Small Art (2015) by Bruce Christian Bennett
for piano

Small Art for piano is a set of nine short character pieces, each about a minute long, give or take. It started as a general call for friends to create new and original small art works for each other. Some of my friends sent me small visual artworks that now grace the walls of my studio. Not being a visual artist myself, I embarked on composing this set of short pieces, each dedicated to a friend. Only five of the nine friends are musicians, and only three of those are pianists, one of whom is deceased.

As a set of short pieces, Small Art may be reminiscent of the keyboard suites of J.S. Bach, or perhaps some of the collections of short piano pieces by Béla Bartók. Though most of the pieces have no specific reference to dance music styles of the 18th century, the 7th and 9th pieces do draw on specifc stylistic aspects of that era.

The first piece was composed for and dedicated to pianist (and my dear friend) Lee Alan Nolan. It is somewhat expressionistic in character, drawing on the free atonal music of the Second Viennese School. The opening figure is echoed and varied in the subsequent two phrases as the initial energy of the forte gradually dissipates to a pianissisimo, evaporating into the upper register of the piano.

The second piece was composed in memoriam pianist Billy Pearsly shortly after I learned of his sudden unexpected death. Billy, Lee, and I were housemates while we attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and had/have been friends ever since. It is a slow, spacious, and somber piece that alludes to the final piece of Arnold Schoenberg’s Op. 19, composed after he learned his friend and patron Gustav Mahler had passed away.

The third piece is dedicated to rock guitarist Eli Osterberg, who made a lovely 6" x 7" framed, pen and crayon drawn piece for me that roughly depicts a sunset on the Oregon coast. The constant, crunchy, "power-chord"–like fortissimo eighth-notes against a slower but equally aggressive bass line (rhythmically 8 against 3) may evoke competing acts in a battle-of-the-bands contest.

Matthew Ethridge is a tireless environmental advocate, both a necessary and admirable pursuit (the planet isn’t getting any cooler!). His efforts are inherently frustating as one must work against relentless obstruction by moneyed interests. This fourth piece reels off rapid-fire repeating sixteenth-notes on middle-D with irregular accent patterns. Flurries of arpeggios peel off from the D. The repetition reasserts itself until it is finally cut off by octave B-flats in the upper register.

The fifth piece, played senza misura, is quiet and meditative, and echoes the cello and piano, and violin and piano movements of Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. It is dedicated to Annabeth Jensen, an absolutely lovely person and long-time friend, an elementary school teacher in Portland, Oregon.

Davis Rogan is a long-time friend who is a New Orleanian singer, songwriter, and pianist. The sixth piece is dedicated to him and plays with his predilection for stride piano and boogie-woogie.

The seventh piece is dedicated to French journalist Anne Jocteur Monrozier, who covered a story on the musicians of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. It has the air of a slow, somewhat somber aria that perhaps carries a hint of François Couperin. The Baroque-style ornamentation articulates a simple, mostly white-key melody in the right hand with a left-hand accompaniment that seems just a bit out of sorts.

Drummer William Langton is a long-time San Francisco Bay Area funk and jazz drummer who studied music theory with me for a few years. We have become good friends and he is certainly one of my favorite drummers to play with. The eighth piece is dedicated to him and lays out a "groovy" bass line over which a wistful descending melody gradually plays with the sense of where the downbeat might fall.

Last but not least, the ninth piece, maestoso in tempo and perhaps furioso in character, embraces the rhythm and phrasing of the Baroque French overture style, but with a rather thick and not-at-all Baroque harmonic palette. It is dedicated to Anne Jocteur Monrozier’s wonderful husband, French radio disc jockey Robex Plato.

— B. B.    

[from program for February 5, 2018 concert]