January 1, 1960
Princeton University, New Brunswick, NJ
Robert Helps and David Del Tredici, piano
commissioned by Milton and Peggy Salkind
Dedicated to Milton and Peggy Salkind
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Boosey & Hawkes

David Del Tredici composed his Scherzo in 1960 at the request of Milton and Peggy Salkind. Bold, even rhapsodic in character, it contains those elements which were later so expertly refined in the Alice in Wonderland pieces: intense, almost mechanical rhythms coupled with a Gothic lyricism bordering on the diabolical. The strength and ferocity of his keyboard writing is in a class by itself and belies the composer's own virtuosity at the instrument. (D.D.T.'s performances of the Lizst Totentanze are well remembered by a number of Bay Area listeners.)

In the mid-60's Del Tredici turned exclusively to writing pieces for voice and instruments, and in works such as Night Conjure-Verse and the more recent Vintage Alice (premiered last August at the Music in the Vineyards concerts) the formal aspects of the music take on a precise if somewhat stylized architecture. In these works an absolute symmetry of structure prevails, and there is hardly an idea which is not made to reappear upside down, backwards, transposed, and in different instrumental guise. Nevertheless, his gift for the fantastic, so evident in the Scherzo, remains. (One listener tells of an evening in Cambridge when, after a performance of the Lobster Quadrille by the Boston Philharmonia, the composer took his bows fully attired in motorcycle leathers.)

– John Adams

The present disc includes the String Trio (1959) again played by members of Spectrum Ensemble Berlin, and the four Fantasy Pieces for piano (1960), played by the composer. Here, as in such contemporaneous pieces as the Scherzo for piano four-hands (also 1960), the expressive thread that runs through all Del Tredici's music is much in evidence, despite the outer trappings of serialism and other modernist creeds.

Both these works (1960) make bright, expressive music in an unusual way, for they combine a Schoenbergian tendency to dissonance with a consistent, warm appeal.

Del Tredici's Scherzo, on the other hand, and quite aside from the wide panoply of interesting sonorities and colors, utilizes contrasting rhythmic shapes, (some quite jazzy) in a most imaginative and compelling manner.

Recordings (1)

  • Joyce Settings, Scherzo cover image

    Joyce Settings, Scherzo

    More Info

    Joyce Settings, Scherzo

    1995, CRI/New World Records (CD 689)



    • Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Soprano
    • Benita Vanente, Soprano
    • Composers Quartet
    • Robert Helps, Piano
    • David Del Tredici, Piano and Conductor