Three Lacquer Prints

Three Lacquer Prints


three movements for SATB chorus with divisi (5')

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Commissioned by The Esoterics as a result of first prize in the Young Composer category of their POLYPHONOS Competition.

Completed in July, 2012.

Commissioned by the Esoterics. World premiere on October 6, 2012 by the Esoterics, conducted by Eric Banks.

Text: "Lacquer Prints" by Amy Lowell

Program Note

As listeners are all well aware (especially as a Wagner opera enters its fifth hour), music is a narrative art form that takes place over time. Poetry acts similarly, unfolding and changing as a reader experiences the work. The shared narrative nature of these two art forms might help to explain their centuries-old marriage in vocal music. The visual arts, on the other hand, are typically static, and connections between painting and music are not nearly so well-established in the traditional canon.

This is what drew me to Amy Lowell's "Lacquer Prints," in which she pairs short poems with Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Beyond simplistic description of these visual works, Lowell fully animates them, imbuing each print with vivid literal and psychological meaning. But her poems still have a remarkably static quality, perhaps imitating the permanently frozen scenes of the prints from which she took inspiration.

Since each of the three poems included in this cycle is complete in one static emotional moment, I have set each with a single musical idea. In "Temple Ceremony," ritualized and slowly-tolling chords alternate between the women and men, briefly growing tangible with Lowell's description of "the most beautiful of dancers." In "A Year Passes," natural scenes are juxtaposed with vibrant living creatures, and the chorus imitates both of these worlds with alternating polyphony and stasis. Finally, in "A Burnt Offering," Lowell’s haunting and ritualistic description of emotional trauma unfolds in winding solo alto and tenor lines, building to a choral climax on the image of Lowell's indelible "Beloved."