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ClassicsOnline Home » ROREM, N.: Piano Album I / 6 Friends (C. Enger)
Ned Rorem is one of America’s most distinguished composers. He is an acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winner who has been hailed by Time magazine as “the world’s best composer of art songs.” Of his own work he has said, “I conceive all music vocally…it is always the singer within me crying to get out.” This recording features his complete Piano Album I, a series of small-scale but significant piano compositions dating from 1978 to 2001. These and the set Six Friends were largely written as gifts to friends and colleagues, forming musical sketch books which are filled with miniature masterpieces. They have echoes in Rorem’s larger works, and stand in their own right as beautiful gems which create an atmosphere of tranquility and heartfelt tenderness.
Ned Rorem (b. 1923)
Piano Album I • Six Friends
One of America’s most distinguished composers, Ned Rorem grew up in Chicago and was educated at Northwestern University, the Curtis Institute, and The Juilliard School. He won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for his orchestral suite Air Music and has composed numerous works in all genres. He has received particular acclaim for his over 400 art songs, many of which have become a part of the standard vocal repertory. He was hailed by Time magazine as “the world’s best composer of art songs.” Beginning with the 1966 publication of The Paris Diary, Rorem has also produced a steady stream of prose publications (largely diaries and essays) and has received equal acclaim as both writer and composer. About his work, he said: “I conceive all music vocally. Whatever my music is written for—tuba, tambourine, tubular bells—it is always the singer within me crying to get out.”
This recording features the complete contents of a 2003 publication entitled Piano Album I, which collected for the first time a series of small piano compositions that date from 1978 to 2001¹. Also included on this release is a 2007 set of similar pieces, published under the title Six Friends. Largely composed as gifts for friends and colleagues, these beautiful miniatures contain the essence of the most lyrical side of Rorem’s writing.
Rorem’s musical language usually builds large structures from the aggregation of smaller parts, and most of his large-scale works contain numerous small movements. He is a master of the miniature—whether heard on their own or as parts of a larger work. The pieces in this piano album also form a sort of musical sketchbook, as nearly all became absorbed into other compositions. For the listener who knows a great deal of Rorem’s output, hearing these pieces is a delightfully nostalgic experience as one constantly hears echoes of the other works. For the listener who does not have any prior experience, these beautiful gems create an atmosphere of tranquility and heartfelt tenderness.
As a preface to the published collection, Rorem wrote the following notes:
During the thirty-two years that Jim Holmes and I lived together, until he died in January of 1999, I would compose little pieces for him on special occasions. Each piece fits onto one page which I decorated in bright colors, and framed. I took to doing likewise for other friends and family too, and the present collection includes twenty-eight of these. Many of them I later incorporated into larger works.
Song Without Words is reused in a Concerto called Remembering Tommy. Carol-Pastiche, re-titled Rex Tremendae, is reused in Organbook II.
Serenade for Two Paws (the paws were those of Sonny, our pet Bichon) was incorporated into Diversions for Brass Quintet…Nineteen Measures and Golden Notes are both used in the large choral work, Goodbye My Fancy.
Another Little Song Without Words is also used in the Diversions as well as in Organbook II (as Pie Jesu).
For a Perfect Friend became the second movement (subtitled Child Holding a Dove) of my String Quartet No 4.
This Serpentine Etude was (I think) later absorbed into some organ work ... Marriage Measures, a wedding gift to John Simon and Pat Hoag in 1992, was recast in An Oboe Book.
Snapshot of Jack, later used in Three Women (as background to a monologue by Claire Bloom), and later still in the trio, Pas de Trois, was for photographer Jack Mitchell.
For Jim and A Little Waltz became the fifth and eighth movements of the String Quartet No 4…A Melody for Shirley was a birthday present to Shirley Gabis Perle in 1994.
A Talisman for Jim, based on O Nata Lux of Thomas Tallis, was a Christmas offering in 1994. The following year, On His Birthday became the theme of Six Variations for Two Pianos.
¹ Editorial note: In the published score of Piano Album I, Another Little Song Without Words (No 6) is followed by For Jim with More Than Love On Christmas Eve. However, as this piece is scored for organ, it is excluded from this recording.
The Berceuse was also used again, but I’ve forgotten where. However, A Christmas Card for Mary and Rosemary—my niece and sister—became the first movement of the 1998 Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Orchestra.
For a Perfect Sister and Sarabande were also absorbed into larger works. Sixty Notes for Judy, written for Judy Collins’ sixtieth birthday, was used in An Oboe Book, as was 77 Notes for Rosemary, conceived for my sister’s seventy-seventh birthday.
Ninety-nine Notes to the Millennium was made for The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music…For Ben, in memory of Ben Weber, was recast into a song called The Bed in the cycle Another Sleep.
Waiting to Get Well was an exercise for Eugene Istomin during a convalescence, and was used in the chamber suite called Nine Episodes, as was 1+1=3, originally conceived when my friends, Jennifer Bilfield and Joel Friedman, were expecting their first child.
Forty Chords for Mark (for Mark Taylor) became a movement in United States: Seven Viewpoints for String Quartet.
Dedicated to my parents, Horace and Elaine Enger, with all my love and gratitude, to my beautiful loving husband Marc Mishaan, whose love nourishes and supports me, and to Ned Rorem, with love. Special thanks to Dr. Marc Silverman for his invaluable guidance and encouragement, to Carson Cooman for introducing me to the piano music of Ned Rorem, and to Maestro Thomas Briccetti, who introduced me to Ned Rorem’s writings so many years ago.
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ROREM, N.: Piano Album I / 6 Friends (C. Enger)