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Oni Buchanan, Jenny Q. Chai & Piotr Tomasz | Cindy Cox: Hierosgamos

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Cindy Cox: Hierosgamos

by Oni Buchanan, Jenny Q. Chai & Piotr Tomasz

HIEROSGAMOS, a collection of piano works by Cindy Cox, one of the most important composers of her generation and one of the most original American composers writing for piano today.
Genre: Classical: Contemporary
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  Song Share Time Download
1. The Blackbird Whistling / Or Just After
Oni Buchanan
4:26 $0.99
2. Hierosgamos: I. Strong, Joyous
Oni Buchanan
2:55 $0.99
3. Hierosgamos: II. Delicate
Oni Buchanan
3:38 $0.99
4. Hierosgamos: III. Sonorous
Oni Buchanan
4:18 $0.99
5. Hierosgamos: IV. Meditative, Still
Oni Buchanan
5:55 $0.99
6. Hierosgamos: V. Playful, But Driven
Oni Buchanan
2:45 $0.99
7. Hierosgamos: VI. Fleeting
Oni Buchanan
3:12 $0.99
8. Hierosgamos: VII. Transcendent
Oni Buchanan
7:32 $0.99
9. Playing a Round: I. Nuts and Bolts
Jenny Q. Chai
1:59 $0.99
10. Playing a Round: II. Machinations
Jenny Q. Chai
1:31 $0.99
11. Playing a Round: III. Frame Switch
Jenny Q. Chai
4:39 $0.99
12. Playing a Round: IV. A Note to Follow Sol
Jenny Q. Chai
2:21 $0.99
13. Playing a Round: V. Coming Back
Jenny Q. Chai
3:15 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
I love the piano. It was my first instrument, and I’ve played since I was eight years old.
The physicality of playing, the touch of the keys, and the voicing of sonorities are all
really important to me. As both a percussion instrument and one that is capable of
incredible resonant harmonies, the piano fires my imagination and spawns innumerable

In 2001 I began to focus on harmony and resonance with a short work for piano, The
blackbird whistling/Or just after. In this piece, the lowest octave is held in the sostenuto
pedal (the middle pedal), allowing those strings to vibrate freely and creating additional
sympathetic vibrations when higher pitches are played. I think of this resonance as a kind
of aura surrounding the sound; when I told my husband (poet John Campion) about what
I was doing, he quoted from Wallace Steven’s Thirteen Way of Looking at a Blackbird:

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Pianist Sarah Cahill commissioned and premiered Blackbird for a program dedicated to
the memory of composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. Since then many other pianists have
performed it, and I am particularly fond of this version by Oni Buchanan. This is the first
recording of Blackbird.

My interest in harmony and resonance continued with a set of etudes written in 2003,
Hierosgamos: Studies in Harmony and Resonance. The ancient Greek spiritual
concept of the “hieros gamos” captures the Janus nature of my inspiration, an overarching
principle revealing the ultimate wholeness concealed among pairs of apparent opposites.
Literally meaning sacred marriage, the mysterious union of the “hieros gamos" involves a
simultaneous moment of creation and dissolution between the self and the other, a coterminus
spiritualization of matter and a materialization of spirit. In the language of
alchemy, Carl Jung spoke of a “chemical wedding,” where the “yang and yin” of things
are purified back into an original unity.

In this large work for piano, I want to show how opposing characteristics and materials
ultimately derive from a single source. Two seemingly contradictory properties of the
piano are very important: first, that the piano is like a huge horizontal harp, with strings
under many tons of pressure and capable of incredibly powerful resonance. Second, the
piano is essentially a percussion instrument, not a sustaining instrument as many
eighteenth and nineteenth century composers tried to make it. Reconciling these two
aspects led me to use the harmonic series and a predominately motoric and continuous
percussive texture.

The seven etudes principally address the study of harmony. The overtone series (up to
the sixteenth partial) and its inverse provide the pitch material, while I use the map of the
keyboard as pillars for the choice of fundamentals in the three anchoring movements: the
lowest note, A0 for the first movement, the highest note, C8 for the seventh, and the
middle of the keyboard, E4 for the center movement. The architecture of the piece is
derived from this construction, with the first and last movements based upon the lowest
and highest pitches respectively, and the middle fourth movement on the E4. The piano’s
eighty-eight keys are further divided into zones of eleven half steps, and these areas are
used as secondary relationships throughout the work. Movements two, three, five, and
six sharply contrast with the beginning, end and middle, even though, as with the Hieros
gamos, they are all created from the same originating material.

Playing a round (2008) for two pianos is full of jokes, as you can see from the title.
With lots of musical canons, the two instruments echo melodic symmetries back-andforth.
The first movement, Nuts and Bolts, serves as a kind of frame and returns in the
coda at the end. The second movement, Machinations, speeds along at breakneck pace
like two competing machines. The third movement, Frame Switch, dialogues between a
sort of embellished chorale in piano one and a strange artificial scale in piano two, and
the title refers to a train switching between tracks and going off on unexpected rails. The
fourth movement, A note to follow sol, plays on the idea of ringing bells and a sober sort
of four and five-part counterpoint. The last movement swings on a riff initiated by piano
two and punctuated by spiky chords in piano one, and lastly in the coda the music of the
first movement returns, Coming back and Playing a round.

The recordings of Hierosgamos and Blackbird evolved out of years of working with
pianist Oni Buchanan, and I am very grateful for her dedication to performing these.
Her recording of the two was done in Hertz Hall, Berkeley. I am also very grateful to
Jenny Chai and Piotr Tomasz for their performance and recording of Playing a round at
the Oriental Arts Center in Shanghai, in what was my first visit to China. And I am
likewise thankful for the keen ears of sound engineer Jay Cloidt, who recorded
Hierosgamos and Blackbird and mastered the overall recording.

Cindy Cox
24 August 2016



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