cover the specified notes, and heavy enough to fully depress the notes. A soft cloth is required at the end of the work, to create a rapid glissando on the white keys.
The overall concept of this work is to explore piano harmonics in three contrasting movements. I was particularly influenced by the spectralist composers (for example, Tristan Murail, Gérard Grisey and Kaija Saariaho), who are interested in the harmonic overtone series and the physical properties of sound (frequency, duration, intensity, timbre) rather than the traditional western idea of musical development based on a motif. I was also influenced by Karheinz Stockhausen’s concept of ‘moment form’ where vertical slices are made through time, to create timeless moments. Moment form is especially apparent in the first movement, which has brief, viscerally intense gestures separated by long pauses, to allow time for the piano’s harmonic sounds to bloom, resonate and decay.
The second movement, which explores the ‘shadow’ effect of using the piano’s sustain pedal, is especially influenced by Debussy’s technique of harmonies moving in parallel motion (for example in ‘la cathedrale engloutie’ from the first book of piano preludes). These is much polytonal harmony here, with contrasting chords in the left and right hands, often with one hand playing a white note chord while the other hand plays a black note chord (for example in bar 1, the left hand plays an E flat minor chord in first inversion while the right hand plays an F major chord in second inversion). The effect of these juxtaposed harmonies combined with the sustain pedal is of moments morphing into each other, leaving trails of blurred memories.
In contrast with the quiet, introspective previous movement, the final movement has an intense, fast forward trajectory, and is especially influenced by Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. An opening ostinato on E7 in the piano’s highest register is accompanied by fast runs in the left hand using the E overtone scale (E, F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D, E). The right hand ostinato becomes a more dissonant chord at bar 33 (reminiscent of Bartok’s Ostinato 146 from Mikroksmos), while the left hand jumps around the keyboard in syncopated clusters. The ostinato breaks up at bar 43, with both hands dancing around the keys in varying cluster formations. A black and white note glissando near the end allows for a wide range of harmonics to be released from the piano’s strings.