Music of Libby Larsen performed by Caroline Hartig and Friends
1. Corker 6:41
Caroline Hartig, clarinet; Robert Adney, percussion
Blue Third Pieces
Caroline Hartig, clarinet; Christopher Kachian, guitar
2. I. Deep Blue 3:58
3. II. Salt Peanuts 3:02
Caroline Hartig, clarinet
4. I. With Shadows 2:52
5. II. Eight to the Bar 2:52
6. III. In Ten Slow Circles 2:46
7. IV. Flat Out 3:07
Black Birds, Red Hills
Caroline Hartig, clarinet; David Harding, viola;
Kevin Purrone, piano
8. I. Pedernal Hills 3:34
9. II. Black Rock 2:05
10. III. Red Hills and Sky 2:14
11. IV. A Black Bird with Snow-Covered Hills 2:15
Three Pieces for Treble Wind and Guitar
Caroline Hartig, clarinet; Christopher Kachian, guitar
12. I. Canti Breve 2:54
13. II. Circular Rondo 3:41
14. III. Presto Digital 2:51
15. Song Without Words 8:40
Caroline Hartig, clarinet, Kevin Purrone, piano
A dynamic musical idiom radiates from the United States in the works of Libby Larsen. Her distinctive style draws equally from the garage band pop culture, classic jazz and gritty Delta blues, a deeply rooted visual impulse, the rhythmic nuances of American speech, and a compositional technique refined in the university environment.
Larsen did not consciously strive for this eclecticism. In fact, she readily avows the importance of classical training. Revisiting two or more decades of compositions, however, Larsen realizes that she has grown more absorbed with musical content, habitually incorporating those styles that have “struggled” to emerge from American cultural experience. The six pieces on this recording illustrate the fascinating and diverse musical communication resulting from her classical vernacular stylistic amalgam.
A native of Wilmington, Delaware, Libby Larsen (b. 1950) grew up in the Midwest before beginning her formal musical studies. She earned threefold academic credentials (Bachelor of Arts, Master of Music, and Doctor of Philosophy) from the University of Minnesota, where her compositional mentors included Dominick Argento, Paul Fetler, and Eric Stokes. In 1973, she co-founded (with fellow composer Stephen Paulus) the Minnesota Composers Forum, later renamed the American Composers Forum. She has served as composer-in-residence with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Charlotte Symphony and is currently composer-in-residence with the Colorado Symphony. Larsen was named Minnesota Woman of the Year in the Arts in 1981, and, six years later, she received the Outstanding Achievement Award from her alma mater.
Her imaginative approach to composition has attracted both national and international attention. Larsen twice received National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships (1982 and 1984), and has served as advisor to the NEA, ASCAP, and the American Symphony Orchestra League. In 1984, she was honored as American Express Woman to Watch. Larsen’s Sonnets from the Portuguese appeared on the Grammy Award-winning CD, The Art of Arleen Auger (1994). Her music also has appeared recently on Angel/EMI, CRI, Elektra/Nonesuch, and Koch International, which has released the Missa Gaia and a recording of orchestral music featuring the London Symphony.
Caroline Hartig has received acclaim as a clarinet soloist and chamber musician throughout the United States, Europe and Japan. She has appeared with orchestras and contemporary music ensembles in major concert halls including Carnegie Hall, Merkin Concert Hall,Symphony Hall (Boston), and the Fritz Reiner Center for Contemporary Music. Widely recognized for her new-music collaborations, Hartig has premiered and performed numerous solo and chamber works. Hartig’s most recent CD Clarinet Brilliante was honored by the American Record Guide as a "Critics’ Choice". Her artistry has been described as "dazzling, with prodigious technique", Hartig dazzles with numbing, blazing fluidity and rich, luxuriant fervor...” coiled virtuosity. She is currently on the faculty at Michigan State University.
Corker (1989) – an early-twentieth-century colloquialism used to describe “someone or something of astonishing or excellent quality” (Random House Dictionary) – explores the interplay and opposition of rhythmic and melodic elements. The clarinet initially assumes the role of jazz soloist, firing off quasi improvised, lyrical phrases. Beneath, the percussion simulates the crisp, driving sixteenth notes of swing-era drummer. When the percussionist swaps non-pitched percussion for the marimba or vibraphone, this rhythmic function gives way to a harmonic orientation. Larsen explains: “My inspiration for the work is drawn from the 1940’s popular musical language, which I love, because the performers were spectacular musicians and because the music speaks the rhythms and harmonic language of contemporary American English.” Robert Spring, Professor of Clarinet at Arizona State University, commissioned Corker, which received its first performance at the International Clarinet Society Convention in July, 1991.
Larsen chose an idiomatic ensemble and pitch language for Blue Third Pieces (1996). The guitar remains the quintessential blues instrument, aside from the voice, whose breath-filled phrases are assigned in this work to the treble wind. “Deep Blue” takes the characteristic blues interval, the minor third and its sliding resolution to the major third, as a point of departure.
Freedom of phrasing and meter, one characteristic of authentic improvised old-time blues, results in this movement from the uneven 5-8 time signature. “Salt Peanuts” – taking its name from a stereotypical jazz pattern (long-SHORT-long) – is heard throughout the movement. Stylistic references become even more specific halfway through the movement, when the guitar begins a repetitive “comping” pattern (known to all blues and rock guitarists) which the composer identifies with Ray Charles, “one of my musical heroes.” Blue Third Pieces were commissioned and premiered by flutist Susan De Jong and guitarist Jeffrey Van.
Instrumental virtuosity paralleling the kinetic movements of the human body—an experience Larsen described as “improvising with the shadows, the air, on an inner beat, upon a fleeting feeling” – inspired Dancing Solo (1994). The four movements emphasize different motor impulses played out in musical space. “With Shadows” moves gracefully in balletic gestures. The clarinet first soars upward, like a ballerina rising to pointe, then gently floats downward. Larsen creates a musical analogy to this dance shape in two-part, high-low counterpoint. Widely spaced trills toward the end relate this movement to “A Black Bird with Snow Covered Red Hills” in Black Birds, Red Hills. Laid-back swing rhythms dominate the second piece, “Eight to the Bar.” The swing influence appears as triplet subdivisions of the quarter note and pulsations of a sustained tone. Occasionally, quarter notes subdivide into two, providing a type of rhythmic counterpoint.
“In Ten Slow Circles” contains ten long phrases requiring circular breathing. The pitch content arises from a ten-note row with the added pitch G serving as a tonal linchpin. A loose three-part form results from different treatments of the row: the first two and last two phrases indulge in more high-low counterpoint, while the middle six phrases (three long, three short) spin out arching lines. “Flat Out” adopts the blues “train rhythm” an almost minimalistic effect comparable to the sound a rock makes when caught in a car tire. Though the tire at times seems to loosen its grip, the rock soon resumes its monotonous clicking. In this movement, the Black Birds, Red Hills trills return, and there are motivic references to Corker as well. Caroline Hartig commissioned Dancing Solo and gave its debut performance on March 11, 1994, at Carnegie Hall, New York.
Black Birds, Red Hills (1987; revised 1996) captures the curious dichotomy of six paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, whose visual representations of the New Mexico landscape are simultaneously intimate and expansive. Larsen originally scored this piece for soprano voice, clarinet, and piano for a multimedia presentation with slides of O’Keeffe paintings and narration based on the painter’s own written thoughts. O’Keeffe was fascinated by “the idea that music could be translated into something for the eye,” and Larsen returned the favor by reflecting the visual in something for the ear. The composer later revised this work (the version heard on this recording), replacing the soprano with viola. Black Birds, Red Hills was commissioned by the University of Alabama for Thea Engelson and Scott Bridges.
“Pedernal Hills” (based on Pedernal and Red Hills, 1936) evokes the mysterious sense of infinity lying just over the horizon line, a boundlessness reflected in its transparent musical textures and malleable rhythms. The viola retains the narrative quality of the vocal original. O’Keeffe once described the New Mexico hills as V shaped – a pair of arms reaching outward to embrace the sky, “like an abstract cradle” according to the composer. “Black Rock” (based on Black Rock with Blue Sky and White Clouds, 1972) conveys time’s transformative power its capacity to change rough, dingy rocks into sparking gemstones.
“Red Hills and Sky” (based on Red and Orange Hills, 1938, and Red Hills and Sky, 1945) languishes rhythmically amid the sweltering midday heat. The final movement plus epilogue, “A Black Bird with Snow-Covered Red Hills” (based on A Black Bird with Snow-Covered Red Hills, 1946 and Black Bird Series [In the Patio IX], 1950), employs more literal musical representation of the black bird, Larsen again took a clue from her visual source: “O’Keeffe covered the red hills with snow and focused on the bird as a metaphor of time, always there and always moving away.”
Three Pieces for Treble Wind and Guitar (1973-74) began as a single work – “Circular Rondo” written for Jeffrey Van, guitar instructor at the University of Minnesota. The following year, Larsen composed “Canti Breve” as a wedding gift for her friend, Lynne Aspnes, then a harp student at the university. She rounded out the set with the effervescent ‘Presto Digital,” a piece with motivic links to “Canti Breve.”
Song Without Words (1986) served as a musical epitaph for Richard Lamberton, a beloved friend and “gentle, deeply kind man who loved music and had a particular love of the clarinet.” The composer had known the Lamberton family for more than two decades, and came to admire father Richard’s inquiring mind and courageous and optimistic spirit. Alternately meditative and rejuvenating, Song Without Words celebrates life instead of mourning its loss. Larsen – whose own father is a clarinetist – consciously alludes to the famous opening clarinet “wail” from Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue”. Three- and four-note melodic fragments toll in the low bass and high treble registers throughout as a kind of cantus-firmus invocation of Richard Lamberton.
©Todd E. Sullivan 1997
Kevin Purrone – piano
Kevin Purrone has won acclaim for his solo and chamber music performances in the United States and abroad. He is an active composer and improviser, teaches at Ball State University, and has interests in art-integrated education and creativity.
Robert Adney – percussion
Robert Adney freelances with both the Minnesota and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestras. He has toured and recorded with both groups, with over 14 albums to his credit. Currently he teaches at the MacPhail Center for the Arts.
David Harding – viola
David Harding is a two-time prize winner of the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition and is a recipient of the Sir John Barbirolli Award. He has served as assistant principal viola of the Canadian Opera Company and has been a member of the Toronto Symphony and an active chamber musician. He is currently violist of the acclaimed Chester String Quartet.
Christopher Kachian – guitar
Christopher Kachian has given over 500 performances in the UK, Ireland, Austria, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, France, Russia, Africa, the U.S. and South America. He has commissioned and premiered many works, including five concerti, and is the author of A Composer’s Desk Reference for the Classic Guitar. He directs the largest guitar program in the Midwest at the University of Saint Thomas.
Recorded at the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1997
Recording Engineer: Russ Borud
Design: Philip Blackburn
Special Thanks to: Jeff Nearpass, Harriet McCleary, Leslie Mick, Mindy Cloeter, Wynne Reece, Oberlin Conservatory and Ball State University
To obtain scores for Blue Third Pieces, Dancing Solo, Black Birds, Red Hills, and Three Pieces for Treble Wind and Guitar, contact Oxford University Press, Inc., New York, USA 1-800-344-4249
To obtain scores for Corker and Song Without Words, contact ECS Music, Boston, MA, USA 1-800-777-1919
Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.