About this work:
Concerning Sunspots is in three movements:
I. the memory of observation
III. surface cycles
ERIC CHASALOW (b. 1955)
Born in Newark, New Jersey, Eric Chasalow graduated from Bates College with degrees in music and biology and took additional studies at the New England Conservatory. He received his DMA from Columbia University, where his principal teacher was Mario Davidovsky and where he studied flute with Harvey Sollberger. He worked in New York City as an arts administrator; since 1996 he has been co-archivist, with his wife Barbara Cassidy, of the Video Archive of Electroacoustic Music. He is currently Professor of Music at Brandeis University, and Director of BEAMS, the Brandeis Electro-Acoustic Music Studio.
His work has been performed from Beijing and Australia to Berlin, Bourges, and Bratislava. He holds awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
His latest work, Concerning Sunspots, composed in the fall of 2004, was written on a commission from the Fromm Foundation for Music at Harvard, largely during a residency in the early fall at the MacDowell Colony.
Eric Chasalow notes with pleasure that his new piece appears on a program with works by his first two composition teachers, Elliott Schwartz and Tom McKinley - the first time in his career that such an alignment has occurred.
Speaking about his work while it was still in progress, Chasalow offered the following thoughts:
For some years I’ve been thinking about an opera based on Brecht’s Galileo, and one way to start work on an opera is simply to start writing some music (as John Harbison did with Gatsby). When Gil Rose and I began discussing the new Fromm commission for BMOP, and I mentioned my interest in the Brecht play, we found that we a common interest. It turned out that Gil had attended a production of Galileo when he was a child and it had made a big impression on him; the first act took place in a planetarium. Soon after, I was reading about the Galileo treatise on sunspots from 1613 and thought of excerpting my title from his. I don’t usually write a title before conceiving the music, but this one offered itself along with a series of cultural references that could be connected to what would happen musically.
From the start, my piece was influenced by the culture of early 17th century Italy. I thought about the connectedness in the world at that time of science and art and how during the same period Monteverdi was composing his great opera, Orfeo (1607). Here were two giants, Galileo and Monteverdi, both drawing together all the precedent influences available to them to create something new and totally original.
My own music often includes literal quotations from older composers (though I hate the label “postmodern” that is so often applied to composers who do this – it is not a label that applies to my approach). My earlier piece for BMOP, Dream Songs, has literal quotes from Bach and Berlioz. But these show up as a kind of memory – they add a particular resonance of memory to the music. It is not important for the listener to recognize the chorale melody Es ist genug or make the connection Bach to Berg to me and the many others who have since used the quote.
In Concerning Sunspots, my thought was to use elements of Monteverdi’s Orfeo – the opening toccata, bits of the second act (in which Orpheus mourns the death of Euridice and determines to fetch her back from the Underworld). Principally, I’m using the rhythmic character (from the frotola dance form) and the modal scale fragments extracted from the Monteverdi.
This is a piece for big orchestra, which may seem to contradict the idea of working with early Baroque material. I do two things to reconcile this conflict. Much of the piece is like a concerto grosso, pitting small groupings against the tutti. I also tend to constantly cycle back to brief statements of the Monteverdi motives, so that we experience a reimagined ritornello form.
Year composed: 2003
Ensemble type: Orchestra:Standard Orchestra
Instrumentation: 3 Flute, 3 Oboe, 3 Clarinet, 2 Bassoon, 1 Contrabassoon, 4 Horn in F, 2 Trumpet, 2 Trombone, 1 Tuba, 1 Timpani, 2 Percussion (General), 1 Piano, 2 Violin, 1 Viola, 1 Cello, 1 Double bass, 1 Harp
Instrumentation notes: 3,3,3,3; 4,2,2,1; timp, 2 perc, hrp, pn, strings