11 May 2010

notes for tomorrow, from the moon

Lunar Glare :: A large portion of the inspiration for this piece I owe to Domenico Scarlatti. I had heard a few of Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas on synthesizer and piano before I ever heard them on the harpsichord . . . I thought the sonatas nifty even when synthesized or pianified, but I like them better still on the shimmering strings of the harpsichord. The clarinet was invented (developed is probably better) in the mid-18th century, a time when the harpsichord was already being eclipsed1 by the piano; so the very idea of the two instruments together implies a degree of anachronism which likes me well. As to the process of composition, I don’t know that I could say much apart from the fact that I delighted in the timbral contrasts between the two instruments. Some passages are fanciful explorations (in my own musical language) of the harpsichord’s proper idiom. There is a kind of mensural canon (imitation in which the second ‘voice’ declaims the same material, but at an accelerated rhythmic rate). There are stretches of the piece where the two instruments alternate with different material entirely (suggesting that they have no common ground), and another passage where the two instruments are bound together in a whirlwind unison. It was fun to write, and I find it great fun to play. An early draft of the piece included notes that are just too high for Paul’s harpsichord to play; he made me change those. The inspiration for the title came from signage on a Massachusetts highway advising motorists to be cautious of solar glare in the morning2.

1 Subtle, moonish pun

2 It is a road I am apt to travel at night.

All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage / Swivels & Bops :: Once I had written Heedless Watermelon for Peter and myself to play together, it proved such great fun (— that word again —) that I knew I wanted to round it out as a set of three pieces. (Time constraints for today’s program make it impractical to offer the complete set of three.) Not long after our July concerts last year, my eye fell upon a Mondrian reproduction, and I thought about how I might compose a piece with musical means to reflect the austere simplicity of de Stijl. (Not an absolutely original idea, by the way, as I had studied with the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen when I was in Buffalo, and it is to Louis that I owe my introduction to the term.) I first played All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage with Nicole Randall Chamberlain in Atlanta last November. I wrote Swivels & Bops earlier this year, because I knew I would; it is dance-music for turtle-doves. Every Christmas, I used to wonder what the two turtle-doves would like to dance to.

Fragments of « Morning Has Broken » :: Bill Goodwin, music director of the First Congregational Church in Woburn, Mass., commissioned this trio for us to play with violinist John Jelatis. In its original clarinet-violin-piano version, I’ve also played it here at St Paul’s with violinist Stephen Symchych and former music director Mark Engelhardt. Honestly couldn’t say at this point why I adapted it for flute-clarinet-piano (which involved some redistribution between the single-line instruments). The piece is a variant on the idea of theme-and-variations. There is no initial statement of the theme, but after an introductory passage (which returns in a metrical alteration . . . more variations) each section of the piece takes a successive fragment of the hymn-tune Bunessan as a topic for exploration. I find it irresistible to share that, when we played the piece here in 2004, I overheard a member of the audience say immediately afterwards, “Cat Stevens, eat your heart out.”

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