Ladders to Fire is originally the title of a short novel by Anaïs Nin; it is to understood that I have only borrowed this stimulating title and that my composition has nothing else in common with Nin’s novel or its basic ideas.
Even more important than the title is the subtitle: Concerto for 2 pianos. Neither of the two big, beautiful instruments is the soloist, neither is ‘the orchestra’ or ‘the accompaniment’; both are both; they accompany each other, and in doing this they wander through all kinds of confrontational situations from strong opposition of two rivals to a scene which is wholly co-operative.
The first movement consists of an introduction, three expositions, three canons and a developing section. The idea is that a new section always starts with the strongest possible oppositional situation, after which this tension is softened down to a zero point where the two players actually ‘do the same thing’; this is naturally what the canons stand for. Generally speaking, the first movement does not even try to answer the questions brought about in it, it leaves this task for the finale.
The second movement plays the role of a rest between two quite dramatic movements. Here, the polarity between the two instruments lies deeper in the music than in the outer movements. As regards its mood, the second movement can be felt as a nocturnal view with millions of sensitive details — this is what actually makes it so difficult to play! — but it also contains a mentally rather heavy section in the middle with allusions to church bells and sounds from ‘the underworld’ ...and this is not to be taken too literally.
The Finale has an open form. It consists of six sections (titled with letters from A to F), of which the five first (A to E) can be played in any order; the F section is always the last one. The idea behind this solution is to give the two players the possibility to build their own ‘ladders to fire’: the music enables them to do the process in many very different ways from a straight tensional crescendo to a form slightly similar to a rondo. But a composer is taught to be selfish, and so I wanted to have the final word and wrote the F (F for Final, not for Fake) section. Or, putting it in other words, the players build the ladders of wood provided by me, I myself have lit the fire, which burns the ladders to a stack of ashes. — Ladders to Fire is dedicated to Magnus Lindberg and Risto Väisänen.
© Jouni Kaipainen Instrumentation
Chamber Works Opus no.
Magnus Lindberg, Risto Väisänen, pianos, Helsinki, March 1, 1980.
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