Notes on works
These seven character pieces for four guitars (24 strings) are Force Majeure, Nocturne, Deformations, Patterns, Florescence, Irrational Number, and Flash Spectrum. (There is also an eighth, humorously disrespectful, entirely optional “encore,”Le Tombeau de Telemann.) The work demands classical guitar training but also call for robust strumming, capos, harmonics, pitch bending, and other challenging and colorful techniques.
harpsichord / piano
The ten character pieces of After Duchamp are written so as to be playable on harpsichord or piano, to entirely different effect. This collection takes its cue from Marcel Duchamp’s motto Je me force à me contredire pour éviter de suivre mon goût (I force myself to contradict myself so as not to follow my own taste). I have accordingly poked at some of my own artistic principles and esthetics to extend my range and to challenge the listener, not through shocking sounds but through rhetorical provocation or formal eccentricity. Premiered by harpsichordist Tracy Richardson, After Duchamp was recorded by pianist Curt Cacioppo and is featured on the CD The Realm of Possibility.
BABYLON SYSTERS: Variations on a Theme by Steely Dan
flute, oboe, cello, harpsichord
Babylon Sisters was commissioned and performed by the Modern Harpsichord Quartet and later performed by Mélomanie. The work was requested as a companion piece to Elliott Carter’s Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello and Harpsichord. Given the nature of the Carter work, a lighter piece was called for, hence these variations on the lead-in to Steely Dan’s song Babylon Sisters. The ten variations pass through a number of incompatible styles, from Elizabethan to Impressionist, from academic 20th century style to smooth jazz. It is my only work so dedicated to amusement, but each variation keeps to its style, and in the end, enjoyment should include a paradoxical sense of satisfying and integrated form.
From a review in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “The Steely Dan piece (quoting ‘Babylon Sisters’ from the Gaucho album) is more a manifesto . . . functioning to show what's possible in some future scenario when a piece demands that harpsichords play modern rock rhythms. Through the course of the variations, other preexisting pieces were quoted, such as Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – all fun . . . without the satirical edge.”
Catálise is a concentrated exercise in energetic, complex rhythm, whose flow is twice broken by soft, mysterious chord structures that move melodically as massive clouds. Written for Patrícia Bretas and Josiane Kevorkian, a piano duo based in Rio de Janeiro, Catálise was premiered and recorded in Rio and is featured on the CD Pares / Pairs, a collaboration with Brazilian composer Sergio Roberto de Oliveira.
CELLO SUITE 1
A challenging work in an atonal, sometimes “freely serial” language, at times reminiscent of the Second Viennese School, which was a large part of my musical training. The untitled movements are a short recitative-like exposition, a scherzo, a slow, meditative three-voice canon, a passionate lyrical outburst, and a kaleidoscopic synthesis of the preceding movements—“hunks of expression,” as my friend Curt Cacioppo put it. The suite was premiered by Suzanne Smith Mead at Princeton University.
CELLO SUITE 1
Version with piano
An adaptation of the work for solo cello above. Comparing the process only, not the music itself, I note that Arnold Schönberg wrote his Phantasy for Violin with piano accompaniment (Opus 47) for solo violin and only later added the piano part. (It’s hard now to imagine the piece without the piano.) Since the addition of piano followed immediately, he remains true to his original intent and (12-tone) idiom, maintaining his tone row and its offshoots throughout and using them to integrate the two parts. After a much longer delay, I returned to this solo piece and added the piano part, but with a different purpose—to adapt the piece to better fit my current language and esthetic. After the long wait, it was interesting to revise, even subvert, my original intent, giving the cello’s melodic parts new harmonic context and meaning and making a new piece, utterly different in effect.
CELLO SUITE 2
Cello Suite 2 was written upon returning to the US after two years in the Netherlands, a time of listening to and studying late renaissance and baroque music almost exclusively, with, deliberately, no access to electronic media or recorded music. Though not neo-baroque, this work does bear the imprint of that period of immersion. The Prelude reflects on Bach’s solo string music, where melody and harmony can form an inseparable entity, while Nocturne is more picturesque, night music with a lullaby at its center. Scherzo is a virtuosic exercise in perpetual motion, and the Overture has a tragic quality, something between a French overture and a marcia funebre. The Aria and Variations theme was inspired by Wallace Stevens’ towering poem “How to Live. What to Do.” The work is dedicated to my good friend Douglas McNames, who has made it his own. In fact, the coda, added later, was written to his subjective specifications. Doug premiered the suite and recorded it for the CD Soliloquy.
Cello suites 3 and 4
see Matter A & Matter b
CHAMBER CONCERTO: TOPOLOGIES
piano, chamber orchestra
Mildly revised many years after its composition, this is an early, breakthrough work that I still stand behind. I remember setting out to explore the formal complexity of Elliott Carter along with the more economic vocabulary of late Stravinsky, though in the end, and happily, neither of Carter nor Stravinsky is in evidence. The piece seemed to inspire nature imagery in all who heard it, and in fact, it was written shortly after a formative, ambitious (i.e., ill advised) solo backpacking adventure. The three widely spaced percussionists combine with the piano to form a third quartet, along with the woodwind quartet and string quartet that comprise the chamber orchestra. My friend David Goodman executed the demanding piano part with brio, elegance, and complete understanding (he played Pierrot Lunaire the same year, which cannot have hurt.) David was accompanied at the premier by the Oberlin Conservatory Chamber Orchestra under Robert Baustian.
viola da gamba, harpsichord
Civilisation is an expansion of and recasting of three movements from Clavier Book I. The title (with its purposeful “s”) occurred to me when I returned home after a difficult day and stepped into a serene rehearsal of viola da gamba and harpsichord. That sound struck me as the essence of civilization. The work was produced for that very gambist, Donna Fournier. The effete spelling (sorry, Anglophiles) is just to keep the title from being too grandiose. The opening Prelude adds a gamba melody to the arpeggiated chord progression that made up the entire original keyboard piece. In the Capriccio, harpsichord and gamba trade off lines of counterpoint, giving the repeat, which is literal in the keyboard original, a new, inverted arrangement. The Aria is a treatment of a vocal piece that began with T.S. Eliot’s “O light invisible” before finding its way into Clavier Book 1. Donna Fournier and Tracy Richardson premiered Civilisation at Swarthmore College.
CLAVIER BOOKS 1, 2, and 3
harpsichord / piano
Somehow the richness of late renaissance and baroque music led to the less ambitious Rococo and early classical styles. But what if the thorniness of Frescobaldi, the decadence of Forqueray, the deep sentiment of the Elizabethan virginalists, and the mighty complexity of Buxtehude—setting aside the infinitude of Bach—had continued to develop toward more harmonic and formal freedom and increasingly complex expression?
Clavier Book 1 was written in Leiden during a two-year period when our only source of music was a single-manual harpsichord—no radio, no TV, no recordings—total immersion in 17th and 18th century keyboard music. In a letter, Gustav Leonhardt, a father of the harpsichord revival, wrote that Clavier Book 1 was “written with love for the instrument, and understanding for it.” He also pointed out, however, that “this historic instrument sounds best in tryadic harmonies (or in dissonances that resolve into them) used in its time. As there is no need to ‘copy’ an earlier style this avoidance of the Scilla necessarily brings us nearer to the Charibdis of an unsuited true modern idiom – whatever that is –.” (Eccentric spellings are from Leonhardt’s native Dutch.) The Prelude is a take on those of Bach where rhythmic pattern is a vehicle for harmonic expression. Aria was inspired by T.S. Eliot’s “O Light Invisible.” The Capriccio is a perpetual motion theme that fragments, reassembles itself, and then repeats the process, while Canzona is a tribute to pre-fugal Italian counterpoint. The Aria and Variations theme was inspired by Wallace Stevens’ poem “The Apostrophe to Vincentine.” Clavier Book I was premiered in Amsterdam by Tracy Richardson, whose recording of the work is on the CD Soliloquy.
Clavier Book 2 addresses the dilemma identified by Gustav Leonhardt: respecting the acoustics and sonorities native to the harpsichord while embracing a current idiom. In this work, harmonies have been simplified, and the innovations lie in form, rhythm, and sensibility. In his next letter, responding to Clavier Book 2, Leonhardt again outlined the challenge, pointing out, “necessarily this brings texture and harmony closer to earlier styles.” But he also proclaimed his independence from any “dictatorship of up-to-dateness” and generously allowed that the work was “real harpsichord music, and . . . presents the instrument at its best.” Toccata 1 contrasts extreme freedom with strict counterpoint. Capriccio is another perpetual motion study where the theme is pulled apart and put back together. Aria features an elaborate melody, a response to certain philosophical movements in Bach. Toccata 2 develops an active pattern which leads to some jagged, Frescobaldian episodes. Pavan is a take on the stately renaissance form, with four “strains,” each followed by a variation. Clavier Book 2 was written for Tracy Richardson, who recorded it for the CD Soliloquy.
Clavier Book 3, though less influenced by earlier forms, does engage in the practice of lining up pieces of sharply differentiated nature, as was done in the baroque. The Prelude is related by the unmeasured preludes of Louis Couperin, where some sections leave timing and rhythm entirely to the performer. Saltarello 1 is named after a hopping-jumping renaissance dance. Dance forms appropriated for keyboard suites tend to take on a serious character very different from their origins, and this is such a case. Alla raga is inspired by the raga of Indian classical music. The left hand supplies both the drone of the sitar and the rhythm that, in the Indian original, would be carried by the tablas (drums). Ornaments in the right hand, some designed for this piece, stand in for the sitar player’s characteristic tone-bending. Anacronismo: Arie al rondo ties anachronistic sections together with a rondo theme derived from Steely Dan (they probably wouldn’t recognize it). Saltarello 2 is another take on the dance form, this time with even more intensity, more of a war dance. Tracy Richardson premiered Clavier Book III on piano at the University of Rio de Janeiro and recorded it on harpsichord for the CD Soliloquy.
Companion Piece II
Companion Piece II begins with the two flutists widely separated—the first on stage, as far to one side as possible, the second in the rear of the hall, in the opposite corner. The loosely coordinated parts call and respond. A very slow opening gradually gives way to more elaborate lines, even arabesques. Surprising effects arise when spatially separated instruments of identical timber play close dissonances. For Movement 2, the second player moves to the stage, but at the end opposite the first player. The melodic parts intertwine and leap back and forth across the space. For Movement 3, the players join at center stage and play from one score, as the parts become tightly bound. This final movement is a set of increasingly energetic variations on the simple idea of four ascending notes of a whole-tone scale. The variations are periodically punctuated by a ritornello marked affettuoso. The work reflects on two friends’ long, intercontinental love affair, hence the investigations of space and more or less intimate part writing. Companion Piece II was premiered in Rio de Janeiro by Laura Rónai and Tom Moore. The US premier at the University of Delaware was by Kimberly Reighley and Eve Friedman.
alto flute, harpsichord
This short piece investigates what can happen to a simple, repeating musical idea when the harmony and other elements around it change. The harmonic and rhythmic context, at first supportive and coherent, evolves toward increasing complexity, until there is little relationship between the original musical idea and the notes around it, and it must now persist without underpinnings, in and of itself. Composers have played with changing the meaning of a note or phrase by varying context for a long time—there are early classical pieces where the two-note “cuckoo” theme recurs over a changing harmonic background. In that sense, this piece is nothing new, though it is more single-mindedly focused on the dependency of meaning upon context, and it goes to greater extremes. With all that, the piece is marked alla barcarola, so one may simply choose to hear it as a boating song, with gradually changing weather and relative smoothness or roughness of the lake on which we float. Contexts was premiered by Mélomanie at West Chester University.
Creation Myth, a symphonic work for solo percussion, was written for and with Israeli phenomenon Chen Zimbalista, who has taken it around the world. Using a large battery of instruments, including marimba and non-traditional instruments chosen by the player, this highly challenging work is inspired by our creation story, the scientific account of the origin of the universe. Primordia, with its increasing complexity and expansion of the sound palette, suggest the differentiation of matter and energy, of energy into distinct forces, and of matter into elements and forms. Mechanics uses patterns, in and out of phase, over a constant rhythm to suggest complex interactions and an order behind apparent chaos. Meditation, a marimba solo, takes up the emergence of stars and moon, both in the sense of their consolidation as heavenly bodies and their visual emergence in the darkening night sky. Biosphere reflects on the very new and very thin layer of earth with life and all its activity. In the coda, the progression toward harmonic complexity in Primordia is reversed in an optimistic imagining of a harmonious future. Chen Zimbalista premiered Creation Myth at the University of Delaware, performed it internationally, and recorded it for the CD Forays. Creation Myth also appears on Zimbalista's solo CD Levitation.
ESTADOS DE ESPÍRITo (States of Mind)
Estados de Espírito was written for Duo Santoro, twin brothers Paulo and Ricardo Santoro, a prominent cello duo in Rio de Janeiro. This collection of character pieces is introduced by and linked by a series of ritornelli called contornos (contours). The pieces are by turns sentimental, picturesque, noisy, abstract, earnest, and humorous. In addition to the contornos, the movements are Formações de nuvens (cloud formations), Maquinações (machinations), Ontem à noite (last night), Fragmentos fugazes (fleeting fragments), Diálogos filosóficos e animados (dialogues philosophical and animated), and Libertação (liberation), the most down-to-earth and overtly Brazilian of the group. Cello technique is stretched in places, requiring accomplished and adventurous players. The work may be performed in its entirety, or groups of pieces may be drawn from the collection. The US premier was by Douglas McNames and Naomi Gray at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. Duo Santoro’s recording of Estados de Espíritu is featured on the CD Pares / Pairs, a joint project with Brazilian composer Sergio Roberto de Oliveira.
5 Character Pieces & an Encore for amplified cello & percussion
Each of the five pieces of Forays is a type of "foray" that risks going too far in a formal, technical, or expressive direction. In the hands of thoughtful and accomplished players, risky works tend to come out fine, but just in case, a conciliatory encore is provided. Amplification of the cello allows the percussionist to play energetically and lets the cellist adjust tone and effects for each piece. The opening piece, Continuum, unfolds gradually, the cello on an unwavering double-stop progression, the percussion sometimes enriching the harmony of the continuum, sometimes off in energetic passages of a different time scale. Agon is a scherzo of shifting meter. The title, borrowed from Stravinsky, is from the Greek for “contest.” Almost too brief to contain its musical ideas, it demands close interplay from the players, whose contest is not with each other but with the piece itself. Fixations melds diverging preoccupations of two entities, the cello bound to lyricism centered on one F#, the percussion descending from another realm in a rippling passage that covers the full compass of a large marimba. The two harmonize, combine ideas, even switch roles, before reverting to their own fixations. Hymn is inspired by ritual chanting—spiritual, intense, and inscrutable to the outsider. Malediction is consuming fury at a ubiquitous madness, in a kind of sonic expression that may cease to be music. (For a poetic counterpart, see Kenneth Patchen’s “The Lions of Fire.”) Through a bit of technical innovation, the cello sustains harsh, choking triple-stops. Encore, with its sudden amiability, breaks the progression and questions the concert tradition of a parting gift in the form of an enjoyable piece with no bearing on the preceding program. An encore in another sense, it is loosely modeled on Les Baricades Mistérieuses, François Couperin’s warm-hearted perpetual-motion keyboard piece. Forays was written for cellist Ovidiu Marinescu and percussionist Christopher Hanning, who premiered it at West Chester University and recorded it as the title work of the CD Forays.
large percussion ensemble & Percussion soloist
The commission by the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society was a piece for “The Percussion Effect,” a one-day event at Duquesne University involving guest artist Matthew Duvall (of Eighth Blackbird), three university percussion departments, and other local percussion students. The piece had to rehearsed and performed, without conductor, in one day. The result was Formations II, which calls for a large number of mallet instruments (marimbas, bass marimba, vibraphones) as well as drums, timpani, and tam-tam. The non-expert student participants were invited to assemble their own percussion kits with a resonant wood (or cardboard or plastic) item, a glass item (bowl or jug), and a metal object. The resulting mass of improvised instruments provides washes of sound as backdrop for some sections. The demanding lead part includes a solo each for marimba, vibraphone, and a collection of non-traditional objects selected by the player. (These solos could be handled separately and would be playable by three accomplished students.) Repeating sections with different combinations of instruments at different dynamics, it was possible to construct a substantial and coherent piece built up of the parts that had been learned by the university students and soloist in advance of the event. The solo part was designed to provide ongoing visual cues for coordination, and in fact, the piece came together, with the help of Matthew Duvall’s coaching, after just a couple hours of rehearsal. The scale of the piece if flexible—any large and well equipped university percussion department could mount a performance.
The two movements of Formations III are Continuum and Oblivion. Continuum, is a sound sculpture of almost grave affect, featuring highly characteristic and demanding solos. Oblivion is more light-hearted but no less demanding. “Oblivion” here refers to a kind of mental blankness, the happy state of losing track of time, cares and responsibilities, even forgetting oneself. The piece is in rondo form, and the rondo theme, based on a marimba groove, is a little different each time it appears. There are three intervening episodes. The first is loosely coordinated and evokes nature—perhaps crystals, light rainfall, spider webs, plant structures, night sounds. The second is a memory of something sad, from which one has recovered, or mostly recovered. The final episode portrays a violent struggle barely survived—in fact, the attacker does not survive—that calls for some vocalizations and coordinated movements. The happiness of oblivion is restored by the returning rondo theme. Oblivion was premiered and recorded in Rio de Janeiro and is featured on the CD Luminosidade, a collaboration with Brazilian composer Sergio Roberto de Oliveira.
Green is the Night
baritone, string quartet
Green is the Night was written to commemorate the life of Anthony Simmons, an accomplished and beloved violist who played in the Serafin String Quartet and Philadelphia’s new-music octet, Relâche. The piece was premiered by the Serafin Quartet with baritone Todd Thomas, a close friend of Tony and Marka Simmons. The viola plays a fittingly prominent role and sometimes partners with the singer. The vocal part does not require extremes of register or non-traditional techniques. Mr. Thomas’s “Puccini baritone” leant warmth and resonance, as well as drama when required. The singer must be strong enough to balance a string quartet, but the writing does not pit the singer against the quartet, so a dramatic operatic voice can work but is not required.
Each of the five poems of Wallace Stevens set in Green is the Night subverts conventional views and invites us to look at the world in a different way. The Candle a Saint offers an ecstatic vision where the color green is not only the night itself, populated by stars, animals, and gems, but is also personified as a figure—human, goddess, apparition—in the night sky. This Solitude of Cataracts reflects on reflections, hence the real and the illusory, as well as the old paradox of the river that flows perpetually yet stays in place, and then contemplates the yearning to stop time and just be. The Woman in Sunshine again projects into the sky an ambiguous female figure that we are assured is not really there, and yet the image is pursued and intensified until it becomes undeniable. The Emperor of Ice-Cream—a mighty assertion that life goes on—exhorts us to embrace the world unflinchingly and celebrate the life around us, in this moment, while it lasts. Finally, in On the Road Home, by abandoning received notions of truth and trusting only their senses, two intimate figures take in the full richness of the evening around them.
As with so many of the works of Wallace Stevens, the poems set in Green is the Night embody a certain nobility. Stevens wrote of the need for the element of nobility in poetry (and I would extend it to music): “There is no element that poets have sought after, more curiously and more piously, certain of its obscure existence . . . It is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without. It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality. It seems, in the last analysis, to have something to do with our self-preservation; and that, no doubt, is why the expression of it, the sound of its words, helps us to live our lives.”
Green Mountain Music
bassoon, cello, piano
Green Mountain Music was written at the request of bassoonist and composer Chuck Holdeman for a concert of new chamber music featuring the bassoon. The piece draws from the experience of backpacking in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Originally scored for bassoon, cello, and harpsichord, the work has been adjusted and rescored for piano, which better balances the other instruments in the heavier passages. Though not literally programmatic, the three main sections of the work reflect on the rugged grandeur of the old mountains of the eastern US, concerted physical and mental striving, and finally, a hard-won sense of belonging to nature. The final fadeout uses loosely coordinated bird song and woodpecker tappings. Green Mountain Music was premiered at Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts.
Relâche Ensemble (alto flute / piccolo, English horn, alto sax, bassoon, viola, contrabass, piano, percussion)
High Octane was commissioned by the renowned new music octet Relâche. The title refers as much to the eight bravura musicians of as to the music itself. The opening moments were dashed off in a few hours before dawn, when a saxophone riff in 11/8 interrupted a badly needed night’s sleep. The original concept was an unrelentingly driving and upbeat piece, an exercise in heedless energy, but events (9/11 among them) and personal concerns intruded and resulted in the more contemplative sections. The sax riff, the initial agency of the piece, sets the aggressive tone. Woodwinds take up the ride, combining in intricate lines, building up a close, jagged contrapuntal texture that is set off by the straight ahead, driving chords in piano, vibraphone, and strings. Ribbons of melody traverse the full range of the ensemble, trailing harmonies that coalesce into the slower, more thoughtful sections. There follow episodes of chaos, layering of bits, jagged duets, and repeated fragments from the beginning. The assertive material sputters, giving way to a plaintive flute solo, and then re-forms itself, coalescing in a re-assertion and intensification of the themes and energy of the beginning. The kinetic conclusion, which may finally live up to the hype of the title, has a character of defiance. A certain darkness of mood has been noted, and the outburst from one composer friend was “lurid!”
The work embraces the ensemble’s unusual makeup and goes for a big, melded, almost orchestral sound from the eight players. English horn and alto flute darken the color scheme, while brights are supplied by an extended percussion array (including various nontraditional objects chosen by the player) and a switch from alto flute to piccolo late in the piece. The demands of the writing sometimes push the limits of virtuosity. The piece has been programmed many times by Relâche and performed in multiple locations including Philadelphia and New York. There are two recordings. The original mix on Relâche’s CD Press Play is a model of clarity, while the remix on the CD Forays captures more of the raw energy of Relâche’s live performances.
From the reviewers:
“Highly entertaining and appropriately named.” – New Music Connoisseur
“Mark Hagerty's High Octane is a shimmering take on interlocking patterns with a post-minimalist (post-classical, perhaps) spin.” – HurdAudio
“The other Relâche premiere was High Octane by Mark Hagerty, who gave the wind-heavy ensemble a darker cast with viola, alto flute and English horn, plus chord structures that recall the great film-music composer Bernard Herrmann. Near the end of a new-music program, one's ears easily get lost, but not here, thanks to an arresting opening statement with enough trills to suggest birds at war, yet providing a solid melodic skeleton that handily supported a piece that really didn't need to advertise its vitality with its title.” – David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer
“. . . the hipness grooved into High Octane . . .” – Kile Smith, WHYY
HOW TO LIVE. WHAT TO DO: 7 SONGS ON POEMS OF WALLACE STEVENS
tenor, piano trio (violin, cello, piano)
These songs are devoted, respectful, and I hope, inspired settings of Stevens’ “How to Live. What to Do,” “Ploughing on Sunday,” “The Jack-Rabbit,” “World Without Peculiarity,” “Dezembrum,” “The Apostrophe to Vincentine,” and “Of the Surface of Things.” The collection is not a song cycle in the sense of a continuous story or theme. Rather, the selected poems share images, so that each song connects to one or more others in a poetic manner. The vocal part does not require an extreme range or nontraditional technique, and though a relatively strong voice is helpful in the more dramatic moments, the part can be handled by a Lieder or oratorio singer, as the voice and ensemble do not generally compete.
TWO INTERMEZZI (in 19th Century style)
These two Intermezzi, the first in D major, the second in G minor, are an outlet for tonal ideas that would not otherwise have a place in my music. As strange as it seem to write in mid-19th century German romantic style, these are entirely sincere works. The first was written for amateurs, but both are suitable as teaching pieces for advanced students as well as professional concert artists. The Intermezzi were recorded by Ana Tsinadze, viola, and Tracy Richardson, piano, and are available on a special demo disc.
icelandic songs, sacred and secular (Íslensk lög, helg og veraldlega)
Flute, 2 violins, Viola da Gamba, Cello, Harpsichord
Thanks to Eva Ingolf for introducing us to these traditional Icelandic songs that come from different sources and eras but all represent Icelandic culture.
I. Iceland, fortunate isle (Ísland,farsælda frón). An anthem about Iceland’s past glories and an exhortation to Icelanders to embrace and restore them. The text is 19th century, but the tune is ancient. The raw open-fifth harmony was common in medieval European sacred music, but as tvísöngur, or “two singing,” it persisted into the 19th Century in Icelandic folk music. II. Weeping, o Lord, I come to thee (Grátandi kem ég nú, Guð minn, til þín). This song of unknown authorship came to us in a simple setting for voice and lute. III. Olaf Lilyrose (Ólafur Liljurós). This medieval folk song tells of one Olaf, who, in his ride along the cliffs, encounters elves (in particular one female elf), who invite him to live with them. In the Icelandic text, he declines—as they are not Christian—and is martyred. IV. Susanna, God’s true judgment (Súsanna, sannan Guðs dóm). When lecherous elders are rebuffed by Susanna and accuse her of indecency, God inspires Daniel to intervene, with a surprisingly logical, evidence-based approach. Susanna is spared; the elders are not. The versions that came to us were the original plainchant and an elegant four-part setting by the 16th-Century French composer Didier Lupi. Lupi’s treatment spread across Europe, including Iceland, where a fresh Icelandic text was applied. V. My spirit and soul, arise at once (Önd mín og sàla, upp sem fyrst). This passionate statement of faith is based on a Danish song from the 16th Century. It came to us in a simple setting for voice and lute. VI. Raven’s Song (Krummavísur). This energetic folk song, known to every Icelandic school child, tells of a raven surviving a dangerous night and his fear of starving the next day. This arrangement is inspired by a rendition by a male chorus, in rugged open fifths, that captures the raucous vigor of ravens.
Symphonic Movement for Double Orchestra
A free-standing piece that may become the first movement of a three-movement symphonic work. A large orchestra is split on stage into two symmetrical groups. The unique instrumentation recalls earlier massed instrument sounds (as far back as Gabrieli) and uses the woodwinds, brass, and strings as choirs. Instrumentation for the total ensemble is 2 flutes, 2 alto flutes, two oboes, 2 English horns, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 cornets, 2 trombones, 2 timpani, and strings.
Originally the second piece in Clavier Book I, the work is too substantial to fit into a suite and is better as a freestanding piece. In the 18th century, contemplative keyboard laments were written on the deaths of royalty, benefactors, friends, teachers, or family members, and this piece has the same origin and expressive purpose.
Luminosidade was written for Naílson Simões, Rio de Janeiro’s eminent trumpet virtuoso. This music was inspired by my first visit to Brazil—Rio and the Costa Verde. Sketches made during the trip were completed quickly after returning home. The hope is that the music reflects some of the natural beauty of the country, the warmth of its people, and the rhythm and energy of Rio. In the fanfare-like opening, Luminosidade, the trumpet, with its shining upper register, expresses “luminosity” like no other instrument. In Luz na água (light on water), the trumpet plays a slow set of variations while the percussion, independently, develops an expanding series of motives, all suggesting reflection, undulation, and overlapping wave patterns. Reflexos (reflections) depicts reflections of another kind, sharper and brighter. There are reflections that occupy time (echoes back and forth between trumpet and percussion) as well as in space (mirror images). In Meia-luz (twilight) a soft trumpet melody hovers over shifting vibraphone chords. After a meditative vibraphone solo—lights coming on, stars coming out—the trumpet melody returns, muted now, as the light fades in that moment of repose between day and night. Luzes da cidade (city lights) portrays the energy of Rio—or any great city—at night. Naîlson premeired and recorded the work with percussionist Daniel Serale. It is the title work of the CD Luminosidade, a collaboration with Brazilian composer Sergio Roberto de Oliveira.
MATTER A / MATTER B (cello SUITES 3 & 4)
Both works comprise five pieces. Matter A includes Urgent, Gray, No Laughing, Anti, and Delicate. Matter B contains Subject, Dark, Whatsa, Grave, and Does It. As suggested by some of the lighthearted titles, there is more humor here than usual. No Laughing looks at humor in music while questioning the concert tradition of the grave and grandiose. Whatsa is based a rhythm reminiscent of D’Angelo’s “funk epic” Sugah Daddy. Subject is built entirely of fragments of fugue subjects from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. Written for friend and collaborator Douglas McNames.
Metamorfoze (Romanian for metamorphoses) was commissioned by Romanian-born cellist Ovidiu Marinescu. Ovid, the Roman poet probably best known for his long work in verse “The Metamorphoses” (The Book of Transformations) spent the end of his life in exile in what is now Romania, and many Romanian men carry his name in its local form, Ovidiu. The title fits the nature of the work while making a nod to its dedicatee. While we may tend to think of metamorphosis as a gradual process (as in metamorphic rock), the transformations in Ovid are often instantaneous—a girl transforming into olive tree (in the nick of time to avoid a randy god), a woman into a spider, a god into a bull or a swan—and the transformations in this work tend to be sudden and equally unexpected. Metamorfoze is a single-movement, multi-section, sonata-length work with significant musical and technical challenges. The work was premiered and recorded by Paulo Santoro with Josiane Kevorkian, piano, in Rio de Janeiro, and their recording is featured on the CD Pares / Pairs, a joint project with Brazilian composer Sergio Roberto de Oliveira. Ovidiu gave the US premier with pianist Anna Kislitsyna at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
NONE OF THE ABOVE
These four pieces were written for for Andy Stetson and Becca Zeisler. (1) None of the Above, an impassioned rejection of standard categories and traditional limitations, is an outburst of energy, incisive in the trumpet and thunderous in the piano. In (2) B, C, and D, the recurrence of the pitches B, C, and D provides the armature for a free-form set of compositional imaginings, musings, and improvisations. (3) Other (explain) investigates of what happens when fauxbourdon meets the octatonic scale, all with subtly Brazilian rhythms to carry it along. (4) All of the Above is an evocation of brotherhood, sisterhood, and acceptance of everyone and all their backgrounds and individual peculiarities. A freewheeling piano interlude ensures the collaborative pianist has her say.
O LIGHT INVISIBLE
chorus, soloists, strings, brass
This cantata was commissioned by Caroline Church, Setauket, New York, on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of its founding. Texts are from T.S. Eliot’s “The Rock,” poetry of Philip Skelton, and excerpts from the Bay Psalm Book, thus spanning most of the period of the church’s existence. Skelton’s 18th century text is surprisingly modern in terms of its scientific content (referring to light from distant stars that has yet to make its way to earth, a reference to the finite speed of light), while the Eliot at turns mystical (as in “o light invisible”) and practical, with its descriptions of physical building. This cantata for mixed chorus, soprano, alto, and baritone soloists, two trumpets, two trombones, two violins, and two cellos, is fitting for celebratory occasions and commemorations, especially related to anniversaries of churches and church structures.
The term “point cloud” comes from high-tech engineering, where it refers to an array of millions of points in space, each identified by X, Y, and Z coordinates, collected by scanning a structure or landscape with a laser and collecting information from the reflected beam. The result is a pointillistic representation of a complex shape that can be converted into 3-dimensional geometry. Music can build mental forms in a similar way, where individual notes combine in the listener’s mind into a multi-dimensional form. The marimba is especially suited to creating such mental geometries, with the beauty and consistency of its struck keys. Notes played on a marimba are more “point-like” than, say, notes on a violin. These three pieces, particularly the second, title movement, rely on this quality of the marimba, as well as the listener’s spatial imagination.
Reference Point builds harmonies around middle E, the “reference point,” which is present in every beat. Point Cloud develops complex and shifting harmonic shapes, sometimes with the performer sculpting through freely improvised timing and dynamics, and sometimes with mathematical precision. Irrational Number takes its name from the term for a number that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two integers. (Some of the most interesting numbers are irrational, e.g., pi and the Golden Ratio.) But if, in common parlance, “irrational” just means illogical or crazy, and “number” is an informal term for a piece of music, then an irrational number might also be a piece of music that has no logical coherence. In fact, the piece does indulge in sudden shifts and odd juxtapositions, and for no clear reason (irrationally), there is a passing reference to jazz great Horace Silver. Point Cloud was premiered and recorded in Rio de Janeiro by Daniel Serale and is featured on the CD Luminosidade, a collaboration with Brazilian composer Sergio Roberto de Oliveira.
Raven thoughts (hrafna hugsanir)
The title is purposefully unclear as to whether the thoughts are our thoughts about ravens or thoughts of ravens themselves. Ravens are important in Norse mythology—Odin is shown with a raven on each shoulder—Huginn and Muninn (Old Norse "thought" and “memory”). Social birds with highly evolved communications and behaviors, ravens are among the most intelligent of animals. It’s easy, if not strictly scientific, to ascribe human thought processes and emotions to these complex, playful, raucous creatures. These pieces are responses to ideas about ravens, not efforts at any specific representation—four ways of looking at a really big black bird, to paraphrase Wallace Stevens.
Danger (Vá): Under constant threat in a harsh environment, ravens watch for, communicate, and defend against threats. Loss (Missir): What do ravens feel when a predator raids a nest or kills one of the flock? Flight (Flug): Ravens’ flight is similar to crows’ but more soaring and graceful. The viewpoint hovers between observation of a raven in flight and the perspective of the raven itself. Survival (Lifun): An imagined celebration of survival—danger averted, food secured, young successfully fledged. The traditional Icelandic song Krummavísur appears in fragmentary form.
The Realm of Possibility
The Realm of Possibility is a large work of flexible form inspired by relatively recent concepts of chaos theory as well as more established ideas from physics, some over a century old and still breathtaking. The work is partly a reflection on the notion that, in a chaotic system, multiple outcomes can arise from identical initial conditions. The opening Outburst—heard repeatedly at the outset and occasionally throughout—contains elements, forced together as if under compression, from which the further ten sections spring. This unfolding process may also suggest the expansion of the initial singularity that contained all the matter, forces, and possibilities of the universe to come. Of course, in the end it’s all music, itself a possibility contained in those initial conditions. Evidently, even the most intimate human expression was inherent in that unimaginable original violence of creation.
The individual pieces are mostly reflections on scientific phenomena: Outburst, Patterns, Eclogue, Corona, Irrational Number, Meditation, Penumbra, Facets, Fields, Combustion, and Formations.
There are three equally valid ways to approach this work. It can be played in the full, published realization; it can be treated as a collection from which any number of individual pieces may be selected and grouped into suites; or the performer can construct his/her own complete version. Innumerable renditions are possible. The individual pieces are modular—designed to be ordered and fitted together in multiple ways, directly or with a complete or partial Outburst as connector. Many sections contain possible repeats and alternative ending points. Indications of these many options have been removed from the score, and the detailed charts showing rules of possible interconnections have been discarded. Instead, the hope is that artists who are so inclined will use the printed version as an example in creating their own realizations. Altogether different meanings can be derived from the same music.
The Realm of Possibility was written for composer / pianist Curt Cacioppo, who premiered it in Turin and took it on a concert tour of Italy and California. His masterly recorded performance can be heard on the CD The Realm of Possibility, which also includes his interpretation of the collection After Duchamp.
solo flute (standard, alto, or bass)
Sea Level was composed at and below sea level outside Amsterdam when an unusually sunny April sped the profusion of plant and animal life in and around the canals of the Dutch countryside. Though the work is abstract, landscape, cloud formations, weather, shifting light, and animal life are suggested in changing colors and textures. The four sections are introduced by a Ritornello, appearing first radioso (sunny), then nebuloso (cloudy), volatile, tranquillo, and again radioso.
Air, as a title, means both atmosphere and melody. Slowly descending arpeggios open a space for lyrical flights. Patterns uses consistent melodic shapes and rhythms to generate a harmonic progression, periodically interrupted by a liquid, suggestive passage. Dialogue contrasts a deep, somber voice with a sweet, optimistic voice. It is not clear what they represent—earth and sky, earth and water, shadow and light, or something human. Spring Fever reflects the teeming, lusty, squabbling life in and around the canals and rivers—swimming and wading birds, raptors, fish, eels, frogs—and because humans and nature are pressed together in the intimate landscape of the Netherlands, farm animals and fowl. Sea Level was written for Kimberly Reighley, who showcased it at the National Flute Association convention and recorded it, on alto flute, for the CD Forays.
STRING QUARTET No. 1: FORMATIONS
Formations is an ambitious, hardcore modern quartet. The first movement is by turns monumental and explosive. The second is a strictly organized construct that uses counterpoint—each instrument on one line of a long, complex canon—to generate a piece that combines brooding slow movement with pointillistic scherzo and features canons within canons. (For those of theoretical bent, the four instruments are devoted to the prime, inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion). The final movement is a rondo, the theme a jagged fanfare that undergoes constant modification while the episodes expand on ideas from the first two movements. Formations was awarded the prestigious Joseph H. Bearns Prize in composition by Columbia University.
baroque ensemble—2 baroque flutes, baroque violin, viola da gamba, baroque cello, harpsichord
Trois Rivières was written for the baroque / modern chamber ensemble Mélomanie to inaugurate a new harpsichord built by Richard Kingston based on late 18th-century Parisian models (Taskin). This style of harpsichord and the rich music written for it (Couperin, Rameau, Forqueray, et al.) represent the fullest development of the French Baroque. While the harmonies in Trois Rivières are updated, the piece follows a traditional chaconne form, that of a repeating harmonic progression as a basis for variations. Trois Rivières consists of three such chaconnes, linked. The pace of the repeating harmonic patterns remains consistent—rather slow—no matter how active the parts may become, and the steady flow of sound that results may suggest moving water, hence the title. (But why is the title in French? First, in deference to the chaconne form and the specific harpsichord mentioned, and second, to avoid confusion as to whether the piece might somehow relate to the city of Pittsburgh.) Trois Rivières was premiered by Mélomanie in the US and presented on their concert in Rio de Janeiro. It is featured on Mélomanie’s CD Florescence.
flute, violin, viola da gamba, cello, harpsichord, percussion
Ultraviolet covers a wide variety of color and expression while relying on a limited number of harmonies, rhythms, and melodic motives. Given the range of sounds and cultural associations—from harpsichord to African drums—the risk of crossing the line from novel juxtaposition to incongruous pastiche demanded careful control over the number of musical elements. The ethereal opening reflects on the invisible UV wave-length and its association with heat, energy, and the visible light spectrum. As the heat and light reach earth, they drive other, more tangible energy forms and activity, which build to some physical moments in the piece.
The percussion array, assembled in close collaboration with percussionist Chris Hanning, is designed to be expressive and yet balance with an ensemble that includes some relatively soft-spoken instruments. Along with frame drums, bongos, and cowbells, it includes ocean drum (a frame drum containing beads), spiral trash cymbal (a large cymbal cut into a hanging spiral), doumbek (a North African drum played with the hands), crotales (small tuned cymbals that can be struck or bowed), and djembe, a sub-Saharan African drum, here used as a bass with pedal. The intent is not to evoke the tribal or ethnic but to take the instruments out of their traditional contexts and meld them with the sounds of a baroque ensemble.
Ultraviolet resulted from the coming together of two independent project ideas. First, the baroque / modern ensemble Mélomanie had been extending its range in new music by working with guitar, electronic media, instrumentalists using extended techniques, and even sitar. In that vein, the group had expressed interest in working with percussionist Chris Hanning, known for his range, creativity, and expertise in new music. Then, a friend of Mélomanie offered to commission a work to honor the teaching career of Violet Richman, whose commitment to teaching and to music and the arts and has had an inspiring impact on generations of students and families. The hope is that the resulting work may reflect on a life lived with continual exploration, enthusiasm, and generosity.
Mélomanie premiered Ultraviolet at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts and has made it a regular part of its repertoire.
“Tunnels” is used here in the sense of traveling, unable to see one’s destination, and emerging somewhere unexpected. The three-movement work is philosophical and rhetorical—more question than answer. In Continuum, a warm tonal phrase loses its meaning on repetition (like a word repeated until its significance recedes, perhaps like a mantra), becoming a backdrop for highly individualized solos that ignore, play off of, and occasionally engage the tonal “continuum.” The Second Turning starts with a hard-driving toccata and ends with meditative, hovering sonorities suggesting the abandoning of earthly striving and struggle. From T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday: “At the second turning of the second stair, I left them twisting, turning below.” In Buddhism the Second Turning (one of four) is the forsaking the mundane in favor of emptiness and compassion. At the close of the movement, the horn’s echo of the beginning reminds us of the remoteness of our starting place. Much of Oblivion explores the possibilities of combining two compositional practices separated by 5 centuries—fauxbourdon (false bass), the late medieval practice of successive chords with the third (middle note of the triad, not the root) in the bass, and the octatonic scale, a mode of alternating half-steps and whole-steps much used since the early 20th century. The piece ends with a commentary from the flute. Wind Tunnels was written for the faculty woodwind quintet of West Chester University, who premiered it in Steinway Hall in New York.
THE WINTER EVENING
This work, on the first of of T.S. Eliot’s four “Preludes,” is part of projected Winter Scenes for chorus, strings, and bells. The remaining texts are by W.H. Auden and Wallace Stevens. The instrumentation is string octet (double quartet) and spatially distributed tubular bells (chimes).