Happy Little Trees

ENS.2000.1 | 8′
Flute, Oboe, Bass Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, Trumpet, Trombone, Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass


Happy Little Trees

Performed by ENS/emble

Between 1998 and 2000 I composed a series of works for chamber orchestra intended for an album, which though recorded was never released—probably for the best! Of these pieces, by far the most successful was Happy Little Trees, a tribute to famed television painter Bob Ross, whose paintings may not have been very good but whose calm demeanor and hypnotic voice have long provided me an island of calm in this insane world.

By means of various permutational processes Happy Little Trees deconstructs and then reconstructs a simple figure comprising a rising scale and related triads, moving from consonance to dissonance and back again. As the material fragments, so too does it destabilize, various orchestrational effects such as glissandos and multiphonics gradually coming to dominate the musical texture.

I have always thought of this piece as mirroring Ross’s painting technique: vague blobs of color slowly resolving into a banal but beautiful scene, the image revealing itself for the first and only time at the end as the late painter ascends upwards in a blaze of cad yellow and alizarin crimson, his hair reaching heaven first.