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Repertoire Spotlight: Robert Rival's Six Pieces for Piano

For those of you performing, teaching, or undertaking ARCT or LRCM piano programs, and are in the process of choosing contemporary repertoire, I would like to bring this stellar work to your attention; the Six Pieces for Piano by the Canadian composer Robert Rival.

Rob is an outstanding composer who has taken the Canadian arts scene by storm in recent years. His works have been performed at Carnegie Hall, featured on CBC radio and NPR in the US, and have been presented by major Canadian orchestras.

For three years (2011-2014) Rob served as the resident composer for the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Now a Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Ottawa, Rob enjoys a busy and varied career as a composer, pedagogue, author and scholar.

Here is a bit of background as to how the Six Pieces for Piano came about.  

I first met Rob at the University of Toronto where he was finishing his Doctorate in Composition. Rice University had given me the opportunity to complete a couple of courses outstanding for my DMA at the University of Toronto, while I worked with an artist manager based in the city.

Rob and I teamed up for some homework assignments and formed a good friendship which has lasted to this day. For one of the compositions required for a class, Rob asked me to perform his newest work for the class, which I did. It was just a short work of three pages (Intermezzo #1), but it made a big impression on the Prof, as well as the class. Rob returned the favour several months later by composing an entire set of six pieces and dedicating them to me. I have provided the link to these pieces with my recordings.

The first piece is an Intermezzo written in an expressionist gesture reminiscent of late Brahms, interwoven with a harmonic language of extended tertian harmonies. The charm and eloquence of its outer parts provide an intimate repose from the resplendence of the middle section!

The Scherzo (No. 2) is a curious mix of Beethovinian sarcasm and mischief, combined with much romp and trollop.  It’s fughetta overtones and significant technical demands make this a very satisfying challenge to overcome!

The third piece is an absolutely gut-wrenching Elegy. This is Rival at his best: intensely poetic harmony and textural tapestry giving way to moments of exquisite lyricism.  

Piece number four is a March, and an assertively militant one at that! It has a drive, fire, and assertion that would have made Shostakovich proud!

There is a hovering, seemingly improvised feel, to number five, another Intermezzo. Beautiful melodies emerge out of the harmonic billowings, which are reminiscent of the meditative music of Satie.

The last movement, a Nocturne, commences with the intimacy of a recitative. Soon thereafter, this evolves into a relentless evolution of harmonic and rhythmic accumulation leading up to its final summation…an eruptive declamation from the very depths!

I have found these pieces to be a wonderful collection to choreograph for performance, have found that it is very audience friendly as well. The whole set runs about 25 minutes, and is required in its entirety for the LRCM. For ARCT the Scherzo, March and one other piece are required.

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