Venetian Blinds for piano | Michael Daugherty, composer

Venetian Blinds
for piano (2002)

Instrumentation: Piano

Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes, Hendon Music (BMI)

Duration: 9 minutes

World Premiere: September 28, 2002 / Venice, Italy / Mauro Castellano, piano

Program Note:

In Venetian Blinds I evoke different musical moods and sounds associated with classic American film noir cinema, such as Where Danger Lives, Out of the Past, and His Kind of Woman, starring Robert Mitchum (1917-1997). Produced at RKO Hollywood studios in the 1950s, these black and white films created an ambiguous and mysterious atmosphere of darkness, shadow and light. On the movie set, Venetian blinds were often used: by adjusting the angle of the slats, it is possible to control how much light enters a room, creating an interplay of shadows.

My composition uses Venetian blinds as a metaphor to control the amount of darkness and light we hear from the piano. The first movement (“Dark”) explores the deep, dark undercurrents of the piano keyboard. The music is sleepy, murky, bluesy, and chords voiced as dense note clusters allow little light. In the second movement (“Shadows”) we hear glissandi racing up and down the piano keyboard like slats on half-opened Venetian blinds; the alternation of black and white keys creates sharp contrast and sometimes the hands of the pianist cross over like a double-crossing film noir plot. The final movement (“Light”) is a musical flashback, with flashes of radiant, pulsating energy. The chords are bright and widely spaced, and the hands are separated to evoke a feeling of lightness and openness.

The three movements of Venetian Blinds are contrasting episodes of musical intrigue and suspense. Intricate musical patterns and dramatic juxtaposition of timbre and dynamics recreate the black and white drama of American film noir cinema.

–Michael Daugherty