We are familiar with the many legendary generations of the musical Bach family. Our next composer, the uncategorizable Gabriel Kahane (b. 1981), knows a thing or two about a musical heritage. The son of Jeffrey Kahane, Gabriel knew no musical boundaries while growing up in a home where the sounds of Bach and Hindemith mingled happily with Joni Mitchell and jazz. As a singer, songwriter, pianist, guitarist, and composer who moves easily between indie-pop and classical influences, Kahane is already an important figure in the future of American music.
His 2009 Django: Tiny Variations on a Big Dog was instigated by his father’s request for a concert etude with the name Django in the title. That etude developed into this brief set of variations.
The Django of the title is the family dog, who was named after the immortal jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. The music puckishly evokes doggyness, jazziness, and rigor. The tale is in the titles. The theme is followed the first variation “Dog Run (Passacaglia).” Next comes “Night Watch (Episode)” in which the performer is instructed to play “as a dog pads around in the dark.” The third melancholy variation is called “The Water Bowl is Empty – Canine Empathy (Relational).” Jeffrey Kahane has described “Mechanized Django (moto perpetuo)” as being some of the most difficult bars of music he has ever learned and the music carries all the terrors of a Ligeti etude.
In the final variation, “SPCA Blues (Namesake),” the score instructs “swing ‘em eighth notes” – that special musical feel without which… it don’t mean a thing.