Beauty in atonality: Jessica Cho's Capricious for Schott's new book launched on Feb 9

On 9 February 2022 German music publisher Schott launched three books on piano pieces by women, which included a commission from composer Jessica Cho for a new piece. For the book, Cho wrote Capricious, a wonderful miniature that in its 2 minute duration encompasses a variety of moods, from calm and serene to sudden leaps of energy.

The language is very much in the style and spirit of her previous piano works like 5 Little Pieces for piano - which won an award at the Asian Composers League Festival in Taiwan in 2011 - and combines a beautiful approach to atonality and a gentle dissonance.

Capricious was composed in January 2020 and is "intended to depict the character of the composer's puppy, Bear Bear. The dog's 'capricious' nature has been effectively caught by the sudden explosions of sound, employing a dissonant harmonic language, coupled with slow moving, soft chords.

"The chord progression in the opening two bars provides much of the harmonic material for the piece," writes the notes.

Asked how the commission with Schott happened, Cho said, "I was invited by Prof Melanie Spanswick, whom I met in UK, to contribute a work for this anthology.

"At first she chose two movements from my Five Little Pieces For Piano. But due to copyright, Schott would prefer me to write a fresh new piece for it."

The inspiration of Cho's pet dog was a coincidence, she says.

"Melanie told me she wanted almost the same style like the third or fourth movement of the Five Little Pieces For Piano, then when I was composing halfway, I thought, why not I include some elements of my doggy who was sleeping next to me every time I compose?" she said.

She decided to call the piece Capricious, which "very well describes the character of my dog, who is playful and sometimes naughty."

As the commission called for a work for Grade 6 level of ABRSM, Cho included some change of meter and triplets in the work. "It’s not regular triplets but triplets with tie and so on," she said.

The three new books in the series "Women Composers" by Melanie Spanswick is not merely a compilation of piano works, but is highly pedagogical in nature, providing clear and detailed notes to the player on how to negotiate the piece and its technical challenges, guiding the player on various aspects of technique and interpretation with useful suggestions.

You can order the book on Schott's website.

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