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Musica dell'Aria (2006)
Instrumentation: harp and string quartet
Commission: Carolina Chamber Music Festival
Premiere: Carolina Chamber Music Festival, New Bern, NC (September 2006)
excerpt from Musica dell'Aria
There is a longstanding tradition of composers writing works that quote, recast, transform, or otherwise invoke earlier music. Musica dell’Aria is my first attempt at such an engagement with the musical past; the piece is a meditation on the aria “Che farò senza Euridice?” (“What will I do without Euridice?”) from C.W. Gluck’s 1762 opera Orfeo ed Euridice.
Musica dell’Aria begins not with Gluck’s opulent music but with my own more spare, harmonically-ambiguous material in the string quartet alone. The three major sections of the aria are then presented with the harp as the principal melodic voice. Interspersed between these sections are passages – my variations on Gluck’s thematic ideas – in which the strings predominate; each variation is a more significant departure from Gluck’s original than the one that preceded it. What results is a loosely antiphonal (or call-and-response) relationship between harp and string quartet – between past and present – throughout the work.
The title may be taken quite literally to mean “Music of the Aria,” or it can be construed in a more figurative sense, as “Music of the Air.” For me, the latter interpretation evokes an ineffable quality particular to music: the notion that echoes of Gluck’s poignant, centuries-old rendering of Orpheus’ loss still resound in the musical atmosphere.