Yo Picasso (1997) for clarinet, viola, cello, and piano.

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Program note.

When Nancy Braithwaite Wiersdma and the Arto Ensemble asked me to write a piece for their 1997-98 season, I immediately thought the name “Arto” could be the source of some musical ideas for the piece.

Music inspired by the visual art is not something new. Mussorgsky composed his infamous “Pictures at an Exhibition” after viewing a memorial exhibition of paintings and drawings by Victor Alexandrovich Hartmann. Gunther Schuller, my teacher and mentor, composed one of his most memorable orchestral pieces entitled, “Six Studies on Themes by Paul Klee.”

Last spring as I was searching for ideas for this composition, I came upon a two-volume book on Picasso. In looking through these volumes I discovered that his work is very evocative of mood, atmosphere and drama. I thought I could easily translate into music what he does with color, harmony and texture.

The instrumentation of the “Arto” - Bb clarinet, viola, cello, and piano, which is essentially dark and low - also seems to reflect the moody, melancholic, and brooding atmosphere of Picasso's work. Conveniently, Picasso’s work falls into very distinctive periods which allows me to conjure up a series of movements which mirrors these stylistic changes in his career. The movements are:

I. For that haunting La buveuse d'absinthe or "The Absinthe Drinker" (Paris, 1901) from the Blue Period, some atmospheric music that could be described as withdrawn, sullen, and deliriously drunk.

II. From the Rose Period, Famille d'acrobates avec singe or "The Acrobat's Familly with a Monkey" (Paris, 1905) inspired a crazy waltz that could have been played by a circus band. The cascading falling runs are for the “Monkey” ...

III. Les Demoiselles D'Avignon (Paris, 1907) inspired some sensuous, sexy, dreamy "bordello" music from way, ... way down south of the border.

IV. Cubism is visual art going ultra-modern, intellectual and abstract. For Bouteille de Bass, clarinette, guitare, violon, journal, as de trèfle or "Bottle of Bass, Clarinet, Guitar, Violin, Newspaper, Ace of Clubs" (Paris, 1913) an "abstract" movement punctuated by disjointed riffs and slam-dunks for Bb clarinet, viola and piano against a cello walking a jazz bass-line that refuses to join in ...

V. Art and politics finally join hands in the Picasso masterpiece, Guernica (Paris, 1937). What could be more appropriate than a little martial music that is "macho," brutal and relentlessly brutal?

Year composed: 1997
Duration: 00:15:00
Ensemble type: Unspecified Instrument(s):Ensemble
Instrumentation: 1 Clarinet, 1 Piano, 1 Viola, 1 Cello

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