Composed March â€“ April 2020, written for Joseph Vaz.
Joseph was my student (on string bass!) in the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra for three years, and since my departure from that position, he and I have remained in touch and become good friends. His senior year of high school, we collaborated on two concerto performances, the Mozart d minor and the Gottschalk “Grand Tarantella”.
Sometime during the first year of Joseph’s master’s degree program at CCM, we started discussing the idea of my writing a piece for him and eventually settled on the idea of a sonata. He gave me lots of listening homework to fill the gaps in my knowledge about the existing repertoire, which I diligently completed, sending him regular commentary and analysis as I listened through his list.
I had not intended to compose the sonata until much later in 2020, but my work was able to begin ahead of schedule due to Covid. For very unfortunate reasons, Seattle had one of the earliest lockdowns and it quickly became apparent that we were in it for the long haul. I quickly pivoted to “composer mode” and the sonata was the first major work of what turned out to be an abnormally prolific compositional period for me.
Being thoroughly acquainted with Joseph’s virtuosity, I held nothing back, neither musically nor technically. I could not have asked for a more fulfilling collaboration, and I rank this piece among my most important instrumental works, along with my symphony and horn/viola/piano trio.
I’ve recently recorded and posted two pieces that are, in part, inspired by films.
The first is a piece from a few years back, a duet for violin and clarinet titled Lemn de Viata. The title is in Romanian because I was very into the movie Aferim! when I wrote the piece. Aferim! is a historical drama set in rural 19th century Romania. I have precisely zero recollection if the music in the movie itself (I think it was all diegetic music performed live on set) but I remember so much about the tone and mood of that film and the world it created.
I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but there can be quite a bit of confusion when I say that a given piece was influenced by a movie. People always think I mean it was influenced by the score, but most of the time that’s not the case. (Though sometimes it is!) Usually it means that I’m trying to capture something about the vibe of the movie â€” the drama, the setting, the atmosphere â€” the type of things that music is so good at capturing.
In the second case, the situation is more complicated, because the movie is about music, and that music is at the heart of my own piece.
The film in question is Tous les matins du monde, which for me is one of those indispensable music movies, right up there with Amadeus and Bleu. It made me fall in love with early baroque viol suites, and to this day I will go weeks at a time listening to nothing but Marin Marais and Sainte-Colombe.
I had been wanting to write something that interacted with that music for some time. When my friend Will asked me write a solo bass piece, it seemed like the perfect fit, given that the modern string bass is the last surviving member of the viol family. (Well, among modern orchestral string instruments, at least.)
The soundtrack of Tous les matins du monde is a cornucopia of chamber pieces for viols, among them a composition by M. de Sainte Colombe titled “Tombeau Les regrets” and one by Marin Marais titled “La RÃªveuse”. So when Will asked me to write a piece about the death of his father and the birth of his son (which I discuss more here) it was further evidence that this old music might supply the necessary tools for the job.
As a musical term, a “tombeau” (literally “tomb”) is a composition that memorializes the dead. As far as I know, it was exclusively used by French musicians (I’ve never heard of a tomba or a Grabkammer.) Most modern-day musicians know the word exclusively from Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin.
The other side of the title, “Les RÃªves,” refers to the dreams, hopes, and desires that we imbue our children with. In a slightly complicated twist, I use a quote from Marais’ “La RÃªveuse” not to represent the dream music, but rather the sorrow music (I mean, just listen to it!)
The concept of the piece ties into the movie in yet a further way. In the climactic final scene (spoilers, I guess) the old teacher, ever obstreperous, reveals what he believes to be the sole purpose of music: not to win the glory of kings or to delight the ears of the cognoscenti, but rather, to speak to the dead.
Written for, and dedicated to, William Alexander Gibbs.
Composed September 2020 Durata ~9′
In late 2019, two major events occurred in the life of my friend Will: his father died of cancer, and shortly thereafter his first child was born. This piece reflects the overlap of sorrow and joy. The opening motive is a quotation of La Rêveuse by Marin Marais.
The title of the work (Romanian for â€œwood of lifeâ€) refers to the wood of the Guaiacum tree, from which Peter Bauer had a clarinet constructed (likely the only such exemplar in the world.) Though the name of the wood is most often given in Latin (lignum vitae) I decided to title the piece in Romanian due to the character of the music.