liner notes for Ivan Mikhashoff Plays Alvin Curran, 1995


Schtetl Variations is as close as I have ever come to writing down a free improvisation. Strictly speaking this work is not a set of classical variations on a theme-though there is a somewhat oblique reference to this form-nor does this work relate directly to the Schtetl (a yiddish word for village), though there is prominent use of a lullaby, found in Mordechai Kaufman's "Die Schoenste Lieder der Ostjuden" - a small but superb field collection of folk melodies and texts of eastern european jews recorded in the '20s. In any case on my return to Rome after a year in Berlin (l987) I decided to leave the city and move to the country - to the vineyards, southeast of the city- and with this liberating feeling of a fresh start, I consciously wanted to write a piece of music to reflect that. A piece that moves with carefree unconcern for danger or self-indulgence, that pays tribute to my linguistic roots in minimalism and maximalism often at the same time, that sometimes seems to not know where it came from or where it is going - in short just like what happens as one improvises when at any moment the past, present and future become blurred and often indistinguishable. Moments where the music moves "ahead" as if by some biological command and begins to flow without any reasonable reason. As the most "symphonic" of my generally narrowly focused- high energy piano writing, Schtetl Variations is indeed one of those musical vessels begging for a new recipie. So I had no choice but pour in all my favorite musical riffs in that moment - from enharmonic hymns, to frozen atonal arpeggios, to fast and free-something, to post-Mississippi rags, to Yiddish lullabies shake well and let these worlds of sound find the key to their own coexistence.


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