The comic book writer Dennis O’ Neil described Batman’s Gotham City as “Manhattan below Fourteenth Street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November” to which William Safire, writing in The New York Times adds: “from SoHo to Greenwich Village, the Bowery, Little Italy, Chinatown and the sinister areas around the base of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.”
In this chilling environment, Bob Kane created arguably the most colorful rogues gallery of villains in any comic book series. I selected four of these figures as the basis for my 14th -17th Piano Miniatures, a series of character pieces in which I sketched out attributes of these extreme and deep characters. These miniatures are designed to be performed as a set titled The Rouges Gallery.
Mr. Freeze (Piano Miniature #14)
Mr. Freeze is a tragic character. Driven by a desire to cure his terminally ill wife, Nora, he cryogenically freezes her in an unauthorized experiment only to have his employers pull the plug on the whole affair and, in the process, trigger an industrial accident that leaves him in his current cold state. Freeze’s condition also slows down his body’s aging process basically making him immortal.
Much has been written about the symbolism of cold for Mr. Freeze (that molecules slow down when colder). As a result, the music of this miniature is extremely slow and makes use of the high registers traditionally used to evoke coldness in music. The music is stoic but tinged with tragedy and loss. In the middle of the miniature, we hear a tinkling melody that I wrote to evoke Nora in the extreme high range imitating the sound of a music box. This is a reference to the makeshift music box that Mr. Freeze creates featuring an ice sculpture of his wife. It is his only source of happiness during his incarceration.
Scarecrow (Piano Miniature #15)
Originally a student of phobias, Scarecrow uses his psychological knowledge as well as his signature fear-gas to exploit the fears of his victims. The music of this miniature is extremely fast and relentless imitating the increased heartbeat of a terrified victim. There are echos of the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) throughout. Just as it seems to calm down, this minute-long panic attack comes to a tumultuous close.
Two-Face (Piano Miniature 16A/16B)
Once Gotham City’s dashing and idealistic district attorney, Harvey Dent is driven to insanity when the left side of his face is hideously scarred by acid. This unleashes all of his inner demons and obsession with dualities. Believing that justice is arbitrary, Two-Face makes all his decisions with the flip of a coin.
At this point in the set, the pianist flips a coin to determine whether the audience will hear miniature 16A (Harvey Dent) or 16B (Two-Face). Miniature 16A sets the calm and magnanimous spirit of Dent centered around an starry-eyed chorale ever reaching upward. There is only a hint in this music that things could go terribly wrong.
Miniature 16B takes Harvey’s musical motifs and transforms them into violent blackened sounds invoking Two-Face’s ruthless and psychotic character.
The Riddler (Piano Miniature #17)
The Riddler is my favorite of Batman’s Rogues. The master of puzzles leaves clues to his deadly crimes in the form of Riddles to challenge his opponents and prove his intellectual superiority. The music is obsessively punctuated with a seven note motif that spells out
“R-I-D-D-L-E-R” using a modified version of the 19thcentury “French” system of generating musical cryptograms:
A B C D E F G ♭ H I J K L M N ♮ O P Q R S T U ♯ V W X Y Z
The flamboyance of the music is inspired by Frank Gorshin’s depiction of the character as well as Jim Carrey’s interpretation (inspired by Gorshin).
At the opening of the score, a riddle is presented from the comic book Batman #23.2: Riddler #1, one of my favorite Riddler comics: “My servants cannot leave me, In all they number five. They bring me everything I want, and I keep them alive. What am I?”
The answer is presented cryptographically in counterpoint to the “R-I-D-D-L-E-R” motif and then as a second theme of its own. A hint to the answer is also given in the fact that this is a piano piece: “H-A-N-D”.