It may seem obvious but hands are the unsung heroes of piano playing. Where would a pianist be without at least two of them? Of course there's four-hand piano (two people usually) and even 6 or 8 hands (try March Slav for an especially festive occasion). But essentially it is two hands that bear the brunt of pianistic labors. However, Many Hands takes hands in the opposite direction—reducing their number. Movement I uses only the left hand and movement IV only the right (it is particularly rare to have a right-handed piece). All but one of the movements is dedicated to concert -pianist friends of mine who have premiered earlier DDT works. The original idea for the set came to me via an imaginative suggestion of Marc Peloquin. Thus he is the first dedicatee.
For the Left Hand is in three parts: a craggy opening section is followed by a Spanish toreador dance—the middle of which builds to a (yes!) bullish climax before returning to the opening music, now warmed by the addition of a cantabile coda.
Bank Street Prelude follows (for two hands). It was written in memory of Emery W. Harper and commissioned by Luigi Terruso. I live on Bank Street in the West Village of New York City—a once easy-going, pan-sexual community whose profile has lately been sharply up-scaled--due no doubt to the arrival of the Whitney Museum, the High Line Park and the Standard Hotel. However, my short, bustling prelude is more an evocation of that earlier time.
The Prelude is followed without pause by the Perry Street Fugue-- another geographical inspiration. This is dedicated to Stephen Gosling. Note: Perry Street is parallel to Bank Street, but two blocks away. The street is meaningful in my life because of one address-- 50 Perry. This tiny room where shoes were once shined has been my emotional buttress for nearly 30 years. Why? How? More I cannot say. . .
Writing fugues is my joy and this one with its grand gestures, high energy and considerable length, did not come easy. Its wild chromaticism bends this way and that, till one hardly knows (tonality-wise) what is up. Midway through (surprise!) material from the Preludereturns followed by a rich reworking of the fugue theme, a grand climax and a swirl of glissandos in both hands. (Glissandos are a relatively rare use of the other side of the pianist's hands.) The movement glides then to a quiet end.
For the Right Hand (theme and six variations dedicated to Steven Beck). Without pause, a new theme—hushed, tremulous—grows out of the fugue's last murmurings. Three variations follow without interruption. The pianist's unused left hand flutters to his lap as the right hand begins to shoulder all pianistic responsibility. Variation 4 is a canon at the octave at the distance of a quarter note (which is very little distant). The two voices pile up—one atop the other (and all in one hand!). Variation 5 with its steady 32nd note figuration is reminiscent of the theme. The 6th and final variation is a chorale-prelude whose stately theme is continually interrupted by, and enhanced with, pianistic filigree.
Quodlibet/ Finale for Orion Weiss. A quodlibet is described as the juxtaposition of diverse, unexpected elements. In this case the two hands are reunited--each bringing with them their characteristic music: the left hand plays music from movement I and the right hand from movement IV. These then are contrapuntally combined and lead to the finale--an unrepentant orgy of octaves and triple fortes. Sometimes you just have to let it all out! What was earlier presented delicately for a single hand is now jacked up to a frenetic level for both hands together. And so the piece ends, leaving you, dear reader, with only one thing more to do—place your hands together and at the appropriate moment . . . clap!