Opus number: op. 96

Title: Fifteen Two-Part Inventions

Invention No. 1 in C major (White Hot)
Invention No. 2 in c minor (Feelin’ Blue)
Invention No. 3 in D major (Victory Lap)
Invention No. 4 in d minor (Dorian Canon)
Invention No. 5 in Eb major (Night Flight)
Invention No. 6 in E major (Midsummer Air)
Invention No. 7 in e minor (Wayfaring Stranger)
Invention No. 8 in F major (Lydian Accents)
Invention No. 9 in f minor (Pianola)
Invention No. 10 in G major (Mixolydian Etude)
Invention No. 11 in g minor (Which Side Are You On?)
Invention No. 12 in A major (Anthem)
Invention No. 13 in a minor (Ballad)
Invention No. 14 in Bb major (Parody)
Invention No. 15 in b minor (Rock Riff)

Date written: 2008

Length: 25 minutes

Premiere performance: October 9, 2008, David Friend Hall at Berklee College of Music, Larry Bell, pianist

Important subsequent performances: January 31, 2009, NEC’s Today’s Youth Plays Today’s Music, students of Angel Rivera, at New England Conservatory. May 3, 2009, students at The Rivers School.

Program Notes:  Like J. S. Bach’s fifteen two-part inventions, this set of inventions both follows his same pattern of keys and is designed for didactic purposes. The titles, such as Invention no. 1 in C major, are used only in a metaphorical sense, since none of these pieces is, strictly speaking, tonal. No. 1 could be more accurately described as pandiatonic, no. 2 uses a blues scale, no. 3 is in the dorian mode, etc. The piano teacher might consider assigning these pieces–either instead of or in addition to the Bach–to promote a greater understanding of musical structure and to teach the fundamentals of sound production and phrasing.

In terms of musical structure, many of the same kinds of techniques and contrapuntal procedures one finds in Bach’s inventions are here, too. Most of the subjects are imitated conventionally at the octave; the exceptions are nos. 4 and 8 that use imitation at the fifth, while no. 10 imitates at the minor seventh. The presentation of the subject as an accompanying pattern is an unusual feature: It can be seen in nos. 5, 12, and 13. Subjects are generally first introduced unaccompanied; exceptions are found in nos. 7 and 11, which are based on the folk songs, Wayfaring Stranger and Which Side Are You On? respectively.

In addition, the subject often appears in augmentation (no. 1, ms. 15-20), melodic inversion (no. 2, ms. 17-20), modulatory sequences to closely related keys or modes (all Inventions), subject in stretto (no. 3 ms. 15-20), strict canon at the fifth (no. 4, ms. 1-24), cross-accented phrasing and hemiola (no. 8), double counterpoint at the octave (no. 6, ms. 32-35 and in virtually all of the others), and double counterpoint at the twelfth (no. 13, ms. 15-18). Finally, the Invention no. 14 in Bb major comically parodies Bach’s Invention no. 14 in the same key.

For the most part, each invention is written in two parts. As in Bach, the exceptions occur when added extra voices fortify final cadences. Invention no. 12 also begins with a multi-voiced introduction brought back at its coda in mirror inversion. Although pedal markings appear only in no. 2, it is understood that the pianist will use pedal melodically (where slurs are indicated) and harmonically (at changes of root succession). Accents should be pedaled (as in no. 15) to achieve a better quality of sound.

Because these pieces are written in a contemporary vernacular idiom, I hope that this music may be more stylistically accessible than music written in the eighteenth century. These Inventions were composed for students of all ages, especially those new to the piano but familiar with popular music.

Recording: Casa Rustica Recordings CRR 001, Larry Bell, pianist