for Harpsichord or Piano
September 9--October 24, 2011
Duration: about 21 minutes
Photo above: first performance
for Elaine Funaro
Score, Harpsichord PDF
playing theme and variations 2, 4,6, 7, 8 by Elaine Funaro;
playing all variations, by John Noel; premiere performance, Feb. 24, 2013
Piano version recording (MP3)
premiere performance by John Noel,
with theme on harpsichord by Elaine Funaro
Synthesized recording (harpsichord)
required for Finale) Cover
credits; border from an early edition of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Gold bug coin from The Market Garden, June
27, 2011 article “Taking Issue with Some Gold Bugs”.
In 1980, I was living in a crude
hunting cabin in the woods of Maine. At an estate auction I bought an old
upright piano for $75 and took it two miles from the paved road up to the
cabin, cleared out the mouse corpses, and got to composing. In early 1981, I
started a large work for two pianos, in variation form with a theme vaguely
reminiscent of the Aria used by J. S. Bach in the Goldberg Variations. After many adventures, some eighteen months
later it was complete, 22 minutes long, and named Goldbug Variations. By then I was studying physics at NTSU and had
access to fine pianists at the music school, and in November of 1982 the variations
had its one and only performance for some twenty people. Later, I arranged the
piece for full orchestra, but it never saw the light of day.
In 2007 I wrote the Ananda Concerto for violin and orchestra
for my friend Eric Pritchard. For the middle movement, I took the best ten
minutes of the old Goldbug Variations
and reworked it for the concerto.
Eric started performing my music in
the spring of 2006. Elaine Funaro attended the first such concert at Duke, and
asked me to write a piece for harpsichord. This was a big challenge, as I do
not have access to an instrument, and my piano writing tends to be heavy on the
pedal and dynamic changes. However the idea percolated for several years. In
the fall of 2011, after eight months away from composition to author my Autobillography, I was ready for this
new adventure. I took the theme from the original Goldbug, but nothing else, starting from absolute scratch. As
pianos are ubiquitous and harpsichords rare, and I am an unknown composer, I
have made an arrangement for piano.
My fellow composers frequently
criticize my “incessant tonality”, while some audience members have asked me
“Why do you write atonal music?” The chromatic nature of this theme forces me
to be harmonically adventurous, while the antique nature of the instrument gives
a traditional ambience, trills and all.
Posthumous apologies to Sebastian
Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, D. Scarlatti, Couperin, and Scott Joplin, who made
this work possible by being in the public domain.
Technical issues for performers
After listening to Glenn Gould play
the Goldberg Variations, I was very
careful to mark all the tempos, which was not an option for Bach. Performers
should follow these for the overall tempo of each variation until they know the
piece very well. I usually end up asking musicians not to play too fast.
In general, my style tends to legato
unless otherwise specified. When short notes are desired, I have put in dots,
but otherwise notes should get a full value. I have written in extensive finger
pedaling, but this is only a minimum, the rest being up to the discretion of
the performer. I have included some
slurs even though these are not necessarily idiomatic in harpsichord
literature, to make the intended articulation more evident. The piano edition
has many more. It would be best to play this piece in a room with generous
short attention spans these days, and this is a comparatively long work for our
time. I have no objections to a short selection presented on a concert instead
of the whole piece, as long as the theme is included.
is Artistic Director of Aliénor, the American-based international
competition for new harpsichord music. She is a popular presence at
contemporary and early music festivals around the world and is currently
president of the Historical Keyboard Society of North America (HKSNA).
She started her harpsichord studies at the Conservatorio Cherubini (Florence)
with Annamaria Pernafelli. Following her graduation from Oberlin and the New
England Conservatory, her advanced studies took her to the Amsterdam’s
Sweelinck Conservatory. Among her teachers have been, Ton Koopman, John
Gibbons, Lisa Crawford, and the late Gustav Leonhardt.
She has premiered pieces in
Amsterdam, Rome, Sydney, Boston, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and elsewhere. In
addition to her solo recitals at the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of
Congress, and in other notable venues, Funaro has been a frequent collaborator
with symphonies and chamber ensembles. Her appearances often present modern
compositions in the context of old and new musical traditions from around the
world, yet her impassioned solo and chamber interpretations of traditional
scores for her instrument remain a core element in an exceptionally active
career. Elaine Funaro has recorded for Arabesque, Centaur, Gasparo, Wildboar,
and Classic Concert.
pianist, native of Henderson NC, studied at the NC School of the Arts, Oberlin
Conservatory, Juilliard, the Schola Cantorum, and Rice University. He spent
three years in Paris on a Fulbright Scholarship, a Harriet Hale Woolley
Scholarship and a Société Générale Scholarship. He has performed in many
European countries. John performed on three Robinson concerts, in 2010, 2011,
and 2013. He now lives in Houston, Texas.