December Prism

ensemble two pianos
duration ~3:59
listen on soundcloud
score PDF, 131KB
performance history 05/02/1994 (undergraduate senior recital) by Garth L. Koren and me
date completed 1993


My piano teacher in college didn’t much care for my first solo piano piece, but for some reason he liked this duet.

The title is a reference to the peculiar image that December presents. December bears the beginning of winter as well as the end of the calendar year; yet, even with cold weather and shortened daylight, I was raised to view December (in a way) as a new beginning every year. During college, it was simultaneously a peaceful, comforting time and wistful one, and I tried to capture those feelings. I didn’t have an overarching musical idea for it, but once the first two measures were composed, the rest was written over the course of just a few days.

This started as a sketch for string quartet, and its theme is thusly structured around four relatively independent voices. It’s written in mostly long meters to match the phrasing (9/4 and 7/4), and wanders through several tonal centers. It’s essentially a theme and variations, with each iteration of the theme changing – both in terms of interplay between the instruments as well as the ending of each sentence. The transition theme is introduced early, and gets more prominant as time goes on, morphing into the B section. Around that section are flourishes of non-thematic color that are sonically similar to the overall language, but almost entirely dissimilar from each other, though their harmony and melodic shape suggest the transition theme genetics. They primarily exist for programmatic effect—echoing wind, snowfall, and the like—or, if you prefer, for obscuring the permutations of the theme until the mood is sufficiently unclear. These build to a large, optimistic ending, which always reminds me of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.