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Spectres, Op. 109 (2019)

For Clarinet (Bb/A), Piano, and Two Musicians (with Obbligato Viola da Gamba & Third Musician)

Recording:

MIDI Realization

Duration: 25'

Instrumentation:

  • Player 1: Clarinet in Bb, Clarinet in A, Piano
  • Player 2: Piano, Voice (preferably falsetto)
  • Player 3 (obbligato): Viola da Gamba, A-415 (sub: Cello, A-440)

Program Notes:

I first met Tyler Emerson my freshman year at Eastman. I had met his older brother Perry in the airport on the way to our Eastman auditions the previous winter, and we had become friends during our first year together. Tyler visited at some point that spring and I met him at the Eastman Opera Theatre's performance of Kurt Weill's "Street Scene". I saw him several times after that, both when I visited Perry in Vermont, and when he stayed in Perry's and my apartment senior year.

After Perry left Eastman, Tyler was diagnosed with leukemia. At first, I just heard about it from Perry and how he was coping. Gradually, I began to reach out to Tyler as well and we got closer as we talked more and I continued to visit Vermont. At one point, Tyler mentioned that a composer friend had written a piece for flute and piano for him and his girlfriend to play and asked if I might be interested in writing something. (For the record, he is doing well now!)

It took me a long time to figure out how to structure the piece. Tyler mentioned that he'd been playing a lot of contrapuntal music and also liked the extended harmonies of Ravel. While biking and thinking about the piece, a motive popped into mind - Eb-C-B-A - innocuous at first glance, but stubbornly unable to fit into any diatonic context. My mind began to gravitate towards French composers - Françaix's contrapuntal writing, Ravel's harmonies, Bach... well, it's a bit of a stretch, but he wrote some French suites, and Debussy (due to the octatonic context implied by the motive). While I won't claim that I'm writing strictly in the styles of these composers, the four major sections of the piece are certainly inspired by them, haunted by their spectres. The motive weaves throughout, sometimes lurking in the background, sometimes obsessively in the foreground, and finally transformed by the end of the piece.