The idea to composer Café Music first came to me in 1985 after sitting in one night for the pianist at Murray’s Restaurant in Minneapolis. Murray's employs a house trio which plays entertaining dinner music in a wide variety of styles. My intention was to write a kind of high-class dinner music--music which could be played at a restaurant, but might also (just barely) find its into a concert hall. The work draws on many of the types of music played by the trio at Murray’s. For example, early 20th century American, Viennese, light classical, gypsy, and Broadway styles are all represented. A paraphrase of a beautiful Hasidic melody is incorporated in the second movement. Café Music was commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and received its premiere during a SPCO chamber concert in January 1987.
Burlesque was written in the early 70’s as part of a composition seminar in which I was participating. At that time all of us were writing music in what has become to be known as the “Northeast Rationalist School”. Music without much jest, intended to be highly sophisticated and cerebral. I imagine that it was out of youthful protest, that a few weeks before the “presentation of works” concert I decided to write something as unhighbrow as possible, totally tasteless and full of bawdy entertainment. Almost at once I recalled my Detroit high school days. The city bus I took to school dropped us off by a newsstand, and occasionally I would buy a tabloid to read during study hall.
And so it happened one day that I read a story about an exotic dancer, “Beulah the Barbarian”. Of course, I never verified that the story was true, but according to the article, Beulah’s performance was so enticing and ravishing that one of the members of the audience ran up on the stage and accosted her. There was was a great hullabaloo (according to the paper, the audience thought it was part of the act and was cheering the attacker on), but eventually the police had to be called in. To the satisfaction of all, Beulah was able to overcome all obstacles, and in the end finished her dance triumphantly.
In 1986, clarinetist David Shifrin asked me to write a chamber work for violin, clarinet and piano, but it was not until summer of 1990 that I was able to begin the project. In addition to the primary goal of composing a work for David, the Trio realizes a long-standing desire to create entertaining music that could be played at Chassidic gatherings as well as in in the concert hall. The opening movement, “Freylakh”, is a joyous dance that is almost frenetic in the intensity of its merry-making. The “March” is bizarre and somewhat diabolical in nature, and the “Nigun” is a slow movement of introspection. The work closes with a lively “Kozatzke” (Cossack Dance).
Each of the movements is based partly on an East European Chassidic melody. The exact source of many Chassidic melodies is unknown. Frequently they were composed by the Tzadikim of the 18th and 19th centuries, but often as not, they appear to have been borrowed from regional folk songs, Cossack dances and military marches. In their Chassidic versions, however, the melodies and texts were completely reworked, since the borrowed tunes, which originated in a completely different milieu, could not satisfactorily express the Chassidic ideal that regarded the exuberant expression of joy as a religious duty.
The Slovakian Children's Songs were jointly commission by Carol Wincenc and the Hoeschler family of Minnesota. Rarely in my experience as a composer has the role of the commissioners so completely determined the content of a score.
Carol and I first met over thirty years ago when we were both students at Chautauqua. We have enjoyed a close musical association ever since. I have had the pleasure of accompanying her several times in concert, and it was for Carol that I wrote the flute concerto, Klezmer Rondos. We share a common love for folk music, and Carol, being of Slovak descent, had frequently discussed with me the idea of composing a flute and piano work based on Slovakian folk elements.
Several years ago, Linda Hoeschler (neé Lovas) who is also of Slovak descent had asked that I compose something in honor of the Lovas family. This obviously worked in perfectly with what Carol and I had been considering. The birth of Carol's child, Nicola, nourished the decision to base the work on children's music, and in the end, this suite, Slovakian Children's Songs resulted.
In technical terms these pieces fall in between arrangements and original compositions. Certain folk tunes are quoted verbatim, but more often than not, they are paraphrased or embedded into an overall texture which masks their presence.
Frequently, I have been asked if I ever use mathematical models or methodologies to compose music. The answer is no. (It seems that in general, such procedures lead to bad music and bad mathematics). However, it does happen occasionally, that after writing a piece of music, I notice a similarity between the piece and a mathematical concept I have studied. This occurred while perusing my quartet Carolina Reveille
There is concept in algebra known as a ‘group presentation’ in which a specific number of elements (“generators”) are given, and a relation between them is defined. For example, the presentation (a,b : a5=1, b2=1, ba= a4b) defines what is known to algebraists as D5, the dihedral group with ten elements.
I started with the generators (i.e. musical motives) of the widely-known tune, Carolina in the Morning, and formulated various relationships between them. This is turn generated new musical elements, and from this aggregate, all the material-- melody, rhythm, harmony, and counterlines--emanated. Of course the process is hardly new. One could argue that the same technique is often found in classical Sonata-Allegro movements, and most likely, it shows the ubiquitousness of the group-theoretic concept, which has relevance in so many diverse fields.
The source material (i.e Carolina in the Morning ) is presented in its entirety only near the end of the work. However, apart from this detour, Carolina Reveille follows what is probably the most common classical variation procedure. That is, there is a gradual increase in tempo from one variation to the next, up to the penultimate one, which is written in a somewhat stuffy and scholastic style. This is followed by a lively finale, here a tarantella, which brings the work to a clamorous and joyful conclusion.
Carolina Reveille was commissioned by Jack and Linda Hoeschler as a tribute to Dick and Maryan Schall. For many years Mr. Schall was a corporate mentor to Mrs. Hoeschler, and has been a long-time friend of the Hoeschler family. Discussing the content of the work, the Hoeschlers proposed a list of songs significant to the Schall’s. From the list I chose Carolina in the Morning, which seemed particularly well suited to extended elaboration and development.