For Solo Piano
Written for and
Disabitato was the last piece I wrote during my yearlong residency in Rome as a fellow of the American Academy in Rome in 2007. During that magical year, I was enthralled to have learned so much from my historian and landscape architect colleagues. One of the topics I remember my colleagues discussing quite a bit was the disabitato.
The disabitato, or uninhabited place, is the historical name in Rome to the zone between the urbanized center and the ancient boundary of the Aurelian wall in the 18th century. It is a large area marked by ruins and open space, emblematic of the stark atrophy of human, “lived-in,” space since the expansive grandeur of Rome’s classical period. One of the elements I have concentrated on developing in my music is to try to democratize the resonance of a sound, to privilege it as much as the beginning of a sound, or the attack. On the piano, this has the quality of bringing out some microtones. Towards the end of my residence in Rome, already thinking ahead to coming back to the US, I was filled with a sense of impending nostalgia. Somehow, I felt the resonance of the piano to be analogous to the sense of memory of presence that I wanted to leave behind, much as the disabitato is a representation of absence, a reminder to us of what was lost.
One other influence on this piece was my trip to the Umbrian town of Gubbio, where I heard the city bells that I seemed to evoke a sense of ancientness. An interesting note about those bells is that ringers actually ride the bells and use their feet to swing them to ring them.