THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY for piano. 2005. Duration: 10:15 minutes.

Score/part available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.

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Borrowing its title from the famous description of worldly versus spiritual vision by St. Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians (“for now we see through a glass darkly but then face to face”—1 Corinthians 13:12 ), Through a Glass Darkly was composed during the late spring of 2005 after a request by the young virtuoso pianist Jennifer Lim. About a week before embarking on the composition of the work, I had watched the feature film The Notebook by Nick Cassavetes based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, a love story about loss of one’s memory, and it got me thinking about how memory and identity are interconnected, but also about the different kinds of memory and the different kinds of memory retention—physical, mental, spiritual—the latter kind being the only one which I believe survives the grave and becomes part of our continuing journey through the universe. These thoughts in combination with a series of afflictions that affected close and extended family members and friends at about the same time (some of them having to do with memory retention) had put me in an emotional situation, in which I very rarely find myself: one of quiet desperation and helplessness, which has influenced the character of this work significantly.

The original intention was that Through a Glass Darkly would be the concluding piece of a cycle of works based on lighter musical influences collectively titled Parlor Music. Parlor Music is a lighthearted trip down memory lane. True to the uncomplicated nostalgia prevalent in this cycle, Through a Glass Darkly begins in the typical Parlor Music style. Almost as soon as the music starts, however, the listener becomes aware that this trip is not going to be pure indulgence. Wrong harmonic turns at the end of phrases, memory slips, starting a new phrase in the wrong key and then adjusting afterwards; all of these harmonic dysfunctions reveal a failing memory, the failings of which intensify as the work progresses. Sometimes there are unexpected atonal (mostly twelve-tone) outbursts in the midst of what is otherwise tonal music. It is almost as if the ‘wiring’ of physical memory becomes occasionally conspicuous, as opposed to the subjective quality one usually associates with this term. All of this creates musical and dramatic tension and soon the music is in a much darker space than where it began. At one of the climaxes of this tension, the maximal music gives way to a very still, minimal counterpart reminiscent of the music of Philip Glass (the title is also a pun referring to this stylistic indebtness). In the end, after a series of jagged juxtapositions of twelve tone rows, minimalist fragments, and Liszt-like statements of the main theme, the music reaches an abrupt end with a brief (almost too brief) statement of the opening tonality following a violent tone cluster. The pompous ending is in my mind just a different kind of darkness. Even though it ends in D major, just like it started, there is no real conclusion to this work, nor could there be, given the path that was chosen to be traversed.

Most of my music during the late 1990’s and 2000’s is concerned with spirituality, religion and with human beings trying to understand each other and the forces that shape human destiny by searching below the surface of everyday life. In this sense, the works of Parlor Music, popular as many of them have become over the years, are the exception to this rule. As the concluding work in this cycle, Through a Glass Darkly is a critique and a culmination point of the preceding works. It seems to say that earlier, seemingly “innocent” pleasures must be accounted for, physically and/or spiritually, either through the law of Karma or the law of Grace; that the innocent pleasures and indulgencies of our youth become an accumulated debt that must be met individually and collectively somehow; that acknowledgement of the fall is the beginning of Grace. In this latter sense, Through a Glass Darkly is a public acknowledgement on my part—a confession, if you like—of my own spiritual failings through the course of this lifetime.

Premiere performance: April 8, 1989 by Anthony de Mare. Music Gallery, Toronto.


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