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composer's corner

the final phase of night

March 26, 2008

When I sent the orchestral parts to the printer last week, I thereby completed the final phase of this project. I can’t tell you how satisfying the moment is when I compress the entire set of parts into one folder, attach it to an email, and hit “send”! I always do the parts myself, because—though my colleagues in “the business” encourage me to pay someone else to this essentially secretarial task—I guess I am a bit of a control freak and want to know exactly what the players will see. For this project in particular good parts are a necessity because Jeff will be busy playing and will not be able to conduct much. There is more-than-ample “cueing”; in other words, the players can see in their parts the most significant and audible passages being played by other players. This way the can make their entrances even without a conductor.

So the piece is called “Night.” [If you don’t mind, I will use this blog as a sketchpad for the program note I will no doubt be asked to provide very soon.] This title was not apparent to me when I began composing. It sort of emerged as one movement led to another. As I came to the end of movement I, the music had wound down to a quiet bed of g-minor harmonies, as if I were putting to sleep the turbulence of the piece thus far. My plan had been to begin to second movement with a nocturne for solo piano, in much the same way Ravel begins the beautiful second movement of his G Major concerto with piano alone. Since the drama of the first movement had not reached sufficient heights (to my ear) I decided I would really make the nocturne build to an Adagio of great intensity, so that THAT would be the main climax of the piece.

But as the music led out of the tranquil repetitions of the piano’s left hand into a quiet choral in the strings, I realized this would not work at all. The second movement needed to be a meditative lullaby, and little more. So, guess what I did? I finished the second movement as I thought it should be, then went “back in” to the first movement, ripped a hole into the point where things were really getting boiling and created another two minutes of storminess. This took a lot longer than expected because, of course, I didn’t want the listener to know I had messed around with it!

Once I stood back and looked at the progression of the two movements, the image of turbulent day moving blissfully into tranquil night washed over me. I already knew the second movement would be called “Nocturne.” But what about called the first movement “Dies Irae” or “Day of Wrath”? I am certain the storminess that emerges from the seemingly innocuous Baroque arpeggios which control the work’s opening is the result of some prevailing frustration, some festering anxiety that rages in all of us these days. It’s a scary and unstable world, and how little control we have over the atrocities committed again and again, here and overseas. The concept of “night” used here is a metaphor for a utopian landscape, or for an escape of any sort. I am guilty of escaping into a wash of E-major harmonies when I need to go there most.

The last movement, to continue the nocturnal theme, could be the skitterings of forest animals in the night. It’s called “Midnight Toccata” and it’s an exercise in perpetual motion. I am sure Jeff will dazzle you (and me!) with his skills here. Whereas the second movement was about connectedness and continuity, the toccata often becomes fragmented and disjunct before finding itself again and steaming ahead toward its conclusion.

Jeff is studying the work at the moment I think! I sent the final score to a small town in Italy, and he said he would really get into it during the twelve-hour flight from Zurich to LA. I hope he likes what he sees…

2 comments

I am curious what the orchestral break down is?

  • —Anonymous, April 15, 2008 07:57 pm

Here's the orchestration, lifted straight from the about-to-be-published score:

Flutes 1 and 2 (2nd doubles Piccolo)
Oboes 1 and 2
Bb-Clarinets 1 and 2
Bassoon 1 and 2
Horns 1 and 2
Trumpets (in C) 1 and 2
Percussion:
[1 player: bass drum, tam-tam, suspended cymbal, Chinese cymbal, triangle, woodblock, crotales, glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone, kick bass drum]
Strings 8-7-4-4-2 (or similar)

  • —Michelle, April 18, 2008 11:02 am

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