piano, percussion, and electronics
Double Happiness was commissioned by The Living Earth Show (Travis Andrews, piano and Andrew Meyerson, percussion) as was premiered by the same group at the Fast Forward Austin Festival in Austin, TX on April 4, 2013.
The version for piano and percussion was commissioned by Chris Sies, Jani Parsons, Garrett Mendelow, and Satoko Hayami and premiered at the Marimba Festival in Samobar, Croatia, on September 19, 2016.
Double Happiness was written in the fall of 2012. While the piece was composed in New York, much of the piece was inspired by a summer spent in Italy while I was a fellow at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation’s castle in Umbria. I spent a lot of my time in Italy collecting field recordings of the Italian countryside, the sounds of church bells, train stations, and rainstorms. All of these sounds eventually found their way into Double Happiness as I constructed an emotional narrative around the sounds I experienced.
The piece consists of three larger movements connected by two (almost) identical interludes. The first movement, ‘Self Portrait, Part I’, explores the simple repetition of four simple notes, obsessive in their melancholy. The piano plays only harmonics, while the vibraphone always plays gently sustained notes; both are paired with ambient noises and simple sustaining electronics (hovering in and around the pitches) that further maintain the mood. The movement ends on an optimistic note as the four repeated notes slowly transform into a downward-moving chorale that leads inexorably to a celebratory D major chord.
The mood of the first movement is cut off quickly. Summer in Umbria is hot and dry and always ends quite abruptly with a long and extreme rain storm that cuts the heat; unexpectedly, out of nowhere, it’s autumn. I used the sound of this rainstorm to create the same effect in my interludes in Double Happiness. The first interlude features the rainstorm, two gentle chords in the piano and the vibraphone player who plays my transcription of four church bells heard ringing asynchronously in the distance.
If the first ‘Self Portrait’ explores extremes of melancholy, the third movement, ‘Self Portrait, Part II’ is an extreme study in joy, ecstatic joy that comes from the feeling of creation itself—the feeling can be almost as uncontrollable as melancholy. The third movement features a field recording of a rhythmic train station bell. This sound is coupled with the percussionist playing a simple and very rhythmic melody over and over again, augmented with resonant and microtonal electronics, giving the whole movement an extremely bright, metallic sheen. Eventually the piano joins the vibraphone in a very careful and detailed rhythmic hocket as the movement spins out more and more vibrantly.
The third movement cuts off as quickly as the first and we once again have an interlude. The second interlude is more austere than the first, with the transcription of a simple and extraordinarily resonant church bell ringing against the chords of the piano and the rainstorm again.
The final movement, ‘New Year’s Song (for Sarah)’ tries to find a place of repose between the two extremes. The movement is in fact a simple song where the two performers play a long, sustained melody. A brief moment of electronics features the composer himself playing violin, and accordion. The movement ends gently, and I hope happily.