Tone Poem Tuesday

William Grant Still wrote a suite for solo piano called Three Visions, consisting of three short movements. A program of sorts exists for the work, according to Still’s daughter:

“Three segments of the suite, Dark Horsemen, Summerland and Radiant Pinnacle, tell the story of the human soul after death: the body expires, and the soul goes on to an apocalyptic judgement. If it is seen that the past life has been a good one, the soul may enter ‘heaven’ or ‘Summerland’. After a period of time, the soul may reincarnate to learn additional earthly lessons on the human plane. Some souls reincarnate many times in a constant circular progress toward Godly perfection.”

“Dark Horsemen” is a brief burst of rhythmic dissonance that ends quickly, in favor of “Summerland”, a lyrical and optimistic portrayal of the afterlife that will be enjoyed by those who lived well.

Here is the Three Visions suite, played by pianist Umi Garrett:

(By the way! When I was watching Ms. Garrett’s performance the first time, I didn’t take much note of the fact that she’s playing from sheet music, because pianists do. Not everybody plays from memory all the time…but then I looked closer. The sheet music is actually displayed on a tablet. This had me thinking, “I’ll bet that makes page-turning easier!” After all, reaching up to flip a page without breaking the musical phrase isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, and many times in performance pianists will actually have a page-turner sitting nearby. I figured a tablet would be easy: she just has to reach up and tap the screen on the right side and the page will flip. However, if you watch, she does not do this! The tablet turns the page automatically! Which means that there must be a music display app that listens to the performer and tracks them along with the score, and turns the page accordingly? That kind of blows my mind, I must admit. And for all I know, they’ve been doing it this way for years!)

The center movement, “Summerland”, has taken on a life of its own as a standalone work, even being arranged for wind symphony. It’s always interesting to hear the way a work changes depending on a change in performance instrument or group. It’s still the same work…and yet it is also a completely different work.

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2 Responses to Tone Poem Tuesday

  1. D. Rupp says:

    Regarding page turning; watch her left foot closely. There is a foot pedal device on the floor next to (and to the left of, from her point of view) from which she can turn the page forward or backward. I’ve seen musicians in the Minnesota Orchestra use tablets with foot pedals for a couple of years now; much better, as you say, than turning by hand 🙂

  2. Roger says:

    Occasionally, although not this century, I would be asked to be a page turner for a pianist or rarely, an organist. I found it really nerve-wracking. What if I turn two pages or knock over the sheet music?

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