Piece by Piece: Piano Patterns #1 (Pop Snacks), Winter, and Recital Highlights
On March 29th, I happily joined some of my fellow music school peers in a performance various works composed by Richie Arndorfer for his recital. Everything from solo piano to mixed-instrument chamber ensemble is included, and it served as a great display of Arndorfer’s growth at GVSU, especially since it followed his senior oboe recital (which I was also happy to participate in by accompanying him on Winter’s Passed by Wayne Barlow). In this article, we will focus on the story behind the works for solo piano I performed, because crafting a piece is much more work and thought than can be expressed in a program note.
The first piece I performed on the program was one previously premiered at Die Bibliomusik in the fall of 2014, with additional performances at GVSU’s Student Recital Hour and a recording made for Arndorfer’s graduate school portfolios. Piano Patterns #1 (Pop Snacks) was constructed during one summer night when he had drank “way too much coffee” and proceeded to play piano for the next 4 hours. With this extra burst of energy, he set to performing only on the black keys for the majority of the session. The work capitalizes on the piano’s half-pedaling technique and the fact that amidst a constant pattern of sixteenth notes the performer can naturally highlight the changes in the repetition. This short work sparks delight in the audience, taking a couple minutes to express a cheerful, simple pattern that changes over time in true minimalist fashion.
The next piece I played on the program was titled Winter, a piece broken up into three distinct movements for solo piano, all detailing different aspects of this particular season. It was first arranged as a trio for oboe, vibraphone, and violin, with each movement based on the concept of light, focusing in on a particular spectrum, including infrared and ultraviolet. Once the parts were work-shopped with the instrumentalists involved in that trio, Arndorfer decided to explore other possibilities in arranging the music. At his oboe recital during the same evening, these movements were premiered as an arrangement, titled Spectroscope, for vibraphone, two violins, clarinet, and oboe. However, when set to piano, it begins to take on a different appearance than the trio or quintet arrangements, prompting Arndorfer’s decision to shift the themes to those involving elements of winter. What also worked well was the inclusion of a projection related to the piece that was created by GVSU alumni and composer John Jansen. This visual element paired nicely with the music, changing to match the different themes of each movement.
The first movement, frigoric, is based off of the original trio arrangement of Spectrum, and it details the mood during a day blanketed lightly by snowfall. The steady, walking pace of the piece expresses the imagery surrounding a snowfall in nature or a quiet village. For performers and listeners alike, it is about indulging in the subtle changes found in the harmonic progression and delighting in imagery found in the piece. With the pedal held down for the majority of the piece, it serves to accent the natural acoustics of the piano and really create a wash effect with the different harmonies.
The next movement is a fast flurry of notes detailing a violent snow storm. The work is titled Hyperborean, named after the mythological Greek race that lived “beyond the North Wind” in a perfect land modern historians observe to be somewhere around the Arctic Circle. One can imagine the storm as a sort of barrier to the lands the Hyperboreans occupy. Originally titled Infared for the trio arrangement, this movement pushes the harmonic “wash-effect” shown in the first movement by speeding up the tempo and the frequency of harmonic changes. This triple-meter, driving harmonic engine has piercing attacks on high and low ends of the piano that act as markers for moments of change in the piece. The notes in the piece were pulled out of a numeric system Arndorfer drafted to find a unique way to construct a piece. Each of the twelve pitches has a number, starting on number 4 with the note “C.” The number dictates how many repetitions of the note can occur in the rhythmic engine, offering a compositional device for focused, creative limitations. The work flies by, requiring great energy from the performer and not allowing the listener to grab onto anything musical for too long, keeping their interest in spite of the blatant dissonances that come up from constantly hammering different chords with the sustain pedal down.
Unlike the previous movements, he first arranged Ultraviolet into a work for solo piano. Now entitled We Sat Around in a Torpid State, it is a piece I premiered at one of the Die Bibliomusik permutations last fall. This was also the first movement written to highlight different aspects of winter, prompting the other movements to be tailored to this idea. Following a fast, loud, dissonant piece, this movement is slow and lethargic, showing the hibernation that accompanies winter. The piece takes advantage of the piano’s ability to create distinct timbres through sustaining long chords in a higher register, capitalizing on the frigid sounds that liken to the icy landscape found during winter. For the performer and audience member alike, it is a piece that freezes you in time, relieving the tension of the previous movement. The natural reverb found in the body of a grand piano paired with focused changes in the harmonic progression, drawing out each change with the sustain pedal held throughout the piece. Paired with a fitting projection of a light snowfall by a park bench placed in the woods, one can easily place themselves in that landscape, seated on that bench indulging in the elements of nature.
Overall, Richie Arndorfer’s compositional recital was a success! Aside from the piano works performed, there were a great display in compositional ideas presented. Taos, Waiting, a piece for oboe, clarinet, viola, and percussion, conducted by Arndorfer, kicked off the program. The combination of various unresolved harmonies with alternating sections of frantic runs and meditative moments of calm displayed a great range in his compositional style, making use of different instrument combinations to create some great musical moods and moments. “Basket Case,” a duet for marimba and vibraphone, focuses on reading music fixed to a literal basket that gets rotated over the duration of the performance, offering new musical combinations for the performers involved. Another unconventional ensemble piece presented was the Meijer Bag of Mystery, a piece that has expanded in variety, ensemble size, and has improved with each performance at Die Bibliomusik, Student Recital Hour, and the Hour of Mystery event dedicated to this work and other Aleatoric pieces. It features a mixed ensemble of flute, oboe, tenor saxophone, marimba, vibraphone, violin, viola, electric bass, and tuba, with Arndorfer conducting the group through a variety of compositional techniques. Using different player parts containing musical motifs set to a number, a literal Meijer bag filled with numbers to draw at random, cued transitional material, and recalled memory snapshots fixed also to numbers (using “Sound Painting” techniques), this piece displays a huge range of creativity. It’s very spontaneous and filled with variety, including cues to use extended techniques and to discuss different topics between ensemble members and to the audience. The final piece, Hydrogenated Oils for solo marimba, shows the great aspects of 12-tone writing that can flex one’s compositional muscles while being well-received by a general audience.
Richie Arndorfer owned March 29th, both on oboe and as a composer. The difficulty and variety in his performance recital shows his proficiency on the instrument, while his composition recital program shows his imagination in arranging and scoring works, his desire for collaboration, and his delight in the unconventional. When the video/audio becomes available, it will definitely be posted on this page for your viewing pleasure, and I highly encourage you to check it out!
To read a little more about Richie or some of the other events described, check out these links:
Composer Feature: https://dutchersnedeker.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/student-composer-richie-ardornfer-solo-piano-works/
Die Bibliomusik: https://dutchersnedeker.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/die-bibliomusik-series-at-mary-idema-pew-library/