Compositions and Audio Excerpts

slide3 Solo Guitar

Labyrinths (16′), 2007 – five movements, each a musical illumination of a moment in time. Repetition and slow evolution of the materials create a subtle activity within an environment of seeming stasis. The movement titles are: Shimmer, Shadow, Shiver, Shatter and Shelter – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Disturbed, a Lullaby (5′), 2006 – a spacious, minimalistic, subtly contrapuntal opening develops into increasingly frenzied activity and then slowly returns to the atmosphere of the beginning. Commissioned by guitarist Aaron Larget-Caplan – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Nel Mezzo: Sonata (20’), 1998 – a dramatic, powerful, major work in 3 movements, in a chromatically tonal language. Leisner’s most important solo guitar work to date – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

David Leisner, Self-Portrait, Azica CD

Freedom Fantasies (19’), 1992 – 3 fantasy-variations, each based on an African-American spiritual (“Go Down, Moses”, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”, “Oh, Freedom”), in a Blues-centered harmonic language - Dobermann-Yppan/Les Productions d’Oz

Four Pieces (15’), 1979, 1986 – four unrelated pieces that may be played together or separately: Prelude, Episode, Ritual and Dance, in a modal, sometimes chromatic style – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

“Billy Boy” Variations (4’), 1983 – a set of relatively easy variations on the popular Appalachian folk song – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Passacaglia and Toccata (6’), 1982 – chromatic; the passacaglia is a dark piece, and the toccata is a rousing homage to Ginastera – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Chamber music with guitar

Love Dreams of the Exile (17′) for flute, guitar and string quartet, 2015 – These three movements are stream-of-consciousness meditations on Sephardic folk tunes, one of four commissions by the Cavatina Duo and Cedille Records for a recording project of original works inspired by Sephardic music.  The songs that provided the basis for this piece are all about love, just out of grasp – searching, rejection and loss.  The intense lyrics suggested a rather dramatic background for this piece.  Moderate-difficult – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co. Listen to excerpt

Cavatina Duo and the Avalon String Quartet, Sephardic Journey, Cedille CD

Ghosting (9′) for two guitars, 2013 – Dedicated to the dazzling Brasil Guitar Duo and commissioned by Symphony Space, the work begins and ends with harmonics floating freely, as if tossed about by a capricious wind. A simple tune in subtly shifting meters becomes the ground for variations that begin rather quietly and become increasingly lively. This leads to a brief, but spacious chordal passage that sounds perhaps like a distant carillon, followed by the original tune fragmented, then turning into a little chorale with harmonics, that leads to a return of the opening material, now a little more spectral.  Moderate-difficult – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Twilight Streams (16′) for cello and guitar, 2012 – This five-movement work, written for cellist Zuill Bailey, was inspired by a short quote from an interview with painter Bill Jensen:  “A very important concept in Chinese paintings is emptiness and fullness.  With my work I don’t know if darkness is empty or lightness is empty.  It could also be that either darkness or lightness is full, because in Chinese philosophy, emptiness is not what we think of as emptiness.  It is the place where everything will be going and then will be reborn.”  The five movements are titled “empty dark”, “full dark”, “empty light”, full light”, and “adrift at twilight”.  Moderate difficulty – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

Zuill Bailey and David Leisner, Arpeggione, Azica CD

Away (11′) for flute and guitar, 2008 – The folk tune, “Shenandoah” provides the material for this piece, commissioned by the Diller-Quaile School of Music for the Arc Duo.  Small fragments of the tune are each explored obsessively, to hypnotic effect.  While the music never abandons the tonal language of the song, there is, instead of harmonic conflict, more rhythmic conflict.  It is all set in the context of a journey along a river, with episodes evoking currents, a rolling river, rapids, waterfall, calming waters, canyon echoes and still waters.  Moderate difficulty – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Acrobats (13′) for flute and guitar, 2002 – written for guitarist Luiz Mantovani, this intense 3-movement piece is inspired by a moving short story by Nathan Englander from his collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, about a group of Hasidic Jews in World War II who make the miraculous mistake of boarding a train full of circus performers instead of one bound for the concentration camps. The music is tonal, but chromatic, energetic, wailing and soulful, with a quote from a Yiddish folk song towards the end and woven into the music elsewhere. Moderate difficulty - Dobermann-Yppan/Les Productions d’Oz  Listen to excerpt

Cavatina Duo, Acrobats, Cedille CD

Vision of Orpheus (17′) for guitar and string quartet, 2000 – commissioned by Twentieth Century Unlimited in Santa Fe, this dramatic 5-movement work was given a standing ovation at its premiere with Leisner and the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Based on the Orpheus myth and a painting by Mark Spencer, the piece deals with Orpheus’ plea to the gods of the underworld, their deliberation and decision to release Euridice, and the ultimate despair of Orpheus in the end as he loses her. The work is in a tonal chromatic language, at times lyrical or rhythmically incisive or eerie and disturbing, as at the end. Interesting, challenging parts for all instruments – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co. Listen to excerpt

iO String Quartet and David Leisner, live

El Coco (The Bogeyman) (3′) for flute and guitar, 1999 – part of Red Cedar Chamber Music’s commission of 7 composers for their “Artistic Celebration for the 21st Century” project, this compact work is a passacaglia and was inspired by one of Francisco Goya’s prints in the “Los Caprichos” series, moderate difficulty – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

Cavatina Duo, Acrobats, Cedille CD

Roaming (8’) for 3 guitars, 1994 – a fun piece, based on the famous American folk tune, “Red River Valley”, with a “drunken” passage toward the end, moderate difficulty – Dobermann-Yppan/Les Productions d’Oz 

The Cat that Walked by Himself (22’) for 4 guitars, 1988 – 11 short movements use quotes from the Rudyard Kipling children’s story to inspire a passacaglia,a fugue, a quodlibet, and other intensely lyrical and rhythmic passages, moderate-difficult – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

New England Conservatory student guitar quartet, live

Mirage (6’) for two guitars, 1987 – a simple, but passionate contrapuntal section opens the work, followed by a joyful, dancey illusion,completed by the return of the opening counterpoint with soured chromaticism – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Extremes (13’) for flute, clarinet and guitar, 1987 – in 2 movements, the first, “Introverted”, is in a pensive, Bartokian mood, while the second, “Extroverted”, uses the language of folk, rock and jazz – Doberman-Yppan/Les Productions d’Oz

Trittico (12’), for flute, cello and guitar, 1985 – the large, brooding middle movement is surrounded by a somewhat Minimalist first movement and a lively, lyrical Rondo last movement – Doberman-Yppan/Les Productions d’Oz

Nostalgia (5’), for violin/flute and guitar, 1985 – a long-lined chromatic lyricism, with solos for both the violin (or flute) and the guitar – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Sonata (16’) for violin and guitar, 1985 – a 3-movement work of large, Brahmsian proportions and weight, in a chromatic, tonal idiom – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Three Moons (17’) for cello and guitar, 1984 – originally conceived for dance, this 3-movement piece begins with a fugue, continues with a solo movement for cello (offset by solos for the guitar in the outer movements) and ends with a rollicking, Minimalist third movement – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Dances in the Madhouse (12’) for violin/flute and guitar, 1982 – now considered a classic of the repertoire, a dance suite with Tango Solitaire, Waltz for the Old Folks, Ballad for the Lonely and Samba!, inspired by a lithograph by early 20th-century American George Bellows, depicting a social dance in an insane asylum – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Voice and Guitar

Many of these songs can be streamed in their entirety on Song of America (click on “Songs”)

Eve’s Diary (15′), soprano, 2015 – Excerpts from Eve’s Diary by Mark Twain provide the witty and poignant texts, a depiction of Eve’s first days on Earth with Adam.  Commissioned by and dedicated to the husband and wife duo, Gioia De Cari and John Olson, these six songs attempt to create a large world with a small amount of musical materials. – Manuscript, to be published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

1. A Whole Day Old
2. The Moon
3. It
4. First Sorrow
5. Pink dust
6. Prayer

West Wind (16′), tenor (or soprano), 2011 – Mary Oliver poems about love amidst nature.  Written for tenor William Ferguson. Six songs, in a melding of diatonic and chromatic styles, sometimes playful, sometimes darkly intense, sometimes mystical, sometimes meditative.  Guitar part of medium difficulty. – Manuscript, to be published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  See Composition Videos  page for live video of this piece.

1. Come with me
2. Row for your life
3. Dark is as dark does
4. Wild needle
5. Night birds
6. West wind

Three James Tate Songs (10′), medium or high voice, 2007 – written for Patrick Mason, baritone, and David Starobin, guitar, these are settings of texts by one of the great living American poets, James Tate, whose surrealistic work can be hilarious or frightening or both at the same time. The music is repetitive, obsessive, hypnotic. Guitar part of medium difficulty – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

1. I Can’t Speak for the Wind
2. Never Again the Same
3. From an Island

Heaven’s River (10′), soprano, 1991 – 3 profoundly spiritual poems by the great Hindu writer Rabindranath Tagore, set in a mystical and lyrical style, with a challenging guitar part – Dobermann-Yppan/Les Productions d’Oz

1. The Boat

2. Light

3. To the Stream

Five Songs of Devotion (16′), medium voice, 1989 – written for Hazel Ketchum to sing and play at the same time, these are written in a quasi-folk style, straddling the border between art song and pop song. The texts are drawn from 5 different religious traditions (Jewish, American Indian, Taoist, Christian and Hindu) – Columbia Music

1. The Lord is My Shepherd
2. Song of the Sky Loom
3. The Breath of Nature
4. Saint Clare
5. Silent Steps

Confiding (30′), high voice, 1985-86 – 10 poems by women, mostly Emily Dickinson and Emily Bronte, that trace the rise and fall of an intimate relationship and then turn to non-human elements (the guitar, imagination, God) for confiding. Guitar part of medium difficulty – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

1. Savior! I’ve no one else to tell
2. Ample make this Bed
3. Wild Nights
4. Signal
5. Star-crossed
6. The Lady to her Guitar
7. Love and Friendship
8. To Imagination
9. Faith
10. This is my letter to the World

Outdoor Shadows (1l’), high voice, 1985 – 5 poems by the great and under-recognized American 20th-century poet, Robert Francis, whose work is most often about nature and naturalness, beauty and simplicity – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

1. Slow
2. Homeward
3. Yes, What?
4. Seagulls
5. Sing a Song of Juniper

Four Yiddish Songs (12’), medium (or high) voice, 1983 – stylized art-song arrangements of 4 popular Yiddish folk songs – Dobermann-Yppan/Les Productions d’Oz

1. Rozhinkes mit Mandlen

2. Tumbalalaika

3. Sha! Shtil!

4. Der Rebe Elimelech

Simple Songs (7′), medium voice, 1982 – written for Sanford Sylvan, these are 6 poems of Emily Dickinson in settings that are sometimes popular-music-inspired, sometimes bitonal, always intense. The guitar part has some difficult passages and requires an advanced player – AMP/G. Schirmer Music Publishers

1. Exultation
2. Beauty
3. Madness
4. Letter
5. Humility
6. Simplicity

Voice and Piano

Many of these songs can be streamed in their entirety on Song of America (click on “Songs”)

The Peace of Wild Things (2′), high voice, 2002 (from Of Darkness and Light, arr. for voice and piano, 2017) – a setting of Wendell Berry’s moving poem – to be published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Confiding (30′), high voice (also available for medium), 1985-86 – 10 poems by women, mostly Emily Dickinson and Emily Bronte, that trace the rise and fall of an intimate relationship and then turn to non-human elements (the guitar, imagination, God) for confiding – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

Sanford Sylvan, baritone, and Patricia Thom, piano, live

1. Savior! I’ve no one else to tell
2. Ample make this Bed
3. Wild Nights
4. Signal
5. Star-crossed
6. The Lady to her Guitar
7. Love and Friendship
8. To Imagination
9. Faith
10. This is my letter to the World

“O Love is the Crooked Thing” (15′), medium or low voice, 1980 – 5 poems by William Butler Yeats set in a folk-song idiom that sometimes veers close to Benjamin Britten – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co. Listen to excerpt

William Alvarado baritone,  and Kate Bowan, piano, live

1 Down by the Salley Gardens
2: The Two Trees
3. A Drinking Song
4. The Wild Swans at Coole
5. Brown Penny

To Sleep (9′), medium voice (also available for low), 1994 – 3 Elizabeth Bishop poems on the theme of sleep, one lighthearted, one dark and dramatic, and the last quietly passionate – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co. Listen to excerpt 

Robert Osborne, baritone, and Susan Almasi, piano, live


1. Sleeping on the Ceiling
2. The Unbeliever
3. Sonnet

Chance Awakenings (9′), soprano, 2003 – Commissioned for the year-long musical celebration of poet William Meredith’s 85th birthday, these 3 songs set texts by Meredith and his life partner, Richard Harteis. The outer two Meredith songs present simple musical materials that become rhythmically and texturally complex with layering, while the middle Harteis song evokes a scene of a lazy afternoon nap which provides relief to a stressful time – Manuscript, to be published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

1. A Major Work
2. Architecture of an Afternoon Nap
3. The Fear of Beasts

Fidelity (22′), tenor (or soprano) and baritone, 1996 – 8 poems by 6 poets on the theme of a long-term, monogamous gay relationship, from beginning doubts through romantic attractions and struggles to enduring love. Its original setting is for two males, but may also be performed in a heterosexual version. The poets are May Swensen, Walt Whitman, Kenneth Patchen, William Meredith, Wendell Berry and Leslie Marmon Silko – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co. Listen to excerpt

Nina Faia, soprano, Anthony Zoeller, baritone, and Terry Decima, piano

1. Our Forward Shadows
2. Are you the new person drawn toward me?
3. Moon, Sun, Sleep, Birds, Live
4. O My Love the Pretty Towns
5. Tree Marriage
6. Sometimes he contemplates adultery
7. Anniversary Song
8. Lullaby

Voice and Instrument

Das Wunderbare Wesen (The Miraculous Essence) (10′), baritone and cello, 2011 – Commissioned by Eleanor Eisenmenger at the request of baritone Wolfgang Holzmair, this is a set of five settings of Lao Tsu’s Tao te Ching, in the German translation of Richard Wilhelm, one of the earliest and most understanding translations of this Chinese text.  The songs epitomize the mystical spirituality of Taoism.  In a mix of chromatic and diatonic styles, the music evolves out of structures established in the cello part, echoed by the harmonic structures, which spiral away from the center – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Choral music

Yachad (Together) (3′), SATB a cappella choir (with congregation), 2014 – Commissioned by Geoffrey Rogers for Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the gay synagogue of New York City, this short choral song uses the traditional musical setting of “Hinei ma tov” as backdrop to the original music. The congregation sings the traditional tune. In addition to the traditional lyrics, “how good it is for us brothers to dwell together”, alternative lyrics are substituted for “brothers” – “sisters” and “all of us”.  Easy-moderate difficulty – Manuscript, to be published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Solo Instrument

Labyrinths II (15′) for solo piano, 2009 – Written for British pianist, Colin Stone, these five movements each use a

Bach quote or pseudo-quote as a springboard for musical exploration of subtle and gradual evolution of rhythm,
harmony, sonority and phrasing.  The new melodic material of the last movement is surrounded by a “foggy mist” of
musical memories of the previous four movements.  The movement titles combine to form a little poem:
bounce
into the dark:
almost still, lost
in memory
Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Vapors (9′) for solo viola, 2008-9 – Using the early numbers of the Fibonacci Series to determine metres, as well as number and length of notes, Leisner created two parallel musical events in the first movement, “Falling”.  One is a sequence of held single notes (occasionally becoming a double-stop) that starts high in harmonics and slowly descends.  The other is a series of melodic phrases that begin as fragments and then expand and contract, rise and fall.  They alternate as separate entities in the beginning and then, at various times in the piece, meld together.  The second movement, “Floating”, develops in a similar way, but in a much faster context.  Vapors was composed in 2008-9, dedicated to the visual artist, Constance DeJong, and written for violists Hsin-Yun Huang and Paul Neubauer - Manuscript, to be published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Chamber Music

Bloom (9′) for string quartet, 2005 – A very gentle, slowly unfolding minimalist work that evokes an ongoing ether of sound, out of which emerges, towards the end, a living organism, as embodied by a melodic violin solo that sings, rises and dies – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

iO String Quartet, live

A Timeless Procession (9′) for baritone and string quartet, 2004 – Commissioned by Eleanor Eisenmenger for the Austrian baritone, Wolfgang Holzmair, this is a musical setting of the delightfully surreal poem, “The Elephants Pass Carnegie Hall” by the little-known 20th-century American poet, Rosemary Thomas. The single-movement work passes through different evocations of time – past, present, slow motion, frozen time – as the baritone sings the poem’s narrative journey – Merion Music/Theodore Presser CoThis work can be streamed on Song of America (under “Songs”)

Of Darkness and Light (10′) for tenor, violin, oboe and piano, 2002 – 5 poems by Wendell Berry about darkness and light, written in the Vietnam era and which have an equal resonance with our own post-9/11 malaise, are set to music in a diatonic tonal language which passes from thoughtfulness to passion to anxiety and ends in beauty – Manuscript, to be published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Battlefield Requiem (15’) for solo cello and percussion quartet, 1995 – a requiem mass for instruments, instead of voices, and an imagined scene on a battlefield, with the first movement diepicting a gathering of troops wth their collective prayers and hopes and fears, the second movement a scene of combat, the third (for solo cello) a survivor’s lament, and the last is a poetic leap into the atmosphere in the aftermath – Manuscript, to be published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

Laurence Lesser, cello, New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble, Frank Epstein, conductor, live

Ad majorem Dei gloriam (12’) for brass quintet (2 Bb tpt., hn., trb., tb.), 1992 – commissioned by the Jesuit-run Fairfield University for its 50th anniversary, this chromatically tonal 4-movement work begins with a brief fugue called “Prayer”, which provides the thematic basis for the three other movements –  fanfare, an innocent pastorale and the tempestuous finale, all of which evoke aspects of the Divine Being – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

Saturday Brass Quintet, live

On Jazz Terrain (13’) for flute, Bb clarinet, alto saxophone and piano, 1990 – 3 movements in a jazz language with a French accent: Jasper, Jasmine and Jazzed a Few Minutes – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

Linda Chesis, flute, Esther Lamneck, clarinet, Gary Louie, saxophone and Jon Klibonoff, piano

Candles in Mecca (23’) for violin, cello and piano, 1988 – inspired by quotes from Athol Fugard’s play “The Road to Mecca”, the first movement is a set of variations,the second movement is lyrical, passionate and painful, and the last movement is an exciting display of rhythm and virtuosity – Manuscript, to be published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

Alexander Simionescu, violin, Semyon Fridman, cello and Jon Klibonoff, piano, live

Orchestra

Pranayama (c. 8′) for orchestra (2222 42 4 (or 3) perc str), 2016 – A concert overture, a musical meditation for both orchestra and audience.  Three pitches are the basis of the entire work.  They are passed from one instrument to another and transposed, while their improvised rhythms are based on the timing of the breath of each individual player.  The overall effect might sound like a community of living, breathing organisms – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Embrace of Peace (14’) for orchestra (2222 4221 1perc str), 1991 - with American painter George Tooker’s painting as its source, this 1-movement tone-poem is in 3 sections, the first is a slow reconciliation from great distances and differences, from very high and very low to a big unison F, followed by a tentative and increasingly warm, lyrical embrace, and finished with a rousing and, finally, triumphant finale (including a trio for flute, viola and tuba along the way) – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.  Listen to excerpt

Amarillo Symphony Orchestra, James Setapen, conductor, live

Dances in the Madhouse (13’) for orchestra (2222 2200 1perc str), 1982, arranged for orchestra, 1989 – a dance suite with a Tango Solitaire, Waltz for the Old Folks, Ballad for the Lonely, and Samba!, inspired by a lithograph by the early 20th-century American George Bellows, depicting a social dance in an insane asylum – Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Clouds and Waves (Rabindranath Tagore) (6’) for young people’s chorus and young people’s string orchestra, 1993 - commissioned by the Diller-Quaile School of Music in New York, this brief, tonal work was designed for players and singers aged 7-14, based on a lovely little poem by the great Hindu poet Tagore about the tempting adventures that can lure one away from home and the inevitable and necessary return – Manuscript, to be published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Guitar Editions

David Leisner was one of the first contemporary advocates for the works of J.K. Mertz (1806-1856). His published editions of Mertz’s solo guitar music brought much-needed attention to this unjustly neglected composer. He has also made carefully considered arrangments of two well-known works by J.S. Bach, as well as editions of works by Virgil Thompson and Richard Winslow, with whom he worked closely.

Johann Kaspar Mertz
Elegy
Kindermärchen
Liebeslied
Romanze
Polacca
Tarantelle
Fantaisie Hongroise

J.S. Bach
Partita, BWV 1013 (originally for unaccompanied flute)
Suite No. 3, BWV 1009 (originally for cello)

Virgil Thomson
Two-Part Inventions
What Is It? (voice and gt.)

Richard Winslow
Variations on a Tune of Stephen Foster

All of these editions are published by Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.

Merion Music/Theodore Presser Co.
588 North Gulph Road
King of Prussia, PA 19406  USA
Phone: 610-592-1222 Fax: 610-592-1229
Website: http://www.presser.com

Les Editions Doberman-Yppan
c.p. 2021
Saint-Nicolas (Quebec) Canada G7A 4X5
Fax: 418-836-3645
E-mail: doberman.yppan@videotron.ca
Website: http://www.dobermaneditions.com

AMP/G.Schirmer Music Publishers
257 Park Ave. South
New York, NY 10010
Phone 212 254-2100 Fax 212 254-2013

Columbia Music Co.: distributed by Theodore Presser Co.