Seascape: Overture To Moby Dick (1989)
This tone poem comprises the original prelude and epilogue of an opera in two acts based on Melville's epic novel.
The composer hopes the music will allow the listener to "imagine the quiet, ominous presence of the immense vastness of the sea--feel, too, the slow motion of the whale through the deep waters; slight ripples of waves grow larger and stronger. The cries of seabirds brighten the somber mood as the waves swell and crest. The Pequod catches the wind in her sails and is off on the mighty adventure.
The wind and waves build in intensity, developing into a storm (perhaps here, too, is a foretelling of the ship's destruction and the tragic fate of her crew). As the fearsome gale subsides, calm returns and with it the eternal serenity of the majestic sea..."
Landscape…with Grace (1995) was commissioned by the Kent Philharmonia Orchestra in Grand Rapids, Michigan to celebrate its 2oth anniversary. Before beginning composing I had the opportunity of spending several days attending rehearsals of the ensemble, meeting and socializing with some of the members. I was given a tour of the area and spent a weekend at the summer home of conductor Lynn Asper. It was on the shore of Lake Michigan on a rather high cliff overlooking the lake. While there, one evening, there was a major storm with lightening and thunder; it was awesomely beautiful.
The extraordinarily beautiful landscape and the storm over the lake inspired me to compose a descriptive tone poem, in the manner so enjoyed by Nineteenth-Century composers. I had also noted the proliferation of churches throughout the region. This led me to incorporate variations on my favorite hymn “Amazing Grace” which concludes the work. Hence, the title.
Sweet Betsy; A Fantasy On An American Folk Song (2012) was commissioned by Nancy Bogen for use in a video work. She requested a “piece based on Sweet Betsy from Pike which would not actually state the tune in any clear way”. It was a work intended to be fun (and it WAS for me). One of the verses refers to Betsy getting drunk and showing her “arse” to everyone. I tried to include a “drunken cowboy” in the opening, which recurs a couple times. There’s also a “fiddler” at a couple of points along the way. The piece ends in a “nostalgic” mood. It’s scored for flute, B-flat clarinet, violin, violoncello and piano (the “Pierrot Ensemble”).
Four Play from Quartet at The Crossroads
FOUR-PLAY (1992) for saxophone quartet (B-flat Soprano, E-flat Alto, B-flat tenor, E-flat Baritone) is composed in one continuous movement but with several sections of contrasting tempi and moods. The musical materials in the piece derive from several sources. Initially I began with a twelve tone row which emphasized diminished seventh chords and other triadic structures. There is also a quasi-tonal chord progression which recurs periodically. My continuing fascination with triads utilizing both major and minor thirds is in evidence as well as patterns of simple triads used in non-tonal but symmetrical groupings. Though these materials seem rather diverse I have attempted to construct musically potent relationships among them. The diversity of musical structures and techniques is mirrored by a variety of styles I associate with these instruments: jazz, blues and contemporary "classical" gestures are all blended together into what I hope is a pleasing whole.
Chorale Variations for Two Horns, String Orchestra from Tonus Tomis
Chorale Variations (1982; revised 1994) for two horns, solo string quintet and string orchestra is an expanded version of an earlier work for two French horns which combined serial techniques with aleatoric methods. The expansion of the piece retains many essential elements of the original but with added string passages. The horns, the solo quintet and the string orchestra each seem to operate somewhat independently of each other. In fact, they each follow the same essential structural path. Sections of serially-composed music alternate with freer sections employing proportional notation (written out in the revised version). The serialized sections suggest lyrical, chorale-like phrases whereas the (originally) proportionally-notated sections are more rhythmically agitated. The proportional passages also involve a progression of intervals, i.e., in the first proportional section played by the two horns the interval of the unison/octave is exploited. The next section exploits the interval of the second, then the third, etc., up to the seventh. The strings reverse this pattern by beginning with the seventh and ending with the unison/octave. This notion derives from the "wedge" intervallic shape of the hexachords (5-4-3-2-1)which make up the tone-row which can be heard most clearly in the first "chorale" duet by the horns. Midway through the composition Bach's setting of the chorale "Aus tiefer Not schrei'ich zu dir..." is introduced by the strings. The solo strings develop motivic connections between the chorale setting and the tone row used in the rest of the work.
Prelude and Lament from Music Visions
Prelude and Lament (1970) for wind quintet was intended to be a five movement suite. Before the work was complete, a traffic accident killed the composer’s younger brother and the piece took on a much weightier meaning; it became impossible to continue beyond the second movement. This explains the great contrast in mood between the two movements.
An early example of the composer’s approach to twelve-tone composition, the piece is based upon the row stated melodically in octaves at the outset of the first movement. Both movements are in ternary form with the middle section of the second movement modeled after a Baroque chorale-prelude, the primary melody in the horn.
Suite for Percussion from Music Visions
Suite For Percussion (1975, revised 1979), requiring five players, is the composer’s first attempt at structuring a work according to a theory of “gestures.” Five prototype gestures (or motives) are projected by various means in different parameters during the second, third, and fourth “movements.” For example, a crescendo, an increasingly faster rhythm, and a timbral progression from the lower membranes through the woods and up into the metals (or any segment of such a progression) constitute analogous “gestures.” The reverse of any of these is a manifestation of another gesture. Various gestures appear in different parameters in tandem and sometimes in opposition to each other. The opening and closing movements do not use these gestures but involve a rhythmic interplay of five-note patterns moving in different durational units in each of the five parts. All five movements are interconnected with the mark tree timbre (similar to the wind chimes) signaling the divisions between movements. Over the course of the work, there is a progression from strict rhythmic control, found in the opening, toward greater and greater rhythmic freedom culminating in the largely improvised central movement. A structural retrograde returns to the strict control in the last movement. A brief, summarizing coda concludes the work.
Sonata for Violin and Piano from ASUC #5
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1973) was my first major work after completing my MA in Composition at Binghamton University and was written shortly after moving to New York City.
The work is cast in the traditional three movement format: fast-slow-fast, and all three movements are based on the same twelve-tone row. I was also interested in the fairly recent development in which not just pitches but other parameters were subjected to serial procedures. In this instance I used a different method of organizing rhythms for each movement. In the first movement I conceived five rhythmic patterns which are used repetitively to generate the larger form (a quasi-sonata pattern). In the second movement I created a set of durations based on the number of each pitch in the tone row. For example, the pitch G equals 7 eighth-notes (a half-note tied to a dotted quarter), the pitch E equals 4 eight-notes (a quarter-note), and so on. These durations are stated and then systematically divided into smaller units, so the quarter-note becomes two eighths, then an eighth-note triplet, etc. In the middle of the movement, the patterns reverse to return to the original durations. The final movement also uses a numerical system to generate a rondo-style form.
Having described all the above, I hope the listener will just sit back and enjoy the musical results.
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