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John Dante Prevedini
On Liberty – an Augenmusik Piano Suite – AV 004DL
“Fascinating…brilliantly conveyed” with “a powerful emotional effect.”
— Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine
Prevedini’s nine meditations on the theme of “liberty” includes a graphic score inviting performers to improvise on each theme.
Prevedini uses a “total art” approach to highlight unconventional facets of everyday life through a multidisciplinary lens.
On Liberty, an Augenmusik Piano Suite
“On Liberty” (2022) is a nine-movement suite for piano in the tradition of Augenmusik (also known as “eye music”), a genre of music that – when notated – conveys an element of visual art. Specifically, the score for this work is based on my own transcription of the contours of the Statue of Liberty into notated music, via a sketch I drew from life while visiting the statue in the year 2000.
This I undertook by mapping the complete image plan over nine systems of single-staff piano music on a one-page score, using the resulting contour sections assigned to each individual system as a guide for notating a separate movement of music with my own harmonic language and melodic structure. In order to achieve harmonic variety in each movement without relying on accidentals (which would disrupt the horizontal dimension of the visible Augenmusik), I employ nonstandard key signatures after the manner of Bartók. In this case, I do so to convey scales that repeat at perfect fifths instead of octaves. In the performances heard in these recordings, I approach each notated movement as a main theme on which variations are improvised based on the programmatic content of the movement’s title.
Each of these movement titles I have chosen in order to reflect on a different aspect of “liberty” as a concept. It is my hope that the resulting recordings may thus inspire listeners to engage with their own reflections on the complex emotional meanings of liberty and its dynamic place in our evolving world.
– John Dante Prevedini
John Dante Prevedini, (b. 1987) is a composer of new classical music, an educator, and a public speaker.
He holds a DMA from the University of Hartford Hartt School (in composition with history and theory minors), an MM in composition from the University of Rhode Island, an MBA from Salve Regina University, and a BA from Connecticut College with a triple major in Music, East Asian Studies, and BCMB (Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology).
Interview with John Dante Prevedini
Q. Can you tell us a little about why you chose the subject of ‘Liberty’ for this set of works?
A. One can make the argument that, within all of the major global crises of the past few years, the broader issues surrounding “liberty” have been at stake in at least some way, from pandemics and political conflicts to climatic and financial crises. Cultures around the world are grappling with some very difficult questions. How do we secure the stability and sovereignty of free societies when there are competing visions of what freedoms to allow? How do we ensure that the liberties we cherish are also accessible to people whose worldviews differ from ours? How do we respond when one person’s exercise of freedom has unintended consequences that curtail another person’s exercise of freedom? I wanted to compose and record a work that contemplates – and encourages contemplation upon – complex emotional perspectives that underpin these sorts of perennial questions, using a fusion of visual art and instrumental music as a medium of emotional articulation.
Q. Your biography says you also studied biochemistry and molecular biology. Have those studies had any impact on your music?
A. Indeed they have. I have long considered music to be a medium for understanding and making sense of the world in all of its surprise and complexity. To that end, as a composer, I have tried to see the world from a variety of other perspectives, including that of a scientist. To give an example, one of the most fascinating facts about the study of life – from my composer’s viewpoint – is that the vast array of genomes that make up life on earth all depends on the sequencing of just four nucleotide bases in DNA. The order in which those same four bases appear and reappear in a DNA strand gives rise to genetic differences among all the organisms on earth, from bacteria and plants to insects and human beings. The relationship between the mathematical and the organic is, likewise, something that inspires my exploration of musical structure along a range of sonic parameters.
Q. What does a perfect day look like to you?
A. When the day affords me the time to find a balance among different types of activities, I enjoy problem solving and finding new ways to explain complex phenomena. I try to find moments of beauty and positive inspiration every day, even when they require some extra effort to seek out. I enjoy listening to a range of music, reading, and hearing the perspectives of the people around me in conversation. In terms of productive output, I work best when I have at least some form of solitary creative exercise every day, whether that be composing, practicing an instrument, or even some creative non-musical activity like drawing, cooking, or essay writing. I also find I work better when I have the freedom to regularly spend time outdoors and be immersed in nature.
Colin Clarke, Fanfare Magazine
The full title of John Dante Prevedini’s On Liberty is On Liberty—An Augenmusik Piano Suite. The composer goes into much detail in the interview below about how he works with so-called Augenmusik (eye music), and also how much improvisation is required from the performer (it does vary from movement to movement). Basically, an image of the Statue of Liberty was mapped over nine systems of single-staff manuscript paper. Each line (movement) therefore, has its own harmonic material with which the performer can work. Scales that repeat at fifths and a score devoid of accidentals is achieved via non-standard key signatures (a technique also used by Bartók). Each of the movement titles examines an aspect of the concept of “liberty.”
The realization of the score (which one can see in toto on the album cover) will necessarily be different from person to person, and the composer mentions below that this is to be encouraged. His reading seems inspired in that each movement has an overall shape, and individual moods are brilliantly conveyed. The openly optimistic first movement, for example, “Promise,” indeed conveys a feeling of hope that the freedom of the United States offers. “Refuge” seems to seek a softening from the slightly granitic chords of the opening via tonal constructs. The harmonies themselves have a powerful emotional effect, especially in the more relentless sections. The third movement, “Rights,” is intriguing and significantly more fluid in nature. The harmonies throughout are fascinating, almost as if something instantly recognizable has been suddenly reframed. Interestingly, “Rights” is fairly fluid too, as if opening out the discussion on what are the fundamentals of this concept. The power of the single line seems to speak particularly powerfully in this movement (representing an individual, perhaps).
In its slight rhythmic swing, “Conditions” seems initially to link back to the work’s opening; it holds huge contrasts, though, as well as what sounds like an invocation of a moving machine. The final gesture is brisk, bluff, and positively dismissive. “Truths,” which follows, seems calmative in intent, although it speaks with an inner confidence that rises steadily, eventually finding a quiet, single-note close.
The word “cost” has a variety of meanings, of course: monetary cost, but also emotional, psychological, and even spiritual costs, too. The music of the sixth movement, “Costs,” seems more lost here: Its directionality is fragile, with its accents seemingly trying to find terra firma but often failing. Only when we reach the lower registers of the piano does anything vaguely like a firm foothold take place, but the close is markedly enigmatic.
The seventh movement, “Justice,” is brief and muscular—also more dissonant and thornier, as if wrestling with truths. Another final, dismissive gesture takes us to the penultimate section, “Opportunity,” at nearly nine minutes the longest movement. Here, there is space to breathe, space to reflect, and we hear that in the music’s meanderings. Finally, a buoyant “Responsibility,” with the treble of the piano almost like flutes a-piping and vital rhythms everywhere, brings this fascinating piece to a close.
Of course, this is but one realization. But it does come from the composer himself, which gives it a particular authority. The piano is recorded closely, which in this case, seems to add an extra layer of involvement, almost as if Prevedini is speaking directly to the listener. The idea of observing an idea from multiple angles, like looking at a statue from different viewpoints, offers illumination. Arguably, the ideas behind this piece offer just as much stimulation as the actual realization.
Executive Producer: Peter Vukmirovic Stevens
Recorded and produced by John Dante Prevedini
Album Art and design by John Dante Prevedini
Mastering by Peter Vukmirovic Stevens at the Centre des Récollets, Paris