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New Concert Piano Music: "4 Medieval Portraits, Opus 2"

Cory Hall

4 Medieval Portraits, Opus 2, is an exciting and rewarding set of pieces for advanced pianists and concert artists published in 2011 by BachScholar Publishing. Lasting a total of about 16-17 minutes, this work offers pianists an attractive alternative to classical or romantic works of similar durations. Each of the four pieces may be played singly; however, there is something truly magical and monumental about a complete performance of all four. The titles are as follows: 1. In Days of Yore 2. The Jester's Delight 3. The Old Castle 4. St. George and the Dragon


The four pieces were composed over a six-month period in 2011 (from April to October) and originally were not planned as one unified cycle, but around November I discovered that they worked ideally together. In fact, they sound so much like they belong together that to this day I (the composer) am still amazed that it just happened to work out this way. I love these pieces and never tire of playing them. My goal is to have pianists play 4 Medieval Portraits. singly or in the complete set in recitals and concerts. Composers always love it when others play their music and I, of course, would be ecstatic if pianists other than myself performed them. The set bears the description "Medieval" due to the titles, the compositional devices and techniques employed throughout, as well as the general "Celtic" flavor or character.

In Days of Yore incorporates two main themes, the first a romantic and lyrical siciliano-style theme in 6/8 and the second a vigorous gigue or canary-style theme also in 6/8 (A "canary" was a late medieval dance characterized by dotted-note rhythms, like the later "French" style gigue.) It is very much "Brahmsian" in its piano style and is gracious to the pianist and highly idiomatic for the instrument.

The Jester's Delight is probably my favorite work, of all my works, to play from a purely "fun" perspective. It is a tour de force and perpetual-motion-style piece in rondo form that is dominated by metric modulations -- more specifically, the 16th note remains at a constant speed despite the time signatures constantly changing or evolving. It is a highly sophisticated rhythmic etude for adventuresome pianists. The rondo form permits the three "Jester" themes to be alternated or tossed around in a structured but free-form fashion, each theme representing a different aspect of the devious and cunning medieval jester. Because of their common keys and character and segue of one into the other, In Days of Yore and The Jester's Delight work perfectly when played as a pair (total of ca. 9 minutes).

The third piece in the set, The Old Castle, consists of two themes the first a slow and meditative restatement or transformation of one of the "Jester" themes (which provides unity between the second and third movements) and the second a faster and slightly "Debussyesque" theme consisting of parallelisms and additive rhythms. The two themes are unrelated and highly contrasting, yet they seem to fit together like hand and glove. The Old Castle requires highly refined voicing and tonal control as well as careful pedaling.

The fourth and final piece in the set, St. George and the Dragon, brings the 4 Medieval Portraits to a rousing conclusion. Reminiscent of "Greensleeves," the Celtic-sounding St. George and the Dragon is a tour de force perpetual-motion-style piece (like The Jester's Delight) consisting of two alternating themes. The transition from the first to second theme presents a highly effective and natural sounding metric modulation while the second theme presents a challenging "four against three" (4:3) polyrhythmic pattern (the same pattern as in the first section of Chopin's "Fantaisie Impromptu"). The coda states the famous medieval "Dies Irae" theme ("the day of wrath" or "death"), which symbolizes George's final slaying of the dragon. Each martellato or "hammered out" chord in the right hand represents a lunge of the sword. St. George and the Dragon offers pianists a challenging and rewarding etude and brings 4 Medieval Portraits, Opus 2 to its final climax. Pianists and audiences alike are guaranteed to fall in love with this yet undiscovered and exciting work for piano!

I do not yet have one complete performance of my 4 Medieval Portraits in one video; however, below are each of the four pieces performed separately. I hope you enjoy them. I would be ecstatic and extremely grateful if a brave and courageous pianist would perform them in a recital!