The career of William Bolcom (b 1938) has led him from the West Coast (Mills College and Stanford University) to Paris (Milhaud and Messiaen) and New York in the late 1960s, where he contributed to the ragtime revival. He has been teaching at the University of Michigan since 1973. This is the second of two volumes of Twelve Etudes, the first of which was composed between 1959 and 1966 (and recorded by the composer). The Twelve New Etudes were originally written for Paul Jacobs, whose untimely death in 1983 brought the project to a halt. Bolcom has now completed the set and extended the dedication to include the pianists John Musto and Marc-Andre Hamelin.
Battle Piece was to have been the first of a series of works for solo piano entitled Encouragements, a project Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972) began in 1942, during the darkest days of World War II, as his contribution to the struggle against fascism. On the title page of the first version, Wolpe wrote: "Battles, hopes, difficulties/new battles, new hopes, no difficulties." Thus Battle Piece belongs to the genre of Kampfmusik that forms such an important part of his life's work. He began to compose this "music for the struggle" in Berlin in the late 1920s, when he wrote chamber operas, dance scores, theater music, and songs for agitprop troupes engaged in the fight against National Socialism. But Battle Piece is also a struggle on a deeper level, namely, to transmute disparate idioms into a more personal and yet communicative musical tongue.