Sonata for Bassoon and Piano
About this work:
When I first began to plan this sonata for bassoon and piano, I had no idea that I would be inspired by something so overtly programmatic, let alone by an American, historical figure who was alive well before I was born. I knew that the premiere would take place at the Thomas Edison Inn in Port Huron, Michigan, and my curiosity eventually took hold and I started reading up on Thomas Edison’s inventions and his life. I was immediately hooked: many of his experiences and beliefs resonated with me. I could not stop thinking about him or his inventions and they ended up providing a Romantic and technical inspiration for this piece.
The first movement, Edison’s Ears, is inspired by a legendary story about the ear problems Edison suffered from throughout his childhood in Port Huron. According to this tale, when he was 15, a train accident further injured his ears. When he tried to jump on the moving train, the conductor grabbed him by his ears to help pull him up. The young Edison said he felt something snap inside his head, and he soon began to lose much of his hearing. The thought of something “snapping inside his head” made me think how, as morbid as this is, inventing something musical from this story might have humored him. The middle of the movement reaches its peak with a loud, staccato “snapping” chord. The beginning of this movement sounds somewhat mechanical and is the first of three locomotive sections (based on three musical quotes) that progressively increase in tempo. The end of the movement gradually descends in register and dies away, much like a hyper-speed, fast-forward toward his eventual and inevitable hearing loss.
The second movement, Mina’s Tapping, draws its inspiration from a story about Edison’s second wife, Mina Miller. The story goes that they were introduced to each other by his life-long friend Ezra Gilliland: “Their courtship ended when Edison tapped out a proposal for marriage on Mina’s hand. In their many years together the pair communicated via Morse code. When attending meetings or at gatherings with friends, Mina would tap out the discussions in Morse code on her deaf husband’s hand. Despite his long hours away from home, Thomas and Mina were totally devoted to each other and profoundly in love.” In this movement, Edison is represented by long melodic lines; Mina is represented by heartbeat-like, pulsed chords derived from the dots, dashes and spaces of Morse code.
Edison is also responsible for creating a revolutionary business model, the world’s first “invention factory.” The final movement, Invention Factory Eureka, is inspired by this, and the one invention that is said to have been Edison’s only true “Eureka!” invention, the cylinder phonograph. The opening motivic material in this movement is derived from the word “Eureka!” The many bright ‘dings’ throughout the middle of the movement represent the cliché of a light bulb appearing above someone’s head when they have a bright idea. This image ties in nicely to Edison, his inventions and his one “eureka” moment.
Year composed: 2001
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Keyboard plus One Instrument
Instrumentation: 1 Bassoon, 1 Piano