(Three Songs after Ravel’s Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé)
Instrumentation: clarinet, viola, cello
Duration: ca. 10′
Premiere: 29 June 2000, Harris Hall (Aspen, Col.)
Score available upon request.
Complete work, performed live by The Furious Band:
II. “Placet futile”
III. “Surgi de la croupe et du bond”
Une rose dans les ténèbres is unlike any other work of mine to date (and not simply for its French title!). Part original composition, part transcription, the music inhabits an in-between space where memory and inspiration overlap. It is, ultimately, a response to one of my favorite works, Ravel’s Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, a piece that comes at the cusp of his use of the leaner, more acerbic language which colors his post-World War I compositions, while still retaining elements of his earlier, more Debussyan period.
My attempt was to both recall that work and to extend its language into the new century. The result, which pares down Ravel’s ensemble of nine instruments (eleven, if you include the piccolo and bass clarinet doublings) to that of three, uses bits of quotation from the original, refashioning them in new configurations, including a healthy dose of aleatory technique. The subtitle “Three Songs” alludes to the overall vocal quality of this purely instrumental music.
The work was composed during a period of condensed, frenzied activity, over the course of several days in the late spring of 2000. It was begun in Portland, Ore. and completed at the Aspen Music Festival, where I was a fellow in the Master Class in Composition. It was premiered at Harris Hall by members of the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble-in-Residence, the Furious Band. The title, which could be translated as “A rose in the darkness,” is the final line of the third of Mallarmé’s poems, and seemed to me to illustrate the concept of the piece: a thing of beauty obscured.