Kleinen doch emsigen

For flute, clarinet, violin, viola and cello, 2018
Commissioned by Earplay.
May, 20th 2013
O.D.C. Theater, San Francisco
The Earplay ensemble
  • Program Notes

    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.

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