"David Thomas Roberts brings a very special voice to American music - as composer, as pianist... I have long valued his work in all its various facets..."
- Joshua Rifkin
"David Thomas Roberts' playing gets deeper, more profound... as time progresses."
- George Winston
INTRODUCTION TO 'DISCOVERY'
"I am above all a Romantic artist. Not only have my musical heroes been Romantic, but the tenets of Romanticism - faith in the imagination as turnstile to transcendence and preference for the subjective, the non-rational and the mysterious - are central to my practice. Among recordings, 'Discovery' is the clearest testament to my Romantic core as well as the one most indicative of the breadth of my interests as composer and pianist.
Whether I'm combining the influence of Schubert with reminders of cowboy songs ('Mariana's Waltz'), pursuing departures from the world of Liszt and Wagner ('Chorale-Prelude,' 'Chorale No. 2') or ushering Mediterranean elements and reminiscences of jazz pioneer Ferdinand 'Jelly Roll' Morton into the same salon ('Cynthia'), all is at the service of the same Romantic intention.
Imaginative relationships with places are at the heart of much of my work. Referring to myself as a 'terrain wrangler' and a 'topographical rowdy bent upon revelation-through-landscape,' I entertain intrigue with lands from the Ozark Plateau and Ouachita Mountains to the Northwoods to the Upper Midwest; from the Piney Woods of southern Mississippi and Alabama to the Intermountain West, and from the northern Great Plains to central and southern Appalachia. Landscape is the dependable home of my imagination.
Among my primary musical influences are Chopin, Schumann and Schubert, but Beethoven, Satie, Albeniz, Ives, Scott Joplin and Ernesto Nazareth can also be cited. American vernacular music as varied as the work of Morton and mountain ballads and string bands has also deeply affected me."
- David Thomas Roberts
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Composer-pianist, visual artist and poet David Thomas Roberts was born in Moss Point, Mississippi in 1955 and was painting, writing and composing by age eight. He has written over one hundred works for piano and numerous chamber, vocal and electronic pieces. He has over 12 solo LP/CD recordings as well as 6 collaborative recordings to his credit over a career spanning three decades. Roberts has concertized from Oslo Concert Hall to New York's 92nd Street Y and throughout the U.S. His compositions have been recorded by numerous soloists and ensembles from Japanese guitarist, Takashi Hamada to Norway's Ophelia Orchestra. His music has been heard on the major media venues of North America, from ABC TV's Good Morning America to National Public Radio's All Things Considered and across Canada on CBC radio. He recently accompanied the Oakland Ballet with original arrangements of works by Classic Ragtime composers.
As a scholar, Roberts has authored entries in The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. His mixed-media art appears in the magazine of visionary art, Raw Vision, and his poetry has been anthologized in Another South, a collection of experimental writing published in 2003 by University of Alabama Press.
ABOUT THE COMPOSITIONS
1. 'Discovery' (2004) by David Thomas Roberts (for Ann Edwards). In late 2003 Ann Edwards of Columbia, Missouri commissioned a work commemorating the Lewis and Clark bicentennial. I took her choice of the title 'Discovery' and all associated with the expedition to heart, presaging one of my most successful efforts. In 'Discovery,' the listener is invited to know the wonder and pathos not only of that expedition but of an America then and now and the mystery yet remaining.
2. 'Charbonneau' (2000) by Scott Kirby. Visual artist, composer and pianist Scott Kirby (b. 1965) has cultivated a unique, extraordinary vision of the northern Great Plains. Scott's perception of the region as an ultimate theatre of introspection and transcendent adventure has become the experiential base for a body of work I view as among the most valuable today. In 'Charbonneau,' named for a ghost town in western North Dakota, (in turn named after Sacagawea's husband), we partake of that vision at its most intimate and penetrating.
3. 'Mariana's Waltz' (2003) by David Thomas Roberts (for Mariana Jensen). After beginning as a ragtime waltz, 'Mariana's Waltz' takes us through a contrasting array of Romantic chambers, from the 'Western' D section in D-flat to the unabashedly Schubertian E theme, sporting
melody in the bass and syncopations sometimes belying the steady 3/4 pulse. Influences from Chopin and Schumann also mingle with the sustained Americana atmosphere.
4. 'Ice Floes in Eden' (1986) by Harold Budd. The fanciful, brooding music of Harold Budd (b. 1936) has been variously associated with terms as disparate as 'ambient music,' 'minimalism' and 'Neo-Classical' for many years. Having particularly admired the electronic 'Ice Floes in
Eden' since hearing it in the early '90s, I began experimenting with a piano version late in that decade, hoping to capture a tincture of the eerie and wondrous reality of the original.
5. 'Memories of a Missouri Confederate' (1989) by David Thomas Roberts. My attachment to Missouri rests in part upon the state's historical complexity. This work may be taken as a sympathetic musical paraphrase of imaginary memoirs.
6. 'Fantasy in D' (2000-01) by David Thomas Roberts (for Karen Ann Simons). The Romanticism within Terra Verde music (a contemporary genre related to New Ragtime) is given a strong Mediterranean twist in this piece. In commissioning 'Fantasy in D,' Karen asked for a Middle Eastern flavor, which had found its way into numerous works of mine, especially 'New Orleans Streets' (1981-85), a 15-sectioned suite for piano. For extramusical as well as musical reasons, I associate the third section with the haunting French film, 'The Red Balloon,' remembered from childhood, then rediscovered as I began 'Fantasy in D.'
7. 'Chorale-Prelude' (1989) and 8. 'Chorale No. 2' (1990) by David Thomas Roberts. With the idea of offering shorter Romantic pieces as 'space music,' I began a series of chromatic chorales for keyboard in 1989. Ideally meant for synthesizer realization, the chorales also work
naturally in piano performance and are frequently included in my piano concerts. Though somewhat Germanic in character, they were also affected by Erik Satie's chorales for piano, which had intrigued me since my teens.
9. 'Frederic and the Coast' (1979) by David Thomas Roberts. When Hurricane Frederic hit the Mississippi Coast in September, 1979, I was in Kansas City where I remained for days, initially without contact with home. Images of devastation remained in evidence long after my return; this classic habanera was written in response.
10. 'Cynthia' (2003-04) by David Thomas Roberts (for Cynthia van Roden). Commissioned by John Dawson for his girlfriend in late 2003, Cynthia is generally of the same fabric as my suite, 'New Orleans Streets,' an outcome of John's request that the piece reflect Cynthia's musical affinities. The song-like trio (third section) in F major reflects intents both toward ultra-lyrical rarification and broader connotations of popular song.
11. 'Babe of the Mountains' (1997-98) by David Thomas Roberts (for Audrey Whipps Field). This lullaby-like Terra Verde composition in G-flat is redolent of my romance with central Appalachia, especially east Kentucky, and may be taken as a character sketch of an Appalachian mother and child. I regard it as a signature essay in my ongoing pursuit of the lyricism inherent in the dreamlike bond between people and land.
12. 'Nancy's Library' (2004-05) by David Thomas Roberts (for Nancy Ginn Martin). In the life of Nancy Ginn Martin of Columbia, Missouri, family legacy thrives as vividly as in any biography one is likely to encounter, and her library is the chief repository of that history, a
vessel of links to her late parents and a testament to their prominence in regional, national and foreign affairs. In 'Nancy's Library,' commissioned by Nancy's husband, Bob Martin, I look affectionately upon the significance of remembering. The musical language I proudly refer to as Midwestern Terra Verde.