for violin, clarinet and piano
This is the third, and probably last, work inspired by a multi-media installation at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art that my wife and I saw 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 frequently angry and confrontational, it is also an honest reaction to a world in which such anger is all-too-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 of these was a simple lattice-work wood wall, next to which was a box of ribbons of many colors. Visitors were encouraged to affix ribbons to the lattice-work in memory of any lost loved ones. I placed one in memory of mother, Charlou Thomas Satterwhite, who committed suicide in 1983. This work is dedicated to the memory of my grandmother, Nora Thomas, who died – still young in spirit, despite a long and often difficult life – in 1997 at the age of 90.
Memento Mori 3 is a single-movement work of about thirteen minutes duration, with several sections marked by changes of tempo, tone color and dynamics. It begins with rage and ends with disquiet and uncertainty. Along the way I hope it captures many, certainly not all, of the emotions one encounters at the death of a loved one. It was written for the Verdehr Trio, who gave its premiere in a series of concerts in the USA and Australia. It has also been performed by the contemporary music group, eighth blackbird and the Earplay group in San Francisco.
Michael J. Maccaferri, clarinet; Matt Albert, violin; Lisa Kaplan, piano
Made available by the kind permission of eighth blackbird
Recorded in concert at the Indiana State University Contemporary Music Festival
October 31, 2003