ENS.2008.3 | 15′
Poems by Dean Young
Mezzo-soprano & Oboe, Clarinet, 2 Violins


1. An Excitement of Windows

2. Bronzed

3. Dear Friend

The title of the book by the poet Dean Young is Embryoyo. Setting three of its poems to music, I couldn’t resist my own little portmanteau. There is a mezzo-soprano, an oboe, a clarinet, and two violins for no especial reason except that they sound pretty good together to me.

This piece takes my approach of setting vocal melodies against unison accompanying lines to its natural limit: one continuous non-repeating line. I wanted to go as far as I could in this direction before retreating or finding some other way forward, so each of its three movements does a different thing with this approach. The first movement, An Excitement of Windows, is made entirely of one single non-repetitive continuously unfolding line, though this is occasionally interrupted or spiced with harmonies and certain ideas do recur when something seems to call for it. In Bronzed, the single line splits, a vocal melody moving against one repeating cell that gathers changing harmonies and eventually merges again with the voice into a thick harmonic spackle.

The big final movement, longer than the first two combined, is called Dear Friend and it’s just a fantastic poem, worth the price of the book alone. Structurally what we have here are basically unison vocal lines alternating with instrumental interludes that have finally broken free into a limited polyphony, arranged so that in the second half of the piece the vocal lines repeat (and vary) with new words in the same order, while the instrumental parts run backwards (and vary) until the twain shall meet again at the end, which thus leads inexorably back to the beginning: voila!

One weird thing about this work is it was originally written entirely without barlines because I wanted the rhythms to be as flexible as possible. However, this makes performance just ridiculously difficult, so there’s a performing version of the score which actually looks a lot sexier, and that’s what you’re probably seeing the back of onstage right now.