From a very early age I was exposed to many different kinds of music. My father schooled me in the Classics: Toscanini, Koussevitzky, and Stokowski. My mother immersed me in popular music of the 60’s and 70’s: The Beatles, The Supremes, The Rolling Stones. At Temple, I was exposed to various kinds of traditional and contemporary Jewish liturgical music. And of course, like many young Americans, I was exposed to a great deal of music from TV, movies, and other media. Since my childhood I have come to embrace all of these musical styles, and I believe that they are all an important part of my voice as a composer today. As a composer, I try to draw on all the various kinds of music which I love and look for new ways to make them my own.
1-3: Piano Sonata (2009)
The sonata is a genre traditionally governed by strict rules of form and organization. For my contribution to the genre, I decided to work largely within the traditional outlines, but using a more individualistic harmonic and rhythmic language. The music is often aggressive in character, but with moments of lyrical melody coming through in places. The writing shows influence of the Modernist tradition, incorporating elements of Jazz, Blues, and Latin styles as well.
4-15: Preludes (2011)
Preludes comprises a dozen short pieces drawing on a variety of influences and techniques. A wide range of expressive characters are evoked in this set, from the silly and ironic to the tender and heartfelt.
1. Elegy was composed in memory one of my first truly great piano teachers, Frieda Manes. The musically translatable letters of her first name, F-E-D-A, serve as the subject of a simple three-part fugue. The overall character is melancholy and subdued, and the piece is conceived as a humble tribute.
2. Escarpment is a short piece composed using only the notes E and F. The jagged, disjunct melodic lines suggest a landscape of steep cliffs such as the Niagara Escarpment, where my dad brought me and my sister hiking when we were younger. The piece alternates moments of dramatic intensity with highly charged, expressive two-note melodies.
3. Steel Sky is a three-voice chorale in which all of the harmonies are built from three consecutive fifths. The music is smooth and expansive, suggestive of a clear cloudless sky.
4. Atlantic Rift is a study for the right hand alone, with a constant rhythm of sixteenth-notes throughout. The melodic figures, rising ever higher and then falling, suggest churning streams of magma, as in the mid-Atlantic Rift. The piece is aggressive in character, yet smooth and flowing.
5. Satellites uses a musical technique similar to the motion of the planets in the solar system. The three voices in the texture each present the same melody, but each in a successively slower tempo, just as each more distant planet in the solar system revolves more slowly around the Sun. The music is calm and static, perhaps evoking Ancient concepts of “Music of the Spheres”.
6. Menuet is an original piece in the mold of the 18th-Century dance form. Beginning with a bang, the writing places the right and left hands in different keys. The resulting frequent clashes (such as G/A-flat) are intended to convey a feeling of good-humored wit and irony.
7. One-Note Study (Stuck Key) simulates the effect of what a pianist might do if s/he found a key sticking on a practice room piano: just keep pounding it until it un-sticks. Occurring midway through the set, the piece is conceived as a musical palette-cleanser.
8. Honky-tonk is based on the Blues scale, again with the two hands in different keys. The resulting sound is suggestive of an out-of-tune barroom piano.
9. a Funeral, in my Brain uses a constantly repeating right hand A-flat throughout. The effect recalls the steady peal of a church bell, while the descending bass line is tragic and dirge-like.
10. 8-bit evokes the sound world of video games from the 1980’s and 90’s. As a child, I spent far more time playing these games than practicing piano, and the music from these games still holds a special place in my heart. The character of this piece is witty, simple, and catchy.
11. The Parting comes from music composed for a silent film scene, depicting the painful separation of a young boy from his ailing, consumption-ridden mother. The chromatically-inflected tonal palette conveys feelings of grief and longing.
12. National Anthem is modeled after the patriotic songs of many nations. I prepared for this composition by listening to a dozen or so anthems from around the world, including those of modern nations as well as empires long past. The crunchy harmonies convey a feeling of irony, as if satirizing the perils of overweening nationalistic pride.
16: Variations (2011)
Theme-and-variations has been a favorite musical form of composers for centuries. I wanted the set to have a larger dramatic narrative, with climactic moments, tension, and release. The music is at times granitic, brooding, mischievous, serene, and finally cathartic.
Ezra Donner (b. 1986) is an American composer, performer, conductor, and educator. His music has been described as "energetic and good humored" (The Big City), "fun and uplifting" (Betsy's View), and with "energy to spare" (Miss Music Nerd), and his works have been performed in Europe, Mexico, Canada, Turkey, and throughout the United States.