There are three movements to my new double piano concerto, DOUBLE RAINBOW, premiering in Madison, WI tonight:
If the first two movements are distinguished by their characteristic intervals or pitches, then the final movement is all about rhythm.
Much of the music I write uses signature rhythm patterns drawn from the Sea Islands of South Carolina. These are rhythmic practices from Africa and the Caribbean, fused into a particular vocabulary used primarily in religious singing. One of the most common forms is called the “shout,” and for years I have been listening to the recordings and live performances of singers from places like Johns Island, Daufuskie, Beaufort, and Charleston, South Carolina.
One such signature rhythm is the “double-clap” – a series of eighth notes with particular accents that create a 3+3+2 pattern. It is related to, but different from the clave rhythm (3+2 or 2+3, depending). A Sea Island double clap uses it slight asymmetry to build power, eventually exploding and falling apart in what is various known as a Pentecostal or Apostolic clap, code for inspired improvisation.
The opening rhythm of Revelation in DOUBLE RAINBOW is -- guess what? – a doubled version of a double clap! 3+3+3+3+2+2. It happens over two bar phrases of 4/4 time. First the orchestra plays the rhythm while the pianos hammer away at some repeated notes – a speedy version of the repeated notes from the opening of the piece.
Then the pianists play the doubled double-clap, and the orchestra hammers away.
This playful contest of rhythm trading continues throughout the movement, reaching its crazy climax in a tune played in a bluesy C major. (And oh, if you were wondering why there was a modulation to G in the second movement, there is a very straight forward tonal reason – the last movement is in C. That makes the tonal plan of the whole piece I. C-F; II. F#-G; III. C.)
It sounds as if the piece is going to end with grandeur, but at the last moment, I pull the plug on the fireworks to reveal some very subtle stars that reintroduce B-flat, giving the ending the flavor of C7 rather than simply C.
I hope you will have the opportunity to listen to the piece soon – for me it is in five hours!
Friday April 28