Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix


2022-05-08 — Michael Haupt

Ronald Stevenson, Scotsman and composer, wrote one large-scale (80 minutes!) piece of piano music that I discovered only recently, and now I'm wondering (once more) what took me so long. It's his Passacaglia on DSCH.

DSCH? That's Dmitri Shostakovich's initials, in German transcription. It's also four musical notes - D, E flat, C, B - in German naming: E flat is pronounced "Es", ergo, "S" fits. (Johann Sebastian Bach's last name is also usable in this manner: B flat, A, C, B, and so forth. There are tons of pieces that make use of this technique.)

Passacaglia? That's a musical form, where a bass ostinato that never changes throughout the piece is overlaid with a series of variations on a theme.

The ostinato in Stevenson's work is a short sequence of repetitions and inversions of the DSCH motif, just a few seconds long. The vast complexity that unfolds on top of this is stunning. Stevenson essentially takes us on a journey through the 20th century, and the musical material is not so much a series of variations on a single theme as it is historic and musical commentary. The work ends with a triple fugue that combines all of the intensity into a dense culmination.

It's utterly impressive.

Tags: music