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Two Thoughts About The Piano (2017)

For solo piano
for pianist Joel Fan for The Open Source Musical Festival

AXIS - Composed by Augusta Read Thomas

Commissioned by the Open Source Music Festival for pianist Joel Fan
First performance 18 November, 2017 by Joel Fan at the Abrons Arts Center, New York City.
Duration: 5 minutes
The work can be performed alone. It is not required to play both movements.

TWO THOUGHTS ABOUT THE PIANO was a mandatory piece for finalists in the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition. September 2019 in Bolzano

This is from a LIVE CONCERT as perfromed by DANIEL PESCA

CD Available

This work is available on
Augusta Read Thomas: The Auditions


With score - Two Thoughts About The Piano for solo piano performed by Daniel Pesca

Program Note

Pianist Joel Fan

TWO THOUGHTS ABOUT THE PIANO was inspired by - and is a response to - Elliott Carter's Caténaires from his Two Thoughts About the Piano. My work is entirely original and does not quote from or share music in common with Mr. Carter’s work.

— Augusta Read Thomas


That Two Thoughts About The Piano's title should be identical to a work by Elliott Carter is no accident, as Thomas' work is a response to the older composer's piece without actually quoting or even emulating Carter's music (Thomas has often said 'I don't do quotations!'). Which is not to say that the two composers don't occasionally inhabit a similar expressive and harmonic environment, and Thomas' work (which is a single movement in spite of what its title might suggest) has a quicksilver playfulness which it shares with much of Carter's later music, as rapidly repeated notes constantly jostle with more florid pianistic flights of fancy through the piece's 5-minute span.

Copyright © Paul Pellay


The commission specified that these compositions must be a reaction to any older music composition and thus we chose to react to Elliott Carter's Caténaires from his Two Thoughts About the Piano for solo piano.


About the creative process:

We listened to every recording and video that we could find of Joel Fan playing the piano and were fantastically inspired by the depth and breadth of his musicality and technical skill.

Augusta then composed a series of about thirteen chords that serve as a potent seed and source embryo for both her work and Bernard’s work.  These chords are colorful, rich, kaleidoscopic, a bit “jazzy” and arecompletely original – i.e.: not taken from Carter's Caténaires.  That said, the distant perfume of these chords was inspired by the chromatic harmonic vocabulary of the Carter.

Each in our own way, we used these chords as the harmonic structure of our respective pieces without any further collaboration. This way we reacted to the Carter avoiding any slavish imitation of the original and any restriction on our individual musical intentions.

Bernard also analyzed the note succession of the Carter and the order in which each pitch occurs until all twelve have arrived.  He then composed his IMPROMPTU #3 using the rich harmonies referred to above in the slow sections and the pitch ordering in the alternating fast sections.

Augusta emulated the high energy and utter virtuosic perpetual-motion-ness of the Carter, creating a very carefully nuanced and structured journey that is capricious, toccata-like, and adrenaline-charged.

TWO THOUGHTS ABOUT THE PIANO: IMPROMPTU #3 and AXIS are dedicated to Joel Fan and were commissioned by The Open Source Musical Festival. The world premiere took place on November 18, 2017 at the Abrons Arts Center, New York City.

Selected Reviews

Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone “The great Elliott Carter is referenced not merely in the title but also laconic wit and glinting dexterity of Two Thoughts About the Piano.”

To obtain examination or performance material for this
Augusta Read Thomas work, please contact Nimbus Music Publishing.