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The Vanishing Pavilions for piano (2005)

Duration: ca. 145'

Program Note by Andrew Farach-Colton

Like many composers before him, Michael Hersch finds inspiration in poetry. With few exceptions, though, his musical responses tend to be expressed not in song but in purely instrumental terms. Thus, after reading Christopher Middleton’s poetry and feeling an immediate artistic and spiritual kinship with the British writer’s work, the idea for a massive solo-piano cycle began to take shape. This was in the fall of 2001 at the American Academy in Berlin, where Hersch and Middleton were fellows; within a year he had settled upon the various lines of poetry that would serve as inspiration and signposts for The Vanishing Pavilions.

Hersch has called his Czeslaw Milosz-inspired set of pieces for violin and piano, the wreckage of flowers (2003), “a shattered song cycle without words” and that vivid description also fits The Vanishing Pavilions. Yet with a score of some three hundred pages and a performance time of well over two hours, the latter work is on a far larger scale. The Vanishing Pavilions is divided into two books that encompass some fifty movements. Each book has its own discernible dramatic logic and shape, yet the two are indivisible. Approximately half of the movements were composed as companions to Middleton's poetic images; these are separated by a comparable number of intermezzi unrelated to any particular text. A dense web of motivic, harmonic and atmospheric relationships binds the whole together. And the density does not merely extend horizontally, from movement to movement, but is often expressed vertically, too, in elaborate layers of distinctly articulated musical ideas and characters. It is yet another technical challenge in a work that already requires extreme digital dexterity and strength.

The Vanishing Pavilions was premiered by the composer on October 14, 2006 at Saint Mark’s Church in Philadelphia. Hersch performed the vast, intricately detailed score entirely from memory. David Patrick Stearns of The Philadelphia Inquirer described the event as one that “felt downright historic.” He added, “The long-term trajectory of The Vanishing Pavilions is from music of polarized extremes to something more integrated, but harshly mirroring how elements of daily life that were unacceptable before Sept. 11 [2001] are confronted daily. Overtly or covertly, The Vanishing Pavilions is about the destruction of shelter (both in fact and in concept) and life amid the absence any certainty. And though the music is as deeply troubled as can be, its restless directness also commands listeners not to be paralyzed by existential futility.” Stearns also praised Hersch's playing, writing that the composer "conjured volcanic gestures from the piano with astonishing virtuosity."

***

Hersch has said that when he reads text that resonates within him, he may feel a visceral reaction, or the very words themselves may appear “like fire on the page.” If one were to generalize about the writers whose work Hersch is drawn to, including Mandelstam, Hölderlin and Milosz, in addition to Middleton, it might be fair to say that they share an unflinching, uncompromising vision; they are willing to acknowledge and grapple with the dark side of humanity.

Gentle Reader (from Middleton's 2001 collection The Word Pavilion) is not one of the texts selected by Hersch, but nevertheless illuminates how this poet and this composer are connected. In this poem, Middleton describes a serene piece of music that "brings to life a landscape: / Of poplars by a silver river, slender trees / Shimmering ..."

Oboe, flute, and strings deliver from the air
Just such a picture, like a Claude Lorraine.
Another fifty years – with different trees The picture will be mistier, Corot.

The poet suggests that we, the gentle readers of the poem's title, are "greedy" for aural and visual images. And then, later in the poem, in an abrupt shift, there are the images and sounds we turn away from. Middleton wants us to see these, too, and to hear:

... the shouts of thugs
Clubbing to death with crowbars people
Rather shocked to find that this was happening
A few doors only from home, for no good reason ...

Hersch’s music can be similarly unsettling, raw, or even violent, yet the composer not only wants us to hear, he wants us to listen. This is what gives his music much of its power, and what makes it so challenging to come to terms with. There is much that is beautiful in Hersch's music, certainly, though sometimes it can be a terrible beauty. There are no shimmering reflections, no Corot-like landscapes in The Vanishing Pavilions. Yet, in a sense, the music’s emotional clout is a direct product of the composer’s dogged truthfulness.

***

There are pieces of comparable size in the keyboard literature—Messiaen's Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus (1944) and Morton Feldman's Triadic Memories (1981) are notable examples. Though, really, in terms of dramatic range and emotional force, The Vanishing Pavilions is sui generis. Hersch's aforementioned description, "a shattered song cycle without words," is likely the most accurate and useful. Indeed, Hersch's cycle feels closer in spirit to, say, Schubert's Die Winterreise than to either Vingt Regards (an act of intense, ecstatic spiritual contemplation) or Triadic Memories (an aural organism whose movements are mesmeric, sublime). It's "shattered" in the sense that the unfolding narrative concerns the exploration and development of a state of mind rather than story-telling in any traditional sense. Along this epic journey, the composer serves not as a detached guide but as an active participant. And perhaps this is the ultimate source of the music's power. Exhilaration, terror, awe, despair, rapture—Hersch doesn't just confront us with these sensations, he experiences them with us.


    BOOK I

  1. Prelude — Resonant, slightly bitter chords in the bass are answered by dense, brittle chords in the treble. At first it seems the high chords are answering or echoing the lower chords, but the treble's rhythm becomes more independent, as if trying to escape from the bass' weighty regularity.
  2. … the snows ignite:
    A flag revolves, a bird has flown –
    Our objects, humble, they aspire;
    Learn we our ashes by their fire.
  3. Shooting scales and exploding clusters of notes (both created from the same pattern of pitches) flash by at a frantic tempo. Note how the vivid freshness of Middleton's image, "the snows ignite," is matched by the dazzling originality of the piano writing: the scales and clusters dance off each other like a blinding shower of sparks.

  4. Intermezzo (A) — This Intermezzo begins with deep ruminations. As in the Prelude, these profound sonorities are met with shrill clusters: high in the treble, at first, then working their way to the instrument's mid-section. A delicate, descending gesture introduces a lyrical thought, but the yearning, pained harmonies of the opening persist. Suddenly, a new idea: drum-like quarter notes in the bass accompany a stark, portentous three-note motive. These various thoughts mingle uncomfortably and then are abruptly cut off.
  5. ...and over that plateau, in a vast and glowing atmosphere,
    Thousands of heaped stones absorbed the twilight.
  6. Curt, powerful chords sputter—a jagged, daunting pile of sounds. There's no discernible design at first, though the repetition of a jerky five-note (3+2) figure suggests a pattern. Hersch marks the movement fff sempre (always very, very loud) until the final bar, where that five-note figure is heard again, hanging in the air for a mere moment as a kind of echo.

  7. Intermezzo (B) — Again, two distinct sonorities are opposed. Eight times, the pianist thoughtfully plucks out four notes in the bass (the score instructs these to be played "as if slowly strumming a guitar"). Above this refrain, other similarly- shaped four-note figures are set off from the rest by their more pointed character. This layering is a recurring feature in The Vanishing Pavilions.
  8. The Vanishing Pavilions - Movement No. 6The Vanishing Pavilions - Movement No. 6
    Michael Hersch, piano
  9. ...explosions of clocks and winds without routine
    not fountains not millennia of light inextinguishable
    ebbing through column and throat
  10. Torrents of arpeggios, chiming chords, tiny melodic shards, and breathless pauses give voice to Middleton's imagery. The piano writing might be described as Lisztian virtuosity deconstructed.

  11. Intermezzo (C) — A tune: piping, casual yet deeply melancholy. Its dotted rhythm suggests a march, perhaps. Twice, this march starts out, yet each time it breaks off in mid-thought. A variation on this tune sounds deep in the bass, but it gets stuck in a rhythmic groove, like a soldier marching in place.
  12. Here the huge root spread:
    A willow hit by lightning, long
    Before we came.
    Trees all around,


    Their graves in the rock, under a green hood
    They heard willow speak to water,
    And housed the spring, so it could dwell
    In itself, as such a place might wish to do.
  13. A key movement, as it will reappear later in Book I and again in Book II. Four essential ideas are presented. Three long-held notes heard at the opening, are a variant of the portentous three-note motive from Intermezzo A. Punctuating this are blasts of tone clusters, and a repeated note figure whose iterations accelerate then decelerate. A series of four exploding clusters momentarily recall the frenzy of the "the snows ignite" (No. 2), and then seven "ghostly" (the composer's description) cluster chords converge towards the keyboard's center. These four elements are varied, developed and remixed. As in Intermezzo B, note how layers of contrasting articulation create textural richness even though the actual consistency is relatively spare.

  14. Intermezzo (D) — Stark, slow-moving, rhythmically regular chords evoke a chorale-like threnody—an idea that will return again and again through the course of the work. Here, the composer directs it to be played "with a muted string-like quality." The threnody begins a second time, accompanied by tolling syncopations in the piano's lowest register.
  15. ...pushing through slow centuries:
    The space is branching out, blown back.
  16. Widely spaced pitches establish an irregular, constantly shifting pattern. Nothing in this movement is predictable. Rapid, explosive clusters from "the snows ignite" help bolster the movement's dramatic arc—a trajectory that at first seems random but gradually creates an anxious inevitability.

  17. Intermezzo (E) — The jagged, angry, two-part writing in this Intermezzo is unlike anything thus far in The Vanishing Pavilions. Perhaps its closest relative, in terms of language and expression, is "and over that plateau" (No. 4), whose sharp, detached chords evoke the icy heat of mid-century Modernism. In fact, the two movements are built from the same basic notes, so their surface resemblance is mirrored in their structure.
  18. So the flashing knife will split
    Memory down the middle...
  19. Of all Middleton's images, few are as immediate and vivid as this one. Hersch's response is similarly direct: a stabbing chord and a plunging gesture. (This gesture, like many passages in The Vanishing Pavilions, may sound like a glissando—a scale played in a grand sweep with one finger—but actually requires note-by-note fingering.) The plunging thrust is repeated four more times, the third one cutting through a quiet, rhythmically confident tonal cadence. Following the final slice, the cadence is repeated, though now its character is almost defiant. No matter, for the knife has done its job and the movement ends with notes falling away in shards. The movement is then repeated in its entirety.

    The Vanishing Pavilions - Movement No. 13 The Vanishing Pavilions - Movement No. 13
    Michael Hersch, piano
  20. Intermezzo (F) — An expressive, slowly-undulating melody is woven over dense cluster chords. Four bold, descending notes disrupt the lyrical atmosphere and announce a brief reminiscence of the chorale-like threnody from Intermezzo D before the clusters return, deeper and darker now. At the end, three bright tones illuminate the shadows.
  21. On the far side of town a hospital.
    Music mapped across the storm
    Rushing through dark air and the strain of springs that wheels depend on –
    In the middle air
    He leaves just two or three, to float,
    Hesitating.


    In hope they may be pleased, and relent,
    Those gods, whoever might be there,
    And bring her through, home.
  22. This is among the longest and most elaborate movements in Book I. The opening is marked Funèbre, and with its regular, quarter-note pulse and chordal texture, it seems connected to the threnody from Intermezzo D. Note, however, how the harmonies here are even more mournfully expressive and exploratory than in their previous incarnations (the sudden drooping of the bass to a low E-flat, for instance). The texture abruptly thins out as the pace quickens and a four-note canon in B minor is introduced. Rapidly proliferating polyphony quickly weighs the music down. The canon begins again. This time, however, the music's density and momentum are maintained, leading to an intricate, intensely expressive development of the movement's opening phrases. Yet again, the texture thins and the canon theme returns, accompanied now by a somewhat breathless, rapping figure. These two elements (canon tune and rapping accompaniment) are separated and, finally, disintegrated. From the remains come slow chimes, ascending into the chilly air.

  23. Intermezzo (F) — No. 13 repeated verbatim, thus providing a matching bookend for "On the far side of town a hospital."
  24. Some distance from the graves,
    A more or less decent distance from the graves.
  25. Chords tremble and shake in frightful crescendos, leaving behind ghostly apparitions.

  26. Intermezzo (G) — A sharp downward gesture is the recurring motive of this exuberant movement; its compulsive, repetitive character recalls "So the flashing knife will split/Memory down the middle."
  27. ...and the dead are unappeased.
    ...those who haunt this tract of earth, at this little window asking to be named.
  28. A progression may be discerned in the previous two poetic signposts ("On the far side of town a hospital" and "...and the dead are unappeased") from illness to death. Here, the composer continues the sequence, and the music evokes the phantom quest suggested by Middleton's text. In the opening passage, a short melodic tendril drifts in a circular current as the music leans towards B minor, providing a tonal link of sorts to No. 14. The threnody returns, accompanied by a new effect: whiplash figures snapping four octaves up to shatter in the treble. In the movement's center, the pursuit briefly quickens, though this strikingly rhythmic music is just as obsessive—and ultimately fruitless—as at the opening.

  29. Intermezzo (H) — A single idea prevails: pairs of notes leaping up to land in the piano's high register. The effect is mesmeric, disquieting, and perhaps a portent of The Vanishing Pavilions' extraordinary final movement.
  30. Beyond the shacks where food is sold ...
    Beyond any imaginable midpoint of the world
    Memory brimmed unbidden with whole colours
    Only to end in a choking dust of names
  31. There's something of an idée fixe here, too, as much of this movement unfolds in triplets; yet there's none of the starkness that marked the previous Intermezzo. "Hazy throughout" is the composer's direction, and in spite of an onslaught of forceful accents, the music proceeds quietly and in a tentative, exploratory way.

  32. Intermezzo (I) — A lamenting processional, with "weeping" melodic figures repeated over dark, throbbing chords. The final section, featuring an insistent, rising half-step motive, is played twice, its character exuding a sadness of Mahlerian depth and force.
  33. ... the snows ignite:
    A flag revolves, a bird has flown –
    Our objects, humble, they aspire;
    Learn we our ashes by their fire.
  34. Here begins a recapitulation or (to be less structurally allusive, perhaps) revisiting of earlier movements. The contexts and relationships are considerably altered, however, and though the music is notated identically to its twin (No. 2), it now sounds even more frenzied, desperate.

  35. Intermezzo (B) — The notes remain the same as in No. 5 but the dynamics and directions do not. The original version was ruminative, with guitar-like strumming; now the composer directs the pianist to play "powerfully; biting," and the music is strikingly more aggressive.
  36. Here the huge root spread:
    A willow hit by lightning, long
    Before we came.
    Trees all around,
    Their graves in the rock, under a green hood


    They heard willow speak to water,
    And housed the spring, so it could dwell
    In itself, as such a place might wish to do.
  37. As before, No. 8.

  38. Intermezzo (C) —As before, No. 7. This Intermezzo now follows rather than precedes "Here the huge root spread," however, and serves here as a preface to "Let them be the vanishing pavilions," the crux of Book I. In its new context, the Intermezzo's dramatic character is altered significantly.
  39. Let them be the vanishing pavilions.
    There will be remnants, surely, for someone.
    The road does not lose itself in such a darkness,
    The dark beginning to glow, all air
    A sparkling to be created
    For more than horrors to inhabit.
  40. This expansive movement is the heart of Book I, which should not be surprising as the poetic fragment that inspired it also contains the work's title. There are three main sections, beginning with a quiet introduction of improvisatory character. Two features stand out in this introduction: the opening, where a single note gradually expands to become a cluster of tones, and a plaintive passage in B minor whose undulating quarter notes recall "and the dead are unappeased" (No. 18).

    The second section starts abruptly with a frantic presto. Before long the bass pounds out (ffff in octaves) the stark three-note motive first heard in Intermezzo A. Soon octaves are flying in every direction until the bass suddenly latches onto a low C and the rhythm gets similarly jammed into a tight, syncopated groove. In the midst of this maelstrom, an elemental theme emerges in the piano's tenor register. Several rounds of violent, rising chord clusters try to dislodge the bass C from its spot. They eventually succeed, and for a few moments the music seems to deflate. Then it implodes.

    After a brief silence, the bass slips down to B, anchoring a new passage whose effortful, rising melodic steps establish a familiarly funereal character (see No. 21), and include yet another reappearance of the threnody. In the movement's final bars, B minor and B Major sonorities are intermingled—an ambiguity that appears to reflect the poem's last lines.

    The Vanishing Pavilions - Movement No. 27 The Vanishing Pavilions - Movement No. 27
    Michael Hersch, piano
  41. Intermezzo (J) — Book I began with two opposed sonorities; in the Book's final Intermezzo, the original bass chord returns, now transposed to the piano's middle register. Forty-six times this chord chimes while elements from other movements are revisited and transformed, falling on or around the chiming chords with deliberate unpredictability. Significantly, the plunging gesture from "So the flashing knife will split/Memory down the middle" (No. 12) is now inverted so it slices upwards. Perhaps this is an attempt to reconnect what has been severed or maybe is simply finishes the cut?). After, a fragmentary echo of the threnody can be discerned through a thick fog of tone clusters. And still the chimes continue.
  42. BOOK II

  43. Spectres, vast, remote
    Uneasily wagging their heads
    In shrouds of crushed amethyst:


    Tomorrow I will confirm
    That they are hill crests,
    And slopes parade the green oak, olive,


    Serried cherry.
    On sunken pots of Rome
    An iridescence, thick
    Or light, signifies the human:


    Should the moment return
    At sundown's onset
    I will ask what is this colour,


    Again a few score of breaths,
    And scaling the underside
    Of pine branches


    An aqueous rose, diffused.
    Neither quality, nor adjunct.
    How long so old.
  44. Book I began with a Prelude and ended with an Intermezzo; Book II begins and ends with movements directly inspired by Middleton's poetry. There is little or nothing introductory about this movement. It's relatively extensive, as befits the text, and in a sense picks up where Book I left off. Indeed, most of the musical material in this movement has been presented previously. The converging chord clusters are adapted from "Here the huge root spread," and woven into these is a variant of the threnody. The chiming chord that both opened and closed Book I sounds yet again, heralding the return of other elements from Intermezzo J layered in dense counterpoint. At the movement's end, twelve chord clusters are furiously pounded out; the music is, literally, clobbered into silence.

    The Vanishing Pavilions - Movement No. 29 The Vanishing Pavilions - Movement No. 29
    Michael Hersch, piano
  45. Intermezzo (K) — Soft clusters floating high in the treble are cut by glissando- like incisions. A clattering cascade of notes and a sustained, sighing figure (just two notes, with supporting chords) offer brief respites of delicacy and lyricism.
  46. I see two doves, first one
    And then the other fell
    And as the story ended –
    "Nightmares hounding him ..."
    Hardly having touched the ground
    Back up again they flew.
  47. In the first section: bounding upward leaps and stabbing chord clusters, then the sighing figure from the preceding Intermezzo is recalled. A faster middle section with breathless, syncopated chords suggests hounding nightmares. Note the mini- clusters that swoop up and down the keyboard (another variant of "the snows ignite," perhaps?). The tempo slows again for a brief coda that refers back to the threnody and puts the sighing figure in a new context.

  48. Intermezzo (L) — The previous movement ended with the interval of a minor seventh (in the treble), and the same interval hovers throughout this delicate Intermezzo. Similarly, the broad melody played in the piano's "cello" register is derived from the quick upward leaps of the previous movement's opening.
  49. … explosions of clocks and winds without routine
    not fountains not millennia of light inextinguishable
    ebbing through column and throat
  50. As in Book I, No. 6.

  51. Intermezzo (M) — Above a painfully slow tread of quarter notes (yet another variant of the threnody), a generous, singing melody reaches up more than an octave before gently falling to earth. The accompanying quarter notes descend, too, landing deep in the bass. Their profound tintinnabulations are marked with dotted rhythms, creating another mournful march that's a mixture of Intermezzo C and the funereal music of "On the far side of town a hospital." The opening melody then begins again, two octaves lower, descending into a cloud of inky darkness.
  52. So the flashing knife will split
    Memory down the middle...
  53. As in Book I, No. 12. Here, however, the composer has appended a new coda. The cadential phrase heard previously is no longer slashed and severed; shards fall, but the tonal fragment survives and quietly reasserts itself. After a brief silence, the entire movement is repeated. And another addendum: the oddly immobile figure that concluded Intermezzo C has been lifted from the depths and now serves as an eerie benediction. The composer marks these bars, "hollow, icy.”

  54. Who captures the wind
    And its actual rages
    A gale sweeping the heath
    Cleaning the peaks
    So they brighten at nightfall.
  55. Gusts of notes swirl around restless silences. The movement is played twice, and the second time the composer asks that the music's character be "slightly more unsettled and agitated."

  56. Intermezzo (N) — Massive, angry chords splutter in a movement whose fury and single-mindedness recall both "and over that plateau" (No. 4) and Intermezzo E. In addition to the chords, a three-note figure (derived in part from the swirling figures of the previous movement) lashes out in opposite directions simultaneously. This gesture gains emotional weight as the movement staggers forward.
  57. Here the huge root spread:
    A willow hit by lightning, long
    Before we came.
    Trees all around,
    Their graves in the rock, under a green hood


    They heard willow speak to water,
    And housed the spring, so it could dwell
    In itself, as such a place might wish to do.
  58. As before, in Nos. 8 and 24 of Book I.

  59. Intermezzo (O) — Another movement in B minor, this one with a baroque-style "walking" bass line and the now-familiar threnody as a kind of cantus firmus in the treble. A gradual crescendo leads to a crushing climax, and then we're back where we started. Yet it's clear something has changed, and the final bars suggest someone tiptoeing through a minefield.
  60. Intermezzo (P) — Here, for the first time, two intermezzi are placed back-to-back. The composer instructs the pianist to play "with great ferocity throughout," and as in Intermezzo N, the music sparks and splutters. This time, though, most of the material focuses on the pitches clustered within narrow confines.
  61. ...the snows ignite:
    A flag revolves, a bird has flown –
    Our objects, humble, they aspire;
    Learn we our ashes by their fire.
  62. As before, in Nos. 2 and 22 of Book I.

  63. And in The Inferno, of the least tormented, Writhing in filth, thick gloom, the tornado,
    None could slither naked from one chosen
    Circle into another.
    Territory held.
    No trespassing there.
    Heaven disposes
    No massacres, no refugees.
  64. The first page of the score of this movement offers a glimpse of the emotional extremes the composer aims to convey. Chord clusters in the treble are marked pianissimo; the pianist is instructed to use the una corda pedal, which gives the sound a covered, fragile quality. By contrast, a subsequent flash of 20 notes—to "be played as fast as possible"—is marked ffff (i.e., maximum volume).

    This movement can be divided into four main sections. In the opening, chord clusters and glissando-like whiplashes are joined by a continuing development of the threnody and sighing, lyrical phrase (from Intermezzo K). In the second, slightly faster section, an undulating sequence of steady quarter notes suggests a drugged dreaminess. Hersch piles on layers of material (contrapuntal lines, chords, clusters), building and sustaining an immense climax. And even after it peaks, a tide of throbbing chords keeps the music churning. Next, the portentous three-note motive (originally from Intermezzo A) becomes the head of a long melody pounded out in octaves, starting in the bass then leaping passionately into the treble. When the wave finally subsides, the opening cluster chords and whiplash scales return. The movement ends with the lyrical, sighing phrase—a concise, consolatory gesture.

  65. Intermezzo (Q) — An extended development of Intermezzo C.
  66. Intermezzo (R) — Completing another pair of back-to-back intermezzi, this is a development of Intermezzo E's jagged edges and nervous energy.
  67. Below bright multitudes there was only earth.
    *
    A breath rotates the stars
    *
    The wind gusting in the pines, raking with open fans
  68. As in Intermezzo O, the writing here is rhythmically regular—an unbroken chain of quarter notes runs throughout—and the textural simplicity initially suggests that harmony has the upper hand. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that melody and harmony have equal prominence; in fact, they are inextricably entwined, just as in the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Offbeat bass chimes can't quite manage to drive the music's trajectory off-course, though they do cause the tonal harmonies to contract into tight-fisted clusters. The movement is repeated in its entirety.

  69. Intermezzo (S) — A pair of complementary paragraphs, each beginning with groups of fractious, ricocheting chords and concluding with roiling triplets (played forte but with the una corda pedal) and a pair of discouraged sighs. The movement is repeated.
  70. ...through shrieks of birds that flash in the sun like axes...
    ...track the sun's wheel, either way, up or down, following every-where
    ...how deep the hill shines under its shade of tall trees,
    And when no stars come, goes to them darkly upward.
  71. A virtuosic optional movement built from the triplet figures of the previous Intermezzo.

  72. Intermezzo (Q) — As before, No. 42. In bringing this music back so soon, Hersch underscores its significance. And just as the reappearance of Intermezzo C prefaced the climactic "Let them be the vanishing pavilions" in Book I, this further development of the music from that early Intermezzo now leads us to the burning core of Book II.
  73. The note pad and over it the candle glass
    Spills a shadow.
    Redder now the candle
    Housed in its glass.
    No red suffusing shadow
    Though alone he might die, discovered
    Hosting many maggots, hardest work undone.
  74. Big, aching chords trace a broad, lamenting melody. Grand gestures and the music's textural fullness suggest a long-anticipated, epic summation. The tone shifts slightly with the introduction of a measured, hesitant, somewhat awkward march whose melodic outline recalls the central section of "And in The Inferno" (No. 41). An extensive development of the march leads to an overwhelming climax, marked fffff—the loudest point in the score. From the remains of this devastating explosion we hear a familiar strain: the rising, B minor figure from the conclusion of "Let them be the vanishing pavilions" (No. 26). But soon this procession, too, is obliterated. Cluster chords (from "Here the huge root spread") now diverge, leaving behind a gray haze of destruction. And with a single, violent crack, like the shot of a rifle—silence.

  75. So the flashing knife will split
    Memory down the middle ...
  76. As before, though in its extended version (No. 34), and with an acrid tone-cluster added to the "hol-low, icy" codetta.

  77. Will they still be there?
    Will they shout? Not likely,
    For twilight comes and far, far ahead
    The air is spreading a terrible hush.
    Time has not hesitated.


    From the crossroads, now, and sees
    That bend in the road goes on forever,
    And trees, identifiable once, melt into nebulae
    Disgorging dust, not stars
    .
  78. The final movement is also the most straightforward—thirty-six explosive chords slowly ascend to the upper end of the keyboard—yet it's the most difficult to describe. Is it a leave-taking? A transformation? An epiphany? An act of purification? There is but one certainty: For The Vanishing Pavilions, this is the only—the inevitable—conclusion.

Andrew Farach-Colton is a regular contributer to Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, Opera News, and The Strad.  His essays and analytical notes have appeared in the program books of the New York Philharmonic, BBC Proms, and the San Francisco Opera, as well as in CD booklets of Decca and Harmonia Mundi recordings.