Sky Jaunt, for String Quartet (2016)
Sometimes the source of a composer’s inspiration for a piece can be exceedingly difficult to pin down. Ideas come in various forms from all manner of external stimuli, and it is part of the composer’s job to be always alert to sounds permeating the environment around us. Beyond sounds that exist in our environment, there is also new music to be found in other pre-existing music—different perspectives or stylistic alterations, and sometimes even whole new directions left unexplored.
In the case of Sky Jaunt, I remember very clearly listening through the opening number of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and asking myself what might happen if this rhythmic pattern were translated to music for string quartet. It wasn’t long before the initial idea sparked and began suggesting an entirely new piece of its own. The Beatles’ opening lines “it was twenty years ago today / Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,” suddenly became a rhythmic motif alternating between two notes, with an extra “bluesy” note at the top to cap it off.
Beyond that initial opening rhythmic gesture, the similarities from Sgt. Pepper drop off dramatically, yet all the while there is an intense rhythmic pulsation throughout that is reminiscent of 60’s classic rock music. It is always driving, always pulsating—that is, until the entrance of a very lyrical and mellifluous B section.
This B section is a shameless nod to Samuel Barber, in the way that it reflects a large-scale gathering of energy in a very drawn out form. A tender and somber elegy begins forming from the thread of descending scales that sound almost Pärtian. Very gradually, this elegy builds to a most passionate fortissimo—all strings in their absolute highest registers.
Then suddenly, amidst a bright key change and dissonant hazy chords, the rock-inspired pulsation returns once more. The listener is taken on a web of thematic alterations leading back to the initial opening rhythmic theme. Yet upon arrival, this theme doesn’t abate, and it is clear that it only wants to keep soaring ever higher into the clouds—always driving, always pulsating, until it is no longer perceptible—until it skyrockets into the stratosphere.
Chorale and Fanfare, commissioned by the International Low Brass Trio (2014)
Chorale and Fanfare opens with one of the most popular rhythmic motives in music: the great four note short-short-short-long motive found also in Beethoven’s Fifth. This motive has resurfaced in countless compositions since Beethoven’s time. In this piece, it serves as the identifying feature of the fanfare indicated by the title. After this energetic opening fanfare, a more relaxed chorale theme is introduced. The four-note motive of the fanfare is continually hinted at, ever beckoning to return, but it instead subsides and the chorale is varied and expanded. The piece takes on an unusual form in the blending of the chorale and fanfare genres. Ultimately, both forms are juxtaposed to produce a uniquely satisfying texture and thematic unity.