A Child’s Afternoon. Two characteristic pieces for flute and organ, 9′. In two movements: (1) No one to play with, (2) Someone to play with. Commissioned by Anna Meyer. Premiered by Anna Meyer, flute, and Erik Meyer, organ, 4 Oct 2019, Christ Church, Philadelphia. Pre-premiere performance 1 Jul 2019 Mid-Atlantic AGO Regional Convention, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Moorestown NJ.
We are no longer Romantics, it seems, so the kinds of works defining Romanticism—tone poems, nocturnes, ballades, Mendelssohnian travelogues—are hardly to be found today. Literature is barely referenced now as it was then, except to make a point. Even many art songs, the primus inter pares of Romantic forms, hold literature, when they do, at arm’s length. We’re always making points now, it seems, so there’s little room for the mood, so then the individual, so then the soul.
There are exceptions, of course, but I don’t know of any recent examples of that other Romantic creation, the character or characteristic piece, those brief melancholies, the idylls and pastorals and frolics, those children’s pieces Schumann and Grieg and Debussy loved.
I didn’t begin this work for flute and organ intending to write a characteristic piece, but in searching for a way to allow the instruments to speak together, I stumbled into one with the texture I devised for the second movement. Its blithe mood suggested a drama. I imagined two children playing together, perhaps inside on a rainy day. Remembering what that was like, I came upon the mood of the first movement. So, “No one to play with,” and “Someone to play with.”
The duration requested by Anna Meyer, the flutist commissioning and premiering this with her organist and composer husband Erik, fit this two-movement scenario perfectly. I also imagined their own two children playing together. If the piece resonates, perhaps we are, even yet, a bit Romantic after all.