Three by Three (2009)

For Solo Piano

Composed for Mei Rui, pianist

Duration: 9 minutes

Program Note:

"Three by Three" (2009) is a set of three pieces for piano, each roughly three minutes in duration. The first movement, "I. Moto perpetuo, Presto,” opens with a burst of hushed energy, whirling sixteenth-notes and a syncopated twittering melody that fights to bubble to the surface. The energy builds perpetually until it finally disintegrates, vanishing as quickly as it began.

The second movement, "II. Lontano,"  is a meditation on Arthur Ganson’s kinetic sculpture, "Machine with Artichoke Petal." The sculpture consists of a machine, which through the use of electricity and various levers and gears, allows a tiny, yet sturdy, artichoke petal to gracefully "walk" atop a large, slowly rotating metal disc. The sculpture has a fragile beauty, juxtaposing the delicate artichoke petal with the imposing rotating metal disc. The music meditates on the graceful beauty of the artichoke petal peacefully walking and the continuous cycles of the disc forever turning. 

The final movement, "III. Vivace, Molto Robusto," concludes the set with a return to the lively, a playful sprint with a rollicking swagger. "Three by Three" was composed for  pianist Mei Rui.

For performance, each movement may be performed separately.


From the Liner Notes from the commercial recording on Albany Records:

Composed for the Shanghai-born American pianist Mei Rui, Three By Three is three, three-minute movements of contrasting character; each can be performed separately. The breathless first, “Moto perpetuo, Presto,” begins with right and left hands in fast unison three octaves apart; accents and dropped notes in both hands create a kind of aural illusion and syncopation. Nathan makes much of register separation to clarify the often-minute differences between the parts in unison passages; when more radical separation occurs, the contrast is greatly magnified. The movement tends downward in big sweeps, leaping back upward to begin another descent. The contemplative second movement, here called “Lontano,” was originally composed for pianist Adam Kent (with the title “Meditation”). Two kinds of time are juxtaposed: the unfixed sustained notes of the falling chromatic figures in the right hand, and the more directional, rising arpeggios of the left, seeming to float entirely free from one another. The movement is “a meditation on Arthur Ganson’s kinetic sculpture, Machine with Artichoke Petal, a complex assemblage of metal parts topped off by the organic shape of an artichoke section positioned to ‘walk’ along the circumference of a very slowly turning, massive metal disc.” (A video of the sculpture can readily be found on the internet.) “Vivace, Molto Robusto” is an off-kilter, rustic dance, Prokofiev-like, with windows of twinkling delicacy.

Composer; Boston Symphony Orchestra Assistant Director of Program Publications, Editorial


Movement I:

Movement II:

Movement III:

Performed by Mei Rui (piano)
From the CD "Multitude, Solitude: Eric Nathan" (Albany Records)


Movement I (Video):

Performed by Hui Wu (piano) live at the 2010 CCC Toronto International Piano Competition


All three movements (Video):

Performed by Mei Rui (piano) live performance at le poisson rouge (New York)

View Online Score


“ [...] "Three by Three,” a wonderfully inventive suite of short character pieces played by pianist Mei Rui."

- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle (1.3.16)
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"Pianist Mei Rui played the excellent Three by Three, music that manages to reconcile Gershwin with Ligeti, then tosses in a bit of Nancarrow at the end. The piece is in three movements, fast-slow-fast, with the outer movements demanding extrteme virtuosity. Perpetual, opposing lines reminiscent of Ligeti’s “Désordre” Étude give way to crashing, jazzy chords that descend aggressively towards the bass line. The finale has a bit of boogie-woogie and the color and pace and rhythms recall Nancarrow’s player piano studies. Rui was amazing at what seemed to be impossible, perpetual tempos. She was even more impressive in the second movement, “Lontano,” makred largo. The music is spare but exact, and Rui played the phrases and rhythms with consistent clarity."

- George Grella, New York Classical Review (9.20.2014)
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"The most amazing, Three by Three, is given an also amazing performance by Chinese-born pianist Mei Rui, for whom it was written. I begins with a blazing-fast and complex line, played several octaves apart by both hands, accents bringing out seemingly random pitches. The eventual counterpoint is just as remarkable as the unisons. II (‘Lontano’) is the opposite of I: calm, deep, and thoughtful, with beautiful, sustained sounds. III is a bouncy, whimsical Vivace."

- Barry Kilpatrick, American Record Guide
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"Three by Three," performed by pianist Mei Rui, is a compact suite with a relentless first movement, a fragile, questioning second, and a finale somewhat resembling Aaron Copland's Americana phase, but blithely underivative."

- Jay Harvey, Upstage (12.24.15)
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