Concerto For Trumpet, Strings And Timpani (1973)
In Memoriam Amadeo Guigou Malan, 1871-1951
When I was a little boy, six or seven perhaps, my French Waldensian grandfather, Amadeo, used to sit me on his lap and read to me in French portions of the Book of Revelation. These images terrified me. At the same time they fascinated me. My grandfather died peacefully in his sleep in 1951 when I was ten years old. Since then those stories of angels and dragons causing mayhem and destruction left an everlasting and profound impression on me.
So it was many years later in 1973 that I decided to write a work for trumpet and revisit those cherished moments with my beloved grandfather. In particular Apocalypse XI:15 Le septième ange sonna de la trompette (The seventh angel sounded the trumpet) was in mind. This Concerto for Trumpet, Strings and Timpani composed in memory of my grandfather won the second prize in 1977 in a competition during the Maracaibo Music Festival in Venezuela. I consider this my second and most important work produced after embracing the effervescent minimalist movement in New York City during that decade. The first among my minimalistic works was …from the earth… composed in 1972 for an improvisatory chamber ensemble. A live recording of the performance of April 24, 1975 at the Kitchen in New York City with an ensemble I conduct can be heard on the Navona album UNBRIDLED.
During the late 1970’s I was overly engaged teaching at New York University and renovating a brownstone in Brooklyn. There was unfortunately little time to produce a set of parts for the thirty string players. As a result the Concerto was not performed at the Maracaibo Festival. Fast forward to 2015. While cataloguing my works I looked over the score and decided to transcribe it to Finale which, in under ten minutes, produced a set of strings and timpani parts that were unattainable, as such, four decades earlier back in 1977. Hence this superb performance by Ondřej Jurčeka on trumpet with Petr Vronsky conducting the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra strings and timpani was recorded in 2016.
This Concerto, which I regard as an aria for trumpet that holds sovereign sway over the strings and timpani, lasts fifteen minutes and has three sections. They unfold however in a faceted continuum. At the time as I recall, I envisioned a vast canvas with streaks of vibrant hues. The first section, introduced by a menacing trumpet solo, is foreboding and violent. The second is a tumultuous duet between the timpani and the trumpet. The final section recalls the Voices of Heaven in the violas and celli, later in company with the timpani and trumpet which leads to an apocalyptic crescendo.
Piano Quintet - Toward the Abyss (2015)
After Le Voyage from Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
In Memoriam Sofía Cervetti, 1935-2016
The primary motivation and initial inspiration behind this Piano Quintet-Toward the Abyss come from my favorite collection of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal written by Charles Baudelaire, specifically the seventh poem Le Voyage. The Quintet’s subtitle, au fond du gouffre, from that poem, translates dive into the abyss. The poem continues …hell or heaven, what does it matter? So as to discover something new in the depths of the unknown. When I was tackling the completion of the third movement my beloved sister, Sofia who lived thousands of miles away in Uruguay, was suddenly taken ill and eventually passed away unexpectedly. It gave a somber meaning to this yet unfinished final movement.
The Quintet is in three keen movements in which the piano is almost constantly placed in the foreground. The piano has been my instrument since boyhood. Although the entire work is strongly anchored by my post-minimalist esthetics, there are various passages which are undeniably lyrical and expressive, at times mysteriously mournful. The mischievous first movement begins with a scattered twelve-tone row spread among the instruments and then gradually focuses on a repetitious rhythmic pattern punctuated by a hint of melody taken by the piano and first violin. The second movement is structured around a driving four-note pattern that is subjected to several mutations to finish in a major mode fortissimo. The final movement has a wistful tone that progressively becomes austere and introspective. It leads to a quote from J. S. Bach’s chorale Vor deinem Thron tret ich hiermit. Before thy Throne I now appear is Bach’s final chorale and perhaps his contemplation of mortality. After a shimmering transition, the work reflectively draws to a close with a meditative sequence of ascending lines on the strings which is followed and radiantly capped by the piano as if a flame extinguished and fused with eternity.
The Hay Wain, Virtual Orchestra (1987)
Four Movements after The Haywain by Hieronymus Bosch
During my first visit to Madrid in 1967 in order to attend the European premiere of my Five Episodes for Piano Trio, I became fascinated by the mystical paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. I studied the collection at the Prado Museum innumerable times. The Haywain soon became my favorite, and I then decided to write music celebrating it. Inspired by the universality of this triptych, I composed my first rendition on the subject in 1967, The Hay Wagon, Six Fragments of Hieronymus Bosch for full orchestra and speaking chorus. To date it has not been performed.
Twenty years later I decided to revisit The Haywain and mine its wealth of grotesque and often comic imagery, and give Bosch’s fantastic subject another try by utilizing the electronic medium. Technology by 1987 had become fairly sophisticated beyond the primitive days of manual cut and splice. MIDI and sampling were readily available, and I had several MIDI-fitted synthesizers which allowed me to create and program what was called at the time a “Virtual Orchestra.”
Coincidentally Ron Goldberg had launched Periodic Music which was a new CD label dedicated exclusively to electronic music. By then this genre had become an integral part of my work that began with sessions in the early 1970’s at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Studio in New York. Ron produced this electronic tone-poem I set in four movements, and The Hay Wain was released in 1987 paired with another of my electronic pieces, Transatlantic Light. Option Magazine gave the disc a thumbs up. In early 1994 Oliver Stone approached us to incorporate portions of The Hay Wain, Fall of the Rebel Angels, in the new film he directed, Natural Born Killers, which was released in August of that year.
In The Hay Wain I have attempted to render the symbolic aspects of Bosch’s mystical representation of temptation and perdition. The accumulation of riches to which Man sacrifices his spiritual well-being, and the fleeting pleasures of the flesh are masterfully emblazoned by Bosch on The Haywain’s three panels. Art historians have observed that they reveal “the mad progress of Mankind from the Garden of Eden to Hell.” Nothing short of that cataclysmic assessment could be more appropriate for Bosch’s artistic observation of 16th century life in his Haywain that parallels the lunacy of these troubling times of the early 21st Century.
The Hay Wain was originally released in 1987 on a Periodic Music CD, PE-1631.
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