Variations on Empty Space

Solo piano
12 minutes
2008

Commissioned by Margaret Mills

Program Note

Variations on Empty Space, commissioned and dedicated to Margaret Mills, was written in memory of my mother, pianist Mollie Kanowitz Feigin. It portrays her life and death, her love and her anguish, against a background of empty space. A great deal of the piece is built of silences, or of the gradual fading of sounds into silence. The decay is as important as the initial attack, as even harsh sounds become peaceful and spacious as they fade away into the quiet.

The piece is built from the contrast between such passages and a simple song that I had written several years ago as a setting of the Loving-Kindness Sutra, an early Buddhist text. The song comes back several times, and after a violent climax, it is resumed as a peaceful chorale, very high, ethereal and bell-like. The song begins with the words

as a mother guards her child,
her only child,
at the risk of her life,
so, with boundless heart,
let us cherish all beings…