Memento Mori 1: Red Carnations in White Lace Curtains

Memento Mori 1: Red Carnations in White Lace Curtains

Memento Mori 1: Red Carnations in White Lace Curtains

for cello, percussion and piano

Program Notes

This work was inspired by a multi-media installation at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art that my wife and I saw while visiting Los Angeles in the summer of 1992. The work, entitled Memento Mori, was by Karen Finley, a performance artist as well as visual artist and writer. She gained notoriety as one of a group of controversial artists denied funding by the National Endowment for the Arts even though their proposals had received favorable recommendations by the panel charged with evaluating them.

I found Memento Mori one of the most moving artistic experiences in my life, and was similarly impressed by her book, Shock Treatment, a collection of essays and scripts from her performance pieces. She is a passionately articulate person, as well as an inventive artist. If her art is often angry and confrontational, it is also an honest reaction to a world in which such anger is often justified.

Memento Mori occupied two large rooms at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The first room contained a variety of objects that dealt primarily with feminist issues The second room contained pieces about the loss of friends and loved ones, especially – but not exclusively – those lost to AIDS. Every time I try to describe the experience words fail me, in part because art like this exists precisely because words are inadequate to express the necessary depth of emotion. However, I can say it was the only art exhibit that ever moved me, literally, to tears. I was by no means the only visitor that day who was so moved.

Many of the components of the exhibit were designed to encourage interaction with museum visitors. One end of the second room was hung with white lace curtains, and visitors were invited to place red carnations in the lace in memory of someone they had lost. I placed a carnation in memory of my mother, Charlou Satterwhite, who took her own life in 1983.

Memento Mori 1: Red Carnations in White Lace Curtains was written in 1993 at the request of percussionist Michael Parola for the trio, The Core. It was followed in 1995 by Memento Mori 2: Hope Chest Full of Sand for string quartet. After The Core premiered the work and performed it on several occasions, they asked me to expand it, which I did at the MacDowell Colony in the summer of 1995, while I was also writing Memento Mori 2. They recorded it for my CD, Witnesses of Time (Centaur Records CRC 2816).

found on Marc Satterwhite’s CD, Witnesses of Time: Chamber Music of Marc Satterwhite