29 October 2016

One giant leap for gaskind


This is how the program note must perforce begin:  Like many another composer, from the first that I listened to Debussy’s exquisite Sonata, it has been my wish to write a trio for flute, viola and harp — a sound world which is at once rich, and delicate.  I remember clearly the afternoon when I was in the Andrews Library at the College of Wooster, listening to an LP recording while following the score.  The Debussy trio is a kind of event in my musical life.

Decades later, I set to writing just such a piece.  How?

First, I said to myself, “Forget Debussy.”  (If I have not been clear:  I love a great deal of Debussy’s music, and this piece in particular;  so this is not any statement of artistic hostility.)  The aural beauty of this combination of instruments was revealed to me by the Debussy piece, but the last thing I wanted to do was, write “my version of” the Debussy Sonata.

Second, the palette thus scraped back down to the wood, the answer was obvious:  write your own piece, and these are the instruments to employ in the piece.

The title is a double pun, and yet the second pun did not occur to me consciously until I set to writing these notes.

The first pun adapts an au courant phrase for a metric of the individual’s environmental impact.  My idea is that, befitting the ensemble’s capacity for delicacy, we want an airier impact.  And “footprint” in music suggests the dance, which ties in to the before-today-unconscious second pun.

One of the ballets Prokofiev composed for Dyagilev’s Saisons russes in Paris, a sort of celebration of the Workers’ Paradise at a time when the West was still intrigued by the new socio-economic system in Moscow, is « Le pas d'acier », The Steel Step.  This may seem a contradiction.  I am quite a fan of this ballet;  but I do not believe I had it in mind when I wrote my trio.  Why it may seem a contradiction is, I find the counterpoint between the two titles (Steel Step, Oxygen Footprint) quite winning.  I almost wish I could say I HAD meant it.

Because, in a sense, we might consider my piece a sort of ballet suite in miniature, starting at a vigorous pace and with a frequent emphasis on syncopation.  By stages, the music makes its way to a kind of dreamy-yet-insistent gigue (jig).  And the becalmed-intense emotional core of the piece has a distant family resemblance to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

And with observing that Debussy and Stravinsky once sat down together, to play the four-hands rehearsal reduction of that celebrated ballet, these program notes have come full circle.

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