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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Serenade Edaneres

I composed Edaneres (Serenade spelled backwards) in the spring of 1981 as an experimental study in sound.  It’s a piece where I tried out a technique of large-scale pitch construction and layering.  The background harmony of the work pulsates cyclically between two poles.  In-between these two points of reference span a series of intervening hexachordal harmonies that gradually traverse and eventually terminate on one pole or the other - only to loop back and do it all over again. I chose pitch-class sets at each pole for maximum intervallic contrast between the two extremes, but along the way, change happens in gradual steps.

After the scaffolding of an underline background harmony was designed, I constructed a matrix extracted from pitches available in the current base harmony while looking closely at each register along the horizontal line.  I chose appropriate pitches in each register while aiming for (but not dogmatically insisting upon) aggregate completion within every octave span across what I anticipated would ultimately result in coherent musical phrases.  Care was taken to carryover (or “suspend”) available common tones between hexachordal intersections that resulted naturally between the measured, but gradually evolving harmonic changes.

Several longer lines of canti-firmi were then crafted and extracted from the otherwise saturated background pitch-texture of the grid based on potential melodic character and contour.

This overall compositional process became the basic structure for the pitch-based instrumental layer of this short musical experiment.

To make things a little more interesting, I added a mildly hyperactive piano part on top of the orchestral accompaniment to function as musical antagonist.  Its layer of music invokes contrary ideas as it sounds in opposition the primary oscillating six-note harmony. The piano part plays off against the orchestra by articulating the other six notes (or set complement) throughout the work’s internal discourse.  The piano as an instrument is uniquely suited for this opposing role because of its unique timbre, ability to play thick chords, broad dynamics, and wide register.

After the musical roadmap was in place, I worked out the surface-level music for Edaneres in a manner similar to any other traditional piece – paying special attention to musical gestures, individual lines, and contemporary instrumental techniques: not to mention adding in a few jazzy riffs t'boot.  I also strove inject a spontaneous yet discernible musical narrative into the music that would enable the musicians to metaphorically surf along the waves of the constantly-evolving underline harmonic progression.

In retrospect, I consider Edaneres to be a student work.  It’s also relic from a bygone era of musical thought and out-of-fashion musical aesthetics. I composed it as a sound experiment essentially to hone  (what was for me at the time) a still-emerging musical language and new technique.

Edaneres was professionally sight-read in a laboratory setting where I was graciously supported by my mentors and peers.  In addition to myself, the group of Fellows that summer included what would turn out in time to be a very impressive list of composers.  They were (not listed in any particular order): James Primosch, John Watrous, David Felder, Yinam Leef, Michael Gandolphi, Rand Steiger, Gudmunder Halfsteinsson, and Ronald Caltabiano.  Also present that summer were Susan Blaustein and Robert Beaser.

Not only did I get to hear my piece realized at the Yale Norfolk Summer School of Music under the coaching and baton of new music champion Arthur Weisberg (1931-2009), but I received some valuable feedback from master musicians and composers in residence that summer.  

In particular, I recall some of the comments and reactions by my musical mentors.  Elliott Carter (b. 1908) beamed and said, “I like it.”  He thought that the little tag at the end signified a potential continuation or new section.  Don Martino (1931-2005) thought that the dynamics needed more refinement in order to profile the various layers of musical idea amidst an otherwise complex texture. Specifically he thought that the long sustained tones of the canti firmi could have been notated mezzo piano.  Jacob Druckman (1928-1996) commented on orchestration and about my use of surface-level gestures - correctly pointing out that I over-used certain modes of attack in the piece.  Later, while listening to Edaneres on tape, Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) commented generally about the use of rhythm - on a macro and micro scale - suggesting that I might consider a more-rigorous organization of the time dimension in my work.  It was all great feedback, and I learned a great deal from the combined experience and collective, constructive criticism.

The history surrounding the reading of Edaneres also sticks in my memory for extra musical reasons.  I crammed to get the ambitious piece done on time, and slipped into a state of sleep deprivation from working non-stop on copying orchestral parts for the pre-scheduled reading session.  The ink was still wet on the page.  I actually fell ill from dehydration, the hot weather, and fatigue.  After my piece was played, I crashed mentally and physically from exhaustion.


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