Trio for B-flat Clarinet, Viola and Piano
“In music, we never say the same thing twice, because the saying is also the thing”
- Igor Stravinsky
Tyger, Tyger takes it name from William Blake’s poem, The Tyger and is part of a larger cycle of works inspired by Borge’s famous poem, The Other Tiger. So far the cycle includes my original clarinet trio (with piccolo clarinet and cello), Another Tiger, a piano piece, Just Stripes, a work for two pianos, Black and Orange and several projected chamber, choral, solo and large ensemble works. I consider this to be a bit like a series of paintings, for example, Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral at different times of the day or, more applicably in my case, Gerhardt Richter’s prolific cycles of abstracts.
Borge’s poem, which ruminates on writing and influence, has been, along with Wolfgang Rihm and Harold Bloom, an enduring philosophical impetus for me, a composer obsessed with history, genealogy, succession, influence and intertextuality. Like Borge’s “third tiger,” mine “Exalts the vast and dusty library” of not only recent and older musical history, but my own recent work.
But Borge’s work is only an oblique reference; Rihm’s concept of musical cycles, if not the individual works, serves as an important precursor for my own “Other Tiger” Cycle. Like Rihm, I employ compositional techniques like “overpainting,” contrafacture, inscription and palimpsest. One useful way to think of this might be to consider Gounod’s Ave Marie, he essentially adds a melody over Bach’s famous C-major Prelude.
In my earlier piano piece Just Stripes I stripped my clarinet trio, Another Tiger of its piccolo clarinet and cello parts, leaving naked silences punctuated by surviving, virtuosic piano licks. Such silences are rare in my music and for the sake of novelty I let them stand. I filled other silences with elaborations of the original piano parts, and still other silences I “elaborated” with harmonics- the pianist silently depresses keys and strikes a chord, releasing the upper partials of the strings. This striking becomes the principle motive of Just Stripes. Over Just Stripes I then added a new second piano part to create Black and Orange. Finally, to create Tyger, Tyger, I then striped away the “original” piano part (the Just Stripes part) from Black and Orange, leaving a new, somewhat hollow piano part and “over-composed” new lines for clarinet and viola.
I am intensely interested in how motives, narratives and forms can evolve over a series of works and contexts: in this case the instrumentation (the viola is my own instrument) and Blake’s evocation of “fearful symmetry,” “fire,” and the sometimes violent and horrific visions of the divine. Borge’s Tiger is, of a course, another avatar of Blake’s Tyger and as this stripped cipher shapes-shifts throughout literature, so I shift, mold and reincarnate my motives and forms throughout this large cycle.
The transformed piano part of Tyger, Tyger will in turn become a “new” piano part for another violin sonata. The new violin line will be tranformed into another clarinet trio, Paper Tigers featuring a violin and bass clarinet. That bass clarinet part, stripped of the piano and violin, will become a solo work, and that solo work the foundation for another trio, Nocturnes II for piccolo trumpet, bass clarinet and harp. And so forth…
Tyger, Tyger was written for the Rocky Ridge Music Center and for my colleagues, David Shae, Daniel Sweany and Eli Kalman. It was partially composed while in residence at Copland House, Cortlandt Manor, New York, as a recipient of the Aaron Copland Award.
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?