About the Music
Heedless Watermelon :: This is one of a small number of pieces which I have written as a musical thank-you. Mary Jane Rupert, Paul Cienniwa, Peter Bloom & I played a recital on 24 June; and in the elated aftermath, I started composing, for my Muse bade me draw up a diverting duet for flute and clarinet. My method of composition can be quickly summarized: There is no method. No, that is not (cannot be) quite true; but doing something different I frequently find a reliable tack. After the extended musical canvases of my opp. 92-95 (about an hour and three-quarters of music total), I have lately trended to brevity. (I composed Marginalia for cello ensemble in the space of two days, while ‘powering down’ in Bethesda, Maryland.) Musically, this piece is an intuitive blend of fructose, sunshine, sanssouci and electricity. There’s even a canon on a modified Frank Zappa melody thrown in. Toujours de l’audace. Optional entertainment, forsooth.
Irreplaceable Doodles :: Earlier I had composed a brief-but-demanding piece for unaccompanied clarinet (Blue Shamrock); and while the composer did not at all repent of the technical demands he made in Shamrock, it seemed to him something of a pity, that a clarinetist put forth all that preparatory effort for so brief a musical space. Thus, I launched upon a course of composing more expansive works for solo wind instrument. One of my customary activities is, to compose while being conveyed hither or yon by the MBTA; and far the greater part of Doodles was written on a bus traveling on I-93. Loosely, the piece hangs upon the Classical model of the sonata-rondo. The opening (‘A’) material makes frequent returns, sometimes with modifications (and for those who like to keep track of such things, the initial measure is 11/8). The architecture of the piece is perhaps too discursive to map neatly onto any template, but there is also a ‘B’ section which returns at the transposition of a fifth (something, again, rather sonata-rondo-ish). Irreplaceable Doodles is by turns fancifully dance-like, and lyrical.
The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword :: This piece I originally composed for trumpet solo, for Chris O’Hara. I knew it would be a demanding trumpet piece (a schoolmate in high school, Steve Falker, was a trumpet virtuoso, and his playing has been a persistent benchmark for me—to the despair of many another trumpeter). When I had finished composing the piece, and was fine-tuning the graphic layout, I realized that (with judicious transposition) it would work effectively for flute solo. When I showed the piece in that form to Peter Bloom, he suggested a further transpositional adjustment, to suit the piece to alto flute. The piece has some elements of Ego vox clamantis in deserto (as John the Baptist ‘explained’ himself in the Gospel). The sword of flame is in the hands of an Angel posted by the Most High to bar the return of errant man to Paradise; and, in part, this piece meditates on that Angel’s sorrow.
Lost Waters :: Each of the four numbers in this suite — Irving’s Hudson, Thoreau’s Walden, Whitman’s Ontario & Carlos Williams’ Passaic — draws variously upon literary inspiration, upon the writer’s association with a particular body of water, and upon my own impressions looking at and hiking about each river, pond or lake. The four pieces overall form a kind of ‘progression’, from the first (in which all twelve chromatic tones of the octave are used) to the last (for which there are no pedal changes at all). That gradual ‘simplification’ of pitch-world is complimented (inversely) by a stepped increase in the complexity of the rhythmic profile of each succeeding piece. The composition of music as a sort of contemplation of American literary figures was the result of my writing the suite while in St Petersburg. I spent almost four years in Estonia and Russia, where in fact I had gone first as an English teacher, so I had brought both a collection of Carlos Williams’ poems, and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I am deeply grateful to Mary Jane Rupert for undertaking the long-delayed première of the suite; and it is gratifying to report that the delay was not any matter of musical impracticality — for when Mary Jane met with me privately to read the pieces earlier this year, it appeared that no musical adjustment of any substance was necessary.
Studies in Impermanence :: This is one of a number of compositions which I have written, essentially because I wondered if I could. Wondered if I could, and if I dared. There are not many single-movement, 20-minute compositions for unaccompanied wind instrument out there in the repertory; and it was a challenge which I enjoyed tackling, as both composer and performer. An additional challenge in writing the piece turns on the question of repetition in music: on one hand, repetition assists the listener in perceiving both the content and the musical shape (form) of a piece (and this seems especially desirable in a new composition); on the other, there are few things as trivial and inartistic as over-repetition. The question is like a mobile, with moving parts which can balance in different ways, and whose particulars are bound up with the weight and volume of materials — I don’t imagine that there is only one right answer (and indeed I approach the question in different ways in different pieces). In the case of these Studies, I set out with the exploratory intention of writing a piece in which there was no literal repetition; none of the music would repeat later note-for-note, but nonetheless, I wanted to try to make every ‘event’ flow out of the preceding music. Now the fact is, I knew when I started writing the piece, that I wanted it to last about 20 minutes; and here I have set out on the musical journey, with a sort of ‘constitutional principle’ of non-repetition. And the process of writing the piece flowed very satisfactorily. I reached a point in the writing, when the larger part of the music had taken shape, had assumed a definite character (or, we might say, a definite series of related character), when I decided musically that I could cast aside the ‘guiding principle’ of non-repetition. In truth, I was playing with the idea of bringing back material from earlier in the piece, but in such a way (because of its unfolding, ‘repetition-resistant’ fabric) that the repetition would not be apparent; an effect, if you like, of bringing back material which the listener has heard before, but because of the linear flow of the piece, even this ‘old’ material will appear new. Goethe made a famous remark about music being “frozen architecture,” which is a beautiful image, and poetically apt for certain musical styles and genres; but the fact is, that music is much freer than architecture, and the ‘gravitational forces’ which music must take into account are very different. At any rate, casting aside the ‘mold’ of non-repetition which had formed the majority of the piece was a compositional act which did not cause the overall piece to dissolve into chaos, and in fact it gave an appropriate direction to the end of the piece, whose signature is the repeated interval of a tritone. And if the piece begins with the idea of ‘non-repetition’, only to change ideas somewhere in the middle, perhaps this is one instance of impermanence which the music studies.
Tropes on Parasha’s Aria :: This is one brief episode in the course of an extended scene in a ballet I have been writing, after Dostoyevsky’s novella “White Nights.” The narrator sits down to introduce himself properly, and in one paragraph, makes a variety of literary allusions (some of them exotic); musically, I took this as an occasion for a series of brief characteristic dances, in something of a miniaturized homage to Act II of The Nutcracker. One item the narrator mentions is Pushkin’s verse-comedy, The Little House in Kolomna, which itself was later the source of a one-act opera buffa composed by Igor Stravinsky. The aria which Stravinsky wrote for Parasha at the beginning of Mavra has a special sentimental significance for me; I heard Rostropovich play once in St Petersburg, and at the end of the program he played Parasha’s aria for an encore, introducing it simply as “an old Russian song.” In between iterations of the original melody, I have interleaved quasi-improvisatory ‘glosses’.