Gustave Le Gray



for solo piano

written for Amy J. Yang | premiered at Princeton University, May 2012



Chopin’s opus 17 A minor Mazurka is exquisite. The opening alone contains a potent poetic balance between the viscosity and density of the descending harmonic progression and the floating onion skin of the loose, chromatic melody above. Or, in fewer words – it’s very prosciutto and mint. When someone asks me, “So what is your music like?” – I’ll sometimes answer (depending on who’s asking), “Kind of like sashimi?” That is, it’s often made of chords and sequences presented in their raw, naked, preciously unadorned state – vividly fresh and new, yet utterly familiar. Chopin is a different type of chef. He covers much more harmonic real estate than I do, and his sequences are more varied and inventive. He weaves a textured narrative through his harmony that takes you through different characters and landscapes, whereas I’d sometimes be happy listening to a single well-framed, perfectly voiced triad. But the frame is the hard part – designing the perfectly attuned and legible internal system of logic and memory that is strong but subtle enough to support an authentic emotional experience of return. (Not to get all Proustian or anything.) In some way that I can’t really understand or articulate yet, photographs can do this with a remarkable economy of means. Translating that elusive syntax into music is an interesting challenge. Then again, sometimes music is just music. Gustave Le Gray is a multi-layered portrait of Op. 17 #4 using some of Chopin’s ingredients overlaid and hinged together with my own. It was written expressly for pianist Amy Yang, who is one of the truest artists I’ve ever met.