Dear Man On Fire,
ENS.116 | 2.8.10 | 7’
Soprano, Flute, English Horn, Bb Clarinet, Bassoon, 2 Hand-Clappers, 2 Violas
Dear Man On Fire,
Poems by Andrew Michael Roberts from “Something Has To Happen Next”
- the moon
- strip mall
- prove you wrong
- dear man on fire,
- we are not birds
This just happened all of a sudden. I had been frustrated for a while, contemplating a larger work of interlocking whirling patterns, but though the sound was in my head I just couldn’t seem to drag it out. Then, late one night after the Superbowl, kept up by noisy parties in adjoining apartments – ok, let’s face it, I would have been up anyway – I sat down at my keyboard and decided to take a look at a couple of tiny ideas I’d jotted down in the past months, and the piece just sort of wrote itself. Isn’t it nice when that happens?
Dear Man On Fire, belongs to a group of vocal works like Sky god girl and Amulet where fairly rudimentary musical and formal ideas are allowed to just go where they go, no furrowed brows allowed. No furrowed brows allowed – that’s a great sentence! The orchestration is for soprano with four richly textured woodwinds, two violas, and two hand-clappers, who also announce the title of each poem as it arrives.
Three structural blocks alternate over the course of the piece. Andrew Michael Roberts’s poems are set over either sustained, flowing lines supporting vocal melodies, or a more disjunct, chunky viola organum, these settings alternating with a repeating phrase that gradually mutates over the course of the piece. These sections are very Reich-y, almost overly so, although that was an accident of sonic convergent evolution; Reich’s rhythms repeat, while mine cycle around each other, so that each instrument’s repeated phrases shift continuously in relation to one another. At the beginning there is a seven-beat phrase, which then has its end lopped off to make six beat, five beat, and four beat versions, each heard against each other and harmonically shifting by one tone at each appearance, so that by the end the original melody has burnt away entirely.