About this work:
The title for Tre esercizi was taken from the name that Domenico Scarlatti gave to his first published collection of sonatas for gravicembalo. Inspired by these but no less by the works of Purcell, the French clavecinistes, and, of course, the keyboard works of Bach and Handel, Tre esercizi exploits the harpsichord's eminent ability to sharply differentiate contrapuntal lines, be resonant and somber at one moment, cold and scintillating at another, to be a vehicle for virtuosity at all times. The first and third esercizi resemble in their textures and imitative beginnings the two-part inventions of Bach although the rhythm and tempo of the first are also reminiscent of the Baroque allemande. Each is based on two contrasting motives and is basically ternary in form. Both are expanded by methods having their roots in the eighteenth century though the prevailing chromaticism, which is almost total, and the ways in which pitches are combined harmonically betray an undeniable twentieth century bias. The slow, second piece is a set of variations over--and later also under--a ground bass, a device suggested by so many of Henry Purcell's successful essays in that genre and one which I had not used since my Passacaglia, Interlude and Fugue for organ (or piano, four-hands) of 1956.
If the music of Tre esercizi and these remarks express both an awareness of and an admiration for the accomplishments of certain of my predecessors, these should not be interpreted as indicating an interest in the antique for its own sake. The harpsichord which I imagined while composing Tre esercizi was not, whatever the origins of any particular instrument on which it might be played, an ancient instrument but rather an instrument newly invented, fully capable of enunciating the musical language of my own time. The compositional techniques, too, seemed to me to be among those limited by neither time nor place.
Tre esercizi was completed in February 1986 and given its first performance by Charles Brewer at a concert of the Society of Composers at the University of Alabama on March 11, 1992. It has been recorded by Bradley Brookshire on a compact disc released by Capstone Records (CPS-8679)
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Reviews: "One disc that has stood out...is Music for Keyboard Instruments.... Brings shows his very impressive versatility on this disc as he appears in the roles of composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher, the last through his candid and very informative booklet notes for the CD."
"...a harpsichord concerto...that might well be the best American harpsichord concerto on the market today."
"There is a real composer's voice here with no padding, no filler, no unnecessary notes. He says what he has to say and then stops. No grandiose posturings or insincere gestures occur in this music."
"The five contrasting movements of [Five Pieces (1980)] are very idiomatically written for the piano and would definitely reward the pianist willing to undertake them. Their clear contrasts and appropriate length should make them attractive to audiences as well."
"Allen Brings seems quite comfortable composing for all types of keyboard instruments.... After the first hearing of the CD [Music for Keyboard Instruments by Allen Brings], this listener was exhausted and could only imagine the fatigue of the performers. The music possesses such an unyielding drive that, whatever the composer's intent, it may be lost on us before we ever get to the last work. But after several hearings Brings' voice became amazingly clear to me, and the gems in his music, not readily apparent upon first acquaintance, were now quite recognizable. For it's obvious that Brings looks back and takes classical forms as structure for his works. Although the harmonies he chooses are much more suited to this past century, his pieces seem to marry the past with the present to create an unusually perplexing offspring....
"...Brings delves into the past for his structure, searches the outer limits for his harmonies, and yet seems to shun the 20th century altogether when it comes to those impossible rhythms we pianists love to hate....
"The final work on this recording, Concerto da camera No. 4 for harpsichord and strings (1994), is by far the most passionately performed, rhythmically diverse, and harmonically compelling of all the works. While there are traces of that undying rhythmic uniformity in the harpsichord, the strings add long-awaited color changes, both sensuous and exotic....
"One can finally feel at ease with Brings' never ending quest to unite the past and present. This is clearly his most thought-provoking work, one that certainly makes this recording worth owning!"
New Music Connoisseur
Vol. 9, No. 2
"He has published dozens of rigorous and imaginative works for various instruments and ensembles in an 'avowedly late 20th-century idiom.'...Though Brings' contrapuntal textures [in Six Praeludia recorded on Music for Keyboard Instruments by Allen Brings] may not easily beguile the ear, these works do impress both on initial hearing and after repeated listening....The other compositions are worthwhile, too, and are also well performed."
The American Organist
"Despite the complexities often offered, there is something in Western music that suggests getting down to the basics when composing keyboard music. There are no color supplements or distractions (depending on the point of view). It's all about pitch and rhythm, line and harmony and form. So we're happy to report that Allen Brings brings the right stuff to the table when that table is full of keys—be they of the piano, harpsichord, or organ.
"The composer characterizes Five Pieces (1980) as pianistically 'serious divertimenti,' and he's got that paradox right. In the related piano Sonatine (1972), he worries that there 'have been many Kalkbrenners for every Chopin,' but, hey! perhaps another paradox is that the Kalkbrenners write pretty well, too. . .
"Medium remains a powerful notion, however, because the coloristic tendencies of harpsichord and organ bring us completely into other worlds. The environment is a skeletal one in the harpsichordistic Tre esercizi (1986, the title is after D. Scarlatti)—with its second-movement grim-reaper steady bass flanked by active, truculent outer exercises—but warmed and punched up quite a bit by string ensemble in Concerto da camera No. 4 with its baroque-and-Bartók overtones. The soundscape turns another corner in the austere, grim, flamboyant, and liturgical Six Praeludia for organ.
"The performers—pianists Genevieve Chinn and Brings, harpsichordist Bradley Brookshire, organist Stephen Tharp, and a string ensemble under the composer's direction—carry off all with aplomb."
Version: solo harpsichord
Year composed: 1986
Ensemble type: Keyboard:Harpsichord or Clavichord
Instrumentation: 1 Harpsichord
Instrumentation notes: Two-manual instrument required