Wildcat Canyon Press
Wildcat Canyon Press Catalogue
A Dream Foretold
A Dream Foretold
II. Allegro scherzando T
The cello’s expansive opening lyricism evokes many transformations through the first movement of A Dream Foretold, from its initial espressivo mood, to a more restrained contrapuntal setting with the winds, becoming impassioned as it leads to a first climax, and even assuming a mysterious and agitated character in the middle of the movement, taken up there by the flute and clarinet. In each of these incarnations, lyrical evolvution coalesces in a chordal ritornello ornamented with trills. Brief at first, these ritornello episodes become more and more extended. The movement unfolds in interplay between these two prototypes. The second movement is a scherzo, lively, animated, full of sprung rhythms, featuring the piano in ever expanding sweeps up the keyboard.
- Printed Score15
- Printed Set of Parts30
Chamber (7 and more)
Between Thought and Thing
Between Thought and Thing, scored for flute, trumpet, horn, violin, viola, cello, piano and percussion, was written for the contemporary music ensemble at SUNY Stony Brook. The title derives from Coleridge, who used the phrase as an aphoristic description of the essential nature of representational painting. Painters often present the viewer with highly realistic depictions of things which do not actually exist. The irony becomes extreme in artistic movements such as surrealism. Music cannot really be said to be representational in the way a painting may be. Yet of a piece of music often acts as a powerful metaphor suggesting physical movements or emotional states. Analogous to the painter, the composer presents to his audience sonic metaphors for intense experiences which may be pulled directly from the imagination. These various musings on the nature of the musical experience went into the composition of the kaleidoscopically colored atmospheres, and both subtle and dramatic expressive contrasts, depicted in Between Thought and Thing.View Work
Richard Festinger's Careless Love, an SFCMP commission, is his first piece for solo male voice. Having decided on a vocal work, the composer felt the baritone voice was the best fit for setting these A.E. Stalling texts, and his somewhat unusual ensemble - clarinet/bass clarinet, horn, piano, and string trio -- follows the voice into that generally lower register. The collection of timbres isjust different enough from the standard "Pierrot" group (featuring flute but no horn) to suggest intriguingly different possibilities.
Festinger (b.1948) was born in Newton, Massachusetts, but grew up in the Bay Area, where he has been based for most of his career. He attended the Berklee College of Music as a jazz guitarist and began his career in that realm. He earned a bachelor's degree from San Francisco State University and went on to study composition at the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked with Andrew lmbrie. His music often exhibits the gestural punch and physical virtuosity of jazz (that energy probably both a cause and an effect of his compositional personality), but he also has a fascination for traditional techniques of counterpoint. Both sides of the conversation meld in Careless Love.
Since 1990, Festinger has served on the faculty of San Francisco State University, where he also directs the Morrison Artists Series. He was a co-founder of the Earplay new music group in the mid-1980s. He has received commissions from the Fromm, Jerome, and Barlow foundations, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and many others; in 2014 he received a Koussevitzky Foundation commission for his substantial String Quartet No.
3, composed for the Afiara Quartet. Other recent works include The Moon Is Hiding, an E.E. Cummings setting for soprano and cello to be premiered next month by Noe Valley Chamber Music, and Cummings Settings, commissioned by Lucy Shelton and the Resonant Bodies Festival. His music is featured in three portrait recordings, on the CRI, Bridge, and Naxos labels. Upcoming projects include a piece for the Dutch reed quintet Calefax and a work for the San Francisco-based ClimateMusic Project. Festinger has written one previous piece for SFCMP: Smokin' with Cocuswood for oboe, string quartet, and piano, premiered in 1993.
Richard Festinger was drawn toward these poems of Alicia Stallings (b.1968) for their wit and humanity as well as for their use of formalist techniques, as he details below. The piece is in three movements, with the first two ("Fibs" and "Olives") of the four poems set together. The charming title Careless Love is the composer's, suggested by Stallings's "Accident" as well as the old familiar blues song (though there's no musical allusion to the song here). The baritone setting is natural in its prosody, while the ensemble writing, frequently highlighting individual instruments in soloistic fashion. Note, too, that the ensemble as a whole establishes a substantial presence above and beyond the immediate context of the poetry setting.
Of his Careless Love, the composer writes:
"A year or so ago, for a period of a few weeks, I read an enormous amount of poetry, looking for texts I might want to set to music, reading which gradually coalesced around themes having to do with the darker side of love, from the melancholy to the disastrous. As one might imagine, there are a great many poems on such themes-themes we all know from personal experience, a subject matter as universally human as any that exists.
As I sifted through poems, I had to eliminate many that I would have loved to set, by poets as diverse as Robert Herrick, W.B. Yeats, and Jill Essbaum. But when I first read A.E. Stallings’ Another Lullaby for Insomniacs and Accident Waiting to Happen"I knew immediately that I had to set them, so the cycle Careless Love came to focus on her poetry, so remarkable for its intelligence, humor, irony and elegance.
“The music flows from the poems: from their emotional climate and from the prosody of the language. In the first movement, the ‘Fib’ is a nee-formalism in which the number of syllables in each successive line of poetry is taken from successive terms in the Fibonacci series, an arithmetic expression of the Golden Mean; so the music needed to be structured
along similar lines, in its phrase lengths and proportions. Another Lullaby for Insomniacs is a Pantoum, a poetic form where the 2nd and 4th lines of each stanza become the first and second lines of the next, finally turning back on itself at the end. To duplicate this structure musically would have been too much – the repetitions in the text suffice – so another musical form is superimposed, a binary form that also articulates the poem's stanzaic structure with interjections focused on the different colors of the instrumental ensemble. The setting of Accident Waiting to Happen takes its musical inspiration from the fifth line of the poem – ‘l'm bright and unstable’ – and simply strives to capture the breathless and ever-tightening tumultuous rush of the poem.” -RF
Program note by Robert KirzingerView Work
Chamber (7 and more)
Concerto for Piano and Nine Instruments
As in any concertante piece, one of my central concerns in Concerto for Piano and Nine Instruments was exploring the inherent possibilities for dramatic contrast and interplay between the ensemble and the soloist. The relationship between soloist and ensemble evokes in certain ways traditional concerto writing, yet its modernity is just as evident or more so. This concerto is formally set in two movements, but there are really three: a spacious, brooding, and atmospheric adagio, marked lento at the outset, provides an introduction and frame for the first movement’s allegro. The piano introduces the adagio music unaccompanied; the ensemble enters playing misterioso in response, to match in its own way the piano’s affect. After a time, the piano, in a series of phrases alternating with the ensemble, begins a gradual acceleration, transforming its character into an elegant, gracious, and highly ornamented elocution. The musical spirit and feeling of vitesse continue to increase and intensify, traversing a dancing passage for the ensemble, moving toward the movement’s culmination, and leading to a return of the adagio, whereupon the music settles over the span of a long, quiet coda. Equipped with its own piano introduction in homophonic style, the second movement is shorter and more intense, forceful in its argument, and dizzy with syncopation. The concerto was composed for Charles Abramovic and Network for New Music in Philadelphia, who gave the World Premiere performances in 2007. To compose for a combination of instruments so wonderfully rich in timbral and contrapuntal possibilities was a marvelous opportunity to let loose my imagination in all directions.View Work
Construction in Metal and Wood
Construction in Metal and Wood is a virtuosic work for piano and mixed percussion. The music unfolds in five large sections. At the outset, the two performers respond to each other in a rapid-fire game of increasingly agitated action and reaction, until they come together in a passage featuring motoric percussion accompanying dense piano chords. The quiet, sparse music which follows gradually accelerates to another climax. As this second climax dies away, again there emerges music that is quiet, suspended, contemplative in character; but now, instead of accelerating, it dies away, leaving behind a feeling of suspense, incompleteness, unfulfillment. The expectant silence is shattered by a jazzy, dancing duet for piano and vibraphone, which finally comes around to a return of the music of the beginning. Commissioned by Thierry Miroglio and Ancuza Aprodu, Construction in Metal and Wood received its World Premiere performance at the University of Maryland during their 2001 U.S. tour, and was featured during the 2002 Festival Antidogma Musica at the Conservatorio Giusseppe Verdi in Torino.View Work
Diary of a Journey
The journey depicted in Diary of a Journey is an imaginary one, or, more accurately, a journey of the imagination. Of course all creative works comprehend a journey of the imagination, but the approach to mining the imagination may differ vastly. This particular journey is not the outcome of formalistic calculations, nor is it the outcome of any overtly or covertly political or utopian vision, nor of any guiding necessity to fuse, or demolish barriers between, disparate musical eras or traditions. Based on the conviction that musical thought is inherently untranslatable to other modalities, the music chronicles a journey guided exclusively by ear and instinct in a search for an itinerary (to extend the metaphor) that leads through intuitive connections to distant, unexpected, preternatural spaces.
In the beginning the performers are asked to imbue the music with a magical quality of anticipation. As the music begins to grow, the piano suddenly bursts out in a brief extroverted display, the ensemble swells, and a sudden, dramatic transition introduces a long clarinet solo, set against a darkly luminous accompaniment of low string chords and bowed vibraphone. The reappearance of the piano incites the ensemble to turbulence, finally giving way to gentle reminiscences of earlier music, evocations that become more elaborate and expansive, culminating in an intense counterpoint between two duos, violin and viola against cello and clarinet, and setting the stage for the final toccata-like game of tag between the vibraphone and piano.View Work
Solo Instrumental Works
I doubt whether it’s possible to write music for solo violin without expressly either embracing or shunning the model of Johann Sebastian Bach’s monumental sonatas and partitas. In them one finds fully polyphonic music expressed by a single, athletic melodic line, leaping from one register to another to demarcate independent contrapuntal parts. All composers do this, of course, but rarely to the degree of complexity and perfection offered by Bach in his works for solo violin. I find this melodic approach irresistible. The florid melodic line in Double Take is entirely woven from the twin threads of an embedded imitation, each melodic turn and fragment repeated in a different register; yet the imitation is more often than not concealed through a process of melodic interleaving and rhythmic mutability to convey the impression of a single, integrated musical line. Written for Earplay’s violinist Terrie Baune, it’s an honor of the most pleasurable kind to offer Double Take as a gift to Earplay in recognition of the group’s extraordinary contribution over a period of 30 years as a catalyst in the creation of our musical legacy to the future.
- Richard FestingerView Work
Piano and Keyboard
Head Over Heels
Head Over Heels is a duet for a keyboard player and a computer. It seems strange to call such a piece a duet, and to be accurate, the keyboardist is, much of the time, in complete control. Everything the keyboardist plays is routed to the computer, where it is made audible by piano-like sounds stored on the computer as digital audio samples. In addition, certain notes played by the keyboardist are signals that trigger the computer to generate its own sonic events, using a variety of types of sounds, some very unlike the sounds the keyboardist produces. This triggering technique allows for precise coordination in time of the music played by the computer with that played by the keyboardist. As the piece builds to a climax, a gradual layering of linear material is built up during which the computer must track the keyboardist’s tempo, like a good accompanist. At the end of the piece, a long coda brings about a gradual settling and dying away, as the keyboardist plays ever simpler melodic interjections over thick chords played by the computer. Head Over Heels having been composed in 1992, I am very much indebted to Sebastian Berweck for stimulating both of us to accomplish the considerable work needed to modernize the technological aspects of the piece to enable it to be performed in the present. – Richard FestingerView Work
I. Katy-Did, Katy-Didn’t
II. Changed is my childhood home
III. Fathomless deepens the heat
Insect Voices was commissioned by the Selby Art Gallery at the Ringling College of Design in Sarasota, Florida, and premiered there in February 2008 as part of the exhibition Brenda Brown In Situ, an exhibition of works by landscape architect Brenda Brown, whose interest in the sonic dimension of landscape is what led to the idea of a piece of music with a multi-level connection to the sounds of insects. There is a large body of poetry by Chinese, Japanese and Korean authors incorporating insect sounds as an auditory image and/or symbol. The texts for Insect Voices are amalgamations of shorter, related texts from that body of poetry. In spite of the insect imagery, the concerns of the poems are quintessentially human. In the first song, the concern is the singer’s, philosophcal and metaphysical reminiscence on sounds from her childhood; in the second, her wistful and poignant meditation on the latter stages of life’s journey; and in the final song her amusing distractedness brought on by the endless and maddening droning song of cicadas in the summer heat.
Always, in composing vocal music, the greatest challenge is to capture the emotional tone and climate of the text. But in these poems there is the added dimension of insect sounds themselves as a central, sonic image. It was inevitable that the instruments should here and there evoke, and even adopt outright the personae of insects. It was perhaps equally inevitable that the insects’ actual songs should find their way into this work. Insect choruses provide a frame for the human performers, and participate significantly in the work’s dramatic shape as well. These insect choruses are not what one would expect to hear sitting outside on a summer evening, though: their sounds are arranged and organized so as to suit my very human musical purposes.View Work
Kleinen doch emsigen
Of the many extraordinary qualities of the music of J.S. Bach, his skill at text setting is often overlooked. The well-known cantata Jesu der du meine Seele includes a lovely duet for soprano and alto whose first line, "Wir eilen mit schwachen doch emsigen Schritten", roughly translates as "We hasten with fragile but diligent steps". Bach brilliantly illustrates the congregation’s small steps with the smallest of melodic distances, circuitous step-wise turning motions that gradually ascend the scale. I realized at a certain point during the composition of this quintet for Earplay that the main idea follows, in the abstract, a similar trajectory — the smallest of melodic motions are combined in succession in a gradually ascending schema, and this is the source of the title Kleinen doch emsigen: "small but diligent." The piece begins with a long, spacious, and introspective solo by the cello, who, coming full circle, is joined by the viola, and then the violin in turn, in such a way that the two instruments seem as though a single voice with added resonances. As the opening music reaches a climax, the flute and clarinet enter as obbligato, ornamental voices. The piece unfolds, in a loose sense, as varied elaborations on the cantus and counterpoint of the opening cello soliloquy and subsequent duet with the viola.View Work
Laws of Motion
Scored for flute, clarinet, viola, cello and piano, Laws of Motion features the cello as a protagonist, though it in no way resembles a concerto-like approach to treatment or form. Excepting the brief introduction played by the other four instruments, the cello is nearly always a central figure, and presents all the important musical ideas in the piece, sometimes as a soloist, at other times in the context of a duet with one of the other instruments as a more or less equal partner. Thus shortly after the cello first enters, it joins forces with the viola in a series of espressivo statements. As the music increases in speed, the piano enters into an energetic episode with the cello culminating in the piece’s first climax. Later first the clarinet and then the flute are the cello’s duet partners in a quiet arioso passage. The piece culminates in a passage of dizzyingly complex counterpoint whose energy culminates, and then gradually subsides, giving way to the lyrical, vanishing misterioso music of the liesurely, concluding coda. Laws of Motion was composed with the generous support of the Edward MacDowell Colony and the Centro Studii Liguri per Arte e Lettere.View Work
Solo Instrumental Works
Legerdemain is a set of two virtuosic movements for hand drums written for the brilliant percussionist Daniel Kennedy. The first movement, Module, is based on a very simple idea. A span of time is populated with a few events. The time span repeats in cyclic fashion, and with each repetition new events are added, while the old ones are retained, resulting in a gradually increasing density. A point of maximum density is reached, and maintained for a period of time. Abruptly, the more resonant sounds of the drums are withdrawn, leaving only the dry slapping sounds, and the density begins a process of reduction dissipating the energy that has been built up, and leading to a cadence. A new lyrical idea appears, with a folk-song like character, as a counterpoise to the intense energy of the preceeding music, and introduces a “harmonic” dimension: the drums are hit simultaeously to produce something analogous to chords. The piece ends with a flourish recalling its earlier dynamism. The second movement, Raison, is more complex formally, an exploration of nested proportionality, hence the title. It is also an exploration of some of the contrapuntal possibilities of unpitched percussion. Certainly the different tones, timbres and registers of the various drums lend themselves to a kind of contrapuntal effect much exploited in Module, where melodies played with the drums’ tones emerge from a thicket of of less resonant dead strokes. In Raison the contrapuntal idea that presents itself is one of melodic material presented against a backdrop of sustained, single-hand rolls.View Work
On the Lightness of the Moon
On the Lightness of the Moon was written for the Left Coast Ensemble. The title has several meanings. It refers to many evening walks along the seaside, and the purification that the beauty of the natural world offers as a respite from the strains of modern life. It refers also to William Carlos Williams' poetry, where the "jasmine lightness of the moon" is an exaltation of the perfection of nature, as against the "oppressive weight" of man-made edifices. The music itself is built of rising motifs of various kinds. The evocative harmonies of the opening shift continually in chromatic upward breaths. Alternating ascending figures in the piano and clarinet gradually converge on one another until the music bursts into a faster tempo. The climactic high point at the center of the piece is unmistakable, and leaves the violin and viola suddenly suspended in a slow-moving contrapuntal descent to the surface. The music of the opening tries to reestablish itself, but is continually interrupted by the fast music which, after winning out, brings the piece to a flourishing conclusion.View Work
Peripeteia grew out of my appreciation of the beautiful ways in which the sound color of the clarinet blends so harmoniously with that of string instruments, here violin and cello. At times, as in the opening gestures of the piece, the strings provide an environment, or landscape, in which an active clarinet takes on the role of a protagonist. A little further on, the cello is highlighted, the clarinet and violin providing an accompaniment mostly in parallel fourths. Sometimes the three instruments act almost as a single entity, combining their colors through additive pro-cesses. At other times, each takes on its own independent role in a contrapuntal colloquy. Interesting sonorities emerge on those occasions when the clarinet functions as the ensemble’s bass. Peripeteia’s musical impulses emanate from the opening idea, in which the clarinet, in a floridly melismatic outburst, diverges from, and then re-converges on the initial note sustained by the cello. From that point of departure, the music moves continually through scenarios suggesting divergence and re-convergence, sudden turns of events, and unexpected reversals.View Work
Smokin' with Cocuswood
Cocuswood is a close-grained wood native to the West Indies, also known as American Ebony. It is one of the woods, along with rosewood and grenadilla, used in the manufacture of oboes. Smokin’ with Cocuswood features the oboe in the manner of a chamber concerto. In the first movement, piano and strings begin with quietly syncopated chords. Upon the oboe's entrance, the music picks up tempo and begins to develop in a more contrapuntal fashion. The piano engages in a series of musical debates with the oboe, often set in relief by the melodic material in the strings. There is a strongly rhapsodic element in the second movement, which highlights the piano against sustained harmonies in the muted strings. The oboe is confined to short statements which serve to underline and reinforce the piano's soliloquizing. The third movement proceeds at a breathless pace, at times becoming almost a perpetuum mobile. The form in this movement is episodic which, together with frequent metrical reinterpretations, give the music a sense of playfulness and surprise.View Work
Spring Ice links together a disparate group of nature poems to create a narrative and parable of seasonal change. A woman neither young nor old stands at water’s edge watching the signs of the coming winter. The flowing sound of a stream ebbs and fades, replaced be the chill sound of the wind. Time itself seems buried in the snow. Yet at last the winter wanes. The first barely audible dripping sounds of melting ice hint at seasonal change, grow to a trickle, then a rush, and at last a cascading torrent as the river ice explodes in the tumultuous awakening of spring. These settings for soprano and violin are almost miniatures, in keeping with the epigrammatic texts. The first eight poems are by the 12th Century Japanese poets Princess Shikishi, Saigyō Hōshi, and Fujiwara no Shunzei, in exquisitely crafted translations by Hiroaki Sato. The ninth and final climactic poem is by the intensly lyrical American writer A. R. Ammons (1926-2001). The work was commissioned for Brenda Brown’s 2010 landscape exhibition in Winnipeg celebrating the annual thaw of the ice on that most wintry of city’s three rivers, the Red, the Seine and the Assiniboine. For some 6000 years the confluences of Winnipeg’s rivers have served as meeting place for early aboriginal peoples, and later traders, settlers, pioneers and immigrants; and no doubt for as many years the yearly thaw has been a welcome harbinger of spring.View Work
String Quartet No. 3
My String Quartet No. 3 is the product of a collaboration planned in 2008, when the Afiara Quartet performed my second quartet, an experience that both the quartet and I found so satisfying and energizing that we immediately began to lay the groundwork for a new work for string quartet. Many projects intervened, but with the strong support of a commission awarded last year from the Serge Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress the project finally came to fruition.
As an aside, Serge Koussevitzky, A native of Switzerland, came to the U.S. in 1942 to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1949, building the B.S.O. into one of the world’s great orchestral ensembles. Throughout his distinguished career, he displayed a broad international interest in contemporary music, his foundation’s mission to make manifest his “gratitude to the creators to whom we owe our musical heritage and who are providing our legacy to the future.”
For me this was the opportunity I had sought to write for these four brilliant young performers. From my earlier experience working with them on my second quartet I had a good idea of their capabilities, as well as some first-hand knowledge of their playing style, and had that knowledge firmly in mind while composing this new quartet. In my mind as well was the performers’ desire that the new work capture something of the quality of excitement of the finale of my second quartet.
This newest of my string quartets is in five movements. The emphatic, declamatory opening of the first movement, marked maestoso, persists in accelerating or breaking out into mercurially insistent passages of fast, running figures. The center of the movement is a kind of focus on what a visual artist might call “negative space”, in which the music slows and descends to a quiet nadir in the ensemble’s lowest register, a quiet that reduces finally to a silence, after which the movement regenerates itself.
The second movement is an elegant and graceful andantino, almost like a stately dance if it weren’t for the absence of a sense of regular meter. It is full of arabesques, including a cadenza-like passage for the first violin at the movement’s climactic moment.
The third movement, marked allegretto, is an essay on rhythm, and for that reason it is played entirely pizzicato, for the rhythmic incisiveness of the plucked, rather than bowed string. The harmonies and melodic contours are mostly simpler here. The movement features rapidly shifting cross-rhythms, where the tempi of two opposing groups of instruments (either in pairs, or the cello against other three) rapidly diverge and converge to create a kaleidoscopic, or, better yet, moiré-like effect of rapidly shifting rhythmic patterns.
Movement four, marked non troppo adagio, is serene and poignant, a little distanced owing to a somewhat trenchant harmonic palette. The counterpoint is canonic, the instruments imitating each another’s angular contours. Moments of arrival are punctuated by brief, muted outbursts that become longer and more dramatic over the course of things, before settling back into the serenity of the beginning. The con brio finale takes wing to conclude the quartet.
The work is dedicated, in gratitude and admiration, to the Afiara String Quartet, and to the Koussevitzky Foundation, whose support made the project a reality.View Work
String Quartet No. 4 ("Icarus in Flight")
Icarus in Flight
In modeling the earth¹s changing climate, my new quartet, Icarus in Flight, uses historical data on
population growth, carbon emissions and land-use transformation, during the period 1880 projected out to 2080, to control certain aspects of the music.
- Population growth controls the average density of musical events over time, increasing, in the worst case, by a factor of 9. In this context, density means the number of musical events in a given time period (if more than one instrument initiates an event at the same time it is still considered one event).
- Carbon emissions control the frequency range of the music, from lowest to highest pitch, increasing gradually from a perfect fifth in the middle register to a span of 6.25 octaves, before collapsing to almost nothing.
- With respect to land-use, an increase from 13% to 43% of the earth¹s land surface devoted to human use (i.e. habitation, agriculture and grazing) is represented by the increasing proportion of music that is played with specialized timbres (tone colors), including mainly pizzicato, tremolo bowing, and bowing close to the bridge (producing a fragile timbre characterized by a greater proportion of high frequency partials).
The era of international cooperation on climate change begins circa 1979. If one listens closely one can hear fleeting moments of repose on the interval of a major 3rd marking the dates of international meetings.
Icarus in Flight is comprised of three large sections played without pause: the first representing the years 1880 to 1945, when the data are growing slowly; the second from 1945 to 2015 when growth accelerates exponentially; and the third from 2015 to 2080. In the last section, our future, the controlling data alternate between the best and worst case future scenarios (i.e., representative climate pathways 2.6 and 8.5) based on the models developed by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations. Each year occupies eight seconds of musical time, the entire piece lasting about 27 minutes
The Coming of Age
My song cycle, The Coming of Age, was written to pre-existing poems of Denis Johnson. The four poems that comprise the cycle come from three different collections of Mr. Johnson’s poetry: “The Dry, Dry Land. Here” and “Upon Waking” are from the collection The Man Among the Seals; “The Coming of Age” is from the collection The Incognito Lounge; and “Poem” is from the collection The Veil. In spite of their origins during different periods of Mr. Johnson’s output, the four poems all center on the theme of love, its solace and transformative power. This common thread, as well as the beauty and directness of their language, is what immediately drew me to these particular poems, and led me to form them into a set. Three of the poems also contain musical imagery which I found provocative and intriguing.
The music of The Coming of Age is not particularly abstract, as it is in most of my works, but is very much adapted to the poems, their meanings and imagery. In one sense, a composer sets a text like a jeweler sets a stone, looking for the right musical character and mood to show the poem off in all its facets. For example, the poem “The Dry, Dry Land. Here”, with its strange arboreal imagery, needed a preternatural musical evocation. Likewise, “Poem” is so infused with a kind of vernacular iconography that it cried out for setting in an eclectic musical style which I chose to center around idioms of modern jazz.View Work
The Locust Tree
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) is one of the great modern American poets. His writing embodies his vision of a free, fresh, and simple language capable of apprehending the world directly, without literary allusion.
The texts of the outer movements of The Locust Tree are from Williams’ short book of “improvisations” entitled Kora in Hell. The Greek goddess Kora, better known as Persephone, or by her later Latin name Proserpina, was the fair daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She dwelt not on Olympus, but within nature, a nature predating human agriculture. While picking flowers one day in a field in Enna, in what we now call Sicily, she was abducted by Hades, who made her his queen in the underworld. Grief stricken Demeter, goddess of the earth, allowed nature to go to ruin as she searched for her lost daughter. Responding to the anguish of the dying natural world, not least the anguish of the human race, Zeus intervened. Hades was forced to return Kora, but not before he was able to trick her into eating three pomegranate seeds, the effect of which was to compel her to return to the underworld once a year. Thus each year while Kora is united in the world with her mother Demeter, the earth is abundant with life, an abundance which fades to barrenness during her yearly sojourn in the underworld. Her story tells of the origin of the seasons, and is an allegory of spring. Perhaps we need her now more than ever before.
Williams writes, “March had always been my favorite month, the month of the first robin’s songs signaling the return of the sun to these latitudes; I existed through the tough winter months of my profession as a physician only for that… I thought of myself as Springtime and I felt I was on my way to Hell (but I didn’t go very far). This was what the Improvisations were trying to say.”
The central movement combines Williams’ two versions of another springtime poem, The Locust Tree in Flower. The music’s fragmented rhythms follow the poet’s line breaks; the unifying dramatic arch follows the gradually flowering tone and mood of the poem’s first version, while the second version provides the opportunity for a musical reprise.View Work
The Way Things Go
Completed in 2006, The Way Things Go is a virtuosic partnership between the flute and piano. The first movement is a theme followed by four variations. Encompassing two pairs of short, simple phrases, the movement’s theme emerges as classical in its structure and proportional balance. Its chromatically saturated harmonies offer a unifying background against which the variations unfold through changes of character (variation 4), figuration (variation 2) and phrase elongation (variation 3). The second movement, subtitled Recitative, preserves some remnants of the character, melodic contour and phrase structure of the first movement; but is, in fact, independent of the preceding variations, particularly in its harmonic language. The piano writing here explores some qualities of the octave as a sonority, both unadorned, and heard against narrow intervals, as in the movement’s introductory measures. The recitativo music in the flute incorporates quarter tones to heighten the plaintive expressive character. The form is ternary, the middle section gradually building in complexity, but rather than ending conclusively, the reprise leads directly into the finale, attacca. This last movement juxtaposes an extroverted, jocular, motoric music against fantastical, coloristic passages played fluttertongue by the flute, resolving the tautness of the preceding movements as it lifts itself to end in finding its own kind of tranquility.View Work
To a Pilgrim
in memoriam Andrew Welsh Imbrie, la fine è l’inizio
It is only natural that a eulogy, even a musical one, should make clear reference to the person whose absence it memorializes. In hommage to my friend and teacher, the title To a Pilgrim refers to two of Andrew Imbrie’s own memorial compositions, his 1971 work To a Traveler, commemorating the death of his friend Norman Fromm, and his 1983 work Pilgrimage, written in memory of his son John. Imbrie’s To a Traveler begins with a four note motive,G-D-A-E which, upon changing the initial G to Bb, yields a group of notes containing the musical letters of the name Andrew Imbrie, i.e.: A D D E E Bb D E (reading R as re, or D, and M as mi, or E). This sequence of eight pitches is heard in the opening of To a Pilgrim, and appears again to initiate the final outburst of the work’s slow, elegiac, closing section.
The form of To a Pilgrim is tripartite, the outer sections slower and more lyrical, the middle section more lively, at times scherzando in character. These three large sections are marked near their joinings by brief canons at the unison. In between these two points a series of five more canons occupies the exact center of the piece, each canon at a different interval quality, omitting only the tritone.
Included in the work’s dedication is the phrase “la fine è l’inizio”, the end is the beginning, refering to a technique of phrase construction in which the beginning of each phrase is connected to the end of the preceeding one through elision, metric reinterpretation, or repetition of one or two concluding pitches to initiate the next phrase. It hardly needs saying that “the end is the beginning” is also an epigram suggesting meditation on the nature of decay and renewal, as each passing we encounter sets the stage for something fresh, as in the cycle of the seasons, or the succeeding of one human generation by the next.View Work
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