Seven Steps To Heaven (2002) for string septet or string orchestra

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Seven Steps To Heaven was composed for the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation/Project STEP Summer Education Collaborative in the Berkshires.

The work, scored for seven string instruments - 2 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos & contrabass, is in seven sections: four movements with three interludes in between.

Moderato, “Humble Vale”

Interlude I

Funk Scherzo

Interlude II

Bossa nova

Interlude III

Perpetuo moto 

When Mark Ludwig, Director of the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation, told me that “Seven Steps” would be premiered at the Hancock Shaker Village, I thought it would be most appropriate to use a Shaker tune as a source for this work.

The work begins with “Humble Vale.” “Humble Vale” is part of the Hancock Hymnal: 1850 compiled by Deborah Rentz Moore. The most obvious element in this beautiful melody is the predominance of the pentatonic mode. 

The “Funk Scherzo” movement is a dissertation on pentatonic subsets: major seconds, minor thirds and perfect fourths.

The “Bossa nova” movement, although not pentatonic melodically, is full of chords derived pentatonically: chords stacked in fourths, for example.

The last movement, “Perpetuo moto,” is most definitely pentatonic in its theme: an incessant repeating figure with explosive pentatonic flurries of major seconds, minor thirds and perfect fourths.

In between the four movements I have inserted three interludes.

Interlude I is an interlocking pair of waltzing pentatonic melodies for two violins.

Interlude II is a solemn march on an F-sharp pedal.

Interlude III is a quasi-canonic descending scale that resolves into a big G-flat major chord. It is my intention that these interludes provide a smooth and slithery connection from one movement into the next. Enjoy!!!

The work is dedicated to Miles Davis. His 1963 LP/CD “Seven Steps To Heaven” is a seminal recording for all music lovers. It made a huge impression on me when I was a teenager in São Paulo, Brazil. I must have listened to it a thousand times. I know every solo by heart. Heaven is Miles’ domain.

Year composed: 2002
Duration: 00:16:00
Ensemble type: Orchestra:String Orchestra
Instrumentation: 2 Violin, 2 Viola, 2 Cello, 1 Double bass
Instrumentation notes: String septet, or string orchestra.

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