What’s in your mind, my dove my coney:
Do thoughts grow like feathers, the dead end of life;
Is it making of love or counting of money,
Or raid on the jewels, the plans of a thief?
Open your eyes, my dearest dallier;
Let hunt with your hands for escaping me;
Go through the motions of exploring the familiar;
Stand on the brink of the warm white day.
Rise with the wind, my great big serpent;
Silence the birds and darken the air;
Change me with terror, alive in a moment;
Strike for the heart and have me there.
Used by permission of Curtis Brown Ltd.,
Copyright © by W.H. Auden
All Rights Reserved
The Heart has narrow Banks
It measures like the Sea
In mighty—unremitting Bass
And Blue Monotony
Till Hurricane bisect
And as itself discerns
Its sufficient Area
The Heart convulsive learns
That Calm is but a Wall
Of unattempted Gauze
An instant’s Push demolishes
Used by permission of Harvard University Press
All Rights Reserved
The two Violin Dialogues are exactly what their title implies, conversations between two instruments in which different ideas are exchanged, transformed, combined and re-defined by two equal voices. The first Dialogue contrasts sets of ideas—one for each instrument—each embodied in contrasting musical gestures representing different musical worlds into which the other instrument is invited, or sometimes dragged, to enter into a free wheeling discussion until some kind of agreement is reached. The journey towards a hard-won consensus is represented by increasing rhythmic coherence.
The second Dialogue is formally much simpler: three ideas, two slow and lyrical—one introduced by the piano, the other by the violin—the third faster and more muscular, introduced by both. Rather than oppositional, its narrative is that of two characters who agree on the destination and differ only about the route, or perhaps two friends competing to tell the best version of the same story.
I have had the good fortune to work with some fine clarinetists, but it has taken me a long time to pluck up the courage to attempt a piece in the same form as beloved masterpieces by Mozart and Brahms. My clarinet quintet And that moment when the bird sings—currently a stand-alone, single movement—is by turns lyrical and passionate, intimate and robust as the instruments weave their way through the various combinings, fallings apart, oppositions and resolutions available to five players. Eventually the clarinet brings the different musical threads into a single narrative at the work’s climax, marked “ecstatically.” However, the final rhetorical gesture seems to throw such apparent unity into doubt, perhaps raising the question “should there be other movements?”
Its title is borrowed from Seamus Heaney: it strikes me as a good metaphor for the inception of a composition, that moment between silence and putting the first mark on paper, when the external world is silenced and the internal voice begins to speak.
For the earth is hollow and I have touched the sky was composed for the Newstead Trio while we were all resident at the (sadly now defunct) Pennsylvania Academy of Music. Musically, it is a response to a concert I attended at the American Composers Orchestra of music by Frank Zappa. I was familiar with his rock and roll, but I was blown away by the rhythmic drive, harmonic freedom and sheer uninhibited exuberance of the orchestral pieces performed that night. Bookended by the energetic first and last movements, which are iterations of the same musical gesture, the second movement of my Trio juxtaposes the decaying resonances of piano clusters and a simple melody stated four octaves apart in the piano. The third movement—”Cloches (Bells)”—also explores resonance in many bell-like images, such as the opening with Bartok pizzicatos in the strings sustained by the same notes played softly on the piano, and the fast repeated notes of the piano held by the sustaining pedal. Messiaen-like chords are an echo of the first movement, and function like an extended dominant pedal in a classical symphony, designed to announce the impending return of previously heard material.
The title of the piece is the result of random late-night channel-surfing: a scene from the original Star Trek in which a character says: “But things are not as they teach us...for the world is hollow and I have touched the sky.” This wonderful image stayed with me for days and resulted in the opening piano phrase with its melody spread as far apart as possible, as if it is indeed trying to touch the sky. I also couldn’t help thinking that Zappa would have liked “things are not as they teach us.” It was not until I searched out the episode again recently that I discovered I had inadvertently substituted “earth” for “world” – but the title of my piece is what it is.
The text for My dove, my coney is an early, lyrical poem by W.H. Auden which contains, in a few concentrated lines, an unusually frank depiction of sexual desire that wouldn’t be out of place in D.H. Lawrence. With its references to the English pastoral tradition, my setting translates into sound the tension between Auden’s early influences (Wordsworth and Hardy) and his modernist approach to writing poetry (influenced by T.S. Eliot). After an extended cello solo, the piano presents a continuous stream of notes quasi senza misura giving the feeling of suspended time over which the voice floats. The instruments underscore some of the metaphors in the text, and the tonality expands as they become more visceral, leading to the final release “strike for the heart and have me there.”
Composed at the same time as My dove, my coney, The heart has narrow banks (to a beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson) is another in a series of pieces that arose from the desire to experiment with ways of reintroducing elements of tonality into my music without “dumbing down.” I chose the poem because its strong visual images were the perfect opportunity to create a more flexible harmonic language that could express “blue monotony”, a “bisecting” hurricane and “a wall of unattempted gauze” while keeping a consistent musical thread. Both pieces rely on a lyrical soprano line while the surrounding instrument(s) provide both sonic support and musical portrayal of the subtext.
Abiquiu Trio was composed during a trip my wife and I made to New Mexico in the summer of 2012. We made the trip partly because the desert terrain is very different from the lush green of central Pennsylvania (where we were living at the time), and partly because we both love the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. While not ‘programme music’ in the strict sense of the term, the language of each movement is a response to different facets of both experiences: for example, the vastness and spareness of the vistas in New Mexico are represented by a preponderance of writing in octaves, often, in the case of the piano, at extreme registers.
Since O’Keeffe’s landscapes—unlike her early abstract masterpieces—require a certain familiarity with the objects being depicted (she once said: “A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colours put together so that they say something”), I chose what is for me is an unusually ‘neoclassical’ palette for the work, in which familiar objects—chords, scales and even rhythms—are presented and developed using fairly traditional techniques.
The last movement—“Untitled (red and yellow cliffs)”—is named for the 1940 Georgia O’Keeffe painting. I started this movement during a short stay in a remarkable place, “Christ in the Desert”, a living monastery where the monks work the land and follow the ancient Benedictine schedule of prayer, each of the six daily church services being intoned to Gregorian chants. All the music of this movement is derived from the plainsong melody Sapientia aedificavit domus (Wisdom has built itself a house), but not heard explicitly until close to the end of the movement. Its early iterations are so transformed that its roots are hard to hear, in the same way that life in a modern American monastery, while it can trace its roots back over a thousand years, would be unrecognizable to a monk of the 6th century.
© NAVONA RECORDS LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Navona Records offers listeners a fresh taste of today's leading innovators in orchestral, chamber, instrumental, and experimental music as well as prime pieces of classic repertoire. Our music is meticulously performed by the finest musicians and handpicked to ensure the most rewarding listening experience.
223 Lafayette Road
North Hampton NH 03862
press (at) parmarecordings.com
603.758.1718 x 151