A finery forge is a massive hearth for the refinement of iron. These forges, widely used in Europe and elsewhere until the early 19th century, were industrial-strength mechanisms, sources of unimaginable heat, capable of melting and shaping raw metal into something rarefied.
I see the piano as a kind of forge for music: the modern concert grand is also a machine of the industrial age, a crucible-like behemoth of interlocking parts, filled with hammers intended to strike musical sparks out of their strings.
In short, it’s a finery forge. This shiny black wood-and-metal monster is capable of astonishing refinement when it’s in good hands. But even if you’ve got “good hands,” you have to pass through a crucible of musical training to coax refined sounds out of it, and this piece is a musical enactment of that pulverizing process of “refinement.”
The piano has a double nature: it is both a stringed instrument and a percussion instrument. It can speak with the force of a hammer striking an anvil, and it can croon like a siren.
Here, I’ve taken the piano’s percussive nature as my starting point. The music at the piece’s opening is raw material – a series of G#-minor chords in the piano’s spark-shooting upper register, repeated both patiently and brutally. It is as if the chords themselves must be subdued, tamed; some kind of life needs to be extracted from them. This takes time. By the piece’s midpoint, the raw metal of the piece’s opening has been refined into gleaming, liquid musical lines – and by its end, they have re-crystallized.
I wrote Finery Forge for two astonishing young pianists, Katherine Liu and Theo Teng, who gave the piece’s premiere at the Rivers School Conservatory on April 9, 2017. Though they’re only eleven and twelve years old, respectively, they displayed that they already have the subtlety, the musicality, the intelligence, and the raw pianistic power to bring this piece to life.