My first thought was to call this short piano work Elegy, my second, not to. We were all saddened by the tragedy of Sam Hsu’s death, but anyone who knew Sam could not stay sad for long. Elegy, though, seemed to lock me into sadness, however peaceful or resigned it may be.
I knew that I would use the tune of “Beneath the Cross of Jesus,” as it was a favorite hymn of Sam’s. His arrangement of it resonates with me to this day. Its beauty and Debussy-like luxuriance speak so eloquently of Sam’s personality while playing anything on the piano. When I was a student composer, I thought it wasn’t fair that anyone who didn’t compose could write something so beautiful. And now…well, I still don’t think it’s fair.
Three elements go into this piece: a chaconne (repeating chords and bass line), bits of the hymn tune, and the letters of Sam’s name (in pitches, Samuel becomes E-flat, A, E, C, E, A, and Hsu, B, E-flat, C). It opens with “I fain would take… my…,” and then Sam’s name is played over the chaconne. It gradually becomes busier, until it ends on “I fain would take my…,” and then, in a new key, “stand.”
Very simply, the tune for the words “Beneath the cross of Jesus” is stated, then Sam’s letters again. And then I felt him showing me what the title should be. It is his testimony, and mine.
Premiered 24 March 2012 by Ephraim Schäfli, at Cairn University, Dr. Samuel Hsu Memorial Concert. Commissioned by Cairn University.