Six Preludes for Piano (for Virginia Bodman), Op. 14
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Virginia Bodman, wife of Baber's Viola Professor, Lyman Bodman, was a piano accompanist of extraordinary musical depth and power. She also had a phenomenal ability to read music at sight, a skill she graciously used to assist Baber in his composition assignments at Michigan State University.
As a sight-reading pianist she had a friendly competitor, Warren Martin, assistant director in those days of the Westminster Choir in New Jersey, and something of a musical legend at the Westminster Choir College and at Princeton. These two friends loved nothing better than to challenge one another’s acumen with unknown music. So, on one of Martin’s many visits to their home, he was given one of Baber's assignments as a challenge. They had so much fun using what Baber had written that he composed new works specifically for Martin's future visits.
The results, assembled later, are this set of six Preludes, all but one written between January 1959 and June 1962. (The one exception is No. 5, which was amended from a Gottschalk study Baber had made at the University of Miami in 1956-57 when he was studying with Renée Longy.) For the most part, these pieces were child’s-play for such adept pianists as these two were, so in No. 3 Baber set out to perpetrate a nearly unplayable piece, consisting of a sublimely-innocuous, right-hand melody linked to an asymmetrical, left-hand accompaniment filled with almost-impossible leaps. The right and left hands reverse this arrangement on alternating phrases.