Most of the music on this album uses a stylistic trait, inspired by imagining the mind’s eye peering through an aural window pane (or porthole) to a musical landscape, a “remembrance of things past,” Michael K. Slayton describes this technique in my music in Chapter One of his book Women of Influence in Contemporary Music: Nine American Composers, Scarecrow Press, 2011: pp.19-23.
Slayton quotes me: “What engages me is to so imbed tonal quotes from music of the past in my own pantonal fabric, that what has sounded familiar becomes transformed into something foreign and fleetingly invasive. An associative web of aural memories, threads of musical nostalgia, appear with startling recognition before departing with ease. It is as though my own music is caught off balance by an ‘invader’, wrapped in familiar disguise. Lo and behold, my contemporary harmonic fabric begins to sound ‘right’ to the listener, while the audacious tonal quote seems oddly out of place.”
The first example of ‘windowpaning’ appears in “Wilderness” Symphony (No. 1), which sets Sandburg’s poem “Wilderness”, a psychological habitat of our subconscious bestiary. The ‘heartbeat’ motive suggests a similar life force to that of Stravinsky’s Petroushka, whose will to live bursts the bonds of the spirit. Steven Metcalf (The Hartford Courant, 1988) writes: “with deft, sparkling orchestrations...and quotes from American folk tunes, “Wilderness” Symphony showed both craft and spirit.”
“Lighthouse” Symphony (No. 2) also contains many quotes, all related through pitch. Peter Burwasser writes (Fanfare, 2008, Vol. 31, No. 6): ”Elizabeth R. Austin’s... three-movement symphony manages the remarkable feat of being strikingly original at the same time that it is jam-packed with musical quotations.... The immediate inspiration of the music is the sea (Debussy’s La Mer is quoted early on), which she conjures with explosive crescendos and glistening tonality. It is fun to try to identify the quotes, but more important is the cohesion and power of the music as a whole.” Cross currents between the various quotations interact with the ‘lighthouse’ motive, with some passages, such as Wolf’s Mondnacht (Moonlit Night) even providing optical allusions.
An American Triptych offers the Bach family’s party amusement with musical quotations called a ‘quodlibet’. Their musical high spirits produced a rowdy juxtaposition of familiar tunes in patchwork style. The ‘Hoedown’ compresses snippets of American folk tunes in a rough and tumble “blaze of fun” (Patella, “New Music Connoisseur”, Vol 7).
Sonnets from the Portuguese contain self-quotes in cyclical fashion, with much of the thematic material recurring in varying guises.
Each of the Puzzle Preludes (selected) center around a musical quote, cited either verbatim or intentionally ‘bent’. “Her piano style is a quite original one, which, apparently effortlessly, cites past works and develops them.” (Thomas Schlage, Mannheimer Morgen, 1998).” Again Michael Slayton (pp.20-23): Puzzle Preludes, “the zenith illustration of the windowpane method, offers quotations as musical puzzles for the player (and capable audience members) ... the listener is invited to guess the source of each quote ... As passages from the past arise fully intact or as a mere caress of something familiar, the listener is left pondering, ‘Did I just hear what I think I heard?’... Austin’s music seeks to do more than simply conjoin the past with the existing world; it means to intertwine them, to make them coexist, to evolve them into something entirely new...This is the imperative for Austin - the artist as a vessel, ‘through which the stuff of the cosmos is allowed to flow’.” Lastly, Fred Patella views this “playful set featuring quotes and impressions of famous piano music” as “the first hint of the loving tribute Austin’s music exudes, not only to composers from the past, but to music in general.”
The vocal music on this album does not contain any quotes. The poem texts in a song must be front and center! Our opera, I am one and double too, however, is a musical retrospective of a lifetime of composing; it is full of windowpaning, even involving taking selfies! — Elizabeth R. Austin
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