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Le Penseur

for piano

Year:  1993

Year:  1993


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Le Penseur or The Taylor Road/Tupelo/Faulkner Alley/Hore Dolinecku/Charters Stomp No. 5 is a composite of many places and influences. The phrase ‘That’s All’ at the end of the piece is a reference to Annette Hanshaw, a recording star of the twenties who concluded most of her songs this way. It gets a bit tiring to listen to after a while. When I visited the church at Chartres, outside Paris, I visited one of the many glitzy souvenir shops in which I found a ceramic Gargoyle. A woman who worked in the shop asked me in French whether she could help. I replied, in the French that I could muster up, that I liked the Gargoyle very much and was wondering what it was called. “Le Penseur [The Thinker]” she replied. “Il s’appelle ‘Le Penseur ‘ parce qu’il pense! [He’s called The Thinker because he thinks]” and she demonstrated by putting her head into her hands in the same gesture as the ceramic Gargoyle.

Taylor, Mississippi (about eight miles north of Exford, home of ‘Ole Miss’ University) has one of the best Cat Fish restaurants in all of Northern Mississippi at the Taylor Grocer and Restaurant, a dilapidated old building at the end of the eight mile long Taylor Road. A sign inside the restaurant had been changed from ‘Fried Cat Fish’ to ‘Fried Cat Shit’; nobody had bothered to changed it back.

Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley and is east of Oxford, Mississippi. The Tupelo Museum is a wonderful storehouse of old local artefacts, and includes a wide-angle photograph of the devastation left by a Tornado in 1935, hence the chord clusters in the second section.

Faulkner Alley is next to the Harvest Restaurant, an outstanding vegetarian restaurant in Oxford, Mississippi. The building originally housed a Pharmacy that William Faulkner used to go into all the time to review his own manuscripts. Oxford, Mississippi is the town where my wife and I decided to get married.

Hore Dolinecku is the name of a Czech folk song in a collection of Czech folk songs entitled Cesky Zpevnik (published by state Publishing House, Prague, 1959, edited by Karel Plicka), although the Czech folk song that the pianist is instructed to sing, whistle or hum aloud is Hory, hory, hory cerne. Both the songs used in my work are Czech courting songs. I had the good fortune to study this beautiful language for a semester, but unfortunately the course was an accelerated one, and I was the only person in the class who was not either a Slavic Language major or a native Czech speaker. My professor said to me that I could pronounce it very well. It’s just everything else (i.e. grammar, comprehension, composition) that was a problem.

So why the Stomp No. 5 at the end of the title? Some of the material in the piece is vaguely influenced by an early 78 rpm recording of Rob Cooper’s West Texas Drag No. 2. So why “No. 5”? While composing the work, my wife had just finished reading a biography of Coco Chanel. Evidently, the reason Chanel named after famous fragrance ‘No. 5’ is because she rejected the elongated romantic titles of most fragrances of her day. She wanted something short, simple, elegant; so – why did I choose such a long title…?

– Matthew Davidson 1993