Artist's Statment


For some time, I’ve been reflecting on what should go here. I’ve come up with a number of poetic and philosophic ruminations, but I haven’t seen fit to publish any of them. Perhaps something about writing an artists’ statement created a kind of “observer effect,” and the sentiments thereby expressed were overwrought and unintentionally insincere. So instead of a philosophy per se, I share below a bit of correspondence with a friend concerning my recent “Four Pieces for Horn Trio.” The friend asked me about the aesthetic direction of the work(s), and I found that, when reflecting on specific pieces, I was able to shed light on my thought process as a composer.

The first piece is a kind of fragile minuet. I think it has a gentle lilt, but perhaps a slight hesitation or brokenness. I think of dissonance between timbres differently than dissonance within a single instrument. For instance, the A - A# between the piano and horn at m. 23 creates a kind of distance between the instruments, rather than, a more conventional understanding of dissonance: conflict.

The second piece may be the most opaque in character. It has a quiet, slow but constant sense of movement; the piano part unfolds with a sort of aimless succession, but one that subtly moves toward melodicism (around 144 or 149, for example). It's more of a sculpture than a narrative.

The third piece needs a hushed but very focused intensity. The violin pizz. D (starting in the second measure) is sort of keeping "off-beats," but the pulse in the movement is always fluctuating. Think of the violin part in the second measure of the movement as "1 and... 2 ....and 3 and 4," with the piano accenting the "beats." ("Four" in this case being the downbeat of the third measure.) Obviously the performers can't count it this way, but musically, this is how it needs to come across. Gradually, the piano chords separate from the violin and horn, and we end up with these fractured, powdery, pointillistic textures.

The fourth piece stresses a pedal C. Like the third movement, it needs the same kind of focused intensity, but in a much more extroverted sense. It needs to be emphatic, obsessive, and brusque. There is a kind of austerity in treating a single note so aggressively. I believe that a single note — even Middle C played with the right emphasis — can be as brutal as the densest possible cluster.

An understanding of the music must come from the experience of the music, in whatever medium that may be. It's not, as some people assume, that the music comes from an extrinsic idea, such as "rage" or "sorrow" or "misterioso;” rather, my understanding of the particular expressive nuances of a piece unfold along with the composition. I try to remain open to interpret and reinterpret the piece as it evolves, while at the same time, limiting my vocabulary to create high potential for intramusical associations. Furthermore, I accept that an interpretation of the piece reflects any number of outside circumstances. In fact, I hope to create musical situations in which there is high potential for expressive understanding to vary between listeners and between listenings. I perceive musical richness when a piece makes an immediate aesthetic impression, but the exact nature of that impression takes time to grasp and invites deeper reflection. This results partly, I believe, from aesthetic ideas that are intrinsic, not extrinsic, to the music.

To use a non-musical metaphor, Shakespeare wrote: “Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so do our minutes hasten to their end.” I love Shakespeare, but in my music, I try to say, simply: “waves towards the pebbled shore.” It’s similar to what William Carlos Williams said about his poetry: "no ideas but in things.”