I made the piece (see below) from the pitch materials of my solo viola piece, "Ritenere." It is a heterophonic texture of five voices.
Knowing that we were going to be in Italy, we began to study the Italian language. I discovered Tasso in my twenties, and one of my earliest compositions that I still like is four settings of Tasso poems.
I got deeper into Italian and viola, and decided to write an Italian text and set it to music with a prominent viola part, like Morton Feldman's "Rothko Chapel." I ended up writing "Per il rinoceronte nero" for chorus, soprano solo, viola, bass clarinet, bass drum, vibraphone, xylophone, and tubular bells. I had help from my viola teacher here in Italy, Valentina Rebaudengo.
We have been busy seeing things and trying to understand Italian culture better, so I have done very little composing since we arrived. However, I wrote a short piece for solo viola than I like, and I arranged it for my friend Chris Hills, a wonderful clarinetist who lives in the Chicago area.
I am posting both scores below.
The opera is complete, or maybe not complete until it is produced. Things certainly are likely to change; I might need to write interstitial music or fix something that isn't working.
But, it's about an hour and 45 minutes of music, and it isn't like any other opera that I know of. That's something!
In writing this work, I depended upon critical feedback and encouragement from my colleagues at NOMTI (New Opera and Musical Theater Initiative, a writers group). I am in their debt.
Recently, a lot of my composing energies have been directed at an opera in 12 scenes, 'Cliff House,' for which I have written the libretto and am working on the music. It is written for around eight singers and chamber ensemble (cor anglais, trombone, piano, and violin). A famous operatic soprano has died and has entered the underworld in the form of her grandmother's house, built on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The singer replays parts of her life as she moves through the house, encountering demons and allegorical figures. The opera ends as she goes out onto the beach and faces a kind of final reckoning.
Well, I finished the violin concerto in 2019 and wrote a symphony, a set of 15 solo violin pieces, choral works, chamber music, a Sinfonietta, art songs, a chamber opera ('The Doorkeeper', based on Kafka), two string quartets, handbell music, organ music, a ballet, piano music, etc.
A friend suggested that I write a violin concerto, and I have one in process. It starts from big violin tunes, melodies. The style is rather traditional, using a classical-sized orchestra and most often a regular pulse. It doesn't feel like nostalgia to me, though, it feels alive in every fiber. I've been listening to the Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg, Bartok, and Higdon concerti, hmm, also Ligeti and Norgaard, I guess. The Schoenberg appeals to me most right now, in its lyrical moments especially. But I'm aiming for something as transparent as Mozart, and as lively.
I began studying trombone about two years ago, and last Spring I played in the Gordon College wind ensemble, which was a lot of fun. The director Dr David Rox, suggested that I write a piece for band, so I started arranging some children's piano pieces by Bartok. This gradually developed into a twelve-minute band piece, the first I have written since high school. I think it's an entertaining piece, rather extroverted in tone. Dr Rox is interested in performing it, we'll see.
A little while ago I ordered some scores by Jürg Frey and Antoine Beuger from the Wandelweiser catalog, and had a brief email exchange with Antoine Beuger.
One of the pieces I received is Beuger's 'monodies pour mallarmé,' which consists of many pages of score, each of which offers a group of four whole notes. The performer plays each note for a long time and adds silences of indeterminate length between them.
For some reason, Beuger's piece really got me going, and I wrote a group of pieces based on some of his tetrads.
harmonies for mallarmé is for organ, synthesizer or ensemble. It uses four-part chords generated by manipulating some of Beuger's four-note groups. Like much of the Wandelweiser music, it is rhythmically very simple and slow, lasting over 9 minutes.
Loving Phrases for three soprano instruments (3' 15") . This uses some of the note sequences that I generated from the Beuger tetrads, making them into a series of heterophonic phrases. I was thinking of flute, harp, and violin, but any soprano instruments of about the same weight would work.
endless dream for piano, one hand (2' 40"). This uses note sequences as in the pieces above, using the pedal to accumulate clouds of pitches.
buildings for multiple voices of similar range (2' 15"). Here some of the tetrads are made into phrases which build from unison pitches into four-note chords.
All of these pieces should be easy to perform, in keeping with my desire to avoid virtuosity in a significant portion of my work.
The score fragment above is from a choral piece by Jürg Frey, a member of the Wandelweiser group of composers and performers. I used it as the banner picture for a new Facebook group, 'New Music for Choir.' I was surprised that such a group did not already exist.
I am hoping that composers and new-music choirs will use this group to exchange information and promote new choral music.
I have offered to change the banner picture to other score fragments that members send to me.
On a recent trip to Istanbul I passed through a street full of music shops, and there I saw and heard a duduk for the first time. This is an Armenian double-reed instrument with an amazing sound, and as I found out later, at least one amazing performer, Gevorg Dabaghyan. You can find his recordings on Amazon - recommended.