A Theatre-Piece for Well-Equipped Reed Quintet
After forming We’ve Got (Reed)thym in the fall semester of 2014, it seemed right that I should write a larger-scale work for reed quintet, on the order of “Synthesesia”. The opening came to me almost immediately – a low drone from the contrabass clarinet and contrabassoon, on opposite sides of the audience. Keening soprano sax up at the front. Off-stage bird calls from the Eb clarinet. The last section of the piece came to me soon after – a complex, syncopated rhythmic pattern split up among multiple voices and surrounding the audience, overlaid by long tones fading into one another. Clearly, from these two visions were quite disjoint, but two things became clear from their juxtaposition: This piece would require elements of instrument doubling and of movement.
Strictly doubling, though, seemed somewhat a rip-off of “Synthesesia” – but what if everyone were to triple? (Evidently, my creative mind isn’t bothered to be constrained by mere matters of practicality.) The most difficult triple to obtain was for the bassoon. Bass oboe was strongly considered, but the decision to go with Baroque bassoon was finalized when it turns out that bass oboes are scarce and there were none to be found! Regarding movement - A performance of “Travails” can be considered complete with no motion or antiphony whatsoever. Depending on the performing space, this may be the only option. However, I highly recommend introducing at least some element of motion and space in any performance. The directions given in the part assume two hall exits and ability to move around the audience – they may of course be adapted to any particular performance space as needed.
The parameters were set. As the work grew between these two endpoints, I began to conceive of them as “primordia” and minimalist-Space Age-mechanical - two ends, perhaps, of history. The rest of the piece grew from this conception, filling in eras of musical history, meant not to strictly imitate so much as evoke. The chant melody travels throughout each movement, sometimes easily audible, sometimes hidden, lending a sense of continuity throughout the work. The piece ends as it began, identical instrumentation, fading back into the primordia from whence it came.
The title came before the piece. I initially chose it for its similarity to “Travels”, relating both to this element of motion and to the progression through musical history. Looking more closely into the word’s actual definition, though, it does seem that there is too an underlying sense of struggle and hardship woven throughout the piece. An emphatic opening, the journey of a motive through various identities, an ultimate fading into nothingness. A sense of transience, a question of worth.