Revenants: 32 Variations for Piano in or around C Minor

Lawrence Kramer

About this work:

This piece was first composed in association with a talk that developed
into the final chapter of my book Musical Meaning (2001).  The chapter involved
a critique of the rule of musical originality that dominated the second half of the
twentieth century and still lingers on as a received idea: the rule that truly serious
art music is defined by its capacity to break with the past.  Among the many things
wrong with this view its its failure to recognize how pervasive is the experience of
things that return, that haunt, that revisit, that come again, all of which is summed
up in my title: Revenants.  Being haunted is not exceptional; it's normal.

    The chapter included a recording of the original version of the music, which
sought to do expressively what the chapter did conceptually.  Looking back after
twenty-five years, I thought that the goal was still fine, but that the music--the
only piece I wrote during a long hiatus in my composing career--was in serious
need of revision.  The result is the score in hand.

    The music is in some sense "about" haunting or enlivening returns, which form
a feature of its thirty-two variations.  But as that number implies, the piece is also
meant to be a revenant, a condition also implied by its full subtitle.  Behind the
music looms Beethoven's 32 Variations in C Minor, which my set resembles in
tonality (though my C Minor is not Beethoven's), size, and continuity.  Behind
both Beethoven's piece and mine looms the much more imposing thirty-two of
Bach's Goldberg set, which also becomes a revenant here.

    There is, I think, nothing nostalgic in my entry in this series, but only an impulse
to acknowledge that "originality," properly speaking, is just the name we apply to
those revenants that haunt us most effectively

Version: 2019
Year composed: 1992
Duration: 15:00:00
Ensemble type: Keyboard:Piano

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