16 June 2017

Going on a bit

Gentle Reader, I’ve not yet done with talking about the Clarinet Sonata. And this is a natural part of the process ... this stage in the cycle.  I’d been at work upon, or musically considering, a large-scale chamber work for a year and a half:  it would be strange if, so soon after I reached the final double-bar, I felt I had said it all.  A composer focuses upon, lives with the task for an extended period. Given the nature of the medium, most (all, perhaps, even) of the work is nonverbal. At the end (which is, or ought to be, only the beginning) there is elation at the accomplishment, and Quality Control review, and the desire to get the work out into the world.

Into the ears of an audience.

And before there can be a performance realizing the piece, in most cases there must be talk about the piece. As the most interested (and, hopefully, best-informed) party, the composer perforce does much of the talking. And, in a curious way, since my work on the piece heretofore has been mostly nonverbal, this is a time of discovery, of considering which may be the most apt words. Why, any thing, but to the purpose.

Here’s some words.

i. Another Think Coming.  As with the earlier Viola Sonata, the piece begins according to advice recorded as marginalia by Edgar Allan Poe.  What exactly he wrote, I dare not this morning pretend to recall accurately. But it is to this effect: Begin in such a way, that there is no doubt in the reader’s mind that something is up.  With this composition, I thee shake;  I mean business, and if you think you already know everything that this Henning has to say in music, you’ve another think coming.  The movement ends in strength, and (befitting the title) whether the listener knows it or not, he’s not heard the last of it.

ii. « Boulez est mort » (Wounding Silence).  As I consider how rightly to express the relation of the two instruments in this movement, I waver between talking past one another and mutual obliviousness.  The piano is wilfully clangorous. The clarinet pursues a series of melodic objets trouvés (I promised myself that I wouldnt catalogue them, and I have pretty much kept faith). They end together. Or do they?

iii. Unanticipated Serenity.  In the original plan, this was to be clarinet unaccompanied, but the piano refused to be left out entirely. After the energetic insistence of the first movement, and the shattered disorientation of the second, here is an oasis.  Is it “the true slow movement”? Or a dance? It is not a worrisome question.

iv. Ambiguity & Overlap (Something or other, if not something else entirely). This is the scherzo. Or, the third & fourth movements together (played attacca) are conjointly the scherzo. It begins as a kind of jazzy dance, which yields (reluctantly at first) to a relaxed march & trio, although unlike most marches, there is a return after the trio.  The idea of a march came from a music forum member, at a time when I was yet at work on the second movement; so that I tentatively accepted the invitation to write a march, and had time to fold the notion into the framework of the Sonata.

v. After a reading of “The Mysterious Stranger.”  I recall, when I first read this novella as a teenager, I found it unsettling.  I knew Twain as a folksy humorist and raconteur;  I intuitively read him as at times bitterly sarcastic here.  This, and the challenging cosmology, made me uncomfortable, or perhaps it only stretched my mind a bit at the time.  A needful stretch sometimes registers as discomfort.  The movement begins with a sort of homey Americana, though the chorale (for instance) is more modern than Twain. The center of the movement reflects the magisterial ungovernability of the title character, the innocent excitement and joy which the young boys found in their powerful and at times alarming friend, and the drama of the trial episode.  The recapitulation of the opening struck me as the most suitable reflection upon Theodore’s absorption of the last remarks of the Stranger, on a final visit after his most extended absence from Eseldorf.

“He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true.”

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