When Doug Masek, saxophonist with both the Hollywood Bowl and Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestras, commissioned me to compose a piece, we decided on the unusual and beautiful combination of alto saxophone, cello, and piano. As reflected by its title, Irrational Exuberance was a reaction to the unfathomable re-election of a certain U.S. president in 2004. In an attempt to remain, if not optimistic, hopeful, I purposefully chose to compose a sunny piece. This piece, like most of my music, features lots of unusual and alternating meters. My high school band director was Dave Brubeck’s brother Henry, and I idolized Dave’s colleague and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. As a result, odd and shifting meters have always been an important aspect of my style.




Snowy Landscape for violin, cello and piano

Written for Trio Morisot, Snowy Landscape (2015-16) was inspired by Berthe Morisot’s 1880 impressionistic watercolor “Paysage de neige.” The music depicts the icy and bleak scenery with harmonics on the strings and bare open fifths on the piano at the beginning. The violin and cello enter with expressive lyrical melodic lines on top of a chain of broken figurations of the piano, which turns into a more rhythmic, chordal, tense and passionate middle section, which is later followed by a melancholic passage bringing back the opening icy and bleak mood.


This piece was commissioned by Jasper Rouge Limited for Trio Morisot in 2016 with sponsorship from CASH Music Fund.





Dawn is a quartet written for flute, clarinet, bassoon and cello.


I was orchestrating a piano piece, The Clouds, written for a children’s modern dance. As I began to score that piece, this one emerged. The music began to evoke feelings of stirrings, awakenings and the flurry of activity that happens in nature, and in us, as the sun begins to rise. The piece then moves into a very melodic and lyrical section that is whatever you want it to be....the magnificent sun warming the earth or a simple feeling of pure love. There is playful musical interaction which to me evoke all the elements of nature as well as any unseen fairies.


Luca’s Dream

Luca’s Dream is written for solo vibraphone. I love the sound of the instrument and was taking vibraphone lessons from one of my percussionist friends. When a choreographer asked me to compose a piece for her I thought solo vibraphone would work. This choreographer had a new baby boy named Luca and when the piece was finished it felt like a dream sequence with the ebbs and flows, sudden changes and ethereal quality so we named it after her sweet little boy, Luca...Luca’s Dream.




Five Impromptus for Two was composed in the winter of 2014. My idea was to involve a performer as collaborator from the start of the compositional process. Pianist Ashlee Mack has been a performing partner of mine, shares many musical sensibilities with me, and made an ideal collaborator for this project. Several times over the winter, I brought her short musical ideas (brief melodies, a few harmonies, etc.) and we used them as catalysts for improvisation. I recorded our sessions, listened and transcribed sections, and used them as source material in the composition of five short pieces. Ms. Mack and I premiered movements I, IV, and V at Northern Illinois University in the spring of 2015.




Crosscurrents (2015) was composed for cellist Nan-Cheng Chen as a free form rondo based on a modified tone row that explores many moods and changes that flow over the interplay between the cello and the piano.  From the quiet beginning to the exuberant runs and glissandos in the middle, the music constantly modifies its direction and intensity.  As counter-themes are introduced, the melody returns each time altered in rhythm and tempo. The end gradually returns to the gentle mood of the beginning.




They Bore Him Barefaced on The Bier and He Took Me by The Wrist were originally written for piano and voices, as presented herein, before The Shakespeare Concerts’ first tenor, Alan Schneider, insisted that I stop procrastinating and actually write the opera with full orchestra. We were on a beach in the United States Virgin Islands, with our wives, and The Shakespeare Concerts’ first soprano, Maria Ferrante – between concerts on St Thomas – when Alan first suggested that my not writing the opera was a mistake. “I hadn’t thought about it,” I lazily responded, dragging a bare foot through the sand. Alan wasn’t buying it. He and Maria had just premiered They Bore Him Barefaced on The Bier the previous year in Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands, but this year they were working with our harpist, Anna Reinersmann, on new repertoire, including music from The Tempest, performed for the first time in Boston and, as well, a capacious meeting room in the Ritz Carlton hotel on the east end of St Thomas.


Following the Caribbean performances, we returned to the grey skies and brown water of new England; and I, accepting the sagacity of Alan’s insistent advice, began work on the full length, three act opera version which chronicles the tragedy of a prince of Denmark. This year, 2017, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the sale of the enchanted islands of St Croix, St John, and St Thomas from Denmark, to the United States. My own Hamlet couldn’t find an open door at any opera companies after I finished it in 2006, including my attempt to interest the Royal Danish Opera in its premiere. My contact there in Copenhagen remarked that I was not Danish enough to consider my request; despite the (unstated) fact that my wife, Lisa, received her PhD from Denmark’s Aalborg University, and my having visited the country once, in the company of my personal physician, the late James Pace Clayton, who had previously bought an expensive sailing vessel in Denmark; which vessel Lisa, and James, and I sailed on from time to time, prior to Lisa’s PhD ceremony, which ceremony I attended just days after visiting Hamlet’s Kronborg Castle. I realized that I would need to write a smaller Shakespearean opera to act as ambassador to my operatic Hamlet, so I eventually wrote The Tempest, (finishing it in 2012,) in Massachusetts, having neglected – ironically – to do so while my family actually lived in the Virgin Islands, (as a result of a previous banishment from Tennessee, but that’s another tale.) They Bore Him Barefaced on the Bier was written in my mother Eunice’s home on Mafolie Hill, overlooking Magen’s Bay in St Thomas, while my family lived in exile in there, in an apartment beneath her domicile.  I’m still working on the dream of a fully staged Hamlet, but the recent production and warm reception of my Tempest encourages me to believe that Alan was correct in admonishing me for my prior horse latitude lassitude.

(Notes by Joseph Summer, March 31, 2017)


click HERE to download the texts


They Bore Him Barefaced on the Bier

by Joseph Summer

(Oxford Songs, Book II, No. 2)


Text: William Shakespeare

from Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act IV, Scene 5



 They bore him barefaced on the bier;

 Hey non nonny, nonny, hey nonny;

 And in his grave rained many a tear ⎯

Fare you well, my dove!


Hadst thou thy wits, and didst persuade revenge,

It could not move thus.



  You must sing a-down a-down a-down,

 An you call him a-down-a.

O, how the wheel becomes it!

It is the false steward, that stole his master’s daughter.



This nothing’s more than matter.



There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance;

pray, love, remember; and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.



A document in madness, thoughts and remembrance fitted.



There’s fennel for you, and columbines;

there’s rue for you, and here’s some for me;

we may call it herb-grace o’ Sundays.

O, you must wear your rue with a difference.

There’s a daisy.

I would give you some violets,

but they withered all when my father died.

They say he made a good end ⎯

 For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy.



Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself,

She turns to favor and to prettiness.



 And will he not come again?

 And will he not come again?

 No, no, he is dead;

 Go to thy death-bed;

 He never will come again.

 His beard was as white as snow,

 All flaxen was his poll.

 He is gone, he is gone,

 And we cast away moan.

 God ha’ mercy on his soul!

And of all Christian souls, I pray God. God be wi’ ye.



He Took Me by the Wrist

by Joseph Summer

(Oxford Songs, Book I, No. 10)


Text: William Shakespeare

from Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act II, Scene 1


(With excerpts from Act I, scene 3 and Act II, scene 2 interstitially interspersed; and a brief intertextural invention – indicated by square brackets – all in Polonius’ obbligato interjections. Polonius’ part may be omitted and the piece presented as a concert aria for soprano alone. Ophelia’s text is contained in the left hand column, Polonius in the right.)



     O my lord. O my lord!



     How now, Ophelia! what's the matter?



     O my lord, my lord! I have been so affrighted.



     With what, i' the name of God?



     My lord, as I was sewing in my closet,

     Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced;

     No hat upon his head; his stockings fouled

     Ungartered, and down-gyved to his ankle;

     Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;



     [Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

     But not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

     For the apparel oft proclaims the man...]



     And with a look so piteous in purport

     As if he had been loosed out of hell

     To speak of horrors, he comes before me.



     Mad for thy love?



     My lord, I do not know;

     But truly I do fear it.



     What said he?




     He took me by the wrist and held me hard,

     Then goes he to the length of all his arm,

     And, with his other hand thus o'er his brow.

     He falls to such perusal of my face

     As ‘a would draw it. Long...



     [Brevity is the soul of wit,

     And tediousness the limbs

     and outward flourishes...]


     This is the very ecstasy of love,

     Whose violent property fordoes itself

     And leads the will to desperate undertakings,

     As oft as any passion under heaven,

     That does afflict our natures. I am sorry.



     Long stayed he so...



     I am sorry that with better heed and judgment

     I had not coted him; I feared he did but trifle,

     And meant to wreck thee; but, beshrew my jealousy!



     As I was sewing in my closet,

     Lord Hamlet, with his doublet all unbraced. . .



     [But brief! Daughter, but brief!]



     At last, a little shaking of mine arm,

     And thrice his head thus waving up and down,

     He raised a sigh so piteous and profound...


     Pale as his shirt; his knees knocking each other;

     And with a look so piteous... and profound

     As it did seem to shatter all his bulk

     And end his being. That done, he lets me go,


     And with his head over his shoulder turned,

     He seemed to find his way without his eyes;

     For out o' doors he went without their help,

     And to the last bended their light on me.








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