Introduction to the ‘Round Midnight Variations (2001)

for solo piano

Duration: 4’

A set of variations by prominent American and Italian composers on the Thelonious Monk tune.  Commissioned by pianist Emanuele Arciuli and premiered in Italy in 2002. New York premiere at the Miller Theater, November 2002. 

The Introduction, Monk sits down to write a tune..., is a fantasy about the composing process. I pictured Monk sitting at the piano, warming up lightheartedly. In the process he stumbles upon snippets of the material which is to become 'Round Midnight. He improvises; over and over, comical and banal renditions are tested and rejected, and with each attempt the composer becomes more agitated. In his frustration, he bangs out some angry chords, and through this he finally hits upon the haunting minor mode which defines this classic melody.

The following composers contributed to the 'Round Midnight Variations project:

Matthew Quayle
Frederic Rzewski
Milton Babbitt 
Roberto Andreoni
Augusta Read Thomas
Filippo Del Corno
Michael Torke
Carlo Boccadoro
John Harbison
David Crumb
Michael Daugherty
William Bolcom
Gerald Levinson
Joel Hoffman
Alberto Barbero
Tobias Picker
Aaron Jay Kernis
George Crumb

...Matthew Quayle has completed his academic foundation, notwithstanding that his works have already been played with a certain frequency in some regions of the US, and he is also an excellent pianist. The introduction is a sort of progressive reconstruction of the theme, something like a little piece Monk may have had in mind, and then he adds another [aspect], and then another rethinking of it, of course with a bluesy accent, clusters (almost a gesture of irritation), and even counterpoint, not too strict, to tell the truth, until its final enunciation. Such a process becomes representational, theater, it does not have philological fancy, but it is a kind of paradox: all that Monk never would have dreamed to do, comprising mute agreement with Schoenberg, is present here, in an amazing work, because it mixes talent, naiveté, and whimsy, as evidenced by the humorous title.
— Emanuele Arciuli, translated by Suzanne Fatta