PROGRAM NOTE by Augusta Read Thomas (12/3/09)
My favorite moment in any piece of music is the moment of maximum risk and striving. Whether the venture is tiny or large, loud or soft, fragile or strong, passionate, erratic, ordinary or eccentric…! Maybe another way to say this is the moment of exquisite humanity and raw soul. All art that I cherish has an element of love and recklessness and desperation. I like music that is alive and jumps off the page and out of the instrument as if something big is at stake.”
Although my music is highly notated, precise, carefully structured, thoughtfully proportioned, and so forth… and although you may have many musicians elegantly working together, from the very specific text, I like my music to have the feeling that it is organically being self-propelled – on the spot. As if we listeners, the audience, are overhearing a CAPTURED IMPROVISATION.
I like my music to be played so that the “inner-life” of the different rhythmic syntaxes is specific, with characterized phrasing of the colors and harmonies, etc.- keeping it ultra alive -such that it always sounds spontaneous.
My works are organic and, at every level, concerned with transformations and connections.
When I read this beautiful poem by Rumi, written 900 years ago, all of it but especially the last 3 lines,
“Stop the words now. Open the window in the center of your chest and let the spirits fly in and out.”
resonated deeply inside of me. I felt deeply compelled to set it as a song without words, trying to capture it’s intensely personal, fiery, honest meaning.
I was thrilled and honored to receive a commission from the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, Marya and Robert Giesy, Henry Weiss (for Marion Hersch), Carla Rosenlicht (in memory of Maxwell Rosenlicht), Mr. and Mrs. Charles Peters, Jean-Paul Bierny and Chris Tanz, which provided me a much cherished and fantastic opportunity to compose RUMI SETTINGS, which Ani and Ida Kavafian premiered in March 2002 in Tucson.
The work has a total duration 12 minutes and is made up of 4 short movements that can be played attacca or with short pauses between them.
By Rumi [Barks is the translator (Date composed: approx 1240)]
MOVEMENT I Don’t worry about saving these songs! And if one of our instruments breaks, it doesn’t matter.
We have fallen into the place where everything is music.
MOVEMENT II The strumming and the flute notes rise into the atmosphere, and even if the whole world’s harp should burn up, there will still be hidden instruments playing.
So the candle flickers and goes out. We have a piece of flint, and a spark.
MOVEMENT III This singing art is sea foam. The graceful movements come from a pearl somewhere in the ocean floor.
Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge of driftwood along the beach, wanting!
They derive from a slow and powerful root that we can’t see.
MOVEMENT IV Stop the words now. Open the window in the center of your chest and let the spirits fly in and out.
Each of the movements adheres to the meaning, perfume, and essence of the stunning Rumi text. Throughout the score, each line of the text is written above the music, corresponding to the moment when the DUO is depicting that particular line of the poem, thus the musicians know the connotation and nuance of the composition.
It would take far too long to describe each line of text and their corresponding musical adventures. So allow me to modestly offer six brief examples of this procedure.
The music starts with a passionate, dramatic, cadenza like surge in the solo violin, played with the whole soul engaged and as if it does not matter if the instrument breaks (not literally) until the Viola soon enters, supporting and propelling the music forward onto a Kaleidoscopic journey. A climax ensues before the music relaxes “We have fallen into the place where everything is music” settling on a calm open fifth.
In Movement II you will hear notes rising into the atmosphere as the two soloists arpeggiate ascending chords with double stops. Suddenly, “the whole world’s harp” rushes forward in full motion with Pizzicatti until later the movement ends, in a distant, still calm, such that we can discern, “there will still be hidden instruments playing.”
Movement III is extremely graceful and tuneful, like a pearl from the ocean floor…
RUMI SETTINGS is dedicated with admiration and gratitude to Ani and Ida Kavafian and the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music. It is published by G. Schirmer Inc.
Sponsored by: Marya and Robert Giesy, Henry Weiss for Marion Hersh, Carla Rosenlicht in memory of Maxwell Rosenlicht, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Peters, and Jean-Paul Bierny and Chris Tanz