Judith Lang Zaimont



Judith Lang Zaimont
Photo courtesy of the composer

Tennessee native Judith Lang Zaimont submitted a work entitled Impronta Digitale, an eight and a half minute perpetuum mobile in shifting compound meters. The tempo of the piece is marked 192 to the dotted eighth: “extremely fast,” according to the composer. A running pulse is interrupted only twice by “slow, dreamy music.”

Zaimont was inspired, in writing this movement, by three toccatas that she herself plays: Schumann‘s Op. 7 Toccata, Prokofiev’s Toccata, and Ravel‘s Toccata from Le Tombeau de Couperin. “I’ve embedded the features [of all three pieces] into the layout and technical requirements,” she explained.

The title – translated into English as “fingerprint” – refers both to technical aspects of the music and to the fact that it spotlights certain of Ms. Zaimont’s characteristic “fingerprint” sound-structures. “‘Fingerprints’ are multi-tone sonorities that are laid out fast across a large register,” Zaimont clarified. In Impronta Digitale, each fingerprint is laid out as a series of superposed chords, which, when the damper pedal is depressed as indicated, coalesce to form “one conglomerate sound.”

The digitale portion of the title refers to the “toccata aspect” of the piece. Most of the time, the composer commented, there are two different “strands” of music happening simultaneously. Adding to the technical difficulty of the piece are three sections of “hammered” chords divided between the hands.

In addition to standing alone as an independent composition, Impronta Digitale serves as the third movement of her 1999 Sonata for Piano Solo, which was cited as the most important piano piece of 1999 on Piano & Keyboard magazine’s 20th century timeline. The Sonata for Piano Solo was first performed by Bradford Gown at The Philips Collection in Washington, D.C. in May, 2000.

Impronta Digitale has been selected for performance by one-third of the accepted competition entrants, including competitors from Russia, China, Japan, Korea, Italy and the United States. “I think it’s amazing,” Zaimont commented. “A fascinating aspect of this entire process has been imagining why it is that a piece appeals to a particular pianist. People with programs that are very technically oriented may choose something poetic in order to show another side of their artistry. If their program is high on poetry, they may be looking for something to balance that. And there’s the ‘main line’ pianist, fiercely accomplished technically, who will look for something else to demonstrate that.” The old way of approaching the new work at the Cliburn Competition – the single commission – implied that “many different kinds of pianists had to push themselves through one aperture.” The new approach, she mused, provides the pianists with “a series of parallel apertures.”

Ms. Zaimont, while born in Tennessee, grew up in New York, and currently teaches at the University of Minnesota. She has served as a professor at Queens College (New York) and the Peabody Institute, and as Chair of the Department of Music at Adelphi University, Ms. Zaimont is also the creator and editor-in-chief of the critically-acclaimed, award-winning book series The Musical Woman: An International Perspective.

Ms. Zaimont has composed over a hundred works for virtually every medium: opera, orchestra, chamber, vocal, choral, dance, film, and solo instrumental. Winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Maryland State Arts Council Creative Fellowship, and grants from the N.E.A. and the American Composers Forum, Judith Lang Zaimont holds degrees from Queens College and Columbia University. She also studied orchestration in Paris with André Jolivet, on a Debussy Fellowship.