for mixed clarinet quartet
Two Rhapsodies on Found Titles is an adaptation of an earlier piece of the same title that I composed some years for clarinet and digital delay. I have withdrawn that version and rewritten the piece for clarinet quartet because I really didn’t understand how a digital delay works then (not that I do now, really), and the piece was simply not performable as written.
My colleague at the University of Louisville School Music, Dallas Tidwell, had asked me to write a piece for the Commonwealth Clarinet Quartet, a group made up of clarinet teachers at several universities in the region, and this seemed like a way to resurrect the older piece in a more practical form. The revised version was done in the fall of 2009 while my wife and I were on sabbatical in London, and the computer version of the score finished in 2010. The first movement attempts to recreate many of the echo effects I was going after with the digital delay, while the second does so in only a few places. Likewise the first movement adheres fairly strictly to the form of the original, while the second takes the original material and reworks it fairly freely.
Like many composers I have an “idea file” in which I keep notes for future projects: requests or suggestions from friends, poems to set to music, etc. Among other things, I keep lists of phrases I have found which I think might someday make interesting titles for compositions or movements. Among these “found titles” are those used for these rhapsodies. Wisps of Nebulosity comes from one of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos television programs. This will probably not surprise anyone.
I came across the phrase The Lonesome Seas of Winter while listening to field recordings of folk singers in the Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music. I heard a singer announce the title of her next song, and immediately turned off the tape recorder. I knew I would want to use this phrase as a title, but I found the words so evocative I didn’t want to hear the melody or text of the song itself, preferring to let the title alone provide inspiration. Later, in reading the written documentation that accompanied the recording (made by Alan Lomax in the 1930s), I found that I had misheard the title: it was, in fact, The Lonesome Scenes of Winter. However, I liked my mistaken version so much that I decided to keep it.
The first movement is in free tempo almost all the way through, with the performers often echoing each other. It features long, rhapsodic lines and gradually builds up to a large climax with rolling waves of sound, then winds it way down again to a quite conclusion. The second movement is fast, scurrying and mostly quiet, with a few outbursts of louder volume. After the climax, the opening music is presented backwards, leading to the sort of ambiguous “non-ending” ending so favored by contemporary composers.