CELESTIAL SUITE for Piano by Toni Beaulieu
- STORMY WINDS
- Dawn (after the storm)
- Prelude to the Stars
- Jewels of the Sky
- Nocturne to the Clouds
1) STORMY WINDS
The opening movement of CELESTIAL SUITE is remarkable in that the composer seems to be breaking new ground. She depicts a raging storm, but unlike, say Beethoven's version in his PASTORALE SYMPHONY, there is no tympany to imitate thunder or any other orchestral effect for that matter. The artist here is composer Toni Beaulieu. She paints her storm complete with torrential winds, driving rain, and the usual thunder-and-lightning assaults that come with inclement weather. And she does so by employing only the palette of colors that are standard equipment with a Steinway. A full symphonic arrangement would no doubt be wonderful, but Toni lets her imagination suffice as her piano depicts all the elements of "Mother Nature on a rampage".
From the first rumble of bass notes, the winds agitate and carry on, leading themselves down a warpath to crescendo. Their formidable gusts show no sign of letting up until the driving rhythm of the piece suddenly dissolves into plodding chord progressions that signal a lull. Never to be predictable as in nature, the winds whip up again, then just as suddenly die out and the storm is over.
2) Dawn (after the storm)
Such are the ways of nature as illustrated in CELESTIAL SUITE, a tour of earth and sky by Toni Beaulieu, a very gifted woman composer. It's a piece she began in 1952, and did not put the finishing touches on until 1988. Her musical instincts here at times suggest the work of Rachmaninoff or Debussy. But Ms. Beaulieu is somewhat easier to follow. She lets her narrative engage the listener by drawing a sketch in layman's terms with catchy melodies that tend to linger. She proves she can also be eloquent or visionary, yet tempers the brush strokes of Van Gogh with a reverence for simplicity…more on the order of musical finger-painting.
The post-storm day makes its entrance on crystalline calls and answers in the distance. Then dawn's theme begins and the morning glides in on sunlit wings. A series of transpositions leads to the gossamer treble effects that Ms. Beaulieu perfected in a later work entitled DUSK in which her right hand sweeps six keys in quick succession. It's a tinkling sound like floating on a feather, a transitional effect that marks the new day with a breath of light and inspiration.
3) Prelude to the Stars
CELESTIAL SUITE also becomes a meditation on the sky—with all the thoughts and feelings that inspires. PRELUDE TO THE STARS is the first of two movements devoted just to "night's candles" as Shakespeare sometimes called them. Written in 1952, the piece begins and ends with a repetitive figure that sets tempo and tone. A system of measure, if you will, to move us center stage for a good view of the universe and that curious phenomenon that usually tags along with it—infinity. An enigma summoned by one's unrestricted access to the night sky in which a blanket of stars appears to roll on forever. Ms. Beaulieu plays architect to a musical firmament whose "twinkle, twinkle" strikes a new pose of awesome grandeur and staggering beauty. She has also fashioned a sort of road sign with rippling bursts of melody that accelerate and threaten to spin out of control in this strangely limitless realm.
4) Jewels of the Sky
In this second movement on the subject of stars, we get the grand tour of them from what feels like a carriage, powered completely by melody. A chimes-like sentinel opens the floodgate to the theme which takes off in grand style, building then soaring high to claim its place in the heavens—getting lost only momentarily as it seems to forget its own infinite bounds. As in many of her best works, Ms. Beaulieu has constructed a bass line that weaves through her theme, ever building in suspense and power.
5) Nocturne to the Clouds
Our final sky meditation is devoted just to clouds--the light, fluffy nocturnal kind that can sometimes be caught tripping across the moon. Written in the vein of CLARE DE LUNE, this nocturne opens with its own repetitive figure to set the scene. Clouds emerge from bass notes where they seem to drift and shift, and then lumber on. Ms. Beaulieu captures their tempo—if they have one—in the rubato theme which builds in the same way clouds gather…blissfully and unconcerned. Floating on air is their livelihood after all. The listener may find it hard not to give way to the gentle whirlpool of peaceful dreams that cling to these night-clouds. Some may even wander beyond serenity to other chakras, on a quest to somehow reach that elusive peak called spiritual transcendence.
About the Composer
Born in Highmore, South Dakota, TONI BEAULIEU started piano lessons at age six, violin lessons at age eight, and was declared a child prodigy when she began performing in concert at age ten. By 14. she was attending the Academy Department at Huron College, studying under the head of Huron's violin department. She became a teaching assistant there as well as concert master of the Huron College Symphony while also playing in the string quartet there.
Ms. Beaulieu transferred to the prestigious MacPhail School of Music in Minneapolis, Minnesota the following year. There she studied under George Klass, head of the violin department and accepted a scholarship for classes with another prominent violin instructor. Her piano studies began around the same time with Evelyn Hansen and then Glen Dillard Gunn. By the age of 18 she had earned her Bachelor's, Master's, and Ph.D. degrees in violin as well as her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in piano. She then joined the faculty of the MacPhail School, becoming its youngest instructor in both fields.
During her years of study Ms. Beaulieu formed her own string trio—consisting of violin, cello and piano. She gave numerous concerts and appeared as violin soloist with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. She spent one full year in Detroit, Michigan teaching the visual method of piano and the Leopold Auer method in violin.
Ms. Beaulieu performed on radio at W.L.W. Cincinnati, W.C.C.O. Minneapolis, W.H.A.M. Rochester, and W.M.C. Memphis. After getting married, she moved to California where she continued teaching while also trying her hand as a composer. In 1946 she formed her own record company—Artistic Records, the label on which she released an album of original Latin-American compositions entitled "CARIBBEAN MOON". She introduced classical pianist Geri Galian and his recording of her number, JUNGLE RHUMBA went on to become an international hit, recorded by over 25 other record companies. It was also featured as highlight production number in the MGM musical "NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER" starring Esther Williams & Red Skelton.
From concert violinist to MGM composer, Ms. Beaulieu is best known for her classical and semi-classical compositions. Her versatility as a writer, however, ran the gamut from Latin, jazz, and blues to rags and even children's tunes. With her extensive catalog of original titles, she proved to be as prolific as she was versatile. She was a longtime member of A.G.A.C. (American Guild of Authors and Composers), A.S.C.A.P. (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), and the Musician's Union, local 47.