Paul A. Epstein

Paul A. Epstein
379 Heathcliffe Road
Huntingdon Valley, PA 19006



Irritable Hedgehog records
mode records
Capstone Records
Navona Records

Biographical Note

Paul A. Epstein's compositions include two chamber operas as well as works for string orchestra and for a variety of small ensembles. He has written extensively for voice, including a setting of Robert Coover's The Leper's Helix and a series of collaborations with poet and novelist Toby Olson. He has received commissions from the Relâche Ensemble (The Leper’s Helix and AlgoRhythms 2) and baritone Thomas Buckner (Reading.) Epstein is a member of BMI.

In American Music in the Twentieth Century, critic Kyle Gann cites Epstein as “One of the finest postminimal composers...” and calls Chamber Music: Three Songs from Home “...a vocal setting for winds and keyboards of great contrapuntal beauty.” Epstein's music has been presented in the U.S. and abroad by such ensembles as Relâche, counter)induction, the Circle ensemble of London, and ONIX Nuevo Ensamble de México. It is available on compact disk on the Irritable Hedgehog, Mode, Navona, and Capstone labels.

Paul A. Epstein is Professor Emeritus of Music Theory at Temple University, where he taught from 1969 to 2001. Born in Boston in 1938, he is a graduate of Brandeis University and the University of California at Berkeley. His composition teachers included Harold Shapero, Seymour Shifrin, and Luciano Berio, with whom he studied privately on a Fulbright grant to Italy in 1962-63. Epstein has been involved in closely collaborative work with artists in theater and dance. He was associated with the New York environmental theater group The Performance Group from 1969 to 1972, and from 1974 to 1987 he was composer and music director for ZeroMoving Dance Company of Philadelphia.

An article by Kyle Gann, “American Composer: Paul A. Epstein,” appears in the December, 2004 issue of Chamber Music, a publication of Chamber Music America.


Operas and Vocal Music

THREE SONNETS for mezzo-soprano, cello, and piano with poems by Harvey Gilman, 2004; 9 min.
THE GREAT VALLEY, NO. 5: triptych for chamber chorus, with text by Toby Olson, 2003; 23 min.
CHIHUAHUA, a chamber opera in six scenes with libretto by Toby Olson, 1999; 60 min.
DORIT, a chamber opera in ten scenes with libretto by Toby Olson, 1993; ca. 60 min.
FACING for baritone and string trio, with poem by Toby Olson, 1995; written for the AIDS Quilt Songbook; 3 min.
READING for baritone and piano, with text by Toby Olson, 1994; 18 min.
THE LEPER'S HELIX: Variations and Approximations for mezzo-soprano, flute, English horn, clarinet/bass clarinet, soprano/baritone saxophone, bassoon, accordion, and piano, with text by Robert Coover, 1990 (revised, 1991); 25 min.
BIRDSONGS for baritone and piano, with poems by Toby Olson, 1988; 15 min.
CHAMBER MUSIC: Three Songs from Home for mezzo-soprano, flute (also picc., alto fl.,) clarinet, saxophone (sop., alt.,) bassoon, and two keyboards, with poems by Toby Olson, 1986; 18 min.
MOVING VOICES for two female voices and flute, with texts by Gertrude Stein, 1981; ca. 7. min.

Instrumental Music

THREES AND TWOS for organ, 2017; 9 min.
CHANGES 3: PALINDROMES, version for Relâche, 2017; 4 min.
ISORHYTHMS for organ, 2017; 20 min.
NIGHT PIECE 2: version for 7 instruments, 2016; 11 min.
JSB INTERLEAVE for piano, 2016; 9 min. PRIME TIMES 4 for piano, 2016; 8 min.
CHANGES 3: PALINDROMES, version for organ, 2016; 4 min.
NIGHT PIECE 2 for organ, 2016; 13 min.
CHANGES 7 for piano, 2015; 65 min.
LACUNAE for piano, 2014; 13 min.
DISPLACEMENTS for keyboard, 2014; 9 min.
CHANGES 6 for piano, 2013; 7 min.
CHANGES 3: PALINDROMES for piano, 1977/2013; 4 min.
A SONG TO SING IN D, for any number of players, any instruments, 2013; ca. 10 min.
57:4/5/7 REDUX for piano, 2013; 5 min.
LANDSCAPE WITH TRIADS, version for piano, 2012; 9 min. Also versions for string quartet, woodwind quartet, and flute, clarinet, viola, and cello.
LANDSCAPE WITH TETRACHORDS for six instruments, 2012; 9 min.
72: 7/11/13 for piano, 2012; 10 min.
DRAWING NO. 7 for six instruments, 2012; 10 min.
DRAWING NO. 6 for piano, 2011; 7 min.
DRAWING NO. 5 for piano, 2011; 5 min.
FOR A LITTLE WHILE AGAIN for piano. 2010; 4 min.
DRAWING NO. 4 for piano, 2010; 5 min.
DRAWING NO. 3 for piano, 2010; 4 min.
DRAWING NO. 2 for piano four hands, 2010; 4 min.
DRAWING NO. 1 for three instruments, 2009; 4 min.
NIGHT PIECE for solo string instrument, 2009; 5 min.
PRIME TIMES 2 for flute, bassoon, and piano, 2008; 7 min.
UNCERTAIN LENSES for clarinet, vibraphone, violin, and cello, 2008; 15 min.
PRIME TIMES for piano, 2006; 13 min.
FOUR TIMES FOR THREE for three instruments, 2006; 11 min.
SEVENS for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, and cello, 2006; 7 min.
THE GREAT VALLEY, NO 8 for two marimbas, 2005; 7 min.
LANDSCAPE VARIATIONS for piano, 2005; Book I, 11 min.; Book II, 11 min.
THE GREAT VALLEY, NO 7 for guitar, 2005; 8 min.
THE GREAT VALLEY, NO. 6b for violin, 2004; 11 min.
THE GREAT VALLEY, NO. 6c for viola, 2003; 11 min.
THE GREAT VALLEY, NO. 6a for cello, 2003; 11 min.
THE GREAT VALLEY, NO. 4: triptych for flute, cello, and piano, 2003; 15 min.
MOVING VOICES version for flute, clarinet, and viola, 2002; 6 min.
INTERLEAVINGS for piano, 2002; 11 min.
ALGORHYTHMS 2 for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, vibraphone, viola and contrabass, 2002; 15 min.
ALGORHYTHMS 2000 for wind ensemble, 2000; 15 min.
57: 4/5/7 for amplified harpsichord, 1998; 10 min.
ALGORHYTHMS 1 for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, marimba, keyboard, viola, and contrabass, 1998; 15 min.
SOLSTICE CANONS: Version for Woodwind Trio, 1995; 8 min.
PALINDROME VARIATIONS: Version for Flute, Cello, and Piano, 1995; 8 min.
CHANGES 3 for Violin (or Viola) and Viola (or Violin), 1993
SOLSTICE CANONS: Version for String Trio, 1993; 8 min.
SOLSTICE CANONS for three instruments (open instrumentation), 1993; 8 min.
CHANGES 2: Version for Two Instruments, 1990; open instrumentation, duration variable
PALINDROMES 2: Version for Six Instruments for flute, clarinet, cello, vibraphone, marimba, and piano, 1984; ca. 13 min.
PALINDROMES 2: Version for String Quartet, 1983; ca. 10 min.
PALINDROMES 2: Version for Saxophones and Percussion, 1983; ca. 10 min.
PASSAGES FOR SEVEN INSTRUMENTS for flute, oboe (or soprano saxophone,) bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano, 1982; 18 min.
CHANGES 4 for alto flute, alto saxophone, vibraphone, marimba, viola, and cello, 1980; ca. 20
APPROXIMATIONS: Prelude 2 for Piano, 1980

Electronic Music

PALINDROME VARIATIONS for synthesizer, 1986; 22 min.


PAUL A. EPSTEIN-PIANO MUSIC: R. Andrew Lee, piano, Irritable Hedgehog records, 2015
THREE SONNETS: Krista River, mezzo-soprano, Michal Schein, cello, Hannah Shields, piano, as part of the compact disc Rapport, Navona Records, 2010
LANDSCAPE VARIATIONS: Book II: Jeri-Mae Astolfi, piano, as part of the compact disc Chroma, Capstone Records, 2009 (SCI Performers' CD Series)
PALINDROME VARIATIONS: Cynthia Folio, flute, Jeffrey Solow, cello, Charles Abramovic, piano, as part of the compact disc Connections, Capstone Records, 1999 (SCI CD Series)
BIRDSONGS: Gregory Wiest, tenor, Oresta Cybriwsky, piano, as part of the compact disc Time Marches On: More Modern American Songs," Capstone Records, 1998
CHAMBER MUSIC: Three Songs from Home, recorded by the Relâche ensemble as part of the compact disk Relâche: On Edge; Mode records, 1991


72:7/11/13 for piano is based on a 72-note pattern that is replicated if one takes every 7th, 11th, or 13th note. The piece is dedicated to Christopher Hobbs. It was recorded by R. Andrew Lee as part of the CD “Paul A. Epstein: Piano Music” on the Irritable Hedgehog label.
The Leper's Helix: Variations and Approximations
The Leper's Helix is a setting of a prose piece from American novelist Robert Coover's collection of short fictions, Pricksongs and Descants. The text is a dramatic narrative, situated on a Beckettian desert landscape. The narrator details his impending confrontation with a leper:

We are describing a great circle on the desert surface, the leper's starting position as our compass point… Since the leper is always approaching, must always approach, we compel him…to bend his stupid bungling lope into a spiral, so regulating our own velocity as to schedule his arrival…at our starting point.

The action of the piece consists of this intricate double perambulation — minutely described in a tone ranging from pseudo-mathematical precision to bitter irony to near hysteria, and finally to a kind of resignation — followed by the climactic meeting and its aftermath. Coover's text mingles shockingly graphic realism with a formalism approaching abstraction. Among the themes evoked by this allusive and powerfully ironic fiction is that of the 'real' world, with its terrifying intimations of mortality, impinging on the artist's quest for timeless perfection.

Most of the music of the piece derives from a single diatonic pattern of 255 notes. Transposed and shifted modally, the pattern generates a set of Variations that correspond to the sections of text. Alternating with the Variations are "Approximations" in which a fragment of a Schubert piano sonata is de- and ultimately re-constructed. (The final Approximation, and the preceding Recitative, contain additional musical references.) The tonal progress of the Variations and Approximations (they begin at opposite poles and gradually converge) parallels the rigorous geometry of the circular/helical journey.

The Leper's Helix was commissioned by the Relâche ensemble assisted by a grant from Chamber Music America with funds from the Pew Charitable Trusts. First performed in September, 1990, the piece is dedicated to Joseph Franklin.

Recorded in live performance by the Relâche ensemble with soprano April Woodall, Philadelphia, January 31, 1992.

duration: 22’24”
Palindrome Variations: Version for flute, cello, and piano
This version of Palindrome Variations (1995) is the latest in a series of pieces dating back to 1983, all derived from a single short pattern that reads the same forward or backward. The pattern is subjected to a variety of transformations and combined with itself canonically to create a series of changing textures. I was particularly interested in exploring the tension created when the original pattern competes for our attention with the new composite patterns emerging from this layering process.

The recording is by the New Music Trio of Temple University (Cynthia Folio, Jeffrey Solow, and Charles Abramovic.) It appears on the compact disk “Connections” on Capstone Records as part of the SCI Series and is published in the SCI Journal of Music Scores, Vol. 26.

duration: 9’06”
Three Sonnets: 3. Threnody
Harvey Gilman’s sonnets form a series of portraits of two lovers. The poems touch on deep-seated and contradictory longings for individual identity and autonomy and for intimate communion with another. The mood is intense yet ambiguous, at various times tender, ironic, profoundly sad, or coldly analytical.

In each song the piano presents an abstract landscape of musical patterns. The vocal line, while apparently independent of the piano in its rhythmic fluidity and lyrical phrasing, emerges directly from the same patterns. The cello is essentially a second voice, suggesting in its alternation between rhythmic unison with the singer and counterpoint the ambivalence of the lovers.

The recording is from the compact disc “Rapport,” on Navona Records. The performers are Krista River, mezzo-soprano, Michal Schein, cello, Hannah Shields, piano

duration: 2'54"

Those were our ever ending nights alone,
Their soundings wound in tune to those great scales
As fit the seabird cry, the ocean moan;
Fierce the elemental surge, as barnacles
Swept mute up onto tidal pools—and clung—
Their blind mouths gaping at a mystery.
A threnody of birdsong now replays
As prelude to the crisis of the sun;
While mighty ocean’s moon-drenched monody
(Our primal vocalise) unsound...decays.

Deprived of our aubade, the sky untuned,
As refugees displaced from harmony
We wander, exiled, chanting "are we free?"
"Can incantation close an open wound?"