Red Bird Etudes: after Serigraphs by Charley Harper
Not literal transcriptions of birdsongs, these musical lines trace the erratic, comic flight paths rather than the calls of these cardinals. ‘Natural Minimalism’ is the way Harper describes his works: “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures. I regard the picture as an ecosystem in which all the elements are interrelated, interdependent, perfectly balanced, without trimming or unutilized parts; and herein lies the lure of painting.” Therein lies the lure of his art, and the lure of it as a source of musical inspiration.
Inkwash draws upon the effect of inks upon paper in painting. The intricate, spidery lines of India ink that branch out into the rough grain of a sheet of watercolor paper, the sense of distance and atmosphere that this technique can create are visual analogues to the sound world I have tried to craft in this trio for 2 clarinets and guitar. Several ink and watercolor paintings I own by Douglas Johnson were influential in helping me find the mysterious and hazy mood that enshrouds most of this piece, with momentary glimpses of clear light that dot the experience of this piece. The work is dedicated to Laura Bouffard and her husband Leonel Marulanda. Laura was a former Vanderbilt University classmate, and I am grateful to her for the opportunity to write this piece.
The Suite presents four contrasting short pieces for two treble instruments. The first movement develops a series of short but broad vignettes, many based on nervous energy of the trill. The second is a comical exchange of melodies between the instruments with a jumpy accompaniment. The third movement is a slow and mournful meditation on a largely unchanging idea. The fourth movement, like the first, presents a number of short ‘scenes,’ in which some past ideas briefly resurface before the piece ends in an abrupt tumble.
Entwine Our Tongues: Sapphic Fragments
Clarinets, Oboes, Soprano
(double Bass Clarinet and English Horn)
Translation can be a tricky matter. The challenge is compounded by orders of magnitude when the sum total material one has to translate is a single word or phrase. Yet this is the state in which most of Sappho’s poetry exists. The vast majority of translations of Sappho’s words, then, are executed by a mixture of scholarly inference and poetic license, tentatively guessing at intentions. I imagine that tentative feeling is similar to the nervous energy of attraction, of trying to sense mutual chemistry, the age-old binary question. Alonso’s translations (from Greek and transubstantiations from single words and fragments to stanzas) are clean, concise, and unadorned. In plain, unaffected language they convey the feelings of the speaker, the images, the scene. Who is the speaker? Possibly Sappho, though in Fragment 32, she almost completely renounces her own agency as a creator, instead serving as a conduit for and at the pleasure of the inspiring gods and muses. This was a common ancient conception of artistry and inspiration and, I think, a good way to conceive of the singer in this song cycle. Who are the I’s of the songs? I think of each one as an emotional state or attitude, inspired and enacted by desire: pride, modesty (possibly false), selfish possessiveness, flirtatiousness, rumination, tenderness. The singer is the conduit for the states illustrated in the texts, providing one further translation in this series, of text into song, bringing these poems closer to the original Sapphic fragments by their delivery, if not their language.
Honeyvoiced poems by Jordi Alonso (2014) are used with permission of the author and the publisher, XOXOX Press of Gambier, Ohio.
Honeyvoiced (ISBN 978-1880977-37-8) is distributed globally through Ingram and is available through independent bookstores and at Amazon, as well as other online booksellers.