Centenary Fragment (2012-13)
Image by Hee Sook Kim. Music composed by Christopher Shultis.
Published by American Composers Edition
Hee Sook Kim and I had an idea some time ago to start making "music videos" and put them on YouTube. The length was meant to be the same as the typical pop song. Our first collaboration of this type was Circlings, which can also be found on YouTube. But Centenary Fragment is the first to follow our original idea, in terms of both scale and length. You can see/hear it by clicking on this link:
I usually do not write descriptive program notes but in this case make an exception.
My Le Sacre homage is built using the timings found in Charles Dutoit's recording with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. I chose to include from the opening to where "The Augurs of Spring" begins. In Dutoit's recording this takes 3 minutes and 33 seconds. The vibraphone plays the first note of the bassoon part, both at the beginning C-natural and at 3:00, when the bassoon returns with the same motif, this time a B-natural. I like the way the return sounds, but is not, the same and I isolate that phenomenon in what I wrote. I wish for the C to "become" a B over time and for the pitch to (intentionally) be unstable as a means of making that happen. The composition ends with one iteration of the violin pizzicato (played by vibraphone/wood block) found just before "The Augurs" begins. Thus the piece moves from C to B-flat in 3:33. That explains the overall structure and content.
The form of the piece remained a mystery for me until I read an essay in the Huffington Post by composer Daniel Asia. He compared two centennials, the 100th birthday of John Cage (which he called "the put-on of the century"), and the 100th birthday of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (which he calls, and rightly so, "earth shattering"). And which of Cage's many compositions does Asia choose to make this comparison? None other than one of the last century's most important solo works for piano, Cage's Sonatas and Interludes. As I've written elsewhere, I used to say that regardless of what one thinks of Cage's body of work as a whole, I'd never met anyone who didn't love the Sonatas and Interludes. Now I know of one: Daniel Asia. Cage once said the best criticism of someone else's work is your own. So that inspired me to combine the two centennials into one piece, a work influenced in its structure and content by Stravinsky, but with Cage's so-called "square-root form," as found in his Sonatas, used (loosely) to build the form. I do this taking the number of violin pizzicato repetitions mentioned earlier (5+2+1) to create what Cage called a piece's form: its note-to-note continuity.
I doubt Stravinsky, who unlike Asia found Cage's work interesting ("sehr interessant" is how he put it), would mind. We all know what Stravinsky thought about stealing from others--"good composers borrow, great composers steal." So I decided, since celebrating centennials is what prompted my work, to throw Cage in with Stravinsky, stealing the form from the former and the content from the latter. Not sure stealing in my case has anything to do with being a "great composer" but I do find pleasure listening to what I stole from both of them in the making of my Centenary Fragment. And watching the season change from winter to spring in northern New Mexico (source of what Hee Sook Kim used to make the images) increases that pleasure many-fold!
12 January 2013