Remember. When writing “The Whirr of Wings” – choral settings of poems about the earth – and its beauty and the terror of our failure to care for it – the work did not feel complete. The music for the finale was to a wonderful poem, Remember, that eventually I was unable to obtain permission from the author to use. Not wanting to abandon the music, I decided to use some of the material from that and other sections of The Whirr of Wings for a viola and piano work. I retained the title, as the music is intended to serve as a reminder of my own small place in the grand scheme of everything, as a being who is insignificant, yet nonetheless a part of our beautiful planet. My hope for those who hear the music, it will make them dream of an earth that is pristine and cared for by our species.
Oh, mystery! Inspired by an image of a whirling dervish, I wanted to write music that, similar to that ecstatic dance, opened the door to the invisible that surrounds us all. Although I am not a religious person, I know that, to misquote the famous words of poet William Blake, surrounding us is an immense world closed by our senses five. This music is my attempt to open my senses and perceive that world around me.
Aphorisms II. Many authors and thinkers have written aphorisms, but few excelled at this art. The ability to capture a complex thought in a simple, pithy phrase is harder than it looks! Recently reading through a few volumes of aphorisms by François La Rochefoucauld, Franz Kafka and Oscar Wilde, and finding that while the format of these books, in places, has some semblance of order, mostly each maxim or aphorism stands on its own. This arrangement intrigued me for music, as such a method of organization runs so contrary to how music is usually structured – and I wanted to experiment with a piece that flowed from one brief idea to another, without interruption or development. I employed this first in a string quartet, Aphorisms I, and then followed that shortly thereafter with this work for viola and piano.
In Memory. The three short pieces that make up this suite for solo viola were composed at different times for different occasions. On a May Morning and Exuberance were composed for a wedding – the processional and joyous recessional. In Memory, Dusan Dobnik, was composed for a memorial service for the father of a good friend that was celebrated in his home country of Slovenia. Dusan was a physician with a brilliant mind and a kind heart. Somehow, the pieces seemed to work together.
Civil War Songs was composed after watching Ken Burns' PBS documentary on the Civil War and hearing its beautiful violin solo accompaniment. It was only after writing the variations on that lovely tune, that I learned it did not hark back to the Civil War, but had been written for the documentary. Oh, well – no matter. Then, afterwards, I decided to set the famous Battle Hymn of the Republic. The series should have at least one real Civil War tune, after all. Performing this work in 2020 seemed important, as 158 years after Julia Ward Howe penned her inspired words, Americans seem to be finally waking up and realizing that the time is long past when we should have “trampled out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”
OTHER MUSIC BY STANLEY GRILL FEATURING THE VIOLA
The Bridge (viola and orchestra) 2020
The Whirr of Wings (suite for flute, viola, cello) 2020
Sea and Sky (2 violas) 2019
Melville’s Dream (flute, viola, cello) 2017
4 Nocturnes (violin, viola) 2013
Middle Ground (violin, 2 violas, cello) 2012
The Four Elements (viola, string orchestra) 2009
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