• Premiere Slovak Radio Orchestra, June 30, 1992, Bratislava, Slovakia, Robert Black, conductor; Lydia Forbes, violin. 3(+ pic)3(+eh)3(+bcl)3 4220 timp 2perc hp cel/pno, str. EB Marks/Presser Full Set

O for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention…

The musical building blocks of Overture to Henry V are perceived interactively on two levels. First, and obstensibly traditionally, the motivic. But this with motives which are themselves so short (for example, a single, upbeat, rising fifth), that once initiated they can be turned to account into almost any gesture the music demands. And with motives that may be transformed freely either in duration or interval in the manner of ‘developing variation.’ The second level is the level of gesture and phrasing itself. Gesture inspired shape, gesture inspired rhythm and phrases, gesture inspired harmony. The composer freely admits that the piece was ‘danced’ in its composition. It is, indeed, obsessed by gesture, and liberated, natural movements’ translation into movement, many shapes and rhythms of the piece were honed and perfected literally in an ecstatic dance a la Nietzsche: ‘when my physical exertion was at its highest, I found my greatest creativity and best ideas.’ Per Ellison:“I would dance the phrases outside, then return to my basement near and write them down. If I was stuck on a passage’s conclusion, I would go dance it.”

Indications in the score give some idea of the nature of the shapes evoked: ‘swirling’ ‘susurrando’ ‘sweeping, sostenuto…

The piece is about gesture, gesture, and more gesture.

It is about the earth responding to the ideal.

The feet moving as charging Cossacks in a counterpoint with spiraling, graceful arms.

Alternations of ecstasy and its crashing to earth.

The experience of existence, when fully lived.

Henry V is an overture, but with a violin protagonist. This is a concerto, but the density of interaction between soloist and orchestra is far more intense than in any previous work, whether classical or modern. Its form is somewhat analogous to sonata, but it middle section breaks away completely from what has come before into an exhilarating 5-8 ostinato. There is a joy in dissonance here, an embracing of pain, and all the sorrow of existence, as part a Gita-like vision of the horrible, terrifying beauty of men throwing themselves into the slaughter, straining their utmost in a joyous ‘dance’ of mud and death. As such, the energy of the piece is compact, and on first listen, potentially overwhelming. Metaphors of the individual coming out of a society, being influenced by and then interacting with that society, and then finally leading it are strongly evoked by this work in a non-specific,  archetypal way.

Winner of Marin Symphony (CA) Composers Symposium Competition (1993)


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