Metaphysical Études, Book I


John Carbon’s Metaphysical Études, Book I, contains four meditations inspired by the ancients’ quaternity of elements: air, earth, fire, and water. “Ariel’s Invention” turns into an upward spiral of counterpoint that vanishes into thin air at the end of this brief but difficult étude. The mugwumps in the second movement are “persons of great importance,” rather than specific political creatures, and their dance is earthy and barbaric.

“Fireflies,” written ppp throughout, builds in intensity as the fireflies appear over a dark passacaglia. This movement was the most difficult one to write. The composer’s problem was how to portray fire. He found the answer one spring evening outside the Herman Arts Center (on the Franklin and Marshall College campus) when he stopped to watch the fireflies come out. The “Rainmaker’s Song” suggests drops of water by means of a continual flurry of notes that gradually change color as they evolve into new patterns. (notes by Courtney Adams)

Selected Performances of Transcendental Études, Book I

Premiere: February 15, 1985, Betty Oberacker, piano, Sunday Concert Series, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA

March 23, 1986, Marian Bucklew, piano, Catonsville Community College, Catonsville, MD

January-March 1986, Betty Oberacker, piano, People’s Republic of China (3 performances)

March 25, 1986, Betty Oberacker, piano, Prisms Concert, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA

February 7, 1988, Silvia Glickman, piano, Millennium Concert, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA

Reviews of Four Transcendental Études Book I

LIP (Lancaster Independent Press) by Ross Care

”Carbon’s work was not the academic exercise in worn-out serialism one might have expected a few years ago, but rather a vital, appealing work, by turns lyrical, flowing, technically challenging (as the performer pointed out) and even humorous, as in the clever, cynical “Earth Dance of the Mugwumps” movement. ... most effective was the third étude, ‘Fireflies,’ a sustained movement in the Bartókian night-music mood, but one in which the composer’s originality seemed most apparent. A remarkable piece of keyboard writing, a kind of endless melody in the piano’s middle register wound its way through the entire movement amidst pointillistic dabs of color from both extremes of the keyboard, and even from the interior of the instrument when the performer was called upon to strum the lower strings to add a soft shimmer of vibrating color.”

© John Carbon 2015