This is the first such work that I have created specifically for web reception, and thus it has had no previous live performance with 35-millimeter slides. Like my first such work, Verlaine Variations, this one consists of images that have been specifically designed to cross-fade with each other at particular durations at specific junctures in the music. Alexej Steinhardt was crucial to its success as a sequence or, as I like to call it, choreography.
The musical work titled Ostinato is from the Prelude, Ostinato, and Fugue for Piano by Nicolas Flagello (1928-1994). The performance used here is that of Peter Vinograde from the CD titled Nicolas Flagello (Albany, NY: Albany Records, 1997).
Intended for solo piano, Prelude, Ostinato, and Fugue was composed in 1960 and is one of Flagellos first works in his mature compositional style. Its title and thematic material, e.g., in the Ostinato, are reminiscent of César Franck.
The Prelude begins with a restless searching, then builds to a massive climax, and then subsides. The Ostinato consists of a set of variations over an ascending minor scale, which functions as a basso ostinato that appears in several different keys. Beginning with a melancholy lyricism, it, too, builds to a tempestuous climax. The Fugue is a propulsive piece that subsumes contrapuntal intricacies within a vehicle for virtuoso pianism. A three-voice exposition is followed by several developmental episodes, culminating in a chordal augmentation of the subject, marked furiosamente, that leads to a stunning coda.
The work was first recorded in 1964 by Elizabeth Marshall. Subsequent recordings were made by Joshua Pierce and Peter Vinograde, which were released in 1991 and 1997, respectively. Mr. Vinograde has become an active protagonist for the work, performing it on recital programs all over the world.
Adapted from Walter Simmons, Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004).
The Slides and Choreography
As I have said before, the slides and their sequencing function like any choreography for live dancersi.e., without the music, they would not be meaningful and would have no independent existence.
There are twenty-one slides in all, including the title slide. Autumnal scenes abound, these photographed by me in Woodstock, Hurley, and Fleischmanns, NY. The curious graveyard in slide 14 is part Hurley, part swampland in Central Florida. The bell in slides 20 through22 is part of a collection belonging to set designer Salvatore Tagliarino, who is a Lark Ascending Board member. Among other photos of mine appearing in the slides are a pair of horses, a cat, a leopard, and a duck The dancers are from old photos in the New York Public Library Picture Collection. The pianist, Peter Vinograde, is featured in slide 13, thanks to photographer Susan Johann.
I must make special mention of my photographs of four sculpted heads from old buildings in the West 20s of Manhattan. These were the work of poor Italian stone masons who came here in the early twentieth century and used their wives, mothers, siblings, and children as models. I have photographed these sculptures extensively and have used a number of them before, in other slide choreographies, but it seemed especially appropriate to use some of them in this work.
The compositing and arrangement of slides was done by me in Photoshop 8. The sequencing was done in Macromedias Flash MX-2004 by Alexej Steinhardt with me assisting. But to him belongs the lions share of the credit.
Nicolas Flagello (1928-1994)
Born in New York City, Flagello grew up in a highly musical family that had deep roots in Old-World tradition. He was composing and performing publicly as a pianist before the age of ten. While still a youth, he began a long and intensive apprenticeship with composer Vittorio Giannini, who further imbued him with the enduring values of the European tradition. His study continued at the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned Bachelor's and Master's degrees; upon graduation, he joined the faculty. In 1955, Flagello won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Rome and earned the Diploma di Studi Superiori the following year at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia under the tutelage of Ildebrando Pizzetti.
During the years that followed, Flagello composed at a prodigious rate, producing a body of work that includes six operas, two symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous orchestral, choral, chamber, and vocal works. He was also active both as a pianist and conductor, making dozens of recordings of a wide range of repertoire, from the baroque period to the twentieth century. He died in 1994 at the age of 66 after a long, deteriorating illness.
As a composer, Flagello held with the view that music is a personal medium for emotional and spiritual expression. His music is characterized by passionate melodies, rich harmony, and driving rhythms, all integrated into tightly woven musical forms.
Some Useful References
Voices in the Wilderness: