INVENTIONS No. 5 and No. 6 for the piano from Evolving Cycle of Two-Part Modal Inventions for Piano (1964)

These are the last two inventions of a cycle consisting of a one-part invention followed by three two-part pairs. The first of each pair is rather slow and in a more-or-less minor mode, while the second is faster and in a more-or-less major mode.

The aim of the cycle is to use the Baroque two-part invention to explore the expressive potential of Romanian folk music, while tending to achieve a gradual transition to a contemporary type of keyboard composition.

Invention No. 5 is based on the Phrygian mode (E F G A B C D) and explores the use of wide intervals and prolonged rests, the latter already anticipated in the Introductory One-Part Invention.

Invention No. 6, the strictest and freest of all, is based on an elliptical tone-semitone mode with the minor third missing: E F G# A# B C# D. The piece is structured by using all forms and transpositions of a “modal twelve-tone row” which, being placed within a seven-tone scale, uses one of the tones (G#) four times and another (A#) three times: G# A# B G# A# G# D G# A# C# F E . While this structuring secures the formal cohesion and the modal character of the piece, the frequent use of disjointed intervals, contrasting dynamics, repetitive or fragmented patterns, and all ranges of the keyboard tends toward an apparent improvisational expression and a freeing of the traditional “invention.”

“…’Evolving Cycle of Two-Part Modal Inventions’ alternates spare percussive textures with onslaughts of brittle fury. Pianist Walter Pate effectively brought out the emotion contained within the hard edges.” – Ed Roberts, The Washington Post  

VOICES WITHIN for solo violin (1989)

The title alludes to the contrasting statements separated by long rests at the beginning of the piece, suggesting an inner dialogue between various moods, feelings, and states of mind. These “voices” can also be placed within the instrument itself. As an example, after a moment of extreme technical challenge, the violin strings temporarily “talk” to each other in more relaxed and melodious terms.

As the piece progresses, the initially disparate “voices” join together in a continuous sound stream, first in a rather clashing manner, then in a non-confrontational way.

The music was composed to suit the virtuoso talents of violinist Sherban Lupu, to whom the work is dedicated.

“Gheorghe Costinescu’s 1989 Voices Within is a stunning work. It begins with the usual abrupt, truncated modernist gesture, but then unfolds in a manner that, while immersed in this tradition, also shows a highly personal take on it. Costinescu weaves––that’s the right words, there are so many simultaneous strands at any moment––a texture that is constantly mutating, surprising, richly detailed, polyphonic.”
 – Robert Carl, 254 Fanfare

“…a work of remarkable passion and invention. …sophisticated magic.” – Ed Roberts, The Washington Post

SONATA FOR THE PIANO (1957, revised 2007-08)
The first version of this piano sonata was composed in 1957 in Romania. Fifty years later, it was revised – or better, re-composed – in the United States. “Re-composed” means here updated, restructured, and expanded.

Of the three movements of the work – Moderato energico, Andante poco rubato, and Presto con fuoco – the first and third are structured more-or-less according to the classic sonata form; the second uses a combination of ternary and variational forms.

Since recording the last movement for the Romanian Broadcast in 1957, I had none of the movements performed in public, feeling that their full potential was not yet realized; the Sonata’s main themes, some rather pungent and chromatic, others more lyrical or with modal inflections, kept following me until 2007, when I felt urged to complete the work as I first imagined it.

It came, however, as a surprise that the last movement, especially the coda, turned out to integrate, in addition to echoes from the preceding movements, elements of ragtime and jazz. These emerged as if pointing to the end of the long journey of composing this work.

"...the music puts what feels like dense experience and powerful intellect into exhilarating, physical action."  
– George Grella, New York Classical Review

ESSAY IN SOUND for the piano (2011)

“Essay in Sound” for the piano reflects the way I play, think of, and feel about the instrument. The grammar of the work differs from the principle of building a musical edifice starting from a single cell or idea. Here, several short, apparently disparate statements are introduced, each expanding on its own terms, while merging into a more-or-less continuous discourse of all entities. 

WHY DO YOU WAIL… / CE TE LEGENI… for soprano and piano (2002)

This is a bilingual song in English and Romanian, composed for the soprano Lucy Shelton. It is based on a poem by Mihai Eminescu.

Throughout the work, half-spoken statements in English alternate with corresponding fully-sung statements in Romanian; the translation thus precedes the original. Toward the end, both kinds of statements tend to blend into a similar songlike expression.

The aim of using a detailed treatment of the phonetic content of the words is to enhance the specific sonic character of each language.

NINE PORTRAITS FROM THE WILD for soprano and piano (2014)

A little event triggered my decision to write the text and compose the music for a song cycle featuring creatures from the wild. During a walk through Riverside Park in New York City, I saw a butterfly taking off from a flower. It looked as if the flower itself had become airborne by using its petals as wings.

Various other flying, hopping, running, crawling, or swimming creatures came to mind, with the traits that commonly define them and make us associate them with certain types of people or human behavior.

To add visual expression, the score’s printed text for each portrait is followed by directions for gestures, supported by a few drawings above or under the music. 

The song cycle is dedicated to Lucy Shelton.

"...the composer has as much charm and humor as he does determination and intensity."   – George Grella, New York Classical Review

Text of Nine Portraits from the Wild by Gheorghe Costinescu
Text 1 adapted from a poem by Aram Saroyan 

1. Cricket
Saroyan’s many repetitions of cricket are here reduced to seven and made singular, with nonsemantic text added.




(regular voice)

2. Bullfrog
Fròg-croack fròg-croack,

 Fròg-croack cròack-oke frog
Llll-lèaping frog

 Plunge in pònd:


3. Snail-Likeness
Slow like a snail,
slimy like its trail;

 Owning a dome,
always home

 4. Cheetah-Champ
Gets its prey,
no delay;

 Isn’t kidding, doesn’t cheat;
Cheetah’s champ: fastest on its feet!

 5. Fishing-Fish
Made to swìmmm
at its whìmmm,

Moves aròunnd,
without sòunnd;
(half whispered)

Fìshhhhh, f-fishing ff-fìsh-sh(u)sh-sh(i)sh?!
(regular voice, appalled)

(finger on lips)

 6. Butterfly
Butterfly––––––––––––– aiaiaiaia-i––––– eieieieie-i–––––– 

Flying flow––er –––––– aiaiaiaiai-w-er––––––
iiiii-er ––––––––––––

 7. Sneaky-Snake
sss-snàke sss-stàaalks-s
and s-snàps-s;

Sss-swirls…and shhh-shàpes-s
the letter èSsss–ss(u)ss–ss–

8. Elephant-King
U–LO O–LE ELI ILE * elephant
See what facts are relevant
and are pointing to one thing:
who should be wild creatures’ king?

Not a dictator
and not a predator;
trunk and tusks, stately walk,
known for memory,
and for bravery;
weight and poise,
mighty noise;
piercing voice,
used with choice,
and with traction,
prone to action,
not to talk!
All these point to one thing:
shall be wild creatures’ king!


The capitals U O A E I in the non-semantic text are pronounced as in Italian or German.

9. Mockingbird
Mockingbird mocking-birrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd!
The best you’ve heard.

Mocking this, mocking tha–t,
mocking everything, e–veryone, good to look a–t;

Loves-z butterflies-zz… eating them… what a twist!
   (tenderly)                        (indignant)       (disappointed)

But what an ar–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
(admiringly)(a–– ---)                                                 
(kind of soprano-coloratura vocalizing, first on the vowel “a,” then on combinations of other vowels and consonants, some of them heard in the preceding texts, such as “aiaiaia, eieieie, ulo-olei, lilili-lelele-lololo, tiki-toka-teketeke-tukutuku, sss, fff, shhh, trrr,” etc., plus some bird-like whistling) 

what an ar––––––––– tist!

ONE-MINUTE TRIBUTE: 9/11/2001  Short film (2015)

I composed the music with this title for percussion quartet for the 9/11/2001 Remembrance that took place on the Lehman College Campus/CUNY, Bronx, New York, on September 11, 2002. It was performed under my direction by the Lehman Percussionists. Among the instruments used, the side drum emerges with a leading pattern that confers upon the piece a rather solemn, ceremonial character.

In 2015 I completed the short film with the same title, combining the recording of the percussion work and my animation of Tribute in Light photographed by Dan Nguyen in 2009.

“Unlike the many literal, maudlin musical commemorations of 9/11, this piece was succinct and left the listener to provide their own, personal response.” – George Grella, New York Classical Review

DOTS, LINES, AND PATCHES for recorded electronic sounds (1973) with animated film by Michele Gagné (2013)

I completed this work at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City in 1973. It is based on the syntax of my Two-Part Modal Invention No. 5 for piano, the latter being rebuilt and expanded through the exclusive use of analog electronic equipment.

The work was premiered at the Electronic Music Festival, Columbia University, 1977.

From "Tai Chi on the Hudson" for string quartet and animation (Piano reduction with composer's drawings)

TAI CHI ON THE HUDSON for string quartet and animation  Short film (2015)

The animated images and the written text of this film are based on the free Tai Chi class led by Sil­vana Pizzuti, part of the Summer on the Hud­son Series in New York City, 2014.

After drawing each position of the Yang Long Form which I practiced, I composed music for string quartet to fit the positions, movements, terminology, and (as far as possible) the spirit of this martial art. The work is dedicated to Silvana Pizzuti.

excerpt from the stage work The Musical Seminar (1982)

In the play, five instrumentalist-singer-actors, additional dancer-actors, and musicians explore various aspects of spoken languages, musical styles, and the musical phenomenon in general.

In this video excerpt, as presented with me playing the piano and performing the vocal parts, the ensemble practices “phonetic-musical consonance-dissonance” in voiced and whispered emissions. Suddenly, the pianist has “s-s-something to-to-to say.” As the other musicians make fun of his stutter, he asserts himself, initiating a frantic dialog with the now-stuttering ensemble.

Street crowd toward the end of the stage work "The Musical Seminar" (Drawing in the score by the composer)

ANIMATED SOUNDS  Short film (2011)

Animation of composer's drawings in the score, with audio from live recording; excerpts from the stage work The Musical Seminar (1982)

These excerpts consist of a few scenes from the stage work briefly introduced in the preceding DVD item. The excerpts use an audio from the 1982 Tanglewood Festival performance of the work and animation of my drawings in the musical score. The purpose of these drawings is to depict and stimulate the performers’ actions on stage.

The first scene is the opening of the play: four of the five main musicians join the Trombonist who, already on stage, is sound asleep and snoring. The next scene, from the part of the play in which the musicians practice musical styles on a given theme, is dedicated to Arnold Schoenberg. It features the organist-soprano feeling “much better since this theme became a row.” In the scene that follows, three critics (or academics) lecture in English, German, and French about musical creativity, innovation and tradition, and the “absurd necessity” of various esthetical movements. Then a polyglot crowd invades the stage, shouting contradictory slogans about orientations in the arts. The clashing crowd members start to agree with each other. They shout the word “ism,” which becomes “sm––” and then just “m––.” The moo-ing crowd walks more and more bent-over until literally crawling off the stage.

Finally, a loud hammering is heard from backstage, and the electronically-produced sounds of the “Crickets of New England” bring the play to a close: the Trombonist leaves the stage, the remaining musicians fall asleep on their instruments, while the cricket sounds and the lights are dying out.

Notes by the Composer

Click here to download the PDF booklet

Back stage hammering toward the end of "The Musical Seminar" (Drawing in the score by the Composer)