Program Notes to Fine, Gideon, and Talma

[page 1]


Alleluia in Form of Toccata (composed by Louise Talma, performed by Ethan Iverson)

Suite No. 3 (composed by Miriam Gideon, performed by Ethan Iverson)

Sinfonia and Fugato (composed by Vivian Fine, performed by Ethan Iverson)

Sonata for Piano (composed by Miriam Gideon, performed by John Kamitsuka)

1. Veiled Destinies

2. Night, The Shadow of Light

3. Rapid and Footless Herds

Piano Sonata No. 1 (composed by Louise Talma, performed by Gregg Kallor)

1. Largo-Allegretto

2. Larghetto

3. Presto


Piano Sonata No.2 (composed by Louise Talma, performed by Hiroko Sasaki)

1. Allegro

2. Tranquillo

3. Allegro Molto Vivace

4. Allegro Energico

Double Variations (composed by Vivian Fine, performed by Jeffrey Farrington)

Of Shadows Numberless (composed by Miriam Gideon, performed by Jeremy Siskind)

Alleluia in Form of Toccata (composed by Louise Talma, performed by Ethan Iverson)


[page 2]

Alleluia in Form of Toccata (Louise Talma,1945) After a brief herald of bells, a syncopated perpetual mobile commences its cheerful but tightly-structured course. Talma called it “a tonic to encourage optimism.” Despite a history of success in recitals, this piece unfortunately remains on the fringe of the literature. When I played it in my lesson for Sophia, she hadn’t heard it since she encouraged Ray Lev play it at Carnegie Hall in 1945! It was Sophia’s request to have this recital both begin and end with the “Alleluia.”  — Ethan Iverson

Suite No. 3 (Miriam Gideon, 1951)  Originally published by the Abby Whiteside Foundation in New Music for the Piano. The three movements are almost dismayingly tiny, for the core ideas are strong enough to support a much larger work. With the help of Gideon’s extensive phrase markings the adagio movement can be performed without sustain pedal until the final gesture.  — E. I.

Sinfonia and Fugato (Vivian Fine, 1952) Originally published by the Abby Whiteside Foundation in New Music for the Piano. Despite the composer’s concerted efforts to engage atonality, Fine’s Neo-Baroque essay remains in C. The weave of increasingly thorny counterpoint in the Fugato becomes reminiscent of Roger Sessions, who considered Fine a peer.  — E.I.

Sonata for Piano (Miriam Gideon, 1977)  Gideon herself referred to her mature harmonic language as “free atonality.” Each sonority is sensuous. From the CRI liner notes: “The titles of the movements are drawn from Swinburne’s Choruses from Atlanta of Calydon…The sonata recalls associations with some of the deepest experiences of the composer’s youth.”  — E.I.

Piano Sonata No. 1 (Louise Talma, 1943) Louise Talma’s first piano sonata opens with a bold, stately theme that quickly recedes amidst distant-sounding harmonies. Instead of developing the theme in a conventional manner, Talma dissolves it into melodic fragments that fuel a groove-driven frenzy with shifting meters, crisp syncopations, and all kinds of rhythmic twists and turns. Brief, contrasting sections tumble into one another, gathering steam until the opening theme returns like a conquering hero—huge, resonant, and triumphant. In the second movement, Talma creates a serene, almost weightless sound-world: a spare melody hovers over gently repeating chords, which feel like a quiet heartbeat. The wistful, slightly nostalgic harmony reminds me of Wayne Shorter’s music (especially “Infant Eyes”). Tranquility is banished with the third movement’s rapid-fire ostinatos and insistent melodic motives. Talma revisits the “heartbeat” rhythm (though not nearly as gently), and each new development ups the ante, culminating in a final burst of fireworks.

This sonata was published by Carl Fischer in 1948, but it is currently out of print. We’re hoping to bring it back.  –Gregg Kallor

Piano Sonata No. 2 (Louise Talma, 1955) Begins in the middle of things, with a ping-pong and an ostinato. The Allegro’s syncopations are almost jazzy, reminding us that Talma’s post-Boulanger style is mid-century Americana like Charles Eames’s Lounge Chair or Raymond Loewy’s Studebaker Hawk. The slow movement’s melodic inspiration is offset by a casually good-humored scherzo. Although Talma works with whirling twelve-tone figurations in the finale, the soaring tunes above and below the frenzy remain resolutely Romantic in gesture. It’s hard to think of another American piano sonata from the 1950s with as much natural charisma as Talma 2. The work is dedicated to Thornton Wilder, who collaborated with Talma on the opera The Alcestiad.  — E.I.

Double Variations (Vivian Fine, 1982) Fine’s brief program note—“The first five variations are transformations of the opening material. Beginning with the sixth variation a fragment from Carter’s Double Concerto is introduced. This is combined with the opening statement for the remaining seven variations.”—hardly tells the whole story. These Double Variations are wild, beginning with “opening material” that is all Robert-Motherwell-black-ink-stroke-and-splatter. Fine transforms Section 1’s strokes and splatters first by trading each hand’s share of the action (Section 2), inversion (Section 3), joining the elements of the original form into a single line with pedal accumulations (Section 4), collapsing the dyads of Section 4 into simultaneities and spreading them into every register of the piano (Section 5), slowing Section 5’s dyads into a duet that is repeatedly disrupted by a five note fragment from Elliott Carter—Double Variations was written for Carter’s 75th birthday—(Section 6), pulling out a quintuplet detail from the end of Section 6 and obsessing (Section 7). Fine continues in Section 8 to obsess on quintuplets and reminisce about Carter’s Cello Sonata. Section 9 apotheosizes half-step trills. Section 10 bashes the piano and raises the curtain for Section 11, a bizarre and eventually both bizarre and grand Fughetto. All concludes (Section 12) in a Carteresque (and Chopinesque) scurry.

Double Variations is arguably Fine’s finest work for solo piano. It is certainly—by her own declaration—her most difficult.  — Jeffrey Farrington

The title of Miriam Gideon’s Of Shadows Numberless comes from John Keats’ poem, “Ode to a Nightingale,” and each of its six movements is named after a phrase in Keats’ work. The poem addresses the Romantic trope that portrays a bird as an idealized version of a poet by following the fanciful journey of a depressed subject listening enviously to a happily singing bird.

“… Magic casements opening on seas of perilous foam,” text taken from a stanza about the timelessness of birdsong, establishes the main theme of the music. The wild, jaunty, slightly drunken second movement is titled “the blushful Hippocrene,” a phrase taken from a stanza about wine; the Hippocrene is a mythical fountain that endows its drinker with poetic inspiration. The third movement recapitulates the main theme of the first but in triple time, whereas the fourth is a flighty, onomatopoeic realization of “the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.” In the fifth movement, “white hawthorne and the pastoral eglantine”—text from a passage about the power of sightless vision—the music formulates an opaque, mysterious mist, while a single-note melody cuts through like a ray of light. The finale, “Adieu! Thy plaintive anthem fades…” displaces the main theme throughout both of the pianist’s hands, making the notes seem to coalesce into a melody of their own volition; the title of this movement is from the poem’s final stanza, in which the bird fades into the “near meadows…over the still stream” and both the music and poetry create a palpable feeling of spatial distance, as though the bird’s music really is fading away.

The piece, like the poem, is full of shadows and mazes. Whereas Keats writes of “verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways,” and “fad[ing] away into the forest dim,” Gideon writes dense, dark music filled with crowded clusters and incessantly mumbling inner voices. Although the melodies are tuneful, Gideon often includes some oddity in the phrasing or intervallic structure that makes the tune feel just out of reach, transported a step beyond the realm of ordinary music.   — Jeremy Siskind


[Page 3]

All three composers on tonight’s program were friends and associates of Abby Whiteside Foundation President Sophia Rosoff.

According to The New York Times review (reprinted below), Louise Talma received a standing ovation when Ray Lev premiered Talma’s “Alleluia in Form of Toccata” at Carnegie Hall on November 10, 1945. Lev programmed the piece at the prodding of Rosoff, who was studying piano privately with Lev and taking counterpoint with Talma at Hunter College. Just a few months earlier, Rosoff and Miriam Gideon had become sisters-in-law; Lev played Gideon’s “Canzona” on the same Carnegie program.

After Lev, Sophia Rosoff’s next mentor was Abby Whiteside, the innovative piano conceptualist who taught that a basic emotional rhythm was the key to successful performance. Vivian Fine also studied with Whiteside, and Gideon cited her work with Whiteside as an influence on her compositions. Fine’s “Sinfonia and Fugato” and Gideon’s “Suite No. 3” were included in the collection New Music for the Piano, published by the Abby Whiteside foundation.

Fine, Gideon, and Talma were frequently played during their long lifetimes. Few other American women composers garnered as many awards or made as many recordings, yet their music is seldom heard except by specialists. Tonight’s concert keeps these vital voices on the concert stage.

Vivian Fine (1913-2000) was born in Chicago. A child prodigy, she studied with Scriabin disciple Djane Lavoie-Herz and her student Ruth Crawford, who recognized Fine’s compositional talent and, with the help of Henry Cowell, arranged for Fine’s debut as a composer in New York, Chicago, and Germany at age sixteen. Soon thereafter, Fine moved to New York City, where she studied composition with Roger Sessions and piano with Abby Whiteside. She was a member of Aaron Copland’s Young Composers Group, helped found the American Composers Alliance, and earned awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, grants from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition to her career as a composer, Fine performed professionally, premiering works of Ives, Copland, Brant, and Cowell, and earning a living for many years as a dance accompanist. She was a member of the faculty of Bennington College in Vermont.

Miriam Gideon (1906-1996) was born in Greeley, Colorado and moved to New York to pursue studies with Lazare Saminsky and Roger Sessions, earning a MA in Composition from Columbia University and a Doctorate in Sacred Music from the Jewish Theological Seminary. A strong interest in literature and sacred song informs Gideon’s work, with even her instrumental compositions showing a deep commitment to lyricism. Gideon received awards from the Ernest Bloch Foundation; the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; the National Federation of Music Clubs; and she was the second woman composer inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters (after Louise Talma). Gideon served on the faculties of the City College of New York, the Manhattan School of Music, Brooklyn College, and the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Louise Juliette Talma (1906-1996) was born in Arcachon, France to American parents. Her pianist father died during her infancy, and her mother, an opera singer, moved the family to New York City in 1914. She studied at the Institute of Musical Arts (later the Juilliard School), New York University and Columbia University, where she received her Master’s of Arts in 1933; she also spent sixteen summers in Fontainebleau, France studying piano with Isidor Philipp and composition with Nadia Boulanger, who was the first to suggest that she compose.  Talma’s many awards include two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Grant to compose the opera The Alcestiad (featuring a libretto by Thornton Wilder), the Sibelius Medal for Composition, the Bearns Prize for Composition, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities. In 1974, she became the first woman composer to be elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. She served on the music faculty of Hunter College for over fifty years, where her students included Sophia Rosoff.


Thanks to Sarah Deming, Sarah Dorsey, Peggy Karp, and Gina Genova for assistance in preparing tonight’s concert.

Ray Lev 45-11-10