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New Concert Piano Music: "10 Biblical Portraits, Opus 1"

Cory Hall

10 Biblical Portraits, Opus 1, is a collection or cycle of ten liturgical concert works for piano composed in 2011 and published in 2012 by BachScholar Publishing. The complete publication consists of a total of 48 pages of music which takes a total of about 40 minutes for a complete performance. 10 Biblical Portraits need not be performed in entirety; however, all ten pieces performed in succession -- which portrays a chronological journey through the Old and New Testaments from Genesis to Revelation -- has a mesmerizing and profound effect on audiences as well as on the pianist performing them. In this respect, 10 Biblical Portraits is similar to other extended romantic cycles for piano, for example, such as Schumann's 30-minute Kreisleriana. ⇒ 10 BIBLICAL PORTRAITS, OPUS 1 ⇐

I believe that 10 Biblical Portraits, as a whole, represents some of the finest piano music composed so far in the 21st century. The cycle consists of beautiful, lyrical, exciting, virtuosic, and romantically-inspired piano music of the highest order that pianists and audiences will enjoy and cherish for years to come. Most of the pieces are ideal for church services that use classical style music, although their ideal use is in recitals or concerts for both liturgical and secular venues. They are also ideal for teachers and students in the studio. Although as a whole 10 Biblical Portraits are classified as technically "difficult," four or five of the ten are only of "moderate" difficulty and playable by advanced intermediate pianists (i.e., Genesis, Nocturne of Hope, Veni Sancte Spiritus, Enter the Gates). Contrasting with this, the ultra-dramatic The Great Flood of Noah could be considered as difficult and as musically taxing as most Liszt etudes.

One need not be a Christian to perform or enjoy pieces like The Great Flood of Noah or Heaven Awaits just as one need not be a Christian to perform or enjoy a work like Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. One thing I do not wish my 10 Biblical Portraits ever becomes is exclusively "Christian piano music." My goal is to have all pianists around the world discover these rich musical treasures, regardless of religious orientation. This being said, however, the cycle will undoubtedly acquire added significance if the performer and/or audience happen to be born-again Christians or at least have knowledge of the meaning of the titles and scripture upon which the pieces are based.

My activity as a composer and the process involved with composing 10 Biblical Portraits, Opus 1 are so unique and supernatural that I am still in awe today as to how I ever composed the ten pieces. I plan on soon devoting an entire lengthy blog article to this topic (i.e., my being "born again" through musical composition), but I will shorten it here. Having composed virtually nothing up until my 47th year, aside from a song cycle as a graduate student in 1994 and a few ragtime arrangements for YouTube in 2009-10, around the Spring of 2011 I was suddenly overtaken by incredibly powerful urges to compose at the piano (mostly through improvisation). Before this, I never considered myself a "composer" or "piano improviser" and I never majored in or earned any degrees in composition in any of the three universities from which I matriculated. I was first and foremost a classical pianist and piano teacher and, at the time, also a church organist.

Throughout 2011, beginning around March, some kind of powerful and mysterious force prompted me to churn out work after work (sacred and secular) with stunning regularity. I finally forced myself to stop around November, since all the works I composed were done in my head and I had not yet even owned any music software to write them down. In other words, I was composing much too frequently and at such a frenetic pace that I felt I had to put the brakes on. My standard mode of operation in 2011 was to compose a piece through improvisation and careful planning -- all in my head and memorized -- which I then quickly recorded on video before I forgot it all. Eventually in 2012 I purchased music composing software and began the arduous task of notating everything I had composed up to that point. (In fact, as of this writing I still have not written down my stunning three-movement Fantasy in G Minor, which was the last work I composed in 2011 before quitting.)

The turning point for me -- which turned my whole world upside down -- came in May-June 2011 when I was composing The Garden of Eden. The music flowed out of me like water, something I could not have possibly done on my own. I sat at the piano for a couple days and began improvising this gorgeous music with almost no effort. I didn't even have a title yet, since I always title my pieces after they have been composed. I remember for at least two days toiling around with possible titles for The Garden of Eden. After I finally decided on "The Garden of Eden," I began analyzing the music and the rich musical symbolism related Adam and Eve in the Garden and I could barely sleep for two days. I realized all the musical symbolism planted within the music had to have been none other than the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. It was at this point that I was officially "saved, "justified," or "born again" into the Christian faith. I simply could not ignore God or the Holy Spirit any longer. I became a true believer after I had composed The Garden of Eden because I realize I could not have done it on my own.

I continued to have similar experiences throughout 2011 in composing the other nine pieces in 10 Biblical Portraits, which was finally assembled and titled in November-December 2011. I believe with all sincerity that "God" or the "Holy Spirit" rather than "Cory Hall" was the true composer of my 10 Biblical Portraits, Opus 1. This explains why I named the cycle "Opus 1" and why each of the ten pieces bears the dedication "Soli Deo Gloria." (Before publishing "Opus 1" each of the ten pieces were published separately with dedications to fellow musicians and humans. "Soli Deo Gloria" applies only to the complete, unified ten-piece publication.)

Now that you know the history behind 10 Biblical Portraits, you are invited to listen to my individual video performances of each of the ten pieces. For maximum benefit, I ask that you find peace and solitude for 40 minutes and listen to all ten pieces in direct succession. For more information on each piece, you may visit the individual product page by clicking on each of the links below.

1. Genesis 2. The Garden of Eden 3. The Great Flood of Noah 4. Nocturne of Hope 5. Toccata Mysterium 6. Veni Sancte Spiritus 7. Grace Abounds 8. Rondo Jubilate 9. Heaven Awaits 10. Enter the Gates

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