Not all works are listed here.
35. ...and dark time flowed by her like a river...
2. Angels for Marimba and Tape
5. Attitudes for Clarinet and Piano
30. Bagatelles from the Devil's Dictionary
33. The Book of Mirrors
46. Celebration Overture
6. Christening and Finale from "Henry VIII"
47. Concertante Music
42. Concertino for Flute
49. Concerto for Accordion
17. Concerto for Marimba, Bass Clarinet, and Small Orchestra
22. Concerto for Recorder and Small Orchestra
53. Concerto for Strings, Harp, and Percussion
19. Concerto for Tuba
62. Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
15. Dreams for Orchestra
36. The Drift of Stars
26. Fifth Chamber Concerto
11. First Chamber Concerto
39. 4 Fantastic Landscapes
14. Fourth Chamber Concerto
25. Ghosts for Bass Clarinet, Piano, Tape, and Live Electronic
54. Give us peace
57. Horn Trio
18. "I saw how strangely the planets gathered..."
16. Jazz Music
27. The Midnight Road
21. Mysterium Coniunctionis
24. Night Music for Soprano and Piano
52. Night Watch
4. Nocturne for Chamber Orchestra
56. Partita for Paino and String Orchestra
38. Pro et Contra
3. Second Essay for Orchestra
23. Second Sonata for Piano
20. "Secrets" for Flute and Piano
13. Serenade for String Orchestra
31. Shaman Songs
44. Sinfonia for Brass Band with Harp and Piano
8. Sonata for Cello and Piano
55. Syllables of Unknown Meaning
1. Third Chamber Concerto
12. Third Piano Sonata
12a. Third Piano Sonata
60. Three Caprices for Solo Violin
29. Toccata for Percussion and Tape
57. Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano
28. Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano
58. Trio #2 for Violin, Cello, and Piano
34. Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello
41. Two Pieces for Piano
50. Variations on a Theme by Benjaimin Britten
61. Violin Concerto #2
1. My Third Chamber Concerto was commissioned by the Toronto Chamber Winds and their music director, Chris Weait, through the Ontario Arts Council. It was premiered in Toronto, Jan. 31, 1984, with soloist David Bourque, bass clarinet, and the composer conducting.
The basic concept of the piece involves the ancient art of alchemy, although not in the form in which it is most commonly known. Most people have the mistaken impression that alchemists were greedy chemists, attempting to grow rich by turning base metals into gold. In fact, the process was a highly symbolic one: through study and experimentation, the alchemist sought to transfigure that which is common and earthly into that which is sublime and transcendental. The goal was not wealth, but knowledge. Christian alchemists saw the process as a reflection of the attempt to transform ordinary mortal men into the image of the perfect Christ through His teaching.
It was this aspect of alchemy which I wanted to explore in my Third Chamber Concerto. The bass clarinet functions as the alchemist, and the accompanying woodwind octet is divided into two quartets, each of whom have a different version of the same chord, one "perfect" (2 oboes, one clarinet and one horn,) with perfect fifths and fourths, and one "imperfect" (one clarinet, 2 bassoons and one horn,) with augmented and diminished intervals. These are heard immediately at the beginning, and the rest of the work presents the struggle between the two, with the alchemist attempting to fashion the imperfect into the perfect and occasionally losing control.
The work is in three movements: the first is fast, and involves the basic perfect/imperfect material. The second movement is a lyrical one, built upon a thematic fragment which appears in the first movement as a secondary idea. There is no break before the third movement, which is a fast finale involving all of the thematic materials. Ultimately, the work ends with the imperfect chord, because, as the alchemists understood quite well, mortal man can never be perfected into the image of Christ.
2. Angels for Marimba and Tape
written for Beverly Johnston, and premiered by
her in Toronto, at an ArrayMusic concert, Nov. 1984
The idea behind the work was simple. I wanted to explore the idea that angels in the bible were both good and evil, perfectly mirroring human behaviour. I wanted to suggest that the line between good and evil is blurred, and that it is often difficult to know the difference. I am fascinated by images that could be either funny or horrific, possibly both simultaneously. Much of this piece is dark and dramatic, and yet, many passages could be construed as funny in a very oblique and rather psychotic way.
The voices on the tape are my wife Larysa Kuzmenko, Bev Johnston, and my friend Brian Wallace, who also appears on the tape part for the companion piece to this one, "Demons" for Tuba and Tape. The crash that separates the first and second sections is a television set being smashed with a shock absorber. Brian smashed the TV while I recorded it.
The problem of writing for marimba was an interesting one. A colleague of mine complained that one of the major problems with the instrument was its inability to articulate inner voices, that is, dependence on mallets made it difficult to draw different colours from different registers simultaneously, a quality that pianists take for granted. I solved this by asking the player to use mallets of different types simultaneously, writing a rather demanding counterpoint. I took this concept a step further in my Toccata for Percussion and Tape, also for Bev Johnston. As far as I know, I was the first composer to ask for this technique in a serious concert work, and I have since seen it in several other pieces. There is no doubt in my mind that the marimba will emerge as one of the most important solo instruments in the next few decades. I have since written several other works that feature marimba, including Toccata, Jazz Music, Concerto for Marimba, Bass Clarinet, and Small Orchestra, and Quintet-Sonata.
This is without question my most successful piece. I get many, many requests for the tape part each year. It has been performed all over the world, and has even been choreographed at the New York City Ballet.
3. My Second Essay for Orchestra was commissioned by Raffi Armenian and the Kitchener-Waterloo S.O. for their 1984-85 season, through the Ontario Arts Council, and was premiered by them on Jan. 18 and 19 of 1985 at the Centre in the Square in Kitchener.
This work was inspired by the novel Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, as well as by the film Apocalypse Now, which was derived from the novel by Francis Ford Coppola. Heart of Darkness deals with good and evil in the human soul, and concerns one man's discovery of the evil he has hidden deep inside himself. It is a powerful story of the ancient and primitive darkness in all people, even the most ostensibly civilized. My work is in three sections: man's frustration with a universe he can never know completely, followed by man being drawn into the darkness. In this second section, I use the techniques of African drumming to suggest the primitive nature of this darkness. But while Conrad's novel ends with Kurtz' famous line "The horror!" I chose to add a third section, which reaffirms humanity. Hence the dedication of this work to my wife Larysa, "because love is the most important of those things which make us human."
4. Nocturne for Chamber Orchestra was written for the Canadian Contemporary Music Workshops, and premiered by conductor Scott Irvine in Toronto in 1985.
This is one of my most personal works, and one of my favourite of my own pieces. It is based upon a poem I have known since Grade VIII, when I was 11 or 12 years old. The poem is called To Night, and is by Joseph Blanco White, about whom I know nothing except that he lived from 1775-1841.
The poem is an allegory, comparing our fear of death with early man's fear of night fall. The poet asks: is it not possible that, just as the feared fall of night actually opened wide beautiful new vistas for early man, might not the coming of death actually be the beginning of something very splendid?
As in many of my personal pieces, a solo instrument "speaks" for me, in this case, the solo violin. The soloist asks the "questions" of the piece, and then blends back into the orchestra to assist in the "working out" of the answers. The return of the solo marks the end of the anguish, and the beginning of acceptance. The work ends with an "opening out" of hope.
5. Attitudes for Clarinet and Piano was written in a few weeks during January and February of 1980 for my friend Keith Loach. Keith had invited me to accompany him on a recital at the University of Toronto, and I was so impressed with his playing that I offered to write a piece for us. We premiered it on March 3, 1980, in Walter Hall.
The work is in three movements, Fast-Slow-Fast. The main feature of the piece is rhythm, which is exploited in many ways. Although there is virtually no deviation from a 4/4 time signature, there is in fact almost no 4/4 time in the piece, most of it being written with different metres happening in the clarinet and piano parts simultaneously. The result is like an aural version of an optical illusion, with phrases which should work together slightly sidestepping each other. The second movement, which in performance should sound rubato, is in fact a tightly-controlled study in additive rhythm, that is, the phrases and motives appear and reappear in original and inverted forms with note-values as small as 32nd notes added or subtracted. The finale is a showpiece for both instruments, featuring scaling passages. The work was designed to highlight Keith's exceptional high register, and his remarkable agility.
6. Christening and Finale from "Henry VIII"
In 1986, the Northdale Concert Band asked me to write them something which they could take to Expo 86 in Vancouver. At first, I was too busy to be able to write anything, but upon completing the score for the Stratford Festival production of "Henry VIII" that spring, I realized that some of the music from that production would be suitable. "Christening and Finale" uses the music from the baptism of the baby Princess Elizabeth, and the music for the end of the show and the curtain call.
7. Complex for Electric Bass and Tape was written during the last part of 1985 and early 1986 for Roberto Occhipinti. Because it is for electric bass, and because I myself used to play bass in several rock and jazz bands, I felt the piece should reflect this kind of musical background. The work is divided into two sections, slow and fast. Although not programmatic, it is organized around a central idea, that of stress in the life of a professional musician. Loosely speaking, the first section reflects the inner process of music, the duality of expressivity and the discipline of practice. The second section puts the musician into a live performance, but a nightmarish one where the drummer randomly adds and drops beats from the basic time. In this second part, the bassist must continue to keep time despite the kaleioscopic whirling of unpredictable rhythms all around him. There is a brief regression to the inner process, followed by a return to the live performance. Because I anticipate that this piece will regularly be performed by a bassist familiar with pop styles, there is an improvised solo in the second part, which must carry on despite the irregularity of the backing rhythm tracks. The tape part was realized with a Best computer running Personal Composer software, a Yamaha CX5M, a DX7, an RX 21 rhythm machine, and a Sequential Prophet 5. In addition, there are live and "found" sounds.
One interesting sidelight: I found that the "solo" in the second part from the synthesizer was irritatingly regular when it was sequenced. I went back and added an overdub of the part using the same sound, but with me playing live, as accurately as I could. The result was much more satisfying musically.
8. My Sonata for Cello and Piano (1986) was written for Vladimir Orlov. This was the first large work of serious intent I wrote after my song cycle "Lifesongs," and in a way picks up where that work stopped. "Lifesongs" was concerned with the need to believe; this Sonata is concerned with what happens when one finds nothing to believe in. Not coincidentally, while writing the work, I went through a period of depression, which emerges as the Third Movement, "Soliloquy With Memory."
The First Movement, "Musica Contra Machina," presents first the emptiness of the cosmos, then the song of the individual contrasted with the machinery of the universe. The individual is eventually drawn into the workings, but finally moves again into nothingness. The Second Movement, "Scherzo," is the brutal joke of existence in a meaningless world. After the Soliloquy, the Fourth and final movement, "The Dance, and the Persistence of Memory," represents movement out of the self into the "dance" of the universe, with brief doubts, but always with the persistence of the things which matter to the individual. There are two musical quotes to represent these things for me: Beethoven's Piano Sonata Op. 110, which appears twice as a representative of the art of music, and Larysa Kuzmenko's "Grimoire," to represent Larysa herself, who is my wife.
9. Lifesongs was written during the summer and fall of 1985. It was commissioned by the Chamber Players of Toronto for soloist Maureen Forrester, who premiered it with this ensemble, conducted by Agnes Grossmann, at the new civic theatre in Markham Ontario, on Nov. 18, 1985.
I sketched the text of LIfesongs in the spring of 1985, and, after a fair bit of revision, I began to set it. The text is a set of four poems, all dealing with the one of the oldest of humanity's preoccupations-- the need to believe in some kind of order and rational plan in a hostile world. The need to understand why things are as they are, the need to perceive something rational in the senseless patterns of everyday life, is as basic in well-fed middle class North Americans as it is in those people struggling for their physical survival. We all seek answers.
The first poem concerns knowledge, "knowing" that there is a quest for truth, and that it is a solitary quest because each of us needs different answers which we may or may not find. The second poem is addressed generally to loved ones, specifically to my wife Larysa. "Loving" is the most important of those things which are especially human; art is another. But while these things make existence more bearable, they do not provide any answers beyond themselves. The third poem deals with "dancing," an abstraction of day to day life. We "know the steps" for living, and often have to rely upon this learned stylization when the senselessness of life becomes unbearable. Finally, the fourth poem deals with "needing" answers, and with the difficulty of accepting reality. The text quotes the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, and the Upanishads, all of which affirm that faith requires acceptance, even in the face of senseless reality. The ultimate faith is the ability to believe despite the world, not because of it.
A year after completing this piece, I finished my Sonata for Cello and Piano, which continues this theme. If Lifesongs is concerned with the need to believe, the Sonata examines what happens when one finds nothing to believe in. Not surprisingly, while writing the Sonata I underwent treatment for depression. The first two poems are joined musically, as are the final two. There is a break between the second and third poems.
10. Ensembles was written for the Scarborough Concert Band in 1979. It was commissioned through the Ontario Arts Council. Through a special arrangement with the SCB, the premiere was actually given by Stephen Chenette and the University of Toronto Wind Symphony in March of 1980. The work is in three movements, slow-fast-slow. The title indicates that the scoring emphasizes ensembles within the larger group, and in fact, there is no full tutti anywhere in the piece. The group is not just winds, but includes percussion, piano, and double bass.
The material of the outer two movements begins with chorale-like statements, which are then organically elaborated into larger structures. The third movement opens and closes with "simultaneous musics" from various sections of the ensemble; the materials contrast tonal chords and progressions with polytonal backgrounds. The second movement, for brass, piano and percussion without woodwinds, is rhythmic and fast, beginning with a statement by piano and percussion. There is a brief fugal exposition half-way through the movement, which features the subject matter presented in a Hindemithian version of a jazz "thickened line." The movement closes with the opening material repeated and rounded off.
11. My First Chamber Concerto was begun in England during 1980, and completed later that year in Toronto. It was commissioned by the Scarborough Wind Ensemble through the Ontario Arts Council, but the SWE ceased to exist as I was writing the piece. Raffi Armenian conducted the premiere in Kitchener, Ontario, in November of 1981, at which time the work's title was simply "Chamber Concerto." At Raffi's suggestion, I revised the finale and some parts of the first movement, subsequently re-titling the piece "First" Chamber Concerto (as a "Second" had been written between the composition and revision of the First.)
The work is in three movements, moderate, slow, fast, with the first movement functioning as a sort of prelude, the second cast in the form of a passacaglia, and the third acting as an apotheosis and finale. The entire piece represents my first concerted effort to synthesize the numerous influences on my work I had been dealing with up to that time. Structurally, the work is dominated by the use of Fibonacci numbers (1,1,2,3,5,8,13....) and the Golden Section, or Golden Mean ratio (1.618 to 1.00,) ancient techniques of art and architecture which have also figured heavily in the work of Debussy, Bartok, Xenakis, Stockhausen, etc. Musically, I wanted to attempt to use motivic compression in all-pervading ways, including in micro-polyphony and in various quasi-serial manipulations. However, all of these technical considerations were secondary to the overall "expressive" sweep of the piece. Oddly enough, despite the often dense atonality of the language, I consider this work to be quite clearly in E-flat.
12. My Third Piano Sonata was written for Angela Hewitt to premiere at the Guelph Spring Festival in May of 1987. The work is in two large movements. I became interested in the idea of working with strict classical forms in a slightly new way: I was struct by a comment made by composer John Adams that, instead of "Neo-Romantic," he considered his work to be "an exploration of the unconscious of the Romantic era." This led me to try to explore how Sonata-Allegro form might work on an unconscious level. Thus the first large movement consists of a slow introduction, a main subject derived from it, followed immediately and abruptly by a second idea. The development section is both organic and disjunct, at times allowing logical transitions between ideas, at other times simply leaping to a new gesture. The recapitulation is abbreviated. The second movement begins with a simple "minimalist" theme which then undergoes transformation into more complicated forms. I wanted to parallel the movement from the so-called "oceanic" level of the unconscious to the the total structuring of the superego. The work ends with a fugal working-out of the earlier material, representative of the highest level of consciousness, which, in a sense, the fugue is for music.
12a. My Third Piano Sonata was commissioned by the Edward Johnson Music Foundation for Angela Hewitt, with the financial assistance of the Ontario Arts Council. This work is in two movements.
In this piece, I set out to explore how the unconscious mind might interpret certain traditional musical forms. The first movement is the strictest sonata form I have ever written; the second movement is a set of variations, followed by a fugue. However, these forms are modified to reflect how the mind works at the subconscious level. Thus, in the sonata, transitions are sometimes stated, sometimes omitted; episodes unrelated to the rest of the movement appear and disappear; and moods change abruptly. In the second movement, the "minimalist" theme (itself a variation on the material of the sonata movement) reflects oceanic consciousness, and each successive variation involves an increasing differentiation in the thought process. This culminates in a fugue, perhaps the highest form of thought in music. Fugue form itself mimics the way the unconscious mind works, with forward, backward, and upside movement. Once again, as in the first movement, episodes appear and disappear, but this time they contain references to material heard earlier. There is no apotheosis in this movement, but instead, a kind of "thoughtful" epilogue.
13. My SERENADE FOR STRING ORCHESTRA was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, and premiered by the MCO on Nov. 27, 1985, at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, with Simon Streatfeild conducting. It was revised extensively during September and October of 1986. During 1985, I had the opportunity to write two works which reflect my love for the music which I grew up with. Like most musicians, I first learned music through the great repertoire, and I have never lost my affection for these pieces. When Randy Barnard of the CBC in Winnipeg asked me to write a work for the MCO, I took it as an opportunity to write a large string piece which, in effect, pays hommage to the great string pieces I know and love, like the Tchaikovsky "Serenade," the Vaughn Williams "Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis," and the Barber "Adagio." Although I did not in any way copy these works, I hope their spirit is reflected in my "Serenade."
This music relies somewhat less on atonality than most of my work up to and since this piece, but I hope that it contains some recognizable "fingerprints" of my style. And although the overall aim of the piece is as traditional as the intent of my models for it, I have attempted to blend certain elements into the language which are unthinkable in any of the earlier works, including tone clusters, pattern music, and certain elements of popular music. I was dissatisfied with the original first movement of the "Serenade," and, with the encouragement of David Keeble of the CBC in Ottawa, I undertook to re-write it in the Fall of 1986. Essentially, the first movement became two separate movements, with some material getting cut entirely, and a great deal of new material being added. This sort of revision is often difficult and unrewarding work-- it was unusually difficult in this case, as I had returned to a much more atonal language between the original work and the re-write. Much to my surprise and pleasure, what has emerged is a stronger work, now in 4 movements instead of the original 3.
The movements are: 1:Chorale 2:Scherzo 3:Romance 4:Finale.
14. My Fourth Chamber Concerto was commissioned by the Canadian Chamber Ensemble with the financial assistance of the Ontario Arts Council. It was written between December of 1987 and March of 1988, although I had been planning it since the summer of 1987. It is designed to feature the brass instruments in a concertante role, that is, not as soloists in traditional concerto style, but as instruments used frequently as soloists, and just as frequently as part of the whole ensemble.
The Fourth Chamber Concerto is in three movements, each of which is concerned with the integration of older music with my current vocabulary. The first movement features a liturgical chant, the second features the opening of the Schubert Quintet in C Major, and the third features the basic motif of the finale of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony. These "musics" are combined with original motivic material, and are gradually integrated to become part of my vocabulary. The process of memory has been of great interest to me in many of my recent works.
15. Dreams for Orchestra
commissioned by Orchestra London with the financial assistance of the Laidlaw Foundation
1. Allegro Moderato
2. Adagio, con rubato
3. Allegro Molto
This work has no specific programme, but is intended to be both evocative and atmospheric. The title refers to an underlying principle of the work: in each movement, there are sections which are dark, vague, and chaotic, which resolve into sections of very clearly-defined music. These in turn may lapse back into chaos. The process is very much like the progress through a night's sleep, during which the workings of the subconscious eventually flower into a dreams.
The first movement begins in chaos, but gradually opens into a more clearly-defined section, which in turn develops gradually into a dance, complete with tambourine. This movements is like a dream of the dance, with the dance itself a metaphor for the processes of life. The second movement opens very lyrically, with a horn solo. Slowly, the strings gather momentum, building towards the centre of the movement like the gathering of images of memory in a dream of great sadness. This movement is like a dream of remembering. The opening of the finale dispells the previous movement with the most chaotic and desperate music of the piece. This builds to a climax and gives way to a tumultuous rush of music in the strings. This in turn lapses into the darkest music of the piece, where fragments of the first and third movements combine. The main material of the finale returns, but the piece gradually begins to disintegrate, like the eventual return of consciousness to all dreamers. The entire work ends quietly on a pizzicato string chord.
It is worth noting that an Old English meaning of the word "dream" is "to make a loud noise with musical instruments."
16. Jazz Music for Brass Quintet, Marimba, and Piano was written for the York University Faculty Brass Quintet, and was premiered by them in Toronto, with Beverley Johnston playing marimba. I played the piano part. The piece is intended as an homage to many of the jazz big bands which I listened to in my teens, in particular, the Stan Kenton Band. The jazz influence is strongest in the first and second movements, although it is never obvious in the tonal and harmonic language of the work.
The first movement is built in the form of an arch, with a sharp rhythmic opening idea, followed by an equally rhythmic, but somewhat sparser second idea. In the middle section, the piano and marimba set up ostinati over which a trumpet and the trombone solo. Although solos are written out, the performers are free to improvise if they wish to. The movement then "reverses" by reprising the second idea, then closing with the opening material.
The second movement is also a compressed arch, built on
extremely austere material. The piano starts with a statement under clusters in the brass and marimba. The horn then states a more lyrical line, in which it is joined by tuba. The centre of the movement is an improvised piano solo of indeterminate length. This is followed by a fragment of the lyrical idea, and then the movement closes with the cluster and piano theme.
The finale is loosely modelled on a rondo. The muscular opening idea and leads into a similar first episode. Following a modified repeat of the opening, the marimba sets up an ostinato over which the piano states a static lyrical idea. The brass pick this up and elaborate on it extensively, becoming increasingly less lyrical. A fugato in the piano and marimba leads into a complex canon in inversion and diminution between tuba and trombone, which in turn leads into a section which opposes the two main ideas of the movement. A final statement of the opening leads into a virtuoso coda for the entire ensemble.
17. Concerto for Marimba, Bass Clarinet, and Small Orchestra
My Concerto is the first work written as a result of my tenure with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra as Composer-In-Residence. I was originally scheduled to write a new piece simply for the classical-sized orchestra, but, after conducting Berg's Chamber Concerto with the Canadian Chamber Ensemble, I felt that I wanted to explore many of the ideas which had stimulated me in that work. I asked both Barry Cole and Raffi Armenian about writing this concerto, and they agreed. The choice of soloists was dictated by several factors, but the primary reason was that the two soloists for whom the work was written, Beverley Johnston and David Bourque, are not only consummate musicians with well-established reputations, they were also friends. As well, I like the sounds of both instruments very much. The bass clarinet is already a solo instrument of choice in the European new music circle, where it is recognized that it can do most of what a normal clarinet can do, and more. The marimba is just beginning to emerge as a solo instrument, but I feel that it will be one of the major solo instruments of the future because of the richness and variety of its sound (as compared to either a xylophone, which it resembles, or a vibraphone.)
My Concerto is in three or four movements, depending on how one interprets the opening minute-and-a-half. The piece begins with a statement of basic material in both solo instruments. This is picked up by the orchestra and restated. The section closes with high strings chords which set up the first movement proper. The entire first movement is for marimba only and orchestra. It is a set of variations on the opening material. The actual design of the variations is such that each one successively "admits" shorter note values, so that the overall effect is one of protracted acceleration. The movement ends in a flurry, and leads directly into the solo marimba cadenza.
This in turn leads directly into the second movement, a cantabile rooted firmly in Eflat major. This movement features bass clarinet. The movement moves from the simplicity of the opening through increasingly dense and "neurotic" music to an extended dark passage for bass clarinet and strings, over which the oboes and horns play freely in quasi-improvisational fashion. This in turn leads inevitably to the climactic return of the opening. The bass clarinet cadenza follows, and leads directly to the finale, for both instruments and orchestra. The finale is based on the same material as the rest of the work, combining the materials of both the first two movements. The recurring motto of this movement is a unison line for the soloists. After a climax featuring the material of the second movement, the work ends with a bravura coda, followed by a series of "snapshots" of the entire work, viewed from the end.
I should point out that this work is not a "double concerto" in any way. Although there are two soloists, they rarely play together. And they frequently disappear into the orchestra as part of the texture. This concertante treatment of soloists has characterized much of my solo concerto writing.
18. "I saw how strangely the planets gathered..."
This piece for woodwind septet was written for this Toronto Symphony Evening Overture concert. It was actually commissioned by CBC Radio for the orchestra.
My first instinct about this new piece was to write something quite "dark," and in fact, this is what I did. I had initially been asked to write something for woodwind quintet, but as my concept grew, I realized I needed both a larger ensemble, and a darker one. First I added a bass clarinet to the group, and later I asked for a second horn. These instruments, combined with the use of alto flute, make the ensemble capable of some very deep colours.
The title of the piece is loosely based upon some lines from Wallace Stevens' poem "Domination of Black," which concerns the dissolution of all reality into the darkness of nighttime, and, by extension, the dissolution of everything into death. I altered his original lines somewhat, and added the word "strangely." The title is not intended to define a specific image, but suggests only that something is "not quite right." When I use titles which are not specifically musical ("sonata," "overture") I like them to have a suggestive quality which extends beyond the words. Stevens, in his poem "Man Carrying Thing," says "The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully..." For me, this is the essence of the art of composition.
The work is in 3 movements, Moderate-Slow-Fast. The first movement has no climax. The second builds to one, but pulls away at the last second. The apotheosis of the piece is at last acheived in the third movement.
19. Concerto for Tuba
My Concerto For Tuba was commissioned by the Ontario Arts Council for the Scarborough Concert Band in 1979. It was the result of the fact that one of Canada's leading tubists, Scott Irvine, had been a close friend of mine since high school. After seven years of nagging, he finally got me to agree to write this concerto. Although the Scarborough Concert Band actually requested the work, I planned from the start to make this piece available in both band and orchestral forms. I orchestrated simultaneously for both ensembles, and I regard neither as being the "original." In fact, the premiere finally took place with orchestra, with Scott Irvine appearing with the Etobicoke Philharmonic. Less than a month later, Sal Fratia did the band premiere with the U of T Concert Band.
The work is in three movements, of which the first, Prelude and Fugue, is by far the most substantial. In fact, it lasts more than half the piece, and I have authorized separate performances of it. After a brief prelude, the tuba states the fugue subject over a timpani pedal point. The structure from this point is exactly like that of a traditional fugue, with an exposition, episodes, and middle and final entries. The tuba is frequently called upon to do rather elaborate accompanying figures, rather like a cello. After the final set of entries, the tuba has a cadenza which leads to a quiet coda.
The second movement is a Scherzo and Trio that needs no explanation. The Finale is a brief but bravura movement. It is cast in rondo form, and is basically in two halves. After a tutti climax, the tuba basically begins the movement again, with percussion accompaniment. This time, the following episodes lead to a virtuoso display on the tuba over a building tutti. The ending is forceful and definite.
20. "Secrets" for Flute and Piano
My piece "Secrets" for Flute and Piano was written in four days in 1980. The first two movements were written in oneafternoon each, and the finale was written across one afternoon and one morning. Such concentrated creativity is quite rare for me, but the music just seemed to flow.
This piece is in three movements. The first is quick and
rhythmic, with interchanges of material between the flute and piano. The second is more pensive, even dark. The piano sets up a mood with parallel minor triads moving in steady 8th notes, and the piano left hand and flute state a rather sombre theme. This is dispelled in the finale, by far the brightest of the movements, which features rhythmic piano ostinati and brilliant passage work in the flute.
The title does have an extra-musical meaning which will remain, not surprisingly, a secret.
21. Mysterium Coniunctionis for Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, and Piano
My "Mysterium" was written in the spring of 1980. David Bourque and I had planned a recital of music for bass clarinet and piano, and had invited Gwill Williams to join us on clarinet. I agreed to compose a new piece for this combination, to give us an ensemble piece to play. I managed to complete it roughly six hours before we premiered it.
The title is taken from a book by Carl Jung, whose work has been a profound influence on me both artistically and personally. This particular book is concerned with the art of alchemy as an allegory for the search for the self, and, by extension, the individual's search for truth. The title means "mystery of conjunctions," and both the book and my piece are about the unification of diverse elements, symbolically in alchemical process, but functionally within the human psyche. I used the alchemical allegory again in 1983, in my Third Chamber Concerto, which also features the bass clarinet.
There are five sections played without a break in this piece; each is concerned with a different stage in the alchemical process. The first section, "Materia Prima," presents the basic, raw materials. In this piece, these are a simple, four-note "tune" articulated immediately by the clarinet, and a series of four chords stated by the piano at the end of the first section-- D flat major, D minor, and their relative dominants, A flat major and A major. These materials provide the basis for the entire piece.
The second section, "Nigredo," represents the next stage in the process of refinement. "Nigredo" means "black," and at this point, the alchemist has heated the material sufficiently to begin to draw off all the basic impurities. The middle section is "Albedo," or "white," the first significant stage in the purification process. The fourth section is "Rosa Alba," which means "red stone." This is the penultimate part of the process, and excitement is high. Musically, we have moved through all the four basic triads, and have arrived at F major/minor, the note F being the shared note between the fundamental chords of D flat major and D minor.
The final section is totally and peacefully in F major, and is called "Philosopher's Stone." This is the ultimate stage in the alchemical process, and represents the achievement of inner psychic coherence and strength.
22. Concerto for Recorder and Small Orchestra
I have been lucky enough over the years to compose music for some truly extraordinary performers. This has given me the luxury not just of some exceptional premieres, but also of having contact with the personalities of these remarkable people. There is no more stimulating experience for a composer than to work with performers of the calibre of Michala Petri.
When Barry Cole of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony first suggested that I write this piece, I resisted, being more than a little concerned about the solo instrument and its possibilities.
After meeting with Michala in early 1991, and after attending some of her concerts, I became convinced.
I realized that, despite the fact that the recorder has been associated almost exclusively with Baroque music, it is in fact quite an interesting sounding instrument for contemporary music. There is a quality almost like a Japanese Shakuhachi's in its sound, and I admire this. I chose to write a work which, while it contains some subliminal suggestions of Baroque concerti, is totally contemporary. I counterpoint the solo with both the harpsichord, its traditional partner, and with a marimba, a genuinely contemporary instrument.
The first movement is a passacaglia, with the theme first stated by the basses and cellos after a cadenza-like introduction from the recorder. This theme is always present through this very dark movement, which builds to a climax, and then skulks away.
The second movement is quite lyrical, and features the alto, or treble, recorder. A build up leads to a passage for very high violins and recorder alone, which in turn leads to a free exchange between the recorder and harpsichord over a throbbing repeated note in the violas, not unlike the slow movements of some of Vivaldi's recorder concerti.
The finale begins with great energy, which it sustains throughout. The repeated 16th-note figure which the violins begin immediately is present almost throughout the entire movement, which is a kind of moto perpetuo. A climax leads to an extended cadenza for the solo recorder, which includes some singing into the instrument while playing. This leads into the final section of the piece, a ghostly flickering of the opening material, the moto perpetuo, and some references to traditional Baroque concerti. The work ends softly.
This concerto was premiered by Michala Petri on Feb. 5, 1992, with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Simon Streatfeild.
23. Second Sonata for Piano
This work was dates from 1980 and was commissioned by Christina Petrowska through the Ontario Arts Council. It was premiered by Larysa Kuzmenko in Edmonton in 1984. Larysa also played the Toronto premiere in 1987, and has played the work often.
There is no subtext to this piece-- it is, pure and simple, a bravura work for solo piano. It is in three movements, the first of which is rather like a set of variations on the opening material. The second relies on related material in the form of triads, and is built almost like a passacaglia, with a static harmonic progression taking the place of a repeated theme. The finale is again built on the same material, and is a fairly traditional "toccata" for piano. The work contains several quotes from Liszt, although only dedicated performers of Liszt could possibly recognize them all.
24. Night Music for Soprano and Piano
This is a cycle of 3 songs on texts by Shakespeare, Shelley, and Byron, who are all among my favourite writers. When I was in public school, it was assumed by all of my teachers that I would go on to become a poet of some sort. My close friends can attest to the importance that poetry has had for me throughout my life. I am always wary of setting truly great poetry, and prefer to set my own mediocre poetry, for the simple reason that I can set very few poems exactly as they are-- most require some "adjustment." Of these three texts, only the Shelley is used verbatim. Shakespeare's words have been moved around a little to create the flow I needed musically. The "overheard music" is actually the music I composed for a production of "The Merchant of Venice" at the Stratford Festival in 1985. The Byron has had several verses cut.
25. Ghosts for Bass Clarinet, Piano, Tape, and Live Electronics
This work was commissioned by David Bourque through the Canada Council. I completed it in 1988.
Few performers have premiered more of my pieces than David Bourque. The title of this piece refers to several things, but primarily to the fact that flickering "ghosts" of all of the previous works I wrote for him appear throughout the piece. The title also alludes to the fact that, one summer, while we both worked at the Stratford Festival, we co-rented a haunted house to live in for the season. In fact, although I do not believe in the "supernatural," I have had both of my two "paranormal" experiences in the company of David Bourque, one living in that house in Stratford (where, we later found out, a man had committed suicide) and the other at the funeral of David's father.
This work is in three connected sections, the middle of which is a discourse by the bass clarinet. The piano part is strictly accompaniment.
26. Fifth Chamber Concerto
This work began as part of my series of Chamber Concertos, which have all been works for ensemble with featured instruments. The last two were written for the Canadian Chamber Ensemble. The Fifth was actually written in 1990/91, when I was the Composer In Residence with the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, of which the CCE is the core ensemble. The solo part was written for James Mason, the Principal Oboe of both the KWSO and the CCE. The premiere took place in Waterloo on April 11, 1991, with James Mason, the CCE, and myself conducting. At that time, the strings were played by single players. Although there is a chamber music transparency in that version, I began to feel quickly that this piece needed a larger string group. This is the first performance of the larger version.
This work fulfilled my desire to write a work exclusively for myself. By this I mean that I was feeling certain artistic needs immediately after completing my previous work, "The Midnight Road," for the Toronto Symphony. That work was broad and quite tuneful. I saw it as something made out of wood, cherry or walnut. I felt the need to write something made out of steel and stone. Freelance composers who are asked to write a great deal of music cannot always write the piece they want to write, because of the professional demands of fulfilling commissions for specific occasions and applications. This piece, however, is the piece I wanted to write.
The work is in three movements. It is impossible to characterize the first movement's tempo, as the oboe and the ensemble never play in the same tempo at the same time. They explore the same basic materials without metric synchronization. The second movement is quite slow at both ends with a quicker middle section. A cadenza connects the second to the third movement, which is fast and very bravura for both the soloist and the ensemble. The work ends quietly, literally running out of notes.
27. The Midnight Road
The title The Midnight Road is taken from a poem by Dylan Thomas. This piece is not programmatic, and does not follow the course of the poem. It is intended to be atmospheric, and is totally concerned with the working-out and development of the basic musical material. (Hence its more abstract subtitle, Third Essay for Orchestra.) However, the mood of the work is suggested by the imagery of the Thomas poem. In the broadest sense, it is about deception and the betrayal of innocence, and about the darkest aspects of the human experience. In this way, it is closely related to my Second Essay for Orchestra, which was loosely based on Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness.
The basic material of the entire piece is laid out immediately in a violin solo. I regard the solo violin as my own voice in one or two of my most personal works. In the context of a large orchestra, it is vulnerable, and yet determined, in an intensely human way. Here, it asks the basic questions of the piece. The orchestra then picks up the ideas and works them through. There is a temporary resolution with the first climax, where the full brass section states the material as a chorale. This apparent harmony does not last long, and the work darkens again, gradually thickening and building towards a second climax. The preparation is interrupted, though, as in the Thomas poem, where the final image is of a threatening thunder storm which never breaks. Instead of the huge climax promised, the solo violin returns to re-ask the questions of the beginning, while the orchestral violins play crystalline and impersonal statements of the same material. The violin solo leads to the final, and darkest, statement by full orchestra. Unlike my Second Essay for Orchestra, which ends with an affirmation of humanity in the face of reality, The Midnight Road ends with darkness triumphant.
28..Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano
My Trio was written for the Rembrandt Trio, and was commissioned through the Ontario Arts Council.
My earliest memories of music are of Chopin polonaises and Schubert chamber music. I literally grew up listening to the Schubert piano trios, and have retained to this day a great affection for them. I was very excited by the prospect of writing a work in this form, although it has been fairly unpopular in this century, with really only the Shostakovich Second Trio achieving any sort of success. I have a great affinity for strings generally: although I have written a great deal of wind music, my first instrument was the piano, and my second the viola, so I have always turned to piano and strings for my most personal works.
This Trio obsessed me more than any work I have written in the past several years. After a false start, once the opening was written, I literally could not put the piece down. I attempted to ration out my time on it, but I found myself thinking about it all the time, solving problems even while I was away from it. On several occasions, I interrupted my work just long enough to have dinner with my wife, then went back to my studio to continue working. I think this quality shows in the intensity of the piece, which never really lets up throughout.
The work is in three movements, fast-slow-fast. The three players are equal partners throughout, although each gets a solo at some point. The first movement opens with a slow introduction in which the basic material is presented, a sinuous descending melody accompanied by a major/minor chord. A very fast section follows, in which the tune is restated accompanied by high clusters in the piano. The entire movement continues to drive forward until the climax at the end, when the opening returns, upside-down.
The second movement is a cantabile, announced by the piano. This is followed by a section of "working-out" for the full trio. This in turn leads to a strange little passage of glissandi in the strings accompanied by simple fifths in the piano, which then ends the movement with a restatement of the opening.
The finale is once again a driving allegro, built with minimalist ostinatos and a tune still based on the opening material of the work. There is a brief lyrical passage which leads to a large climax, a statement of the opening tune in unison. This is followed by a reminiscence of the opening of the first movement. A short, electric coda completes the work.
This piece is, to me, obviously in C# Minor, with a slow movement in the traditionally related key of F# Minor. I doubt that this will be obvious to most people.
29. Toccata for Percussion and Tape
My Toccata was written for Beverley Johnston through an Ontario Arts Council commission. I wrote it in the Fall and Winter of 1988, and it was premiered on Jan. 22, 1989, and the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto.
The impetus to write this work came from the fact that Bev had just purchased a set of three very impressive tuned gongs from Germany. She asked me to write her a work which would exploit them. They were pitched low D, F, and C#: thus the basic motivic material of the work was in place before I began to compose. In fact, this figure dominates the piece, right from the beginning. All of the material is concerned with working out the "D minor" implications of these three notes, and their various transpositions and inversions.
The models for this work were actually both Bach Toccatas and Partitas. Thus, the structure is not identical to any specific model. The closest it comes is to the opening sinfonias of the Partitas. There is a big, rhetorical statement for tape and percussion immediately, which works through a quiet transition to a middle section for marimba alone. This section is very difficult, involving four mallets, the outer two of which are harder than the middle two. Thus, at times, it sounds as though two marimbas are playing, one doing an inner ostinato, and the other playing a dialogue between the outer voices. This is extremely difficult to do.
The final section begins after a soft, almost Gregorian-chant-like passage in the marimba. The entire final section is a fast toccata, with a middle section based on strict fugal procedure. The work ends with a reminiscence of the opening, followed by a hard and fast coda.
30. BAGATELLES FROM THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
These six pieces were created over more than twenty years. The oldest, "Cynic," began as a sketch I wrote for WW 5tet in 1972. In the early 1980's, some friends asked for some pieces for woodwind quintet, and I adapted this old sketch. At the same time, I added "Alone." Two years later, different friends asked that the two pieces be lengthened with a third, and I obliged with "Dictator." None of these pieces had these titles at that time-- they were initially titled after autos, then they were left untitled. It was my intention that they could be played in any grouping, and I didn't want to number them. I also thought of this as a work in progress, intending to add more movements.
"Reality" began as a little rhythmic exercise I wrote for students at the University of Toronto in 1991, when I began directing the Contemporary Music Ensemble there. The original version was very abstract, but I felt there was enough interesting in it to expand it. In 1993, The Aeolian Winds asked me to complete the set of Bagatelles, bringing the total duration up to about 15 minutes. During the two-week period from Oct. 4 to Oct. 20, 1993, I set about doing this. I wrote "Idiot" and "Eulogy" on the same afternoon, Tuesday Oct. 5, and re-worked my rhythmic study into "Reality" later that week. I then completely revised the other three, making fairly extensive cuts in both "Cynic" and "Alone." "Dictator" is more subtly altered, but it is now much tighter and clearer.
At this time, I decided on the titles. Ambrose Bierce was a fiercely cynical turn-of-the-century American writer who vanished into the revolutionary wilderness of Mexico in 1913. "The Devil's Dictionary" is a droll, acerbic compilation of humorous definitions. The "Devil" is really a devil's advocate, rather than Satan himself. Although the pieces were not written with any of these titles in mind (they were all, even in the newer pieces, added as afterthoughts,) the titles and their definitions are clues about my interpretation of the music itself. The "Dictator" is the clarinet, who initially inspires his people into action, then stomps them into the ground when they grow too independent. Who is the "Idiot," the clarinet or the bassoon? The "Cynic" is mocking and angular. The clarinet finds himself "Alone" as his companions, the horn and the bassoon, drift away into the meaninglessness of the universe-- he eventually leads the whole group to his point of view, but reality drifts back to equilibrium. "Eulogy" is a strange lament. "Reality" is illusory and elastic, rhythmically unpredictable.
I hope this marks the final version of these pieces.
31. "Shaman Songs"
This piece was requested by James Campbell for the Festival of the Sound in 1990, and was actually commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
The original idea involved using Inuit culture in some way. I was at first hesitant about this, as there is an inherent earthiness in Inuit poetry and legend that is in fairly radical opposition to both my music and my process. After reading some Inuit poems in translation, I finally decided to use several as departure points, and to write my own texts based upon them. Thus, the texts for Shaman Songs are not genuine Inuit poems, but rather, my rather liberal adaptations.
The Inuit are a profoundly musical people, although not in any way that is related to Western culture. I was surprised and intrigued to find that music is so completely integrated into their lives that they do virtually every activity with it. The "making of songs" is even a form of warfare: two combatants have a "song competition" and improvise songs about each other. The observers decide who has won on the basis of how pointed and derisive the songs are. Music is so central to their lives that, as the Shaman Orpingalik has said, the Inuit "sing as they draw breath," naturally and spontaneously. Life would be unthinkable without it. The Shaman also is an interesting figure. Although commonly thought of as a "medicine man" or a magician by Western culture, the Shaman is in fact a far more complex figure. Most Shaman begin by having some sort of psychic disturbance in their youth. A senior Shaman recognizes this, and begins to tutor the youth in the interpretation of the "other" world. The Shaman is healer, interpreter of dreams, oracle, liason to the world of the dead, and many other things. He (or she) literally walks the edge between the worlds of the conscious and the unconscious or pre-conscious. I was struck by how similar to an artist this is. The artist in our society is also an interpreter and healer, and is also called upon to fuse together into meaningful relationships the conscious and the unconscious, the worlds of light and darkness.
There is no attempt in "Shaman Songs" to use musical material which is in any way related to Inuit music. I have attempted in this piece, as I do in all my pieces, to synthesize several influences. These range from traditional choral writing to African drumming to Elliot Carter, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Alfred Schnittke. Like most young composers, I am no longer interested in writing things which are "new" and "revolutionary." I am instead attempting to embrace many things in a personal and unique way, and, hopefully, I may create some good music in the process.
1. Orpingalik speaks of singing
Orpingalik was one of the most famous of Inuit Shaman.
How many songs I have I cannot tell you.
All my being is song;
I sing as I draw breath.
How many songs I have I cannot tell you.
I cannot keep count of them
any more than I can keep count of the breaths I take.
There are so many times in life
when joy or sorrow
are felt in such a way
that the need to sing sing comes with them.
There are so many times when I feel joy,
and I must sing.
And so I know only
that I have many songs.
All my being is a song
I sing as I draw breath.
All my being is a song.
I must sing as I draw breath.
The reference in this text to bones refers to the fact that the Shaman must be able to walk in the land of the dead, but remain alive and able to return to the real world.
Spirit of air, come down!
Spirit of the air, come down!
Your Shaman calls!
I rise among spirits.
I rise with the phantoms of the dead.
All around me are bones,
bleached by Great Sila,
bleached by the sun and air.
But the Spirit and the day
flow through my limbs
and do not turn them to bones.
Spirit of air, come down!
Spirit of the air, come down!
Great child master of air,
Great infant spirit,
your Shaman calls!
The Shaman calls on his guardian spirit. This movement is for choir with clarinet only.
My great companion,
my great guardian spirit.
Our fine incantation,
our fine cries rise up to thee.
My great guardian spirit,
my great companion,
who cries out within me...
4. Uvavnuk is struck by a meteor and becomes a shaman
This is a story of great charm. It is said that Uvavnuk was outside one night and was struck by a meteor. She was filled with joy, and with the spirit of the meteor, and was from that day on a Shaman. No doubt this is not intended to be taken literally, but rather as a parable for the coming of spiritual enlightment in Uvavnuk. This movment is for string quartet alone.
5. Uvavnuk's song
This was the song Uvavnuk sang. It is said that all those who heard it were cleansed of evil, and became senseless with joy.
The great sea...
I am adrift on the great sea.
It moves me like the weed
in the great river.
The earth and the weather
and the great sea
They have carried me away
and move my spiritwith joy!
with great joy!
6. Ancient Song
Let me go and watch it vanishing..
Over the course of my life, I have accumulated poems which are important to me. As time as gone by, I have set some of them: most recently, I completed a cycle of my favourite Yeats poems for the Elora Festival. I have known the poetry from D.H. Lawrence's "Birds, Beasts, and Flowers" collection since I was a child, and I have always had a particular attraction to this poem, "Snake." It was written Taormina, Italy, sometime between 1920 and 1923, when Lawrence was in his mid-30's.
In October of 1988, just at the beginning of my Residency with the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony, I was scheduled to conduct a concert featuring "Frankenstein" by H. Gruber, featuring Theodore Baerg. Knowing Ted's work, I seized the moment to set this poem for him, and conducted the premiere myself at that time. I still think of it as my best vocal work, and one of my best pieces generally.
Lawrence's obsession through his whole creative life was with the liberation of intellect through direct contact with the raw forces of nature. He was one of the first artists in this century to rediscover the need to blend the visceral with the intellectual, and pursued this through many eccentric and controversial novels and stories. His poems tend to be far more personal, and demonstrate more of his personality. It was the quirkiness, combined with the powerful naked passions and haunting uncertainties of this poem which made it unforgettable to me.
A man comes to his watering hole on a hot afternoon. He must wait, because a snake is there first, taking water. On this simple premise, Lawrence builds a powerful scene.
33. THE BOOK OF MIRRORS
I have always been a great admirer of the films of Peter Greenaway. His rather oblique thinking and abstract conceptualization have appealed to me both as an artist and as a film aficionado. Late in 1991, I read his book Prospero's Books, which is concerned with his film of the same name. The film is an adaptation of one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, The Tempest, and seeks to add some unusual perspectives to the original. Shakespeare does not list the books that Prospero is exiled with: Greenaway speculates on what they may have been. The moment that I read his description of "A Book of Mirrors," I knew that I would write a piece based on this evocative description.
...from Prospero's Books, by Peter Greenaway, published by Chatto & Windus, copyright 1990 Peter Greenaway; reproduced by permission
...A Book of Mirrors. Bound in a gold cloth and very heavy, this book has some eighty shining mirrored pages; some opaque, some translucent, some manufactured with silvered papers, some coated in paint, some covered in a film of mercury that will roll off the page unless treated cautiously. Some mirrors simply reflect the reader, some reflect the reader as he was three minutes previously, some reflect the reader as he will be in a year's time, as he would be if he were a child, a woman, a monster, an idea, a text or an angel. One mirror constantly lies, one mirror sees the world backwards, another upside down. One mirror holds on to its reflections as frozen moments infinitely recalled. One mirror simply reflects another mirror across a page. There are ten mirrors whose purpose Prospero has yet to define.
This compelling vision translated almost directly into a musical structure for me. I used only the listed mirrors, and re-organized them somewhat to create a clearer musical structure. My piece is in 5 sections; each is organized around an idea, and each idea contains several mirrors.
1. The Time Group (slow)
...simply reflect the reader
...reflect the reader as he was three minutes previously
...as he will be in a year's time
...One mirror holds on to its reflections as frozen moments
2. The Being Group (fast)
...if he were a child
3. The Concept Group (slow)
...if he were...an idea
...or an angel
...One mirror constantly lies
4. The Physical Group (fast)
...one mirror sees the world backwards
...another upside down
...One mirror simply reflects another mirror across a page.
5. The Ten Undefined Mirrors (slow and free, like 10 snapshots)
This work was commissioned by Popov and Vona with the financial assistance of the Ontario Arts Council. The Percussion part was written with Beverley Johnston in mind.
34. I wrote my Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello in 1971, when I was 16 years old. I was still in high school, and was studying viola at the time. Chamber music was a very important influence on my musical development, and, after the piano, chamber music was my favourite medium. I played a great deal of chamber music at this time in my life, and I often miss playing viola in chamber groups now. Like most young composers, I was under the influence of many great composers of the past, and this work reflects some of those influences.
I had had a meeting with Canadian Composer John Beckwith immediately prior to writing this piece, and was so appreciative of his interest in my youthful works that I wrote this piece and dedicated it to him. I never copied a full set of parts for it, and it remained unperformed for over 20 years. Gwen Hoebig, Rennie Regehr, and Brian Epperson finally played it in concert in Winnipeg
without my knowledge, after having had a set of parts copied for it. I rather meekly sent them a cheque to cover the cost.
Since then I have come to like this work. I had not yet studied composition when I wrote it, and there is a certain un-self-conscious directness about it which I would like very much to recapture in my current music.
...and dark time flowed by her like a river...
for Violin or Viola or Cello and Piano
The title of this work is taken from novel by Thomas Wolfe called "The Web and the Rock," written in 1939. Wolfe's novel is a thinly disguised autobiographical account of his early adulthood. This particular line is from a passage in which he describes his central character's sudden deep recognition of the loss of each precious moment of time, an experience which happens to each of us at some point in our development. The work has no real programme, and the title is suggestive more of a mood than of a story. Certainly, the music is intended to be expressive and somewhat dark, reflecting the alternation of passion and philosophical despair that most sentient young people must pass through.
The piece is constructed in four sections, which flow into each other without interruption. The first section begins with a rhapsodic non-tonal statement of the basic idea. This is immediately followed by the same idea "straightened out" into simple G minor, but with a pointillistic atonal accompaniment. The language of the work flows between these two polarities, the clearly tonal centres tending to reflect a more philosophical point of view, and the atonal passages underlining the despair and passion of the work.
A series of pizzicato chords lead to the second section, a violent, arpeggio-based scherzo. The tortured quarter-tones of this section lead to the glissandi which introduce the third section, a cadenza for the solo instrument. The main idea returns harmonized in simple triads, settling deceptively onto a G major cadence before erupting into the agitated and very rhythmic finale.
Although my primary instrument is the piano, viola was my second instrument, and I have always thought of the solo string instruments as being my own "voice" among all the instruments. This has led me to write my most personal music for string and piano combinations.
36. The Drift of Stars is a line from a poem by T. S. Eliot, and refers to the machinery of the real world around us, of which we as humans are only a part. Often, the things that happen to us, and to those around us, are difficult to accept. Most people spend their lives searching for reasons, but few find them. The best we can hope for seems to be the ability to accept the flow of life with grace, and believe that somewhere, somehow, things make sense. I deliberately created a text which makes no reference to any religions or philosophies, in the hope that I could bridge all of the differences between conflicting faiths. A few years after I wrote it, I got a phone call from a choir director who was uncomfortable with the text because she considered it to be "pantheistic!"
O sky, O stars, O earth--
make me, I pray,
as you are.
Make me a rock
in the face of the storm.
Give me your strength
to stand against the wind.
O make me strong
and let me be at peace
here in this world--
here in my world.
O let me be
a part of all creation,
happy in being what I am.
O sky, O stars, O earth--
make me, I pray,
as you are.
O sky, O stars, I pray--
I pray-- I pray-- I pray.
37. Crossings for Children's Choir and Orchestra
Crossings is in five movements, three of which (the first and fourth) are for orchestra without choir. The idea of the piece evolved out of the forces for which it was written. I thought a great deal about the idea of European settlers coming to a new land which was already inhabited by a people who were themselves extremely civilized, and I was particularly interested in how the children of both of these people would react to the meeting of cultures. I was further influenced by my previous investigations of shamans, and their unique sensitivity to the dream world. All of these elements combined to produce this piece.
Movement One, "Icebergs," is a prelude. It suggests the strangeness of the North Atlantic crossing, and the drama of encountering icebergs off the coast of the new world. Movement Two, "Ancient Land," concerns the children of the native people dreaming about the coming of new children to their land. Dreaming is a recognized method of foretelling the future in a shamanic culture. The third movement, "Old World," is a prayer from the children of the settlers who are about to embark on the perilous journey to the new land. Here again, the children suggest that they are having strange dreams about strange children who make strange music. The European children also question, in simple and innocent ways, the preconceptions of their parents about what they will encounter in the new world.
Movement Four, "Journey," is a dramatic depiction of the dangers and exhilaration of the sea voyage, and ends with an evocation of the approach to the shores of the new land. Movement Five, "New World," alternates between the voices of the native children, and the voices of the new comers, and is a celebration of what is possible when two strong cultures meet and mix. Throughout, the point of view is that of children, who are less susceptible to negative preconceptions than their elders.
2. ANCIENT LAND
I close my eyes.
My shaman calls me
to the land of being and not-being.
I rise up.
I see my bones bleached white by sun.
I hear the voices of strange children
I hear their voices echo from the icebergs
drifting on the great sea,
drifting to me.
Children drift like icebergs on the sea
My shaman shows me
my ancient land,
Vast and strong.
I see the caribou and elk running free,
free like me,
here in my ancient home. (this ancient place.)
And still I hear those voices
of strange children.
They drift to me.
They drift to me across (on) the great sea.
They come to me.
3. OLD WORLD
The Fathers bless us.
Our school friends pray for us.
Soon we go
to a new life
across the sea.
My mother says the land there is strong,
new, open, and free.
My father says our new life will be hard,
taming the wild land,
teaching the savage people.
But at night,
I seem to hear the strange songs
of their children,
Songs like breath,
filled with love and wisdom,
Ancient music in an ancient land.
O Lord, I pray,
keep us safe upon the sea,
drifting through the icebergs
towards the strange music
of an ancient new world.
5. NEW WORLD
This land... This land...
My new home... My ancient home...
Our new life... Where the ghosts of our ancestors
dance across the plains...
We tame this land...
or will this new world
make us something new?
The land and I are one.
The blood of my father, and his father,
of all my ancestors,
flows through the earth beneath my feet.
We bring our teaching to these
The strangers teach us wonders,
so many possibilities,
but we must teach them
the wonder of this land.
but our teaching becomes
mixed with the ancient wisdom
of these people.
The land is born again
as the blood of the newcomers
becomes part of the land.
O New World... O New World...
O New World... O New World...
38. PRO ET CONTRA for violin and cello
The title "Pro et Contra" ("for and against") has no meaning beyond the obvious musical qualities it mirrors in the piece. The basic material of each section is presented jointly, and roles are then reversed. Each instrument "argues" a point of view about the material, sometimes very similar to what has just been said, sometimes rather different. Overall, the two parts seem to be in agreement about most things, but many ideas are repeated upside down or backwards as they are passed to the next instrument. There is a great deal of canon throughout the work, much of it very close canon. Jagged pointillistic lines are often stated in not-quite unison, with slight variations of rhythm and octave displacement between the instruments.
39. 4 FANTASTIC LANDSCAPES for Piano, 1996
written at the request of Janina Fialkowska for Piano Six
Although the movements are presented in a suggested order, they may be played in any grouping in any order. Individual movements, and groups of two and three movements are possible. The movements were actually written in reverse order.
There is no programme associated with these pieces. While I was composing them, I was reading "The Famished Road" by Ben Okri. His descriptions of the fantastic numinous landscapes which the protagonist travels suggested the title of this piece to me.
40. "Conceits" for Solo Recorder
3 separated movements- fast, slow, and fast
"Conceits" is my third work for Michala Petri, the first having been my concerto, and the second a work for recorder and guitar called "Masks." The title refers to one of the many meanings of this versatile word: a fanciful idea or whim can be said to be a "conceit," and these three movements are by turns whimsical and fanciful. There is no programme associated with them.
The first movement is a prelude, setting the stage for the lyrical second movement. The finale is a a spirited and rather driving bravura showpiece. Michala's abilities are so remarkable that I wanted to write a work that exploited them all. This work has both lyricism and virtuosity. I have also used the techniques which I have used in my previous works for the recorder, involving singing through the instrument and unusual tunings. All in all, I have attempted to write a work for a very old instrument in my own language, cast in a traditional three-movement virtuoso suite.
41. TWO PIECES FOR PIANO
I wrote these two small pieces in 1994, without a commission. Serialism in various forms has been part of my vocabulary for several years. I wrote these pieces to experiment with this particular form of serialism, influenced greatly by the work of the Darmstadt composers during the 1950s and 1960s. I have always had a special affection for this music, having played a great deal during my student days, and I miss the purity of its aesthetic in a time when "aesthetics" have more to do with marketability than with art.
Integral serialism has always been in my vocabulary, although I have generally used it only for sections of pieces. I have long suspected that a rigid serial approach would not yield good results in longer works, and these pieces confirm my suspicions. Although I like these brief studies very much, it is difficult for me to imagine a much longer work using this approach. As a result, these pieces stand outside the body of my work. I expect their influence to continue to be heard in parts of my works in the future.
I wrote these pieces for myself, with no particular pianist or concert in mind.
42. Concertino for Flute
This work was written in November of 1980 for flutist Fred Bourke and the Scarborough Concert Band, but was actually premiered by Marina Piccinini with the University of Toronto Wind Ensemble in 1981. From the beginning, I felt that the orchestral part would adapt to strings very well, and always intended to do an additional version. In fact, the string version is mentioned on an early list of my compositions, despite the fact that I had not yet done the adaptation.
In May of 1996, Camille Churchfield of the Vancouver Symphony asked about the string version, and I decided I had procrastinated enough. In doing the new orchestration, I also took the opportunity to re-write a few passages, and to re-think some of the accompaniment. These changes are also incorporated into this new version of the wind ensemble orchestration.
This work is in two movements, separated by a cadenza. The first movement is titled "Fantasy," and is free-flowing and lyrical. The second movement is called simply "Rondo," and is extremely rhythmic, with rather brittle harmonies.
43. "Masks" for Recorder and Guitar or Strings
This is the second piece I wrote for Michala Petri. The original version was for recorder and guitar, for performance by Michala with her husband, Lars Hannibal. The orchestration was completed in 1996.
I toured Canada and the U.S. with Michala and Lars in 1994. Michala was performing my Concerto with various orchestras, and they both asked me to write them a work to play together. Eventually, they convinced me, and this is the piece I created for them.
The title "Masks" is not specific, but refers to many things. I thought about the nature of the roles we play as performers, and the many different masks we must assume to perform chamber music: accompanying, soloing, leading, following, etc. There is also an element of whimsical theatre in my perception of "masks," and perhaps a little Pierrot in the music.
44. Sinfonia for Brass Band with Harp and Piano
The title "sinfonia" is intended to indicate the small-scale symphonic thinking I am attempting in my recent larger works. This piece is almost a symphony for brass, but falls short in duration and in the depth and variety of material. For me, a symphony is a psychological odyssey that ends in a different spiritual condition than it began in. This three movement work moves from dark and dense material to the redemption of the finale, and spans emotional conditions ranging from deep philosophical despair, through anger and guarded acceptance, to incompletely realized ecstasy.
The first movement of this piece is a complicated passacaglia in which the basic tune evolves through several statements to a suddenly optimistic statement towards the end of the movement. There is not enough energy to maintain this state of mind, however, and the movement sinks back to the sounds of the opening.
The second movement is a moto perpetuo scherzo. The "joke" is a grim one, however, and the music is relentlessly intense, with only brief instants of relaxation. The trio section is built on a constantly changing ostinato in the marimba. It ends with a series of huge chords, which are the only measures in the movement without sixteenth note motion. The scherzo is recapitulated in shortened form, in a much more "chamber music" fashion, with thinner texture and important solo lines replacing the big unison statements of the first part of the movement.
The finale starts with a chorale, and moves without stop into a gentle, undulating statement of a tune derived from the material of both the passacaglia and the scherzo. This serene beginning leads to a rather abrasive second idea, which in turn relaxes abruptly into the heart of the movement, and the most personal statement of the entire piece, an extended euphonium solo. The undulations of the opening creep back in, and, after being diverted briefly with second thoughts, the movement ends with a tutti statement of the opening sonorities of the work, modified by the journey we have just taken.
This work was begun in Brandon, Manitoba while I was serving as Stanley Knowles Distinguished Visiting Professor in the first four months of 1996. I completed it in Toronto. I am grateful to the University of Brandon for their financial support during the creation of this work.
The title refers to the fact that the models for this piece were the standard piano quintets and quartets of the chamber music repertoire. The first movement is in a loose sonata form. A rhetorical beginning states the basic rising major/minor figure which dominates the material, as well as the tonal tension between A and F, which controls the structure. This movement is the most abstract of the four, and the most demanding for both performers and audience.
The second movement is slow, with a gradual build to a climax in the middle. The opening states a chorale-like idea between cello and marimba, which returns several octaves higher in the violins at the end. The third movement is a scherzo in moto perpetuo, with no actual "argument" or basic material. The repeated notes are driven by a strict application of numerical systems, most notably the Golden Mean. Each successive statement is shorter than the previous one in a formula that was arithmetically determined. The middle section is not really a trio in the strict sense, but a slight and short deviation from the basic repeated note idea. A strange new triplet figure interrupts immediately before the end, but trickles away feebly before a brief flurry of the repeated notes ends the movement.
In writing the finale, I thought about the relationship of popular dance music to serious music. The finale of Brahms' Piano Quartet in G Minor is a Hungarian dance, which would have been popular music to Brahms. Of course, Hungarian dances are not part of my musical life, so I had to determine what popular form I could make a dance finale from. I have always liked the rhythm and blues of the 1960s and 1970s, so I decided to attempt to create a serious piece which sublimates many of the techniques of this musical style. I am especially drawn to the intricate rhythmic interlocking of parts, and the rapidly-moving close-voiced horn parts. However, the movement remains only loosely tonal, and the clear rhythmic style of pop music is mixed liberally with the elasticity of 16th century counterpoint, which has always been the most important external influence in my work.
46. Celebration Overture
I wrote my Celebration Overture for the Etobicoke Philharmonic Orchesra, who premiered it under the baton of Eugene Kash in 1985. Composers are often called upon to create works for specific functions on a programme, and this work was designed to be a traditional overture, with all the traditional elements. It opens with a fiery flourish of activity, which leads to the first major tune of the piece. Throughout the work, melody is the major element. A small developmental section leads to a slow and very lyrical middle section. After a rather luxurious climax, the opening returns. The work ends as it began, with string flourished leading to the final F major chord.
47. Concertante Music
I wrote an incredible amount of music in 1980, and, not surprisingly, I now find myself revising much of it. This work is in a strange situation: the person who commissioned it never premiered it, and, to my knowledge, has never performed it. In fact, as of the date of the revision (April 1998,) I had never heard this work performed.
The title "Concertante Music" refers to the fact that the Soprano Saxophone, while featured a great deal, is not actually a soloist. Many of the most important statements are given to the Saxophone, and the second movement is designed as a soliloquy for it, but it is not a genuine soloist.
This work was one of many in which I attempted to absorb pattern music into my vocabulary. While I am not interested in "pure" pattern music, I have found it useful in creating rhythmic background textures, preferable in most ways to simple ostinati.
As far as I can recall, this is the first piece in which I experimented with a technique that has grown in importance in my work over the years. The Minuet and Trio was my first attempt to write music in which two "musics" existed simultaneously without having anything to do with each other. In several subsequent works, I grew bolder with this method. My recent "Symphony" (1997/98) goes even further, using two conductors. I am very interested in "elastic"or relative time, although I am convinced that simultaneity is pointless when each individual element is so abstruse that the ear cannot perceive the unfolding of each stream of aural logic. In this piece, the simultaneous materials are extremely simple, really just two contrasting lines harmonized in block chords. In my "Symphony," the musics are quite complex and atonal, although they are still designed to have clear individual characters.
This work is in five separate movements. It is
slightly unusual in that it has only one slow movement. The first,
third, and fifth movements are fast and rhythmic. The third movement
is a Scherzo and Trio, in which the Trio is rather chorale-like. The
second movement is a quasi-improvised soliloquy for the saxophone,
with a static accompaniment. The fourth movement is the Minuet and
Trio, and is quite dance-like.
My Sextet was written in a relatively short period of time during the month of May, 1998. I considered trying to find a more colourful title for it for some time, but finally decided to keep the abstract title. The concept behind the piece could have inspired a more suggestive title, but I couldn't find one that didn't oversimplify the ideas.
This work is in two movement, fast and slow, with the briefest possible break between them. The first movement begins with a slow "motto," played by the solo piano. It is a presentation of the basic material of the piece-- everything else in the work somehow derives from this opening section. The first movement proper begins with an angular oboe and flute duet. This sets the tone of the movement, which is dramatic and rhythmic, with a certain hyperactive intensity. The "thinking" of the piece takes place in this movement. It is filled with contrapuntal "games" and theatrical gestures. The ensemble is broken clearly into flute/oboe, vibraphone/piano, and violin/cello, although there is a great deal of crossing over. There are two important solos, one for violin, and one for flute, which are quite free. The soloists ignore the conductor and play independently of the group, which continues in strict time. A final stretto gathers all the strands of music into insistent rapid chords, which end the movement.
The second movement is like a reverberation of
the first movement. It is based upon the exact same material, but
presented here in a more lyrical way. I became intrigued by the idea
of a slow lyrical movement that was quite rhythmic, and in fact, the
movement is largely built on long lines that spin out over ostinati.
A climax gives way suddenly to a quiet insistent ostinato, which is
interrupted three times by chords in the piano. After the third
interruption, the rest of the ensemble loses interest in the piece,
and the work ends with a "quirk."
49. Concerto for Accordion
This work was written for Joseph Macerollo and the Hannaford Street Silver Band, who premiered it, with me conducting, in early 1998. It was commissioned by the Laidlaw Foundation. Among all of my works, this must be one of the strangest.
This work is built in a fairly simple way: there are 5 movements (fast-slow-fast-slow-fast,) each of which is built on a "dramatic" concept. The first movement is labelled "Stubborn and awkward" and is a battle of will between the accordion and the brass band. The second movement is a chorale of a sort, with dense chordal passages being exchanged between the soloist and the band. A tolling bell signals the end of the movement. The third movement is a dramatic encounter, with explosive chords striving towards a resolution that never comes. The movement ends with repeated, shattering chords. The fourth movement is a soliloquy for the soloist, almost unaccompanied. The finale is a violent toccata, aggressive and obsessive.
The combination of accordion and brass band seems a little odd, but I was very drawn to it right from the beginning. There are several similarities in the way the accordion and brass instruments make sound: they are all "wind" instruments. The accordion, despite its piano-like keyboard, can sustain and shape single sounds, exactly like a wind instrument. I exploit this throughout the piece.
Joe Macerollo has been a friend of mine for at least 20 years. Despite this, and despite the fact that he is one of the greatest accordion virtuosos in the world, I have never written for him before. It was not until this striking concept struck me that I felt I had something worthy to say for the accordion.
50. Variations on a theme by Benjamin Britten for Piano Quintet
I believe that the best way for a contemporary Canadian composer to celebrate Britten is to be true to the ideals that he established. Britten often spoke and wrote about the relationship between technique and expression, and articulated a paradigm which perfectly suits my own beliefs: technique must be elegant, polished, and detailed, but subservient to expression.
This work takes the opening statement of the Declamato movement of Britten's Second Suite for Cello as it's departure point, although it is not written in the language of Britten. It is an exploration of the many facets of the theme, which struck me immediately as being very similar to something I might write. Britten's theme is remarkably conceptual in nature: the angular line is built from contracting and expanding intervals, and the answering passage features repeated notes which repeat in larger and larger units (2, then 3, then 4 repeats of a single note.) Despite the key signature of D major, it is, surprisingly, almost a 12-tone row.
I took this material as my departure point. When creating my own material, I "improvise" to paper, and then "reassimilate" what I have written and make a piece from it. In this case, I just omitted the first step, and went directly to assimilating the features of Britten's theme. There is no direct statement of the theme, although it is hidden in the opening of the piece in the cello part. It appears later in the piece in various disguises.
There are six variations, which begin immediately. They alternate slow and fast, and each of the middle variations features a particular instrument. The first and last variations are for the entire ensemble, while the second features viola, the third a duet between the violins, the fourth the piano, and the fifth the cello. These "solo" variations are not cadenzas, but rather, feature the specified instruments in an overall chamber music texture. The coda of the piece is a ghostly remembrance of the original theme.
51. Cages for Solo Percussion and Tape
"Cages" is my first electroacoustic piece since "Ghosts" of 1987. Although most of my work is in the area of acoustic music, I was actually an early adopter of contemporary computer music technology, having become involved in 1983. I have tried to keep current, and when the opportunity arose to write this piece, I agreed at least partly because I felt that the technology had become sophisticated enough to be used invisibly.
"Cages" in is three parts, metal, wood, and skin. Each section uses percussion instruments of the given type, and each section's tape part relies on concrete sounds derived from these materials. I have always seen electroacoustic pieces as being perfect for exploring the boundary between the conscious and unconscious mind, and that is what I have attempted here. It is my intention that sounds can seem familiar, but somehow obscure, as though they are half heard or dreamt. The listener should occasionally be able to identify a sound definitely, but then lose their way in the obscuring processing. Ideally, "Cages" should be highly suggestive, even atmospheric, without being concrete or obvious.
The first section explores metals, but not in a traditional way. Metal instruments tend to be the loudest, but this section exploits not just high volume, but extremely low dynamics as well. The second section relies on wood sounds, suggestive of more natural and organic images. The third relies on skinned drums, and perhaps suggests that skin can be a kind of cage as well.
52. Night Watch
text: "In the Night Watches" by Sir Charles G. D. Roberts
text used by permission of Wombat Press
commissioned by the Festival of the Sound for the Elmer Iseler Singers and James Campbell, on the occasion of the opening of the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts, with the financial assistance of the Canada Council
I have taken part in the Festival of the Sound for many years, in many different capacities. When James Campbell asked me to write a new work for the opening of the new concert hall, I was delighted to do so, having endured the incredible heat and the interruptions by trains in the old hall for so long. The elegant spaciousness of the new hall seemed to call for something which used spatial disposition, and the setting on a lake in Ontario's cottage country seemed to demand a text which somehow reflected the surroundings. I found the perfect text in Sir Charles G. D. Roberts poem "In the Night Watches." I simplified the title for my piece.
Roberts was born in Douglas, New Brunswick, in 1860. His career took him throughout the Maritimes, to New York, to Europe, and eventually to Toronto, where he lived until his death in 1943. He was a very popular figure, and published poetry and prose both in Canada and the U.S. Because of his influence on so many other Canadian poets, he is often referred to as "The Father of Canadian Poetry." "In the Night Watches" was written in September of 1926, and was published in 1927.
"Margaree" is a reference to an area on Cape Breton Island.
In the Night Watches
When the little spent winds are at rest in the tamarack tree
In the still of the night,
And the moon in her waning is wan and misshapen,
And out on the lake
The loon floats in a glimmer of light,
And the solitude sleeps, -
Then I lie in my bunk wide awake,
And my long thoughts stab me with longing,
Alone in my shack by the marshes of lone Margaree.
Far, oh so far in the forests of silence they lie,
The lake and the marshes of lone Margaree,
And no man comes my way.
Of spruce logs my cabin is builded securely;
With slender spruce saplings its bark roof is battened down surely;
In its rafters the mice are at play,
With rustlings furtive and shy,
In the still of the night.
Awake, wide-eyed, I watch my window-square,
Pallid and grey.
(O Memory, pierce me not! O Longing, stab me not!
O ache of longing memory, pass me by, and spare,
And let me sleep !)
Once and again the loon cries from the lake.
Though no breath stirs
The ghostly tamaracks and the brooding firs,
Something as light as air leans on my door.
Is it an owl's wing brushes at my latch?
Are they of foxes, those light feet that creep
Outside, light as fall'n leaves
On the forest floor?
From the still lake I hear
A feeding trout rise to some small night fly.
The splash, how sharply clear!
Almost I see the wide, slow ripple circling to the shore.
The spent winds are at rest. But my heart, spent and faint, is unresting.
Long, long a stranger to peace...
O so Dear, O so Far, O so Unforgotten-in-dream, Somewhere in the world, somewhere Beyond reach of my questing.
Beyond seas, beyond years,
You will hear my heart in your sleep, and you will stir restlessly;
You will stir at the touch of my hand on your hair;
You will wake with a start,
With my voice in your ears
And an old, old ache at your heart,
(In the still of the night)
And your pillow wet with tears.
Sir Charles G. D. Roberts
53. My Concerto for Strings, Harp, and Percussion has some similarities to the concerto grosso format of the Baroque era. There are important solos for the principal players of each section. The continuo of the Baroque concerto is replaced with the combination of harp and mallet percussion. Generally, the outer movements are structured with solos, duets, and trios flanked by tutti statements of the basic themes. However, the second movement owes more allegiance to the symphony, as it is a fast scherzo, totally lacking in any references to the Baroque concerto. The third movement is a dark nocturne, featuring a cello solo.
I have always been interested in the similarities between Baroque music and jazz, and in this piece, I have attempted to find the middle ground. In a Baroque concerto, a solo is generally accompanied by a keyboard instrument playing chords and a cello playing a bass line. In jazz improvisation, a solo is generally accompanied by a keyboard or guitar playing chords and a double bass playing a bass line. The continuo harpsichord and cello function very much like the rhythm section in a jazz band. In my Concerto, there is no Baroque music, and there is no jazz, but in the finale in particular, the duet between the two principal violins and the trio for principal viola, cello, and bass demonstrate a quasi-Baroque counterpoint and rhythm accompanied by a quasi-jazz comping figure in the "rhythm section".
The harp and percussion are not just accompanying instruments, but they are also not soloists. They are not any more or less important than the principal players of the string sections.
54. Give us peace
This work was written in memory of my teacher and mentor, Dr. Samuel Dolin, with whom I studied composition in the 1970s. Sam was the most important musical figure in my life. He passed away early in 2002.
55. Syllables of Unknown Meaning
Musical notation, like music itself, has evolved dramatically over the course of the last millennium. But no system of notation is a complete indicator of the intentions of the creator of the music. Good performers know that the unnotated, unnotatable elements of music are what make it magic. Notation is a blueprint which provides a scaffolding performers must build an objective scaffolding off which they take a subjective leap of faith.
Through the first millennium of the Christian Era, musicians struggled to codify a method of conveying their intentions to other musicians. Literally hundreds of methods of notation were created, tested, and discarded. Since music was primarily vocal, and primarily sacred, certain melodic and "modal" patterns came to be understood as common formulae. In music theory texts from the end of the first millennium CE, several modalities and formulae appear, accompanied by syllables of unknown meaning. Contemporary theoreticians speculate that the syllables may have been mnemonic devices to assist performers, or indicators of a mode, much like the nonsense syllables "DO RE MI" indicated specific and well-understood scale movements. But in fact, we do not know any of this for certain. They remain syllables of unknown meaning.
Several musicians were working with methods to create universal notation. One of the first was Hermannus Contractus (Hermann the Cripple,) who lived from 1013-1054. Hermannus was interesting not just for his theoretical work, but also for the music he wrote. One of his chants, "Alma Redemptoris Mater," became so famous in its time that it is actually mentioned centuries later by Chaucer. It is this piece which forms the basis of my work, although not literally. I became intrigued with the idea of a "racial" memory, of a composer "remembering" music written by a distant ancestor, a music half-remembered, and only dimly understood. Through a technical slight-of-hand, I create a 12-tone row from the chant, and deconstruct the original into micro-components. Clouds of sound, like remembered sighs, yield ephemeral memories, like the memories of a dream the next morning. Hermann the Cripple speaks his message through the shadow world of the subconscious, a thousand years later.
56. Partita for Piano and String Orchestra
"Partita" is commonly understood to mean "suite," a usage derived from the Baroque. Actually, the word has several other meanings. The original musical meaning was "variation." This work is really a constantly unfolding set of variations on the material heard at the opening. The Italian word "partita" also means "game" or "match," in the sense of "chess match." This also describes this work, in which the piano and string orchestra compete furiously but happily in the outer movements.
57. Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano
The horn trio is by definition an acoustically imbalanced ensemble. No two instruments in this group actually balance each other, or blend with each other. While we have grown accustomed to the ensemble of violin with piano, they really don't work together very well. The horn, similarly, blends well only in brass chamber music, or in orchestral music. Writing for this trio poses serious problems for the composer, and I was initially quite concerned about this work. I had agreed to compose it because the performers were not just superb players, but also good friends of mine. In the end, I decided that the only real solution was to trust in the sensitivity of the performers, and let them solve the balance and blend problems.
This work, like most of my chamber pieces, is cast in a traditional form. There are four movements, alternating slow, fast, slow, and moderately fast. The first movement is a lyrical fantasy, featuring long lines in the horn and violin floating on lingering harmonies in the piano. I was so inspired to write this movement that it took only three days, an unusually short period of time for more than 3 minutes of music. After a brief break, the second movement begins, a rhythmic scherzo with a lyrical middle section. This leads into a piano solo, which starts the third movement. A brief duet with violin leads to a violin cadenza, followed by a horn solo. The fourth movement begins immediately after this, in the piano. It is a march, a form I have not written in for decades.
"Inspiration" is a concept popular with the public, but suspect for composers. Fifteen minutes of music can easily take six months to compose. A "good day" might yield 15 seconds of music. Composition is really mostly very hard work. But I must admit that I was as "inspired" to write this music as I have been in many years. I began a trio in mid-December, and wrote almost 3 minutes of music before becoming so dissatisfied with it I scrapped the whole effort. Within a week, I began this version, for which I abandoned my usual working methods. Instead of a great deal of careful pre-planning, I wrote almost entirely instinctively. The whole piece took no more than about 4 solid weeks of work. The start and end dates (Dec. 30 to March 12) don't reflect several large breaks in the creation of the piece, including several weeks travelling, and a devastating cold virus which incapacitated me for at least two weeks. The result is, I think, one of my more accessible recent works there is actually a genuine resolution to E flat major towards the end of the final movement, although it doesn't last. Given my trepidation undertaking this piece, the result has been very satisfying.
58. My Trio #2 was commissioned by The Gryphon Trio with the financial assistance of the Ontario Arts Council. It was written during late 2000 and early 2001, and was premiered by the Gryphons on June ?, 2001, at the new Assembly Hall concert venue in Etobicoke. The Gryphon Trio has been a champion of my first trio, written in 1991, and I was delighted to write a new one just for them.
I am very passionate about chamber music. Although I have been closely associated with orchestras and conducting through most of my career, chamber music remains my greatest source of joy. Among the earliest music I listened to as a child were the great chamber works of Schubert, in particular, the "Death and the Maiden" quartet, the great Quintet in C, and of course, the piano trios. Perhaps my fondness for Schubert's Trio in B flat explains why I love the piano trio format so much. I believe I actually prefer it to the string quartet.
This is not to say that my trio sounds even remotely like anything by Schubert. It is cast in a traditional fast-slow-fast three-movement form, more like Haydn and Beethoven than Schubert, but the language of my piece can only have been spoken in our contemporary world. I believe that it is an artist's duty to help audiences explore contemporary experience. We must speak about our world, not the world of the past, and we must speak in a language that can encompass the incredible range of emotions we experience. We live in a world which seems to oscillate wildly between violence and frustration, and compassion and tenderness. I want my music to speak to all these things, and to help us accept that they are all part of us, no matter how much we would prefer to avoid confronting these things within ourselves.
The first movement of this piece combines a fleeting, unsettled music with jagged and obsessive "head-banging" rhythms. The second is very lyrical, a flowing song tinged with sadness. The third is a true paean to the contemporary world, and is deeply influenced by rhythm'n'blues pop music. It may seem odd to speak of Schubert in the same breath as contemporary pop music, but these things, and many things between, are all part of me, and they are all necessary for any understanding of contemporary human experience.
Incidentally, in keeping with the fact that I view every one of my pieces as being in a key, no matter how inaudible this is to the audience, I consider this trio to be in F minor.
A handful of traditional forms represent the ultimate challenges for a composer. For me, these are the symphony, the violin concerto, and the string quartet. While many people may believe that the opera is the most formidable of undertakings, in fact, the structure of an opera is largely determined by the libretto, and the division of an opera into scenes and set pieces makes it less difficult to control than the large-scale structure of the symphony. I have written two operas, one symphony and one violin concerto. One day, I will attempt a string quartet.
What makes a symphony? It is a spiritual journey in sound. Too often, composers (including some very great ones) have applied the term to any large orchestral form, but I believe that the title should be reserved for pieces which attempt to take the listener on a voyage of understanding. My symphony was brewing within me for 10 years. I had had the concept of an "autobiography" symphony as early as 1988. This is not a programmatic work. It does not tell a clear story. Instead, it is a release of the memories and emotions which I have come to understand at the half-way point of my journey.
The first two movements are joined. Two conductors are necessary to coordinate the complex time relationships between sections of the orchestra in fact, the first and second movements actually end at the same time. They contain significant solos for piano, violin, flute, trombone, double bass, bass clarinet, and tuba, rather like significant individual voices speaking clearly out of the massed forces of the full orchestra. The third movement features solos for viola and English horn. The complicated interplay of tenderness and sorrow will be familiar to married people everywhere. In the finale, the second conductor reappears, because the tumultuous first part of the movement layers memories of all of the previous musical threads. Just at the point where the texture grows unbearably dense, huge waves sweep up and down the orchestra, washing away the accumulation of memory, clearing the way to the future. The ending is ambiguous, very quiet, stretching into silence. I will begin my second symphony with the final sounds of this movement.
This work was premiered by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with Jukka Pekka Saraste as principal conductor and myself as second conductor, on Feb. 11 of 1998. I am very grateful to Maestro Bramwell Tovey, who has been a dedicated champion of the work.
60. Three Caprices for Solo Violin
My Three Caprices were written in the years 1977 and 1978. I revised them rather extensively during April of 1998. At the time of their revision, I had never actually heard them.
The three are quite different, although they are all quite aggressive and forward. The first begins with a rather pompous Maestoso, and develops into a freely flowing Allegro. The second is jagged and very angular, and was quite unlike anything I had ever written at the time. Since then, this kind of writing has become much more in evidence in my work. The third is a combination of these qualities, with a rather rhetoric opening idea followed by an agitato middle section, closing with a dramatic return to the opening. The first is the most "tonal" of the three, the second is the most "atonal."
The quarter tones in the third caprice were colours that I added upon revision. They seemed to enhance the repeated note ideas I was working with in the original.
61. My Violin Concerto #2 was written in 2002 as part of my 4-year relationship as an Award Composer at the National Arts Centre Orchestra.
Unlike my first violin concerto, this work is not scored for a large orchestra, but for an ensemble of soloists. Although the solo violin is clearly the focus of the piece, each of the players has featured passages, generally in a duet with the soloist. There are frequent sub-ensembles in the piece, where a small chamber group evolves within the overall group. In the finale in particular, the textures are designed around three quartets (flute + oboe + clarinet + bass clarinet, 2 bassoons + 2 horns, and string quartet) with the marimba and bass assuming the role of continuo, or "rhythm section". I conceived this piece as a hybrid of a chamber work and an orchestral work. The tutti passages are fully scored and quite orchestral in their weight, while much of the rest of the piece is far more transparent.
The work is in 4 movements, with a dramatic and muscular first movement, a lyrical and expressive slow second movement, a scherzo-like third movement, and a highly jazz-inflected finale.
62. My Violin Concerto was written for Gwen Hoebig, and was commissioned by David Jaeger and the CBC. I began it on August 4 of 1998 and completed it on February 20 of 1999.
There are few things more daunting than composing a violin concerto. The symphony and string quartet are probably the only traditional forms which compare in terms of both the intimidating existing repertoire, and the sheer number and complexity of problems involved. Composers are all too often asked to write works like these when, for artistic considerations, they may not actually be prepared to undertake them. Gwen Hoebig had played several of my chamber works before she asked me to consider composing a violin concerto for her. I consider Gwen to be one of the finest musicians I have ever known, and felt quite flattered and honoured to have been asked. I had just completed my Symphony, and felt that the time was right for me to undertake this concerto.
This work is cast in four movements, and each is developed in a similar fashion. In a way, this is a "chaconne concerto," because each movement is essentially a set of variations on a series of sonorities which are first heard in the cadenza-like opening. There is no chaconne theme, just a basic chord progression, which mutates across the course of the work. The sonorities are evolved from the very first sound heard, a rising arpeggio-like figure in the solo violin. The first movement is constructed from chords derived from this figure. It is a moderately slow movement, which I like to think of as being somewhat thoughtful and provocative. The second movement is, rather unexpectedly, a scherzo, in which a brittle, fragmentary theme is contrasted with a more lyrical second idea. I think of the first two movements as being complementary, almost as though the containment of the first movement must be answered with the edginess and hyper-activity of the second.
The third movement is a slow movement, which contrasts rather sombre materials with much more lyrical ones. At the climax, the solo violin gradually disappears into the overwhelming orchestral texture. The fourth movement is a clear finale. It is highly rhythmic, based largely on the timpani rhythm which is heard right at the beginning. The ending of the work attempts a resolution of the tonal tensions inherent in the opening figure of the piece. I think of all my works as being in keys, although I suspect most audiences have some trouble hearing this. To me, this work is clearly in G major.