grafted hymnologies

orchestra; 2008 rev. 2011; ca. 13'

Listen to the work:

Excerpt 1:

Excerpt 2:

Excerpt 3:

Download Score (pdf)

grafted

           hymnologies

Premiere information:

This work was premiered by the Redlands Symphony Orchestra in April of 2011 under the baton of

Co Boi Nguyen.  The recordings above are excerpted from that performance.

 

 

Program notes:

 

It is especially appropriate that my work, grafted hymnologies, shares the first half of tonight's concert

with Stravinsky's Pulcinella. The Stravinsky involves a composer reaching back into music history and

taking ideas from the musical past; my work, like Pulcinella, looks to our inherited musical tradition

for inspiration, albeit several hundred years earlier. Stravinsky's ear was tilted toward Pergolesi and

the Baroque; grafted hymnologies takes several cues from the music of the late-Medieval and

Renaissance periods.

Redlands Symphony premiere of grafted hymnologies.  Photo by Greg Schneider.

 

When I set about to write this work, I wanted to let the musics that were most important to me

coexist in a single piece-- my ear tends to favor pre-tonal music (that is, music written before the

European tonal system was really in place-- as a reference point, think B.B. [before Bach]), and posttonal

music (the music of the 20th and 21st century). There is a great deal of common ground between

these very different traditions and periods in music history, so it seemed that the collision could work

well. Throughout the piece, I've employed ideas, techniques, sounds, and ideas freely from both

musical worlds. Unlike the Stravinsky, there is no borrowed material; I only used the formal ideas of

these musics to craft my piece.

 

The piece opens with a large, dissonant cluster in the strings that swells with help from the

percussion-- here, the strings are asked to put so much pressure on the strings that it creates a

“scratch tone”, a particularly thorny, visceral sound that is tense and foreboding. This chord gives way

to a “clearing out” of sorts-- you will hear glassy swoops in the strings upwards as the winds begin to

invade the texture. I am very interested in the space “between” the traditional 12 notes in Western

music, so you will hear a lot of melting, sliding glissandi in the strings and the horns (the horns achieve

this sound by sticking their hands inside the bell of the instrument further and further to bend the

pitch down-- certainly a 20th century exploration!) This section is intense rhythmically, and the dense

counterpoint in the brass is a shared expression of both pre- and post-tonal music. The climax of the

section involves low roars in the brass, complete with a distorted sound called “flutter-tonguing”

(think of it like rolling a double 'r' in Spanish while playing a wind instrument).

 

The next section takes its cue from the medieval practice of troping. In Middle Ages, the music of the

Catholic Church was monophonic chant; chants of various traditions existed (Gregorian chant being

the most well-known today) and were taught more or less by rote to priests and monks as part of their

training. Around the 9th century, additions to extant chants started to appear; that is, someone would

add new notes to an existing chant to expand it. This addition is called a trope. The second section of

my piece (a slow, lyrical section) is based entirely on this idea. The melody is presented in the strings,

and then repeated several times. Each time it is repeated, the melody gets longer-- in 20th century

terms, this is also called a “spiral variation”, since each variation gets slightly longer. The melody is

accompanied by the winds, who play only a single pitch the entire section; however, this pedal note,

this single pitch, is passed throughout the wind section so that the sound color of the pedal note is

constantly evolving. This is called a timbral modulation, and has its catalyst in Arnold Schoenberg's

ideas about Klangfarbenmelodie (sound-color melody). The section ends with a lyrical, yearning solo

in the oboe, which serves as a transition to the third main section of the piece.

 

The third section takes yet another cue from early music; this section is a mensuration canon involving

the strings, the brass, the winds, and the percussion. These four sections of the orchestra actually

play the exact same music through the section, but at different speeds, at different times, and in

different keys. The strings have the slowest version, the percussion the fastest two versions. These

different versions of the same chorale-like music are superimposed on one another-- the result is

hearing the same music being performed simultaneously in multiple keys and tempi. This idea was

used fairly often in the most beautiful complex early music, and was also revived by composers in the

20th century. The statement in the brass is the loudest, most dramatic version, which serves to

transition to the final section.

 

The last portion of the piece combines material from the three previous sections together. Material

from all parts of the piece coexist in the section, and you will hear the glissandi from the beginning

take on an important role in the strings near the end, which have an accompanying, glissando-laden

line that supports the return of the “trope” theme in the winds. The work builds steadily, but

suddenly and abruptly loses its momentum; the ending is a slow, atmospheric section that features a

great deal of unique sounds in the strings-- playing at the bridge of the viola, the glassy harmonics in

the violins, bubbling harmonic glissandi in the basses-- while the winds trade fragments of the “trope”

theme, winding down the piece to nothing, dissolving into silence.

 

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