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Picture Etudes (2013)

for piano
duration: 12 minutes
Premiered by Nadia Shpachenko (March 5, 2013)

I. Three Pierrots
II. Miró’s World
III. Olive Orchard
IV. Kandinsky

In November of 2011, I received a commission from the Kansas City Symphony and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to write a 21st-century Pictures at an Exhibition. The idea seemed both intriguing and ambitious, and given my own interest in visual art, I welcomed the challenge. After conceptualizing the piece for six months, and visiting the Nelson-Atkins on three different occasions, I decided to compose a series of studies.

Unlike Modest Mussorgsky, who set all of his movements to the work of Viktor Hartmann, my piece brings eight seemingly disparate works of art to musical life. In honor of Mussorgsky and his original work (for solo piano), four of the ten movements were conceived in the form of piano etudes and later orchestrated.

After the symphonic version (Picture Studies) was finished, I returned to the original drafts of the piano etudes and completed Picture Etudes. Creating this series pushed me in a new direction and allowed me to grow as an artist in the most unexpected ways. A special thank you to pianists Daniel Spiegel and Nadia Shpachenko.

The following impromptu notes were jotted down from initial impressions and repeated viewings of the artwork, after my selections had been made. These original notes helped dictate the form, style, and musical arc of each movement, and ultimately the entire piece.

I. Three Pierrots (based on Albert Bloch’s painting, Die Drei Pierrots Nr. 2): Comedic, naïve, and excited. A triad will represent the three Pierrots, and throughout the movement the triad will be turned upside down, on its side, and twisted in every possible way. The form will be through-composed. End big.

II. Miró’s World (Joan Miró’s painting, Women at Sunrise): Child-like, yet delirious. There appears to be a sexually ambiguous tone. Try something new, spontaneous, bouncy, tribal, and raw.

III. Olive Orchard (Vincent Van Goh’s painting, Olive Orchard): Extended impressionism. Colorful, full of love. Perhaps a meeting place for two lovers. Start thin, gradually build to an expansive texture, end colorful. ABC (C references A to show the organic growth of the piece).

IV. Kandinsky (Wassily Kandinsky’s painting, Rose with Gray): Geometrically fierce, angular, sharp, jagged,m violent, jumpy, and complex. A battleground. Mustard yellow, encapsulates a sustained intensity. Block structures, cut and paste.


Adam Schoenberg
February 13, 2013