CLUSTER’S LAST STAND (on the ground) for harpsichord
CLUSTER’S LAST STAND (on the ground) was composed in 1989 for the American harpsichordist, Igor Kipnis. Dedicated to Mr. Kipnis, he premiered the work the following March at the Tenth Annual Conclave of the Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society in Augusta, GA. Though only about three-minutes in length, this set of variations over a ground bass takes the listener on an odyssey through all the tonal resources of a two-manual harpsichord. The two-measure ground bass, centered around the note “A” and made up of rising fifths, is first heard on the harpsichord’s softest color, the 8′ (i.e. 8-foot) buff stop. The opening variations then dialogue between this color and the second manual’s uncoupled B’ (non-buff) stop. As other variations unfold, the dialoguing continues, the buff stop disappears, the 4′ stop is added, the manuals are coupled and the ground bass is ultimately stated in octaves (i.e. 16′), thus culminating the full registration potential of most harpsichords. After the climax is reached, this “crescendo” process reverses itself to quickly “diminuendo” into the color that began the piece, the 8′ buff stop.
As an extension of this “crescendo/diminuendo” process (qualities not generally associated with the “terraced dynamic” nature of the harpsichord), a similar process takes place in the rhythms and pitches of the piece. Beginning with the simple one-voice texture of the ground bass, a melodic idea that includes gentle two-note clusters first begins to develop over the ground bass, soon expanding to three, then four notes, eventually culminating in an eleven-note cluster between both hands. As this “crescendo” of clusters unfolds, so, too, does the ever-increasing rhythmic activity of the piece. After the quite obvious cluster climax is reached, the piece “diminuendos” quickly as the texture thins and, even with gentle clusters still present, CLUSTER’S LAST STAND (on the ground) comes to a calm conclusion.
As every American school child learns, the old West’s 19th-century General, George Custer, had his “last stand” in battle with the Sioux Indians on the Little Bighorn River. As a composer who loves puns, it is my hope that the listener of this piece will find much more living delight in the “last stand” of my clusters than did General Custer in his!