1979, rev. 1986
Four Elegies for Piano: in Memoriam Renée Longy (1897-1979) was written in 1979 and revised in 1986. Renée Longy was my ear-training teacher at Juilliard: although she was unknown to the musical public, Mme. Longy’s students fill the major American orchestras and chamber ensembles. During her long teaching career at Curtis, Peabody, Florida State and Julliard her students included many well-known musicians, including Leonard Bernstein, whom she taught how to read an orchestral score. I was fortunate enough to become friends with Mme. Longy and I did my best to help her as she was dying from breast cancer. The elegies that I wrote in her memory feature the pitches D and A, derived from her nickname, “Mme. Re La” (using the fixed-do solfege which she taught). The last piece opens with an evocation of the guitar playing of a young Juilliard custodian, befriended and taught by Mme. Longy during those years.
Later, when I played the elegies for Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, he said, “this piece is in d-minor.” I had thought of the elegies as atonal; perhaps he was responding to the implications of the nickname “Re-La.” Be this as it may, his reaction and his obvious implication that I needed to be true to my own inner voice have been very important for my career, but not nearly as important as the severe and terrifying training which Mme. Longy offered to her students out of her love for music and young musicians.