About Grace

ENS.2006.7 | 9.17.06-11.19.06 | 6’
Tenor, 2 Bass Clarinets, 2 Violins

Midi Rendition of “About Grace”

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About Grace
Texts by Anthony Doerr from “About Grace”
Songs 1-4

I found myself pleasantly surprised by Anthony Doerr’s About Grace, a “realist” literary novel I’d picked up for a dollar at the Strand because his other book had shells on the cover and I like books with shells on the cover. It turned out to be genuinely moving, with stretches of astonishing beauty describing the natural world, and also contained meaningful insights into human nature as well. Four brief passages especially struck me, and I put them aside for further use.

One thing that has long interested me is the setting of essentially arrhythmic prose whose only regularities are that of speech. Like Janáček I generally prefer to set such texts as naturally as possible, my music matching the rising and falling of the line rather than attempting to artificially corral the irregular text in a singsong rhythm. However, the latter approach can be effective—as proven by Barber’s perfect Knoxville: Summer of 1915—and that’s the direction I went in this work, with its lilting barcarolles suggesting the rise and fall of the ocean.

Scored for two bass clarinets and two violins for reasons that seemed good at the time but worked out to the advantage of the music in spite of themselves, About Grace consists of four brief songs performed attacca, and lasts about six minutes.