I would like Mark Gustavson is Sounding to probe my musical path on a daily/weekly basis, not in any formal way and without conclusions. Perhaps I will reveal something about music that comes to me and hopefully, in time, others will join in and share their insights about: What is sound? What is creativity? What is music?
First page of Hymn to the Vanished for concert band.
I composed Hymn to the Vanished in a whirlwind of emotions following September 11, 2001. Because there would be limited rehearsal time the music director and I settled on string orchestra as the best vehicle for the piece. Recently, however, I revisited this piece with the idea that a different type of ensemble could bring a more powerful quality to the piece. My decision to rewrite the piece for concert band not only retains the feeling of prayer but strengthens it by the use of “call and response.” The heartbeat motive that was originally in the double bass now incorporates timpani, snare drum, bass drum, tuba and euphonium and offers great resonance. Maybe the greatest change occurs to the original sustained string chords. These chords are now charged with a quarter-note pulse. This change adds the element of suspense that is only broken by the sustained climactic chords by the entire ensemble. The instrumentation is for piccolo, flutes 1 & 2, oboes 1 & 2, Eb clarinet, clarinets 1, 2 & 3, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, trumpets 1, 2 & 3, 4 horns, trombones 1 & 2, bass trombone, euphonium, tuba, timpani, snare drum, bass drum and crash cymbals with a duration of ten minutes.
This is a link for the full score. Download it for free.
Hymn to the Vanished was composed just after 9/11 for a December 2001 concert by the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra. It was also performed a few months later by the string ensemble S.O.N.Y.C. at Carnegie Hall. The work is dedicated to all the lives lost on September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
I stopped getting embarrassed a while ago, probably when my 12-year old daughter was born. So to sing my song wasn’t difficult but I just can’t sing. But I want to get this work out there. Nighttime is the central song of my 40-minute song cycle Fisherman Songs. Though it is the fourth song of seven in the cycle it was the first composed. It uses a text by Ken Abrames from his book “The Perfect Fish.” The text is about fly fishing for striped bass at night, Mr. Abrames favorite time for fishing as well as mine. I composed this song before I knew I was composing a song cycle about fishing. After I completed this song some time passed before I began thinking about composing more songs about fishing. One evening I drove to the beach to go fly fishing in the surf and on my way there I was listening to a couple of unfamiliar songs on the radio. I parked the car in the sandy parking lot by the ocean and continued listening. The music ended and the announcer said, “You have been listening to “Hermit Songs” by Samuel Barber.” Huh. Immediately I thought “Fisherman Songs.” Soon after I began to compose the next six songs using texts by John Dunne (The Baite), W.B. Yeats (The Fisherman), Henry David Thoreau (text from Walden), Shen Yuëh (The Fishing Rod), Opian of Corycus (Halieutica), and an anonymous author (Fisherman’s Prayer).
I spent many years fly fishing for striped bass and that’s a story in itself. But once I heard “Hermit Songs” I realized I could express in songs the experiences I have had fishing. Basically, composing slowed down after moving from New York City to Suffolk county. There are numerous reasons for the slow down but one of them was a need to feed my soul. I had been composing and performing while living in big cities for two decades straight while sacrificing relationships and life outside the urban world for my music and it was affecting my well being. I continued to perform and compose a bit but unconsciously I was searching to reconnect threads that went back to childhood. Back then I loved the daily witnessing of nature in the boondocks of Illinois. As a composer I was exploring my interior world but I could feel a need to explore nature, the source. When the song cycle was completed I felt I had come full circle. I changed. During this period of time I let go of certain long held views about music in exchange for new ones. I also gained a daughter but lost my father. I matured and so has my music.
I’ve written about some of the songs in earlier posts.
Back in the summer I composed a one minute piece for soprano and fixed media. It was part of a collection of 15 songs in collaboration with the soprano Anné-Marie Condacse on the theme Angeli, premiered on September 10th.
I have never thought about angles. I knew angels were “beings” found in the desert religions and appear in European paintings, sculptures, and architecture. After thinking about angles, I came to the conclusion that it was lucky to be an angel. I recorded rolling dice and shuffling cards as a sound suggesting luck. The title comes from the William Blake poem “I heard an Angel:”
I heard an Angel singing
When the day was springing
‘Mercy, Pity, Peace
Is the world’s release.’
Thus he sung all day
Over the new mown hay,
Till the sun went down
And haycocks looked brown.
I heard a Devil curse
Over the health and the furze,
‘Mercy could be no more,
If there was nobody poor,
And pity no more could be,
If all we happy as we.
At his curse the sun went down,
And the heavens gave a frown.
Down poured the heavy rain
Over the new reaped grain…
Is Mercy, Pity, Peace.
Considering the piece is one minute I condensed the poem to “Have Mercy. Have Pity. Have Peace.”
Another angel reference comes from a short section from the opening of the Sanctus from Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis: two angles (two flutes) accompany Jesus (solo violin) down from heaven to earth. The soprano’s text, “Have Mercy. Have Pity. Have Peace.” is accompanied by the Beethoven. The basic idea of the piece is an angel (the singer) singing on a cloud where we hear wind and an airplane pass by.
A Monodrama for Bass/baritone
These four measures, mm. 40-43 from scene one, encapsulates the overall sound world of my 50 minute monodrama “Lament” (text by Dylan Thomas). The ensemble has just taken over from the singer’s line “…my wicked eyes.” to begin an extended bass clarinet solo.
The “beautiful thing” in the resolution of opposites is the awareness that both must exist for either to exist or face mutual extinction. However, is there a word that suggests nonviolence rather than the violence “confrontation” evokes?
Trickster was composed in New York City in the Summer of 1997 and completed on August 30th. The premiere took place at the Greenwich House in New York City by the composer on June 28, 1998.
The work is a set of six unmarked variations based on the opening statement (the first line of music). Each variation expands the material of the previous one. Although the first couple of variations begin with the opening arpeggio, the subsequent variations begin by expanding before the arpeggio, to the point of obscuring where the variations begin and end.
The title refers to the coyote of American Indian myths known as the Trickster, an immortal figure who, after each of his deaths, is renewed to continue his deceit. In this piece I imagined each variation as a renewal and with each renewal the opportunity to expand upon the insight gained from the previous variation.
The clarinetist on this recording (“Dissolving Images” TROY1424 on Albany Records) is Ed Gilmore.
“In sum, from Herodotus we begin to perceive that though the gleaning of facts may be the first crucial step in history, it is not history. History is accomplished only when time is given shape and when explanation and interpretation occur.”*
What happens to hierarchy if we disconnect “time” from history and connect it to accumulation?