The piccolo is finally in place to be considered a major solo instrument. The proof is that composers are writing for the ottavino without being commissioned because it is the sound they want and because there are so many spectacular players. Composers no longer feel hampered when writing for the instrument and feel comfortable composing anything they hear in their heads.
Matjaž Debeljak is the champion of new piccolo music in Eastern Europe, and he has made some exceptional recordings. I heard one of his CDs early in 2008 and wrote to him, asking about the music on the recording. None of it was known in the U.S. He sent two packages of music to me in June 2008, and what follows are my reflections on them. These compositions were mostly written within the past 20 years and are all dedicated to Debeljak. With the exception of the piece by David Felsenfeld, all are by Slovenian composers and published either by Edicije DDS or the online source, slowaymusic.com.
Sonatina for solo piccolo by Peter Kopač (2005)
This 97 measure, two-minute piece is a whirlwind of 16th notes, starting at quarter =120 and ending at 160. It is diatonic and chromatic in nature, but not tonal. The section with broken arpeggios is quite challenging. It is motivically driven and easy to listen to. Because of the tempos marked, I grade this piece a 5. (Edicije DSS)
Grafiti by Aldo Kumar
Grafiti is a serious piccolo and piano work with five short, challenging movements. You can hear it on a recording by Matjaž Debeljak, also titled Grafiti. (SAZAS 105715)
In the first movement, rhythm, hard accents and compound meter are the focus, and speed (quarter =192) keeps it quite exciting. The entire piece is tonal, so the audience is never out of the loop. The form is understood from the start as a single statement rushing to the end.
The second movement is built on a simple motive with variations and duet interplay with the piano. The piccolo part is all in C major with the piano playing half steps and whole steps in rhythmic unison.
The third movement is very simple and a great relief after the fireworks of the first two movements. It is lyrical, repetitive, and reflective. When the piccolo first introduces the motive-melody, the piano accompanies with quarter notes and broken chords. However, when the same motive is restated in the piano, the piccolo plays repeated 16ths. It is a subtle and interesting effect.
The fourth movement returns to speed. With a metronome marking of quarter =168, the piano and piccolo play the same eighth-note patterns, except one instrument is always a quarter behind. The impression is very much like the rhythms of Martinu. The end is a spectacular 16th-note passage with the piccolo and both hands of the piano in four note tonal clusters.
The fifth movement starts out with each measure in a different meter and patterns that change abruptly from 58 to 38 to 58 to 48 and so forth at quarter =144. The meter never stays the same, and at that speed, there is a noticeable resemblance to the music of Janáček.
This sonata is worth studying. It is exciting, well constructed, and pleasing, and it shows off great technique and a good lyrical sound. It is a solid grade 5. (Edicije DSS)
Four Ideas for piccolo and piano by Igor Krivokapič (2004)
This little suite of four short pieces would work well for a serious player wanting to become a sensitive interpreter through dynamics, subtle tempo changes, and expressive sound. The first movement is called “Olden” and has a setting of Baroque to Classical style and form. The second movement entitled “Warbling” is a study in the use of grace notes with a 6/8 waltz in 7/8 time.
The third movement, “Fermatas” is for piano solo. It is a 16-measure Largo with 7 and 8 note chords under long fermatas. It is followed by an attacca to the fourth movement called “Picobluz” This movement is a fast alla breve with lots of rhythmic movement in the piano. Grade 5. (slowaymusic.com)
Moments for two piccolos by Nenad Firšt (2004 )
This is a contemporary piece without measures and with alternating speeds of 16th notes in one beat. (ie. 5:♩or 6:♩) It is not atonal, although it is chromatic and mostly contrapuntal. There are five “moments” of different moods and speeds never going faster than ♩=60. Its only drawback is that it is reproduced in the composer’s freehand manuscript and therefore is sometimes hard to read and decipher the alignment of the rhythms. Because of the speed, it has a grade of 4. (slowaymusic.com)
It Reminds Me for two piccolos and piano by Lazar Milko
This straightforward, three-movement piece does not break any new ground, and that makes it a fine piece for good students. It has quite a few pleasant moments throughout, staying within the two lower octaves most of the time. The title is an enigma since there are no discernable excerpts from any familiar flute or symphonic music. This piece gets a 4-5 grade. (slowaymusic.com)
The Bird Tango for three piccolos and piano by Sojar Voglar
The piece is very well written without the bird calls and clichés of the past. It is obviously a tango with sudden tempo and melodic changes and sections of extreme rhythmical difficulty. Because there are three piccolos in close range, there are quite a few “resultant happenings” all the time. This acoustic anomaly is quite noticeable and gives the piece another level of complexity. It is the best three-piccolo piece to date and is worth a read through from anyone looking for interesting styles and sounds. Because of some very difficult sections and the intonation challenge, the piece is a grade 5. (slowaymusic.com)
3 for 3 for piccolo, bassoon and piano by Igor Krivokapič
This piece is quite different from Krivokapič’s other composition above. There are three movements as the title indicates, and in the first movement the musicians play tonal melodies and motives but with sudden changes in tempo and music.
As an example, the piece starts with a mm. 144 Vivace, then a sudden Feroce section followed by a Tempo di Slow Waltz. There is some development of starting motives, and new material added followed by interplay of all these elements and the sudden tempo marking separating all the different material.
The second movement is a straight-forward Largo amoroso with the piccolo playing a slow quarter-note melody. The bassoon takes over and embellishes the melody. A fugue at the end is a lovely blend of both instruments. The third movement is a none stop Fiero, an alle breve dance with a polka thrown in for good measure. Any good high school students can play this piece. It is a solid grade 4. (Edicije DSS)
Animula Vagula Blandula by Peter Kopač, (2005)
Animula starts with 20 measures of trills for bassoon and piccolo, with the piano playing three-voice chords in rhythm patterns. A short motivic section follows, and that proves to be the motive of the piece. It starts as a minimalist pattern, and as the piccolo extends and develops the motives, the bassoon starts the same music the piccolo just played, which creates a mini fugue. The variations grow faster to the end, where it suddenly stops and returns to the trills in both instruments.
Both these works with bassoon are used as serious chamber music, and because of the nature of the two instruments, many new colors are created. This, too, is a piece that will not disappoint. Grade 5. (Edicije DSS)
All Work and No Play by Daniel Felsenfeld
Daniel is an American composer living in New York. This piece was commissioned by Stephanie Mortimore for the MidAmerican Productions Recital held at Carnegie Hall. It has a lyrical beginning with lots of dissonances and unisons, an exceptional sound. An extremely fast middle section follows that eventually returns to the style of the beginning. To try to give a sense of the music, Felsenfeld uses words such as: pensive, strange; undulating, moody; stark, pushed, searing; wild, almost chaos; astringent, a little jumpy; grand, overblown, a little cheeky; even more antic; oceanic, like a quiet roar; unglued, and finally pensive, defeated.
If these descriptions don’t pique your imagination, then this is not the piece for you. It is technically manageable for almost all serious players. Grade 5. (Felsenmusick Publishing) Œ.