in four movements, for solo piano
first movement orchestrated by the composer (see below)
1) Celestial Encounters (performances by Elizabeth Lee)
4) Dark Forms
Celestial Encounters — 2013 video by Sally Christian
Celestial Encounters — orchestral version by the composer
“Celestial Encounters is an absolutely beautiful piece making full use of the sonorities and expressive qualities of the piano. Creating sound pictures miraculously…, this original work breaks the mold and creates its own.”
— Molly Schrag in 20th Century Music, February 1997
Program Notes by Edmund Kimbell:
Conceived in the tradition of the nocturne and “night music”, the Fantasy Sonata is a musical and philosophical reflection on recent astronomical and cosmological research. In addition to evoking the mysterious beauty of cosmic phenomena and the vastness of space, it delves inward as a spiritual quest prompted by the wonders of space exploration. As the sonata proceeds, the initial narrow perspective of glimpses of space probes, comets and asteroids is progressively widened to encompass galactic dust and gas clouds within which stars are born and die, the primordial atomic forces that initiated the quiet but insistent power of life, and finally black holes and other unknown mysteries. Full use is made of the piano’s sonorities and technical possibilities to create sound pictures that range from minute to gigantic.
The first movement, Celestial Encounters, was inspired by pictures sent back by the Voyager and Giotto space probes. In the very beginning, staccato notes in irregular rhythms mimic radio signals from spacecraft and answering frequencies from outer space. A plaintive melody takes over and is developed in increasingly complex figurations to depict various types of encounters within the solar system involving objects both natural and man-made; these include inter-crossings of asteroid, comet and planetary orbits, spacecraft fly-bys of the outer planets and Halley’s Comet, and culminate in a body smashing into a planet. Here is a dramatic example of art presaging nature, for this movement was written eight years before Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 plunged into the planet Jupiter! As the shock waves subside, the opening melody is restated, but at half speed and softer, as if to broadcast it into the infinity of space.
Nebulæ celebrates images returned by the Hubble and Keck telescopes of cloudlike formations and similar phenomena. The movement opens with rumbling arpeggios that gradually rise in register and unfold into a luminous melody, interrupted by bursts of alternatingly soaring and tumbling arpeggios, the last of which is heralded by a cascade of augmented chords. The picture thus stimulated is one of vast, dark columns of interstellar dust, of which one eventually condenses into a star whose brilliance intensifies until it explodes, creating an expanding ring nebula. The movement closes with a condensed retelling of the same, this time set against twinkling chords that suggest the stars already created in the first cloud.
The third movement, Energies, is a driving toccata-like fugue which evokes both the constant pulse of sub-atomic energies and radiation, and the inexorable recurrance of living and spiritual energies. The various restatements of the subject—by turn plaintive, insistent against driving octaves, or lilting against cascading counterpoint—mirror the manifold mysteries of the forces that emanate from the primordial explosion. The closing stages of the movement suggest the energy of the untrammeled human spirit, in a glorious push to a fortissimo C major.
The fourth and final movement, Dark Forms, confronts the listener with dark matter, black holes, and forces of destruction both universal and personal, but with the promise of regeneration. It opens with slow, dissonant chords that carry the quality of a cosmic de profundis, over which high notes seem to keen intermittently. A middle section of cascading arpeggios parallels the inexorable swallowing of all, even light, by black holes. Yet a gentle melody in canon escapes into the final section, returning in ever soaring registers of intricate contrapuntal filigree. This last passage was composed, according to the composer, as “a musical vision of the Rose Nebula created by a closely entwined pair of stars.” During this closing stage, interjections of the opening chords increase in duration, and finally release into tolling notes, leaving the listener to contemplate the intangibility of immortality.