for woodwind quintet

Program Notes

“Eupraxophy” is a word coined by the eminent American philosopher Paul Kurtz (who is also responsible for the much-maligned and oft-misunderstood term “secular humanism”). It is constructed from three Greek roots-eu (good, well), praxis (conduct, practice), and sophia (scientific and philosophic wisdom). Kurtz gives as a preliminary definition, “a set of convictions and practices offering a cosmic outlook and an ethical guide to life,” and then proceeds to fill an entire book with the ramifications of this definition.

The book, Eupraxophy, is nothing less than an effort to outline a humanist life philosophy that is, among other things, intellectually challenging and emotionally rewarding.

Although much less ambitious, my ten-minute piece for woodwind quintet attempts to explore some of the same territory. As a rationalist and skeptic, I place a high value on the ordered and reasoned; as an artist, I place a high value on the emotive and subjective. In my compositions I attempt to reconcile the two. I work to write music that has intellectual depth, but which also has an immediate emotional appeal and an inviting surface. Of course, I don’t pretend that this is a new or original concept – it is precisely what many, maybe most, artists are trying to do all the time, anyway. However, by using this title, I wanted to call attention to this idea in a little more direct way than usual.

Eupraxophy begins with a rhapsodic bassoon solo. The other instruments join in, presenting material that will form the basis of much of what follows. In particular, permutations of the chord series presented when the other instruments enter will be heard throughout the piece.

Over a softly-pulsating accompaniment the oboe then presents more lyrical material. The flute joins in and plays a duet with the oboe. A fast, scherzando section follows, which also serves as a development of previous motives and ideas. After the climax of the scherzando there is a slow section which presents a new melody, accompanied by bits of previous motives, followed by a horn solo, which is based on the inversion of the opening bassoon melody. The (hopefully) ecstatic coda leads to a final statement of the initial motive.

Eupraxophy was written for the Quinteto de Alientos de la Ciudad de México, and for the University of Louisville Woodwind Quintet, of which my wife, Rebecca Jemian, was the bassoonist. It was composed during the last few weeks of 1998.

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