American composer Peter Lieberson (b. 1946) studied music at Columbia and Brandeis Universities, and among his teachers were Milton Babbitt, Charles Wuorinen, and Donald Martino. Since the premiere of his First Piano Concerto in 1983, by Peter Serkin with the Boston Symphony, Lieberson has composed a number of other works with Serkin in mind, including Red Garuda, the Piano Concerto No. 3, and the solo works Garland, Fantasy Pieces, Bagatelles, Scherzo, and The Ocean that has no West and no East. He wrote this Piano Quintet in 2002 for Serkin and the Orion String Quartet.
The Quintet is cast in two roughly equal parts. The first, marked “Celebratory and joyful,” grows out of the descending four-note figure snapped out immediately by the piano and violins and the important little fillip the viola and cello add. Lieberson develops these elements with great rhythmic virtuosity to a playful climax, ending with a quiet little postlude for the piano.
The piano reverses that postlude at the beginning of the Interlude that opens Part II. The first violin soon introduces a swinging, jig-like theme inspired by the Cape Breton fiddling that Lieberson heard while living in Nova Scotia. He elaborates this theme fugally, with motives and gestures also recalling Part I. This part also ends with a quiet postlude and a summary punctuation with the viola hammering out that initial descending theme.