Friday, October 28, 2011

Barbara Harbach's composer's notes to "Incantata"

Barbara Harbach speaking yesterday at the mini-conference on Paul Muldoon's "Incantata" and Its Sources.

Yesterday Irish Studies at the University of Missouri - St. Louis hosted the first academic conference on a Poetry Scores project, Paul Muldoon's "Incantata" and Its Sources, which Eamonn Wall organized around a lecture by Guinn Batten, a Washington University professor and Muldoon's first American publisher. Guinn said she would let us publish her provocative lecture here; yesterday I posted my brief presentation; and now I will share the basis of composer Barbara Harbach's remarks at the mini-conference, her program notes for the poetry score she has composed to Incantata, which premieres 3 p.m. Sunday, October 30 at the Lee Theatre in the Touhill Center at UMSL.


: composer’s notes
By Barbara Harbach

I was drawn to the many feelings and emotions in the poem, the cry of heartbreak, enduring love, humor, pathos, giddiness, allusions to music, literature, art, liquor and food. The names of the four movements are taken from a phrase in the poem, as per Poetry Scores’ compositional model.

The first movement, Powers, is a play on Mary Farl Powers’ name, a woman’s powers, the power of nature, and the power of the world. The music begins with a thunderclap sforzando chord followed immediately by agitated murmurings in the cello and viola with two different melodies in the woodwinds, while the piano punctuates the musical fabric percussively. Soon the murmurings and the two melodies start to migrate among the instruments with key and meter changes. A new melody emerges in the winds imitated by the violin, while the piano releases some of the tension by arching arpeggios and scales. Tension returns with murmurings in the lower strings but now the piano joins again with arpeggios and scalar passages. The next section shifts the tensive murmurings to the winds while the horn and trumpet carry the melodies. The three melodies are developed musically and lead to a halt in the rhythmic motion. The bassoon begins a haunting and disjunct melody imitated by the cello. The winds and strings continue with the fugue melody until the eerie murmurings emerge in the flute and viola, ultimately with all the strings and winds playing different melodies. After the instruments drop out, another thunderclap chord leads into the coda with increasing tension, rhythmic motion and intensity ending with the final sforzando chord.

Nocturne opens with night sounds, strange and luminous twitters and chirps from the dark of night eerily portrayed by the woodwinds over open fifths in the strings. The reverie of the night becomes more complex when the piano begins its on melody, and eventually dominates the night sounds. As the piano melody ebbs away, the murmurings of the night again are tranquil. The nocturne theme, a gesture to the Irishman John Field, a composer of nocturnes, is introduced by the violin. The piano picks up the theme followed by a counter theme in the horn. Themes, counter themes, and the sounds of the night intermingle. As dawn approaches, the themes fall silent, and the murmurings of the night gently hush.

Relishing in Irish folk tunes, Composed of Odds and Ends opens with a jig-like rendition of "The Humors of Whiskey" with the melody in the violin, and grace notes with a drone in the accompaniment. A counter melody joins the jig in the upper woodwinds transplanting the grace notes and drone to the lower strings. The trumpet and horn, eager to enter the discussion, begin with the "Liverpool Hornpipe." The next section combines "The Humors of Whiskey" and its counter theme with a new theme in the flute. Next, the clarinet is insistent on playing its own tune, "Banshee," now accompanied by the "Liverpool Hornpipe". A more somber and poignant air opens with the viola, "For Ireland, I’d Not Tell her Name," of course generating its own counter melody. The woodwinds take up the tunes and barely finish before the horn and trumpet with the grace notes and drone accompaniment change the mood leading to 6/8 meter imposed over 4/4 meter with the ebullient themes and counter themes racing each other to the double bar.

Bitter-Sweet rails against the inevitable before acquiescing, while moments of tenderness lead to the eventual wholeness of spirit. The piano opens with edgy tension, as a scrap of a theme begins the ostinato in the bassoon. Other instruments chime in on the theme until the trumpet erupts with its on theme demanding and growing with intensity, culminating in crashing chords. The cello now begins a mournful, rising fugue theme, followed by the bassoon, violin, and clarinet utterings, until the piano enters with a sweet and delicate theme of remembrance. Woodwinds take up this lush theme, and before coming to a close, the piano softly begins to insert its bitter, edgy tension. A final fugue begins, combines with the piano melody until all instruments become agitated ending with the triumph of the spirit able to survive.


Information on premiere of Incantata.

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