"Denouement" amplified harpsichord duet (1988 revised 2013)
Performed by Peter Kramer and Justin Murphy-Mancini
Warner Concert Hall, Oberlin Conservatory 09/29/13

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Dénouement for Two Harpsichords

If the listener experiences the opening of Conrad Cummings' Dénouement for Two Harpsichords as coming out of nowhere, that is precisely the composer's intention. This colorful work plays with our sense of narrative context. Hearing Dénouement is like walking into the end of an intense conversation, one that has been going on for some time, or suddenly turning on the tape of a highly charged piece of music toward the end.

What Dénouement evokes is a desire to hear the whole story, mystifying us in a fun, novel way. The composer describes the experience in theatrical terms: "Imagine walking into the middle of the final act of a classical tragedy you don't know -- right off the street, straight into the point of highest agitation. You have no idea how things got to this point. All that is left is for you to watch the action play out to its final fatal conclusion."

As this description makes clear, the music in Dénouement is a bit broader than its title implies. We actually have the climax, or crisis ("the point of highest agitation") as well as the dénouement, or resolution. The rapidly repeating chord patterns and slashing rhythms rise to a series of jolting climaxes before settling down into a droll dénouement.

Dénouement for Two Harpsichords was commissioned by Karen and Peter Flint for Brandywine Baroque of Wilmington, Delaware and premiered by Karen Flint and Ray Urwin in April 1988. The music of Dénouement provided the starting point for a piece of the same title for large orchestra, premiered by Robert Spano and the Oberlin Orchestra with later performances under Spano with the New Jersey and Louisville Orchestras.

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