Lament

Guitar (soloist), alto flute, string quartet.

Premiered October 28 and 30, 2005! See pics from the rehearsals and download the mp3.

 

Lament is a reworking of my solo guitar composition, Jim Walter No. 5. Jim Walter No. 5 is the coal mine in Brookwood, AL where two methane explosions killed 13 miners on September 23, 2001. This incident received very little media attention due to the monolithic coverage given the September 11th terrorist attacks. The work is not programatic, and indeed I had just started composing it before the mine explosion, with the intention of naming it "God Bless America: 99 cent Footlong" after a sign I had seen at a drive-through restaurant. But as I was writing, it became apparent that I was no longer commenting on this absurd association resulting from blind patriotism. When I had finished the work I was almost startled by the title which I had put at the beginning of the document, having forgotten about it in the process of writing the work. I had not written a scathingly mocking commentary inspired by a crass marquee. I had written a genuinely mournful work. So what had been on my mind while writing it? It had been the mine explosions. The sadness, bitterness, and disbelief were captured in the sounds of the piece much better than they would have been if I had been trying to depict the mining tragedy with music.

Lament is more than a mere orchestration of Jim Walter No. 5. It is a recasting of the piece in a broader scope, musically and otherwise. Whereas Jim Walter No. 5 uses one instrument and one theme to reflect on one incident, Lament is a reflection on tragedy itself. Context and reflection shade the meaning here, as they do in life.

The viola begins the piece by presenting a fragment of what will be the theme. The other strings imitate this motive at different pitch levels, building tense chords which will be the basis for the entire work's harmonic structure. The guitar enters and hesitantly presents the theme in it's entirety, by revealing a small piece, retreating, then revealing a bit more. After a few "tries" the theme is fully revealed, and its material used as a sort of soliloquy for guitar. The next section of the work features shimmering cross-fingered guitar trills that morph to and from one another, while the strings explore the thematic material. After a jarring stop, there is a contemplative section where the guitar repeatedly chimes a high note and the alto flute is introduced. The guitar, flute, and viola call to each other, as the chiming guitar note climbs a little higher for increasingly shorter sections and other instruments thicken the texture as the music builds anxiously. An out-of-time harmonic serves as the final chime of this section. A faster, angrier version of the opening motive provides material for a section made of tight canons (echoes). These canons are interrupted by repeated notes outlining the original theme. Eventually, the canons give way to these interruptions, and those repeated notes eventually morph into a guitar cadenza, which makes use of tremolo technique to simulate sustained melody over arpeggiated harmony. The entire melody of the cadenza is made up of interlocking presentations of the first three notes of the theme. The strings return to support the final parts of the tremolo section, and the piece ends with the first six notes of the theme presented as guitar harmonics.