Descriptions of pieces:
Here are some notes that I wrote (in the first person) about some of the violacentric pieces I've written. If you're looking for some program notes, feel free to quote me or else to rephrase in your own words. - Scott Slapin
Adagio (3 minutes) - I originally wrote the Adagio as part of the South Hadley Mass, already a piece designed for memorial concerts/funerals. I realized that if just a short piece is requested, this Adagio (from the Libera Me section) would work well, not only in its original instrumentation for four violas, but also as duos, as well as for either violin, viola, cello, or doublebass in the solo role accompanied by organ or piano.
Anniversary Fanfare (2 1/2 minutes) - Tanya and I met touring with the Philadelphia Virtuosi in 1999. We were the viola section! We soon started performing as a viola duo after that, and now--- many performances, recordings, and arrangements later--- we've been giving duo concerts together for more than twenty years. So I thought we should have an Anniversary Fanfare to celebrate. But feel free to use it for your anniversaries, too!
Ballade (5 minutes) - I wrote Ballade in the winter of 2016 to include on an all-viola duo disc of music "A Fifth of Slapin- All You Need is Viola (or Two)" that I wrote and recorded with my wife, Tanya Solomon. The beginning A section, which the piece returns to twice is somewhat Baroque sounding, though harmonically it soon becomes more modern. The middle sections build much more quickly and show the variety of what two violas can do musically.
Canzonetta (2 1/2 minutes) - Canzonetta is an adaptation of the second movement of my four-movement work Sonatina for two violas, which I felt could work nicely as both a vocal and a flute work accompanied by two violas. The solo part has even been played by a *third* viola, with Professor Tim Deighton soloing on a recording by the Penn State Viola Ensemble entitled "Hail, Cremonus!".
Capricious (7 minutes) - I was commissioned to write Capricious by the American Viola Society in memory of my final viola teacher Emanuel Vardi (2017-2011). Mr. Vardi was the first violist to have recorded all of Paganini's 24 Caprices on viola, and some forty plus years later when I was studying and recording them myself, his version was still the only recording available. While some violists rearrange and simplify them, in their original form (as played on violin but a fifth lower), they are incredibly demanding in all sorts of ways and great as technical studies. The trio I came up with, while my own original music, references briefly at various points twelve of the Caprices. My wife, Tanya Solomon, violist Ila Rondeau, and I performed the work at the International Viola Congress in Rochester, NY in 2012.
Cremonus in Italy (18 minutes) - Cremonus In Italy is a symphony in four parts for viola ensemble in four parts. Unlike Berlioz' Harold in Italy (in which the viola music is obscured by many band instruments), Cremonus In Italy is meant to showcase the sound of the viola in all its glories as well as to pay homage to the God of the Viola, Cremonus. As Cremonus is Himself Italian, the programmatic material isn't as interesting as it would be for a tourist to tour Italy. Cremonus takes in a movie, later a concert at the piazza, drinks too much wine etc. This work was premiered and recorded by the Penn State Viola Ensemble conducted by Assaf Benraf in 2007 under the direction of Tim Deighton.
Cremonus’ Revenge (15 minutes) - I wrote Cremonus' Revenge as a three-movement symphony meant to feature the violas. Normally, I don't include band instruments and other non-viola curiosities in my compositions, however I felt that in this case, it might be a nice point of comparison so that the audience could appreciate that much more fully the greatness of the sound of the viola. I have written several works dedicated to Cremonus, God of the Viola, including, Cremonus In Italy, Fanfare for Cremonus, and a one-act opera for two violas entitled Violacentrism.
A Crooked Dance (5 minutes) - A Crooked Dance is a generic term for a dance in 3/4 (or in this case 3/8). It was originally performed as the final movement of a Triptych by me, my mother (a cellist), and my uncle (a doublebassist) on a concert at the 1860's House in New Jersey in 1997. We recorded it in 1999 and rerecorded it in 2007 for the album Reflection. It is a very difficult work to put together, and specifically the viola part features unusual techniques such as double-octave trills and chromatic fifths (which sound like the wind gusting).
Dead of Winter (5 minutes) - See “The Four Seasons of New England"
Dialogues and Duels (6 minutes) - I was commissioned by the Penn State Viola Ensemble to write Dialogues and Duels, which eventually became the last movement in my one-act viola opera Violacentrism, the Opera. They performed the work several times on tour in Pennsylvania, New York City, Washington etc. and recorded it later for the CD in 2015. It's a great piece to program to force your viola section to practice their three-octave D minor scales, which are used both for a competitive scale event in stereo as well as for the backdrop to the reiteration of the opening hymn, dedicated to Cremonus, the Viola God. It's a long story.
Dirge (3 1/2 minutes) - I wrote Dirge for the Wistaria String Quartet's album A Day in the Life of a Freelance String Quartet. Dirge is the music for the final funeral of the day that the quartet plays, and the opening motive is based on the music from the first funeral's Nocturne. Unlike the Nocturne, Dirge was written explicitly as funeral music.
Elegy (Two Violas and Doublebass, 4 minutes) - I wrote Elegy in 2006 during my time as a fellow at the Montalvo Arts Center in California. It was a great artist residency for me and my wife Tanya, following a difficult time of losing almost all of our stuff in Hurricane Katrina the previous summer. (The house we lived in in New Orleans had around eight feet of water for several weeks.) I wrote this piece specifically to play with my wife Tanya (a violist) and my father Bill Slapin (a doublebass player) once we got back to New Jersey, and we recorded it the following for the album entitled Reflection.
Elegy-Caprice - See “Five Pieces for a Memorial Concert"
Fanfare for a New Library (4 1/2 minutes) - I wrote Fanfare for a New Library for our first concert in the brand-new library in our town of South Hadley, Mass., where my wife Tanya and I live, play, and teach. The library is located right on the Connecticut river, so in the background one can hear the constant movement of water over the falls. Both visually and acoustically it is a beautiful space. I had previously written a duo for the other library in town, the Gaylord Memorial Library, entitled Fanfare (for an Old Library), so this is its companion piece.
Fanfare for an Old Library (3 1/2 minutes) - I wrote Fanfare (for an Old Library) for the Gaylord Memorial Library in South Hadley, Mass., where my wife Tanya and I live, play, and teach. It's a beautiful, old library with an important cultural significance to the town, located at the edge of the Mount Holyoke campus. We've given many concerts there under the dome, and we regularly attend events they hold. I wrote this piece for one of our concerts on their Music Mondays series.
Fanfare for Cremonus (6 minutes) - Fanfare is one of several pieces I have written in praise of Cremonus, God of the Viola. (For those who haven't heard the good news, Cremonus gave mankind the Viola more than five-hundred years ago in northern Italy. You're welcome.) This work was originally performed and recorded by the Penn State Viola Ensemble conducted by Michael Dolan under the direction of Tim Deighton in 2017 and is meant to be a bright overture-like piece with which to open a concert. Other works I have written in praise of the Viola God include Cremonus In Italy, Cremonus' Revenge, as well as a one-act opera for viola duo entitled Violacentrism, the Opera.
Fanfare Under the Sunsphere ( 4 minutes) - I wrote Fanfare Under the Sunsphere for the 2020 Festival of the American Viola Society to be held in Knoxville, Tenn. My first full-time orchestra gig was as principal violist with the Knoxville Symphony and Chamber Orchestras (while Tanya was playing down the road as principal violist in Chattanooga.) Knoxville is a modern city with a lot to do downtown (and on Kingston Pike) and with many parks and greenways, and I chose its most recognizable landmark, the Sunsphere, to base the fanfare on. The Sunsphere was built for the World's Fair held in Knoxville in 1982. I think of it in many ways as I do the geodesic sphere in front of Epcot Center, also built vaguely around the same time. There's something very 20th Century American about it, and I chose an idiom to write in that reflected that. Additionally, in the park by the Sunsphere, there is a statue of the great composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff, who played his very last recital in Knoxville. In the middle of the fanfare, I briefly referenced the slow movement of Rachmaninoff's 2nd piano concerto.
Fantasia in C Minor/G Minor (5 minutes) - I wrote Fantasia as somewhat of a cross stylistically between solo Bach and solo Paganini and as a demonstration of what one unaccompanied string instrument could do. In the world of upper string playing, the Bach Sonatas and Partitas and the Paganini Caprices are referred to as the Old and New Testaments, so fundamental are they in pushing both technical and musical limits of what's possible. In addition to many effects used both in the Bach and Paganini works (double stops, arpeggiated chords, tenths), I included a scale in unisons, which I believe adds a rather eerie effect to the music.
Five Pieces for a Memorial Concert - I wrote Five Pieces for a Memorial Concert for my mother's memorial concert in November of 2008 at the Stanton Reformed Church in Stanton, New Jersey. My mother died in August of that year following a long battle with cancer right before I was to begin a busy season playing in the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras, and it was during these first couple months of the season that I was able to write this music. My mother was a cellist who played in the American Symphony under Leopold Stokowski, Mostly Mozart, the New Jersey Symphony among many other ensembles, and she was a founding member of the Hunterdon Chamber Players in New Jersey, which regularly performed at the church in which her memorial concert was held. Brief comments about each individual piece:
1. In Memoriam (4 minutes) - In Memoriam was the first piece of the set that I wrote, and it was this piece with which the concert began.
2. Elegy-Caprice (Solo Viola, 5 1/2 minutes) - The Elegy-Caprice is the only piece in the set that is unaccompanied. Fragments of it can be heard on the soundtrack of the final scenes of the award-winning docudrama Secret Life, Secret Death. It has since been widely performed throughout the US and even in Brazil!
3. Intermezzo (4 minutes) - Intermezzo, the middle piece of the five, was meant to be surrounded by works of other composers performed by her friends. Tanya and I were joined by flautist Diana Charos to perform Intermezzo at the memorial concert.
4. Serenade (2 1/2 minutes) - The opening of Serenade is based on a piece I wrote when I was around twelve that was played by an ensemble of fifty violists at the Lionel Tertis Workshop on the Isle of Man. The more Renaissance-like pizzicato section in the middle provides a nice contrast to all of the bowed string playing up until this point in the concert.
5. Postlude (3 minutes) - Postlude was originally written for viola solo (performed by my wife, Tanya) and a string orchestra comprised of my mother's musician friends, conducted by Barbara Barstow. It has since been performed for other commemorations often in its solo viola and viola ensemble version. It was the final piece on the concert, and as you can hear, it doesn't really end. At a certain point, the audience realized it was over and walked out in silence.
For the Love of Kreutzer (5 minutes) - For the Love of Kreutzer is a piece that can be played either by violin duo or by viola duo. I quoted bits of several Kreutzer etudes and wrote melodies above and around them. Kreutzer is the most standard book of etudes for upper string players, and though some of it is dry, mechanical exercises, much of it is quite musical. Today Kreutzer is most remembered for his etudes and as being the second dedicatee of Beethoven's "Kreutzer Sonata", but he was actually quite a prolific composer, having written 40 operas and 19 violin concertos, among other works. So, this is my ode to the great violin professor of the Paris Conservatory, Rodolphe Kreutzer.
The Four Seasons of New England (20 minutes) -
1. Spring: After a brief American-sounding introduction, the listener is introduced to Marvin the Turkey. Marvin's Leitmotif is based on a quote from what might be the most American of American folk tunes 'Turkey in the Straw' and is initially used in a way that sounds like Marvin pecking around in straw. Marvin chases the other turkeys, struts proudly at times, but eventually tires himself out and settles down for a nap. This is an opportunity for the other birds to make their introductions: First the white-throated sparrow begins to sing, followed by a mourning dove. Then either two dark-eyed juncos or a pair of woodpeckers show up having an argument, while a black-capped chickadee sings out over them. Eventually all tunes come together in a springtime party for the birds. Except in the case of the turkey, whose call isn't so musical (sorry, Marvin), all birds are represented by their own actual music, as heard in our corner of western Massachusetts (and many other places in North America as well.) I'll add that for a composer, being able to steal bird melodies without having to pay any royalties was nothing short of a dream. They should unionize.
2. Summer: Again Turkey In the Straw makes an appearance as one of the most popular tunes played by ice cream trucks--- first as it comes from afar and later as it drives away. In the middle, it stops to sell sugary desserts to children, while bugs begin to swarm and follow the truck around. The bugs continue to accompany the truck to its next destination. It could be accurate to say that other composers have viewed summer more positively than I do.
3. The Fall: A recap of tunes from the Spring and Summer, things are beginning to wind down and prepare the audience for the Dead of Winter. Geese are heard intermittently flying south for the winter.
4. The Dead of Winter was the first season I turned into music. During the early months of 2016, I stared out of my music studio into bleak grayness and snow. It was mostly very still, yet every once in a while a gust of wind would come by and blow around a few dead twigs and leaves. I hope to share some of this New England Winter bleakness with you now through this music. This final excursion is only five minutes, so don't worry, later you can go outside and enjoy nicer weather. Unless your weather is equally as bleak right now, in which case, sorry.
Happy Holidays (4 minutes) - Although my wife Tanya and I arranged 25 Tunes for 25 Days of Christmas, neither of us grew up really celebrating the holiday. So it might also come as a surprise that I wrote this original composition (also available in that book of arrangements) which references several of the most-famous Christmas carols (as well as a couple Hanukkah tunes.) Hey, music is music, and if Irving Berlin could do it... In any case, as this music is ubiquitous in the US for about three months of the year, I felt in some way it was my own as well. I hope you enjoy listening for all the quotations of carols, and I assume if you're hearing this on a concert, I'll wish you a Merry Christmas! If it's not that time of year, this was a really odd choice for your program, but I hope you enjoy it anyway!
Harold in Retirement (5 1/2 minutes) - I wrote Harold In Retirement for me and my bass-playing uncle Harold ("Hal") to play in honor of his retirement from 45 years in the insurance industry. A graduate of the Juilliard School, Hal has performed with many jazz recording artists, including Lee Konitz, the late Pepper Adams, and Al Cohn, and he freelanced in New York City during the mid 1970's playing in chamber music ensembles and Broadway shows. Hal and my father, Bill (also a bass player), were equal co-owners of an insurance agency, yet through all of it he continued to perform regularly in Jazz clubs. The first movement starts with a fugal section and quotes very short bits of Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance No.1, the ultimate graduation march, setting up several activities I imagine Hal will be involved with in retirement. The second movement references Hal's trips with his boat, on which I've joined him a few times in New Jersey and Vermont. The third movement begins with another short fugal section/round, with the subject (and countersubject) spelling out rhythmically "Slapin" in Morse code. (Had to get the name in there somehow!) The semi-Cuban style refers to Hal's fondness for cigars. This soon gives way to beer garden music as both of us are quite fond of beer.
The Hassid and the Hayseed (3 minutes) - The Hassid and the Hayseed was originally performed as part of a three-movement work called Triptych, however it now stands on its own as a separate piece. I performed it often with my mother on recitals, and while audiences always liked it, I started noticing a problem: In the more urban areas, audiences didn't know what a hayseed was (an old-fashioned term for hillbilly), and in more rural areas, audiences didn't know what a hassid was (a type of ultra-Orthodox Jew). Having had both in various wings of my extended family, for me it was a fun way to point out the similarities of two peoples who seem pretty far apart. For example, both wear hats and like to dance. I'm not too sure there's much more than that, though.
The Ila Rondo (3 1/2 minutes) - The Ila Rondo is dedicated to Ila Rondeau, a violist and good friend. A rondo is a musical form that keeps coming back to the "A section" material. Ila, Tanya, and I performed my viola trio, Capricious, at the International Viola Congress in Rochester, NY in 2012, and before that we were all tenured members of the orchestra in New Orleans, LA. I told her back then that some day I was going to write a rondo and name it after her. I kept my promise!
The Ill-Tempered Violist (4 1/2 minutes) - I wrote the Ill-Tempered Violist for my wife, the wonderful violist Tanya Solomon. Though I can crudely enter my compositions into notation software (I write with pencil and paper), the work of refining all of it falls to Tanya, which can sometimes cause her to become ill-tempered. The fault is entirely mine. (The solution to the ill-temperedness can be found in the title of another piece I wrote called The Well-Tempered Beer.) In any case, for those unfamiliar with the music of Bach, it's all a take off on the title of The Well-Tempered Clavier. I hope you enjoy feeling the irritation with my sloppy notation-entering practices in the piece and will have great empathy for Tanya.
In Memoriam - See “Five Pieces for a Memorial Concert"
Intermezzo - See “Five Pieces for a Memorial Concert"
Introduction to the String Quartet (13 minutes) - I wrote the Introduction to the String Quartet for an excellent quartet based where I live in western Massachusetts called the Wistaria String Quartet. They recorded it on a CD entitled A Day in the Life of a Freelance String Quartet. Each movement is meant to give each player the opportunity both to show off what they can do and to give the audience the chance to become acquainted with the sound and range of each instrument. As the title would suggest, I wrote the piece with the idea that it would be used as educational for in-school and other similar demonstrations.
The Jersey Devil (3 1/2 minutes) - According to Wikipedia (which agrees with what I heard growing up in New Jersey), "...the Jersey Devil is a legendary creature said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. The creature is often described as a flying biped with hooves, but there are many variations. The common description is that of a kangaroo-like or wyvern-like creature with a goat- or horse-like head, leathery bat-like wings, horns, small arms with clawed hands, legs with cloven hooves, and a forked tail. It has been reported to move quickly and is often described as emitting a high-pitched "blood-curdling scream". I thought it would be fun to try to recreate this as a solo viola piece--- and especially to shock the audience with the Jersey Devil's "high-pitched blood-curdling scream(s)". Usually one tries to coax only the most beautiful sounds possible out of the viola, so part of the fun of this piece is to do the opposite. It had to be done
K2VHV Kaddish (3 minutes) - I wrote K2VHV Kaddish a few days after my father's death in December of 2018. He played in the Catskill Mountains when he was younger and often improvised Jewish-sounding melodies on his doublebass while warming up, which is the basis for the beginning and end of this short piece. The middle section is based on the Morse Code I frequently heard growing up. My father was an avid ham radio operator, and the opening communication in search of someone to talk to always began with "CQ CQ de K2VHV" (K2VHV were his call letters) in Morse Code.
A Lament (6 minutes) - I originally performed A Lament on a concert with my mother, a cellist, in 1997 as part of a three-movement Triptych at the 1860's House in New Jersey. It's based on a piece I had written for an orchestration class while attending the Manhattan School of Music, though I developed the material much further for this version. My mother and I recorded it twice, the last time in 2007, a year before she died,, for the CD Reflection.
Libera Me - See “The South Hadley Mass"
Music History 101 at 9 am (5 1/2 minutes) - I wrote Music History 101 at 9 am ("5 Centuries in 5 Minutes") originally for a string quartet I was coaching at the Williston-Northampton School in the next town over in western Massachusetts. I wrote it specifically for the level of the students involved, and I also wanted it to be educational for the audience of their fellow students, so it begins in the Renaissance era (with a hymn), and takes the listener through various important eras: Baroque (a fugue), Classical, Romantic, and finally ends with a 20th Century reinterpretation of the opening hymn. This piece was later reworked to be included in the one-act viola opera I wrote called "Violacentrism, the Opera".
Nocturne (4 minutes) - I finished writing this Nocturne in 2004, and my wife Tanya and I were able to play it for my composition teacher Richard Lane on Cape Cod less than a week before he had a stroke and subsequently died. It was the only piece I had ever written that he didn't want to tinker with a bit (which was his job!), and I've since dedicated it to his memory. It's become one of my most performed pieces, and many audience members acquainted with Richard Lane's style have asked me whether I was purposefully writing in his musical language. No, it just came naturally! Richard Lane was a great teacher, mentor, friend, and colleague (he was also a pianist.) Tanya and I recorded the Nocturne in its original duo form for the album Reflection, and we can also be heard playing it during the final scenes of the award-winning docudrama Secret Life, Secret Death. The quartet version of it was premiered members of Pershing's Own Army Band at the Lyceum in Alexandria, Va. and was recorded by The Wistaria String Quartet on their debut album A Day In the Life of a Freelance String Quartet.
Polysemic Rhapsody (9 minutes) - Polysemic Rhapsody was commissioned by Matt Stamell, owner of Stamell Strings in Amherst, Mass., for his college professor Marvin Bram, a violist. I deliberately included elements of Bram's writings and ideas in the composition of this work (two people--- or in this case instruments--- speaking at the same time to create an overall effect different from their individual parts), and I hinted at Bram's love for Bach with a quote from the "al riverso" fugue subject from the Third Violin Sonata.
Postlude - See “Five Pieces for a Memorial Concert"
Prelude (4 1/2 minutes) - I wrote Prelude in 2016, and it has since been performed quite a bit. I struggled with the title. The elements in the piece are, to my mind, clearly American in the beginning, and Russian afterward. However, I'm better at writing the music than with coming up with titles! So we kept it general with Prelude. In any case, the piece makes for a fun beginning to a recital, and it even works well as an encore. (Though the name Prelude wouldn't suggest that. I'll try harder next time.)
The Raging Waves of Babylon (4 1/2 minutes) - I wrote The Raging Waves of Babylon both as a piece for my wife Tanya to play and as the only unaccompanied tune in my one-act viola opera, Violacentrism, the Opera. The opera is about Cremonus, God of the Viola, who more than five-hundred years ago invented this great musical instrument that He bestowed upon mankind. The Raging Waves of Babylon adds a touch of religious-sounding legitimacy to such an epic tale... oh, and because the effect of bariolage in half-steps, it really does sound like waves! In any case, at this point in the opera, Cremonus is upset at mankind for its tepid response to the Viola, and He's causing wind gusts upon the high seas. Hey, it's not any more improbable than most opera story lines.
Recitative (5 minutes) - I was commissioned to write Recitative in 2007 to be the required piece for the 2008 Primrose International Viola Competition, and I was able to be at the competition in Tempe, Arizona to hear 18 semi-finalists give impassioned performances of the piece. Beginning soon afterward, the piece has appeared each year as one of two solo auditions pieces for the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble at the Aspen Music Festival. As it was meant as a competition piece, I deliberately made it difficult to play technically including many awkward double stops high up, some tenths, and at the end a unison stretch.
Serenade - See “Five Pieces for a Memorial Concert"
Series of Nightmares After a Day of Gigs (6 minutes) - Having played a number of quartet gigs, I decided to write an album for a local, excellent quartet (the Wistaria String Quartet in western Mass.) entitled "A Day In the Life of a Freelance String Quartet", which follows quartet musicians throughout one day filled with all sorts of wedding, in-school, and funeral gigs. The album starts out however before the musicians have even awakened with 'Series of Nightmares After a Day of Gigs', and therefore is a collection of the previous day's musical quotes in dream form. While the music is original, quotes from Pachelbel's Canon (which in minor sounds like the opening from Mahler's First Symphony), Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, and Massenet's Meditation will be obvious to anyone familiar with the music, as will be the Torah blessings and Klezmer music from the previous day's bar mitzvah. Being a freelance musician isn't easy.
Sketches (4 1/2 minutes) - I wrote Sketches as a viola quartet to be played by me, my wife Tanya Solomon, and two friends from the New Orleans-based Louisiana Philharmonic viola section, Ila Rondeau and Amelia Clingman. The piece covers a wide range of styles, and no one can actually agree on what they are. One review compared the piece to a John Denver tune! Online there was quite a debate as to whether the middle section sounded Spanish, Russian or something else entirely. Enjoy it, whatever your take may be!
Soliloquy (3 1/2 minutes) - I wrote Soliloquy in 2008 for my wife, Tanya Solomon. It's meant simply to show off the sound of the viola in all its ranges, set against a backdrop of silence.
Sonata in C (two violas, 10 minutes) - I wrote Sonata in C for two violas so that my wife Tanya Solomon and I would have a piece in sonata form to play on our duo recitals. Sonata form has had its variations over the centuries, but this version follows a pretty conventional longer first movement that's reasonably quick, a slow second movement, and a fast third movement (after a recap of the opening of the first movement.) What may be unexpected is a fugue in the third movement, but I don't like being entirely predictable.
Sonata in G (violin and viola, 8 minutes) - I wrote the short, three-movement Sonata in G for violin and viola for our friends Kaila Graef and Mike Lewis. Kaila and Mike are married, and Kaila is an excellent, professional violinist. Mike has a great ear for music and took up the viola for a bit, so I thought this might keep him practicing! In any case, while Mike was working on his viola playing, Kaila gave the premiere with my wife, Tanya Solomon, on viola, and Tanya and I later recorded it (with me on violin) for the album Violacentric Sonatas.
Sonatina (10 minutes) - I wrote Sonatina in 2017 for my fifth album of violacentric recital compositions (A Fifth of Slapin.) Since then, Fabio Saggin and Charles Alves of the Penn State Viola Ensemble also recorded it, with professor Tim Deighton soloing in an arrangement of the second movement called Canzonetta, for their CD "Hail, Cremonus".
The Sounds of Hampshire County (4 1/2 minutes) - My wife and I live in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, and it was my goal to capture some of the area in this piece. Though it's not necessary to know western Massachusetts to enjoy the piece, people who do often laugh at the opening which features a pedestrian-crossing motive unique to the main square of the town of Northampton, preceded and followed by the sounds of trains and cars honking at each other. This is followed by the stillness of the rural, snow-covered farms of Hadley during the winter, and interrupted briefly by string players trying out different instruments in different rooms at Stamell Strings in Amherst. Following that is a tour of the Yiddish Book Center in South Amherst, and then piece ends on the stately campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley. This piece was included in my one-act viola opera, Violacentrism, the Opera, as well as on the recording A Day In the Life of a Freelance String Quartet performed by the Wistaria String Quartet.
The South Hadley Mass (12 minutes) - I wrote The South Hadley Mass; A Short Requiem (for the Dead Violist) in 2018. Written for four violas or string quartet, it contains four elements of the traditional mass: Introit (Requiem Aeternum), Dies Irae, Libera Me, and Lux Aeterna. At only twelve or so minutes, this is perhaps the quickest overview of the most universal elements of the traditional concert mass; it was my intention that the music be short enough that it could be performed at funerals and memorial concerts as well. If even shorter music is preferred, the Libera Me can be excerpted from the mass and performed alone (in this case it should be entitled “Adagio”). I composed this work in my home studio in... South Hadley, Mass.
Suite (15 minutes) - The four-movement Suite is comprised of four very different movements. The opening movement, Tune, begins with the two violas tuning their instruments and then segues directly into music based on the open strings of the viola. The second movement Reflection is named after a picture that my wife Tanya took of a lake in a Louisiana bayou, in which you can see the reflection of everything above shimmering in the water below (because of slight currents)--- which is represented by tremolos in the violas. Reflection later became the name of the entire album on which Suite was recorded (though the movements are not together on the album for reasons of flow.) The third movement is a lullaby, and the fourth is really two movements: a lyrical song followed by a somewhat eastern European-sounding dance with a big finish.
Suspension (4 1/2 minutes) - I wrote Suspension in 2016 and what's unusual about it is that the harmony is built on a series of suspensions that mostly resolve *upward*. It keeps the piece building in an unusual way while the other viola part soars over it with a sustained melody.
Three Contrasts (4 minutes) - I wrote Three Contrasts to cover three styles of music I like, but only in short doses: hymns, minimalism, and marches. I fit the three movements into an overall duration of four minutes! The Hymn, and Minimal Minimalism are self-explanatory, but for anyone who doesn't know German or Yiddish, the March of the Alto Kackers might need an explanation. The viola in French is called 'alto' (as it covers the range of the alto voices in a chorus), and the semi-pejorative phrase in German and Yiddish for an old person is 'Alter Kacker'. No offense meant to any Alte Kackers, I feel more and more like one with each passing day!
Three Arias for Two Violas (9 1/2 minutes) - Three Arias for Two Violas is from the second of seven days in my all-viola opera, Violacentrism, the Opera. The arias are characterized by the Viola God Cremonus' irritation, agitation, and anger at the lack of acceptance of His gift of the viola to mankind. In the third aria, Cremonus is so agitated that He even causes lashing high winds that bring waves to the seas. You had to be there.
Threnody and Reverie (5 1/2 minutes) - I've spent much of my time writing what is sometimes called Gebrauchtsmusik, filling in gaps in the repertoire, so Threnody and Reverie was a bit of a departure for me. Written for the excellent violist Tim Deighton, viola professor at Penn State University, I wanted to write the most *typical* viola piece that exists--- that is to say, something slow and elegy-like for viola and piano. I thought I should have at least one! Then I decided it would make a nice piece for string trio and string orchestra as well.
Trio Sonata (Viola, Alto Sax, and Piano OR Two Violas and Piano, 10 minutes) - I wrote the Trio Sonata originally for viola, alto sax, and piano for the excellent Viola Sax duo called The Irrelevants. The piece was premiered by students at the University of Puget Sound on a recital in Washington State in 2017 in its original version; my wife Tanya Solomon, and pianist Heather Reichgott have also performed and recorded it in its version for two violas and piano.
Two Musical Adventures in Ancestry (10 minutes) - The latest craze in researching ancestry brought me to write Two Musical Adventures In Ancestry. The first part, From Eastern Belarus To Western Scotland, is for my own ancestry; if I go far enough back, most of my relatives came to the US from Eastern Europe, from towns and cities that today are in Belarus and Poland...but then a minority also came from Ayrshire, Scotland! So this piece is mostly Eastern European-sounding music with some bagpipe music at the end. Part II, Dunilovich Time and Libau's Lied, is based on my wife Tanya's ancestry research. Rather than concentrate on the places they were from, I focused more on their occupations. On her mother's side, there was a watchmaker and violinist (her great grandfather) in Dunilovich, Belarus. So the piece starts out with the ticking of a watch (that's a little too fast) and briefly quotes the first fugue from Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. The next section refers to her paternal great grandmother who was an opera singer named Thekla from the city of Libau (today Liepaja), Latvia. Because one of the Thekla's sons was a viola player--- he played in the Boston Pops and taught at NEC--- after Thekla sings her aria, the melody is repeated in the viola part.
A Viola Audition (4 minutes) - I wrote A Viola Audition as an encore piece for the Penn State Viola Ensemble under the direction of Tim Deighton, which they've performed and recorded on the album "Hail, Cremonus!" under the baton of Michael Dolan. I reharmonize and recast the normal progression of the standard viola audition: concerto bits, then excerpts. Anyone familiar with the viola repertoire will recognize quotes from the Stamitz, Hoffmeister, and Telemann concertos as well as standard orchestral repertoire excerpts that are too many to list!
Violacentrism: The Opera (50 minutes) - A work with no singers and no band instruments, Violacentrism, the Opera is a one-act, fifty-minute-long story of Cremonus, God of the Viola and His gift of the Viola to mankind. What makes it an opera? Opera in Latin is the plural of Opus, which just means 'work'. Pre-Wagnerian operas are just that: an overture followed by a long series of works (often arias) with a finale at the end, and that is the exact form of this opera. However, if you're looking for singing, you shouldn't be disappointed either; the viola was invented in imitation of the human voice, and many would argue that it's the closest musical instrument to it. So, with a story spanning seven days detailing the Viola God's frustration with mankind to accept his gift of the Viola, there are lyrical moments sung by violas and the complete form of a one-act opera. Didn't see that coming, did you?
Violacentrism, the Overture (8 minutes) - The Overture to Violacentrism, the Opera is--- like any opera overture--- simply a collection of themes from later in the opera. For more detailed notes about the opera, see Violacentrism, the Opera.
Violist Under the Roof (4 minutes) - Included as one of the works from my viola opera (entitled Violacentrism, the Opera), Violist Under the Roof was written for my wife Tanya's brand-new viola made by Marten Cornelissen. I neither wanted her to play a violin nor stand on a roof, but adding in some Klezmer music was pretty appealing. Hence.... Violist Under the Roof.
The Violist’s Guide to the Orchestra (4 minutes) - Following Benjamin Britten's well-known The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, I decided to write The Violist's Guide to the Orchestra from the violist's point of view. Dedicated to my friend John Peskey (who also has seen enough of the orchestra world), this piece takes the listening on a narrated journey of the orchestra, beginning and ending with the most important instrument, the viola.
The Voice of Your Mother (4 1/2 minutes) - While eating Vegetable Jalfrezi at India House in Northampton, MA and discussing the religion of Violacentrism with Marvin Bram, professor emeritus of history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Marvin gave me an interesting idea for a piece. He was explaining his hypothesis that when Gasparo da Salò built his first viola, Salò was building an instrument that looked like Mother Earth as depicted in ancient paintings---- so that he finally would be able to *hear* what Mother Earth *sounded* like. Salò wanted to hear the voice of Mother Earth, and that voice was the voice of the viola.
For me it was a breathtaking idea. As I thought about it even more, I realized that by this point in time, Mother Earth must surely be quite a bit irritated with all of us, too--- as all of our mortal mothers have been at times. So, why confine the piece only to Mother Earth? All of this, plus my New Jersey upbringing, brought me to write The Voice of Your Mother--- A Cadenza for Solo Viola. Now listen to your mother.
The Well-Tempered Beer (3 minutes) - The pieces I write often have some autobiographical basis, and it was suggested to me a long time ago by a friend that I should write a piece called The Well-Tempered Beer (a take-off on Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier.) I've been a fan of beer for a long time now, and a constant on our downstairs' kegerator is Von Trapp Pilsner ('A little of Austria, a lot of Vermont'). So The Well-Tempered Beer starts off a bit like something Baroque and quickly segues into four bars of the Austrian national anthem. Then there's a tune along the lines of what one might expect to hear played by an oom-pah band in a beer garden, representing Lager. Following that is a more Irish sounding gig, representing Ale. Then both tunes are played simultaneously, representing a 'black and tan' (a lager mixed with dark ale/stout) "uniting all of mankind".
The Wind in the Trees (3 minutes) - I wrote Wind in the Trees specifically as an arrangement meant for in-school demonstrations. It's a quick tour of what a violin and viola can do. It's an arrangement of the third aria of a two-viola piece I wrote for the viola opera entitled, Violacentrism, the Opera.
The Wrath of Cremonus ( 3 1/2 minutes) - I've written many pieces about the viola god Cremonus, including "Violacentrism, the Opera" and an album performed by the Penn State Viola Ensemble entitled "Hail, Cremonus!". The Wrath of Cremonus is about Cremonus' anger and disappointment when you don't practice scales or play in tune. His anger and disappointment are of course biblical in scale, so I used a full four violas to convey the Sturm und Drang of the whole thing. (Feel free to use even more violas per part if you have them.) Now go practice your scales.
Yizkor (3 minutes) - In 2015, my wife's cousin Faith and her husband David Tasgal came to our annual house party in October. A day and a half later a motorist killed David in Greenfield, MA while he was riding his bicycle. Faith asked us to play a couple movements of Bach's First Cello Suite, which David had been practicing around the house in the preceding weeks, at his funeral at Temple Israel in Greenfield, MA. In Yizkor (Hebrew for "In Memoriam"), I quote briefly each Bach movement, turning them into my own music very much different from Bach's cheerier versions, and I turn the second tune in the middle into a Klezmer melody, as David was also an accomplished Klezmer clarinetist.