Duration: ca. 12′
Commission: Max Aronoff Viola Institute
Premiere: 30 June 2005, Bastyr University (Kenmore, Wash.)
Prior to composing Parting, I had long wanted an opportunity to write a solo work for my friend, the violist Charles Noble (currently Assistant Principal Viola of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra). The chance finally came in 2005 in the form of a commission from the Max Aronoff Viola Institute who wanted either a sonata with piano or an unaccompanied work for their summer recital series.
Truth be told, Parting is not the first piece on which Charles and I have worked together. Charles is one of my first musical collaborators, having been there at the start of it all. He actually took part in my very first public performance (of a quartet for violin, two violas, and cello––now resting eternally in a trunk in my parents’ house). Since that beginning, back in my high school days, he has likely played seven or eight of my works, including a nascent sonata for viola and piano, which sadly never knew completion. But Parting is the first finished work written expressly for him.
A single-movement piece, Parting (whose title has several meanings) is a set of continuous variations on two themes, one light, the other dark. The themes are heard at the beginning and end of the work, respectively, and their variations unfold in opposite directions, as it were, meeting in the middle for a larger combined variation. In diagram, it looks like this:
In actuality, the two themes are variations on one another––flip sides of the same coin. Embedded in the abstract design is a narrative, loosely based on the Orpheus myth (in which the hero’s lyre is replaced by a viola!). The plucking motive that resounds throughout alludes to this story, as does the title, whose meanings can refer to both a leave-taking and a division into smaller parts (variations).
I am delighted that Charles Noble finally has a work of his own to “create.” His robust and impassioned playing is perfectly tailored to the dramatic sense of this work.