Concert pianist Caroline Oltmanns has released the concept album GHOSTS, including four specially commissioned pieces of mine, another successful episode in our partnership as a husband and wife team.
The first of these pieces is called Sphinxes, a work about silence, and a response to the following enigmatic piece in the middle of Robert Schumann's great piano cycle Carnaval.
The sphinxes are silent references to the notes that form the basis of Schumann's cycle, using a musical code that connected the composer's name to the home town of his girlfriend. How does the pianist play these notes silently? My Sphinxes can be inserted into the cycle at this point. I used the notes in a very quiet way, with a lot of pauses, and even wrote a section in which the pianist does not press down the keys at all, but merely touches them lightly on the surface, producing a faint tapping sound.
Caroline Oltmann's recording of my Sphinxes may be heard here:
The other three pieces composed specially for the album GHOSTS are my Passages, which bind together the other works (though they could be performed separately as a small group). The centerpiece of the album is Schumann’s Ghost Variations, a work left incomplete by the master on the day of his attempted suicide. While his friends celebrated the annual carnival festival, Schumann could not bear the voices in his head, and he threw himself into the river (he was rescued but never returned to composition). Caroline connects these events by playing Schumann's earlier work Carnaval, and I bridge her performance of Carnaval and Ghost Variations with Voices, in which seemingly chaotic flurries represent the composer's manic state of mind.
One of the "guests" at Schumann's Carnaval is Frederic Chopin. The theme from Ghost Variations is connected to Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu by my Ghost-Fantasy, a mosaic of gradually shifting harmonic progressions through which melodies appear and disappear like drops of memories.
An important friend of the Schumann's during the difficult time of Robert's mental decline was Johannes Brahms, represented on the disc with another set of variations, the Paganini Variations book 1. Brahms used the Ghost Variations theme himself, in a different work, and so I borrowed that usage in my Rising Subconscious.