Clinton presents ‘The Power of the Tritone’

Mark Clinton
Mark Clinton

Professor of Piano Mark Clinton presents a piano recital titled “The Power of the Tritone.”

The recital is Thursday, March 25 at 7:30 p.m. in Kimball Recital Hall. No in-person audience will be allowed. The free recital will be available by live webcast. Visit the day of the performance for the link.

In Western harmony, the tritone is the interval between two notes separated by six half steps. It is considered the most harmonically unstable of intervals and represents the greatest possible harmonic distance between two different key areas (for example F to B).

Clinton said the idea of the “tritone” relationship in the program was something that evolved later in the process of building the program.

“I first started with the Chopin F minor Ballade (No. 4)—a piece that I dearly love and definitely wanted to feature on this program,” Clinton said. “That led me to think about the key of F minor, which is a key that is often associated with passion. The famous Canadian pianist Glenn Gould once said that if he could be any key, he would be F minor because ‘It’s rather dour, halfway between complex and stable, between upright and lascivious, between gray and highly tinted. . . . There is a certain obliqueness.’”

Clinton knew that later in his life Chopin was interested in the works of J.S. Bach. Thinking about that connection, he decided to include the Bach Prelude and Fugue in F minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book II into the program.

“Not surprisingly, the prelude is quite lyrical (like much of the Chopin Ballade), and the fugue is driving and passionate (much like the culmination of the Ballade),” he said. “At that point in the program’s evolution, I needed a bit more music to fill out the first half. I immediately thought of the Beethoven Sonata in F major, Op. 10, No. 2. One of the interesting things about that sonata is the composer’s choice of key for the second movement—it is the parallel minor, or F minor. Again, there is a similar mood of lyricism underpinned with passion evoked by Beethoven in this movement.”

For the second half of the program, Clinton will perform Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, S. 178.

“I have performed [it] many times in my career, but never here in Lincoln,” he said. “THAT led me to think about the ‘power of the tritone,’ given that the first half was entirely in either F minor or F major, and the second half is comprised of Liszt’s essay on the universe of B minor.”

Clinton said another element that ties the program together is the use of imitative counterpoint in each piece.

“The apex of contrapuntal composition is the fugue, but there are less rigorous types of imitative counterpoint,” he said. “If all of this sounds complicated, it might be helpful for non-musicians to remember that ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ (a round) is one specific kind of counterpoint. Anyway, the F minor fugue by Bach is obviously a prime example of high-Baroque counterpoint. Beethoven prominently features imitative contrapuntal writing in both the second and third movements of his Sonata. And the Liszt Sonata contains rather lengthy fugue that occurs about two thirds of the way through the piece.”

Clinton said audiences should expect both passion and lyricism from the concert.

“Given the predominance of the key of F minor in the first half, they should expect lots of passion and lyricism,” he said. “As for the second half, the Liszt is a half-hour musical narrative that also is one of the most ‘orchestral’ piano works ever written. It’s written as one contiguous movement, but it subdivides into four major sections. Suffice it to say that is quite a wild ride.”

In addition to his March 25 performance, Clinton has two upcoming performances. As a Steinway artist, he has been invited to perform as part of a live-streamed concert series sponsored by the regional Steinway dealer Schmitt Music on April 1. Later this summer, he will perform with the Amicitia Duo (Professor of Clarinet Diane Barger and University of Alabama at Birmingham Professor of Clarinet Denise Gainey) in a performance sponsored by Oklahoma City University.

“And I’m very much looking forward to a return to live/unrestricted audiences sometime in the not-so-distant future,” Clinton said.