Fancy Tales for violin and piano

by William Bolcom. Edward B. Marks Music Co., distributed by Hal Leonard, $16.99.

Pulitzer Prize–winning composer William Bolcom’s Fancy Tales is a collection of four character vignettes from fiction and fantasy. The first movement, “The Phantom Sweetheart,” was inspired by a story from a pulp magazine called Weird Tales, about a fellow who has an affair with a vampire. The piece ranges from a sweet melody to a creepier tone, with the piano and violin alternating turns as if playing different characters.

The second, called “The Centaurs in Flight” was inspired by a poem by José Maria de Heredia, a contemporary of the French poet Baudelaire. The urgent pace and frequent double-stops evoke images of an angry, galloping hoard of centaurs. The third, “The Dwarf’s Serenade,” is based on Norwegian writer Pär Lagerkvist’s short story about a dwarf unsuccessfully trying to woo a girl. After starting with a cadenza, the piece flows into a dance-like song with accents on offbeats to emphasize the dwarf’s awkwardness and concludes with the dwarf’s anger-filled dance. The last, “The Abandoned Ferryboat,” is about an abandoned ferryboat that Bolcom once saw on the beach in Puget Sound. The gentle, chilling piece includes a section that asks the violinist to whistle a melody while playing it a fourth lower.

The piece, which he wrote in 1972, is meant for the advanced player. He guides the violinist through each emotional narrative with frequent fingerings and notes on changes in tone and feeling of the music.

*This article appeared in Strings September 2011
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