CD available from New Ariel Records
The conundrum of the title exists on several levels: on the prosaic level of both the composer's and performer's technique; on a stylistic level in which an eclectic use of techniques is molded into a homogeneous whole through the use of a single pitch cell/motive; on the level of formal organization which includes the dichotomy between atonality and tonality; and finally on a programmatic level. The piece is organized so that tonality governs the middle and larger hierarchical aspects of the work while the foreground is largely atonal. Occasionally the tonality becomes explicit, but always with motivic reference to the surrounding atonal music (including the quotation in the coda). The work is in some respects a three-movement sonata with introduction and coda in which the movements are fused and juxtaposed so that the recapitulation of the first movement and the final two variations of the second movement occur as the middle section of the final rondo. The thematic material of the piece derives from the introduction--specifically the opening chords which recur at formal divisions. There is no explicit program; the work is comparable to the plot of a stream-of-consciousness novel. The music evokes constantly shifting emotional states ranging from joyous good humor to wistful nostalgia to deep despair. It is the play of these emotional fragments, which represent in microcosm man's reaction to life itself and to his ultimate inadequacy, that provide a deeper, mosaic-like formal organization beyond that of the sonata form. The piece ends with the nihilistic realization that, in spite of all his efforts, man lives in an inexplicable universe. No matter what our beliefs, we can only know that we know nothing.
Conundrum is the centerpiece of the CD Contemporary American Eclectic Music for the Piano Vol. 7 recorded on the New Ariel Records label by Jeffrey Jacobs. It was premiered by Andrea Swan on a concert of the Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago on May 18, 1984, at the university's Goodspeed Recital Hall.