Blackbird Variations (2003)
Duration: 14:00 minutes
Instrumentation: solo piano
Premiere: March 8, 2004 at the University of Cincinnati by Andrew Sheffield, piano
This piece is a set of variations bringing together two sources. The structure comes from Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, each variation corresponding to a stanza of Stevens’ famous poem. The music, on the other hand, comes from a snippet of actual blackbird song I transcribed, which uses only three pitches, A, F and B. The harmonically ambiguous nature of the birdsong and Stevens’ austere imagery suggested music that is at times haunting, unsettled, or fanciful. Though the piece is in one continuous movement, the 13 variations are organized into three larger sections, stanzas I-V, VI-IX and X-XIII, each creating its own arc from the capricious and fleeting images of each variation.