There are three movements to my new double piano concerto, DOUBLE RAINBOW, premiering in Madison, WI tomorrow night:
What happens when you see a double rainbow? It is the result of a lot of things. A ray of sunlight passes through a raindrop, reflecting off the back of the drop at varying angles. Along with this reflection is the refraction of light that causes us to see a spectrum of colors -- red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Certain angles and "bending" reflect light better for refraction to occur. The amount of light refraction corresponds to wavelength and color. For example, blue light is always refracted at a deeper angle than red light. This is the reason blue is found at the inside of the bow and red on the very outside.
Nature's natural color spectrum always elicits the same pattern (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) when light is refracted. While a primary rainbow is visible when light is reflected once off the back of a raindrop, a secondary and usually dimmer rainbow is spotted when light is reflected twice in a more complicated pattern. The colors of the second rainbow are inverted, with blue on the outside and red moved to the inside. The second bow appears dimmer or cloudier because much more light is released from two reflections, and both bows cover a larger portion of the sky.
In the first movement (Surfaces), I wanted to go back to that first drop of water. That one single drop. I read about how waterdrops form, from tiny molecules, some of which attract others and some which fall away. That image was inspiring, and I immediately sat down at the piano to improvise textures that began with a single note. In the first movement the two pianos each begin with a single note. The second piano is a slightly fainter reflection of the first, played in syncopation that splits the time in half. For me this was the key to a structure that would embody “doubleness” at every level.
I also got interested in the idea of how the surfaces of the ocean and of water generally capture and reflect light. The rest of the movement is an attempt to keep a musical pulse going for about 8 minutes while accumulating new bits of musical ideas and also reiterating a tune that becomes a kind of key for all three movements in the concerto:
It’s a really simple idea, and like the drops of water, it is just about a particular interval: the major second (or in its inverted form, a minor seventh). While I could have created all kinds of variations of the tune, I decided to keep it stubbornly intact in almost all of its recurrences, because I was interested in the way that a rainbow maintains its form in the sky. It’s one of the things we love about them. For that brief time, the rainbow is itself, bending but unchanging.
Next, more about the second movement (Disturbances).