Monthly Archives: November 2012

Introducing: Cinderella

Well, I finally did it, I finally made a recording of my children’s piece-cum-viola concerto “Cinderella Goes to Music School”, the proper title of which is really “The Viola Concerto OR Cinderella Goes to Music School” (ala G&S).  I’m super proud of this project, and I hope you’ll all enjoy it greatly:

This piece was SO MUCH FUN and SO MUCH WORK at every stage of its development. It started with an idea – that I would write an original piece for my annual children’s concert at the Pierre Monteux School in Hancock, ME.  But what would the piece/story be about?  My inspiration came from Pedro Almodóvar: so many of this master’s films are about filmmakers making films, so why not write a piece of music about musicians making music?

The idea of transforming Cinderella into a story about a young girl violist came to me in the shower one morning in a fit of inspiration.  I leapt out of the tub, threw on some clothes and scribbled down the basic plot and character outline in about 20 minutes.

Since then, this piece has undergone many, many phases of development: after the initial composition of the script and the music, I took it to Maine, where I workshopped it with friends and colleagues last summer, and we gave the premiere.  This past spring, I revised it for a different conductor/violist combo who were both involved in the original production for a performance in Cleveland.  And just this past month I hired a bunch of random (and, dare I say, randomly excellent!) musicians to lay it down on the recording.  Voiceover work followed (my favorite part – these are all the roles I was born to play!) and, finally, assembling the finished package with my trusted engineer Rick Andress.  The final stage is heading back to the score itself – re-tooling the printed score and parts to match the many collaborative changes made over a year and a half of working.

I think the recording turned out great, and I hope that violists play it, musicians enjoy it, and most importantly, kids hear it.  I dedicate it to the many “Cinderellas” both male and female I’ve known over the years – hard working violists who just don’t get the credit they deserve.  The initial conception for this piece really goes back to the very hot summer of 2007, when I did little else but sit around my Chicago apartment and write beginnings to about 30 different versions of a viola concerto, all in the tief ernst, Ligeterian mode that I was into then.  I’m so glad that the piece came out fun instead.  Sharp-eared listeners might even hear a taste or two of Ligeti in this score.

On Minor Works

I’ve been thinking about two majorly large works over the past few weeks, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and 9th Symphony, gargantutrons which naturally lend themselves to wide-ranging analyses of their composer’s thoughts and philosophy.  But at the same time, I myself was composing what is undeniably a minor work, a short anthem for four-part choir with piano, written for a church choir of about a dozen volunteer singers. I’m as prone to dreams of grandiosity as any other composer, but composing a little thing like this is undeniably fun, and it’s got me thinking that we too often overlook the little gems from composers far greater than myself.

Composing anything, be it a piece of music, a work of fiction, a painting on canvass, is really all about setting up a set of rules and then playing by them (or not).  Every piece is a game.  For example, in this little anthem I just finished the guidelines were: the text (chosen by the church), the number of voice parts (4), the ranges of the singers (amateur-level), the rehearsal time (not much), and the pianist’s capability (virtuosic).  So right off the bat, there’s a balancing between a relatively simple choral part against a freewheeling piano part.  With only four voice parts in the choir, every chord has to be voiced just so, or the ear will immediately catch the problem.  The architecture of the piece has to be planned very carefully, since melodic highs can’t really be all that high.  Not to mention, the text has to be understandable, and, ideally, expressively musicalized.

But now back to Beethoven, and these two enormous pieces which took him a combined 6 years to compose (or, really, a lifetime if you consider that in the ninth, he used melodies sketched as early as the 1790’s.)  The 9th symphony is probably the single most effective piece ever written for a large concert hall with a huge audience.  Listening to the “Ode to Joy”, that great paen to human brotherhood, it’s impossible not to to feel like everyone listening in the hall with you is your sibling.

But here’s a little something for you: did you know that Schiller’s poem “An die Freude” had already been set to music numerous times before Beethoven got around to it, including by one Franz Schubert?

(DFD/Gerry Moore)

Schiller’s poem was an example of the geselliges Lied (social song), a poem the author expected to be set to music and sung by groups of friends with glasses in hand.  And you’ve got to admit, Schubert’s setting captures that blustery spirit in a way that Beethoven’s lofty, grandiose music doesn’t quite.  Beethoven left out some lines such as

Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur,
Alle Guten, all Bösen,
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur

(Joy all creatures drink at the breast of Nature, All that’s good, all that’s dumb, follow her rose-petaled path) – lines that look a lot better through rosy-petaled beer goggles at the pub.

Composers often use a smaller works the breeding grounds for larger ones, but it’s a mistake to view them as just so many little experiments.  Just as often, a composer may have been working on something big, and found that a certain piece of material, though charming of its own accord, just didn’t fit right in context.  Sometimes these musical cuttings can find their rightful home replanted in a little ditty somewhere down the line.  Just because a melody is used in a song instead of a symphony doesn’t make it any less beautiful.