Variations on Empty Space

Piano

9 minutes

2008

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 joys and anguish, against the background of empty space. A great deal of the piece is built of silences, or the gradual fading of sounds into silence, in which the decay is at least as important as the initial attack. In these circumstances, initial harsh attacks can gradually assume a very peaceful, spacious quality as the sound fades away.

The piece is built from the contrast between such passages and a simple song that I wrote 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 first words of the song are:

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