Secret Litanies for Woodwind Quintet (2014)
Premiered by Bi-le Zhang (flute), Jonathan Gentry (oboe), Diana Searle (clarinet), Andrew Bass (horn), and Christina Dioguardi (bassoon) on September 24, 2014 in NEC's Jordan Hall.
Recently, I have been fascinated by musical narratives, especially those that are less programmatically overt. With Secret Litanies, it was my goal to evoke such an abstract narrative that communicates emotionally, but is not so easy to explicitly describe. In this way, it remains "secret."
Secret Litanies is a chorale and fugue; the chorale opening, however, is deconstructed and primordial rather than linear, as if it were once fully constructed, but now only exists as musical debris set adrift. In contrast to the nebulous opening, the fugue soberly takes on a clear forward direction. Using material from the opening, the fugue freely constructs melodies and lines, in a way searching for what the chorale once was before it deflated. As the fugue explores the contrapuntal capabilities of the lines it has constructed, it becomes distressed and unravels, giving the impression that the chorale material is doomed to collapse. As a whispering postlude, after the fugue ends in frustrated defeat, the chorale reassembles to bring the piece to a calmer conclusion.
In addition to the sacred association, the "litanies" described in the title refer to the various levels of responsorial gestures found in the work. I took the idea of call and response loosely, the most obvious of which is the "call" of the chorale opening, and the "response" of the fugue. However, responsorial gestures are found throughout the work and, despite its degraded state, are present in the opening chorale-cloud.