Painted Words

Painted Words

Painted Words


Two Pieces for Orchestra

©1996
Length: 14'

Program Notes


  1. Sweetly inhuman voices from a distant star (after Rauschenberg and Burroughs)

  2. Energy is eternal delight (after Blake)


I have always been interested in art which crosses boundary lines and refuses to be easily classified, despite a singular lack of ability in any art but music. Painted Words is a tribute to two examples of such art.

The first movement, "Sweetly inhuman voices from a distant star" is inspired by one of a series of paintings by Robert Rauschenberg, for which the avant-garde novelist William S. Burroughs, Jr., contributed a number of phrases, coined especially for the occasion. In addition to using the phrases as titles for the paintings, Rauschenberg incorporated the words into the paintings themselves, so they become a physical part of the finished work of art.

The great mystic poet, William Blake, was also a fine visual artist. Many of his poetic and religious works were originally published by him in unique editions for which he hand-engraved the texts, printed them, and then water-colored the resulting pages individually before binding, so that the finished work is something much more than just a book of poetry or philosophy, but yet something very different from a conventional painting or water-color. "Energy is eternal delight" is a line from one such work, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

The individual titles were chosen simply because they intrigued me and I felt I could do something interesting with them musically. The movements do not in any way pretend to be interpretation of or commentary on the earlier works of art, but are simply the music that the phrases suggested to me. Accordingly, the first movement is quiet, hushed and mysterious, employing many unusual tone colors, and the second movement is fast and brilliant, with sudden changes of dynamics and instrumentation, and a virtuoso flourish or two for the percussion section.

The first performance of Painted Words was given by the University of Louisville Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Kimcherie Lloyd on 27 April 1997. It was subsequently presented at the International Contemporary Music Festival in Havana, Cuba, in October of the same year.