Elizabeth R. Austin
As I worked on the various pitch orders of the chromatic motive of BACH’s name (“H” being B-flat in German), I noticed that the retrograde inversion is identical to the original pattern
intervallically, only transposed a half step higher. How like the rounded, circular music of this man! His ever-recurring themes move through time and space in fresh and ingenious paths, saying all there is to say, no more, no less.
The first movement is a melodic elaboration, using intervallic combinations tucked inside of this name: two half-steps, two whole-steps (and their inversions), a minor third, coupled with
my “signature” minor sixth! Occasionally the motive and its various orderings appear simultaneously. About a third of the way into this movement the initial motive of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in d (BWV 565) is heard (notable that the last four pitches of this motive reflect the same intervallic makeup as Bach’s name does, the minor third becoming a major third!).
Introducing the second movement is a stately section inspired by Bach’s Air on the G String. The concluding, unmeasured section is inspired by a poetic fragment by Rilke (opening lines from the time of his Elegien). All music needs an artist: a composer and/or performer and also a listener. Rilke seems to assign the voice of the nightingale to the artist’s inspired power, the power to add beauty and meaning to the world of the listener. The artist is compelled to address the muse:
Ich bins, Nachtigall, ich, den du sings,
hier, mir im Herzen, wird diese Stimme Gewalt,
nicht länger vermeidlich.
I am the one, Nightingale, of whom you sing,
Here, in my heart, this voice becomes a power
From which I can no longer escape.
A reflection of birdsong, emerging sporadically from silence, is shared by viola and piano.
Sleepy Hollow Suite (2007)
John Alan Rose
Sleepy Hollow Suite was originally composed for violin/viola duo, which makes this version for piano a transcription. The story has been told in numerous versions, but the principal characters are the same: Ichabod, Katrina, Brom Bones and the Headless Horseman. The first movement, Ichabod and Katrina, portrays the pastoral setting of the story and suggests a tender relationship between Ichabod and Katrina.
On the evening of the events of the legend there is a large party at the home of wealthy farmer Baltus van Tassel, Katrina’s father. The second movement depicts the dancing and frivolity of that occasion, where Ichabod has the chance to enjoy an evening in Katrina’s company.
Just before everyone disperses for the night, Brom Bones recounts the legend of the Headless Horseman, who lost his head in a battle of the Revolutionary War and rides a nightly quest to recapture it right along the road outside the farm. The third movement of Sleepy Hollow Suite begins as a terrified Ichabod Crane makes his way home after the breakup of the party. His ride is punctuated with eerie noises and devilish laughter coming from the darkness of the trees along the path. He finds himself caught in a cat and mouse game with the real Horseman, who terrifies Ichabod into quickening the pace of his horse, then disappears into the darkness, giving Ichabod reason to question whether his life is in danger or it is simply a fragment of his imagination. Unfortunately, the Horseman is all too real, and he finally overcomes Ichabod in a high-speed chase. Ichabod is never seen again. In the adaptation of the story I worked with, Ichabod then takes his place as the Horseman, eternally haunted by his unfulfilled love for Katrina. This is portrayed in the return of the intimate theme from the first movement as the closing of the entire piece.
Bells and Grass (1989)
Bells and Grass portrays five intimate scenes in which small things come into focus and the world recedes: a nightingale's song echoing from a nearby wall, the bright sun and the waves of the ocean, the moon lighting up a stream with its silvery halo, the flames burning over coals in a fireplace as twilight descends, and the varied and musical sounds of rainfall. The pairing of voice with oboe provides this little cycle with a uniquely colorful charm and immediacy.
Seven sweet notes
In the moonlight pale
Warbled a leaf-hidden
And Echo in hiding
By an old green wall
Under the willows
Sighed back them all.
Bright sun, hot sun, oh, to be
Where beats on the restless sea!
To hear the sirens of the deep
Chaunting old Ocean's floods to sleep!
And shadowed wave to sunlit wave
Call from the music-haunted cave!
There, with still eyes, their watch they keep,
While, at horizon mark, a ship,
With cloudlike sails glides slowly on,
Smalls, vanishes, is gone.
Stir and shiver
The reeds and rushes
By the river:
As if in dream,
The lone moon's silver
Sleeks the stream.
What old sorrow,
What lost love,
Moon, reeds, rushes,
Dream you of?
In drowsy fit
I hear the flames
Their ancient names:
The coals — a glory
Of gold — blaze on,
Drenched with the suns
Of centuries gone;
While, at the window,
This rainy day
In darkening twilight
I woke in the swimming dark
And heard, now sweet, now shrill,
The voice of the rain-water
Cold and still,
Endlessly sing; now faint,
In the distance borne away;
Now in the air float near,
But nowhere stay;
Singing I know not what,
Echoing on and on;
Following me in sleep,
Till night was gone.
- Walter de la Mare
Icarus was recorded by Joey Abad and Marko Stuparevic in January of 2018. The recording you’re hearing is the remixed, or augmented version. The base layer is a live recording of the two players but with a second level added later utilizing sounds and additional snippets recorded by Joey and Marko. You can’t have a story of a kid with wings without thinking of ways to improve the listening experience. Just don’t get this CD too close to the sun!
With a story about transformation it seems fitting that this piece began as something else. Originally written for flute, Icarus was adapted, reworked, and reborn as an alto saxophone concerto. It uses much of the same source material from the original work but scrambled together from three distinct movements into the single flowing movement presented here. The idea of flight and escape remains, and even though it starts fast and moving, the constant presence of gravity is never far behind, pulling the work down toward the abyss.
The work begins in flight, above the water soaring high. Slow reflection and the creep of mortality spin through the middle. The cadenza serves as a true moment of uninhibited freedom, but at a price. As Icarus fights fate the ground comes crashing from below, and the work ends with the swirling eddies of the rough sea.
Random Thoughts (2014)
I Random Thoughts is based on a series of jagged little motifs that make up the main kinetic theme, opening with alto, followed by soprano, tenor and baritone. A contrasting andsecondary theme, based on cascading arpeggio and scale passages, is juxtaposed against the underlying motif of the first theme. These two ideas play against each other all the way to the end of the work.
II The Argument presents two dynamically opposing musical ideas. One is in 4/4, the other in 6/8, and they battle each other through the first half of the piece. In the second half of the work, the two principle ideas now play together in a gently rolling theme in 3/4 meter. In therecapitulation the principle themes are a little less obstinate as they quickly fly head along to a raucous ending.
III The Garden in the City was inspired upon entering the secluded garden of a brown-
stone building in New York City. The work opens quietly with a staggered main theme distributed among the horns. Quickly moving scale passages weaving in and out and up andand down suggest many sights to behold while still invoking peace and tranquility. A more leisurely and languid second theme evokes a more meditative mood.
IV Picasso’s Rag emulates the deconstructed style of Picasso’s work. The rag is there, but the form is slightly fractured with the pieces put back together slightly askew. It is what a rag
might sound like if composed by Picasso.
Escape of the Slinkys (2004)
Slinkys were born to slink. That’s why they hate to sit around idly in the toy box twiddling their springs. Sometimes they take it upon themselves to plan an escape. When they finally break out of the box and topple down the stairs, they are filled with boundless joy.
Grasshopper’s Holiday (2001)
It’s a little known fact that grasshoppers really like to party. On Saturday nights, they all gather in a tavern, and each one moseys up to the bar and orders……………….a Grasshopper (It’s a little known fact that grasshoppers also have a fabulous sense of humor.)
Eventually they get a little tipsy and start having hopping contests.
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