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Marga Richter

Variations & Interludes
on Themes from Monteverdi & Bach

(concerto for violin and cello and piano)

When I began to write this concerto in February 1992, I was sure of only two things: I would use the Prologue from Monteverdi's Orfeo as the theme for the variations, and each solo instrument would have its own cadenza. Then I discovered my improvisation on J. S. Bach's C-major Prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Volume 1, that I had listened to some months earlier and put aside. The turbulent nature of this improvisation, with its wildly distorted melodic contours and strange harmonies, struck me as an interesting contrast to the serenity of the Monteverdi, so it became the second source of thematic material for this concerto. Three additional elements are an original melodic entity unintentionally akin to the well-known liturgical Dies Irae and therefore given that designation in this piece, the chorale with which Orfeo ends, and four-to-five-chord harmonic progressions used as bridges between some sections.

The concerto is a free-form fantasy that begins with a brief introduction fashioned from the Bach improvisation. This leads to a presentation of the Monteverdi theme, which retains the archaic sound of the original by being scored for only the violin and cello soloists and harp. Four brass chords then usher in the first variation wherein my Dies Irae theme is also introduced. The succeeding 12 variations, of no set length, are interrupted by interludes, chorales (the original and it's eight variations) and the cadenzas, and are sometimes only distantly related to the theme.

The solo cadenzas are immediately preceded by a Trio-Cadenza in which the Bach prelude is played in its original form (although transposed to D-flat major and beginning in D-flat minor, with one cadence in minor instead of major) as the accompaniment to the Dies Irae theme, which is greatly expanded and developed in the violin. Embedded in the harmonic texture is the chorale theme (cello).

The cello cadenza, a montage of thematic allusions, is an emotional and technical tour de force clearly modeled after the Bach cello suites, but not quoting from any of them. The violin cadenza is in two contrasting parts. Part I echoes, then expounds upon, Variation 8. It has an austere, remote quality, in contrast to the impetuous, rhapsodic cello cadenza. Part II begins in a quasi-playful way, featuring unadorned arpeggios. As the music intensifies, double-stops are added, with figures rising and falling chromatically, insistently reiterating at the apex of each, the first three notes of the Dies Irae theme (sometimes inverted or altered). At the climax, a brief reprise of the Part I motif ends in a quiet unison with the beginning of the piano cadenza. This cadenza harks back to the cello cadenza in style and thematic material, developed idiomatically. It ends in a blaze of virtuosic double arpeggios supporting a passionate rendering of the Dies Irae, culminating in the orchestra's full tutti statement of the same theme.

The "bridge" chords then lead to the final section of the piece, in essence a prolonged and varied coda. It begins with Variations 11 and 12 and continues with Chorales 7-9 and a full-orchestra statement of the opening Prologue. A brief codetta for the soloists alone, beginning forcefully, then gradually subsiding in a swirl of arpeggios and trills, brings the work to a restful close, punctuated by a slowly rising broken chord in the harp.

The concerto was premiered under its original title "...beside the still waters" in Greensboro, North Carolina by Eastern Music Festival, which commissioned it.

-Marga Richter

Howard Harris
Musicke for Dauncing Judicially,
proving the true observation of time and measure
in the Authenticall and laudable use of Dauncing

(alto saxophone and orchestra)

This piece is made up of simultaneous multiple musics. The idea for this came from a recent rereading of Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf. In the novel the main character, Harry Haller, walks around with the music of Bach, Handel and Mozart in his head. He is forever seeking that transcendent state of being he experiences every once in a while in their "immortal" music. At the same time he is haunted (or should I say taunted) by the "vulgar" jazz music he hears all around him. This is represented by Pablo, the saxophonist, who later turns out to also be Mozart, both of whom the reader ultimately realizes are parts of Harry himself.

I have placed the alto saxophone, sometimes with other instruments, in a hard, funky, soulful jazz groove right on top of music by Monteverdi, Bach, Handel and Schütz. The Baroque music, much of it altered by inversion, retrogression, the use of orchestral color and other diversionary tactics, has its own rhythmic grooves. This dual consciousness is at the heart of this piece. These layered modes of swinging combine to create a new third mode.

-Howard Harris



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