The Elements of Resurgence (2012-13)

Instrumentation: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano

Movement II, Romance à la Gamelan first performed at Amherst College, Amherst, MA on 5 May 2013. Other movements have never been performed and the recording here is generated using Sibelius Sounds 6 Essentials.

Alison Hale, flute
Robert Flynn, clarinet
Ben Boatwright, violin
Caroline Magee, cello
Albert Yu, piano

Finalist in the 2014 Morton Gould Young Composer Awards.

Program Notes

The Elements of Resurgence is a four-movement work I wrote starting in 2012. I was listening to Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (1912), the original work for this kind of ensemble, and was struck by the ensemble’s immense versatility, being capable of functioning both as a chamber group as well as a miniature version of the orchestra. Since Schoenberg’s groundbreaking work, many other composers have harnessed the potential of the Pierrot ensemble. I set out to compose a work that would both reflect my inspiration from Pierrot Lunaire and contain my own personal compositional imprint.

The first movement, A Statement, and Departure opens with the piano playing a 5-note arpeggiated figure which is to serve an important role as a unifying element in the entire work. The other instruments join in, leading to a strong fortissimo arrival which rounds up the initial statement referenced in the movement title. A brief interlude gives way to a dissonant fugue, Allegro assai, in which each instrument forcefully attempts to etch its own distinctive voice into the texture. This is followed by a more tonal and melancholic second theme that builds up into a huge climax where the opening arpeggio is referenced again. The energy then dissipates to an elegiac yet eclectic passage of mourning by the non-keyboard instruments, from which the ensemble attempts to build up the energy again, but to no avail, ending with a whimper.

The next movement, Romance à la Gamelan, attempts to connect the seemingly disparate elements of a melancholic slow movement with the percussive industriousness of the Indonesian gamelan. The first section consists of a lyrical theme inspired by both the gentle Impressionistic textures of Debussy and the modern expressive melodies of Prokofiev. We then transition into the gamelan section, which is modeled after the music played by the Sundanese gamelan degung, an ensemble which I had experience performing in during my middle school years in Bandung, Indonesia. However, this being Schoenberg’s Pierrot ensemble, dissonances and chromaticism quickly contaminate the original heterophony, culminating in a large climax from which we return to the lyricism of the first theme, this time packed with much reminiscence and nostalgia. Overall, I hoped that the busy gamelan section would serve as a foil to the sentimentality of the lyrical section.

Intermezzo: A Puzzle of Reflection is a very different movement from the other three, influenced by my encounters with early, expressionistic Webern and late, post-serial Boulez, specifically his work Sur Incises (1998). Instead of fluent melody, we have several compact musical gestures brushed in and out of the texture. At the same time, it retains a bit of the more consonant sonorities of the previous two movements, eventually recalling the elegiac section of the first movement, before transitioning into the finale, Resurgence and Return, which loosely follows a rondo-like structure. Here we open with a manic moto perpetuo powered by the insistent chords in the piano, which progresses into an all-out ostinato-fueled section. This leads to a slower but emotionally intense second theme where the clarinet takes center stage. Further on, the moto perpetuo and the ostinato develop further, tinged with ironic and sarcastic overtones, after which we revisit both the lyricism of the Romance as well as the incisiveness of the Intermezzo. Finally this is interrupted by an alla Marcia section which sets us up for the final resurgence of the title. The moto perpetuo is pushed to its absolute limits, ultimately ending in a triumphant reclamation of the opening arpeggio, now transformed to its major form. We have traversed such disparate musical territories throughout the work, and yet we are back at the beginning, revitalized and resurgent.