When asked to write a piece for the National Flute Convention in Phoenix, I envisioned a piece comprising several short movements. The idea of MASKS appealed to me, for a mask generally makes an impression quickly; its affect clear at a glance.
I have collected several masks over the years, and looked at many more in museums and art books of various kinds. Three of these movements reflect particular masks that I have seen, one is a generic type, and two are waiting to be constructed.
The three specific masks are: I A Haida (Northwest Native American) mask, of commanding presence; II a Huichol (Mexican Native) Jaguar mask, completely beaded with intricate flower patterns; and III, an African American death mask of great calmness. IV is a clown mask, and the last two are left entirely to your imagination.
The flute and harp are both ancient and beautiful instruments, and their sounds complement each other in unique ways. In this piece I have explored some of these combinations. The first movement, "Entrata", is a light piece with shifting rhythms in both instruments; it quotes some children's tunes now and again. The second movement, "Adagio", is rather stark, with a measured ostinato in the harp and contrasting, rhythmically free gestures in the flute. These eventually come together in a slow melodic section. These two movements comprise the "Dances" of the title, for they are both involved with various kinds of motion, and I would love to see them choreographed at some time.
The third movement is a series of variations on a lovely tune written in 1759 by Francis Hopkinson, a Philadelphia lawyer and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The song is called "My Days have been so wondrous free", with a text by Thomas Parnell. The variations are rather "wondrous free" themselves, having been influenced as much by the words as by the melody, and moving far from the original, though returning for a straightforward rendition of the tune at the end.
My days have been so wondrous free,
the little birds that fly
with careless ease from tree to tree
were but as blessed as I.
Ask the gliding waters if a tear of mine
increased their stream,
and ask the breathing gales if e'er
I lent a sight to them.
Of the many marvelous aspects of Bartok's composition, two in particular have influenced this piece. In the first movement I have used structural techniques and short, angular themes typical of the string quartets, but seldom, if ever, applied to winds. A folk element in evident in the rhythms and patterns of the last movement. The second movement, an arioso in free time, is not consciously tied to Bartok. It begins with a long oboe solo which overlaps the end of the preceding movement.
Francois Villon (1431-1463?) was a major lyric poet, a scholar, and a man of great excess. He was imprisoned several times in his short life, and banished from Paris in 1463, shortly after he wrote The Testament. It is presumed that he died about this time. The full text of The Testament runs about 75 pages. Some of it is obscure, some scatological; all of it is fascinating. There are rage, sorrow, beauty, and a poignant regret, as well as a voracious appetite for life and an indomitable spirit. Last but not least, there is the poetic bravura of acrostics and word games woven through the serious and satiric ballades and chansons. In choosing selections for this piece, I have tried to give a distilled picture of the main subjects in The Testament - revenge, sorrow, lust, love, and death. Villon's searing directness and sharp satirical bite are splendidly caught in this translation by the American poet Galway Kinnell.
Summer Night was completed in July, 1985, and premiered by the New York Concerto Orchestra outdoors in Lincoln Center the following September. It was published by Theodore Presser, with a piano reduction, in 1986. The flute and horn are a rather mismatched pair in many ways. To let their individual qualities sound, I began with a short soliloquy for each. This is followed by a slow dance which grows out of the soliloquies, and then a lively one, as the instruments (or characters, or thoughts) meet and interact.
This piece has to do with the way various images - or themes - are changed in the process of thinking. The first movement is concerned with two very distinct ideas that eventually interact and affect each other. The second movement is a set of six variations on a somewhat somber American colonial hymn, "God of my Justice". Each of the variations relates back to the original theme rather than to each other, as is traditional. The third movement begins with similar themes which diverge and eventually agree to a separation. It also contains hints of a Gershwin tune that reveals itself at the very end.
Images was written in 1982 for the Verdehr Trio, which has recorded the piece for Leonarda Productions on CD (LE326).
Throughout my composing career I have avoided the name "Sonata". Discussion of the term in Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians(Fifth Edition) runs to twenty-two pages. In this case, however, it seems appropriate, for it gives a sense of substantiality, and a link to the past. The first movement introduction contains a short quote from Samuel Barber's haunting and beautiful "Cave of the Heart", a piece I played often on tour with the Martha Graham Dance Company in the 1960's. This quote becomes a motive that generates much of the rather lyrical first movement.
The second movement is much more intense, and grows in a freer fashion from the opening ostinato to a large climax. It ends in a somewhat improvisatory, pastoral mood, which I have always found particularly appealing on the oboe. The third movement hasn't a single serious measure, and even pokes a little fun at some of what comes before.
Qwindtet was written for the Hudson Valley Wind Quintet, on commission from Peter Alexander and the State University of New York at New Paltz.
The piece follows an unusual plan. Movements I (Prelude), III (Interlude), and V (Finale) are all drawn from the same lively material, in dance-like 7/8 patterns. The second movement, a Lullaby, is gently lyrical. The fourth, a Dirge, is much more serious, even austere at times. The Finale, though based on the original 7/8 motives, retains some of this darker mood, then gradually resumes the bright character of the Prelude.
Psalm 23 has a very personal and unusual
history. Written in February, 1981, when my mother was permanently disabled by illness, it
was given its first performance on Mother's Day, directed by the Reverend Dennis Michno at
All-Saints church in New York. Dennis then obtained a commission from the Episcopal
Diocese of New York to orchestrate the work. In this version the piece was first presented
at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine during the Fifth Annual Festival of Worship and
Music on October 24, 1981, by a chorus of 400 and orchestra. My mother passed away quietly
Kokopeli, the flute player, was a great mahu, or legendary hero of the Hopi, and of other Native Americans living in the Southwestern area of the United States. He is said to have led the migrations through the mountains and deserts, the sound of his flute echoing through the great canyons and cliffs. In this piece I have tried to capture some of this sense of spaciousness, and of the Hopi's deep kinship with this land. This piece has also been influenced by Native American flute songs and sounds.
Both of these pieces were begun in 1985 and completed in the fall of 1989. They are extremely different in concept: one is quite visual and impressionistic, and the other is a musical game.
"Winter Sands" reflects the spare haziness of a winter's walk by the ocean, accompanied by a few seabirds and the sudden rush of waves flung on the beach.
"Turnabout" is a kind of musical puzzle that fascinates composers for it requires the construction of sounds that make sense forward and backward, as in a palindrome such as "Madam, I'm Adam" or the word "radar'. (Bach was particularly brilliant at this, and other such musical games.) The first section begins with march-like motives in the brass, then clusters in the winds and vibraphone, all set against a soft, agitated line in the strings. This string line suddenly grows to encompass the orchestra, passing quickly by like a whirlwind. Then the section grows to a climax and breaks off. The second section begins with a slow, erratic bass line; bits of the first section appear above this and begin to build up to a large climax. As the climax finishes we find ourselves at the end of the first section, and the entire piece proceeds backward note-for-note from that point, whirlwind and all.
Ritual was written in 1989 and is influenced by my study of Greek folk music, which features the clarinet as a virtuoso solo instrument. The piece is in three distinct parts. The first consists mostly of isolated gestures; a sort of recitative. This moves into a mournful, measured duet that builds in steady motion to a climax that recalls some of these opening gestures. This is followed by a fast, at times almost frenzied dance. Many of the runs, interval patterns and rhythms, particularly in the dance, are related to the Greek tradition.
This piece was inspired by a book called The Flute Player, a simple and beautifully
illustrated retelling of an Apache folktale by Michael Lacapa. It is the story of two
young Apaches from different areas of a large canyon, where the streams ripple and the
wind sings in the cottonwoods. They meet at a Hoop Dance, and dance only with each other.
The next day, as the girl works up on the side of the canyon in her father's fields, the boy sits below by a stream and plays his flute for her (flute-playing was a common manner of courtship). She puts a leaf in the stream which flows down to him, so he knows she hears. This continues for a time, until the boy is woken one morning and told he is of age to join the hunt - a journey of some weeks, leaving momentarily. The girl still
listens each day for the flute until, feeling abandoned, she falls ill and dies. When the boy returns, he runs to play for her - but there is no leaf. When he learns of her death, he disappears into the hills, and his flute still echos when the breezes blow through the cottonwoods, and the streams ripple in the canyon.
Kyrie is a series of free variations on Kyrie fons bonitatis, as found in the Liber Usualis, an official Catholic book of chant based on historical sources. "Kyrie eleison" is Greek for "Lord have mercy upon us" and serves as the first section of a mass.
The sound of several flutes playing unison Gregorian chant very softly has haunted me since I first heard it some years ago. When I was commissioned by the Tucson Flute Club this beautiful sound came to mind, and it led me to write this piece. The Kyrie fons bonitatis has an unusual form, with a two-part refrain. This refrain echos throughout my piece, and, after wandering far afield, brings it to a quiet close.
When two violinists get together to perform with orchestra, it's usually a friendly celebration; a chance for colleagues who value each other's talent and skills to enjoy making music together. It doesn't happen very often, and there isn't a lot of literature to choose from. So, I began to think... if I were one of the players, I would want the piece to be grateful and warm, with lyricism and a sense of playfulness. This is what I have attempted to write.
The opening movement, after a slow introduction, focuses on two ideas; in the first the strings (or the piano), led by the soloists echoing and chasing each other, build a cluster of sounds by adding on notes above and below. In the second the soloists answer back and forth with arpeggiated chords. The rest of the movement grows out of these ideas, with a harmonic and rhythmic debt to jazz.
The second movement contains an extended lyric duet for the soloists, accompanied by a muted countermelody and plucked bass notes. The third is more virtuosic with a driving, uneven theme in the solo violins propelled forward by the bass. It also contains a cadenza for two.
Divertimento is, as its name implies, a light work, and one that was written with the enjoyment of the players much in mind. The musical sources are international - French, a touch of Russian, a bit of jazz. The fast section of the second movement has short "character" motifs for each instrument, which are sometimes played alone, sometimes mixed, rather like individual steps in an exuberant country dance."
"Aria" was written in 1982 as the middle movement of a Serenade for clarinet and string quartet. This piece was originally intended for adult amateurs, and its simplicity and lyricism have proved perfect for the cello. In 1985 a cellist friend requested a companion piece, so I added the Allegro giocoso. It is a light, quick movement with bantering between the two instruments, and a few effects that only a cello can make.
The idea of writing a bassoon quartet, when first mentioned, fascinated me; the instrument is an impressively flexible one with a wide range. Besides, I knew the members of the New York Bassoon Quartet, and the temptation to write for such fine players was irresistible.
The central section of the Sinfonia, the Funeral March, was inspired by the form of a scene from Stiffelio, an obscure opera by Verdi. It features a repeating bass motif, with increasing layers and densities of sound. The introduction is a bit freer and more experimental in nature. The last movement is an up-tempo fugue, with elements of jazz and some rather silly and difficult grace-note figures.
Three for Eight was written for my friends and fellow flutists in the New York and Long Island Flute Clubs. Much of this piece was written during a blizzard, which may account for its obsession with summer at the beach. The first movement, Dunes, is about the slow shifting of shapes (colors, harmonies) that one sees in sand and clouds. Sandpipers draws its motion from the quirky scurrying of bunches of these little birds as they chase the waves up and down the beach. Kites sail with great freedom by the ocean, gliding gracefully, then darting and diving with sudden gusts.
This orchestral tone poem has grown from a fascination with a singular - and presently popular - watercolor by Henri Edmond Cross (French, 1856-1910), called Landscape with Stars. The Metropolitan Museum of New York, which owns this lovely work, has enlarged it for a poster and reduced it for a card; I particularly love it in its original size and setting. Something about the bold splashing of yellow in the sky renewed my fascination with how art can give us an intense sense of a familiar sight or experience. I began thinking of various ways that night skies affect me, and how I could portray these experiences in sound.
As I worked on this piece I was also drawn to the nightscapes of Albert Pinkham Ryder (American, 1847-1917) with their mysterious and haunting moons and hazy, sensual forms. This influence is heard in the second section of the work. As I began the third and final area, however, I searched in vain for a similar visual reference, and turned instead to the immense, dramatic stormy sky as I have seen it in the Southwest; whirling and churning, then erupting in sudden surges.
Sometime in the 1960's I came across a simple, lovely canon by Christoph Demantius (1567 - 1643) with a text beginning, "Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostris..." ("Give us peace, Lord, in our time..."). Both the music and sentiment continued to haunt me, for I would occasionally use the piece in sight-singing classes, where it would be sung by vigorous young men the age of thousands who had been drafted to suffer and die in Vietnam and elsewhere. At some point I began to think about structuring a large work around this canon; one whose parts would all be related in various ways. This is the piece that developed from that idea. The first movement's main theme grew from certain motives in the canon, but they are woven into this theme in subtle ways; they do not stand out. Since the second theme is derived from the first, those motives, though not obvious, are present throughout much of the movement. The second movement, a fantasia, begins in a very quiet, pastoral mood, actually incorporating the sound (at pitch) of a mourning dove in the viola. As this section begins to fade, we hear a more open reference to the canon; this is quickly effaced by the rather violent material that erupts and dominates the next large part of the work. In the aftermath of this section the piano leads us to a quiet, thoughtful area where the canon melody appears in the strings in isolated, chorale-like phrases. Then, after a long section which binds together various aspects of the piece, it appears in the original canon form, to close the work.
In 1948, toward the end of the Greek Civil War, Eleni Gatzoyannis was tortured and executed by Communist partisans for smuggling her children out of Greece to join their father in America. Her son, Nicholas Gage, who was eight at that time, became a reporter for The New York Times, and in the early 1980's he returned to Greece to trace the events leading to her death. The result was the extraordinary book, Eleni. I was extremely moved by Mr. Gage's book. Eleni was a heroine, and, like many in the old Greek dramas, an archetype as well.
To construct this piece, which is both a lament and a tribute, I turned to Greek folk music, in particular from the northwest area of Epiros where Eleni lived. Much of this music is based on intonation and harmony that are foreign to Western ears. Melodies move in a rhapsodic manner, flowing freely between the notes we recognize, while harmonies change little, following the melody closely. Rhythms based on 5 and 7 are common. The clarinet, played in a style resembling that of "klezmer" music, is a constant presence. The folk materials, the dances and songs of the first section eventually dissolve into an area of growing tension, climaxing with the full orchestra. Out of this climax the clarinet reappears, followed by an alto completing the "moirologhia", or funeral lament, which was begun by a solo cello in the first section. The piece ends with an orchestral lament based on motives drawn from the earlier materials.
This little piece started with the simplest of ideas - a ball bouncing. Soon I realized that different balls bounce in various ways, with different patterns and sounds. Next thing I knew, this bouncing began to take over a whole orchestra - winds, strings, brass, and finally percussion, each bounding about in its own way. Finally, the sound of a Cuban rhythm section, as bouncy as anything on the planet, joins the fun.
When asked to write some songs my thoughts turned to a most unusual book titled "Izok Amar - Go", or Central American Women's Poetry for Peace, edited by Zoe Anglesey. The book is printed in Spanish and English, with some poems, and the title, in Mayan as well. The title means "women going forward with love, not bitterness".
Many of the countries of Central America have the inherently unstable situation of a large population of "peasants" - largely poor and Native American - and a very small group of extremely rich non-Indian landowners. The latter tend to control the government and army as well as the land. During the 1980's, Nicaragua and El Salvador experienced prolonged struggles that stemmed from these harsh disparities, and one is currently active in southern Mexico. In Guatemala, the military government has carried out systematic "actions" against the Mayans, who are a peaceful, artistic culture. These have included forced removal and massacres. The award of a Nobel Peace Prize to a Guatemalan Mayan woman, Rigoberto Menchu, in 1992, focused international attention on the situation, and helped to curb the atrocities.
The poems come directly from these struggles for freedom and integrity, and reflect the lives of women caught up in these events.
- I The Woman of the Huipil
from "The Word" by Celina Garcia
- II Remedies
Virginia Grutter, translated by Janet Rodney
- III Prayer for a Son Disappeared
Maria Perez Tzu; transcribed in Mayan & translated by Ambar Past
In the spring of 1980 I heard the New York Saxophone Quartet play and decided to write a piece for them. The sound of saxophones has been with me all my life in jazz, big bands, rock, and everything in between. This suite draws on those sounds - from the simple bounce on "Count Off" to the 50's atonal jazz element in "Honk". "Going to London" has a double derivation; I was making a trip to London at the time, and I took the rhythm of the title for my main theme. The third movement in an arrangement of a "pop" tune written by a friend.
Selima, or Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes This piece is a setting of a poem by 18th Century English poet Thomas Gray. The poem is a spoof - odes are generally serious, philosophical works - so I felt free to add musical spoofs of my own. The word "gold" triggers a short cadenza whenever it appears; the clarinet plays the cat, even to a purr; and the goldfish are surrounded by impressionistic "watermusic". As for any anti-female or anti-feline sentiments expressed I confess I viewed them as part of the spoof. Greed is not, and never has been sex-specific; however, humans as a species excel at it.
There is a picture by the marvelous artist Maria Buchfink of a Native American flute player; from his flute rises a cloud of kachinas and totem spirits. This piece has also risen from his notes, and it is indeed influenced by Native American music. The idea of the flute invoking beneficial spirits, be they kachinas or any others, is a very natural one. Such spirits are an accepted and valued part of life in most of the world, and the flute has been used to honor and invite their presence for countless ages.
There are many ways of thinking about the world. Mathematics is one. Anyone who has learned a second language knows that not only do words differ, entire concepts do as well. Music has its own meanings and structures, which cannot be reduced to words. Native American stories are another means of perceiving reality. Calling them "myths", or implying that they are untrue or insignificant blinds us to a rich world of meanings.
Stitch-te Naku is a story of creation, and of weaving; of Stitch-te Naku, the Spider-Grandmother who wove the world in her web, and all of its features and creatures. As for weaving - we weave cloth, stories, plans; we "weave the fabric of our lives". And the Spider, creating her web out of herself, has many resonances: about creativity, and persistence...about a single source of creation.
Native American storytellers prefer to tell the tale, and let their listeners ponder the implications.
In my "tale" I have presented Spider the creator; the weaving-creation of many elements, including birds and animal, and descent into chaos with the sounds of guns. This is followed by a song of mourning, then by renewal, as Stitch-te Naku dances, joined by her creations. Various Native American musical ideas have influenced this work.
Anna Wickham was a little known Australian poet who lived from1884 to 1947. She trained as an opera singer, but spent most of her adult life in domestic pursuits in England. Some of her work was quite outspoken for its time, voicing frustration with the constraints on women's lives. She published two small books of poems. The American poet Sara Teasdale (1884 -1933) wrote primarily of nature, love, and love's disappointments, and was widely published and anthologized in her lifetime. She died tragically, a suicide.
These poems appealed to me for their directness, and for their portrayal of a variety of moods: from delight to despair, from love to contempt, from courage to a chilling look at the folly of war. Each of these poets let her heart speak out strongly in her work, and I chose the title to reflect that quality.
Reflections is a series of free variations on a short sequence from the ancient Norwegian Olavs-fest in Nidaros. Most of it was written during a performing residency at Artpark, near Niagara Falls, New York, in 1982. I played for an hour out-of-doors twice a day, usually alone, but sometimes with mimes or storytellers. Each day I wrote a variation and performed it still in pencil sketch. Later, in New York City, I reordered the set, and added a contrasting variation and a final section.
The Trio for Flutes was written in 1974. Having played flute for many years, I did much of my earliest composing for the instrument. These five short movements explore various effects and sonorities, and different ways of combining the voices. This last is particularly evident in Movement III, Vivo, where the main line sweeps from voice to voice, and the open fifths constantly switch voice and register. I also had fun with the fourth movement, Largo, which is a musical palindrome, like the word "radar"; in other words it is the same backward as forward.
Sound Bytes is a group of six light pieces for two flutes. Some of the movements explore sounds and colors particularly effective on the instrument, while others poke fun at contemporary cliches.
I - Get Up is a be-bop tune with four short choruses. II - Thirds contains a certain kind of disjunct, fast writing that flutists have seen ad nauseum the past twenty years. III - Short Circuit, or "Minimalis Interruptus" is a rather personal look at minimalism. IV - Invention, whose form is that of a Bach Invention, exploits the swift double-tongue possible on the flute, from its low register bee-buzzing sound to the brilliant top notes. V - Johnny Two-Note is written entirely on D and A flat, using varied colors, dynamics, ranges, and other effects. VI - In Flight explores the sweeping and darting of flight, using virtuosic runs, trills, tremolos, and harmonics.
The pieces in this collection were written over a period of several years, and have been performed in many different groupings.
Three + Three is a 'game' piece, based on a pattern of three quarter notes followed by three eighth notes. This pattern is subjected to a variety of melodies, modifications, and indignities but it emerges intact. Forest Bird evokes a single voice calling from a shadowy setting. Dream brings together seemingly unrelated sounds, which eventually merge as events do in dreams. Chase was inspired by that most American of obsessions: the movie car chase. Lament is a very spare evocation of desolation and loss. Allegro molto combines speed, syncopation, and whimsy. There are touches of jazz, as in much of my work. Poem was written as a small present for a sad friend.
The Trio was completed in 1978 and dedicated to the memory of a friend. Its first movement, Moderato-Allegro con fuoco, opens with a soft, rhythmic introduction and progresses to an intense, lyrical Allegro. The second, Cantabile, begins with a mournful theme in the lowest cello range and eventually moves into a dirge, with the strings singing over a slow, repeating piano ostinato. The third movement, Allegro molto con brio, is strongly contrasting, with constantly changing rhythms, some playful sections, and a sort of "stamping dance" in the middle.
In 1983 I was commissioned to write a piece for the Huntingdon Trio. I chose to write a substantial piece with more emphasis on melody than much of the music being written at that time, hence the name. The long first movement has two main ideas; one energetic and rhythmic, the other lyric. Most of the movement concerns the interweaving of these ideas, with two dream-like interpolations. The second movement is a melodious serenade. Each instrument has its own solo to sing, and then these are brought together toward the end of the movement. The third is a perpetual motion with overtones of jazz, odd sounds, and references to the first movement.
The Clarinet Concerto was written in 1986-87 for the jazz virtuoso Eddie Daniels. Eddied has an active interest in many kinds of music and performs the classical repertoire as well as improvising brilliantly. In writing this piece I have used material from both traditions. The Concerto is structured in a familiar format of three movements, with numerous elements of jazz and big band sounds - harmonies, rhythms, riffs, and some improvisation. The first and last movements, both lively, frame an Elegy, written on the death of a friend.
This is a set of five short movements highlighting various aspects of the flute; melodic, virtuosic, mysterious, and playful.
The Medieval Suite was inspired by characters and events described in Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, a history of fourteenth-century France. It was a violent, bitter century of extensive wars, and Ms. Tuchman sees it as something of a reflection of our own. The first movement, "Virelai", uses parts of a work in that form by Guillaume de Machaut, a French composer of that era. The "Black Knight" was a valiant, violent British prince, barred from his beloved fighting by a wasting disease. The fourteenth century was a low point for the Catholic Church with warring Popes in Rome and Avignon, and "the Drunken Friar" was apparently a common sight. In this movement I have freely adapted and embroidered a Gregorian chant and quoted a well-known round of the time, "Sumer is acumin in". "Princess Isabelle" describes a daughter of the King of France who was engaged at the age of six, sent to England to live permanently, and wed at twelve - a common fate for royal children. The "Demon's Dance" was a desperate marathon dance done by some in hopes of avoiding the Black Plague.
This string quartet combines both simple and abstract elements, a process that has fascinated me over the years. After a short introduction, the first movement presents a melody that resembles some of the Native American music I have become familiar with over the last several years. These melodies are often improvisatory, and this one moves rather freely above its accompaniment. During the writing of this movement I was haunted by the image of a swiftly running deer. This influence can be heard in the rushing, wind-like area that fills the center of the movement. I have no explanation for this; the deer simply came to visit and I did not send it away.
The second movement is a scherzo marked vivace. It contains, among other sections, areas where the rhythm and/or the intervals get smaller and smaller.
Movement three begins with quiet, nocturnal sounds, which introduce a Hopi lullaby.
The fourth movement encompasses extremes of motion and dynamic. Driving parts are interrupted by soft sections, and toward the end are transformed into an accompaniment for a melody from the beginning of the piece. The movement ends quietly.
This quartet was written for the marvelous Colorado Quartet.