The Stygian Chapters

Suite for solo piano

The Stygian Chapters was conceived way back in 2014 as a second-year undergrad after I heard one of my collogues perform the Prokofiev toccata. My plan was to compose a single movement 'bagatelle' (I was playing the Beethoven op.126 bagatelles and didn't know what else to call it) for the piano which explored the Phrygian mode. It was a piece purely for myself as a side project. This piece immediately followed my sax quartet which featured rock-like vamps and powerchord-like orchestration which made its way into the piano piece.

I worked on what is now the first chapter for 2 years up until I premiered it on my senior composition concert in May of 2016. After graduation, I got the idea to make this a 7-movement suite and composed movements 2-4 during the summer of 2016 where they sat for 2 years as I picked up a temp job in Colorado. During my time in Colorado, I composed almost no music as I had a normal 9-5 job staring at computer screens where the last thing on my mind was music. Before my extended contract expired, I had made the decision that office jobs were not for me, as much as I loved working there. So once my contract ended, I moved back to California and spent a year working odd jobs and applying to graduate programs. I got myself into what I'd like to call "compositional philosophy" - - experimental music. I wanted to feel like I was 'working' so to speak, so I began making these huge graphical scores by hand, yet I didn't have a plan for performance and I didn't really understand why I was doing it. It was after the 2017 wildfire outbreak where I had a rethink of my ways and asked myself "does this make me feel happy and accomplished?" The answer was 'no' as I felt like I was cheating by writing in this method as my undergrad years taught me. So I went back to basics: simple music theory and decided that I need to master that before I can move on to more complex things. I also allowed my rock and metal based roots to re-enter my music, to the begrudging of my current composition professors.

In 2018, I dust off the first 4 chapters and began my revisions. The first in line was the 2nd chapter. It was shallow and devoid of any meaning after 2 years, so I spent a couple months rewriting it from the ground up. It was later revised in 2020. Next in line was the 6th chapter (which at the time of writing this 9/24/2020 is unfinished) which I began to dismantle and reconstruct, however other projects began to preoccupy my time so it took the back burner. During the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, my initial goal was to complete all 7 chapters, yet realizing I was biting off more than I can chew, I limited myself down to the first 4 chapters as a 1st volume. During the pandemic, the 3rd chapter was discarded completely and replaced with the current version, chapter 2 was re-notated and edited, chapter 1 was mostly left intact from 2016 with the exception of the final measures after the main theme returns, and lastly the 4th chapter had only minor edits here and there.

Title Meaning

During the initial premiere in 2016 (where I played what is now the 1st chapter), I called the piece a 'bagatelle' for lack of a better term. It was only later in 2017 that I added the title "Stygian Chapters." I spent a few weeks searching for the right words to describe the suite overall. Because the work was autobiographical and had some resemblance to The Devine Comedy by Dante, the nature of the work was in general rather dark and tumultuous, the word "Stygian" seemed like an appropriate adjective, relating to the river Styx. "Chapters" refers to the divisions of a book through one continuous dialogue rather than movements which doesn't help describe the relationships between each other. I want this to be like a story where you are following a character through all the trials and tribulations they must endure. I chose 7 chapters based on the old models like that of Baroque dance suites, Liszt's Years of Pilgramage: Italy , Beethoven's Op. 131 string quartet, and Holst's The Planets. No, it was not to show the 7 layers of Hell as that would be a bit cliché.