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As Dr. Andrew Cort, Esq., so eloquently writes: "The ephemeral number Three lies curiously in between the Intelligible world of Spirit and the Sensible world of Matter. Three represents a ‘Threshold’ between them, a passageway that links the manifest with the transcendent. This ‘Threshold’ can be thought of as the locus of the soul, which is partly of the manifest world and partly of the unmanifest world."
The number "3" has held special significance in Western art music for many ages. Most notably, a trio of events or characters is said to be "more humorous, satisfying, or effective" in captivating an audience than a single protagonist alone. In the sense of Western art music, these "characters" often spring forth in the form of three, self-contained parts of a musical work called "movements". The concept of having three movements dates back centuries, before even the time of Mozart; however, the tradition of a three-movement work lives on, even into the 21st century.
This album, titled "3" is so named because it features an original, full orchestral suite / arrangement of the Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo (Trois Pièces pour Clarinette Seule) by Russian-American composer Igor Stravinsky.
If the name does not ring a bell, just know that Stravinsky is one of several prominent composers that John Williams styled the Star Wars soundtrack after in the late 70s. Most notably, Williams borrowed from Stravinsky's most riotous work "The Rite of Spring", which premiered in Paris in May 1913.
Stravinsky wrote the Three Pieces for Clarinet Solo between 1916 and 1918 in appreciation of his "bankroller", i.e., underwriter, philanthropist, Swiss merchant, and amateur clarinetist Werner Reinhart. In the summer of 2000, I rehearsed in the very venue in Morges, Switzerland where Stravinsky conceived of the pieces. These Three Pieces (a staple in the solo clarinet repertoire) have now been fully orchestrated to celebrate their centennial and mark the 20-year anniversary of applied studies with my most influential teacher Donald L. Oehler. I had the honor of his tutelage at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which afforded me the opportunity to embark on a sojourn to Switzerland as a Morehead-Cain Scholar. It is astounding how much that opportunity impacted where I am today as a musician, artist, linguist, and technologist. Not only that, mastering the Three Pieces was also an important part of my applied music study, as the work frequently appeared as required repertoire in many international competitions that I ventured to across the globe. I was delighted when my interpretation led to a top 3 soloist ranking among laureates of the World Federation of International Music Competitions in Dos Hermanas, Spain.
Since that time, I have explored and heard the Three Pieces performed in various ways: sometimes bold and personal; sometimes abhorrently metronomic; sometimes unabashedly hurried; and other times, with grace, fluidity, and nuance. The many variations thereupon have been explored to no end. Prior to now, the pieces have only been performed as an unaccompanied solo clarinet work. To my knowledge, this is the first it has ever been presented as a full-fledged concert work (more specifically, one that could be performed as a suite for orchestra or even as a concertino). Stravinsky never wrote nor did he ever conceive of any accompaniment for the pieces, leaving instrumentalists to their own devices as to an interpretation: this is especially so in the 2nd movement, which omits bar lines. While the first movement comes fairly easily to many clarinetists, the second and third movements typically receive the most controversial interpretations: too fast, too slow, too rushed, too musical, too square, too free, too out of time, too arrhythmic, too... too... too! While criticism is par for the course in this industry, it is Stravinsky's novice ability to write jazz, strong riffs and permit improvisatory freedom that undercuts his desire for it to mimic the pre-1920's jazz and ragtime to which he was exposed. Knowing the quirks of the language translation industry, his publisher's demands for performers to adhere "strictly" to rudimentary, metronome markings can be regarded as simple overtranslation. Stravinsky himself has admitted on record to being "not competent" enough in the English language to express his sentiments so specifically. Furthermore, I dare say that - even with this knowledge - many modernists fail to pull off any part of these movements as distinctly within the realm of ragtime or jazz. Regardless, the piece has secured its place in contemporary solo repertoire, albeit devoid of much soul and character due to the adherence to a somewhat stifling classical tradition. This is 2017, however; so, just as Stravinsky offered his new vision for the "Star Spangled Banner" in the 1940s, "Three Pieces" has been given a makeover for its 100th birthday.
From the outset, this orchestration is purposefully divergent from Stravinsky's strict instructions, not as an attempt to be rebellious or defiant, but rather to quarry underlying character to the piece (as I see it) and to do so in a more humorous, satisfying, and effective way. Hearing a lone clarinetist fumble hastily between instruments and ever-changing time signatures has never truly tickled my fancy.
In addition, we know Stravinsky was intrigued by jazz. Nonetheless, his oeuvre tells us he was mostly active during the great wars, apartheid, segregation, and the civil rights era. This was also a period when black conductors, black composers, black musicians, and black audiences were largely absent, if not, barred from the "classical" music sphere. With this rendering, especially of the 3rd movement, I usher in a new philosophy of understanding of the pieces, which I approach from my own modern, yet classically black vantage point. This undertaking essentially "ups the ante" and challenges the instrumentalists to be quite versatile in their approach as well as delivery. In that same token, an ear-prickling backdrop of timbres intrinsic to the orchestra, and its unyielding wall of symphonic sound, work in tandem to enrich the dominant melody.
Upon initially revealing the work, clarinet colleagues far and wide have asserted that Stravinsky's Three will never be quite the same again. In addition, learning the pieces will never be as abstract again. Giving these pieces new life and purpose in this new time, new day, and new age was precisely my goal.
The titles assigned to each movement are inventions of my own and foreshadow my approach to the moods of the orchestration. Clarinetists in particular should be forewarned that the suite does not follow the original 1919 part one-to-one. Nonetheless, the bulk of the work is the same, with a few exceptions. For example, there are deliberate additions such as introductory transitions, interludes, and a "calling of the muse" throughout the movements and in-between main passages of each piece. Fermatas (particularly in the 2nd movement) have been extended to reiterate ideas reminiscent of earlier motifs; and the main melody, at times, is handed off to instruments other than the clarinet. This, in part, offers the clarinetist a bit of a break, and it also allows time to facilitate instrument switches between A and B-flat clarinets. By and large, it eliminates the awkward stage stagnancy between the 2nd and 3rd movements. Though the articulations largely remain the same, the dynamics are noticeably different. There are tempo modifications, as well, to facilitate racy technical passages imparted to other instruments. In addition, the entire 2nd movement has been given bar lines in order to unify the orchestra in the score and in performance. Lastly, the relaxed tempi and protracted concept of the work is designed to help performers maintain more technical control as well as free the ensemble from the strict "metronomique", as originally prescribed in the 1920 publication. All together, it truly makes for a dazzling interplay that is sure to delight your senses at each and every listen.
* Bonus material including the full uncut track, the enhanced master, and a high-definition sheet music video are all exclusive to full album purchases. Tracks of individual movements, however, may be purchased separately.
While scores and parts are currently unpublished (as of Dec. 20, 2017), draft parts/scores are available upon request. Interested ensembles should note the following instrumentation: the piece is scored for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Fr. Horn I & II, Bassoon, Strings, Percussion (Drum Set, Timpani, Auxiliaries), Piano, and Celeste. Auxiliary percussion includes the following instruments: triangle tree, sleigh bells, concert tambourine, ACME siren whistles, train whistle, referee whistle, lead pipes, vibraslap, shekere (or a cabasa or maracas), and (optionally) slapstick/whip.
About the Cover Art:
The cover art designed for this album features the sacred number "3", studded with modern, luxury Swiss, American, and Russian timepieces (apropos for the history of the composition, Stravinsky's three residences, and the three stages of his stylistic evolution).
One of these timepieces features the day "13" and was chosen distinctly due to Stravinsky's petty archrivalry with Arnold Schoenberg, a triskaidekaphobe constantly disillusioned by instances of the number 13.
As 1912 (1+9+1+2 = 13) is the year of Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire", Stravinsky's "La Sacre" and the year when they both met, it is theorized that Iggy antagonized him and splat his name ("I-gor F. Stra-vin-sky") all over the rhythmic motif of the Sacrificial Dance of the Rite of Spring, harmonized by none other than a Schoenberg hexachord (a music cryptogram or "muse code" that spells "A. Schoenberg" in one of its transpositions: [A], Es, C, H, B, E, G, where E♭, B, and B♭ are Es, H, and B in German and "Es" is homophonic for the letter "S").
What is particularly ironic in the analysis of the Sacrificial Dance is it appears to be pranking Schoenberg with repeated leaps and bounds as the year 1913 approaches (a year that began precisely 13 days ahead of the Gregorian calendar in Austria, whilst the Julian calendar in Russia was still being used). This "I-gor F. Stra-vin-sky" rhythmic motif is hammered throughout the Sacrificial Dance in schizophrenic fashion on D B (in the bass) to F# A C D (or "Die Bastard. F.U., it's over ArnolD!" (anagrammatically D B, Fis Ut over A D) where "Ut" is the French naming for "Do" (solfège for C) and "Fis" is German for F#. In this way, Stravinsky manages to prod and poke Schoenberg with mischief, seemingly targeting him as his "chosen victim" (in "La Sacre", this is a young girl who dances ultimately to her own death). Knowing this, Schoenberg (the triskaidekaphobic numberphile whose music was based on mathematical calculations rather than his ear) would likely lose his marbles and be driven to suicide if the phobia ever overtook him. Not ironically, Schoenberg is speculated to have "worried himself to death" as he was born on the 13th (of September 1874) and feared life at age 76, anticipating it would be the year of his death (7+6 = 13). Like clockwork, on the 13th (of July 1951), he succumbed to a heart attack.
Backtracking, however, Pierrot Lunaire premiered on October 16, 1912 just before Stravinsky & Schoenberg met in the flesh (reportedly for the first time) that November. They met in Berlin where they got along quite amicably before falling out of favour with one another. Notably, however, Stravinsky had already completed La Sacre earlier that year, and these underpinnings are theorized to be the impetus that fueled decades upon decades of feuding between the two.
Much like a music cryptogram, muse code is a technique that I employ both in rhythmic motifs as well as melodic / harmonic spellings in many of my works. Furthermore, as can be seen from my oeuvre to date, both Schoenberg and Stravinsky have been major influences on how I have crafted my musical language. While this work is largely Stravinsky-based in melody alone, an astute listener may correctly sense that the polyphony in the concluding measures of the 3rd movement are faintly reminiscent of the opening of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire (cf. "Pierrotica"). It is but a glimmer of sound towards the end, yet the similarities are both strategic and well placed along a parallel timeline of real-life events that inversely relate "3" and "Pierrotica" to the discovery of whom I proclaim to be my muse.
Epilogue & Dedication:
As this is my final composition for the year, I would like to send love and thanks to my mother for allowing me the space, freedom, and resources to achieve this work; to my father who supports me emotionally regardless of who I am, what I do, and what or whom I love; to my friends Eduardo Cordero, Pamela Coats, Jay Desai, and David Crowder, who have graciously provided encouragement and sideline support over the years, neither with presumption nor judgment, and provided tools that have enabled my gifts to manifest and grow to maturity; to my brothers and sisters-in-law and their children, who bring me love, joy, and happiness as their most favorite uncle in the world; to my dear friends and extended family, aunties, uncles, cousins too numerous to name, who unabashedly advocate for me behind the scenes; to my former professors, who have imparted their priceless wisdom and exceptional knowledge of music; to my squad Amber, Christy, and Jessica who cheered me on as a child to be the best clarinetist I could ever be; to my bros in Phi, Mu, and Alpha who look out for me whether I am at my best or my worst; to my long lost sisters Delores Schilling, Vivian Huang, Gloria Ventura, Bibit Lestari, Elizabeth Mahaffey, and Andrea Gilkey whose indefatigable kindness has carried me through the darkest of times; to my commilitones Gawein Antonie, Aäron Blomme, Kevin Verlaeckt, Joshua Jones, and Jon Wilson who have never made me feel like a stranger; to my faerie godmothers Joanne Savard and Clair Gail Henry, paragons of humanity, whose hospitality, equanimity, and forthrightness have kept me grounded; to my fellow Cabbageheads and Reynoldstonians of Atlanta who go the extra mile to make me feel right at home; and lastly, yet most preeminently, to my muse, my evanescent worldy inspiration, ceaselessly materializing ever so conspicuously in my foreconscious thoughts and subconscious dreams.
I love you all and I wish you a Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas. Cheers to surviving 2017!
released December 20, 2017
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