top of page

Douglas Boyce

Douglas Boyce is an American composer.
Screen Shot 2023-12-28 at 4.23.09 PM.png

Douglas Boyce writes chamber music that draws on Medieval and Renaissance traditions and modernist aesthetics, building rich rhythmic structures that shift between order, fragmentation, elegance, and ferocity. His approach is deeply historical and broadly philosophical. This approach and the works themselves connect to many aspects of the scholarship in the humanities, including history, anthropology, literary studies, and philosophy. His music has been described as "vastly stimulating on all levels, whether intellectual or emotional" ( Colin Clarke, Fanfare), "seriously engaging and masterfully developed" (Allan J. Cronin, New Music Buff) and as having " a natural feel for dramatic, linear flow, and a sense of daring and imagination." (Peter Burwasser, Fanfare). 

Douglas Boyce is Professor of Music at George Washington University and holds a BA in music and Physics from Williams College (1992), an MM in composition from the University of Oregon (1996), and a PhD in Composition from the University of Pennsylvania (2000). He has been awarded the League of Composers ISCM Composers Award (2005), the Salvatore Martirano Prize (2006), the Robert Avalon Prize (2010), and a Fromm Commission (2012). He is a composer-in-residence of counter)induction, a composer/performer collective active in the New York region ( His works have been published by New Dynamic Records, Capstone Records, the Society of Composers, Inc., and New Focus Recordings.

The Hunt by Night: Etude for Clarinet, Cello and Piano No. 3

Clarinet, Cello, Piano




The Hunt by Night has two points of origin: Paulo Uccello’s 1470 painting (sometimes referred to as The Hunt in the Forest) and Derek Mahon’s eponymous 1970 poem. 

Uccello plays with symmetry and flatness in representing hunters, horses, dogs, and horns; their chaotic yet directed energy dances before the forest's cold, rigid lines, soon to envelop them. The painting presents for us the anticipatory moment, the instant before the start of the chase as the forest lays before the hunters (as does their prey), while their dogs, mounts, and partners gambol, play and rough-house, with only a few seemingly paused in consideration of the pursuit's likely lethal culmination.  

Mahon’s poetic exegesis of the painting considers the historicality of the chase, moving from its origin as a brutal necessity to the mythic space of cave-art, then to a privileged pastime of nobility, and then again to games of childhood.  He sees all this in the pageantry and play of the foreground to the dark interior of the forest. “Crazed no more by foetid / Bestial howls,” the hunt is transformed, “horses to rocking-horses / Tamed and framed to courtly uses.”  Not a re-presentation of a particular hunt, this is a poetic exegesis of the multiple significations of this strange and fatal pleasure.  

In my musical rendering of this scene, the sprezzatura of counter)induction’s performers echo the energy of the crowded foreground of the painting.  The piece is part of a set of 21 pieces for combinations of clarinet, cello, and piano (A Book of Etudes), each work pushing players outside of the standard towards a virtuosity of expression. The historical caccia is a wegmarke, as the three players shift roles from pursuer to pursued, and back again.


Pymalion qui moult subtilz estoit: Etude for cello and clarinet #1

Clarinet, Cello




This etude is a study in that the ballade, 'Pymalion qui moult subtilz estoit,' (F. 113 of Torino J.II.9) serves as a source for the pitch and rhythmic material, but also in that it is a study in the project of adoption, in the thorough engagement with the exquisite foreignness of the past.   The text recounts the tale of Pygmalion the sculptor, averse to women, whose consuming love for his own statue leads to the intercession of Aphrodite, and the statue's transformation from idealized female form to flesh and life. 

The Cypriot source of the Torino codex places the character of Pygmalion in an intriguing political and historical frame, as Pygmalion is most often presented as a king of Cyprus– the situation of Nicosia as a crusader state on the interface between Christendom and Islam draws intriguing connection between political and socio-cultural transformation of the island of Cyprus, the biophysical transformation of the statue, and psychological and emotional transformation of Pygmalion himself. In this etude, the original musical work is sometimes presented relatively directly, sometimes refracted through the compositional concerns of the early 21st century– the relationship between derived work and the original metaphorically mapping both the loss and accrual of significance through time as well as the sculptural working of the titular artist-king. 

To compose is always to speak with the dead, but further, it is to dance with them, to embrace the past as immediate, even if it is remote.  F. 113 is transported in time, gaining and loosing distinct fidelities.  It is the same as it ever was, and yet it is as it has never been.  Stone is carved and wears; clay is spun and shatters – A friend suggests that the first time around, we worked in clay and stone, and this time we work in light, light fixed and transfixed in copper and glass, sand that was once the beach of Pygmalion's Cyprus, of Lusignan Nicosia.  For music in this age of light, the invitation to dance must come from us – the dead await and welcome, but only come when called – they have learned not to speak first.  If our aspiration is a sublime recapitulation we will always be disappointed.  Our dialogue with history is always precisely that, a dialogue, a conversation which moves both partners to places unplanned.  Like Pygmalion, the transformation is double– the statue comes to life, but Pygmalion's relations to others are also transformed.   We transform what we adopt, and are transformed in the process.  The difficulty is loving the source, the transformed and the process, to adopt and not to merely borrow.

Or, perhaps more simply, imagine this: a reed brushes against a potter's wheel in the kingdom of Nicosia in the early part of the 15th century, its vibrations translating the sound waves of musicians in the next room into grooves and valley on the surface of a rotating pot.  Half a millennium later another miracle, more technical perhaps, allows the reconstitution of those patterns into sound.  Tonight we hear such a doubly miraculous retransmission, not with the  flaws and degradations of an imperfect recording, but with the amendments of history and all its generative imperfections.


bottom of page