Piano Quartet

Composed in: 1992
Instrumentation: Piano Quartet [Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello]
Commissioned by: Elizabeth H. Henderson
for Pacific Serenades
Premiered by: Margaret Batjer, violin
Victoria Miskolczy, viola
David Speltz, cello
Ayke Agus, piano
Publisher: Pacific Serenades

Program Notes

In October of 1990, Charlie Swigart, my closest friend and life-companion of nineteen years, died of malignant melanoma. About a year and a half later, I wrote my Piano Quartet, the first piece written entirely after his death. And though it was not consciously intended to be so, it is very autobiographical, written out of the intensity of the many emotions I have experienced in my grief.

Tradition has it that the nervous disorder tarantism, erroneously thought to be the result of the tarantula bite, was curable by dancing—or that it caused a mania for dancing—the wild and hysterical Tarantella. This Tarantella is an attempt, metaphorically, to eradicate not a spider's venom, but some pain, some difficulty, some frustration of life which won't seem to resolve no matter what we try. It is a series of dances which seem to say, "I'll try this, I'll see if this works, how about . . . " and which build to a hysterical, and ultimately futile, frenzy. In the second movement, however, healing does begin. (This Song is especially for Charlie, whose name appears twice in musical form during the movement. Charlie was a chronic whistler, absentmindedly whistling his favorite music as he wandered around our garden, and I always felt as if I must be on the right track when I would hear him unconsciously whistling the very tunes that I was working on at the piano. I know that you're whistling this one, Charlie). And the Capriccio is another dance, this one to celebrate the joy of that healing.

—Mark Carlson