About this work:
All of the movements of this wind quintet are connected and inspired in some way by American icons, surrealism, collage, post-1950s imagery and suburbia.
The first movement, Andante, begins with the ending and ends at the beginning. Some instruments mimic others and just when you think an idea might go in one direction, it goes in another. I gleaned many of my ideas from studying cinematic character development and the unusual forms used in many modern films such as the 1994 film Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino.
The second movement, Suburban waltz-fantasy, contains quotes from 1960s-70s TV show themes: The Jetsons, All in the Family, Green Acres, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Brady Bunch and Leave It To Beaver. The movement begins with a waltz-like feel and two of the players mimicking “suburban chicken lady housewives cackle-gossiping across a backyard fence.” An obnoxious stray dog interjects with loud barking and then the movement takes off in a different direction. Some of the quotes are re-composed to sound like bird songs, others are textural and a few are so subtle that they are not easy to discern. Some of the parts even sound like they are mocking each other. This movement is a strange, surrealist collage.
The most immediate and obvious reference in the title of the third movement, Melting Clocks, is to Salvador Dali’s famous 1931 painting The Persistence of Memory in which there are images of melting or limp watches. However, Jon Gilmore’s Melting Clock, a physical and commercial take-off of the images in Dali’s work also inspired me, especially since I have seen it in many modern, suburban homes. I imagine a room full of clocks all ticking away, yet slightly inaccurately, the “baby clocks” (or wrist or pocket watches) a little faster than the “old grandfather clocks.” They are all mechanically walking around the room, bumping into each other and causing one another’s gears to go awry, their tempi and meters modulating, cascading and overlapping. Some of them are playing faster than “normal” time (sixty beats per minute) and are essentially representing “time out of time,” perhaps inspired by their cousins, the metronomes. At various points, the oboe tries in vain to establish “real time.” The first section leads into the second with the clarinet and oboe playing a five o’ clock cuckoo clock chime. The middle section contains a few brief quotes form the first movement, and the “slightly melted” end of the movement brings back the cuckoo, but this time it melts as if it is in a house consumed by fire.
The ending of the third movement was partially inspired by a personal emergency: my hard drive crashed due to a mechanical failure and I had to send it away to try and recover some files. (Always back up! What was I thinking?) When I researched websites of places to have it fixed I saw images of disasters, or “disk-asters” as they were called on one site. The crucial image was of a crushed and melted laptop found among the ashes of a one-hundred-year-old home. This caused me to imagine a gradually melting or burning cuckoo trying in vain to continue cuckooing as it melts.
In an abstract sense, Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also provided ideas for this movement: time is not a constant, linear force—as had been previously thought—it slows down when velocity increases or speeds up as velocity decreases. The beginning and ending of this movement were modeled after this.
The fourth movement, Klezmeshugeh, derives its title from my combining (or melting—like shugeh into caramel!) the words ‘klezmer’—which is a combination of the two Hebrew words, kley and zemer, meaning ‘instrument of song’—and meshugeh, which is a Yiddish word meaning ‘crazy’. Essentially, this made-up title means “crazy instrument song.”
Like some other musical labels that were originally derogatory in nature—‘jazz’ and ‘baroque’ for example—the word ‘klezmer’ used to be a sort of insult, implying a poor folk musician who could barely read music. In this movement, there are a few “wrong notes” that allude to the players pretending to sight-read. Of course, most modern klezmer musicians read very well, so this is more a jab at the past than as an insult pointed at present-day klezmer players!
The beginning of the fourth movement is based on the syncopated rhythms of the bulgar chain dance, which was originally a Bulgarian-style dance from Bessarabia. This dance was hugely popular in New York City during the first half of the twentieth century. I bring back the Dick Van Dyke Show theme in this movement because at the time it aired, it was one of the most Jewish shows ever seen on network TV, at least until Seinfeld. After a brief cadenza, the end of the movement harks back to the beginning, but this time a little more angular and fragmented. The end also concludes with a few thematic fragments from the second movement.
Year composed: 2004
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Woodwind Quintet
Instrumentation: 1 Flute, 1 Oboe, 1 Clarinet, 1 Bassoon, 1 Horn in F