Vespers interview 2

Part 1 of the interview with Navona is here. My additional comments (now, three months after the interview) are in italics.

2. Do you draw inspiration from other musical works, art, literature, etc.?

I’ve always been drawn to words, and find that setting them, or having a text somehow behind the music, feels very natural. I love writing songs, for instance. I’ve been fascinated by language my whole life. Not that it’s easy to work with text compared to writing non-texted music—nothing’s easy, if it’s to be done well—but I find working with language to be congenial to the creative process for some reason. And for this project I was of course inspired by performing all sorts of sacred and secular Renaissance music with our little family house band, Quidditas.

I mention music and literature, but left out art on purpose. I enjoy the visual fine arts, but have not drawn inspiration from them, not to this point, anyway. Years ago I wrote a piece for a competition, based on a painting. I didn’t win. I heard the winner, and the judges were right, at least concerning my offering. I was in between pieces, and that was one of only two I’ve ever written in my entire life that was not for an actual performance. As a rule, one should never write for a competition.

3. Can you reference any of your past works in relation to Vespers?

I’ve written music for use in church ever since I began to compose. But while the Vespers texts are sacred, this isn’t a church piece, really, any more than the Monteverdi Vespers or the Bach B minor function as church music. Features that were new to me in this project were writing for Renaissance instruments, and writing for a professional choir. While I’ve written for professional instrumentalists and singers before, this was a unique situation. I didn’t know what Donald might think when I sent him the first piece I finished, the a cappella 16-voice “Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn,” so I had to assure him that all of it wasn’t going to be quite that, um, adventurous.

I think that, as a whole, Vespers can be challenging to sing, although there are good chunks of it that are not all that hard. My harmonic language has always leaned modal, and much of the rhythm in this is chant-based and barline-resistant. But I always strive for individual lines to be musically satisfying in their own right, and the response from the musicians has been gratifying to me.

A few people have said that Vespers is a breakthrough work for me, and while I see where that may be true, it’s very hard for me to judge. Every piece is new to me, and I attempt new things all the time. Also, much of this work comes out of the service music I’ve been writing for the last 20 years. The major differences are (1) not a lot of people have heard that music, and (2) all of it is short. A good bit of dramatic calculation went into Vespers that I never had to do before. I found that the dramatic sweep affected every aspect of it: timing, text choices, instrumentation, texture, everything. I also found that I enjoyed that calculation immensely.

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