Stairway to California for guitar duo

(2005) 10'

Commissioned by Chamber Music Now

Program note

Stairway to California was commissioned by the Philadelphia-based organization Chamber Music Now for a concert in April 2006 featuring the two-guitar ensemble Duo Con Forza: Patrik Marchente and Anne-Mette Skovbjerg. The focus of the concert was a reconsideration of the music of the rock group Led Zeppelin. Since I knew virtually nothing of Led Zeppelin before accepting the commission it was necessary to become acquainted with the group’s music through recordings, notated transcriptions and video. Eventually two pieces interested me: Stairway to Heaven and Going to California which, treated successively, became the basis of a two-movement work without pause.  The first movement deconstructs several elements from Stairway to Heaven but primarily focuses on the recurring descending chromatic bassline and the two-chord cadence while including more general references such as blues figures and pitch-bending. The second movement treats Going to California’s guitar-picking patterns, rhythms, and descending diatonic tune as a point of departure to move towards driving virtuosity that culminates in a cadenza a due, somewhat in the pentatonic style of Jimmy Page’s solos.

The work’s title not only refers to the two Led Zeppelin songs that are considered but also to the passage that ends the first movement and begins the second movement when the two songs emerge most clearly, somewhat like the moon emerging from behind clouds at night.

This duo owes much of its playability to my longtime friend, guitarist Peter Segal. Without his generously shared knowledge and love of the guitar this work would have been quite different in many ways. Our hours of editing the work together were an enjoyable revelation; I am deeply grateful to him.

Materials available from the composer.

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