A short melodic piece, 'Aria' was written in 1982 as the middle movement of a Serenade for clarinet and string quartet. Its simplicity and lyricism have proved perfect for the cello.
Based on Three Elizabethan lute songs by English Renaissance composer John Dowland.
A few months ago (prior), I heard a recording of a soprano saxophone played in the Cathedral, and I was struck by its beautiful vocal quality. I wanted to write something that would bring out this quality in a way that the saxophone is not generally used. Elizabethan lute songs have always moved me, with their extended phrases and haunting melodies, and John Dowland was the master of this style. After going through numerous pieces, I chose three. I have treated them somewhat in varying ways; counterpoint in the first, some variations in the second, and rhythmic play in the last, always being informed by the original song and/or words.
These songs were commonly called Airs, or ‘Ayres,’ per the spelling of the time.
Journey was commissioned by a consortium of 31 bassoonists organized by Peter Kolkay. I thank them all, and am especially pleased to dedicate this piece to Peter, who, with pianist Alexandra Nguyen, premiered Journey at Teatro National, Panama City, Panama
Journeys can be outward in the world or inward into the self. I think of most of my work as journeys or narratives of some kind. In this piece, the 1st movement begins in an inward, thoughtful manner, but after some deliberation, moves into rolling rhythms and conversation between voices. The second is a romp, a race perhaps, or a game. The 3rd is truly inward, a mostly quiet, though sometimes intense reflection. The last is a particularly American trip: jaunty and tinged with elements of the jazz that is a part of our sonic atmosphere.
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.
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.