When I opened up Chip Michael’s Piano Preludes and began to read through the first one, I was immediately transported back to the semester in which I was preparing for my senior recital. I was working on Menotti’s Ricercare and Toccata which I was totally in love with.
I could smell the practice room smell at SJSU and see the look of the sky and grounds change from damp winter to fully blooming spring. I remembered arriving at the music building in early morning and leaving when it was dark (also ducking out of my required science class with a library pass and going to practice instead.) I remembered the joy of discovering the music, time period, and composer and how dern frustrating it was to memorize that Toccata.
After digging out the Menotti, I couldn’t find any obvious links between the two besides the clean sparse texture and the fact that they are both contrapuntal and rhythmically complex. Prelude 1, marked delicato, begins with both hands in the key of C. In each successive piece the hands move around the circle of 5ths, but in opposite directions, exploring polytonality.
Maybe it’s just the nod to mid century American music that sent me spiraling into my time warp. Because the Preludes are not in any way stuck back in the early-mid 20th Century. They combine elements of jazz, contemporary song, syncopation, irregular & changing meters, and, of course, that unique take on polytonality. According to Chip, the Preludes were written during his own Bachelor studies and have become a kind of ongoing project.
As mentioned, the first Prelude is written in C Major and is contrapuntal. It is good natured and bubbles along merrily- a convivial greeting for the set. The second Prelude explores G and F major and is again quite contrapuntal in nature. The 6/8 meter lends quite a laid back feel until about a third of the way through when it suddenly and delightfully breaks out fully into jazz and you realize the jazz has been underneath all along if only you had been imagining brushed cymbals.
The third and fourth pieces in the set are richer in harmony and much more homophonic in nature. The 3rd is song like, beginning with a lovely melody set over a rhythmic chordal ostinato exploring D and Bb. The 5/4 meter adds to the mysterioso mood and keeps us a little off balance. The B section is marked Ad libitum and wisps of melodic material are set over rolled chords in the LH. In the 4th piece we again have the ostinato but it is more atmospheric in nature. I find myself immersed in bells and totally in love with the Ravel-like trills in the B section. These are very grateful pieces with lots richness and dynamic surprise- just the kind of stuff that gets me every time.
Prelude 5 is fully swingin’ jazz a la Fats Waller, if he had one hand in E and the other in Ab (or G# Phrygian) with a flat third. It is fraught with rhythmic complexity, but so full of joy and energy that I have returned to it again and again. Prelude 6 also contains undercurrents of jazz. I imagine Coltrane or Brubeck here. Marked Presto con spirito, this piece has a driving 5/8, 3/4 rhythmic structure (eighth = 320!). It explores B and Db, but don’t worry, both hands are written in the same key, with accidentals, so it is very readable.
The seventh and eighth pieces return you to a rich chordal world. Prelude 7 is marked Pesante and explores the lower register and the louder end of the dynamic spectrum. It is in 7/8 with a LH rhythmic ostinato. The B section (marked Soave which may or may not give you permission to have a bottle of dry white wine nearby) continues the ostinato with a Bartok like folk tune floating above it. This section is marked Soave Prelude 7 is simply enormously fun to play. Prelude 8 returns to the atmospheric dreamy quality of the 4th piece. It is a delicate counterpart to # 7.
Prelude 9 (molto vivo) is written in 9/8 with a cascade of 16th which are charming on one hand and unstoppable on the other. This and # 5 are the most purely pianistic in genre to me. Prelude 10 is set in the upper register and lovely cascades of notes drip down over bell like sound effects in the LH. Prelude 9 is in my opinion, the true ending of the set. Prelude 10 acts as a lovely coda to the set in the manner of Schumann or the final piece in Ravel’s Noble and Sentimental Waltzes.
The Preludes explore rhythm and tonality as well as the unique registers and dynamic range of the piano. These pieces are exciting, introspective, in your face, huge, delicate, dry, rich, mysterious, matter of fact, orchestral, totally pianistic, jazz inspired, yet purely classical- all at the same time. They are pieces in which one can find something new upon each return.
About Chip Michael
Clarity of Melody with intense rhythms is a key element in the music of Chip Michael. He feels it is important the listener have something to grasp in terms of melody while providing interesting, intricate rhythms, odd meter and complex counterpoint. The unique blend of rhythms and melody are what make Chip’s music appealing to audiences of all types from around the world.
Boulder Symphony Orchestra announced Chip Michael as Composer-in-Residence for their 2010-2011 season. Conductor Devin Hughes created the appointment along with commissioning a new work for the BSO, Exchanging Glances. In 2010-11 the BSO also performed You Can’t Catch Rabbits with Drums, the 3rd movement from Chip’s Symphony No. 1, and have commissioned a new work for their 2011-12 season. Earlier in 2010 the Lamont Symphony Orchestra premiered Cantilenas and in 2011 the 3rd movement of Chip’s Trumpet Concerto with Traci Nelson.
With the assistance of the Napier Development Fund, the Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra premiered Chip’s Symphony No. 1 Figuratively Speaking in June 2008. A grant from Lloyds TSB Arts Foundation funded The Edinburgh Quartet premiere of Skimming Rock & Skipping Stones. The quartet has performed numerous other works by Chip over the past five years. The OneMile Programme funded the film “Under Assured” featuring Chip’s music as well as sound design.
Chip is currently working on a Piano Concerto for the Kansas City Philharmonic and pianist Kristen Jurgens and a commission for the Boulder Symphony Orchestra’s 2011-12 season.
To purchase the score, contact Chip Michael here
You can read his blog, Interchanging Idioms here