Duration: 7 minutes

Instrumentation: solo piano

Program note:

Through a Glass, Darkly was composed at the behest of pianist Nicholas Phillips as a response to the extraordinary cultural events of the present moment. Within the controversies of xenophobic public policies, attacks on a free press, threats to the foundations of democratic principles, and the deliberate perpetuation of a climate of fear and suspicion—art and creativity provide a refuge for deliberation, commentary, reflection, and comfort. It is through art that we can plumb the depths of chaos to grieve and rest, but also to extract order and model a world as we would have it.

This piece draws its title from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians when he writes: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” The idea of reflection is important on two levels in this work: first, much of the current social culture which resulted in the surprising election of the 45th president is simply a reflection of the electorate at large. Viewing him is, in some way, akin to distortedly viewing us. In addition to its reflective properties, glass is also transparent to varying degrees. The idea of a barrier between borders (i.e. a “border wall”) calls to mind a partition that threatens to distort a clear vision. 

Structurally, Through a Glass, Darkly is a chaconne of accelerating intensity—a repeating succession of eight chords articulated through continuous variation—set in a grand palindrome. In the middle of the work—at the location of the ‘wall’—we find refuge from the material of the outer sections in a kind of static tranquility. The entire work then reverses itself all the way to the beginning note. The effect renders ideas of illusion: are we seeing ourselves as we approach the wall ever closer? Are we projecting ourselves or our counterparts across the other side of this barrier, approaching and then retreating in coordination after a moment of communion? 

Concert Premiere: October 6, 2019 at Constellation, Chicago, IL